« AnteriorContinuar »
Of them, who wrapt in earth are cold, No more the smiling day shall view,
Should many a tender tale be told, For many a tender thought is due.
Why else the o'ergrown paths of time, Would thus the lettered sage explore,
With pain these crumbling ruins climb, And on the doubtful sculpture pore?
Why seeks he with unwearied toil,
Reclaim his long asserted spoil,
'Tis nature prompts by toil or fear,
The tender parent loves to hear
Light of the world, Immortal Mind;
Though thou this transient being gave,
And still this poor contracted span,
Through error's maze, through folly's night,
Affliction flies, and Hope returns;
O may I still thy favour prove
As, by some tyrant's stern command,
How blest my days, my thoughts how free,
- No orphan's cry to wound my ear;
My honour and my conscience clear. Thus may I calmly meet my end, Thus to the grave in peace descend.
DR Thomas Percy.
DR THoMAs PERcy, afterwards bishop of Dromore, in 1765 published his Reliques of English Poetry, in which several excellent old songs and ballads were revived, and a selection made of the best lyrical pieces scattered through the works of modern authors. The learning and ability with which Percy executed his task, and the sterling value of his materials, recommended his volumes to public favour. They found their way into the hands of poets and poetical readers, and awakened a love of nature, simplicity, and true passion, in contradistinction to that coldly-correct and sentimental style which pervaded part of our literature. The influence of Percy's collection was general and extensive. It is evident in many contemporary authors. It gave the first impulse to the genius of Sir Walter Scott; and it may be seen in the writings of Coleridge and Wordsworth. A fresh fountain of poetry was opened up—a spring of sweet, tender, and heroic thoughts and imaginations, which could never be again turned back into the artificial channels in which the genius of poesy had been too long and too closely confined. Percy was himself a poet. His ballad, “O, Nanny, wilt Thou Gang wi' Me,” the “Hermit of Warkworth,’ and other detached pieces, evince both taste and talent. We subjoin a cento, ‘The Friar of Orders Gray,’ which Percy says he compiled from fragments of ancient ballads, to which he added supplemental stanzas to connect them together. The greater part, however, is his own. The life of Dr Percy presents little for remark. He was born at Bridgnorth, Shropshire, in 1728, and, after his education at Oxford, entered the church, in which he was successively chaplain to the king, dean of Carlisle, and bishop of Dromore: the
The Deanery, Carlisle.
latter dignity he possessed from 1782 till his death in 1811. He enjoyed the friendship of Johnson, Goldsmith, and other distinguished men of his day, and lived long enough to hail the genius of the most illustrious of his admirers, Sir Walter Scott. -
| But haply, for my year of grace
Is not yet passed away,
| Might I still hope to win thy love,
No longer would I stay.”
‘Now farewell grief, and welcome joy
Once more unto my heart;
For since I've found thee, lovely youth,
We never more will part.”
The translator of Ossian stands in rather a dubious light with posterity, and seems to have been willing that his contemporaries should be no
better informed. With the Celtic Homer, however, the name of Macpherson is inseparably connected. They stand, as liberty does with reason,
Twinned, and from her hath no dividual being.
Time and a better taste have abated the pleasure | with which these productions were once read; but | poems which engrossed so much attention, which were translated into many different languages, which were hailed with delight by Gray, by David Hume, John Home, and other eminent persons, and which formed the favourite reading of Napoleon, cannot be considered as unworthy of notice. JAMEs MacPHEhson was born at Kingussie, a village in Inverness-shire, on the road northwards from Perth, in 1738. He was intended for the church, and received the necessary education at Aberdeen. At the age of twenty, he published a heroic poem, in six cantos, entitled The Highlander, which at once proved his ambition and his incapacity. It is a miserable production. For a short time Macpherson taught the school of Ruthven, near his native place, whence he was glad to remove as tutor in the family of Mr Graham of Balgowan. While attending his pupil (afterwards Lord Lynedoch) at the spa of Moffat, he became acquainted | with Mr John Home, the author of “Douglas, to whom he showed what he represented as the trans| lations of some fragments of ancient Gaelic poetry, which he said were still floating in the Highlands. He stated that it was one of the favourite amuse
ments of his countrymen to listen to the tales and compositions of their ancient bards, and he described these fragments as full of pathos and poetical imagery. Under the patronage of Mr Home's friends—Blair, Carlyle, and Fergusson—Macpherson published a small volume of sixty pages, entitled Fragments of Ancient Poetry; translated from the Gaelic or Erse Language. The publication attracted universal attention, and a subscription was made to enable Macpherson to make a tour in the Highlands to collect other pieces. His journey proved to be highly successful. In 1762 he presented the world with Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem, in Sir Books; and in 1763 Temora, another epic poem, in eight books. The sale of these works was immense. The possibility that, in the third or fourth century, among the wild remote mountains of Scotland, there existed a people exhibiting all the high and chivalrous feelings of refined valour, generosity, magnanimity, and virtue, was eminently calculated to excite astonishment; while the idea of the poems being handed down by tradition through so many centuries among rude, savage, and barbarous tribes, was no less astounding. Many doubted —others disbelieved—but a still greater number ‘indulged the pleasing supposition that Fingal fought and Ossian sung." Macpherson realised £1200, it is said, by these productions. In 1764 the poet accompanied Governor Johnston to Pensacola as his secretary, but quarrelling with his patron, he returned, and fixed his residence in London. He became one of the literary supporters of the administration, published some historical works, and was a copious pamphleteer. In 1773 he published a translation of the Iliad in the same style of poetical prose as Ossian, which was a complete failure, unless as a source of ridicule and personal opprobrium to the translator. He was more successful as a politician. A pamphlet of his in defence of the taxation of America, and another on the opposition in parliament in 1779, were much applauded. He attempted (as we have seen from his manuscripts) to combat the Letters of Junius, writing under the signatures of ‘Musaeus,' “Scaevola,’ &c. He was appointed agent for the Nabob of Arcot, and obtained a seat in parliament as representative for the borough of Camelford. It does not ap , however, that, with all his ambition and political zeal, Macpherson ever attempted to speak in the House of Commons. In 1789 the poet, having realised a handsome fortune, purchased the property of Raitts, in his native parish, and having changed its name to the more euphonious and sounding one of Belleville, he built upon it a splendid residence, designed by the Adelphi Adams, in the style of an Italian villa, in which he hoped to spend an old age of ease and dignity. He died at Belleville on the 17th of February 1796, leaving a handsome fortune, which is still enjoyed by his fa. mily. His eldest daughter, Miss Macpherson, is at present (1842) proprietrix of the estate, and another daughter of the poet is the wife of the distinguished natural philosopher, Sir David Brewster. The eagerness of Macpherson for the admiration of his fellowcreatures was seen by some of the bequests of his will. He ordered that his body should be interred in Westminster Abbey, and that a sum of £300 should be laid out in erecting a monument to his memory in some conspicuous situation at Belleville. Both injunctions were duly fulfilled: the body was interred in Poets' Corner, and a marble obelisk, containing a medallion portrait of the poet, may be seen gleaming amidst a clump of trees by the road-side near Kingussie. The fierce controversy which raged for some time as to the authenticity of the poems of Ossian, the incredulity of Johnson, and the obstinate silence of Macpherson, are circumstances well known. There seems to be no doubt that a great body of traditional poetry was floating over the Highlands, which Macpherson collected and wrought up into regular poems. It would seem also that Gaelic manuscripts were in existence, which he received from different families to aid in his translation. How much of the published work is ancient, and how much fabricated, cannot now be ascertained. The Highland Society instituted a regular inquiry into the subject; and in their report, the committee state that they “have not been able to obtain any one poem the same in title and tenor with the poems published.' Detached passages, the names of characters and places, with some of the wild imagery characteristic of the country, and of the attributes of Celtic imagination, undoubtedly existed. The ancient tribes of the Celts had their regular bards, even down to a comparatively late period. A people like the natives of the Highlands, leading an idle inactive life, and doomed from their climate to a severe protracted winter, were also well adapted to transmit from one generation to another the fragments of ancient song which had beguiled their infancy and youth, and which flattered their love of their ancestors. . No person, however, now believes that Macpherson found entire epic poems in the Highlands. The origin materials were probably as scanty as those on which Shakspeare founded the marvellous superstructures of his genius; and he himself has not scrupled to state (in the preface to his last edition of Ossian) that “a translator who cannot equal his original is incapable of expressing its beauties.’ Sir James Mackintosh has suggested, as a supposition countenanced by many circumstances, that, after enjoying the pleasure of duping so many critics, Macpherson intended one day to claim the poems as his own. “If he had such a design, considerable obstacles to its execution arose around him. He was loaded with so much praise, that he seemed bound in honour to his admirers not to desert them. The support of his own country appeared to render adherence to those poems, which Scotland inconsiderately sanctioned, a sort of national obligation. Exasperated, on the other hand, by the perhaps unduly vehement, and sometimes very coarse attacks made on him, he was unwilling to surrender to such opponents. He involved himself at last so deeply, as to leave him no decent retreat.” A somewhat sudden and premature death closed the scene on Macpherson; nor is there among the papers which he left behind him a single line that throws any light upon the controversy. Mr Wordsworth has condemned the imagery of Ossian as spurious. “In nature everything is distinct, yet nothing defined into absolute independent singleness. In Macpherson's work it is exactly the reverse; everything (that is not stolen) is in this manner defined, insulated, dislocated, deadened— yet nothing distinct. It will always be so when words are substituted for things.’ Part of this censure may perhaps be owing to the style and diction of Macpherson, which have a broken abrupt appearance and sound. The imagery is drawn from the natural appearances of a rude mountainous country. The grass of the rock, the flower of the heath, the thistle with its beard, are (as Blair observes) the chief ornaments of his landscapes. The desert, with all its woods and deer, was enough for Fingal. We suspect it is the sameness—the perpetual recurrence of the same images—which fatigues the reader, and gives a misty confusion to the objects and incidents of the poem. That there is some
thing poetical and striking in Ossian—a wild solitary magnificence, pathos, and tenderness—is undeniable. The Desolation of Balclutha, and the lamentations in the Song of Selma, are conceived with true feeling and poetical power. The battles of the car-borne heroes are, we confess, much less to our taste, and seem stilted and unnatural. They are like the Quixotic encounters of knightly romance, and want the air of remote antiquity, of dim and solitary grandeur, and of shadowy superstitious fear, which shrouds the wild heaths, lakes, and mountains of Ossian. |
[Ossian's Address to the Sun.]
I feel the sun, O Malvina leave me to my rest. Perhaps they may come to my dreams; I think I hear a feeble voice! The beam of heaven delights to shine on the grave of Carthon: I feel it warm around.
O thou that rollest above, round as the shield of my fathers! Whence are thy beams, O sun thy everlasting light? Thou comest forth in thy awful beauty; the stars hide themselves in the sky; the moon, cold and pale, sinks in the western wave; but thou thyself movest alone. Who can be a companion of thy course? The oaks of the mountains fall; the mountains themselves decay with years; the ocean shrinks and grows again; the moon herself is lost in heaven, but thou art for ever the same, rejoicing in the brightness of thy course. When the world is dark with tempests, when thunder rolls and lightning flies, thou lookest in thy beauty from the clouds, and laughest at the storm. But to Ossian thou lookest in vain, for he beholds thy beams no more; whether thy yellow hair flows on the eastern clouds, or thou tremblest at the gates of the west. But thou art perhaps like me for a season; thy years will have an end. Thou shalt sleep in thy clouds careless of the voice of the morning. Exult then, O sun, in the strength of thy youth ! Age is dark and unlovely; it is like the glimmering light of the moon when it shines through broken clouds, and the mist is on the hills: the blast of the north is on the plain; the traveller shrinks in the midst of his journey.
His friends sit around the king, on mist! They hear the songs of Ullin: he strikes the half-viewless harp. He raises the feeble voice. The lesser heroes, with a thousand meteors, light the airy hall. Malvina rises in the midst; a blush is on her cheek. She beholds the unknown faces of her fathers. She turns aside her humid eyes. “Art thou come so soon?” said Fingal, ‘daughter of generous Toscar. Sadness dwells in the halls of Lutha. My aged son is sad I hear the breeze of Cona, that was wont to lift thy heavy locks. It comes to the hall, but thou art not there. Its voice is mournful among the arms of thy fathers Go, with thy rustling wing, oh breeze 1 sigh on Malvina's tomb. It rises yonder beneath the rock, at the blue stream of Lutha. The maids are departed to their place. Thou alone, oh breeze, mournest there !'
[Address to the Moon.]
Daughter of heaven, fair art thou ! the silence of thy face is pleasant! Thou comest forth in loveliness. The stars attend thy blue course in the east. The clouds rejoice in thy presence, O moon they brighten their dark-brown sides. Who is like thee in heaven, light of the silent night? The stars are ashamed in thy presence. They turn away their sparkling eyes. Whither dost thou retire from thy course, when the darkness of thy countenance grows? hast thou thy hall, like Ossian dwellest thou in the shadow of