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"says of their manners a hundred years ago, to "prove his own assertions with regard to their "situation fourteen hundred years previous to "that period.* The impossibility, that the "sentiments and manners described in Ossian's "poems, could have belonged to the Highlan"ders of the third century, Mr. Laing deduces, "from his ideas of the manners, which corres"pond to the state of society in which they "were then placed; and from the absurdity of "supposing, that the people should have be"come more barbarous as they approached to "civilization.
"In picturing out the Highlanders of the
"third century, we conceive our author had
"before his eyes a very different state of man
"ners, from that which actually existed among
"them. If there be any state of society, pre
"vious to the introduction of artificial manners,
"in which the good principles of the human'
"heart are more frequently called into action
"than the bad, it is in the pastoral state. Those
"harassing fears of want, which perpetually
"haunt a nation subsisting wholly by the chase,
"have now given place to the ideas of property,
* See vol. iii. p. 4-5.
"and the comforts of a more fixed abode. As
"individuals have now more leisure, love, the
"most prominent passion of the human heart,
"begins to unfold itself in all its violence. As
"the patriarchal government still prevails, and
"distinct ideas of separate property have not
"yet been introduced among the individuals of
"the same family; filial respect, and the endear
"ing attachments of kindred, are their prevailing
"and habitual sentiments. The effect of these
"humanizing sentiments, is seen even in their
"contests with the neighbouring tribes; and as
"the love of fame, rather than the gratification
"of avarice or ambition, is their chief motive for
"the combat, the vanquished captive is usually
"dismissed. In such a state of society, a re
"markable humanity of manners has ever been
"found to prevail, unless some particular cir
"cumstance of a contrary tendency occurred.
"Such was the golden age, the Saturnian reign
"of the ancients; such was the condition of the
"peaceable, amorous, and poetical Arcadians;
"such were the manners of the Jewish patriarchs,
"and of the Gael in the days of Ossian.
"The general outlines of manners in all "these instances were the same; although they "were all modified by peculiar circumstances. "The Gael had already been assailed amidst
"their forests and pasturages by the all-grasp"ing ambition of the Romans; and the chiefs of "families had learnt to unite under some re"nowned leader for their common defence. "Their love of military glory had been roused "to the highest pitch, by their frequent com"bats against foreign invaders. In such a state "of things, when we reflect that the expressions "of the strong passions which animated them, "were, from the poverty of language, conveyed "in bold and figurative terms, that a particular "class of the nation, the bards, were continually "employed in giving force and melody to their "heroic narratives; that Ossian himself, a prince, "a renowned warrior, was a still more renowned "poet; that in his latter years, after all his race, "all the companions of his youth had fallen, his "only consolation was to recite his sorrows, and "his former scenes of pleasure to his harp. "When we consider all these circumstances, "surely it is in such a state of society, and from "such a poet, that we may expect (to use the "words of Mr. Laing) an uniform heroism, unknown "to barbarians; a gallantry which chivalry never in"spired; a humanity which refinement has never "equalled; and a cultivated sublime poetry.
"If we allow for the effects of these peculiar "circumstances in which the Gael were placed, "we shall find, that the general tone of their "manners corresponded in a striking degree "with those of the Jewish patriarchs, a remark"able humanity and generosity of sentiments, a "particular warmth in all the attachments of "kindred, and a refined delicacy in the inter"course of the sexes, are characteristic of both. "What hero and heroine of romance, could be "more chaste, more delicate and constant in "their attachment, than Isaac and Rebecca? but "Mr. Lains thinks the existence of such refined "sentiments, in such a state of society, so ut"terly impossible, that no positive evidence "should be received in support of it; we may "therefore soon expect another ingenious dis"sertation, to prove that the writings of Moses "are also a forgery of the nineteenth century.
"In opposition, however, to this account of "the Gael, Mr. Laing may still adhere to his "favourite Solinus, and join to him the autho"rities of Herodian and St. Jerome. He may "overlook the circumstance, that these histori"ans, who had never visited Britain, seem desi"rous to make their countrymen stare, by their "strange reports of an unknown nation of bar"barians; and that the Saint, who was an eye"witness, viewed their depravity through the
I ". mirror
"mirror of religious fanaticism.* • He may then "assert confidently as usual, that the ancient "Highlanders went stark-naked among the "Grampian snows, probably for the pretty va"nity of exhibiting their painted skins: that "they murdered promiscuously for the sake of "murder; that they drank the blood of their "enemies, and had a particular relish for human "flesh; and that they enjoyed all their women "in common. If people would stare at such "assertions, he may again repeat his candid "salvo—that these facts look indeed as if they "were a little exaggerated, but that still his au"thorities are authors of such undoubted vera"city, that there must have been some founda"tion for these stories, or they would not have "advanced them.
"The absurdity which Mr. Laing so trium"phantly insists upon, in the idea that the High"landers should have become more barbarous "as they approached to civilization, would pro"bably have disappeared, had he been anxious "to come at the truth, rather than to establish
* Granting St. Jerome was mistaken as to this historical fact; we see no reason for asserting, he saw the subject through the mirror of religious fanaticism.