« PreviousContinue »
"* which Baron de Harold assures us furnished him with the ground-work of these poems, we leave it to others to ascertain. Our investigation is confined within far narrower limits.
It has, without doubt, been observed that in noticing what has transpired on this subject since our last edi. tion, we have carefully avoided any dogmatism on the question collectedly; and having simply displayed a torch to show the paths which lead to the labyrinth, those who wish to venture more deeply into its intricacies, may, when they please, pursue them.
We must acknowledge, before we depart, that we cannot see without indignation, or rather pity, the be. lief of some persons that these poems are the offspring of Macpherson's genius, so operating on their minds as to turn their admiration of the ancient poet into contempt of the modern. We ourselves love antiquity, not merely however, on account of its antiquity, but because it de serves to be loved. No: we honestly own with Quintilian, in quibusdam antiquorum, vix risum, in quibusdam autem vix somnum tenere.* The songs of other times, when they are, as they frequently are, supremely beautiful, merit every praise, but we must not there. fore despise all novelty. In the days of the Theban bard, it would seem to have been otherwise, for he appears to give the preference to old wine, but new songs
“The dreary night-owl screams in the solitary retreat of his mouldering ivy-covered tower,” p. 163. Taken from the Persian poet quoted by Gibbon :
“The owl hạth sung her watch-song in the towers of Afrasiab ”
"All nature is consonant to the horrors of my mind.” Larnel, p. 163. Evidently from the rhythmas of the Portuguese poet. One in despair, calls the desolation of nature
- lugar conforme a meu cuidado.”
p. 115 Mr. Laing may pronounce this learned, but it is at any rato as foolish as it is learned.
Quintilian or Tacitus de Oratoribus.
αινει δε παλαιον
With respect to age in wine we are tolerably agreed, but we differ widely in regard to novelty in verse. Though warranted in some measure, yet all inordinate prepossessions should be moderated, and it would be well if we were occasionally to reflect on this question, if the ancients had been so inimicable to novelty as we are, what would now be old ?*
We shall not presume to affirm that these poems were originally produced by Macpherson, but admit. ting it, for thc sake of argument, it would then, perhaps, be just to ascribe all the mystery that has hung about them to the often ungenerous dislike of novelty, or, it may be more truly, the efforts of contemporaries, which influences the present day. This might have stimulated him to seek in the garb of “th'olden time,” that respect which is sometimes despitefully denied to drapery of a later date. Such a motive doubtlessly swayed the designs both of Chatterton and Ireland, whose names we cannot mention together without Dryden's comment on Spenser and Flecknoe, “ that is, from the top to the bottom of all poetry.” In ushering into the world the hapless, but beautiful muse of Chat. terton, as well as the contemptible compositions of Ireland, it was alike thought necessary, to secure public attention, to have recourse to “quaint Ing!is,” or an antique dress.
And to the eternal disgrace of prejudice, the latter, merely in consequence of their disguise, found men blind enough to al vocate their claims to that admiration which, on thei; eyes being opened,
• See Horace
they could no longer see, and from the support of which they shrunk abashed.
But we desist. It is useless to draw conclusions, as it is vain to reason with certain people who act unreasonably, since, if they were, in these particular cases, capable of reason, they would need no reasoning with. By some, the poems here published will be esteemed in proportion as the argument for their antiquity prevails; but with regard to the general reader, and the unaffected lovers of “heaven-descended poesy, let the question take either way, still
The harp in Selma was not idly strung,
Berrathon. Feb. 1 1806.
Withor increasing his genius, the author may have improved his language, in the eleven years that the following poems have been in the hands of the public. Errors in diction might have been committed at twentyfour, which the experience of a riper age may remove; and some exuberances in imagery may be restrained with advantage, by a degree of judgment acquired in the progress of time. Impressed with this opinion, he ran over the whole with attention and accuracy; and he hopes he has brought the work to a state of correctness which will preclude all future improvements.
The eagerness with which these poems have been received abroad, is a recompense for the coldness with which a few have affected to treat them at home. All the polite nations of Europe have transferred them into their respective languages; and they speak of him who brought them to light, in terms that might flatter the vanity of one fond of fame. In a convenient indifference for a literary reputation, the author hears praise without being elevated, and ribaldry without being de. pressed. He has frequently seen the first bestowed too precipitately; and the latter is so faithless to its purpose, that it is often the only index to merit in the present age.
Though the taste which defines genius by the points of the compass, is a subject fit for mirih in itself, it is often a serious matter in the sale of the work. When rivers define the limits of abilities, as well as the boun. daries of countries, a writer may measure his success by the latitude under which he was born. It was to avoid a part of this inconvenience, that the author is said by some, who speak without any authority, to nave ascribed his own productions to another name. If this was the case, he was but young in the art of deception. When he placed the poet in antiquity, the translator should have been born on this side of the Tweed.
These observations regard only the frivolous in matters of literature; these, however, form a majority of every age and nation. In this country men of genuine taste abound; but their still voice is drowned in the clamors of a multitude, who judge by fashion of poetry, as of dress. The truth is, to judge aright, requires almost as much genius as to write well; and good critics are as rare as great prets. Though two hundred thousand Romans stood up when Virgil came into the theatre, Varius only could correct the Æneid. He that obtains fame must receive it through mere fashion; and gratify his vanity with the applause of men, of whose judgment he cannot approve.
The following poems, it must be confessed, are more calculated to please persons of exquisite feelings of heart, than those who receive all their impressions by
The novelty of cadence, in what is called a prose version, though not destitute of harmony, will not, to common readers, supply the absence of the fre. quent returns of rhyme. This was the opinion of the writer himself, though he yielded to the judgment of others, in a mode, which presented freedom and dignity of expression, instead of fetters, which cramp the thought, whilst the harmony of language is preserved. llis intention was to publish in verse.— The making of