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(3) Line 33, &c. Who can meet Swaran in fight?
One of the rules to be observed in forming the character of the hero of a poem is, that the first idea which is given of him should make a favourable impression on our minds.
Some poets delineate the qualities of their heroes. But the simplest, and at the same time most skilful method, is that of making them indirectly appear to advantage: no one knew this mode of management better than Ossian. Fingal does not appear till in the third book, whilst Cuthullin seems to be the principal personage; but the name of the former is announced at once in such a manner, that the hero of the poem is very soon perceived. Swaran, his enemy and the invader of Ireland, amidst his boasts, fears only the encounter of Fingal. What grand ideas ought we not to conceive of him! We shall see many other specimens of equal ingenuity. Homer was not equally happy, or so delicate in this respect: with him the principal heroes of the same party, during their private quarrels, but more especially in public with respect to their enemies, called each other cowards, and vile fellows. How can the reader admire men who evidently despise each other?
(4) Line 49. Dark Cuthullin shall be great or dead!
O Cucullino sarà grande, o morrà.
Fingal is the first hero of the poem, Cuthullin the second. The character of both is great, generous,
and interesting. But what more particularly distinguishes Cuthullin in this poem, is a most delicate sense of honour. Ossian, with an exquisite judgment, assigned particular parts to these two great personages, without prejudice to the splendour of either. Cuthullin is the hero of the first act; Fingal completes the action.
(5) Lines 55, &c. He went. He struck the bossy shield.
The hills, the rocksr eply.
The sound spreads along the wood:
Batte il concavo scudo: e colli, e rupi
Can we see a picture more vivid, animated, or more diversified in action than this?"The poet's
art, merely considered as descriptive (says a cele"brated modern author), is to exhibit objects in "motion, and even to strike, if possible, many senses at once." If so, Ossian deserves the name of POET by way of pre-eminence.
(6) Lines 73, 74. Thy side that is white as the foam of the troubled sea, When the dark winds pour it on rocky Cuthon.
Il tuo fianco ch'è candido come la spuma del turbato mare,
This is a similar picture in a different point of view: The former excited a more lively emotion, the latter makes a stronger and deeper impression.
(7) Line 87, &c. Gloomy and dark their heroes follow,
Ossian abounds very much in comparisons, a qualification that is common to the most ancient poets of all nations. The imperfection of language introduced them, and the great effect they produce gave them importance in poetry. A too frequent use of them may be disapproved by rigid critics in their frigid meditations; but wherever this splendid defect presents itself to us, it dazzles and wins the mind at the very instant when we are inclined to condemn it; and our sensation, which is direct, gets the better of reflection. It may be useful here to observe, that the spirit of comparison is perhaps the most essential qualification for poetry. The business of a poet, as a fanciful representer, consists in assembling all things in nature that bear a similitude; the body of poetic language is composed, in a great degree, of compressed similes. Moreover, frequent comparisons are peculiar to Ossian, as well as to all ancient poets; but few participate his glory, in the extraordinary beauty of his imagery.
(8) Line 108, &c.
Cuthullin! calm the chief replied,
The character of Connal is also of that peculiar nature, of which no example can be found in Homer. He is a wise and moderate hero; although a great warrior, he is always an advocate for peace. He is prudent, but his prudence is not loquacious as that of Nestor. He is neither provoked by the little success of his counsels, nor by the unjust reproaches of others; but he calmly continues to perform the duty of a wise chief and of a faithful friend.
(9) Lines 114, 115.
Behold, thou first in Cormac's war,
Tu, che alle guerre di Cormac sei duce,
Mark this trait. To have dissuaded Cuthullin from giving battle by any apprehension of danger, would have offended that hero's greatness of soul. Connal, by the expressions in the text, points out to Cuthullin that the principal question is not about his glory, but that it concerns the safety of his ward; and he insiunates this excellent maxim, that private honour ought to give way to public duty.
(10) Line 121, &c.
Connal is for peace.
Per la pace son io. Fingal non ch' altri,
This sentiment, though apparently derogatory to the heroism of Fingal, yet it tends to raise him in our estimation.
He is here represented as the model of valour; and saying that he would have avoided the battle,
is for no other purpose than that Cuthullin, too delicate upon this subject, might not think it dishonourable to do the same. Thus Agamemnon, in the seventh book of the Iliad, in order to dissuade Menelaus from fighting with Hector, tells him that even Achilles himself trembled at the thoughts of encountering that warrior; though he knew that Hector, on the contrary, dared not expose himself out of the walls for fear of meeting Achilles.
Hence we may observe, that Agamemnon in this place roughly says to Menelaus, that Hector is far more powerful than him.
Connal here does not compare the valour of Swaran with that of Cuthullin, but only speaks of the superiority of the forces of the former, and of the comparative small number of the Irish troops.
(11) Line 145, &c.
Calmar! Connal slow replied,
The heroic steadiness of Connal is here admirably contrasted with the impetuous ferocity of Calmar, just a little before depicted with the liveliest colours. This speech, in its kind, is a model of perfection. Connal retorts with dignity, and with a modesty full of magnanimity, Calmar's insults; then, treating him with neglect, gravely addresses himself to Cuthullin, advises him to sacrifice his glory to the safety of his ward, and concludes with a respectful and at the same time heroic resolution.