Page images
PDF
EPUB

"a theory. Are there not in history, numerous "instances of nations, who had attained to a "great degree of humanity, gentleness, and re"finement, becoming even suddenly rude and "ferocious to a great degree, in consequence of "strong excitements being presented to the "worst principles of their nature? Will not Mr. "Laing allow that the nation, among whom the "gallant and polite court of Edward the third "could arise, where the ideas of freedom and "equal rights had began to blossom, where men "of wit and learning, a Chaucer, and many "other poets flourished—will he not allow, that "this nation had become more barbarous during "the struggles of York and Lancaster, when "literature was utterly extinguished, and the "whole kingdom presented one scene of rapine "and bloodshed? Would not the horrid atroci"ties produced by the relentless ambition of a "Sylla and Marius, have made an industrious, "temperate patriotic Roman of the age of Cin"cinnatus shudder? Have we not in our own "times seen a people, who boasted of being the "most polite and refined that the world ever "produced, suddenly hurried into the most "rude and savage acts, by the strong excite"ments presented to their avarice, ambition, and

revenge?

I % "Human

"Human nature is in all ages the same; and "the fiercer passions of the Gael, like those of "other nations, were called into action by pow"erful incentives. After the death of Ossian, "the subordinate chiefs, who had quietly sub"mitted to the power and renown of his house, "no longer owned a common superior; and be"coming conscious of security, which their "mountains and morasses afforded them against "foreign invaders, they turned their arms"against each other. As the objects of desire "increased, and the ideas of exclusive property "became more distinct, the causes of quarrel 41 multiplied; and the ties of the patriarchal go"vernment becoming weaker as the tribes mul"tiplied, their chiefs were soon obliged to be"come petty tyrants for the preservation of their "authority. The princes who successively ob"tained the dominion of the lowlands, found it "impossible to reduce those mountaineers either "to subjection or tranquillity; it therefore be"came their policy to foment the dissensions of "the Clans, in order to prevent their turbulence "from turning on themselves. Hence the "deadly feuds, and mutual barbarities of the "Highlanders. Was there nothing in these "circumstances to render the Gael more feroci"ous than in the days of Ossian? Surely if any '' remembrances of the simple and humane man

"ners

"ners of the pastoral state, could be retained "among a people so constantly agitated by all "the angry passions, it must have been their "heroic songs, which contained so many cir"cumstances corresponding to the present state "of their minds. Some traits, however, of the "manners of the Gael in the days of Ossian, "have survived all their subsequent revolutions. "The patriarchal government continued to exist, "although imperfectly, till their final subjuga"tion in the last century: the warm attachment "of kindred, and the general kindliness of dis"position resulting from that form of govern"ment, are still eminently conspicuous among "them; an Englishman immediately perceives "his arrival among the Celtic part of the nation, "by the superior politeness, and more active "courtesy of the peasantry. Their favourite "national melodies are uncommonly plaintive "and melancholy; and their expressions of grief; "love, 8cc. are impassioned and figurative, and "pronounced with a degree of feeling, that to a ,' Lowlander appears ridiculous.

"Such is the boasted argument which Mr. "Laing considers as the bulwark of his opinions, "and which he reckons so decisive against the "authenticity of Ossian, that no positive evi"dence in support of it ought to be attended to,

"The?

"The length to which we have carried our dis"cussion on this main argument, compels us "to take a very cursory view of his detections of "lesser note. In regard to the omission of reli"gious machinery, it is a fact well known to "every Highland scholar, that the name of the "Supreme Being has in no instance been intro"duced by the Gael into profane poetry. Like "the Greeks and Romans, they talked freely of "their inferior deities, the ghosts of their fathers; "but the name of the great and Supreme Being "was ever mentioned with awe and veneration. "As to the omission of particular customs, it is "sufficient to recollect, that in the days of Os"sian, the objects of desire, and the consequent M peculiarities of customs and manners were few. "Homer, like the other Greeks, was garrulous, "sportive, and attentive to minute occurrences; "Ossian, like his countrymen, was grave, taciturn, "and moved only by the more powerful impres"sions. For a farther elucidation of the ancient "manners and customs of the Gael, we beg leave "to refer our readers to Dr. Blair's dissertation "and appendix,

"Mr. Laing's next copious and curious source "of detection is the constant imitation of the Clas"ties, scriptures, and such temporary publications "as were then in vogue. To enter into an exami

« nation '* nation in detail of the instances of imitation ** which our author adduces, would exceed our "limits, and be equally tedious and useless. We "shall therefore only state the general impression "which they have left on our minds. That "Macpherson, in the short space in which he "was employed in this work, should have scra"ped together such a quantity of unconnected "i passages, and modelled them into so many "regular poems; that he should, by a hint taken "from one author, and a word from another, "have wrought up such uniform and beautfful "descriptions, as that of the desert Balclutha "for example; and that in the transcribing from "a variety of authors of different countries and "ages, he should never once have, by oversight, "introduced an idea or an expression inconsis"tent with a particular stage in the manners of "his own country—are facts to us utterly incre"dible, however easy of belief they may appear "to our author, when they favour his own side "of the argument."

I must at the same time here observe, that it is but doing Mr. Laing justice to say, he has shewn himself an extensive reader, and minute observer, in the numerous parallels brought from ancient, as well as modern

« PreviousContinue »