« PreviousContinue »
« talk of arms no more : departed is my fame. My « sighs shall be on Cromla's wind; till my footsteps 4 cease to be seen. And thou, white-bosomed Bra“ gela! mourn over the fall of my fame ; for van" quished, I will never return to thee, thou sup-beam « of Dunscaich!”
Astuat ingens Uno in corde pudor luctusque, et conscia virtus. Besides such extended pathetic scenes, Ossian frequently pierces the heart by a single unexpected stroke. When Oscar fell in battle, “ No father mourned his son “ slain in youth; no brother his brother of love ; they “ fell without tears, for the chief of the people was * low.” In the admirable interview of Hector with Andromache, in the sixth Iliad, the circumstance of the child in his nurse's arms, has often been remarked as adding much to the tenderness of the scene. In the following passage relating to the death of Cuthullin, we find a circumstance that must strike the imagination with still greater force. 6 And is the son of Semo u fallen?” said Carril with a sigh. “ Mournful are “ Tura's walls, and sorrow dwells at Dunscaich, Thy « spouse is left alone in her youth; the son of thy love “ is alone. He shall come to Bragela, and ask her 4 why she weeps. He shall lift his eyes to the wall, " and see his father's sword. Whose sword is that? " he will say ; and the soul of his mother is sad.” Soon after Fingal had shewn all the grief of a father's heart for Ryno, one of his sons, fallen in battle, he is calling, after his accustomed manner, his sons to the chase. “ Call,” says he, “ Fillan and Ryno-But he is not es here--My son rests on the bed of death.” This unexpected start of anguish is worthy of the highest tra. gic poet.
If she comes in, she'll sure speak to my wife-
OTHELLO, Act 5. Scene 7. . The contrivance of the incident in both poets' is si milar: but the circumstances are yaried with jugmei:
Othello dwells upon the name of wife, when it had fallen from him, with the confusion and horror of one tortured with guilt. Fingal, with the dignity of a hero, corrects himself, and suppresses his rising grief.
The contrast which Ossian frequently makes between his present and his former state, diffuses, over his whole poetry, a solemn pathetic air, which cannot fail to make impression on every heart. The conclusion of the Songs of Selma, is particularly calculated for this purpose. Nothing can be more poetical and tender, or can leave upon the mind a stronger, and more affecting idea of the venerable aged bard. “ Such weré " the words of the bards in the days of the song ; when " the king heard the music of harps, and the tales of “ other times. The chiefs gathered from all their hills, " and heard the lovely sound. They praised the voice “ of Conai; the first among a thousand bards. But “ age is now on my tongue, and my soul has failed. I “ hear, sometimes, the ghosts of bards, and learn their “ pleasant song. But memory fails on my mind; I “hear the call of years. They say, as they pass along, “ Why does Ossian sing? Soon shall he lie in the nar"row house, and no bard shall raise his fame. Roll “ on, ye dark brown years!' for ye bring no joy in “ your course. Let the tomb open to Ossian, for his “ strength has failed. The sons of the song are gone “ to rest. My voice remains, like a blast, that roars “ lonely on a sea-surrounding rock, after the winds are “ laid. The dark moss whistles there, and the distant “ mariner sees the waving trees.”
Upon the whole; if to feel strongly, and to describe naturally, be the two chief ingredients in poetical genius, Ossian must, after fair examination, be held to possess that genius in a high degree. The question is not whether a few impropiieties may be pointed out in his works; whether this, or that passage, might not have been worked up with more art and skill, by some writer of happier times? A thousand such cold and frivolous criticisms, are altogether indecisive as to his
genuine merit. But has he the spirit, the fire, the inspiration of a poet? Does he utter the voice of nature? Does he elevate by his sentiments ? Does he interest by his descriptions? Does he paint to the heart as well as to the fancy? Does he make his readers glow, and tremble, and weep? These are the great characteristics of true poetry. Where these are found, he must be a minute critic indeed, who can dwell upon slight defects. A few beauties of this high kind, transcend whole volumes of faultless mediocrity. Uncouth and abrupt Ossian may sometimes appear, by reason of his conciseness. But he is sublime, he is pathetic, in an eminent degree. If he has not the extensive knowledge, the regular dignity of narration, the fullness and accuracy of description, which we find in Homer and Virgil, yet in strength of imagination, in grandeur of sentiment, in native majesty of passion, he is fully their equal. If he flows not always like a clear stream, yet he breaks forth often like a torrent of fire. Of art too, he is far from being destitute; and his imagination is remarkable for delicacy as well as strength. Seldom of never is he either trifling or tedious; and if he be thought too melancholy, yet he is always moral. Though his merit were in other respects much less than It is, this alone ought to entitle him to high regard, that his writings are remarkably favourable to virtue. They awake the tenderest sympathies, and inspire the most generous emotions. No reader can rise from mm, without being warmed with humanity, virtue, and
Though unacquainted with the original language, there is no one but must judge the translation to deserve the highest praise, on account of its beauty and elegance.
Of its faithfulness and accuracy, I have been assured by persons skilled in the Gaelic tongue, who, from their youth, were acquainted with many of these poems of Ossian. To transfuse such spirited and fervid ideas from one language into another ; to translate literally, and not with such a glow of poetry; to keep alive so
much passion, and support so much dignity throughout, is one of the most difficult works of genius, and proves the translator to have been animated with no small portion of Ossian's spirit.
The measured prose which he has employed, possesses considerable advantages above any sort of versifica. tion he could have chosen. Whilst it pleases and fills the ear with a variety of harmonious cadences, being. at the same time, freer from constraint in the choice and arrangement of words, it allows the spirit of the original to be exhibited with more justness, force, and simplicity. Elegant, however, and masterly as Mr Macpherson's translation is, we must never forget, whilst we read it, that we are putting the merit of the original to a severe test. For, we are examining a poet stripped of his native dress : divested of the harmony of his own numbers. We know how much grace and energy the works of the Greek and Latin poets receive from the charm of versification in their original languages. If, then, destitute of this advantage, exhibited in a literal version, Ossian still has power to please as a poet; and not to please only, but often to command, to transport, to melt the heart; we may very safely infer, that his productions are the offspring of true and uncommon genius ; and we may boldly assign him a place among those whose works are to last for ages.
1 The substance of the preceding, dissertation was origi
nally delivered, soon after the first publication of Fingal, in the course of my lectures in the University of Edinburgh ; and, at the desire of several of the hearers, was afterwards enlarged, and given to the public.
As the degree of antiquity belonging to the Poems of Ossian, appeared to be a point which might bear dispute, I endeavoured from internal evidence, to show that these poems must be referred to a very remote period; without pretending to ascertain precisely the date of their composition. I had not the least suspicion, when this dissertation was first published, that there was any occasion for supporting their authenticity, as genuine productions of the Highlands of Scotland, as translations from the Gaelic language; not forgeries of a supposed translator. In Scotland their authenticity was dever called in question. I myself had particular reasons to be fully satisfied concerning it. My knowledge of Mr Macpherson's personal honour and integrity, gave me full assurance of his being incapable of putting such a gross imposition, first upon his friends, and then upon the public; and if this had not been sufficient, I knew, besides, that the manner in which these poems were brought to light, was entirely inconsistent with any fraud. An accidental conversation with a gentleman distinguished in the literary world, gave occasion to Mr Macpherson's translating literally one or two small pieces of the old Gaelic poetry. These being shewn to me and some others, rendered us very desirous of becoming more acquainted with that poetry. Mr Macpherson, afraid of not doing justice to compo.