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Thus thought the modest flower,
Sang out, in very glee,
We grow the more anxious as the moment of our appearance draws nearer. We are the more sensible of the responsibilities we have assumed, and of the judgment to which we shall be exposed. We may solace ourself, however, with the reflection, that those who see our faults the most clearly, are those who will the most willingly pardon them.
We hear the step of the messenger upon the stairs; and thankful are we that our work is ready for him. As we scrawl this last sentence with a rapid pen, is it no consolation, that for the week to come, we can sleep without dreaming of proofs, and wake without being called upon for copy?
OSSIAN has a charm for me, which no other poet possesses. The grandeur and primitiveness of his scenery, characters, and sentiments, have been the delight of my imagination, ever since Crusoe, after the tenth perusal, ceased to monopolize the literary propensities of my boyhood. There is a distance an a mystery hanging over the times in which he lived and sung, which is extremely favorable to the effect of his strains. We are acquainted with no historical, every-day facts, to take from the charm and dignity of heroism which he has thrown around the names of Cuthullin and Fingal. Besides, I am a lover of the sad and even the gloomy, in poetry and so noble and touching a melancholy pervades the old bard's reminiscences of his better days-so constantly is he before your mind's eye, at the mouth of his silent abode-so unsmilingly do his warriors tread the bare mountains and plough the wild seas of their distant isle-so "lonely pure" are his maidens, as their sighs of expectation or of lament echo through the halls which war has emptied-so imposingly sombre are the images of another world, which he occasionally shadows forth -that I feel in perfection, while reading him, his own "joy of grief."
A sentiment, which I have long entertained, that there is more poetry in the temperament of the northern races who have peopled modern Europe, than in that of the two great nations of antiquity, is confirmed by a comparison of Ossian
with Homer. They picture their respective countrymen in very similar degrees of civilization; yet what different pictures do they present us. The Grecian heroes seem every way coarser and grosser than the Celts. Their sentiments, their purposes, their actions, have far less genuine nobility. They account the stealing of a team of horses by night a most noble exploit:* they quarrel about booty, and call each other hard names, until they are ready to cry with vexation, and then call upon their relations in heaven to assist and avenge them they cannot enter a combat, without plucking up their courage by a braggart speech; nor enjoy a victory, without taunting their fallen foe. In nearly every thing, indeed, but mere physical courage, they are very unpoetical personages. I say physical courage, because that passage, among many others, in the 7th book of the Iliad, where the Grecians are daunted, to a man, by the challenge of Hector, shows that this is the only courage they can lay claim to; its characteristic being a liability to be cowed by the bold bearing of an enemy, and astounded by any sudden call for its exercise.
The heroes of Ossian are cast in a finer mould. There is more romance, more poetry, about them. They are dignified by magnanimity, enthusiasm, and a sensitive pride of character, as well as by mere bodily strength and prowess. A certain native refinement, and elevation of sentiment, glows most beautifully through their stern simplicity of manners. Indeed we find among them nearly all that is noble and engaging in the Knighthood of their descendants, without its extravagance, its foppery, its tinsel. They are the Chivalry of
The contrast is equally great between the heroines of the two poets. There is a queenliness, a fairyism, a spirituality, about Malvina and Agandecca, of which there is not a glimpse in those mere pieces of flesh and blood, Bryseis and Helen, the impedimenta of a camp, the spinsters and laundresses of a city. Indeed I can hardly conceive any thing more rigidly prosaic than most of the ladies of the Iliad and Odyssey. Ossian's are delicious abstractions of all that is faithful, pure, and delicate.
* See the achievement of Ulysses and Diomede, in the 10th book of the Iliad.
But the national superiority, which has been hinted at, tended to make better poets, as well as better heroes and heroines. The Celt's style of poetry is as much more lofty and genuine than the Grecian's, as is his style of heroism. Nevertheless, it has been pronounced by certain persons, whose tastes have been moulded from boyhood to the classical model, and whose ears yearn for the harmony of Virgil's hexameters and Pope's iambics, that Fingal and Temora are not poetry, but prose run mad. Now this is the last complaint we should have expected. We know not the volume which contains so much poetry and so little else, in the same space, as these poems. Other epics seem like patches of poetry sewed upon a substratum of prose. Homer is more than half his time employed upon what is neither sublime, pathetic, nor beautiful. He is not content to paint the glories of Heaven; Achilles, raging through the battle "like the star of autumn"; or Minerva, counselling with the Gods. He must also describe the washing down of the dining-tables at the Ithacan palacegive us an exact account of the manner in which Achilles cooked his steaks-and make honorable mention of the expedition with which the horses of Minerva were harnessed. There is nothing of this in Ossian. Harnessing, cookery, and scouring, he does not drag into notice. He feels the difference between a poet and a story-teller. In short, we think the poetry of this wild bard more unalloyed, and, apochryphal as it may seem, in better taste, than that of any other epic poet, ancient or modern.
Ancient or modern ;-for so completely have our tastes been tuned to the lyres of Homer and Virgil, that all our modern epics are fraught with those very qualities of their style, which we have been reprehending; qualities, to which, we think, the natural genius of the moderns would never have prompted; a minuteness in dry details and tame realities, and a negligence in distinguishing between the poetry and the prose of the subject-in extracting the gold from the ore, and presenting it in its pure essence, undebased by dross. Byron, many of whose works are epic in spirit, though not in form, has kept wonderfully free from this general blemish; he leaps boldly from one great point in his subject to another. The same praise is deserved by most of his disciples.
Now I profess myself a genuine lover of "heaven-descend
ed poesy. I love it on its own account. And yet I do not pretend that the poems which I have so highly lauded would have delighted me as much, believing them to have been written by James M'Pherson, as they do delight me, believing that they once resounded on the harp of Selma. Were such my belief, or rather my unbelief, half their charm would have flown. But I have no such suspicion. I have no more doubt that Fingal and Cath-Loda are Ossian's, than that the Iliad and the Odyssey are Homer's. What are the arguments to the contrary? Why first, M'Pherson did not know Gaelic enough to have translated them; because a gentleman declares that he heard him when attempting to talk Gaelic to a Highlander, make a blunder! What if he did? How many thousands can translate from Greek or Latin, French or Italian, with accuracy and ease, who yet could not speak in either of those languages, five minutes, without making a blunder! Why not so of Gaelic?
Again; a blind bard, or any other bard, says Mr. Knight, would have been hooted out of the company as an impudent liar, by the savage warriors to whom Ossian is supposed to have addressed himself, had he told them, "Thus have I seen in Cona-but Cona I hehold no more; thus have I seen two dark hills removed from their place by the strength of the mountain-stream." Indeed! Pray, Mr. Knight, why was not Homer hooted at as an impudent liar, by the no less barbarous Greeks, when he described to them all the winds of Heaven, North, South, East and West, rushing together upon the ocean pell-mell, and there making a most dreadful uproar, until old Neptune, raising his honest face above the surface, finally ordered them to keep quiet? Had Homer ever witnessed this scene?
Once that he translated some of the poems from manuscripts, and the others from the lips of bards. Now the translator not producing his manuscripts, say the infidels, it is to be supposed they do not exist; and as to any of these long and connected poems being preserved for centuries by oral tradition, it is impossible. As to the manuscripts, in the first place: the translator affirmed that they were in his possession. Now his not producing them is not to be taken as presumptive evidence against his word, if we can assign any probable and sufficient motive for his reluctance.