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mote, fo as to be apprehended with difficulty; that they serve either to illuftrate the principal object, and to render the conception of it, more clear and distinct; or at least, to heighten and embellish it, by a fuitable affociation of images *.
Every country has a fcenery peculiar to itself; and the imagery of a good poet will exhibit it. For as he copies after nature, his allufions will of course be taken from thofe objects which he fees around him, and which have often ftruck his fancy. For this reafon, in order to judge of the propriety of poetical imagery, we ought to be, in fome meafure, acquainted with the natural history of the country where the scene of the poem is laid. The introduction of foreign images betrays a poet, copying not from nature, but from other writers, Hence fo many Lions, and Tygers, and Eagles and Serpents, which we meet with in the fimiles of modern poets; as if these animals had acquired fome right to a place in poetical comparisons for ever, because employed by ancient authors. They employed them with propriety, as objects generally known in their country; but they are abfurdly used for illuftration by us, who know them only at fecond hand, or by defcription. To most readers of modern poetry, it were more to the purpose to defcribe Lions or Tygers by fimiles taken from men, than to compare men to Lions. Offian is very correct in this particular. His imagery is, without exception, copied from that face of nature, which he faw before his eyes; and by confequence may
*See Elements of Criticism, ch. 19. vol. 3.
be expected to be lively. We meet with no Gre cian or Italian fcenery; but with the mifts, and clouds, and storms of a northern mountainous region. No poet abounds more in fimiles than Offian. There are in this collection as many, at leaft, as in the whole Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. I am indeed inclined to think, that the works of both poets are too much crowded with them. Similes are sparkling ornaments; and like all things that fparkle, are apt to dazzle and tire us by their luftre. But if Offian's fimiles be too frequent, they have this advantage of being commonly fhorter than Homer's; they interrupt his narration lefs; he just glances afide to fome refembling object, and instantly returns to his former track. Homer's fimiles include a wider range of objects. But in return, Offian's are, without exception, taken from objects of dignity, which cannot be faid for all those which Homer employs. The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, Clouds and Meteors, Lightning and Thunder, Seas and Whales, Rivers, Torrents, Winds, Ice, Rain, Snow, Dews, Mift, Fire and Smoke, Trees and Forefts, Heath and Grafs and Flowers, Rocks and Mountains, Mufic and Songs, Light and Darkness, Spirits and Ghofts; these form the circle, within which Offian's comparisons generally run. Some, not many, are taken from Birds and Beafts; as Eagles, Sea Fowl, the Horse, the Deer, and the Mountain Bee; and a very few from fuch operations of art as were then known. Homer has diversified his
imagery by many more allufions to the animal world; to Lions, Bulls, Goats, Herds of Cattle, Serpents, Infects; and to the various occupations of rural and pastoral life. Offian's defect in this article, is plainly owing to the defert, uncultivated state of his country, which fuggested to him few images beyond natural inanimate objects, in their rudeft form. The birds and animals of the country were probably not numerous; and his ac quaintance with them was flender, as they were little fubjected to the uses of man.
The great objection made to Offian's imagery, is its uniformity, and the too frequent repetition of the fame comparisons. In a work fo thick fown with fimiles, one could not but expect to find images of the fame kind fometimes fuggefted to the poet by refembling objects; efpecially to a poet like Offian, who wrote from the immediate impulfe of poetical enthusiasm, and without much preparation of study or labour. Fertile as Homer's imagination is acknowledged to be, who does not know how often his Lions and Bulls and Flocks of Sheep, recur with little or no variation; nay, sometimes in the very fame words? The objection made to Offian is, however, founded, in a great measure, upon a mistake. It has been supposed by inattentive readers, that wherever the Moon, the Cloud, or the Thunder, returns in a fimile, it is the fame fimile, and the fame Moon, or Cloud, or Thunder, which they had met with a few pages before. Whereas very often the fimiles are widely different. The object, whence they are taken, is indeed in substance the fame; but the image is
new; for the appearance of the object is changed; it is prefented to the fancy in another attitude; and cloathed with new circumftances, to make it fuit the different illuftration for which it is employed. In this, lies Offian's great art; in fo happily varying the form of the few natural appearances with which he was acquainted, as to make them correfpond to a great many different objects.
Let us take for one inftance the Moon, which is very frequently introduced into his comparisons; as in northern climates, where the nights are long, the Moon is a greater object of attention, than in the climate of Homer; and let us view how much our poet has diverfified its appearance. The fhield of a warrior is like "the darkened moon when it "moves a dun circle through the heavens *." The face of a ghoft, wan and pale, is like " the "beam of the setting moon t." And a different appearance of a ghoft, thin and indistinct, is like "the new moon feen through the gathered mift, "when the sky pours down its flaky fnow, and "the world is filent and dark ‡;" or in a dif ferent form ftill, it is like "the watry beam of the
moon, when it rushes from between two clouds, "and the midnight shower is on the field §." A very oppofite ufe is made of the moon in the defcription of Agandecca: "She came in all her "beauty, like the moon from the cloud of the "Eaft ." Hope, fucceeded by disappointment, is" joy rifing on her face, and forrow returning
Vol. i. p. 42. i. p. 185.
+ Vol. i. p. 32. $ Vol. i. p. 169.
⇓ Vol. i. p. 54. 66 again,
"again, like a thin cloud on the moon." But when Swaran, after his defeat, is cheared by Fingal's generosity, "His face brightened like the "full moon of heaven, when the clouds vanish << away, and leave her calm and broad in the "midst of the sky +." Venvela is "bright as the "moon when it trembles o'er the western wave;" but the foul of the guilty Uthal is "dark as the "troubled face of the moon, when it foretels the "ftorm §." And by a very fanciful and uncommon allufion, it is faid of Cormac, who was to die in his early years, " Nor long shalt thou lift the
t fpear, mildly fhining beam of youth! Death "ftands dim behind thee, like the darkened half of "the moon behind its growing light ||."
Another inftance of the fame nature may be taken from mift, which, as being a very familiar appearance in the country of Offian, he applies to a variety of purposes, and pursues through a great many forms. Sometimes, which one would hardly expect, he employs it to heighten the appearance of a beautiful object. The hair of Morna is "like the mift of Cromla, when it curls on the ́"rock, and fhines to the beam of the weft ¶."
"The fong comes with its musick to melt and
' please the ear. It is like foft mift, that rifing
"from a lake pours on the silent vale.
green flowers are filled with dew.
Vol. i. p. 169.
i. p. 272.
+ Vol. i. p. 117.
§ Vol. i. p. 365.
The fun re
‡ Vol. Vol. i. p. 206.