ePub 版

close, are not tired with perpetual fighting. Whereas in Ossian, the mind is relieved by a more agreeable diversity. There is a finer mix. ture of war and heroism, with love and friend. ship, of martial, with tender scenes, than is to be met with, perhaps, in any other poet. The episodes too have great propriety ; as natural, and proper to that age and country: consisting of the songs of bards, which are known to have been the great entertainment of the Celtic heroes in war, as well as in peace. These songs are not introduced at random : if you except the episode of Duchommar and Morna, in the first book, which, though beautiful, is more unartful than any of the rest; they have always some particular relation to the actor who is interested, or to the events which are going on ; und, whilst they vary the scene, they preserve a sufficient connexion with the main subject by the fitness and propriety of their introduction.

As Fingal's love to Agandecca influences some circumstances of the poem, particularly the honourable dismission of Swaran at the end; it was necessary that we should be let into this part of the hero's story. But as it lay without the compass of the present action, it could be regularly introduced no where, except in an episode. Accordingly the poet, with as much propriety as if Aristotle himself had directed the plan, has contrived an episode for this purpose in the song of Carril, at the beginning of the third book.

The conclusion of the poem is strictly according to rule ; and is every way noble and pleasing.

The reconciliation of the contending heroes, the consolation of Cuthullin, and the general felicity that crowns the action, soothe the mind in a very agreeable manner, and form that passage from agitation and trouble, to perfect heath;

quiet and repose, which critics require as the proper termination of the epic work. « Thus they passed the night in song, and brought back the morning with joy. Fingal arose on the

and shook his glittering spear in his hand. He moved first towards the plains of Lena ; and we followed like a ridge of fire. Spread the sail, said the king of Morven, and catch the winds that pour from Lena. We rose on the waves with songs; and rushed with joy through the foam of the ocean.' So much for the unity and general conduct of the epic action in Fingal.

With regard to that property of the subject which Aristotle requires, that it should be feigned, not historical, he must not be understood so strictly as if he meant to exclude all subjects wbich have any foundation in truth. For such exclusion would both be unreasonable in itself,and what is more, would be contrary to the practice of Homer, who is known to have founded his Iliad on historical facts concerning the war of 'Troy, which was famous throughout all Greece. Aristotle means no more than that it is the business of a poet not to be a mere annalist of facts, but to embellish truth with beautiful, probable, and useful fictions ; to copy nature as he himself explains it, like painters, who preserve a likeness, but exhibit their objects more grand and beauti. ful than they are in reality. That Ossian has followed this course, and, building upon true history, has sufficiently adorned it with poetical fiction for aggrandizing his characters and facts, will not, I believe, be questioned by most read

At the same time, the foundation which those facts and characters had in truth, and the share which the poet had himself in the transac. tions which he records, must be considered as no small advantage to his work. For truth makes


an impression on the mind far beyond any fiction ; and no man, let his imagination be ever so strong, relates any events so feelingly as those in which he has been interested; paints any scene so naturally as one which he has seen; or draws any characters in such strong colours as those which he has personally known. It is considered as an advantage of the epic subject to be taken from a period so distant, as, by being involved in the darkness of tradition, may give licence to fable. Though Ossian's subject may at first view appear unfavourable in this respect, as be. ing taken from his own times, yet, when we reflect that he lived to an extreme old age ; that he relates what had been transacted in another country, at the distance of many years, and after all that race of men who had been the actors were gone off the stage ; we shall find the objection in a great measure obviated. In so rude an age, when no written records were known, when tradition was loose, and accuracy of any kind little attended to, what was great and he. roic in one generation, easily ripened into the marvellous in the next.

The natural representation of human character 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 Ossian be much inferior to Homer in this article, he will be found to be equal at least, if not superior, 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 pru. dent, the sedate, the modest and circumspect Connal, is finely opposed to the presumptuous, rash, overbearing, but gallant and generous Cal.

Calmar hurries Cuthullin into action by his temerity; and when he sees the bad effects 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 the high-spirited Swaran, is admirably contrasted with the calm, the moderate, and generous Fine gal. The character of Oscar is a favourite one 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.

Ossian'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 contemplate 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 after the ad. miration raised for him in the first part of the poem, it is a strong proof of Ossian's masterly genius, that he durst adventure to produce to us another hero, compared with whom, even the great Cuthullin should be only an inferior personage ; and who should rise as far above him, as Cuthullin rises above the rest.

Here, indeed, in the character and description of Fingal, Ossian triumphs almost unrivalled; for we may boldly defy all antiquity to show us any


hero equal to Fingal. Homer's Hector posses. ses several great and amiable qualities ; but Hector is a secondary personage in the liad, not the hero of the work. We see him only occasionally ; we know much less of him than we do of Fingal ; who, not only in this epic poem but in Temora, and throughout the rest of Ossian's works, is presented in all that variety of lights, which give the full display of a charac

And though Hector faithfully discharges bis duty to his country, his friends, and his family, he is tinctured, however, with a degree of the same savage ferocity, which prevails among all the Homeric heroes : for we find him insulting over the fallen Patroclus, with the most cruel taunts, and telling him, when he lies in the agonies of death, that Achilies cannot help him now; and that in a short time his body, strip. ped naked, and deprived of funeral honours, shall be devoured by the vultures. Whereas, in the character of Fingal, concur almost all the qualities that can ennoble human nature ; that can either make us admire the hero, or love the

He is not only unconquerable in war, but he makes his people happy by bis wisdom in the days of peace.

He is truly the father of bis people. He is known by the epithet of Fin. gal of the mildest look ;' and distinguished, on every occasion, by humanity and generosity. He is merciful to his foes ; full of affection to his children; full of concern about his friends; and never mentions Agandecca, his first love, without the utmost tenderness. He is the uni. versal protector of the distressed ; · None ever went sad from Fingal.'-'0, 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 who ask thine aid. So Trenmor lived ;


« 上一頁繼續 »