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The Irish poems, concerning him, often represent him curing the wounds which his chiefs received in battle. They fable concerning him, that he was in possession of a cup, containing the essence of herbs, which instantaneously healed wounds. The knowledge of curing the wounded was, till of late, universal among the Highlanders. We hear of no other disorder, which required the skill of physic. The wholesomeness of the climate, and an active, life, spent in hunting, excluded diseases.

P. 218. v, 333. Anns an Hite sin fein, a threin, Chuala mi ceuma nan daimh, &c.j Cathmor reflects, with pleasure, even in his last moments, on the relief he had afforded to strangers. The very tread of their feet was pleasant in his ear. His hospitality was not passed unnoticed by the bards; for, with them, it became a proverb, when they described the hospitable disposition of an hero, that he was like Cathmor of Atha, the friend of strangers. It will seem strange, that in all the Irish poems, there is no mention made of Cathmor. This must be attributed to the revolutions and domestic confusions which happened in that island, and utterly cut off all the real traditions concerning so ancient a period. All that w'e have related of the state of Ireland before the fifth century is of late invention, and the work of ill-informed senachies and injudicious bards.

P. 220. v. 3/8. Tach’ridh mo shinns're mise thall, &c.] The Celtic nations had some idea of rew'ards, and perhaps of punishments, after death. Those who behaved, in life, with bravery and virtue, were received, with joy, to the airy halls of their fathers; but the dark in soul, to use the expression of the poet, were spurned away from the habitation of heroes, to wander on all the winds. Another opinion, which prevailed in those times, tended not a little to make individuals emulous to excel one another in martial achievements. It was thought, that, in the hall NOTES TO TEMORA.

of clouds, every one had a seat raised above others, in proportion as he excelled them, in valour, when he lived.

P. 222. v. 401. Fo chloich dli ddhlaic triath a lann ’S glan chopan o shlios a sgeitke, &c.] There are some stones still to be seen in the north, which were erected as memorials of some remarkable transactions between the ancient chiefs. There are generally found, beneath them, some pieces of arms, and a bit of halfburnt wood. The cause of placing the last there, is not mentioned in tradition.

P. 224. v. 431. Bha sgaoile brataich mhoir nan sluagh A' taomadh air fuar ghaoith nam beann, &c.] The erecting of his standard on the bank of Lubar, was the signal which Fingal, in the beginning of the book, promised to give to the chiefs, who went to conduct Ferad-artho to the army, should he himself prevail in battle. This standard here is called the sun-beam. The reason of this appellation, I gave in my notes on the poem intitled Fingal.

P. 226. v. 448. Liath thall aig cbinich chaoin nan cos Chrom Claonmhal a cheann’s e fo aois,~] The scene is changed to the valley of Lona, whither Sul-malla had been sent, by Cathmor, before the battle. Clonmal, an aged bard, or rather druid, as he seems here to be endued with a prescience of events, had long dwelt there in a cave. This scene is calculated to throw a melancholy gloom over the mind.

P. 226. v. 465. Ann a dheireadh thig an righ corr] Cathmor had promised, in the seventh book, to come to the cave of Clonmal, after the battle was over.

P. 230. v. 494. Na biodh cuimhn’ air a brbn gu thrian Chaitheas anam na h-aoise gu iarr.] Tradition relates, that Ossian, the next day after the decisive battle between Fingal and

Cathmor, went to find out Sul-malla, in the valley of Lona. His address to her follows:

“ Awake, thou daughter of Conmor, from the fern-skirted cavern of Lona. Awake, thou sun-beam in deserts; warriors one day must fail.

They move forth, like terrible lights; but, often, their cloud is near.

Go to the valley of streams, to the wandering of herds, on Lumon;

there dwells, in his lazy mist, the man of many days. But he is unknown, Sul-malla, like the thistle of the rocks of roes; it shakes its grey beard in the wind, and falls unseen of our eyes. Not such are the 288 NOTES TO TEMORA.

kings of men, their departure is a meteor of fire, which pours its red course from the desert, over the bosom of night.

“ He is mixed with the warriors of old, those fires that have hid their heads. At times shall they come forth in song. Not forgot has the warrior failed. He has not seen, Sul-malla, the fall of a beam of his own: no fair haired son in his blood, young troubler of the field. I am lonely, young branch of Lumon, I may hear the voice of the feeble, when my strength shall have failed in years, for young Oscar has ceased on his field.”—* * * * Sul-malla returned to her own country. She makes a considerable figure in another poem; her behaviour in that piece, accounts for that partial regard with which the poet ought to speak of her throughout Temora.

P. 232. v. 52o. Bha aomadh r.an sluagh ris an treun Ri guth an tir fein thar na stuaidh.~\ Before I finish my notes, it may not be altogether improper to obviate an objection, which may be made to the credibility of the story of Temora. It may be asked, whether it is probable, that Fingal could perform such actions as are ascribed to him in this book, at an age when his grandson, Oscar, had acquired so much reputation in arms. To this it may be answered, that Fingal was but very young (Book IV.) when he took to wife Roscrana, who soon after became the mother of Ossian. Ossian was also extremely young when he married Ever-allin, the mother of Oscar.

Tradition relates, that Fingal was but eighteen years old at the birth of his son Ossian; and that Ossian was much about the same age, when Oscar, his son, was born. Oscar perhaps might be about twenty, when he was killed in the battle of Gabhra (Book I.); so the age of Fingal, when the decisive battle was fought between him and Cathmor, was just fifty-six years. In those times of activity and health, the natural strength and vigour of a man was little abated, at such an age ; so that there is nothing improbable in the actions of Fingal, as related in this book.

[ 289 ]


P. 244. v. 50. CuTHONN a caoidh fada sfiuas.] Cuthonn was the daughter of Rumar whom Toscar had carried away by force. Cuthonn signifies the mournful sound of the waves ; a poetical name, given her on account of her mourning to the sound of the waves; her name in tradition is Gorm-huil, the blue-eyed maid.

P. 244. v. 59. Ckunnaic mi, Fherguith gun bkeitd, An taibhs’ dona bha bhreun o’n oiche;] It was long thought, in the north of Scotland, that storms were raised by the ghosts of the deceased. This notion is still entertained by the vulgar ; for they think that whirlwinds, and sudden squalls of wind, are occasioned by spirits, who transport themselves, in that manner, from one place to another.

P. 246. v. 69. Mor RonnanJ] Maronnan was the brother of Toscar.

P. 246. v. 74. Selma.] Selmath, beautiful to behold, the name of Toscar’s residence, on the coast of Ulster, near the mountain Cromla.

P. 244. v. 76. Ithonn.] Ithonn is compounded of /, an island, and tonn, a wave, the island of waves, one of the uninhabited western isles, probably the island of Tiree.

P. 252, v. 145 TighcaoL] Tigh-caol, or caol tigh, the narrow house, so often mentioned in the poems of Ossian, signifies the grave.

P. 252. v. l60. Sheall a mhathair air a sgiath air balla A’s bha snamh na jald ’g a cot/-.] It was the opinion of the times, that the arms left by the heroes at home, became bloody the very instant their owners were killed, though at ever so great a distance.

–  –  –




JVith Notes and Observations by the Translator.


–  –  –


The appearance of Ossian’s poems was a phenomenon so unexpected and extraordinary, that it is not surprising, they should have excited, during even a period of enthusiasm, doubts and astonishment. In a country scarcely known to history, mountainous, difficult of access, and almost constantly shaded with mists; in a state of society the most unpolished, wretched, and barbarous ; without trade, without learning, without arts and sciences;

how could such a transcendent genius arise, who may be said to dispute the palm with the most celebrated poets of the most civilized nations ; and with those even, who for so many ages have been considered the models of the art P This novelty was too much at variance with the generally received opinion to be implicity believed without controversy.

W as there truly an Ossian ? Was he really the author of the poems which have been published under his name ? Can this be a spurious work? But when?— How ?—By whom ?—These are questions that for a length of time have agitated and divided public * See Note A, at the end of the Dissertation.

294 TRANSLATION OF THE opinion in England; while Europe regarded with veneration this surprising phenomenon. These are doubts too which have existed among the literati and critics;

doubts which, although they may appear to be considerably diminished, still exist in the minds of many learned persons.

Whatever may be the opinion adopted, it is certain, that either side present various embarrassing difficulties, and may cause the most strenuous advocates to waver.

Doctor Blair, a celebrated professor of rhetoric and belles-lettres in the University of Edinburgh, in his excellent Dissertation, published at the end of the second volume of Ossian, examining the character of the poems, entertains not the smallest doubt of their authenticity. “ The compositions of Ossian,” Dr. Blair observes, “ are so strongly marked with characters of antiquity, that, although there were no external proof to support that antiquity, hardly any reader of judgment and taste could hesitate in referring them to a very remote asra. There are four stages through which men successively pass in the progress of society. The first and earliest is the life of hunters; pasturage succeeds to this, as the ideas of property begin to take root; next, agriculture;

and lastly, commerce. Throughout Ossian’s poems, we plainly find ourselves in the first of those periods of society; during which hunting was the chief employment of men, and the principal method of their procuring subsistence. Pasturage was not indeed wholly unknown, for we hear of dividing the herd in the case of a divorce; but the allusions to abbe' cesarotti’s dissertation.

herds and cattle are not many; and of agriculture we find no traces. No cities appear to have been built, in the territories of Fingal. No arts are mentioned, except those of navigation and of working in iron.

Every thing presents to us the most simple and unimproved manners. At their feasts, the heroes prepared their own repast; they sat round the light of the burning oak; the wind lifted their locks, and whistled through their open halls. Whatever was beyond the necessaries of life was known to them only as the spoil of the Roman province ! 1 he picture of the social state of this people is consistent from the beginning to the end, in all the poems of Ossian.”—No modern allusion ever drops from the poet; but every where the same aspect of rude and savage nature appears; a country wholly uncultivated, thinly inhabited, and recently peopled.

“ The circle of ideas and transactions,” continues Dr. Blair, “ is no wider than suits such an age. Valour and bodily strength are the admired qualities.

The heroes show refinement of sentiment indeed on several occasions, but none of manners. They speak of their past actions with freedom, and sing their own praise. A rape, a private insult, was the cause of war among their tribes. They had no expedient for giving the military alarms, but striking a shield, or raising a loud cry. Of military discipline or skill they appear to have been entirely destitute.

“ The manner of poetical composition bears all the marks of the greatest antiquity. No artful transitions, nor full and extended connection ot parts, such as we find among the poets of later times, when 296 TRANSLATION OF THE order and regularity of composition were more studied and known ; but a stjde always rapid and vehement, in narration concise even to abruptness, and leaving several circumstances to be supplied by the reader’s imagination. The language has all the figurative cast, which, partly a glowing and undisciplined imagination, partly the sterility of language, and the want of proper terms, have always introduced into the early speech of nations; and, in several respects, it carries a remarkable resemblance to the style of the Old Testament. It deserves particular notice, as one of the most genuine and decisive characters of antiquity, that very few general terms, or


ideas, are to be met with in the whole collection of Ossian’s poems. The ideas of men, at first, were all particular. They had not words to express general conceptions. These were the consequence of more profound reflection, and longer acquaintance with the arts of thought and of speech.

Ossian accordingly never expresses himself in the abstract. His ideas extended little farther than the objects he saw round him. Even a mountain, a sea, or a lake, which he has occasion to mention, though only in a simile, are for the most part particularized;

it is the hill of Cromla, the storm of the sea of Malmor, or the reeds of the lake of Lego.—All these are marks so undoubted, and some of them too so nice and delicate, of the most early times, as to put the high antiquity of these poems out of question. Especially when we consider, that if there had been any imposture in this case, it must have been contrived and executed in the Highlands of Scotland, two or three

abbe' cesarotti’s dissertation. 297

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