« PreviousContinue »
It was not until the following versions were ready for the press, that I understood the authenticity of Ossian's poems was violently opposed by Mr. Laing, who some time since published a portion of Scottish history. Having been formerly engaged in that controversy, I was curious to see what farther could be urged by that writer on the subject. Upon examination, I found his arguments were chiefly grounded on the difference between the refined sentiments of the Celtic heroes, and the ferocious manners usually affixed to a period and people we are accustomed to consider barbarous. To this he adds the impossi
bility of these compositions being handed down, for so many ages, without ortho; graphy. Then, without taking any notice of the proofs adduced in favour of their authenticity, he brings some objections from the history, traditions, and manners of the middle ages.
After having, as he imagines, completely deprived the poems of all pretensions to antiquity, he then gives an account of their real origin, which, he pretends, cannot be remote, on account of the many modern terms they contain, and the similarity of numberless passages to the writings of ancient and modern poets. At last, he would persuade us, that M'Pherson was not only the author, but moreover, publicly avowed it.
As to the assertion that the Highlanders, in Ossian's days, were barbarians, I have only to observe, there is no reason to believe they were more so than the inhabitants of other countries, whom the Greeks, and after them, the Romans, stig
matized with that appellation. Yet, with all the boasted superiority of these people, it would not be difficult to prove, that some whom they affected to contemn, equalled, if not surpassed them in civi: lization. Of this number were the Hebrews, who, not inferior in polity, far excelled them in morality, and made a much more early figure in literature. Their great Lawgiver, a thousand years before any historian appeared in Greece, wrote an account of the creation of the world.He tells us who were the immediate descendants of the first man:-Gives a succinct relation of them, and their posterity, down to the flood, a period of one thousand six hundred and fifty years.—After which, he records the transactions of Noah and his sons till their dispersion. This event was soon followed by the call of Abraham, the great progenitor of the Jewish people, to whose affairs the sacred Penman chiefly confines his narration, till they were delivered from the captivity of Egypt, which took place eight hundred and fifty-seven years after the deluge. A 2
Joshua, who, on the death of Moses, put the Israelites in possession of the Holy Land, continued their history; which, by others, was carried down to the reigns of David and Solomon, the two most powerful kings that ever governed Judea, and in whose days, that nation arrived at its summit of greatness and prosperity.
All that we know, for certain, of the rest of mankind till that period, and nearly five hundred years after, comes only from scripture relation. Herodotus is the first profane historian with whom we are acquainted. He travelled over many countries, particularly Asia and Egypt. Of these, as far as in his power, he has collected the transactions; and however defective his details, from that time, the fables of demigods and heroes have given way to genuine facts.
The northern regions being peopled the last, were proportionably longer in establishing governments and salutary laws; and many centuries elapsed before we find
any notice taken of them. There is reason, however, to believe, they were not much behind the rest in knowledge and civilization. Before they journeyed north, the human race had made some progress in the arts. Poetry and music were known. The manner of working metals had been likewise discovered. All this they carried with them, in a greater or less degree of perfection; and as they spread and grew more numerous, states were formed, and rulers appointed. These governed according to certain customs and statutes, which, if not perfect, had a great similarity to those of other nations. Greece and Italy were happy in having early historians. Had the transactions of these northern countries been as faithfully recorded, there can be no doubt but they would have afforded details equally interesting.
It has long been a subject of regret, that the inventors of the fine arts have, by time, been deprived of the reputation due to their ingenuity. Of the many realms which pretend to their birth, Egypt seems