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great and heroic in one generation, easily ripened into the marvellous in the next.
The natural representation of human characters in an epic poem is highly essential to its merit: and in respect of this, there can be no doubt of Homer's excelling all the heroic poets who have ever wrote. But ; though Ossiau be much inferior to Homer in this artic cle, he will be found to be equal at least, if not supe. rior, to Virgil; and has indeed given all the display of human nature which the simple occurrences of his times could be expected to furnish. No dead uniformity of character prevails in Fingal; but, on the contrary, the principal characters are not only clearly distinguished, but sometimes artfully contrasted, so as to illustrate each other. Ossian's heroes are like Homer's, all brave; but their bravery, like those of Homer's too, is of different kinds. For instance; the prudent, the sedate, the modest, and circumspect Connal, is finely opposed to the presumptuous, rash, overbearing, but gallant and generoas Calmar. Calmar hurries Cuthullin into action by his temerity ; and when he sees the bad effect of his counsels, he will not survive the disgrace. Connal, like another Ulysses, attends Cuthullin to his retreat, counsels and comforts him under his misfortune, The fierce, the proud, and high-spirited Swaran is admirably contrasted with the calm, the moderate, and ger.erous Fingal. The character of Oscar is a favourite ore, throughout the whole poems. The amiable warmth of the young warrior; his eager impetuosity in the day of action; his passion for fame; his submission to his father; his tenderness for Malvina ; are the strokes of a masterly pencil: the strokes are few; but it is the hand of nature, and attracts the heart. Os. sian's own character, the old man, the hero, and the bard, all in one, presents to us through the whole work a most respectable and venerable figure, which we always conteinplate with pleasure. Cuthullin is a hero of the highest class ; daring, magnanimous, and exquisitely sensible to honour. We become attached to his . interest, and are deeply touched with his distress; and
do of Fingal; who
after the admiration raised for him in the first part of me poem, it is a strong proof of Ossian's masterly gemus, that he durst adventure to produce to us another weto, compared with whom, even the great Cuthullin, could be only an inferior personage ; and who shoula ise as far above him, as Cuthullin rises above the rest.
; indeed, in the character and description of FinOssian triumphs almost unrivalled: for we may
defy all antiquity to shew us any hero equal to gal. Homer's Hector possesses several great and jable qualities; but Hector is a secondary personage de Iliad, not the hero of the work. We see him occasionally; we know much less of him than we
Fingal; who not only in this epic poem, but in vora, and throughout the rest of Ossian's works, is sented in all that variety of lights, which give the display of a character. And though Hector faith
scharges his duty to his country, his friends, and oily, he is tinctured, however, with a degree of me savage ferocity, which prevails among all the eric heroes. For we find him insulting over the
Patroclus, with the most cruel taunts, and tel. nim when he lies in the agony of death, that Achil.
nnot help him now; and that in a short time his y, stripped naked, and deprived of funeral honours,
be devoured by the vulturesp. Whereas, in the cter of Fingal, concur almost all the qualities that nnoble human nature ; that can either make us
e the hero, or love the man. He is not only un. querable in war, but he makes his people happy by
sdom in the days of peace. He is truly the Fa. of his people. He is known by the epithet of ngal of the mildest look ;” and distinguished on occasion, by humanity and generosity. He is to his foes?; full of affection to his children; .
the same savage Homeric heroes fallen Patroclus,
les cannot help body, strippes shall be devours
" Fingal of
merciful to his foes!; tu
Iliad 16 830 IL. 17 127.
him, to order 25
When he commands his sons
agyfleet against him or his allies.
han as his sons, after Swarau is taken prisoner, " to pursue the rest
neath of Lena; that no vessel niny hereafter bound on the dark. core;" he means not assurediy, as some have misrepresented al siaughter of the foe, and to prevent ther saying hemselysby
general, he commands his chiefs to render the victory complete, nemy; that they might adventure no more for the future to fc
full of concern about friends; and never mentions Agandecca, his first love, without the utmost tenderness, He is “the universal protector of the distressed;" “ None ever went sad from Fingal.” “O Oscar! “ bend the strong in arms; but spare the feeble hand. “ Be thou a stream of many tides against the foes of “ thy people; but like the gale that moves the grass, “ to those that ask thine aid. So Trenmor lived; such “ Trathal was, and such has Fingal been. My arm “ was the support of the injured; the weak rested be“ hind the lightning of my steel.”—These were the maxims of true heroism, to which he formed his grand. son. His fame is represented as every where spread; the greatest heroes acknowledge his superiority; his enemies tremble at his name; and the highest encomium that can be bestowed on one whom the poet would most exalt, is to say, that his soul was like the soul of Fingal.
To do justice to the poet's merit, in supposing such a character as this, I must observe, what is not commonly attended to, that there is no part of poetical execution more difficult, than to draw a perfect character in such a manner, as to render it distinct and affecting to the mind. Some strokes of human imperfection and frailty, are what usually give us the most clear view, and the most sensible impression of a character; because they present to us a man, such as we have seen; they recal known features of human nature. When poets attempt to go beyond this range, and describe a fault. less hero, they, for the most part, set before us a sort of vague undistinguishable character, such as the ima. gination cannot lay hold of, or realize to itself, as the object of affection. We know how much Virgil has failed in this particular. His perfect hero, Æneas, is an inanimated insipid personage, whom we may pretend to admire, but whom no one can heartily love. But what Virgil has failed in, Ossian, to our astonishment, has successfully executed. His Fingal, though exhibited without any of the common human failings, is nevertheless a real man; a character which touches
and interests every reader. To this it has much con- tributed, that the poet has represented him as an old : 1. man; and by this has gained the advantage of throwing
around him a great many circumstances peculiar to that age, which paint him to the fancy in a more distinct light. He is surrounded with his family ;-he instructs his children in the principles of virtue; he is
narrative of his past exploits ; he is venerable with the I grey locks of age; he is frequently disposed to moralį ize, like an old man, on human vanity, and the pros
pect of death. There is more art, at least more felicity, in this, than may at first be imagined. For youth and old age are the two states of human life, capable of being placed in the most picturesque lights. Middle age is more general and vague, and has fewer circumstances peculiar to the idea of it. And when any object is in a situation that admits it to be rendered particular, and to be clothed with a variety of circumstances, it always stands out more clear and full in poe. tical description.
Besides human personages, divine or supernatural agents are often introduced into epic poetry ; forming what is called the machinery of it; which most critics hold to be an essential part. The marvellous, it must be admitted, has always a great charm for the bulk of readers. It gratifies the imagination, and affords room for striking and sublime description. No wonder, therefore, that all poets should have a strong propensity towards it. But I must observe, that nothing is more
ficult than to adjust properly the marvellous with the probable. If a poet sacrifice probability, and fill his work with extravagant supernatural scenes, he spreads over it an appearance of romance and childish fiction; he transports his readers from this world, inio a fantastic, visionary region ; and loses the weight and dignity which should reign in epic poetry. No work, from which probability is altogether banished, can make a lasting or deep impression. Human actions and manDers are always the most interesting objects which can be presented to a human mind. All machinery, there. fore, is faulty, which withdraws these too much fron view, or obscures them under a cloud of incredible fictions. Besides being temperately employed, machinery ought always to have some foundation in popular be. lief. A poet is by no means at liberty to invent what system of the marvellous he pleases : he must avail himself either of the religious faith, or the superstitious credulity of the country wherein he lives ; so as to give an air of probability to events which are most contrary to the common course of nature,
In these respects, Ossian appears to me to have been remarkably happy. He has indeed followed the same course with Homer. For it is perfectly absurd to ima. gine, as some critics have done, that Homer's mythology was invented by him, in consequence of profound reflectio: 3 on the benefits it would yield to poetry. Homer was no such refining genius. He found the tradis tionary stories on which he built his Iliad, mingled with popular legends concerning the intervention of the gods; and he adopted these, because they amused the fancy. Ossian, in like manner, found the tales of his country full of ghosts and spirits : it is likely he believed them himself; and he introduced them, because they gave his poems that solemn and marvellous cast which suited his genius. This was the only machinery he could employ with propriety ; because it was the only intervention of supernatural beings, which agreed with the coinmon belief of the country. It was happy ; because it did not interfere in the least with tlie proper display of human characters and actions; because it had less of the incredible than most other kinds of poetical machinery ; and because it served to diversify the scene, and to heighten the subject, by an awful grandeur, which is the great design of machinery.
As Ossian's mythology is peculiar to himself, and makes a considerable figure in his other poems, as well as in Fingal, it may be proper to make some observa. tions on it, independent of its subserviency to epic composition. It turns for the most part on the appearances of departed spirits. These, consonantly to the notions