«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
What Sir Wm. Jones tells us respecting the unwritten language of the Arabs, is equally applicable to the Celtic, or Gaelic, and proves that “Dr. Johnson’s reasoning on the extreme imperfection of unwritten language was too general, since a language that is only spoken may nevertheless be highly polished by a people who, like the ancient Arabs, make the improvement of their idiom a national concern, appoint solemn assemblies for the purpose of displaying their poetical talents, and hold it a duty to exercise their children in getting by heart their most approved compositions.” This too, as observed in the preceding notes, was the constant practice and duty of the rhapsodists of ancient Greece, and of the druids, and Celtic bards;
and the practice was continued after letters were known, and even after the art of printing had been introduced into Europe. We find that in the reigns of Edgar the Peaceable, and of Ethelred, the mountains of Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and even of Iceland, were the residence of the Muses. The commemoration of heroic actions, and the chronicle of interesting events were, in those countries, perpetuated in rhyme; and, like the sons of Albion, the ancient Greeks,* as well as the northern nations, advanced to battle with their war-songs. We are told in Torfceus, f that the Scandinavian bards or scalds were, like the Celtic, held in the highest * Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus.
t Torf. Hist. Rerum Orcadensium.
368 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEestimation by the people of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They were for many ages retained by monarchs, and invested with extraordinary privileges. In the court of the Norwegian sovereign, Harold Harfager, who reigned in the ninth century, they had precedence at table next to the king himself, every individual of the order according to his dignity. The poems of these ancient bards are said to have had the same wonderful influence on the minds and passions of the hearers, as those of the Caledonian bards. Like the poems of other nations in the hunting or early stages, they inculcated morality as well as heroism; and the sister-art music lent her aid, to give them the most powerful effect. Legends of the fascinating powers of music are related by the historians of those times, and similar effects are ascribed to its magical charms on the harp, accompanied with the song, as to the lyres of Orpheus, Arion, and Amphion. The compositions of the Caledonian bards, as well as of the Scandinavian scalds, are full of similies drawn from objects of nature, and interspersed with metaphors exceedingly bold and sublime. Their language and expressions were nervous, glowing, and animated; the composition also dazzled the imagination, with an endless variety in the kind and measure of their verses.
Their music suited the song; and the last in all its inflections was congenial with the passions meant to be excited. Whether with a view to have the effect of the “ spirit-stirring drum,” the Avarlike sound of the bagpipe, or the plaintive and moving strains of the lute; all were combined to produce the desired AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 369 effect, when the harp was strung, and its sound with the song arose in the hall, amidst the feast of shells.
Ossian often mentions, that the halls of Fingal and his warriors rung with the united melody of the voices of “ a hundred bards, who had strung the harp.”—“ Bid the harp to be strung,” says Fingal to Morne, “ and the voice of the bard to arise, that those who fall may rejoice in their fame.” The ingenious author of Gaelic Antiquities* tells us, that the ancient Caledonians were a nation of musicians. “ The art was not at all peculiar to the bards, although they were the chief masters of it.
Every hero, every virgin could touch the harp and melt the soul. This universality of the art was probably owing, in some measure, to the simplicity of the instrument. In the ancient states of Greece, the harp, consisting of only four strings, was of so simple a construction, that warriors, women, and even children, engaged in other pursuits and avocations, could play upon it. In Egypt the case was the same, insomuch that even the Israelitish women, notwithstanding the severity of their bondage, could all play on instruments of music. The Caledonian, or British harp, we may suppose to have been in its construction equally simple, and in its effects equally powerful. In the vicissitudes of all human affairs, not only the ancient harp, hut even the ancient science of music, has been in a great measure lost, and supplied only by what is made up of certain * Dr. Smith’s Dissertation on the Authenticity of Ossian’s Poems, p. 107.
VOL. III. Bb
370 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEnotes that fell into the fancy of a poor friar in chanting his matins.”*■ The old Caledonian airs, when divested of their modern deteriorations and unnatural variations, are peculiarly distinguished for their melodious, tender, and moving strains, which touch the heart, and most sensibly affect the imagination. No wonder then that every repetition should awaken, in the minds of the people, a love and affection for their parent soil, and a fond remembrance of the companions and friends of their youth. This fondness for native music is not peculiar to the Scottish Highlanders.
We find that, in many other mountainous countries, a similar passion pervades the inhabitants. The Irish, Welsh, Swiss, the Corsicans,f and Calabrese, all have national airs peculiar to themselves, combining romantic sweetness with pathetic simplicity. We often see the Highlanders affected by hearing sung or played such airs as “ Cha pill me tuille, &c.” The Irish by the airs Cumti leinn, Ailein a ruin, &c. and the Swiss by the air called Ranz de Vache. Those national songs have been cherished and preserved, with the same fond care as their ancient language; together with many of their ancient customs, pastimes, and
* Temple’s Miscellany, Vol. II.
f The Corsicans resemble the Scottish Highlanders of this day in many of their manners and customs, so much indeed that the writer could not help being forcibly struck with their similarity, when in Corsica after the island had become, for a short period, annexed to the crown of Great Britain.
t “ Ask a Scotch Highlander if he would exchange his lot with the AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS 371 It was the duty of the ancient bards to celebrate heroic actions, and to adorn their songs with all the charms of music; so as to excite in their hearers a love of virtue, and an ardent desire to have their names renowned for deeds of valour, and their fame transmitted to posterity. “ Your fame,” says Ossian, “ shall remain in my song, when these mouldering stones shall fail.”* Ossian, indeed, in several places, makes music or song a part of the happiness of a future state.I One of the principal tenets, inculcated by the Druids, was the immortality of the soul, in order to inspire the warriors with courage in battle.
Their paradise was called Flath-irmis, which signifies first potentate of the earth. When far removed from his beloved mountains, he carries with him the lecollection of them wherever he goes;
he sighs for his rocks, his torrents, and his clouds. He longs to eat again his barley-bread, to drink goats’ milk, and to sing in the valley the ballads which were sung also by his forefathers. He pines if prevented from returning to his native clime. It is a mountain plant which must be rooted among rocks; it cannot thrive unless it be battered by the winds and by the rain; in the soil, the shelter, and the sun-shine of the plain it soon droops and dies. With what joy will he again fly to his roof of furze ! With what delight will he visit all the sacred relics of his indigence ! See Skoberl’s Translation from the French of Aug.
* Exegi monumenturo acre perennius. Horace.
+ Taibhse na thuit anns a’bhlar Ag aomadh gun dan o ’n sianaibh.
Eireadth o Chathmore na clarsaich Chuireas dearsa air siir sa’ ghaoith, Tighmora, Vol. III. p. 60.
“ The ghosts of those who fell in battle bend forward from their clouds to the song. Bid, O Cathmore ! the harp to rise, to reflect a beam of light on the brave who ride on their wandering blasts.”
372 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEthe island of the hrave or virtuous, and is still used in the Gaelic to denote Heaven* On the rising hill are the halls of the departed—the high roofed dwellings of the heroes of old.” So great was the predilection of the ancient inhabitants of Scotland and Ireland both to music and song, that the first Christian missionaries judiciously called the song and harp to their aid, when they undertook to convert the people —The fame of the musical talents of St. Patrick and St. Columba stands high in their biographical annals.
The bards joined to the precepts which they recited or sung, the most heroic example; by accompanying the warriors to the field of battle, animating them in the hour of danger, and kindling their souls into a flame Avith the song called Prosnacha-Catha, or the incitement to war. It was the custom even to raise the war-song in the midst of battle, to encourage the yielding heroes. Fingal, on finding Morne’s son nearly subdued by Swaran, says, “ Go, Ullin, go, my aged bard, remind the mighty Gaul of war—Remind him of his fathers—-Support the yieldAr caoimh mar sholuis a chaochail, Sna speura faoin os ar cionn Cha bhi ni’s mo; ach taomadh Le ceol aobhach an aiteal tharuinn. Losga Taura.
£ Our friends no more shall be like stars that forsake their blue place, and leave their companions mournful. No: they will always attend us in the joy of our course; they will pour their light and their glad song around us.”—The Fall of Tara, in Smilh’s Gaelic Ant.
* Smith’s Hist, of the Druids, p. 19AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN S POEMS.
ing fight with song; for the song enlivens war.”* Thus did the bards of old, as well as those of later times, inspire the warriors with a love of fame and contempt of death.f We find in Tacitus, that a similar custom prevailed among the Germans;^ and in the poems of Tyrtceus, there are specimens of the rapid measure which instigated the Lacedemonians to battle, and “ fired their souls to deeds of fame."§ The old Persian magi are said to have followed the same course; and Homer alludes to a similar custom * Fingal, B. IV. See the war-song of UUin (original), Vol. I. p.
l66. v. 299—310; and the short and rapid measure of its composition, which is suited to the passions meant to be excited.
t “ Snior sheas feara Lochlan gu faoin, Nuair dh’ eirich gaoir nam bard.” “ Nor stood the sons of Lochlin harmless in their place, when the fury of the battle arose, and the strife was kindled by the songs of the bards.” Cathula, in Smith’s Gaelic Ant.
\ Tacit, de Mor. Germ. C. 3.
§ The ancient Lacedemonian bard Tyrtceus flourished anno 680 before Christ, and composed five books of“ war verses,” some fragments of which still remain, and have been published with the poems of the minor Greek classics. Those fragments, wdth the elegies and other pieces, were first published in Greek, with a Latin version, at Antwerp, in 1568, and this edition is extremely scarce. Tyrtreus, like Ossian, by his valour and the animating powers of his song, raised his name to the rank of the greatest heroes as well as of the noblest poets. The Lacedemonians having blockaded Messene, a revolted city of Peloponnesus, they applied to the Athenians for a general. Tyrtaeus (a native of Athens) was sent to them, and although the Lacedemonians had despaired of success, yet, by his animating example, and the captivating power of his war-song^, a complete victory was gained. Hence our
When by impulse from heaven Tyrtaeus sang, In drooping soldiers a new courage sprang.
374 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEin the Trojan war.* The American tribes of Indians have also their war shouts, when about to engage an enemy.
Our historian Robertson, in his proofs and illustrations to the View of the State of Europe,f states a circumstance related by Priscus, in his history of the Embassy to Attila, King of the Huns, which gives a striking view of the enthusiastic passion for war which prevailed among the barbarous nations. When the entertainment, to which that fierce conqueror admitted the Roman ambassadors, was ended, two Scythians advanced towards Attila, and recited a poem, in which they celebrated his victories and military virtues. All the Huns fixed their eyes with attention on the bards. Some seemed to be delighted with the verses; others, remembering their own battles and exploits, exulted with joy ; while such as were become feeble through age, burst out into tears, bewailing the decay of their vigour, and the state of inactivity in which they were now obliged
to remain, j:
The venerated office of the bards was continued in the northern parts of Scotland and the Western Reviving Sparta now the fight maintain’d, And what two generals lost a poet gain’d. Roscommon.
There is a striking resemblance between the characters of the Lacedemonian and Celtic bards. They were warriors, poets, and musicians.
* Through the Grecian throng With horror sounds the loud Orthean song. Iliad XI. 13.
f Hist. Charles V. Vol. I. Note III. C.
t Excerpta ex Historia Prisci Rhetoris ap. Byzant. Hist. Script.
Vol. I. p. 45.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 375 Isles, until the latter end of the seventeenth century. Since the extinction of their order, the songs and “ tales of the times of old” no longer echo in the hall. The harp remains unstrung, and no more vibrates to the voices of the bards. The song of victory is no longer raised on the return of a triumphant hero:* nor are the songs of the bards now raised over the tombs of the warriors.f The valiant deeds of other times are no longer recited; and the venerable remains of the Celtic language have been gradually on the decline, but will now, it is hoped, be preserved for ever !
Spenser, in his View of the State of Ireland, J tells * It was usual for the chiefs, returning from successful expeditions, to send their bards singing before them, and, on their arrival at home, they were accompanied in the song of victory by other bards.
“ Duisg solas an talla nan stuadh;
Thill righ nam buadh le ’sluagh gu ’thir.
Tha chdmstri Charuinn fada uaiun,