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way to the unanimity of applause, there is yet this one expedient to be tried, by which the author may he de graded, though his work be reverenced; and the ex cellence which we cannot obscure, may be set at stic a distance as not to overpower our fainter lustre This accusation is dangerous, because, even when it is false, it may be sometimes urged with probability.”
How far this just sentence applies to Mr. Laing, i. does not become us, nor is it our business, now to de clare : but we must say, that nothing can be more dis. ingenuous or groundless than his frequent charges of plagiarism of the following description; because, in the War of Caros, we meet with these words, “It is like the field, when darkness covers the hills around, and the shadow grows slowly on the plain of the sun,” we are to believe, according to Mr. Laing, that the idea was stolen from Virgil's
Majoresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.
As well might we credit that no one ever beheld a natural phenomenon except the Mantuan bard.* The book of nature is open to all, and, in her pages there are no new readings. “Many subjects,” it is well said by Johnson, “fall under the consideration of an author, which, being limited by nature, can admit only of slight and accidental diversities. All definitions of the same thing must be nearly the same; and descrip. tions, which are definitions of a more lax and fanciful kind, must always have, in some degree, that resemblance to each other, which they all have to their ob. ject.”
* This is not so good, because not so *...*. its absurdity, as an attempt formerly made to prove the AEneid Earse, from “Arma v.rumqué cano,” and “Airm's amofar canam,” howing the same meaning, and nearly the same scund. ' ' ' • * : * ~ * ,
r * * * - - - - - - - -
It is true, however, if we were fully able to admi' that Macpherson could not have obtained these ideas where he professes to have found them, Mr. Laing has produced many instances of such remarkable coinci dence as would make it probable that Macpherson fre quently translates, not the Gaelic, but the poetical lore of antiquity. Still this is a battery that can only be brought to play on particular points; and then with great uncertainty. The mode of attack used by Mr. Knight, could it have been carried on to any extent, would have proved much more effectual. We shall give the instance alluded to. In his “Analytical Enquiry into the Principles of Taste, 1805,” he makes these re marks: “The untutored, but uncorrupted feelings of all unpolished nations, have regulated their fictions upon the same principles, even when most rudely exhibited. In relating the actions of their gods and deceased heroes, they are licentiously extravagant: for their falsehood could amuse, because it could not be detected; but in describing the common appearances of nature, and all those objects and effects which are exposed to habitual observation, their bards are scrupulously exact; so that an extravagant hyperbole, in a matter of this kind, is sufficient to mark as counterfeit any composition attributed to them. In the early stages of society, men are as acute and accurate in practical observation as they are limited and deficient in speculative science; and in proportion as they are ready to give up their imaginations to delusion, they are jealously tenacious of the evidence of their senses. James Macpherson, in the person of his blind bard, could say, with applause in the eighteenth century, “Thus have I seen in Cona; but Cona I behold no more : thus have I seen two dark hills removed from their place by the strength of the : oikain; joint. Touri, from side to side, aud
their tall oaks meet one another on high. Then they
“Ready, aye, ready, f for the field.
The opinion of the color of his opposition, whether it be that of truth or error, will depend on the eye that contemplates it. Those who delight to feast with Mr. Laing on the limbs of a mangled poet, will think the latter unanswered; while thosef who continue to in.
* “Some of Ossian's lesser Poems, rendered into verse, with a Preliminary Discourse, in answer to Mr. Laing's Critical and Historical Dissertation on the Antiquity of Ossian's Poems, 8vo. p. 284. Liverpool, 1805.”
# Thirlestane's motto. See Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel.
# A professor in the university of Edinburgh, the amiable and learned Dr. Gregory, is on the side of the believers in Qssian. iudgment is a tower of strengu, See the preface, p. vi to xii. and
dulge the animating thought, “that Fingal lived, and ...hat Ossian sung,” will entertain a different sentiment. After successfully combating several old positions,” Mr. M'Donald terminates his discussion of the point at issue with these words: “He (Mr. Laing) declares, “if a single poem of Ossian in MS. of an older date than the present century (1700,) be procured and lodged in a public library, I (Laing) shall return among the first to our national cleed.’ “This is reducing the point at issue to a narrow compass. Had the proposal been made at the outset, it would have saved both him and me a good deal of trouble: not that in regard to ancient Gaelic manu. scripts I could give any more satisfactory account than has been done in the course of this discourse. There the reader will see, that though some of the poems are confessedly procured from oral tradition, yet several gentlemen of veracity attest to have seen, anong Macpherson's papers, several MSS. of a much oldel date than Mr. Laing requires to be convinced. Thougl not more credulous than my neighbors, I cannot resist facts so well attested; there are no stronger for believing the best-established human transactions. “I understand the originals are in the press, and expected daily to make their appearance. When they do, the public will not be carried away by conjectures but be able to judge on solid grounds. Till then, le. the discussion be at rest.” P. 193—4.
p. 146, of his Comparative View of the State and Faculties of Man with those of the Animai world." - - - - * Such as the silence of Ossian in respect to religion; his omission of wolves and bears, &c. See also in the Literary Journal, August, 1804, a powerful encounter of many of Mr. Laing's other arguments in his Dissertation against the authenticity of these po. ems. His ignorance of the Gaelic, and the consequent futility of his etymological remarks, are there ably exposed.
It is curious to remark, and, in this place, not unworthy of our rotice, that whilst the controversy is imminent in the decision, whether these poems are to be ascribed to a Highland bard long since gone “to the halls of his fathers,” or to a Lowland muse of the last century, it is in the serious meditation of some controversialist to step in and place the disputed wreath on the brows of Hibernia. There is no doubt that Ireland was, in ancient times, so much connected with the adjacent coast of Scotland, that they might almost be considered as one country, having a community of tnanners and of language, as well as the closest political connection. Their poetical language is nearly, or rather altogether the same. These coinciding circumstances, therefore, independent of all other ground, afford to ingenuity, in the present state of the question,
a sufficient basis for the erection of an hypothetical su
perstructure of a very imposing nature. In a small volume published at Dusseldorf in 1787, by Edmond, Baron de Harold, an Irishman, of endless titles,” we are presented with what are called, “Poems of Ossian lately discovered.”f “I am interested,” says the baron in his preface, “in no polemical dispute or party, and give these poems such as they are found in the mouths of the people; and do not pretend to ascertain what was the na tive country of Ossian. I honor and revere equally a
* “Colonel-commander of the regiment of Konigsfield, go. man of the bedchamber of his most serene highness the Elector Palatine, member of the German Society, of Manheim, of the Royal Artiguarian Society of Lo-don, and of the Academy of Dusseldori.” In some lines in these Poems we find the lyre of Ossian called “the old Hibernian lyre.’ The idea is not new; See Burke's Observation in Hume's first Letter to Dr. Blair. Also, the collections by Miss Brooke and Mr. Kennedy. Compare the story of Conloch with that of Carthon in Macpherscn.