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176 CRITICAL tissertation
But I fall in youth, son of Morni! and my father shall
—AEstua' ingens Uno in corde pudor, luctusque, et conscia virtus. Besides such extended pathetic scenes, Ossian fre.
quently pierces the heart by a single unexpected stroke. When Oscar fell in battle, “No father mourned his son slain in youth; no brother, his brother of love; they sell without tears, for the chief of the people was low.” In the admirable interview of Hector with Andro mache, in the sixth Iliad, the circumstance of the child in his nurse's arms, has often been remarked as adding much to the tenderness of the scene. In the following passage, relating to the death of Cuthullin, we find a circumstance that must strike the imagination with still greater force. “And is the son of Semo fallen o’” said Carril, with a sigh. “Mournful are Tura's walls, and sorrow dwells at Dunscaich. Thy spouse is left alone in her youth; the son of thy love is alone. He shall come to Bragela, and ask her why she weeps ? He shall lift his eyes to the wall, and see his father's sword. Whose sword is that ? he will say; and the soul of his mother is sad.” Soon after Fingal had shown all the grief of a father's heart for Ryno, one of his sons, fallen in battle, he is calling, after his accustomed manner, his sons to the chase. “Call,” says he, “Fillan and Ryno.—But he is not here.—My son rests on the bed of death.” This unexpected start of anguish is worthy of the highest tragic poet.
If she come in, she'll sure speak to my wife— . .
My wife —my wife —What wife —I have no wife
Oh, insupportable ! Oh, heavy hour !– O
The contrivance of the incident in both poets is
similar: but the circumstances are varied with judgment. Othello dwells upon the name of wife, when it had fallen from him, with the confusion and horror of one tortured with guilt. Fingal, with the dignity of a vero, corrects himself, and suppresses his rising grief.
The contrast which Ossian frequently makes between his present and his former state, diffuses over his whole poetry a solemn pathetic air, which cannot fail to make im-ression on every heart. The conclusion of the songs of Selmais particularly calculated for this purpose. Nothing can be more poetical and tender, or can leave upon the mind a stronger and more affecting idea of the venerable and aged bard. “Such were the words of the bards in the days of the song; when the king heard the music of harps, and the tales of other times. The chiefs gathered from all their hills, and heard the lovely sound. They praised the voice of Cona,” the first among a thousand bards. But age is now on my tongue, and my soul has failed. I hear, sometimes, the ghosts of bards, and learn their pleasant song. But memory fails on my mind; I hear the call of years. They say, as they pass along, Why does Ossian sing Soon shall he lie in the narrow house, and no bard shall raise his fame. Roll on, ye darkbrown years! for ye bring no joy in your course. Let the tomb open to Ossian, for his strength has failed. The sons of the song are gone to rest. My voice remains, like a blast, that roars lonely on the sea-rurrounded rock, after the winds are laid. The dark moss whistles there, and the distant mariner sees the waving trees.”
Upon the whole, if to feel strongly, and to describe naturally, be the two chief ingredients in poetical genius, Ossian must, after fair examination, be held to possess that genius in a high degree. The question is not, whether a few improprieties may be pointed out in his works —whether this or that passage might not have been worked up with more art and skill, by some writer of happier times A thousand such cold and frivolous criticisms are altogether indecisive as to his genuine merit. But has he the spirit, the fire the in. spiration of a poet? Does he utter the voice of nature ? Does he elevate by his sentiments? Does he interest by his description ? Does he paint to the heart as well as to the fancy Does he make his readers glow, and tremble, and weep? These are the great character. istics of true poetry. Where these are found, he must be a minute critic, indeed, who can dwell upon slight defects. A few beauties of this high kind transcend whole volumes of faultless mediocrity. Uncouth and abrupt Ossian may sometimes appear, by reason of his conciseness; but he is sublime, he is pathetic, in an eminent degree. If he has not the extensive knowledge, the regular dignity of narration, the fulness and accuracy of description, which we find in Homer and Virgil, yet in strength of imagination, in grandeur of sentiment, in native majesty of passion, he is fully their equal. If he flows not always like a clear stream, yet he breaks forth often like a torrent of fire. Of art, too, he is far from being destitute; and his imagination is remarkable for delicacy as well as strength. Seldom or never is he either trifling or tedious; and if he be whought too melancholy, yet he is always moral. Though his merit were in other respects much less than it is, this alone ought to entitle him to high regard, that his writings are remarkably favorable to virtue. They awake the tenderest sympathies, and inspire the most generous emotions. No reader can rise from him without being warmed with the sentiments of humanity, virtue, and honor. Though unacquainted with the original language, there is no one but must judge the translation o: serve the highest praise, on account of its beauty and elegance. Of its faithfulness and accuracy, I have been assured by persons skilled in the Gaelic tongue, who from their youth were acquainted with many of these poems of Ossian. To transfuse such spirited and fervid ideas from one language into another; to translate literally, and yet with such a glow of poetry; to keep alive so much passion, and support so much dignity throughout; is one of the most difficult works of genius, and proves the translator to have Jeen ani. mated with no small portion of Ossian's spirit.
* Oasian himself is poetically called the voice of Cona.
The measured prose which he has employed, pos. sesses considerable advantages above any sort of versification he could have chosen. While it pleases and fills the ear with a variety of harmonious cadences, being, at the same time, freer from constraint in the choice and arrangement of words, it allows the spirit of the original to be exhibited, with more justness, force, and simplicity. Elegant, however, and masterly, as Mr. Macpherson's translation is, we must never forget, whilst we read it, that we are putting the merit of the original to a severe test. For we are examining a poet stripped of his native dress; divested of the harmony of his own numbers. We know how much grace and energy the works of the Greek and Latin poets receive from the charm of versification in their original languages. If then, destitute of this advantage, exhibited in a literal version, Ossian still has power to please as a poet; and not to please only, but often to command, to transport, to melt the heart; we may very safely infer that his productions are the off. spring of a true and uncommon genius; and we may boldly assign him a place among those whose works are to last for ages.