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(12) Lines 183, 184. Four stones, replied the chief, Rise on the grave of Cathba.
In su la tomba
Di Catbarre, ei rispose, in questo punto
Ossian abounds with episodes. The most rigid rules seem to require that they should be subservient or obstructive to the principal action. But no poet submitted always to this excessive, and unnecessary rigour. One half of the Æneid is composed of episodes, which might be omitted without injury to the main action. It is therefore sufficient that the episodes be naturally introduced by some circumstance connected with the subject, and be opportunely placed.*
This episode, and many others, have both these
The translator is indebted to Francis Sastres, Esq. his Sicilian Majesty's consul-general in London, for this and the three subsequent notes, having his name subjoined, in which he has made some critical remarks, and given explanations of one or two obscure passages in Cesarotti's observations on the first book of Fingal.
Cesarotti is right, and this seems a fit opportunity of justifying Tasso against the witty Voltaire, and some other pert French criticks. The beautiful and interesting episode, in c. ii. of the Gerusalemme Liberata, of Sofronia and Olinto, is not only opportunely placed, and justifiable by the above judicious observations, but is more subservient to the principal subject of that poem, than Voltaire seems to have been aware of; inasmuch as it places in a luminous point of view, in opposition to the ferocious character of the Turks, the pious and virtuous dispositions of the Christians in general at Jerusalem (represented by Sofronia and Olinto), who were about to be delivered from the tyranny of the former; justifying and strengthening thereby the principal scope of
requisites. In some it however appears that the first requisite is rather wanted. See hereafter the observation (27).
(13) Line 219, &c.
Thy hair is the mist of Cromla
When it shines to the beam of the west.
Fiocchi di nebbia, che serpeggia, e sale
Who could ever have imagined that mist could afford such an elegant comparison? It is a pity that it should in some measure be disgraced, by coming from the mouth of such a brutal character, as Duchomar. Ossian could not certainly have pitched upon any thing more beautiful, refined, and appropriate to represent with a single object a head of hair, smooth, flaxen, curled, and flowing, all at the same instant. Here then is one of those singular beauties which in vain we may look for in Homer.*
How much more would Cesarotti have admired the simile before us, had Mr. Macpherson done justice to the original.-The Rev. Mr. Ross has, however, in the foregoing translation, rendered the passage thus more correct, chaste, and beautiful:
Thy ringlets are like the mist of Cromla,
In the beams of the western sun.
Ossian was peculiarly happy in his choice of similes drawn from familiar objects in nature. His lively images strike the mind with irresistible force, and the combination of harmonious and appropriate sounds in the Gaelic, charm the ear, and make a strong impression on the memory. Hence, the facility of preserving for ages, Ossian's poetry by oral tradition, and the difficulty of transfusing the grandeur and spirit of his comparisons into a translation. TRANS.
The author of the Typographical Annals, speaking of the difference between Homer and Ossian, discovers an advantage in favour of the former from the nature of the climate. "It is (says he) smiling in Greece, "and in Asia Minor, whereas our poet had no other
scenes but immense forests, vast barren heaths, "mountains covered with snow, perpetual mists, "and tempestuous seas surrounded by tremendous "rocks." This is absolutely the case. Nevertheless, we cannot perceive that the gay climate of Greece inspired Homer with an elegant and particularly distinguished imagination. Whereas Ossian's discerning eye, brightened by the acumen of his mind, discovers in those dismal scenes beauties that are invisible to others; and his fancy sometimes forces nature to change her aspect.*
(14) Line 226, &c.
From whence, the fair haired maid replied,
La Donzelletta dalle bianche braccia.
Morna's character is that of a woman combining caution with resolution. She avoids a declaration,
Similar to this praise is, in some respect, that of Dr. Johnson on the genius of Shakspeare:
"Each change of many-colour'd life he drew,
And we may with equal justice and propriety apply what follows to the immortal Caledonian bard:
"His powerful strokes presiding truth impress'd,
and endeavours to divert Duchomar by an enquiry which ought to interest him. When she finds herself pressed, she throws off all reserve, and rejects him in the most cold and disdainful manner.
(15) Line 192, &c. Her white arm is stained with red.
Rolling in death she lay.
il suo candido braccio Striscian note virmiglie: ella prostesa
Rotolò nella morte.
Moriensque suo in pectore versat.
Virgil's expression is more natural, Ossian's more energetic. Death is far more expressive. A wound presents a single lively image; death a comprehensive one, and the reader's mind has the pleasure of developing it.
(16) Line 295. The cave re-echoed to her sighs
e a' suoi sospiri
L'antro di Tura con pietà risposè.
No poet can be compared to Ossian in tragical narrations. He possesses all the requisites to surprise and awaken the mind.
The fierce character of Duchomar, the sanguinary indifference with which he relates the death of his rival; the feminine circumspection, and masculine boldness of Morna; the rapid and concise style; in short, those two great flashes, though similar, and both of them unexpected, strike and move the soul, leaving a deep mixt impression, which afterwards is changed into calm sadness. I shall notice an artifice that Ossian constantly employs in similar narrations, and which shews him to be a great master.
He at first interests the heart by the most moving strains as soon as he is in possession of it, he vehemently hurries our feelings towards the catastrophe, without giving us time to perceive how or in what manner it is effected.
Moreover, he often omits some circumstance that might develope the fact, but which in so doing would diminish its force. For in the present instance, one cannot conceive clearly the manner in which Duchomar wounds Morna. But Ossian appears to be too well acquainted with the secret strokes of art to care much about such nice discriminations. The thunderbolt bursts, stuns, dazzles, and leaves behind it a gloom that completes the horror of the scene,
(17) Line 344, &c. The deep moving strength of the sons of Erin!
l' affollata possa
Il carro rapidissimo sonante
Di Cucullin figlio di Semo.
This is the richest, most magnificent, and most ample description of any in Ossian's poems, and resembles more than any other Homer's abundant style. If this car be considered abstractedly, it blazes with vivid beauties. But the impartial accuracy of criticism obliges us to confess that the description is somewhat overcharged, and that, moreover, it does not agree with the relations between