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poems could pass for ancient in the eyes of any person tolerably conversant with the Irish tongue. The idiom is so corrupted, and so many words borrowed from the English, that the language must have made considera. ble progress in Ireland before the poems were written.
It remains now to show how the Irish bards began to appropriate the Scottish Ossian and his beroes to their own country. After the English conquest, many of the natives of Ireland, averse to a foreign yoke, either actually were in a state of hostility with the conquerors, or, at least, paid little regard to government. The Scots, in those ages, were often in open war, and never in cordial friendship, with the English. The similarity of manners and language, the traditions concerning their common origin, and, above all, their having to do with the same enemy, created a free and friendly intercourse between the Scottish and Irish nations. As the custom of retaining bards and sena. chies was common to both, so each, no doubt, had formed a system of history, it matters not how much soever fabulous, concerning their respective origin. It was the natural policy of the times to reconcile the raditions of both nations together, and, if possible, to deduce them from the same original stock.
The Saxon manners and language had, at that time, made great progress in the south of Scotland. The ancient language, and the traditional history of the nation, became confined entirely to the inhabitants of the Highlands, then falling, from several concurring circunstances, into the last degree of ignorance and barbarism. The Irish, who, for some ages before the conquest, had possessed a competent share of that kind of learning which then prevailed in Europe, found it no difficult matter to impose their own fictions on the ignorant Highland senachies. By flattering the vanity of the Highlanders with their long list of Hermonian kings and heroes, they, without contradiction, assumed to themselves the character of being the mot r-nation of the Scots of Britain. At this time, certainiy, was established that Hibernian system of the original of the Scots, which afterward, for want of any other, was universally received. The Scots of the low country, who, by losing the language of their ancestors, lost, together with it, their national traditions, received implicitly the history of their country from Irish refugees, or from Highland senachies, persuaded over into the Hibernian system.
These circumstances are far from being ideal. We have remaining many particular traditions which bear testimony to a fact of itself abundantly probable. What makes the matter incontestible is, that the an. cient traditional accounts of the genuine origin of the Scots, have been handed down without interruption. Though a few ignorant senachies might be persuaded out of their own opinion by the smoothness of an Irish tale, it was impossible to eradicate, from among the bulk of the people, their own national traditions. These traditions afterward so much prevailed, that the Highlanders continue totally unacquainted with the pretended Hibernian extract of the Scotch nation. Igno. rant chronicle writers, strangers to the ancient language of their country, preserved only from falling to the ground so improbable a story.
This subject, perhaps, is pursued farther than it de. serves; but a discussion of the pretensions of Ireland was become in some measure necessary. If the Irish poems concerning the Fiona should appear ridiculous, it is but justice to observe, that they are scarcely more so than the poems of other nations at that period. On other subjects, the bands of Ireland have displayed a genuis for poetry. It was alone in matters of antiquity that they were monstrous in their fables. Their ove. sonnets, and their elegies on the death of persons wor. thy or renowned, abound with simplicity, and a wild har. mony of numbers. They became more than an atone. ment for their errors in every other species of poetry. But the beauty of these species depends so much on a certain curiosa felicitas of expression in the original, that they must appear much to disadvantage in another language
THE POEMS OF OSSIAN,
THE SON OF FINGAL
BY HUGH BLAIR, D. D. One of the Ministers of the High Church, and Professor of Rhetoric
and Belles Lettres, Edin urgh.
AMONG the monuments remaining of the ancient state of nations, few are more valuable than their poems or songs. History, when it treats of reinote or dark ages, is seldom very instructive. The beginnings of society, in every country, are involved in fabulous confusion; and though they were not, they would furnish few events worth recording. But, in every period of society, human manners are a curious spectacle ; and the most natural pictures of ancient manners are exhibited in the ancient poems of nations. These present to us what is much more valuable than the history of such transactions as a rude age can afford—the history of human imagination and passion. They make us acquainted with the notions and feelings of our fellow creatures in the most artless ages; discovering what objects they admired, and what pleasures they pursued, before those refinements of society had taken place, which enlarge, indeed, and diversify the transactions, but disguise the manners of mankind.
Besides this merit which ancient poems have with philosophical observers of human nature, they have another with persons of taste. They promise some of the highest beauties of poetical writing. Irregular and unpolished we may expect the production of uncul. tivated ages to be; but abounding, at the same tiine, with that enthusiasm, that vehemence and fire, which are the soul of poetry: for many circumstances of those times which we call barbarous, are favorable to the poetical spirit. That state, in which human nature shoots wild and free, though unfit for other improvements, certainly encourages the high exertions of fancy and passion.
In the infancy of societies, men live scattered and dispersed in the midst of solitary rural scenes, where the beauties of nature are their chief entertainment. They meet with many objects to them new and strange ; their wonder and surprise are frequently excited ; and by the sudden changes of fortune occurring in their unsettled state of life, their passions are raised to the utmost; their passions have nothing to restrain them, their imagination has nothing to check it. They display themselves to one another without disguise, and converse and act in the uncovered simplicity of nature. As their feelings are strong, so their language, of itself, assumes a poetical turn. Prone to exaggerate, they describe every thing in the strongest colors; which of course renders their speech picturesque and figurative. Figurative language owes its rise chiefly to two causes ; to the want of proper names for objects, and to the influence of imagination and passion over the form of expression. Both these causes concur in the infancy of society. Figures are commonly considered as artificial modes of speech, devised by orators and poets, after the world had advanced to a refined state. The contrary of this is the truth. Men never have