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raised to a certain key, that it was almost impossible, from a similarity of sound, to substitute one word for another. This excellence is peculiar to the Celtic tongue, and is perhaps to be met with in no other lan. guage. Nor does this choice of words clog the sense, or weaken the expression. The numerous flexions of consonants, and variation in declension, make the language very copious.
The descendants of the Celtæ, who inhabited Britain and its isles, were not singular in this method of preserving the most precious monuments of their nation. The ancient laws of the Greeks were couched in verse, and handed down by tradition. The Spartans, through a long habit, became so fond of this custom, that they would never allow their laws to be committed to wri. ting. The actions of great men, and eulogiums of kings and heroes, were preserved in the same manner. All the historical monuments of the old Germans were comprehended in their ancient songs; which were either hymns to their gods, or elegies in praise of their heroes, and were intended to perpetuate the great events in their nation, which were carefully interwoven with them. This species of composition was not committed to writing, but delivered by oral tradition. The care they took to have the poems taught to their chil. dren, the uninterrupted custom of repeating them upon certain occasions, and the happy measure of the verse, served to preserve them for a long time uncorrupted. This oral chronicle of the Germans was not forgot in the eighth century; and it probably would have remained to this day, had not learning, which thinks every thing that is not committed to writing, fabulous, been introduced. It was from poetical traditions that Garcilasso composed his account of the Incas of Peru. The Peruvians had lost all other monuments of their history, and it was from ancient poems, which his mo
ther, a princess of the blood of the Incas, taught him in his youth, that he collected the materials of his history. If other nations, then, that had often been overrun by enemies, and hath sent abroad and received colonies, could for many ages preserve, by oral tradition, their laws and histories uncorrupted, it is much more proba. ble that the ancient Scots, a people so free of intermix. ture with foreigners, and so strongly attached to the memory of their ancestors, had the works of their bards handed down with great purity.
What is advanced in this short dissertation, it must be confessed, is mere conjecture. Beyond the reach of records is settled a gloom which no ingenuity can penetrate.
The manners described in these poems suit the ancient Celtic times, and no other period that is known in history. We must, therefore, place the heroes far back in antiquity, and it matters little, who were their contemporaries in other parts of the world. If we have placed Fingal in his proper period, we do honor to the manners of barbarous times. He exercised every manly virtue in Caledonia, while Heliogabalus disgraced human nature at Rome.
CONCERNING THE POEMS OF OSSIAN.
The history of those nations who originally pussessed the north of Europe, is less known than their manners. Destitute of the use of letters, they them. selves had not the means of transmitting their great actions to remote posterity. Foreign writers saw them only at a distance, and described them as they found them. The vanity of the Romans induced them to consider the nations beyond the pale of their empire as barbarians; and, consequently, their history unworthy of being investigated. Their manners and singular character were matters of curiosity, as they committed them to record. Some men otherwise of great merit, among ourselves, give into confined ideas on this sub. ject. Having early imbibed their idea of exalted manners from the Greek and Roman writers, they scarcely ever afterward have the fortitude to allow any dignity of character to any nation destitute of the use of letters.
Without derogating from the fame of Greece and Rome, we may consider antiquity beyond the pale of their empire worthy of some attention. The nobler passions of the mind never shoot forth more free and unrestrained than in the times we call barbarous, That irregular manner of life, and those manly pursuits, from which barbarity take it name, are highly favorable to a strength of mind unknown in polished times. In advanced society, the characters of men are more uniform and disguised. The hunan passions lie in some degree concealed behind forms and artificial manners; and the powers of the soul, without an opportu. nity of exerting them, lose their vigor. The times of regular government, and polished manners, are there. fore to be wished for by the feeble and weak in mind. An unsettled state, and those convulsions which attend it, is the proper field for an exalted character, and the exertion of great parts. Merit there rises always superior; no fortuitous event can raise the timid and mean into power. To those who look upon antiquity in this light, it is an agreeable prospect; and they alone can have real pleasure in tracing nations to their
The establishment of the Celtic states, in the north of Europe, is beyond the reach of written annals. The traditions and songs to which they trusted their history, were lost, or altogether corrupted, in their revolutions and migrations, which were so frequent and universal, that no kingdom in Europe is now possessed by its original inhabitants. Societies were formed, and kingdoms erected, froni a mixture of nations, who, in process of time, lost all knowledge of their own origin. If tradition could be depended upon, it is only among a people, from all time, free from intermixture with foreigners. We are to look for these among the mountains and inaccessible parts of a country: places, on account of their barrenness, uninviting to an enemy, or whose natural strength enabled the natives to repel invasions. Such are the inhabitants of the mountains ci Scotland. We, accordingly find that they di'fer
materially from those who possess the low and more fertile parts of the kingdom. Their language is pure and original, and their manners are those of an ancient and unmixed race of men. Conscious of their own antiquity, they long despised others, as a new and mixed people. As they lived in a country only fit for pas. ture, they were free from that toil and business which engross the attention of a commercial people. Their amusement consisted in hearing or repeating their songs and traditions, and these entirely turned on the antiquity of their nation, and the exploits of their forefathers. It is no wonder, therefore, that there are more remains among them, than among any other people in Europe. Traditions, however, concerning remote periods are only to be regarded, in so far as they coincide with contemporary writers of undoubted creait and veracity.
No writers began their accounts for a more early period than the historians of the Scots nation. Without records, or even tradition itself, they gave a long list of ancient kings, and a detail of their transactions, with a scrupulous exactness. One might naturally suppose, that when they had no authentic annals, they should, at least, have recourse to the traditions of their country, and have reduced them into a regular system of history. Of both they seem to have been equally destitute. Born in the low country, and strangers to the ancient language of their nation, they contented themselves with copying from one another, and retailing the same fictions in a new color and dress.
John Fordun was the first who collected those frag. ments of the Scots history which had escaped the brutal policy of Edward I., and reduced them into order. His accounts, in so far as they concerned recent trans. actions, deserved credit: beyond a certain period, they were fabulous and unsatisfactory. Some time be.