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were composed, bore a different name. The residence of the Chieftain (which stood generally on the bank of a river, the side of a lake, or on the sea shore,) was a kind of palace, to which all were welcome. Thither they resorted in time of peace-thither they hastened at the sound of war.
· In order to retain transactions, and cherish laudable sentiments, every prin.. cipal personage had a bard, who recounted and sung the deeds of the family. The poet knew by heart the compositions of every person of any eminence that went before him. These specimens of genius served to create emulation and rouse exertion; while the wild majestic view of the scenery around; mountains, lakes, foaming streams, cataracts, and wide-extended heaths, could not fail to suggest comparisons to warm his fancy, and dignify his language.
The song of the bard was usually accompanied by some instrument. Music and poetry are twin sisters. Where one hath been cultivated, and brought to perfection among a people, we are sure to find the other: both claim a title to inspiration; both offer equal difficulty to the composer. In this, however, they differ: poetry, depending on communicating ideas by words, may be locked up in an unknown tongue ; but music, unfettered by language, is comprehended and relished by every ear capable of harmony. Thus, Ossian's poems lay burried in a corner, understood only by the natives; while the Scotch airs were received with raptures by all who heard
It is natural to suppose that the poetry of a nation equalled the excellence of its music, and that in the same manner the one has been handed down, so the other might descend to posterity, there being little more difficulty in remembering the words, than the tune composed to accompany them. If the natives had notes to retain the one, they were not ignorant of letters to preserve the others. From what has been already said, it is evident they
had a knowledge of one, and probably of both, long before the days of Ossian.
But granting the Hebrideans had not the use of letters so early as is here contended, the knowledge of them would be introduced by Christianity, since that religion found its way among them soon after the days of Ossian. Nay, there is strong reason to believe, that some of that persuasion, whom persecution had driven beyond the pale of the Roman empire, had made their appearance there during the poet's life; for the Culdees, or the Sons of the Rock, to whom he addresses some of his poems, were, it is thought, of that denomination. Thus was opened an easy means of sending down his works in writing. We will grant that the catholic clergy, for uniformity sake, always performed the church office in Latin; yet, for the information of their flocks, they would not fail, as was practised in other countries, to translate the scriptures, and compose various other books of prayers and instructions in the vernacular tongue. It cannot be imagined,
however, that reading and writing could be very common in a corner of the world so remote, and among a people who cultivated none of the sciences but music and poetry, and these handed down chiefly by oral tradition. In countries where learning was more known, we find many, even of the first characters, extremely ignorant. Theodoric, king of Italy, could not sign the first letter of his name. And Eginhard, in his life of Charlemagne, says, that this emperor, though in other respects not unlearned, could not write; yet so celebrated were the Irish for literature, in his time, that he procured some men of eminence from that island, to encourage learning in France; and it is well known, that for many centuries the Picts were supplied with pastors from Icolmkill, a convent of monks, founded by Columba. A proof that the natives of those islands far exceeded in civilization and learning, the hordes of Danes that were in possession of the Lowlands. Even Pinkerton is obliged to own, that the Gaelic was then a written and cultivated language, while the Pictish was the speech
of ignorant, barbarians ;* and though the latter undoubtedly possessed letters, yet did they not produce an author before the thirteenth century. Pinkerton, who prides himself in being a descendant of these people, gives for reason, that " the Picts de“ spised holiness, and the learning then in “ vogue; accordingly,” says he, “ there is “ not one Pictish saint or writer upon re“ cord.”—A singular reason to boast of their wisdom!!!
As the learning of the Hebrideans lay principally among the Ecclesiastics, the manuscripts, as in other countries, at that period, were mostly confined to Churches and Cloisters. The sanctity of these places could not, nevertheless, secure them against the shocks and revolutions to which every thing here below is subject. The Danes ransacked and burned Icolmkill, in the tenth century. When, in latter times, a change of religion took place in the Highlands and Islands, Churches and Monaste
* See vol. ii. p. 16.