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the poetical spirit. That state, in which human nature shoots wild and free, though unfit for other improve. ments, certainly encourages the high exertions of fan. cy and passion.
In the infancy of societies, men live scattered and dispersed, in the midst of solitary rural scenes, where the beauties of nature are their chief entertainment. They meet with many objects, to them new and strange; their wonder and surprise are frequently excited; and by the sudden changes of fortune occurring in their un. settled state of life, their passions are raised to the utmost. Their passions have nothing to restrain them: their imagination has nothing to check it. They display themselves to one another without disguise; and converse and act in the uncovered simplicity of nature. As their feelings are strong, so their language, of itself, assumes a poetical turn. Prone to exaggerate, they describe every thing in the strongest colours; which, of course, renders their speech picturesque and figurative. Figurative language owes its rise chiefly to two causes; to the want of proper names for objects, and to the in. fluence of imagination and passion over the form of expression. Both these causes concur in the infancy of society. Figures are commonly considered as artificial modes of speech, devised by orators and poets, after the world had advanced to a refined state. The contrary of this is the truth. Men never have used so many figures of style as in those rude ages, when, besides the power of a warm imagination to suggest lively images, the want of proper and precise terms for the ideas they would express, obliged them to have recourse to circumlocution, metaphor, comparison, and all those substituted forms of expression, which give a poetical air to language. An American chief, at this day, harangues at the head of his tribe, in a more bold metaphorical style, than a modern European would adventure to use in an epic poem.
In the progress of society, the genius and manners of men undergo a change more favourable to accuracy man to sprightliness and sublimity. As the world ad. tances, the understanding gains ground upon the ima.
gination; the understanding is more exercised, the E: imagination less. Fewer objects occur that are new or
surprising. Men apply themselves to trace the causes of things; they correct and refine one another; they subdue or disguise their passions; they form their exterior manners upon one uniform standard of politeness and civility. Human nature is pruned according to method and rule. Language advances from sterility to copiousness, and at the same time, from fervour and enthusiasm, to correctness and precision. Style becomes more chaste; but less animated. The progress of the world in this respect, resembles the progress of age in man. The powers of imagination are most vigorous and predominant in youth; those of the underStanding ripen more slowly, and often attain not their maturity till the imagination begin to dag. Hence, poetry, which is the child of imagination, is frequently most glowing and animated in the first ages of society. As the ideas of our youth are remembered with a peculiar pleasure on account of their liveliness and viva., city; so the most ancient poems have often proved the greatest favourites of nations.
Poetry has been said to be more ancient than prose ; and however paradoxial such an assertion may seem, yet in a qualified sense it is true. Men certainly never conversed with one another in regular numbers ; but, even their ordinary language would, in ancient times, for the reasons before assigned, approach to a poetical style; and the first compositions transmitted to posteriry, beyond doubt, were, in a literal sense, poems; that is, compositions in which imagination had the chief hand, formed into some kind of numbers, and pronounced with a musical modulation or tone, Music or song has been found coeval with society among the most barbarous nations. The only subjects which could prompt men, in their first rude state, to utter their oughts in compositions of any length, were such as
Mally assumed the tone of poetry ; praises of their quus, or of their ancestors ; commemorations of their own warlike exploits; or lamentations over their misfortunes. And before writing was invented, no other compositions, except songs or poems, could take such hold of the imagination and memory, as to be preserved by oral tradition, and handed down from one race to another.
Hence we may expect to find poems among the antiquities of all nations. It is probable too, that an extensive search would discover a certain degree of resemblance among all the most ancient poetical productions, from whatever country they have proceeded. In a similar state of manners, similar objects and passions operating upon the imaginations of men, will stamp their productions with the same general character. Some diversity will, no doubt, be occasioned by climate and genius. But mankind never bear such resembling features as they do in the beginnings of society. Its subsequent revolutions give rise to the principal distinctions among nations, and divert, into channels widely separated, that current of human genius and manners, which descends originally from one spring, What we have been long accustomed to call the orien. tal vein of poetry, because some of the earliest poetical productions have come to us from the East, is probably no more oriental than accidental; it is the characteris. tic of an age rather than a country; and belongs, in some measure, to all nations at a certain period. Of this the works of Ossian seem to furnish a remarkable proof.
Our present subject leads us to investigate the ancient poetical remains, not so much of the East, or of the Greeks and Romans, as of the Northern nations; in order to discover whether the Gothic poetry has any resemblance to the Celtic or Gaelic, which we are about to consider. Though the Goths, under which pame we usually comprehend all the Scandinavian tribes, were a people altogether fierce and martial, and noted to a proverb for their ignorance of the liberal arts, yet they too, from the earliest times, had their poets and their songs. Their poets were distinguished by the
title of Scalders, and their songs were termed Vyses. Saxo-Grammaticus, a Danish historian of considerable note, who flourished in the thirteenth century, informs us, that very many of these songs, containing the ancient traditionary stories of the country, were found engrayen upon rocks in the old Runic character; several of which he has translated into Latin, and inserted into his history. But his versions are plainly so paraphrastical, and forced into such an intiination of the style and the measures of the Roman poets, that one can forın no judgment from them of the native spirit of the original. A more curious monument of the true Gothic poetry is preserved by Olaus Wormius, in his book de Literatura Runica. It is an Epicedium, or funeral song, composed by Regner Lodbrog; and translated by Olaus, word for word, from the original. This Lodbrog was a king of Denmark, who lived in the eighth century, famous for his wars and victories; and at the same time an eminent Scalder, or poet. It was his misfortune to fall at last into the hands of one of his enemies, by whom he was thrown into prison, and condemned to be destroyed by serpents. In this situation
1 Olaus Wormius, in the Appendix to his Treatise de Literatura Runica, has given a particular account of the Gothic poetry, commonly called Runic, from Runes, which "gnines the Gothic letters. He intorms us, that there were no fewer than one hun. uced and thirty-six different kinds of measure or verse used in their vyses; and though e are accustomed to call rhyme a Gothic invention, he says expressly, that among all se measures, rhyme, or correspondence of final syllables, was never employed. e analyses the structure of one of these kinds of verse, that in which the poem or Lorog, afterwards quoted, is written; which exhibits a very singular species of haranony, if it can be allowed that name, depending neither upon rhyme nor tipon metrical
th, or quantity of syllables, but chicily upon the number of the syllables, and the disposition of the letters. In every stanza was an estal number of lines; in every line, Six syllables. In each distich, it was reguiste that three words should begin with the wane letter; two of the corresponding words placed in the first line of the distich, the urd, in the second line. In each line were also required twu syllables, but never the
i ones, formed either of the same consonants, or same vowels. As an example or was measure, Olaus gives us these two Latin lines constructed exactly according to the above rules of Runic verse :
Christus caput nostrum
Coronet te bonis he initial letters of Christus, Caput, and Coronet, make the three corresponding tters of the distich. In the first lins, the first syllables of Christus and of nostrum ;
the second line, the on' in coronet and in bonis, make the requisite correspondence " syllables. Frequent inversions and transpositions were permitted in this poetry: hich would naturally follow from such laborious attention to the collocation of words. i ne curious on this subject, my consult likewise Dr Hicks' Thesaurus Linguarum ptentrionatium ; particularly the 23d chapter of his Grammatica Anglo-Saxonicae
80 Gothica; where they will find full account of the structure of the Anglo-Saxon verse, which nearly resembled the Gothic. They will find al, o some specimens both
Gothic and Saxon poetry. An extract, which Dr Hicks has given from the work o e of the Danish Scalders, intituled, Hervarer Saga, containing an evocation from the sud, may be found in the 6th volume of Miscellany poems, published by Mr Drydea.
he solaced himself with rehearsing all the exploits of his life. The poem is divided into twenty-nine stanzas, of ten lines each; and every stanza begins with these words, Pugnavimus ensibus, “ We have fought with our swords.” Olaus's version is in many places so obscure as to be hardly intelligible. I have subjoined the whole below, exactly as he has published it ; and shall translate as much as may give the English reader an idea of the spirit and strain of this kind of poetry 8.
Ardua ad virorum pectora
Habere potuerunt tum corvi
Telorum nubes disrumpunt Clypeun
Pugnæ facta copia
Txercitus abjecit Clypeos