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Now we must be seriously persuaded, that vocal music was highly appreciated among the Celts, and that nothing was done without singing. To pass the whole night amidst songs was their solemn and universal custom. Their history, the sacred memory of their ancestors, the examples of their heroes, every thing was entrusted to the recitations and songs of their bards. Their wants, pleasure, glory, piety, and duty conspired to excite in the Celtic nation the vehement passion they had for poetry. Now if the songs of the bards were justly entitled to be inserted in Ossian's poems, and if singing merely had no connection whatever with the subject, I see no reason why the stories contained in those songs should not be made subservient to the main action. But if some of the episodical songs of Ossian have no direct connection with the particular subject of the poem, yet every one of them refers to the spirit and general end of all his poems, which is to inspire grandeur of mind, and sensibility of heart, by the recital of heroic and tender achievements.
(28) Line 595, &c. She sung of the actions of Crudar, The youth of her secret soul!
Eran suo canto
One of the greatest beauties of Ossian is that concerning love, which he manages with so peculiar a delicacy that it deserves to be examined. It will be sufficient to observe the diversity of modes with which this passion has been treated by the poets of
other nations. Love among the Greeks and the Romans is a physical and natural necessity; that of the Italians is spiritual; of the French bel-esprit. Ossian's love is of a species that resembles none of them. Sentiment forms its basis; it is therefore tender and delicate, and its language is not witty, but moving. It relates to the senses, but out of these a choice of the purest is made, such as the sight and the hearing: hence, it is neither abstract nor gross, but natural and delicate. Ossian often mentions the bosom, and seems to take particular delight in describing it. The descriptions of other poets on this subject approaches to lasciviousness; but this arises from their descriptions being accompanied with such sentiments as indicate that they are not satisfied with the sight only. Not a single expression will be found in all Ossian's poems that relates even to the touch. The result of all this is, that Ossian's love is decent without the affectation of modesty. The reserve of other poets is accompanied with an air of mystery, which is rather an incentive than a restraint. Ossian expatiates with innocent freedom on all the objects of visible beauty, and dwells on them so naturally that he gives no motive for suspicion. These bounds of decency are preserved, because it is deemed proper they should not be trespassed. After the heart and the sight nothing more (in Ossian's idea) can be desired of a beautiful woman.
(29) Line 644, &c. O Connal! speak of war and arms, And send her from my mind.
Ma tu, fido Conal, parlami d'arme,
What a charming variation of affections and sentiments! What a moving contrast between the husband and the hero! One cannot decide whether to admire most the latter, or to feel for the former.
(30) Line 648. Connal slow to speak replied.
Figlio di Semo, ripigliò Conallo
A most appropriate epithet to the prudence and calmness of Connal.
(31) Line 652, &c. Cuthullin! I am for peace,
Till the race of Selma come ;
Till Fingal come, the first of men,
Per la pace son' io, finchè sia giunta
Here Fingal appears for the fifth time; without him no hopes can be entertained. Cuthullin is a great warrior, yet the safety of Ireland depends on Fingal alone. With this idea the poet in his first book dismisses us.
If such reflections struck the mind of this inge nious critic on the examination of Macpherson's translation, what would he not have said, had he seen the beauties of the original more faithfully delineated?
Finding that a Gentleman resided in my own immediate neighbourhood, at Thurso, in the County of Caithness, North-Britain, (Captain John Macdonald, of Breakish), who had been much distinguished for his knowledge of Gaelic poetry, and who had furnished Mr. Macpherson with some of the poems which he had translated, I thought it adviseable, judicially to interrogate him upon the subject of Ossian. The evidence he has given, considering his time of life, being now in the 78th year of his age, is peculiarly distinct and satisfactory.
Deposition by CAPTAIN JOHN MACDONALD, now residing at Thurso, in the County of Caithness.
At THURSO, the twenty-fifth day of September, Eighteen Hundred and Five Years.
presence of Colonel Benjamin Williamson, of Banniskirk, one of His Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the County of Caithness, compeered, Captain John Macdonald, late of the Inverness Regiment of Fencibles, who being solemnly interrogated, depones :
That he was born in the parish of Sleat, in the Isle of Sky, and was aged seventy-eight years, on the twelfth day of March last, eighteen hundred and five:
That he has heard many of the Gaelic poems ascribed to Ossian, the son of Fingal:
That when he was about twelve and fifteen years of age, he could repeat from one hundred to two hundred of those poems, of different lengths and number of verses:
That he learned them from an old man, about eighty years of age, who sung them for years to his father, at night, when he went to bed, and in spring and winter, in the morning before he rose :