« PreviousContinue »
great charm for the bulk of readers. It gratifies the imagination, and affords room for striking and fublime defcription. No wonder therefore, that all poets should have a strong propensity towards it. But I muft obferve, that nothing is more difficult, than to adjust properly the marvellous with the probable. If a poet facrifice probability, and fill his work with extravagant fupernatural fcenes, he spreads over it an appearance of romance and childish fiction; he transports his readers from this world, into a phantaftick, vifionary region; and lofes that weight and dignity which fhould reign in epic poetry. No work, from which probability is altogether banished, can make a lafting or deep impreffion. Human actions and manners, are always the most interesting objects which can be presented to a human mind. All machinery, therefore, is faulty which withdraws thefe too much from view; or obfcures them under a cloud of incredible fictions. Befides being temperately employed, machinery ought always to have fome foundation in popular belief. A poet is by no means at liberty to invent what system of the marvellous he pleases: He must avail himself either of the religious faith, or the fuperftitious credulity of the country wherein he lives; fo as to give an air of probability to events which are most contrary to the common courfe of nature.
In these refpects, Offian appears to me to have been remarkably happy. He has indeed followed the fame course with Homer. For it is perfectly abfurd to imagine, as fome critics have done, that Homer's
Homer's mythology was invented by him, in confequence of profound reflections on the benefit it would yield to poetry. Homer was no fuch refining genius. He found the traditionary stories on which he built his Iliad, mingled with popular legends, concerning the intervention of the gods; and he adopted these, because they amufed the fancy. Offian, in like manner, found the tales of his country full of ghosts and spirits: It is likely he believed them himself; and he introduced them, because they gave his poems that folemn and marvellous caft, which fuited his genius. This was the only machinery he could employ with propriety; because it was the only intervention of fupernatural beings, which agreed with the common belief of the country. It was happy; because it did not interfere in the least, with the proper display of human characters and actions; because it had lefs of the incredible, than most other kinds of poetical machinery; and because it served to diversify the fcene, and to heighten the fubject by an awful grandeur, which is the great defign of machinery.
As Offian's mythology is peculiar to himself, and makes a confiderable figure in his other poems, as well as in Fingal, it may be proper to make some obfervations on it, independent of its fubferviency to epic compofition. It turns for the most part on the appearances of departed fpirits. Thefe, confonantly to the notions of every rude age, are. reprefented not as purely immaterial, but as thin airy forms, which can be visible or invifible at pleafure; their voice is feeble; their arm is weak, but
they are endowed with knowledge more than human. In a separate state, they retain the fame dif pofitions which animated them in this life. They ride on the wind; they bend their airy bows; and purfue deer formed of clouds. departed bards continue to fing.
The ghosts of
departed heroes frequent the fields of their former fame. They relt together in their caves, and "talk of mortal men. Their fongs are of other "worlds. They come fometimes to the ear of rest, ❝and raise their feeble voice*." All this prefents to us much the fame fet of ideas, concerning fpirits, as we find in the eleventh book of the Odyffey, where Ulyffes vifits the regions of the dead: And in the twenty-third book of the Iliad, the ghoft of Patroclus, after appearing to Achilles, vanishes precifely like one of Offian's, emitting a fhrill, feeble cry, and melting away like smoke.
But though Homer's and Offian's ideas concerning ghofts were of the fame nature, we cannot but observe, that Offian's ghosts are drawn with much stronger and livelier colours than those of Homer. Offian defcribes ghofts with all the particularity of one who had feen and converfed with them, and whofe imagination was full of the impreffion they had left upon it. He calls up thofe awful and tremendous ideas which the
-Simulacra modis pallentia miris,
are fitted to raise in the human mind; and which, in Shakespear's style, "harrow up the foul."
*See Vol. i. p. 35, 40, 147, 152, 303, 353.
Crugal's ghost, in particular, in the beginning of the second book of Fingal, may vie with any appearance of this kind, described by any epic or tragic poet whatever. Most poets would have contented themselves with telling us, that he refembled, in every particular, the living Crugal; that his form and drefs were the fame, only his face more pale and fad; and that he bore the mark of the wound by which he fell. But Offian fets before our eyes a fpirit from the invisible world, distinguished by all thofe features, which a strong aftonished imagination would give to a ghost. " A "dark-red stream of fire comes down from the hill. Crugal fat upon the beam; he that lately fell by "the hand of Swaran, ftriving in the battle of he66 roes. His face is like the beam of the fetting His robes are of the clouds of the hill. "His eyes are like two decaying flames. Dark is the wound of his breaft.The ftars dim"twinkled through his form; and his voice was like "the found of a diftant ftream." The circumstance of the stars being beheld, "dim-twinkling through "his form," is wonderfully picturesque; and conveys the most lively impreffion of his thin and fhadowy fubftance. The attitude in which he is afterwards placed, and the fpeech put into his mouth, are full of that folemn and awful sublimity, which fuits the fubject. Dim, and in "tears, he stood and stretched his pale hand over
the hero. Faintly he raised his feeble voice, "like the gale of the reedy Lego.---My ghoft, "O Connal! is on my native hills; but my corfe
"is on the fands of Ullin. Thou shalt never "talk with Crugal, or find his lone fteps in the "heath. I am light as the blaft of Cromla; and "I move like the fhadow of mift. Connal, fon "of Colgar! I fee the dark cloud of death. It "hovers over the plains of Lena. The fons of green Erin fhall fall. Remove from the field of ghofts.---Like the darkened moon he retired in "the midst of the whiftling blast."
Several other appearances of spirits might be pointed out, as among the moft fublime paffages of Offian's poetry. The circumstances of them are confiderably diverfified; and the scenery always "Ofcar flowly afcends fuited to the occafion. "the hill. The meteors of night set on the heath "before him. A diftant torrent faintly roars.
Unfrequent blafts rufh through aged oaks. "The half-enlightened moon finks dim and red "behind her hill. Feeble voices are heard on "the heath. Ofcar drew his fword." — thing can prepare the fancy more happily for the awful scene that is to follow.
fteed of the stranger, His robe is of the mist
"came from his hill, at the voice of his mighty "fon. A cloud, like the fupported his airy limbs. "of Lano, that brings death to the people. His "fword is a green meteor, half-extinguished. "His face is without form, and dark. He figh"ed thrice over the hero: And thrice, the winds "of the night roared around. Many were his "words to Olcar-He flowly vanished, like a