Page images

very full and extended style, is of advantage to description. On the contrary, such a diffuse manner for the most part weakens it. Any one redundant circumstance is a nuisance. It encumbers and loads the fancy, and renders the main image indistinct. "Obstat," as Quintilian says with regard to style, "quicquid non adjuvat." To be concise in description, is one thing: and to be general, is another. No description that rests in generals can possibly be good; it can convey no lively idea; for it is of particulars only that we have a distinct conception. But, at the same time, no strong imagination dwells long upon anyone particular; or heaps together a mass of trivial ones. By the happy choice of some one, or of a few that are the most striking, it presents the image more complete, shows us more at one glance than a feeble imagination is able to do, by turning its object round and round into a variety of lights. Tacitus is of all prose writers the most concise. He has even a degree of abruptness resembling our author: yet no writer is more eminent for lively description. When Fingal, after having conquered the haughty Swaran, proposes to dismiss him with honor: "Raise to-morrow thy white sails to the wind, thou brother of Agandecca!" he conveys, by thus addressing his enemy, a stronger impression of the emotions then passing within his mind, than if whole paragraphs had been spent in describing the conflict between resentment against Swaran and the tender remembrance of his ancient love. No amplification is needed to give us the most full idea of a hardy veteran, after the few following words: "His shield is marked with the strokes of battle; his red eye despises danger." When Oscar, left alone, was surrounded by foes, "he stood," it is said, 'growing in his place, like the flood of the narrow vale;' a happy representation of one, who, by daring intrepidity in the midst of danger, seems to increase in his appearance, and becomes more formidable every moment, like the sudden rising of the torrent hemmed in by the valley. And a whole crowd of ideas, concerning the circumstances of domestic sorrow, occasioned by a young warrior's first going forth to battle, is poured upon the mind by these words: "Calmar leaned on his father's spear; that spear which he brought from Lara's hall, when the soul of his mother was sad.' The conciseness of Ossian's descriptions is the more proper, on account of his subjects. Descriptions of gay and smiling scenes may, without any disadvantage, ba amplified and prolonged. Force is not the predominant quality expected in these. The description may be weakened by being diffuse, yet, notwithstanding, may be beautiful still ; whereas, with respect to grand, solemn, and pathetic subjects, which are Ossian's chief field, the case is very different. In these, energy is above all things required. The imagination must be seized at once, or not at all; and is far more deeply impressed by one strong and ardent image, than by the anxious minuteness of labored illustration.

But Ossian's genius, though chiefly turned towards the sublime and pathetic, was not confined to it. In subjects also of grace and delicacy, he discovers the hand of a master. Take for an example the following elegant description of Agandecca, wherein the tender

.ness of Tibullus seems united with the majesty of Virgil. 'The daughter of the snow overheard, and left the hall of her secret sigh. She came in all her beauty; like the moon from the cloud of the cast.

I Loveliness was around her as light. Her steps were like the music of songs. She saw the youth and loved him. He was the stolen sigh of her soul. Her blue eyes rolled on him in secret; and she blest the chief of Morven." Several other instances might be produced of the feelings of love and friendship, painted by our author with a most natural and happy delicacy.

The simplicity of Ossian's manner adds great beauty to his descriptions, and indeed to his whole poetry. We meet with no affected ornaments; no forced refinement; no marks either in style or thought of a studied endeavour to shine or sparkle. Ossian appears everywhere to be prompted by his feelings; and to speak from the abundance of his heart. I remember no more than one instance of what may be called a quaint thought in this whole collection of his works. It is in the first book of Fingal, where, from the tombs of two lovers, two lonely yews are mentioned to have sprung, 'whose branches wished to meet on high.' This sympathy of the trees with the lovers, may be reckoned to border on an Italian conceit; and it is somewhat curious to find this single instance of that sort of wit in our Celtic poetry.

"The joy of grief is one of Ossian's remarkable expressions, several times repeated. If any one shall think that it needs to be justified by a precedent, he may find it twice used by Homer: in the Iliad, when Achilles is visited by the ghost ofPatroclus; and in the Odyssey, when Ulysses meets his mother in the shades. On both these occasions, the heroes, melted with tenderness, lament their not having it in their power to throw their arms round the ghost, "that we* might," say they, "in mutal embrace, enjoy the delight of grief."

Kpvcpolo roTapntafitada ySoto.

But, in truth, the expression stands in need of no defence from authority; for it is a natural and just expression; and conveys a clear idea of that gratification which a virtuous heart often feels in the indulgence of a tender mclam.holy. Ossian makes a very proper distinction between this gratification and the destructive effect of overpowering grief. 'There is a joy in grief when peace dwells in the breasts of the sad. But sorrow wastes the mournful, O daughter of Toscar, and their days are few." To 'give the joy of grief," generally signifies, to raise the strain of soft and grave music; and finely characterizes the taste of Ossian's age and country. In those days, when the songs of bards were the great delight of heroes, the tragic muse was held in chief honour: gallant actions and virtuous sufferings, were the chosen theme; preferably to that light and trifling strain of poetry and music, which promotes light and trifling manners, and serves to emasculate the mind. 'Strike the harp in my hall,' said the great Fingal, in the midst of youth and victory; "strike the harp in my hall, and let Fingal hear the song. Pleasant is the joy of grief! It is like the shower of spring, when it softens the branch of the oak; and the young leaf lifts its green head. Sing on, O bards! To-morrow we lift the sail."

Personal epithets have been much used by all the poets of the most ancient ages; and when well chosen, not general and unmeaning, they contribute not a little to render the style descriptive and animated. Besides epithets founded on bodily distinctions, akin to many of Homer's, we find in Ossian several which are remirkably beautiful and poetical. Such as Oscar of the future fights, Fingal of the mildest look, Carril of other times, the mildly blushing Evir-allin: Bragela, the lonely sun-beam of Dunscaich; a Culdee, the son of the secret cell.

But of all the ornaments employed in descriptive poetry, comparisons or similes are the most splendid. These chiefly form what is called the imagery of a poem; and as they abound so much in the works of Ossian, and are commonly among the favorite passages of all poets, it may be expected that I should be some, what particular in my remarks upon them.

A poetical simile always supposes two objects brought together, between which there is some near relation or connexion in the fancy. What that relation ought to be, cannot be precisely defined. For various, almost numberless, are the analogies formed among objects, by a sprightly imagination. The relation of actual similitude, or likeness of appearance, is far from being the only foundation of poetical comparison. Sometimes a resemblance in the effect produced by two objects, is made the connecting principle: sometimes a resemblance in one distinguishing property or circumstance. Very often two objects are brought together in a simile, though they resemblo oi:e another, strictly speaking, in nothing, only because they raise in the mind a train of similar, and what may be called concordant, ideas; so that the remembrance of the one, when recalled, serves to quicken and heighten the impression made by the other. Thus, to give an instance from our poet, the pleasure with which an o'd mac looks back on the exploits of his youth, has certainly no direct resemblance to the beauty of a fine evening; farther than that both agree in producing a certain calm, placid joy. Yet Ossian has founded upon this, one of the most beautiful comparisons that is to be met with in any poet. 'Wilt thou not listen, son of the rock, to the song of Ossian? My soul is full of other times; the joy of my youth returns. Thus the sun appears in the west, after the steps of his brightness have moved behind a storm. The green hills lift their dewy heads. The blue streams rejoice in the vale. The aged hero comes forth on his staff; and his gray hair glitters in the beam.' Never was there a finer group of objects. It raises a strong conception of th»

« PreviousContinue »