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ever wrote. But though Offian be much inferior to Homer in this article, he will be found to be equal at least, if not fuperior, to Virgil; and has indeed given all the difplay of human nature which the fimple occurrences of his times could be expected to furnish. No dead uniformity of character prevails in Fingal; but on the contrary the principal characters are not only clearly diftinguifhed, but fometimes artfully contrafted fo as to illuftrate each other. Offian's heroes are like Homer's, all brave; but their bravery, like those of Homer's too, is of different kinds. For inftance; the prudent, the fedate, the modeft and circumspect Connal, is finely opposed to the prefumptuous, rash, overbearing, but gallant and generous CalCalmar hurries Cuchullin into action by his temerity; and when he fees the bad effect of his counfels, he will not furvive the disgrace. Connal, like another Ulyffes, attends Cuchullin to his retreat, counfels, and comforts him under his misfortune. The fierce, the proud, and high spirited Swaran is admirably contrafted with the calm, the moderate, and generous Fingal. The character of Ofcar is a favourite one throughout the whole Poems. The amiable warmth of the young warrior; his eager impetuofity in the day of action; his paffion for fame; his fubmiffion to his father; his tenderness for Malvina; are the strokes of a masterly pencil; the ftrokes are few; but it is the hand of nature, and attracts the heart. Offian's own character, the old man, the hero, and the bard, all in one, prefents to us through the whole work
work a moft refpectable and venerable figure, which we always contemplate with pleasure. Cuchullin is a hero of the highest class; daring, magnanimous, and exquifitely fenfible to honour. We become attached to his intereft, and are deeply touched with his diftrefs; and after the admiration raised for him in the first part of the Poem, it is a ftrong proof of Offian's masterly genius that he durft adventure to produce to us another hero, compared with whom, even the great Cuchullin, fhould be only an inferior perfonage; and who fhould rife as far above him, as Cuchullin rifes above the rest.
Here indeed, in the character and description of Fingal, Offian triumphs almost unrivalled: For we may boldly defy all antiquity to fhews us any hero equal to Fingal. Homer's Hector poffeffes feveral great and amiable qualities; but Hector is a fecondary perfonage in the Iliad, not the hero of the work. We fee him only occafionally; we know much less of him than we do of Fingal; who not only in this Epic Poem, but in Temora, and throughout the rest of Offian's works, is presented in all that variety of lights, which give the full display of a character. And though Hector faithfully discharges his duty to his country, his friends, and his family, he is tinctured, however, with a degree of the fame favage ferocity, which prevails among all the Homeric heroes. For we find him infulting over the fallen Patroclus, with the most cruel taunts, and telling him when he lies in the agony of death, that Achilles cannot help him now; and
and that in a fhort time his body, ftripped naked, and deprived of funeral honours, fhall be devoured by the Vulturs*. Whereas in the character of Fingal, concur almost all the qualities that can ennoble human nature; that can either make us admire the hero, or love the man. He is not only unconquerable in war, but he makes his people happy by his wifdom in the days of peace †. He is truly the father of his people. He is known by the epithet of “ Fingal of the mildest look;" and distinguished on every occasion, by humanity and generofity. He is merciful to his foes; full of affection to his children; full of concern about his friends; and never mentions Agandecca, his first love, without the utmost tenderness. He is the universal protector of the diftreffed; "None "ever went fad from Fingal |. "O Ofcar! "bend the strong in arms; but spare the feeble "hand. Be thou a ftream of many tides against "the foes of thy people; but like the gale that
*Iliad 16. 830, Il. 17. 127.
+ Vol. i. p. 92.
When he commands his fons, after Swaran is taken prifoner, to "pursue the reft of Lochlin, over the heath "of Lena; that no vessel may hereafter bound on the "dark-rolling waves of Iniftore;" he means not affuredly, as fome have mifreprefented him, to order a general flaughter of the foes, and to prevent their saving themselves by flight; but, like a wife general, he commands his chiefs to render the victory compleat, by a total rout of the enemy; that they might adventure no more for the future, to fit out any flcet against him or his allies.
Vol. i. p.111.
"moves the grafs, to those who afk thine aid. "So Trenmor lived; fuch Trathal was; and "fuch has Fingal been. My arm was the support "of the injured; the weak refted behind the light"ning of my fteel*."-Thefe were the maxims of true heroism, to which he formed his grandfon. His fame is represented as every where spread; the greatest heroes acknowledge his fuperiority; his enemies tremble at his name; and the highest encomium that can be bestowed on one whom the poet would most exalt, is to fay, that his foul was like the foul of Fingal.
To do juftice to the poet's merit, in supporting fuch a character as this, I muft obferve, what is not commonly attended to, that there is no part of poetical execution more difficult, than to draw a perfect character in fuch a manner, as to render it distinct and affecting to the mind. Some strokes of human imperfection and frailty, are what usually give us the most clear view, and the most senfible impreffion of a character; because they prefent to us a man, fuch as we have feen; they recall known features of human nature. When poets attempt to go beyond this range, and defcribe a faultless hero, they, for the most part, fet before us, a fort of vague undistinguishable character, fuch as the imagination cannot lay hold of, or realize to itself, as the object of affection. We know how much Virgil has failed in this particular. His perfect hero, neas, is an unanimated, infipid perfonage, whom we may pretend to admire,
*Vol. i. p. 64.
but whom no one can heartily love. But what Virgil has failed in, Offian, to our astonishment, has fuccessfully executed. His Fingal, though exhibited without any of the common human failings, is nevertheless a real man; a character which touches and interefts every reader. To this it has much contributed, that the poet has represented him as an old man; and by this has gained the advantage of throwing around him a great many circumftances, peculiar to that age, which paint him to the fancy in a more diftinct light. He is surrounded with his family; he inftructs his children in the principles of virtue; he is narrative of his past exploits; he is venerable with the grey locks of age; he is frequently disposed to moralize, like an old man, on human vanity and the profpect of death. There is more art, at least more felicity, in this, than may at first be imagined. For youth and old age, are the two ftates of human life, capable of being placed in the most picturesque lights. Middle age is more general and vague; and has fewer circumstances peculiar to the idea of it. And when any object is in a fituation, that admits it to be rendered particular, and to be cloathed with a variety of circumstances, it always ftands out more clear and full in poetical description.
Befides human perfonages, divine or fupernatural agents are often introduced into epic poetry; forming what is called the machinery of it; which moft critics hold to be an effential part. The marvellous, it must be admitted, has always a great