Page images
PDF
EPUB

the Roman stateliness which he everywhere maintains, admit no parallel with the abrupt boldness and enthusiastic warmth of the Celtic bard. In one article, indeed, there is a resemblance. Virgil is more tender than Homer; and therefore agrees more with Ossian; with this difference, that the feelings of the one are more gentle and polished, those of the other more strong; the tenderness of Virgil softens, that of Ossian dissolves and overcomes the heart.

A resemblance sometimes may be observed between Ossian's comparisons, and those employed by the sacred writers. They abound much in this figure, and they use it with the utmost propriety d. The imagery of Scripture exhibits a soil and climate altogether different from those of Ossian ; a warmer country, a more smiling face of nature, the arts of agriculture and of rural life much farther advanced. The wine-press, and the threshing-floor, are often presented to us, the cedar and the palm-tree, the fragrance of perfumes, the voice of the turtle, and the beds of lilies. The similies are, like Ossian's, generally short, touching on one point of resemblance, rather than spread out into little episodes. In the following example may be perceived what inexpressible grandeur poetry receives from the intervention of the Deity. “ The nations shall rush like the rushing

of many waters ; but God shall rebuke them, and they "shall fly far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the "mountains before the wind, and like the down of the " thistle before the whirlwind .."

Besides formal comparisons, the poetry of Ossian is z embellished with many beautiful metaphors: such as

that remarkably fine one applied to Deugala; “ she was "covered with the light of beauty; but her heart was "the house of pride." * This mode of expression, which suppresses the mark of comparison, and substitutes a fie gured description, in room of the object described, is a great enlivener of style. It denotes that glow and rapidity of fancy which, without pausing to form a regular

Sec Dr Lowth de Sacra Poesi Hebræorum.

Isaiah

[ocr errors]

simile, paints the object at one stroke. “ Thou art to “ me the beam of the east, rising in a land unknown." -" In peace thou art the gale of spring; in war, the “ mountain storm.” “ Pleasant be thy rest, o lovely “ beam, soon hast thou set on our hills ! The steps of “ thy departure were stately, like the moon on the blue % trembling wave. But thou hast left us in darkness, “ first of the maids of Lutha! soon hast thou set, Mal. 66 vina! but thou risest like the beam of the east, among " the spirits of thy friends, where they sit in their stormy 6 halls, the chambers of the thunder.” This is correct, and finely supported. But in the following instance, the metaphor, though very beautiful at the beginning, becomes imperfect before it closes, by being improperly mixed with the literal sense. “Trathal went forth with “ the stream of his people; but they met a rock; Fin“ gal stood unmoved; broken they rolled back from: his side. Nor did they roll in safety ; for the spear of “ the king pursued their flight.”

The hyperbole is a figure which we might expect to find often employed by Ossian ; as the undisciplined imagination of early ages generally prompts exagge. ration, and carries its objects to excess; whereas longer experience, and farther progress in the arts of life, chasten men's ideas and expressions. Yet Ossan's hy. perboles appear not to me either so frequent or so harsh as might at first have been looked for; an advantage owing no doubt to the more cultivated state in which, as was before shewn, poetry subsisted among the ancient Celtæ, than among most other barbarous nations. One of the most exaggerated descriptions in the whole work, is what meets us at the beginning of Fingal, where the scout makes his report to Cuthullin of the landing of the foe. But this is so far from deserving censure that its merits praise, as being on that occasion natural and proper. The scout arrives, trembling, and full of fears; and it is well known, that no passion disposes men to hyperbolise more than terror. It both annihilates themselves in their own apprehension, and magnifies every obiect which they view through the medium of a troub

- led imagination. Hence all those indistinct images of

formidable greatness, the natural marks of a disturbed and confused mind, which occur in Moran's description of Swaran's appearance, and in his relation of the conference which they held together; not unlike the report which the afrighted Jewish spies made to their leader of the land of Canaan. " The land through “ which we have gone to search it, is a land that eat. " eth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people " that we saw in it are men of great stature ; and there "saw we giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the " giants : and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, " and so we were in their sight.fo'

With regard to personifications, I formerly observed that Ossian was sparing, and I accounted for his being So. Allegorical personages he has none; and their absence is not to be regretted. For the intermixture of those shadowy beings, which have not the support even of mythological or legendary belief, with human actors, seldom produces a good effect. The fiction be. comes too visible and phantastic; and overthrows that impression of reality, which the probable recital of human actions is calculated to make upon the mind. In the serious and pathetic scenes of Ossian especially, al. legorical characters would have been as much out of place as in tragedy; serving only unseasonably to a. muse the fancy, whilst they stopped the current, and weakened the force of passion.

With apostrophes, or addresses, to persons absent or dead, which have been, in all ages, the language of passion, our poet abounds; and they are among his highest beauties. Witness the apostrophe, in his first book of Fingal, to the maid of Inistore, whose lover had fallen in battle ; and that inimitably fine one of Cuthullin to Bragela, at the conclusion of the same book. He commands the harp to be struck in her praise; and the mention of Bragela's name, immediately suggesting to him a crowd of tender ideas, “ Dost thou raise " thy fair face from the rocks,” he exclaims, “ to find “ the sails of Cuthullin? The sea is rolling far distant, " and its white foam shall deceive thee for my sails." And now his imagination being wrought up to conceive her as, at that moment, really in this situation, he becomes afraid of the harm she may receive from the inclemency of the night; and with an enthusiasm, happy and affecting, though beyond the cautious strain of modern poetry, “ Retire,” he proceeds, “ retire, “ for it is night, my love, and the dark winds sigh in " thy hair. Retire to the hall of my feasts, and think “ of the times that are past; for I will not return till " the storm of war has ceased. O Connal, speak of “ wars and arms, and send her from my mind; for “ lovely with her raven hair is the white-bosomed “ daughter of Sorglan.” This breathes all the native spirit of passion and tenderness.

f Numbers xiii. 32, 33.

The addresses to the sun, to the moon, and to the e. vening star, must draw tbe attention of every reader of taste, as among the most splendid ornaments of this collection. The beauties of each are too great, and too obvious to need any particular comment. In one pas. sage only of the address to the moon, their appears some obscurity. “ Whither dost thou retire from thy “ course, when the darkness of thy countenance grows? " hast thou thy hall like Ossian? Dwellest thou in the “ shadow of grief? have thy sisters fallen from heaven? " Are they who rejoiced with thee at night, no more? “ Yes, they have fallen, fair light! and thou dost often “ retire to mourn." We may be at a loss to comprehend, at first view, the ground of these speculations of Ossian, concerning the moon ; but when all the circumstances are attended to, they will appear to fiow naturally from the present situation of his mind. A mind under the dominion of any strong passion, tinctures with its own disposition every object which it beholds. The old bard, with his heart bleeding for the loss of all his friends, is meditating on the different phases of the moon. Her waning and darkness, presents to his melancholy imagination, the image of sor*Ow; and presently the idea arises, and is indulged,

that, like himself, she retires to mourn over the loss of
other moons, or of stars, whom he calls her sisters, and
fancies to have once rejoiced with her at night, now
fallen from heaven. Darkness suggested the idea of
mourning, and mourning suggested nothing so natu-
raily to Ossian, as the death of beloved friends. An
instance precisely similar, of this influence of passion,
may be seen in a passage, which has always been admired,
of Shakespeare's King Lear. The old man on the point
of distraction through the inhumanity of his daugh-
ters, sees Edgar appear disguised like a beggar and a
madman.
LEAR. Didst thou give all to thy daughters? And art thou come te

this?
Couldest thou leave nothing? Didst thou give them all?
KENT. He hath no daughters, Sir.
LEAR. Death, traitor! nothing could have subdued nature
To such a lowness, but his unkind daughters.

*KING LEAR, Act 3. Scene 5.

The apostrophe to the winds in the opening of Darthula, is in the highest spirit of poetry. “ But the “ winds deceive thee, 0 Dar-thula, and deny the " woody Etha to thy sails. These are not thy moun“ tains, Nathos, nor is that the rear of thy climbing “ waves. The halls of Cairbar are near, and the towers “ of the foe lift their herd. Where have ye been, ye “ southern winds ; when the sons of my love were de“ ceived? But ye have been sporting on plains, and “ pursuing the thistle's beard. O that ye had been rust“ ling in the sails of Nathos, till the hills of Etha rose! “ till they rose in their clouds, and saw their coming “ chief." This passage is remarkable for the resemblance it bears to an expostulation with the wood nymphs on their absence at a critical time; which is a favourite poetical idea, Virgil has copied from Theocritus, and Milton has very happily imitated fron both.

Where were ye nymphs! when the remorseless deep
Clos'd o'er the head of your lov'd Lycidas?
For neither were ye playing on the steep
Where your old bards, the famous druid

« PreviousContinue »