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pears to give the preference to old wine, but new songs—
With respect to age in wine we are tolerably agreed, but we differ widely in regard to novelty in verse. Though warranted in some measure, yet all inordinate prepossessions should be moderated, and it would be well if we were occasionally to reflect on this question, if the ancients had been so inimicable to novelty as we are, what would now be old 7"
We shall not presume to affirm that these poems were originally produced by Macpherson, but admit. ting it, for the sake of argument, it would then, perhaps, be just to ascribe all the mystery that has hung about them to the often ungenerous dislike of novelty, or, it may be more truly, the efforts of contemporaries, which influences the present day. This might have stimulated him to seek in the garb of “th' olden time,” that respect which is sometimes despitefully denied to drapery of a later date. Such a motive doubtlessly swayed the designs both of Chatterton and Ireland, whose names we cannot mention together without Dryden's comment on Spenser and Flecknoe, “that is, from the top to the bottom of all poetry.” In ushering into the world the hapless, but beautiful muse of Chat terton, as well as the contemptible compositions of Ireland, it was alike thought necessary, to secure public attention, to have recourse to “quaint Inglis,” or an antique dress. And to the eternal disgrace of prejudice, the latter, merely in consequence of their disguise, found men blind enough to advocate their claims to that admiration which, on their eyes being opened, they could no longer see, and from the support of which they shrunk abashed. But we desist. It is useless to draw conclusions, as it is vaia to reason with certain people who act unreasonably, since, if they were, in these particular cases, capable of reason, they would need no reasoning with. By some, the poems here published will be esteemed in proportion as the argument for their antiquity prevails; but with regard to the general reader, and the unaffected lovers of “heaven-descended poesy,” iet the question take either way, still
WITHorr increasing his genius, the author may have improved his language, in the eleven years that the following poems have been in the hands of the public. Errors in diction might have been committed at twentyfour, which the experience of a riper age may remove; and some exuberances in imagery may be restrained with advantage, by a degree of judgment acquired in the progress of time. Impressed with this opinion, he ran over the whole with attention and accuracy; and he hopes he has brought the work to a state of correct. ness which will preclude all future improvements.
The eagerness witn which these poems have been received abroad, is a recompense for the coldness with which a few have affected to treat them at home. All the polite nations of Europe have transferred them into their respective languages; and they speak of him who brought them to light, in terms that might flatter the vanity of one fond of fame. In a convenient indiffer.
"ence for a literary reputation, the author hears praise
without being elevated, and ribaldry without being depressed. He has frequently seen the first bestowed too precipitately; and the latter is so faithless to its purpose, that it is often the only index to merit in the present age. Though the taste which defines genius by the prints of the compass, is a subject fit for mirth in itself, it is often a serious matter in the sale of the work. When rivers define the limits of abilities, as well as the boundaries of countries, a writer may measure his success by the latitude under which he was born. It was to avoid a part of this inconvenience, that the author is said by some, who speak without any authority, to nave ascribed his own productions to another name. If this was the case, he was but young in the art of deception. When he placed the poet in antiquity, the translator should have been born on this side of the Tweed. These observations regard only the frivolous in matters of literature; these, however, form a majority of every age and nation. In this country men of genuine taste abound ; but their still voice is drowned in the clamors of a multitude, who judge by fashion of poetry, as of dress. The truth is, to judge aright, requires almost as much genius as to write well; and good critics are as rare as great poets. Though two hundred thousand Romans stood up when Virgil came into the theatre, Warius only could correct the AEmeid. He that obtains fame must receive it through mere fashion; and gratify his vanity with the applause of men, of whose judgment he cannot approve. The following poems, it must be confessed, are more calculated to please persons of exquisite feelings of heart, than those who receive all their impressions by the ear. The novelty of cadence, in what is called a prose version, though not destitute of harmony, will not, to common readers, supply the absence of the frequent returns of rhyme. This was the opinion of the writer himself, though he yielded to the judgment of others, in a mode, which presented freedom and dignity of expression, instead of fetters, which cramp the thought, whilst the harmony of language is preserved. (Iis intention was to publish in verse.—The making of
poetry, like any other handicraft, may be learned by industry; and he had served his apprenticeship, though in secret, to the Muses.
It is, however, doubtful, whether the harmony which
these poems might derive from rhyme, even in much
etter hands than those of the translator, could atone or the simplicity and energy which they would lose. The determination of this point shall be left to the readers of this preface. The following is the begin ning of a poem, translated from the Norse to the Gaelic language; and, from the latter, transferred into English. The verse took little more time to the writer than the prose; and he himself is doubtful (if he has succeeded in either) which of them is the most literal version.
FRAGMENT OF A NORTHERN TALE.
WHERE Harold, with golden hair, spread o'er Lochlinn” his high commands; where, with justice, he ruled the tribes, who sunk, subdued, beneath his sword; abrupt rises Gormalf in snow ! the tempests roll dark on his sides, but calm, above, his vast forehead appears. White-issuing from the skirt of his storms, the troubled torrents pour down his sides. Joining, as they roat along, they bear the Torno, in foam, to the main. Gray on the bank, and far from men, half-covered, by ancient pines, from the wind, a lonely pile exalts its head, long shaken by the storms of the north. To his fled Sigurd, fierce in fight, from Harold the leader farmies, when fate had brightened his spear with renown : when he conquered in that rude field, where Lulan's warriors fell in blood, or rose in terror on the waves of the main. Darkly sat the gray-haired chief;
*The Gaelic name of Scandinavia, or Scandinia • The mountains of Sevo