Page images

Offian, "over the defert like stormy clouds, when "the winds roll them over the heath; their edges "are tinged with lightening; and the echoing cc groves foresee the storm *." The edges of the cloud tinged with lightning, is a fublime idea; but the fhepherd and his flock, render Homer's fimile more picturefque. This is frequently the difference between the two poets. Offian gives no more than the main image, ftrong and full. Homer adds circumftances and appendages, which amufe the fancy by enlivening the scenery.

Homer compares the regular appearance of an army, to "clouds that are fettled on the moun"tain top, in the day of calmnefs, when the "ftrength of the north wind fleeps +." Offian, with full as much propriety, compares the appearance of a difordered army, to "the moun"tain cloud, when the blaft hath entered its "womb; and scatters the curling gloom on every

fide." Offian's clouds affume a great many forms; and, as we might expect from his climate, are a fertile fource of imagery to him. "The "warriors followed their chiefs, like the gather

ing of the rainy clouds, behind the red meteors "of heaven §." An army retreating without coming to action, is likened to "clouds, that having long threatened rain, retire slowly behind "the hills." The picture of Oithona, after fhe had determined to die, is lively and delicate. "Her foul was refolved, and the tear was dried

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* Vol. i. p. 55. P. 311.

+ Iliad, v. 522. Vol. i. p. 7.


Vol. i.
Vol. i. p. 233.
" from

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]


" from her wildly-looking eye. A troubled joy rofe
on her mind, like the red path of the lightning
"on a ftormy cloud*." The image alfo of the
gloomy Cairbar, meditating, in filence, the affaffi-
nation of Ofcar, until the moment came when his
designs were ripe for execution, is extremely noble,
and complete in all its parts.
"Cairbar heard
"their words in filence, like the cloud of a fhower;
"it stands dark on Cromla, till the lightning burfts
"its fide. The valley gleams with red light;
"the fpirits of the ftorm rejoice. So stood the
"filent king of Temora; at length his words are
"heard +."

Homer's comparison of Achilles to the DogStar, is very fublime. "Priam beheld him rufh"ing along the plain, fhining in his armour, like "the ftar of autumn; bright are its beams, dis"tinguished amidst the multitude of ftars in the "dark hour of night. It rifes in its fplendor, "but its fplendor is fatal; betokening to miferable

men, the destroying heat t." The first appearance of Fingal, is, in like manner, compared by Offian, to a star or meteor. "Fingal, tall in "his ship, stretched his bright lance before him. "Terrible was the gleam of his fteel; it was like "the green meteor of death, fetting in the heath "of Malmor, when the traveller is alone, and the "broad moon is darkened in heaven §." The hero's appearance in Homer, is more magnificent, in Offian, more terrible.

+ Vol, i, p. 247, § Vol. i. p. 60.

E e 2

*Vol. i. p. 340. xxii. 26.


A tree

A tree cut down, or overthrown by a ftorm, is a fimilitude frequent among poets for defcribing the fall of a warrior in battle. Homer employs it often. But the most beautiful, by far, of his comparisons, founded on this object, indeed one of the most beautiful in the whole Iliad, is that on the death of Euphorbus. "As the young "and verdant olive, which a man hath reared "with care in a lonely field, where the fprings of "water bubble around it; it is fair and flourishing; "it is fanned by the breath of all the winds, and "loaded with white bloffoms; when the fudden "blaft of a whirlwind defcending, roots it out "from its bed, and ftretches it on the duft *." To this, elegant as it is, we may oppose the following fimile of Offian's, relating to the death of the three fons of Ufnoth. They fell, like "three young oaks which stood alone on the hill. "The traveller faw the lovely trees, and wondered "how they grew fo lonely. The blaft of the "defert came by night, and laid their green heads


low. Next day he returned; but they were "withered, and the heath was bare +." Malvina's allufion to the fame object, in her lamentation over Ofcar, is fo exquifitely tender, that I cannot forbear giving it a place alfo. "I was a lovely tree in thy "prefence, Ofcar! with all my branches round (6 me. But thy death came, like a blaft from the "defert, and laid my green head low. The fpring "returned with its fhowers; but no leaf of mine

* Iliad, xvii. 53.

+ Vol. i. p. 239.


[ocr errors]

"arofe*." Several of Offian's fimiles taken from trees, are remarkably beautiful, and diverfified with well chofen circumftances; fuch as that upon the death of Ryno and Orla: "They have fallen "like the oak of the defart; when it lies across a "ftream, and withers in the wind of the moun"tains:" Or that which Offian applies to himfelf; "I, like an ancient oak in Morven, moul"der alone in my place; the blaft hath lopped my branches away; and I tremble at the wings "of the north."


As Homer exalts his heroes by comparing them. to gods, Offian makes the fame use of comparisons taken from fpirits and ghosts. Swaran "roared "in battle, like the fhrill spirit of a storm that fits "dim on the clouds of Gormal, and enjoys the "death of the mariner §." His people gathered around Erragon, "like ftorms around the ghost " of night, when he calls them from the top of "Morven, and prepares to pour them on the land "of the ftranger ."" They fell before my fon, like groves in the defert, when an angry ghoft rushes through night, and takes their green heads in his hand ¶." In fuch images, Offian appears in his ftrength; for very feldom have fupernatural beings been painted with fo much fublimity, and fuch force of imagination, as by this poet. Even Homer, great as he is, muft yield to him in similes formed upon these. Take,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

*Vol. i. p. 345. i. p. 266.

Vol. i. p. 252.

+ Vol. i. p. 103. § Vol. i. p. 20.

Ee 3

1 Vol. Vol. i. p. 162.


for instance, the following, which is the most remarkable of this kind in the Iliad. "Meriones "followed Idomeneus to battle, like Mars the "deftroyer of men, when he rushes to war.

Terror, his beloved fon, ftrong and fierce, at"tends him; who fills with difmay, the most "valiant hero. They come from Thrace, armed against the Ephyrians and Phlegyans; nor do "they regard the prayers of either; but difpofe of "fuccefs at their will." The idea here, is undoubtedly noble: but observe what a figure Offian fets before the astonished imagination, and with what fublimely terrible circumftances he has heightened it. "He rufhed in the found of his "arms, like the dreadful spirit of Loda, when "he comes in the roar of a thousand storms, and "fcatters battles from his eyes. He fits on a cloud "over Lochlin's feas. His mighty hand is on "his fword. The winds lift his flaming locks. "So terrible was Cuchullin in the day of his * fame t."

[ocr errors]

Homer's comparisons relate chiefly to martial fubjects, to the appearances and motions of armies, the engagement and death of heroes, and the various incidents of war. In Offian, we find a greater variety of other fubjects illuftrated by fimiles; particularly, the fongs of bards, the beauty of women, the different circumftances of old age, forrow, and private diftrefs; which give occafion to much beautiful imagery. What, for inftance, can be more delicate and moving, than the fol

* Iliad xiii. 298.

+ Vol. is p. 213.

« PreviousContinue »