Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

fore the art of writing became prevalent, afforded a powerful incentive to the exaltation of poetic genius. A skillful bard, familiar with the history of heroes, and able to poetize with luster what was deemed noble and generous in character, was ever greeted with cordiality at the mansions of the great, and flattered at kingly courts. We are informed that the ancient Spartans were so prejudiced in favor of transmitting their laws and panegyrics in this way, that they never would allow them to be committed to writing. The Germans also preserved monuments of their antique history, and transmitted them orally to quite a modern date, by couching into verse the elegies of their heroes and chief national transactions.

But especially did poetic genius obtain great popularity among the Celtic tribes. Living a roving and indolent life, their highest entertainment in peace, was to gather around the burning oak, or sit in the halls of their fathers, and listen to the praises and exploits of their heroes, from the lips of bards; and in war, these poets rehearsed the deeds of their ancestors to inspire the chiefs with heroic fire. Their greatest incentive to noble deeds was to receive their fame; that is, to become worthy of being celebrated in the songs of bards; and to have their name on the four gray stones. To die unlamented by a bard, was deemed so great a misfortune as even to disturb their ghosts in another state. “They wander in thick mists beside the reedy lake; but never shall they rise, without the song, to the dwelling of winds.”

.

[ocr errors]

Julius Cæsar informs us, that this class of men comprised many of the first rank, possessing superior talents, highly respected in state, and was supported by public establishment. So thorough a knowledge of ancient historical poetry was requisite, before be ing initiated into this order, that, with many, a course of diligent study for a term of twenty years was required.* In this way the Celtic bards transmitted, as a sacred charge, their poems through successive generations. Consequently, we not unfrequently hear them termed, in ancient verse, the sons of future times. Their persons were held so inviolable, that they were ever secure against personal outrage from foes. "He feared to stretch his sword to the bards,

. though his soul was dark.” When this institution had attained to its meridian excellence, and the capital of Morven was enriched and embellished, to a degree of magnificence before unknown among the nations of north-western Europe, the voice and harp of Ossian woke their echoes in the halls of Selma, the first among a thousand bards. The heroic splendor and peculiar institutions of Ossian's age, formed a conjunction of circumstances highly favorable towards developing a poetic spirit. “Ossian himself,” says Dr. Blair, “ appears to have been endowed

* Under an institution like this, it is not strange that the best poems produced and preserved of those times, were the compositions of blind bards. Their extraordinary concentrative and retentive powers, and natural fondness for poetic numbers, must have given them great superiority over their cotemporaries.

[ocr errors]

by nature with an exquisite sensibility of heart; prone to that tender melancholy which is so often an at tendant on great genius, and susceptible equally of strong and of soft emotion.” His first adventure of which we have any account, was his contest with the chiefs of Erin, for Ever-allin, the beautiful daughter of Branno, king of Ireland, in which he was triumphant, and Ever-allin became his wife, and mother of his only son, Oscar, who was treacherously assassinated by Cairbar, a chief of Erin, and his young spouse Melvina was left in Cona, to mourn the fall of her beloved hero. She became the solace of Ossian in his age and blindness, and it is to her that many of his most beautiful poems are addresed. At what age

. or period of his life, or from what circumstances, Ossian lost his sight, we cannot definitely determine from his poems; but it must !..heen at a considerably advanced age, for he sings of expeditions and battles il which he fought, when in the full vigor and strength of manhood, in company with his son Oscar. That these poems were written, however, after he was blind, appears evident from the fact that he, in nearly all of them, adverts to and laments his sightless condition. Notwithstanding the almost universal applause and admiration which these compositions have received from all lovers of true poetry, and their translation into almost every refined language in the civilized world, as Ossianic, every reader in the least acquainted with their history, must be aware that their authorship has been a subject of long and earnest dispute since their first publication. The idea that poems of so pure a style, abounding in such exquisite tenderness and sublimity, should have been produced in an age so rude in every other respect, and transmitted by oral tradition without corruption, through a period of nearly fourteen hundred years, has shocked the credulity of many intelligent and well-disposed persons. This has been looked upon by many literary characters, especially those of England, as so far out of the ordinary course of things, that they have by some been attributed to McPherson, who, it is maintained, wrote and ascribed them to an ancient bard, to avoid the criticism and envy of his cotemporary writers.

Much light had been thrown upon this subject, from time to time, by the numerous methods instituted for this purpose, until Dr. Blair, in his critical dissertation concerning the poems of Ossian, so thoroughly canvassed the subject, and by facts, deductions, and arguments, proved them to be the genuine poems of Ossian, that there is scarcely room left for a doubt. There yet remains, however, unemployed, one argument with which, had it been at the command of this clear-minded and profound writer, he would have dispelled all speculation on this subject, as flee the shadows of night before the morning sun. This argument is predicated upon the perfect delineations of feeling in which these poems abound, intuitive in the bosom of every blind person. No less than twenty times does the anthor refer to this deprivation, in a manner so striking, that every blind person acquainted with his own thoughts and emotions, cannot fail to recognize them as kindred to those awakened in his own breast. Were these the only proofs in favor of their being the poems of Ossian, his claim would be established firm as the pyramids of Egypt, defying all the armies of literary dabblers and cavilers that have ever questioned their authorship. We do not pretend to deny, that poems whose themes and imagery are drawn from the universal field of nature, to which every author has access, may sometimes be imitated, with considerable exactness; but these are the emotions and vibrations of the soul's intensest struggles, and are as proof against forgery, as the voice of the earthquake. One of the writers of this article, having possessed the advantages of sight, until at a considerable mature age, he can fully appreciate the difficulty under which he labors to make himself understood on this point, by those who have never felt the peculiar emotions awakened by a sense of blindness. There are peculiarities in all the descriptive writings of the blind, so striking, especially when portraying their own condition, or that of others under similar circumstances, that we find no difficulty whatever in tracing their identity.

But that these marks of recognition are not so apparent to the seeing, is clearly manifest from the following remarks of Dr. Kitto, relative to Homer and his writings: “The fact that he was blind,” says

« ZurückWeiter »