« PreviousContinue »
forms I hear thee, spirit of my father, on the eddying course of the wind. I hear thee; but thou bendest not, forward, thy tall form, from the skirts of night.”
As Clono prepared to depart, the husband of Sulmin came up, with his numerous attendants. Clono defended himself, but, after a gallant resistance, he was overpowered and slain. He was buried in the place where he was killed, and the valley was called after his name. Dermid, in his request to Gaul, the son of Morni, which immediately follows this paragraph, alludes to the tomb of Clono, and his own connection with that unfortunate chief.
P. 106. v. 318. Ma seach tha ceuma nan righ.] Fingal and Cathmor.
P. 108. v. 332. Thuit Foldath gu mall air a sgeith,] The fall of Foldath, if we may believe tradition, was predicted to him, before he had left his own country to join Cairbar, in his designs on the Irish throne. He went to the cave of Moma, to enquire of the spirits of his fathers, concerning the success of the enterprise of Cairbar. The responses of oracles are always attended with obscurity, and liable to a double meaning: Foldath, therefore, put a favourable interpretation on the prediction, and pursued his adopted plan of aggrandizing himself with the family of Atha.
FOLDATH, addressing the spirits of his fathers. “ Dark, I stand in your presence ; fathers of Foldath, hear ! Shall my steps pass over Atha, to Ullin of the roes ?
The Answer. Thy steps shall pass over Atha, to the green dwelling of kings. There shall thy stature arise, over the fallen, like a pillar of thunder-clouds. There, terrible in darkness, shalt thou stand, till the reflected beam, or Clon-cath of Moruth, come; Moruth of many streams, that roars in distant lands."
Cloncath, or reflected beam, say my traditional authors, was the name of the sword of Fillan; so that it was, in the latent signification of the word Cloncath that the deception lay. My principal reason for introducing this note, is, that this tradition serves to shew, that the religion of the Fir-bolg differed from that of the Caledonians, as we never find the latter enquiring of the spirits of their deceased ancestors.
P. 108. v. 342. Chunnaic Malthos am Foldath uir làr &c.] The characters of Foldath and Malthos are sustained. They were both dark and surly, but each in a different way. Foldath was impetuous and cruel : Malthos stubborn and incredulous. Their attachment to the family of Atha was equal ; their bravery in battle the same. Foldath was vain and ostentatious: Malthos unindulgent but generous. His behaviour here, towards his enemy Foldath, shews, that a good heart often lies concealed under a gloomy and sullen character. P. 108. v. 352. An eirich do liath chlach an Ullin,
No air Mòma nan iomadh coill', &c.] Moma was the name of a country in the south of Connaught, once famous for being the residence of an Arch-Druid. The cave of Moma was thought to be inhabited by the spirits of the chiefs of the Fir-bolg, and their posterity sent to enquire there, as to an oracle, concerning the issue of their wars. Dalruath, parched or sandy field. The etymology of Dardulena is uncertain. The daughter of Foldath was, probably, so called, from a place in Ulster, where her father had defeated part of the adherents of Artho king of Ireland. Dor-du-lena; the dark wood of Mui-lena. As Foldath was proud and ostentatious, it would appear, that he transferred the name of a place, where he himself had been victorious, to his daughter.
P. 112. v. 396. Ghluais Cathmor fo thlachd nan gorm sgiath.] The suspense, in which the mind of the reader is left here, conveys the idea of Fillan's danger more forcibly home, than any description that could be introduced. There is a sort of eloquence in silence with propriety. A minute detail of the circumstances of an important scene is generally cold and insipid. The human mind, free and fond of thinking for itself, is disgusted to find every thing done by the poet. It is, therefore, his business only to mark the most striking outlines, and to allow the imaginations of his readers to finish the figure for themselves.
The book ends in the afternoon of the third day, from the opening of the poem.
P. 120. v. 1. FINGAL speaks.
P. 122. v. 26. Sleagh Thigmòra.] The spear of Temora was that which Oscar had received, in a present, from Cormac, the son of Artho, king of Ireland. It was of it that Cairbar made the pretext for quarrelling with Oscar, at the feast, in the first book. P. 132. v. 164. C'uim a bhiodh bard a comhradh
M'an dearrsa og o chavin Chlatho ?] A dialogue between Clatho the mother, and Bosmina the sister of Fillan :
CLATHO. “ Daughter of Fingal arise ! thou light between thy locks. Lift thy fair head from rest, soft-gliding sun-beam of Selma! I bebeld thy arms, on thy breast, white tossed amidst thy wandering locks; when the rustling breeze of the morning came from the desert of streams. Hast thou seen thy fathers, Bos-mina, descending in thy dreams? Arise, daughter of Clatho; dwells there aught of grief in thy soul?
BOS-MINA. “ A thin form passed before me, fading as it few : like the darkening wave of a breeze, along a field of grass. Descend, from thy wall, Oharp, and call back the soul of Bos-mina; it has rolled away, like a stream. I hear thy pleasant sound. I hear thee, O harp, and my voice shall rise.
“How often shall ye rush to war, ye dwellers of my soul? Your paths are distant, kings of men, in Erin of blue streams. Lift thy wing, thou southern breeze, from Clono's darkening heath: spread the sails of Fingal toward the bays of his land.
“ But who is that, in his strength, darkening in the presence of war? His arm stretches to the foe, like the beam of the sickly sun; when his side is crusted with darkness, and he rolls his dismal course through the sky. Who is it, but the father of Bos-mina ? Shall he return till danger is past ?
“ Fillan, thou art a beam by his side; beautiful, but terrible, is thy light. Thy sword is before thee, a blue fire of night. When shalt thou return to thy roes; to the streams of thy rushy fields ? When shall I behold thee from Mora, while winds strew my long locks on their blasts ? But shall a young eagle return from the field where the heroes fall ?
CLATHO. “ Soft, as the song of Loda, is the voice of Selma's maid.
Pleasant to the ear of Clatho is the name of the breaker of shields. Behold, the king comes from ocean; the shield of Morven is borne by bards. The foe has filed before him, like the departure of mist. I hear not the sounding wings of my eagle; the rushing forth of the son of Clatho. Thou art dark, O Fingal; shall the warrior never return?”
P. 134. v. 200. Caithidh mis' an namhaid am feirg.] Here the sentence is designedly left unfinished. The sense is, that he was resolved, like a destroying fire, to consume Cathmor, who had killed his brother. In the midst of this resolution, the situation of Fingal suggests itself to him in a very strong light. He resolves to return to assist the king in prosecuting the war. But then his shame for not defending his brother recurs to him. He is determined again to go and find out Cathmor. We may consider bim, as in the act of advancing towards the enemy, when the horn of Fingal sounded on Mora, and called back his people to his presence. This soliloquy is natural : the resolutions which so suddenly follow one another, are expressive of a mind extremely agitated with sorrow and conscious shame; yet the behaviour of Ossian, in his execution of the commands of Fingal, is so irreprehensible, that it is not easy to determine where he failed in his duty. The truth is, that when men fail in designs which they ardently wish to accomplish, they naturally blame themselves, as the chief cause of their disappointment. P. 136. v. 225. Fada thall m’an righ air Mora
Thaom Morbhein o bhriseadh an raoin.] “ This scene," says an ingenious writer, and a good judge,“ is solemn. The poet always places his chief character amidst objects which favour the sublime. The face of the country, the night, the broken remains of a defeated army, and, above all, the attitude and silence of Fingal himself, are circumstances calculated to impress an awful idea on the mind. Ossian is most successful in his night descriptions. Dark images suited the melancholy temper of his mind. His poems were all composed after the active part of his life was over, when he was blind, and had survived all the companions of his youth: we therefore find a veil of melancholy thrown over the whole.” P. 138. v. 242. A nis a ghluais am focal suas ;
Dh'aom an sluagh air ais o ghuth.] I owe the first paragraph of the following note to the same pen:
“ The abashed behaviour of the army of Fingal proceeds rather from shame than fear. The king was not of a tyrannical disposition : He, as
he professes himself in the fifth book, neder was a dreadful form, in their presence, darkened into wrath. His voice was no thunder to their ears ; his eye sent forth no death. The first ages of society are not the times of arbitrary power. As the wants of mankind are few, they retain their independence. It is an advanced state of civilization that moulds the mind to that submission to goverument, of which ambitious magistrates take advantage, and raise themselves into absolute power.”
It is a vulgar error, that the common Highlanders lived in abject slavery under their chiefs. Their high ideas of, and attachment to, the heads of their families, probably led the unintelligent into this mistake. When the honour of the tribe was coucerned, the commands of the chief were obeyed, without restriction : but, if individuals were oppressed, they threw themselves into the arms of a neighbouring clan, assumed a new name, and were encouraged and protected. The fear of this desertion, no doubt, made the chiefs cautious in their government. As their consequence, in the eyes of others, was in proportion to the number of their people, they took care to avoid every thing that tended to diminish it.
It was but very lately that the authority of the laws extended to the Highlands. Before that time the clans were governed, in civil affairs, not by the verbal commands of a chief, but by what they called Clechda, or the traditional precedents of their ancestors. When differences happened between individuals, some of the oldest men in the tribe were chosen umpires between the parties, to decide according to the Clechda. The chief interposed his authority, and, invariably, enforced the decision. In their wars, which were frequent, on account of family feuds, the chief was less reserved in the execution of his authority; but even then he seldom extended it to the taking the life of any of his tribe. No crime was capital, except murder: and that was very unfrequent in the Highlands. No corporal punishment of any kind was inflicted. The memory of an affront of this sort would remain for ages, in a family, and they would seize every opportunity to be revenged, unless it came immediately from the hands of the chief himself; in that case it was taken rather as a fatherly correction, than a legal punishment for offences. P. 138. v. 257. Arda air Cormull bha craobh
A lasadh fo ghaoith is i fuaim ; &c.] This rock of Cormul is often mentioned in the preceding part of the poem. It was