« PreviousContinue »
*Phillips, when, in the fervor of poetical enthusiasm, he exclaims, in allusion to this district,
When tired at eve the pilgrim leans
Upon some rocky pile,
Of this ill-fated isle,
Beneath his feet
Their cold retreat ;--
A thousand heroes hung,
The battle anthem sung:
In more than regal pride ;
Or noble Oscar died *.
That the intercourse and connexion which these expeditions tended to establish between the two countries, prolonged as they were during the greater part of a century, should lead to a certain degree of similarity in their minstrelsy and poesy might naturally be expected, more especially when we
Campbell's Ossiano, 8vo., 1818, pp. 31, 32.
recollect that their language was the same, and that bards of both nations were assembled under the protection of the Scottish monarch. But that seven or eight centuries after Fingal had ceased to reign and Ossian to sing, legendary and heroic verses should be produced in Ireland, which, however wild and inconsistent in other respects, paint the character of Ossian precisely as it is given in the Caledonian poems, must, after a slight consideration, be reckoned as one amongst the strongest corroborative proofs of the genuineness of the latter.
It has been, in fact, the most startling, and apparently the most valid objection to the authenticity of these productions, that the characters of Fingal and of Ossian, as uniformly represented in them, are by many degrees too sublime and pathetic, too humane and polished for the era to which their existence is ascribed. Yet, in these metrical romances of the Irish bards, acknowledged by the Irish themselves to be written between the eighth and twelfth centuries, the same high-toned and exalted delineations of Fingal and his son are to be found. Can we, therefore, avoid inferring, that, as the internal as well as the external evidence of these compositions bears evident marks of a vast
posteriority to the era of the Ossianic poetry of Scotland, the impression made upon the Irish by these characters during their intercourse with them in the third century was such as to be indelible; and that they are consequently, as originally presented to us in the Gaelic of North Britain, not only poetically but historically correct ?
For the opportunity of forming this judgment from an inspection of the Irish poems we are indebted to Miss Brooke, the daughter of the celebrated author of Gustavus Vasa, who, about thirtyseven years ago, published in Dublin a 4to. volume, now very scarce, entitled “Reliques of Irish Poetry: Consisting of Heroic Poems, Odes, Elegies, and Songs, translated into English Verse: With Notes Explanatory and Historical; And the Originals in the Irish Character. To which is subjoined, An Irish Tale."
With all the enthusiasm for the high antiquity and literary reputation of her country which has lately so singularly distinguished many of the most learned in Ireland, and with poetical talents fully adequate to the transfusion of the spirit of her originals, has the amiable translator entered upon her task; and the result has been a series of poems
of no ordinary interest, and though, with one exception, professedly versions, yet stamped with the inspiration indeed
Of that bright Power, whom Nature forms,
And Nature's scenes inspire;
And glows with Heaven's own fire * !
It is, however, only to those parts of Miss Brooke's “ Reliques” which relate to the character of Ossian, that we are now to turn our attention, and these are chiefly confined to the introduction and close of two poems entitled “ Magnus the Great," and “ The Chase.” Here, as in the greater number of pieces in which the Irish Oisin is introduced, the poet is represented not only as contemporary with St. Patrick, but as conversing with him familiarly, and recurring with conscious pride and pleasure, though mingled with feelings of deep regret, to that happy period of his life when he was the hero as well as the bard of his country.
“ In these poems," observes Miss Brooke, very justly, 6 the character of Oisin is so inimitably well supported, that we lose the idea of any other
* Introduction to Maon, an Irish Tale. Reliques, p. 325.
bard, and are for a time persuaded it is Ossian himself who speaks. We do not seem to read a narration of events, wherein the writer was neither a witness nor a party :-it is the son—the fatherthe hero—the patriot who speaks ; who breathes his own passions and feelings on our hearts, and compels our sympathy to accompany all his griefs ; while in a strain of natural and'empassioned eloquence,
he descants on the fame and virtues of a parent whom he describes as at once so amiable and so great ; and bewails the loss of all his former friends, kindred, and companions, and laments his own forlorn and disconsolate state, in apostrophes that pierce the very soul of pity * !"
Thus, at the close of Magnus the Great, in which the character of Fingal is supported with all those traits of magnanimity and humanity which so beautifully particularise him in the Scottish poems, the aged bard reverts to his own forlorn and destitute situation in terms which, whilst they breathe the unextinguished spirit of the hero, paint at the same time his sufferings and feelings in a strain of imperishable sweetness and pathos. Thus, he says, ad