« ForrigeFortsett »
can recollect, has hitherto escaped the partisans of either side.
The elegant author of the Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, has very properly obviated the objections made to the uniformity of Ossian's imagery, and the too frequent repetition of the same comparisons. He has shewn, that this objection proceeds from a careless and inattentive perusal of the poems; for, although the range of the poet's objects was not wide, and consequently the same object does often return, yet its appearance is changed; the image is new; it is presented to the fancy in another attitude, and clothed with different circumstances, to make it suit the illustration for which it is employed. In this,' continues he, ‘lies Ossian's great art ;' and he illustrates his remark by taking the instances of the moon and of mist, two of the principal subjects of the bard's images and allusions.
I agree with this critic in his observations, though I think he has rather erred in ascribing to art in Ossian, that wonderful diversification of the narrow circle of objects with which he was acquainted. It was not by any efforts of art or contrivance that Ossian presented the rude objects of nature under so many different aspects. He wrote from a full heart, from a rich and glowing imagination. He did not seek for, and invent images; he copied nature, and painted objects as they struck and kindled his fancy. He had nothing within the range of his view, but the great features of simple nature. The sun, the moon, the stars, the desert heath, the winding stream, the green hill with all its roes, and the rock with its robe of mist, were the objects amidst which Ossian lived. Contemplating these, under every variety of appearance they could assume, no wonder that his warm and impassioned genius found in them a field fruitful of the most lofty and sublime imagery.
Thus the very circumstance of his having such a circumscribed range of inanimate objects to attract his attention and exercise his imagination, was the natural and necessary cause of Ossjan's being able to view and to describe them, under such a variety of great and beautiful appearances. And may we not proceed farther, and affirm, that so rich a diversification of the few appearances of simple nature, could hardly have occurred to the imagination of a poet living in any other than the rude and early age in which the son of Fingal appeared ?
In refined and polished society, where the works of art abound, the endless variety of objects that present themselves, distract and dissipate the attention. The mind is perpetually hurried from one object to another; and no time is left to dwell
the sublime and simple appearances of nature. A poet, in such an age, has a wide and diversified circle of objects on which to exercise his imagination. He has a large and diffused stock of materials from which to draw images to embellish his work; and he does not always resort for his imagery to the diversified appearance of the objects of rude nature; he does not avoid those because his taste rejects them; but he uses them seldom, because they seldom recur to his imagination.
To seize these images, belongs only to the poet of an early and simple age, where the undivided attention has leisure to brood over the few, but sublime objects which surround him. The sea and the heath, the rock and the torrent, the clouds and meteors, the thunder and lightning, the sun and moon and stars, are, as it were, the companions with which his imagination holds converse. He personifies and addresses them: every aspect they can assume is impressed upon his mind : he contemplates and traces them through all the endless varieties of seasons ; and they are the perpetual subjects of his images and allusions. He has, indeed, only a few objects around him; but, for that very reason, he forms a more intimate acquaintance with their every feature, and shade, and attitude.
From this circumstance, it would seem, that the poetical productions of widely-distant periods of society must ever bear strong marks of the age
which gave them birth; and that it is not possible for a poetical genius of the one age, to counterfeit and imitate the productions of the other. To the poet of a simple age, the varied objects which present them-' selves in cultivated society are unknown. To the poet of a refined age, the idea of imitating the productions of rude times might, perhaps, occur; but the execution would certainly be difficult, perhaps impracticable. To catch some few transient aspects of any of the great appearances of nature, may be within the reach of the genius of any age; but to perceive, and feel, and paint, all the shades of a few simple objects, and to make them correspond with a great diversity of subjects, the poet must dwell amidst them, and have them ever present to his mind.
The excellent critic, whom I have already mentioned, has selected the instances of the moon and of mist, to shew how much Ossian has diversified the appearance of the few objects with which he was encircled. I shall now conclude this paper
with lecting a third, that of the sun, which, I think, the bard has presented in such a variety of aspects, as could have occurred to the imagination in no other than the early and unimproved age in which Ossian is supposed to have lived. The vanquished
Frothal, struck with the generous magnanimity of Fingal, addresses him: Terrible art thou, o King of Morven, in battles of the spears;
but, in peace, thou art like the sun when he looks through a silent shower; the flowers lift their fair heads before him, and the gales shake their rustling wings.' Of the generous open Cathmor, exposed to the dark and gloomy Cairbar, it is said : “His face was like the plain of the sun, when it is bright:
no darkness travelled over his brow.' Of Nathos : : The soul of Nathos was generous and mild, like the hour of the setting-sun.' Of young Connal, coming to seek the honour of the spear: “The youth was lovely, as the first beam of the sun.'- --0! Fithil's son,' says Cuchullin, ‘with feet of wind, fly over the heath of Lena. Tell to Fingal, that Erin is enthralled, and bid the King of Morven hasten. O! let him come like the sun in a storm, when he shines on the hills of grass.'
Nathos, anxious for the fate of Darthula: “ The soul of Nathos was sad, like the sun in the day of mist, when his face is watery and dim.'- -Oscar, surrounded with foes, foreseeing the fall of his race, and yet at times gathering hope : At times, he was thoughtful and dark, like the sun when he carries a cloud on his face; but he looks afterward on the hills of Cona.'- Before Bosmina sent to offer them the peace of heroes: The host of Erragon brightened in her presence, as a rock before the sudden beams of the sun, when they issue from a broken cloud, divided by the roaring wind.' The remembrance of battles past, and the return of peace, is compared to the sun returning after a storm: “Hear the battle of Lora! the sound of its steel is long since past; so thunder on the darkened hill roars, and is no more ; the sun returns with his silent beams; the glittering rocks, and green heads of the mountains, smile.'
Fingal in his strength darkening in the presence of war: ‘His arm stretches to the foe like the beam
when his side is crusted with dark
of the sickly sun,
ness, and he rolls his dismal course throughout the sky. A young hero exulting in his strength, and rushing towards his foes, exclaims, ' My beating soul is high! My fame is bright before me, like the streak of light on a cloud when the broad sun comes forth, red traveller of the sky! On another occasion, says a hero, 'I have met the battle in my youth. My arın could not lift the spear when first the danger rose; but my soul brightened before the war as the green narrow vale, when the sun pours his streamy beams, before he hides his head in a storm !'
But it would exceed the proper bounds of this paper, were I to bring together all the passages which might illustrate my remarks. Without, therefore, quoting the beautiful address to the Sun, which finishes the second book of Temora, or that at the beginning of Carricthura, I shall conclude with laying before my readers, that sublime passage at the end of Carthon, where the aged bard, thrown into melancholy by the remembrance of that hero, thus pours himself forth :
I feel the sun, O Malvina! leave me to my rest. The beam of Heaven delights to shine on the grave of Carthon ; I feel it warm around.
O thou that rollest above, round as the shield of my fathers? whence are thy beams, O Sun ? thy everlasting light! Thou comest forth in thy awful beauty, and the stars hide themselves in the sky : The moon, cold and pale, sinks in the western wave, but thou thyself movest alone: who can be a companion of thy course? The oaks of the mountain fall; the mountains themselves decay with years; the ocean shrinks, and grows again; the moon herself is lost in Heaven; but thou art for ever the same, rejoicing in the brightness of thy course. When the world is dark with tempest; when thunder rolls, and lightning flies, thou lookest in thy beauty from the