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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 remarkably beautiful and poetical. Such as, Oscar of the future fights, Fingal of the mildest look, Carril of other times, the mildly blushing Everallin; 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 similies 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 favourite passages of all poets, it may be expected that I should be somewhat particular in my remarks upon them.
A poetical simile always supposes two objects brought together, between which there is some near relation or connection 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 distinguishmg property or circumstance. Very often two objects are brought together in a simile, though they resemble one 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 't> quicken and heighten the impression made by the .Jthcr. Thus, to give an instance from our poet, the pleasure with which an old man 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- Os"sian ? My soul is full of other times; the joy of my "youth retorns. 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 the old man's joy and elation of heart, by displaying a scene, which produces in every spectator a corresponding train of pleasing emotions; the declining sun looking forth in his brightness after a storm; the cheerful face of all nature; and the still life finely animated by the circumstance of the aged hero, with his staff and his grey locks; a circumstance both extremely picturesque in itself, and peculiarly suited to the main object of the comparison. Such analogies and associations of ideas as these, are highly pleasing to the fancy. They give opportunity for introducing many a fine poetical picture. They diversify the scene; they aggrandize the subject; they keep the imagination awake and sprightly. For as the judgment is principally exercised in distinguishing objects, and remarking the difference among those which seem like, so the highest amusement of the imagination is to trace likenesses and agreements among those which seem different.
The principal rules which respect poetical comparisons, are, thrit they be introduced on proper occasions, when the mind is disposed to relish them; and not in the midst of some severe and agitating passion, which cannot admit this play of fancy; that they be founded on a resemblance neither too near and obvious, so as to give little amusement to the imagination in tracing it, nor too faint and remote, so as to be apprehended with difficulty; that they serve either to illustrate the principal object, and to render the conception of it more clear and distinct; or, at least, to heighten and embellish it by a suitable association of images ".
Every country has a scenery peculiar to itself; and the imagery of a good poet will exhibit it: for as he copies after nature, his allusions will of course be taken from those objects which he sees around him, and which have often struck his fancy. For this reason, m order to judge of the propriety of poetical imagery, we ought to be, in some measure acquainted with the natural history of the country where the scene of the poem is laid. The introduction of foreign images betrays * poet, copying not from nature, but from other writers. Hence so many lions, and tygers, and eagles, and serpents, which we meet with in the similies of modern poets; as if these animals had acquired some right to a place in poetical comparisons for ever, because employed by ancient authors. They employed them with propriety, as objects generally known in their country; hut as they are absurdly used as illustrations by us, who know them only at second hand, or by description. To most readers of modern poetry, it were more to the purpose to describelions or tygers bysimilies taken from men, than to compare men to lions. Ossian is very correct in this particular. His imagery is without exception copied from that face of nature which he saw .\,jbefore his eyes; and by consequence may be expected to be lively. We meet with no Grecian or Italian scenery; but with the mists, and clouds, and storms, of a northern mountaneous region.
No poet abounds more in similies than Ossian. There are in this collection as many, at least, as in the whole Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. I am indeed inclined to think, that the works of both poets are too much crowded with them. Similies are sparkling ornaments; and like all things that sparkle, are apt to dazzle and tire us by their lustre. But if Ossian's similies be too frequent, they have this advantage of being commonly shorter than Homer's; they interrupt his narration less; he just glances aside to some resembling object, and instant" )y returns to his former track. Homer's similies include a wider range of objects. But, in return, Ossian's are, without exception, taken from objects of dignity, which cannot be said for all those which Homer employs. The sun, the. moon, and the stars, clouds and meteors, lightning and thunder, seas and whales, rivers, torrents, winds, ice, rain, snow, dews, mist, fire and smoke, trees and forests, heath and grass and flowers, rocks and mountains, music and songs, light and darkness, spirits and ghosts; these form the circle, within which Ossian's comparisons generally run. Some, not many, are taken from birds and beasts; as eagles, seafowl, the horse, the deer, and the mountain-bee ; and a very few from such operations of art as were then known. Homer has diversified his imagery by many more allusions to the animal world; to lions, bulls, goats, herds of cattle, serpents, insects; and to various occupations of rural and pastoral life. Ossian's defect in this article is plainly owing to the desart, uncultivated state of his country, which suggested to him few images beyond natural inanimate objects, in their rudest form. The birds and animals of the country were probably not numerous; and his acquaintance with them was slender, as they were little subjected to the uses of man.
u See Elements of Criticism, Vol. iii. cii. 19.
The great objection made to Ossian's imagery, is its uniformity, and the too frequent repetition of the same comparisons. In a work so thick sown with similies, one could not but expect to find images of the same kind sometimes suggested to the poet by resembling objects; especially to a poet like Ossian, who wrote from the immediate impulse of poetical enthusiasm, and without much preparation of study or labour. Fertile as Homer's imagination is acknowledged to be, who does not know how often his lions, and bulls, and flocks of ilieep recur, with little or no variation ; nay, sometimes m the very same words? The objection made to Osiian is, however, founded in a great measure upon a mistake. It has been supposed by inattentive readers, that wherever the moon, the cloud, or the thunder, re
turns in a simile* it is the same simile, and the same moon, or cloud, or thunder, which they had met with a few pages before. Whereas very often the similies are' widely different. The object, whence they arc taken, is indeed in substance the same; but the image is new: for the appearance of the object is changed; it is presented to the fancy in another attitude; and clothed with new circumstances, to make it suit the different illustration for which it is employed. In this lies Ossian's great art; in so happily varying the form of the few natural appearances with which he was acquainted, as to make them correspond to a great many different objects.
Let us take for one instance the moon, which is very frequently introduced into his comparisons; as in northern climates, where the nights are long, the moon is a greater object of attention, than in the climate of Homer; and let us view how much our poet has diversified its appearance. The shield of a warrior 'a like *' the darkened moon when it moves in a dun circle thro' "the heavens." The face of a ghost, wan and pale, is like " the beam of the setting moon." .And a different appearance of a ghost, thin and indistinct, is like "the new moon seen through the gathered mist, when "the sky pours down the flaky snow, and the world is "silent and dark ;" or in a different form still, it is like "the watery beam of the moon, when it rushes from "between two clouds, and the midnight shower is on "the field." A very opposite use is made of the moon in the description of Agandecca: she came in all her "beauty, like the moon from the cloud of the east." Hope, succeeded by disappointment, is, " joy rising on "her face, and sorrow returning again, like a thin cloud "on the moon." But when Swaran, after his defeat, is cheered by Fingal's generosity, " His face bright"ened like the full moon of heaven, when the clouds "van th away, and leave her calm and broad in the *' mid of the sky." Vinvela is " bright as the moon, "when it trembles over the western wave ;" but the soul of the guilty Uthal is," dark as the troubled face