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the Loc.liiin=. rin 1 r-". '= ■* him <~t\ ~ : "0 \\\ih I'hur.K-U-rislie hivalry, when Bome of his baser Ivuo-wlts ii^iv.-.J on his. immediate execution. But then we can see clearly that the victory, like that of Pyrrhus, was so dearly bought that it presaged ultimate ruin. Fionn felt this, and foretold evil days for his son Ossian. and for his people, and the Soe lived to see a battle in which the pride of the Feine was trampled in bloody dust, and in which his own son Oscar fell pierced by the sword not of an alien, but of a Celt like himself. The blackness of despair gathers thick over the soul of the poet, and he bitterly exclaims, "Ever since Gaura battle, my speech has lost its power, no night or day has e'er passed without a sigh for each hour."
Ossian was no mere professional poet, he was a warrior, and no mere singer of dangers and exploits in which he did not share. Nor did the "divine fire" of the poet disturb the balance of his judgment, for he was councillor to his father and his people—an indirect indication of the place which was formerly assigned to the poet. The high position of the bard is further indicated in the fact that he is introduced in some of these poems as holding discourse and high argument with St Patrick. The saint, for example, asks the blind old man to tell him of the olden times, and reminds him of the superior advantages of the present. The bard sometimes is represented as allowing that, in a general way, as confessing his sins, and pleading for the prayers of the saint. "'Alien, however, he launches forth on a tale of his Feine, it can at once be felt that his heart is with them, and not with the saint, or the God whom he served, that like the Viking of old ho would rather not go to heaven if his ancestors wore not there, but would be where they were. On one occasion the Saint said to him, "Though little room you would take, not one of your race shall get, unknown to Heaven's King, beneath his roof." "How different," retorted the bard, "MacCumhail, the Feine's noble king, all men uninvited might enter his great house, . . . Better the fierce conflict of Fionn and his Feine than thy Holy Master and thyself together!" All this is, no doubt, monkish accretions, and is in a different vein from the body of the song to which it is added by way of prelude and conclusion.
Ossian has a curious reference to himself in the following line :—
A poor old man now dragging stones.
This come in as the climax of all his woes. What stones are these 1 We wish Dr Maclauchlan had given us a note upon this allusion. Do they indicate a compulsory penance which the old and feeble bard had to make? Or, what is more probable, do they indicate compulsory labours in the building of churches or monasteries. Did the representatives of Christianity in their growing strength force those who were reluctant to accept its doctrine to work in its behalf in tliis degrading fashion. If so early did men in the name of Christ begin to crush the heart which they should comfort, and force the intellect they should instruct 1 But possibly own interpretation is wrong.
Let us now, with the bard as our guide, endeavour to discover what kind of men they were in whoso praises he touched his harp so sweetly. The chief hero of his song is of course Fionn, the son of Cumhaii We all know how deeply this name has engraved itself on the Celtic mind. It was to the Celt what Achilles was to the Greek, Sigurd to the Norse, or Charlemagne to the Frank. We have a full drawn and richly coloured portrait of him, presented to us in these pooms for our study and delight. It may not be so old as the third century, or oven a few centuries on this side of it; but it undoubtedly brings us back a very long way indeed. We are permitted then to look at the ideal of the hero which eommonded itself to the imagination of our remote ancestors. The name and deeds of Fionn are of course interwoven in all the poems, and by induction of the references to him wo could gather a fair idea of what manner of man the poet held him to be. But wo are for the purpose in hand, saved tho labour which that would involve, for the poet has given Fionn an ode all to himself. Eveiy one who reads it carefully will sympathise with the warm feelings of admiration which the charming beauty of its style, as well as tho elevation and vigour of its thoughts, have kindled in the mind of the learned editor of tho Dean of Lismore. A tribute is due also to the success with which tho spirit of the original is kept alive in the editor's translation, though of course tho alliteration, the musical repeti tion of the same vowel sound, the harmony, in short all tho fascinating subtleties of its style must be sought and enjoyed in the original alone. These qualities would seem to argue an extreme antiquity, which also hnds confirmation in the curious circumstance that the poem ascribes to Fionn the honour of having cleared tho bogs of Ireland of its reptiles. The sun never saw king who him excelled. "Tho monsters in lakes, the serpents by land, in sacred Erin tho hero slew." St Patrick, as we all know, now gets credit for this fact, but it would seem that the material monsters of the " Sacred Isle" were done for before he left the Clyde, and that his spear pierced monsters of a different order, and ono more difficult to do battle with. Does the legend in veiled speech indicate that Fionn •was something more than a warrior, that he organised, drilled, and utilised ■what Carlyle somewhere calls the "indubitable genius of the Irish for the spade," and set it to drain the marshes and reclaim the soil 1 Criticism has in its time hung much heavier weights on more slender cords. l£ we may allow ourselves to picture Fionn ordering his warriors to lay aside their swords, take up their spades, drain off the stagnant waters where frogs croak, and make work in due time for tho sickle, then he was a hero such as the sacred Isle still needs. Acts of Parliament cannot furnish him with a successor, but they can clear away many obstacles that stand in the way of the appearance of such as he who, by patience, organisation, skill, lovo of man, could sweeten the marshes, and turn the abodes of frogs into the habitations of happy families. We are obliged to say, however, that the poets did not dwell with emphasis on Fionn's exploits among the marshes and the reptiles. Slaying of men, feasting in the hall, chasing the deer, suited their verso better. Their spirit was in this respect akin to the spirit of our modern aristocracy, or rather plutocracy, and shoddy paper-rag lairds.
Wo should expect that the soul of a hero, especially of a Celtic hero, should bo endowed with an outward form worthy of it in beauty and strength, and Fionn does not in this respect disappoint our expectations. "Polished his mien, who knew but victory. Marble his skin, the rose his cheek, blue was his eye, his hair like gold; a giant he, the field's delight." What is remarkable, however, is that the poet says comparatively little of the outward appearance of his hero and father, but dwells long, fondly, and minutely, on his moral qualities, his manly gentleness, and his intellectual accomplishments. Y.c is poet as well as chief, leviathan at sea, as well as lord of all lands, first in tho council chamber, first in the tight. Generous and just he despised a lie; the hero of three hundred battles, he never grew harsh, but was " to women mild." Then his hospitality was of course unbounded, and set on" by " pomp and circumstance" dazzling to behold. Thus, the virtues Ossian loved were large-lieartednes.*, liberality of mind and hand, courtesy, affability, honour, courage, adorned by lighter refining accomplishments which are as the setting to the more precious stone. Add to this "good blood," and you have the Celtic idea of the good old name of gentleman, a thing like beauty indefinable but real; a noble gift of God, and only despised by the ignorant or by those who have it not, and if not granted to us it should be our aim so to live and so to act that those who spring from us shall have some portion of it to help them in their struggles with the brute in themselves and in the world
That these qualities were not regarded as limited to the great Fionn, is shown in an ode by Fergus, the brother of Ossian, in praise of GauL This lyric is interesting as put in the form of an argument to Fionn deprecating his anger against GauL Gaul did not respect the game laws —ancient as well as modern root of bitterness—of those days, for in the ardour of the cha6e he and his hounds trespassed on the fields of Fionn, and so incurred the indignation of the latter. Fergus interposed to mollify the rage of his father, and did so in a delightful poem setting forth the praises of Gaul, much in the same strain and style as belong to Ossian's eulogy of his father. This is not bad reading for a studious young Celt, be he of gentle blood like Gaul, or of humbler rank like the majority. The former especially would do well to be familiar with the old idea of aristocracy, in or.ler that he may drink of its spirit and show himself to be entitled to the honour of the first place, by acting a leader's part in the altered circumstances of his own times. We have no need to be ashamed of the idea of manhood thought out and honoured, we will not say realised, by those who have gone before us. No doubt we don't find much of the modern "a man's a man for a' that," in that old ideal, and so far it is defective, though self assertion must be reminded that to be endurable at all it needs to be tempered and qualified by the subtler, gentler, more internal elements necessary to a fully unfolded humanity. We sometimes wish that these simple melodies, survivals of a wider literature, had come under the eye of Shakespcre, for it is not an unlikely supposition that the pen which described and interpreted for us the Celtic Macbeth might have found materials for another Celtic tragedy in the fate of Fionn and his blind bard. But without such an interpreter much of their parable may still be read to our advantage notwithstanding that the Reformers found it necessary to denounce the tales and songs of the Feine as mischievous lies which prevented the people from receiving the supreme teaching of the Revelation. The fathers of the Christian Church denounced in the same stern spirit the more wonderful literature the charms of which made the gospel seem inspired, though now what remains of that literature is considered the best discipline for training the intellectual powers of our statesmen, divines, and gentlemen.
We have dwelt on the virtues of Fionn, but these poems are a mirror also to his weakness. We find him, for example, under the influence of jealousy encompassing the death of his friend Dinvmad by the basest treacherj*. 80 true it is that in the best lie passions which under temptation may explode, and lay their honour in the dust. A fierce boar, so the story goes, ravaged the country and laughed at speat and hound. A hunt was organised with all the formalities of an engagement. Diarmad roused the monster, gave him battle, and "let his breath out by his wounds," to Fionn's regret, who wished the conqueror dead. Fiona, asked him to measure the animal backwards, and with naked foot ho did so, got pricked in the sole, the only part of him which was vulnerable. The bristles were either poisoned, or had some deadly magical power, and Diarmad fell dead beside his victim, beautiful even in death. Here we see deceit, cruelty, pride, and meanness, led by passion, to the overthrow of a character such as we have already described. There are abysses in human nature, as well as lofty heights. We have indications that Fionn's splendour was purchased by heavy burdens laid upon lowlier shoulders, whose curses, at first suppressed, at last broke out loud and long. The chief himself is reported to have said after the battle which gave his glory to another, "The heavy curse of Art Acnir is upon us to our great grief —from the east it pursued mo, farewell to battle and to fame, to the victor's spoil, to the many joys I have hail in life." Thus the son of Cumhail found out in the bitterness of death that no personal accomplishments can atone for a proud neglect of the claims of others, for a haughty disdain, and the oppression which is its offspring, of those who are less highly favoured in the wurld.
"We have had an illustration, in the person of Fionn himself, of the evil which is wrought in a man when passion blinds the reason and the conscience. The death of Fraoch gives on the other hand a touching instance of self-sacrificing heroism in a way which shows that the old Celts felt in a dim manner that goodness and nobility of soul are no necessary safe-guard against the craftiness of malice and impurity—that the best of men fall a prey to the worst. Jealousy moved a woman callod Mai, who loved Fraoch, though ho loved another, to seek his death, and his own bravery was the weapon she employed to secure her nefarious purpose. A rowan tree—a tree regarded as almost sacred till very lately— grew in an island in Loch Fraochie, Glenquoich say some, in Fraoch Eilean, Loch Awe according to others. This tree was closely guarded by a monster of the lake, and that so jealously that when he slept it was beneath its shadow. Mai, knowing the gallantry of Fraoch, asked him to fetch her some berries from the rowan, as the only remedy to cure a disease from which she suffered. Berries could be had at any time from the tree, as it bore fruit every month—an unconscious recollection of a sunnier climate in the far east than that of Loch Fraochie. Said the brave man, fully conscious of his danger, without which there can be no real courage, " Whatever may be the fate of Fraoch, the berries shall bo plucked for Mai." Plunging into the water, he swam to the island, found the dragon asleep, gathered the scarlet fruit, swam back and placed them in the hand of Mai. She thanked him, but malice is bold and persevering, and so she said she must have the tree itself. Back Fraoch swam, plucked up the tree by the roots, but awoke its guardian monster, ■which pursued him. Fraoch fought and swam, reached the shore, continued the unequal battle, but at lost fell dead and mangled, to the joy of Mai, to the fatal grief of his true love, lamented as the admiration of men, and the beloved of women. We are pleased to be told in beautiful verse that we ought not to judge of women generally by the conduct of the guilty, malicious, and subtle Mai. So those simple minds relieved in song their feeling of the sad fact that the wicked encompasseth the just and seeketh him to slay.
The uniform tenor of those songs is grave and sorrowful, unrelieved by wit or humour. They differ widely in this respect from the prose traditions wliich often sparkle with broad rollicking fun, jest, and squib, and are brimful of ludicrous situations. There is, however, one peculiar ode which does afford some gentle amusement, and causes a smiling ripple pass over the countenance. Fionn is a close prisoner in the dungoon of his conqueror, Art Aenir. His grim captor, named the Solitary, will not let his distinguished prisoner go free unless he gets the extraordinary ransom of a pah" of all the animals and birds in Ireland, not to say fishes, not dead but "alive and kicking." Fionn has still friends who set to accomplish their unheard of task. Caoilte MacEonan at the head of his men succeeded in honouring the demand of the morose Solitary, and, as he was a poet, composed for posterity and his own glory a poem descriptive of his unheard of enterprise. Therein, in wonderful old Gaelic, some of it too hard even for the powerful literary crackers of his editor, he gives the names of the animals, birds, and fishes which he drives to tho castle of Art Aenir. There is no art whatever in this curious catalogue, no composition. It might have been drawn up by a poulterer. It is colour splashed on the canvas, not painted. What is to be observed too is that there is not a trace here nor indeed in any of these ballads, of that love of nature, animate and inanimate, which is so characteristic of later Celtic poetry, and which even, according to English critics, communicated itself to Saxon poets, who had no appreciation of the beauty and significance of the external world before they came into contact with Celtic blood and Celtic life. Caoilte MacEonan gives a Hue to his two larks from Monadh Mot, and a line to his two eels from Loch MacLennan— to him the one is as poetic as the other. But then we must forgive him when we think of the trouble all the creatures he mentions, from whales to wrens, gave him, before he caught and brought them alive to the prison of Fionn. Such another scene was not seen since the days of Noah. This wonderful muster was called "Caoilte's Babble." Solitary was asked to take possession, Fionn was set free, and with his friend made off, clearing ever so many hundred foet at every step. But no sooner were they gone than the "rabble" determined to be free, and wriggled and ran and flew, each part of it according to its nature to its own element, and the king was left without prisoner or ransom, an example of vaulting ambition that overleaps itself and falls on t-other side I
We conclude by glancing at another of these poems, which, though reeking with blood, contains a touch of nature which makes the whole world kin. Cuchullin, an older name than that of Fionn, fell by the hand of an enemy, and was avenged by the greedy sword of Connal. Connal carried ever so many heads of the chief men of the foes of Cuchullin, strung together in bundles, and laid them at the feet of the widowed Evir. She asks for the history of this head and the other. For a time Evir found consolation for the loss of Cuchullin in questions and answers