|from Ingres' "Dream of Ossian"||
The Poems of Ossian
"CONLATH & CUTHONA"
Text and pagination from
the 1796 London edition
CONLATH and CUTHONA:
P O E M.
Conlath was the youngest of Morni's sons and brother to the celebrated Gaul, who is so often mentioned in Ossian's poems. He was in love with Cuthona, the daughter of Rumar, when Toscar, the son of Kinfena, accompanied by Fercuth his friend, arrived from Ireland, at Mora, where Conlath dwelt. He was hospitably received, and according to the custom of the times, feasted three days with Conlath. On the fourth he set sail, and coasting the island of waves, probably, one of the Hebrides, he saw Cuthona hunting, fell in love with her, and carried her away, by force, in his ship. He was forced, by stress of weather, into I-thona, a desert isle. In the mean time Conlath hearing of the rape, sailed after him, and found him on the point of sailing for the coast of Ireland. They fought: and they and their followers fell by mutual wounds. Cuthona did not long survive: for she died of grief the third day after. Fingal hearing of their unfortunate death, sent Stormal the son of Moran to bury them, but forgot to send a bard to sing the funeral song over their tombs. The ghost of Conlath comes long after to Ossian, to entreat him to transmit to posterity, his and Cuthona's fame. For it was the opinion of the times, that the souls of the deceased were not happy, till their elegies were composed by a bard.
CONLATH and CUTHONA:
P O E M.
DID not Ossian hear a voice? or is it the sound of days that are no more? Often does the memory of former times come, like the evening sun, on my soul. The noise of the chase is renewed. In thought, I lift the spear. But Ossian did hear a voice! Who art thou, son of the night? The children of the feeble are asleep. The midnight wind is in my hall. Perhaps it is the shield of Fingal that echoes to the blast. It hangs in Ossian's hall. He feels it sometimes with his hands. Yes! I hear thee, my friend! Long has thy voice been absent from mine ear! What brings thee, on thy cloud, to Ossian, son of the generous Morni? Are the friends of the aged near thee? Where is Oscar, son of fame? He was often near thee, O Conlath, when the sound of battle arose.
Ghost of CONLATH..Sleeps the sweet voice of Cona, in the midst of his rustling hall? Sleeps Ossian in his hall,
and his friends without their fame? The sea rolls round the dark I-thona. * Our tombs are not seen by the stranger. How long shall our fame be unheard, son of resounding Selma?
OSSIAN..O that mine eyes could behold thee! Thou sittest, dim, on thy cloud! Art thou like the mist of Lano? An half-extinguished meteor of fire? Of what are the skirts of thy robe? Of what is thine airy bow? He is gone on his blast like the shade of a wondering cloud. Come from thy wall, O harp. Let me hear thy sound. Let the light of memory rise on I-thona. Let me behold again my friends! And Ossian does behold his friends, on the dark-blue isle. The cave of Thona appears, with its mossy rocks and bending trees. A stream roars at its mouth. Toscar bends over its course. Fercuth is sad by his side. Cuthona sits at a distance and weeps. Does the wind of the waves deceive me? Or do I hear them speak
TOSCAR..The night was stormy. From their hills the groaning oaks came down. The sea darkly-tumbled beneath the blast, and the roaring waves were climbed against our rocks. The
* I-thona, island of waves, one of the uninhabited western isles.
Cuthona the daughter of Rumar, whom Toscar had carried away by force.
lightning came often and shewed the blasted fern. Fercuth! I saw the ghost who embroiled the night. * Silent he stood, on that bank. His robe of mist flew on the wind. I could behold his tears. An aged man he seemed, and full of thought!
FERCUTH..It was thy father, O Toscar. He foresees some death among his race. Such was his appearance on Cromla, before the great Maronnan fell. Erin of hills of grass! how pleasant are thy vales! Silence is near thy blue streams. The sun is on thy frelds. Soft is the sound of the harp in Selama. Lovely the cry of the hunter on Cromla. But we are in the dark I-thona, surrounded by the storm. The billows lift their white heads above our rocks. We tremble amidst the night.
TOSCAR..Whither is the soul of battle fled, Fercuth with the locks of age? I have seen thee undaunted in danger; thine eyes burning with joy in the fight. Whither is the soul of battle fled? *It was long thought, in the north of Scotland, that storms were raised by the ghosts of the deceased. This notion is still entertained by the vulgar; for they think that whirlwinds, and sudden squalls of wind are occasioned by spirits, who transport themselves, in that manner, from one place to another.
Ma-ronnan was the brother of Toscar.
Selamath, beautiful to behold, the name of Toscar's residence, on the coast of Ulster, near the mountain Cromla.
Our fathers never feared. Go; view the settling sea: the stormy wind is laid. The billows still tremble on the deep. They seem to fear the blast. Go; view the settling sea. Morning is grey on our rocks. The sun will look soon from his east; in all his pride of light! I lifted up my sails with joy, before the halls of generous Conlath. My course was by a desert isle; where Cothona pursued the deer. I saw her, like that beam of the sun that issues from the cloud. Her hair was on her heaving breast. She, bending forward, drew the bow. Her white arm seemed, behind her, like the snow of Cromla. Come to my soul, I said, thou huntress of the desert isle! But she spends her time in tears. She thinks of the generous Conlath. Where can I find thy peace, Cuthona, lovely maid!
CUTHONA.. *A distant steep bends over the sea, with aged trees and mossy rocks. The billow rolls at its feet. On its side is the dwelling of roes. The people call it Mora. There the towers of my love rise. There Conlath looks over the sea for his only love. The daughters of the chase returned. He beheld their downcast eyes. "Where is the daughter of Rumar?" But they answered not. My peace dwells on Mora, son of the distant land!
* Cu-thona, the mournful sound of the waves; a poetical name given her on account of her mourning to the sound of the waves; her name in tradition is Grom-huil, the blue-eyed maid.
TOSCAR..Cuthona shall return to her peace; to the towers of generous Conlath. He is the friend of Toscar! I have feasted in his halls. Rise, ye gentle breezes of Erin. Stretch my sails toward Mara's shores. Cuthona shall rest on Mara; but the days of Toscar must be sad. I shall sit in my cave in the field of the sun. The blast will rustle in my trees. I shall think it is Cuthona's voice. But she is distant far, in the halls of the mighty Conlath!
CUTHONA.. *Ha! what cloud is that? It carries the ghost of my fathers. I see the skirts of their robes, like grey and watry mist. When shall I fall, O Rumar? Sad Cuthona foresees her death. Will not Conlath behold me, before I enter the narrow house? *
OSSIAN..He will behold thee, O maid! He comes along the heaving sea. The death of Toscar is dark on his spear. A wound is in his side! He is pale at the cave of Thona. He shews his ghastly wound. Where art thou with thy tears, Cuthona? The chief of Mora dies. The vision grows dim on my mind. I behold the chiefs no more. But, O ye bards of future
* The grave.
times, remember the fall of Conlath with tears. He fell before his day. Sadness darkened in his hall. His mother looked to his shield on the wall, and it was bloody. * She knew that her hero fell. Her sorrow was heard on Mora.Art thou pale on thy rock, Cuthona, beside the fallen chiefs? Night comes, and day returns, but none appears to raise their tomb. Thou frightnest the screaming fowls away. Thy tears for ever flow. Thou art pale as a watry cloud that rises from a lake!
The sons of green Selma came. They found Cuthona cold. They raised a tomb over the heroes. She rests at the side of Conlath! Come not to my dreams, O Conlath! Thou hast received thy fame. Be thy voice far distant from my hall; that sleep may descend at night. O that I could forget my friends: till my footsteps cease to be seen! till I come among them with joy! and lay my aged limbs in the narrow house!
* It was the opinion of the times, that the arms left by the heroes at home, became bloody the very instant their owners were killed, though at ever so great a distance.
B E R R A T H O N:
P O E M.
Fingal in his voyage to Lochlin, whither he had been invited by Starno the father of Agandecca, touched at Berrathon, an island of Scandinavia, where he was kindly entertained by Lathmor, the petty king of the place, who was a vassal of the supreme kings of Lochlin. The hospitality of Lathmor gained him Fingal's friendship, which that hero manifested, after the imprisonment of Lathmor by his own son, by sending Oddian and Toscar, the father of Malvina, so often mentioned, to rescue Lathmor, and to punish the unnatural behaviour of Uthal. Uthal was handsome, and, by the ladies, much admired. Nina-thona, the beautiful daughter of Torthoma, a neighbouring prince, fell in love and fled with him. He proved unconstant! for another lady, whose name is not mentioned, gaining his affections, he confined Nina-thona to a desert island near the coast of Berrathon. She was relieved by Ossian, who, in company with Toscar, landing on Berrathon, defeated the forces of Uthal, and killed him in a single combat. Nina-thona, whose love not all the bad behaviour of Uthal could erase, hearing of his death, died of grief. In the mean time Lathmor is restored, and Ossian and Toscar return in triumph to Fingal.
The poem opens with an elegy on the death of Malvina the daughter of Toscar, and closes with presages of Ossian's death.
B E R R A T H O N:
P O E M.
BEND thy blue course, O stream! round the narrow plain of Lutha. * Let the green woods hang over it, from their hills: and the sun look on it at noon. The thistle is there on its rock, and shakes its beard to the wind. The flower hangs its heavy head, waving, at times, to the gale. "Why dost thou awake me, O gale!" it seems to say, "I am covered with the drops of heaven! The time of my fading is near, and the blast that shall scatter my leaves. To-morrow shall the traveller come; he that saw me in my beauty shall come. His eyes will search the field, but they will not find me." So shall they search in vain, for the voice of Cona, after it has failed in the field. The hunter shall come forth in the morning, and the voice of my harp shall not be heard. "Where is the son of car-borne Fingal?" The tear will be on his cheek! Then come thou, O Malvina, with all thy music, come!
* Lutha, swift steam.
Lay Ossian in the plain of Lutha: let his tomb rise in the lovely field.
Malvina! where art thou, with thy songs: with the soft sound of thy steps? Son * of Alpin art thou near? where is the daughter of Toscar? I passed, O son of Fingal, by Tor-lutha's mossy walls. The smoke of the hall was ceased. Silence was among the trees of the hill. The voice of the chase was over. I saw the daughters of the bow. I asked about Malvina, but they answered not. They turned their faces away: thin darkness covered their beauty. They were like stars, on a rainy hill, by night, each looking faintly through her mist."
Pleasant be thy rest, O lovely beam! soon hast thou set on our hills! The steps of thy departure were stately, like the moon on the blue, trembling wave. But thou hast left us in darkness, first of the maids of Lutha! We sit, at the rock, and there is no voice; no light but the meteor of fire! Soon hast thou set, O Malvina, daughter of generous Toscar! But thou risest like the beam of the east, among the spirits of thy friends, where they sit in their stormy halls, the chambers of the thunder! A cloud hovers over Cona. Its blue curling sides are high. The winds are beneath
* His father was one of Fingal's principal bards, and he had a poetical genius.
Ossian speaks. He calls Malvina a beam oflight, and continues the metaphor throughout the paragraph.
it, with their wings. Within it is the dwelling * of Fingal. There the hero sits in darkness. His airy spear is in his hand. His shield half-covered with clouds, is like the darkened moon; when one half still remains in the wave, and the other looks sickly on the field!
His friends sit around the king, on mist! They hear the songs of Ullin: he strikes the half-viewless harp; and 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, O breeze! and sigh on Malvina's tomb. It rises yonder beneath the rock, at the blue stream of Lutha.
* The description of this ideal palace of Fingal is very agreeable to the notions of those times, concerning the state of the deceased, who were supposed to pursue, after death, the pleasures and employments of their former. life. The situation of the Celtic heroes, in their separate state, if not entirely happy, is more agreeable than the notions of the ancient Greeks concerning their departed heroes.
Ossian; who had a great friendship for Malvina, both on account of her love for his son Oscar, and her attention to himself.
The maids * are departed to their place; and thou alone, O breeze, mournest there!"
But who comes from the dusky west, supported on a cloud? A smile is on his grey, watry face; his locks of mist fly on the wind. He bends forward on his airy spear. It is thy father, Malvina! "Why shinest thou, so soon, on our clouds," he says, "O lovely light of Lutha! But thou wert sad, my daughter. Thy friends had passed away. The sons of little men were in the hall. None remained of the heroes, but Ossian king of spears!"
And dost thou remember Ossian, car-borne Toscar son of Conloch? The battles of our youth were many; our swords went together to the field. They saw us coming like two falling rocks. The sons of the stranger fled. "There come the warriors of Cona!" they said. "Their steps are in the paths of the flying!" Draw near, son of Alpin, to the song of the aged. The deeds of other times are in my soul. My memory beams on the days that are past; on the days of the mighty
* That is the young virgins who sung the funeral elegy over her tomb.
Tradition is entirely silent concerning what passed in the north, immediately after the death of Fingal and all his heroes; by which it would seem that the actions of their successors were not to be compared to those of the renowned Fingalians.
Toscar was the son of that Conloch, who was also father to the lady whose unfortunate death is related in the last episode of the second book of Fingal.
Toscar, when our path was in the deep. Draw near, son of Alpin, to the last sound of the voice of Cona!
The king of Morven commanded. I raised my sails to the wind. Toscar chief of Lutha stood at my side; I rose on the dark-blue wave. Our course was to sea-surrounded Berrathon, * the isle of many storms. There dwelt, with his locks of age, the stately strength of Larthmor; Larthmor who spread the feast of shells to Fingal, when he went to Starno's halls, in the days of Agandecca. But when the chief was old, the pride of his son arose; the pride of fair-haired Uthal, the love of a thousand maids. He bound the aged Larthmor, and dwelt in his sounding halls!
Long pined the king in his cave, beside his rolling sea. Day did not come to his dwelling; nor the burning oak by night. But the wind of ocean was there, and the parting beam of the moon. The red star looked on the king, when it trembled on the western wave. Snitho came to Selma's hall: Snitho companion of Larthmor's youth. He told of the king of Berrathon: the wrath of Fingal rose. Thrice he assumed the spear, resolved to stretch his hand to Uthal. But the memory of his deeds rose before
* Barrathon, a promontary in the midst of waves.
The meaning is, that Fingal remembered his own great actions, and consequently would not sully them by engaging in a petty war against Uthal, who was so far his inferior in valour and power.
the king. He sent his son and Toscar. Our joy was great on the rolling sea. We often half-unsheathed our swords. For never before had we fought alone, in the battles of the spear.
Night came down on the ocean. The winds departed on their wings. Cold and pale is the moon. The red stars lift their heads on high. Our course is slow along the coast of Berrathon. The white waves tumble on the rocks. "What voice is that," said Toscar, "which comes between the sounds of the waves? It is soft but mournful, like the voice of departed hards. But I behold a maid. * She sits on the rock alone. Her head bends on her arm of snow. Her dark hair is in the wind. Hear, son of Fingal, her song, it is smooth as the gliding stream."We came to the silent bay, and heard the maid of night.
"How long will ye roll around me, blue-tumbling waters of ocean? My dwelling was not always in caves, nor beneath the whistling tree. The feast was spread in Tor-thoma's hall. My father delighted in my voice. The youths beheld me in the steps of my loveliness. They blessed the dark-haired Nina-thoma. It was then thou didst come, O Uthal! like the sun of heaven! The souls of the virgins are thine, son of generous Larthmor! But why dost thou
* Nina-thoma the daughter of Torthoma, who had been confined to a desert island by her lover Uthal.
leave me alone in the midst of roaring waters? Was my soul dark with thy death? Did my white hand lift the sword? Why then hast thou left me alone, king of high Finthormo." *
The tear started from my eye, when I heard the voice of the maid. I stood before her in my arms, and spoke the words of peace! "Lovely dweller of the cave! what sigh is in that breast? Shall Ossian lift his sword in thy presence, the destruction of thy foes? Daughter of Torthoma, rise. I have heard the words of thy grief. The race of Morven are around thee, who never injured the weak. Come to our dark-bosomed ship! thou brighter than that setting moon! Our course is to the rocky Berrathon, to the echoing walls of Finthormo." She came in her beauty; she came with all her lovely steps. Silent joy brightened in her face; as when the shadows fly from the field of spring; the blue-stream is rolling in brightness, and the green bush bends over its course!
The morning rose with its beams. We came to Rothma's bay. A boar rushed from the wood: my spear pierced his side, and he fell. I rejoiced over the blood, I foresaw
* Finthormo, the palace of Uthal. The names in this episode are not of a Celtic original.
Ossian thought that his killing a boar on his first landing in Berrathon, was a good omen of his future success in that island. The present Highlanders look, with a degree of superstition, upon the success of their first action, after they have engaged in any desperate undertaking.
my growing fame. But now the sound of Uthal's train came, from the high Finthormo; they spread over the heath to the chase of the boar. Himself comes slowly on, in the pride of his strength. He lifts two pointed spears. On his side is the hero's sword. Three youths carry his polished bows. The bounding of five dogs is before him. His warriors move on, at a distance, admiring the steps of the king. Stately was the son of Larthmor! but his soul was dark. Dark as the troubled face of the moon, when it foretells the storms.
We rose on the heath before the king. He stopt in the midst of his course. His heroes gathered around. A grey-haired bard advanced. "Whence are the sons of the strangers!" begun the bard of song. "The children of the unhappy come to Berrathon; to the sword of car-borne Uthal. He spreads no feast in his hall. The blood of strangers is on his streams. If from Selma's walls ye come, from the mossy walls of Fingal, chuse three youths to go to your king to tell of the fall of his people. Perhaps the hero may come and pour his blood on Uthal's sword. So shall the fame of Finthormo arise, like the growing tree of the vale!"
"Never will it rise, O bard," I said in the pride of my wrath. "He would shrink from the presence of Fingal, whose eyes are the flames of death. The son of Comhal comes, and the kings vanish before him. They are rolled together, like mist, by the breath
of his rage. Shall three tell to Fingal, that his people fell? Yes! they may tell it, bard! but his people shall fall with fame!"
I stood in the darkness of my strength. Toscar drew his sword at my side. The foe came on like a stream. The mingled sound of death arose. Man took man; shield met shield; steel mixed its beams with steel. Darts hiss through air. Spears ring on mails. Swords on broken bucklers bound. As the noise of an aged grove beneath the roaring wind, when a thousand ghosts break the trees by night, such was the din of arms! But Uthal fell beneath my sword. The sons of Berrathon fled. It was then I saw him in his beauty, and the tear hung in my eye! "Thou art fallen, * young tree, I said, "with all thy beauty round thee. Thou art fallen on thy plains, and the field is bare. The winds come from the desert! there is no sound in thy leaves! Lovely art thou in death, son of car-borne Larthmor."
Nina-thoma sat on the shore. She heard the sound of battle. She turned her red eyes on Lethmal, the grey-haired bard of Selma.
* To mourn over the fall of their enemies, was a practice universal among the Celtic heroes. This is more agreeable to humanity than the shameful insulting of the dead, so common in Homer, and after him, servilely copied by all his imitators, (the humane Virgil not excepted,) who have been more successful in borrowing the imperfections of that great poet, than in their imitations of his beauties.
He alone had remained on the coast, with the daughter of Torthoma. "Son of the times of old!" she said, "I hear the noise of death. Thy friends have met with Uthal and the chief is low! O that I had remained on the rock, inclosed with the tumbling waves! Then would my soul be sad, but his death would not reach my ear. Art thou fallen on thy heath, O son of high Finthormo! Thou didst leave me on a rock, but my soul was full of thee. Son of high Finthormo! art thou fallen on thy heath?"
She rose pale in her tears. She saw the bloody shield of Uthal. She saw it in Ossian's hand. Her steps were distracted on the heath. She flew. She found him. She fell. Her soul came forth in a sigh. Her hair is spread on his face. My bursting tears descend. A tomb arose on the unhappy. My song was heard. "Rest, hapless children of youth! Rest at the noise of that mossy stream! The virgins will see your tomb, at the chase, and turn away their weeping eyes. Your fame will be in the song. The voice of the harp will be heard in your praise. The daughters of Selma shall hear it! your renown shall be in other lands. Rest, children of youth, at the noise of the mossy stream!"
Two days we remained on the coast. The heroes of Berrathon convened. We brought
Larthmor to his halls. The feast of shells is spread. The joy of the aged was great. He looked to the arms of his fathers: the arms which he left in his hall, when the pride of Uthal arose. We were renowned before Larthmor. He blessed the chiefs of Morven. He knew not that his son was low, the stately strength of Uthal! They had told, that he had retired to the woods, with the tears of grief. They had told it, but he was silent in the tomb of Rothma's heath.
On the fourth day we raised our sails, to the roar of the northern wind. Larthmor came to the coast. His bards exalted the song. The joy of the king was great, he looked to Rothma's gloomy heath. He saw the tomb of his son. The memory of Uthal rose. "Who of my heroes," he said, "lies there? he seems to have been of the kings of men. Was he renowned in my halls before the pride of Uthal rose?" Ye are silent, ye sons of Berrathon! is the king of heroes low? My heart melts for thee, O Uthal! though thy hand was against thy father. O that I had remained in the cave! that my son had dwelt in Finthormo! I might have heard the tread of his feet, when he went to the chase of the boar. I might have heard his voice on the blast of my cave. Then would my soul be glad: but now darkness dwells in my halls."
Such were my deeds, son of Alpin, when the arm of my youth was strong. Such were the * actions of Toscar, the car-borne son of Conloch. But Toscar is on his flying cloud. I am alone at Lutha. My voice is like the last sound of the wind, when it forsakes the woods. But Ossian shall not be long alone. He sees the mist that shall receive his ghost. He beholds the mist that shall form his robe, when he appears on his hills. The sons of feeble men shall behold me, and admire the stature of the chiefs of old. They shall creep to their caves. They shall look to the sky with fear: for my steps shall be in the clouds. Darkness shall roll on my side.
Lead, son of Alpin, lead the aged to his woods. The winds begin to rise. The dark wave of the lake resounds. Bends there not a tree from Mora with its branches bare? It bends, son of Alpin, in the rustling blast. My harp hangs on a blasted branch. The sound of its strings is mournful. Does the wind touch thee, O harp, or is it some passing ghost! It is the hand of Malvina! Bring me the harp, son of Alpin. Another song shall rise. My soul shall depart in the sound. My fathers shall hear it in their airy hall. Their dim faces shall hang, with joy, from their clouds; and their hands receive their son. The aged oak bends over the stream. It sighs with all its moss. The
* Ossian speaks.
withered fern whistles near, and mixes, as it waves, with Ossian's hair.
"Strike the harp and raise the song: be near, with all your wings, ye winds. Bear the mournful sound away to Fingal's airy hall. Bear it to Fingal's hall, that he may hear the voice of his son; the voice of him that praised the mighty!"
The blast of the north opens thy gates, O king! I behold thee sitting on mist, dimly gleaming in all thine arms. Thy form now is not the terror of the valiant. It is like a watery cloud; when we see the stars behind it, with their weeping eyes. Thy shield is like the aged moon: thy sword a vapour half-kindled with fire. Dim and feeble is the chief, who travelled in brightness before! But thy steps * are on the winds of the desert. The storms are darkening in thy hand. Thou takest the sun in thy wrath, and hidest him in thy clouds. The sons of little men are afraid. A thousand showers descend. But when thou comest forth in thy mildness; the gale of the morning is near thy course. The sun laughs in his blue fields. The grey
* This description of the power of Fingal over the winds and storms, and the image of his taking the sun, and hiding him in the clouds, do not correspond with the preceding paragraph, where he is represented as a feeble ghost, and no more the TERROR OF THE VALIANT; but if agrees with the notion of the times concerning the souls of the deceased, who, it was supposed, had the command of the winds and storms, but took no concern in the affairs of men.
stream winds in its valley. The bushes shake their green heads in the wind. The roes bound towards the desert.
"There is a murmur in the heath! the stormy winds abate! I hear the voice of Fingal. Long has it been absent from mine ear! "Come, Ossian, come away," he says: Fingal has received his fame. We passed away, like flames that had shone for a season. Our departure was in renown. Though the plains of our battles are dark and silent; our fame is in the four grey stones. The voice of Ossian has been heard. The harp has been strung in Selma. "Come Ossian, come away," he says, "come, fly with thy fathers on clouds." I come, I come, thou king of men! The life of Ossian fails. I begin to vanish on Cona. My steps are not seen in Selma. Beside the stone of Mora I shall fall asleep. The winds whistling in my grey hair shall not waken me. Depart on thy wings, O wind! thou canst not disturb the rest of the bard. The night is long, but his eyes are heavy. Depart, thou rustling blast."
"But why art thou sad, son of Fingal? Why grows the cloud of thy soul? The chiefs of other times are departed. They have gone without their fame. The sons of future years shall pass away. Another race shall arise. The people are like the waves of ocean: like the leaves of woody Morven, they pass away in the rustling blast, and other leaves lift their green heads on high."
Did thy beauty last, O Ryno? * Stood the strength of car-borne Oscar? Fingal himself departed. The halls of his fathers forgot his steps. And shalt thou remain, thou aged bard! when the mighty have
* Ryno, the son of Fingal, who was killed in Ireland, in the war against Swaran, was remarkable for the beauty of his person, his swiftness, and great exploits. Minvane, the daughter of Morni, and sister to Gaul, was in love with Ryno. Her lamentation over her lover follows:
She blushing sad, from Morven's rocks, bends over the darkly-rolling sea. She saw the youths in all their arms. Where, Ryno, where art thou?
Our dark looks told that he was low! That pale the hero flew on clouds! That in the grass of Morven's hills, his feeble voice was heard in wind!
And is the son of Fingal fallen, on Ullin's mossy plains? Strong was the arm that vanquished him! Ah me! I am alone!
Alone I will not be, ye winds! that lift my dark-brown hair. My sighs will not long mix with your stream; for I must sleep with Ryno.
I see thee not with beauty's steps returning from the chase. The night is round Minvane's love. Dark silence dwells with Ryno.
Where are thy dogs, and where thy bow! Thy shield that was so strong? Thy sword like heaven's descending fire? The bloody spear of Ryno?
I see them mixed in thy ship; I see them stained with blood. No arms are in thy narrow hall, O darkly-dwelling Ryno!
When will the morning come, and say, "Arise, thou king of spears! arise, the hunters are abroad. The hinds are near thee, Ryno!"
Away, thou fair-haired morning, away! the slumbering king hears thee not! The hinds bound over his narrow tomb; for death dwells round young Ryno. But
failed? But my fame shall remain, and grow like the oak of Morven; which lifts its broad head to the storm, and rejoices in the course of the wind!
But I will tread softly, my king! and steal to the bed of thy repose. Minvane will lie in silence, nor disturb the slumbering Ryno.
The maids shall seek me: but they shall not find me: they shall follow my departure with songs. But I will not hear you, O maids! I sleep with fair-haired Ryno.
D I S S E R T A T I O N
Æ R A O F O S S I A N.
D I S S E R T A T I O N
Æ R A O F O S S I A N.
INQUIRIES into the anriquities of nations afford more pleasure than any real advantage to mankind. The ingenious may form systems of history on probabilities and a few facts; but, at a great distance of time, their accounts must be vague and uncertain. The infancy of states and kingdoms is as destitute of great events, as of the means of transmitting them to posterity. The arts of polished life, by which alone facts can be preserved with certainty, are the production of a well-formed community. It is then historians begin to write, and public transactions to be worthy remembrance. The actions of former times are left in obscurity, or magnified by uncertain traditions. Hence it is that we find so much of the marvellous in the origin of every nation; posterity being always ready to believe any thing, however fabulous, that reflects honour on their ancestors.
The Greeks and Romans were remarkable for this weakness. They received the most absurd fables concerning the high antiquities of their respective nations. Good historians, however, rose very early amongst them, and transmitted, with lustre, their great actions to posterity. It is to them that they owe that unrivalled fame they now enjoy, while the great actions of other nations are involved in fables, or lost in obscurity. The Celtic nations afford a striking instance of this kind. They, though once the masters of Europe from the mouth of the river Oby *, in Russia, to Cape Finisterre, the western point in Gallacia in Spain, are very little mentioned in history. They trusted their fame to tradition and the songs of their bards, which, by vicissitude of human affairs, are long since lost. Their ancient language is the only monument that remains of them; and the traces of it being found in places so widely distant from each other, serves only to shew the extent of their ancient power, but throws very little light on their history.
Of all the Celtic nations, that which possessed old Gaul is the most renowned; not perhaps on account of worth superior to the rest, but for their wars with a people who had historians to transmit the fame of their enemies, as well as their own, to posterity. Britain was first peopled by them, according to the testimony
* Plin. 1, 6.
of the best authors...
mother, a princess of the blood of the Yncas, taught him in his youth, that he collected the materials of his history. If other nations then, that had often been overrun by enemies, and had sent abroad and received colonies, could for many ages preserve, by oral tradition, their laws and histories uncorrupted, it is much more probable that the ancient Scots, a people so free of intermixture with foreigners, and so strongly attached to the memory of their ancestors, had the works of their bards handed down with great purity.
What is advanced, in this Dissertation, it must be confessed, is mere conjecture. Beyond the reach of records, is settled a gloom, which no ingenuity can penetrate. The manners described, in these poems, suit the ancient Celtic times, and no other period that is known in history. We must, therefore, place the heroes far back in antiquity; and it matters little, who were their contemporaries in other parts of the world. If we have placed Fingal in his proper period, we do honour to the manners of barbarous times. He exercised every manly virtue in Caledonia, while Heliogabulus disgraced human nature at Rome.
D I S S E R T A T I O N
P O E M S O F O S S I A N.
D I S S E R T A T I O N
P O E M S O F O S S I A N.
THE history of those nations, who originally possessed the north of Europe, is less known than their manners. Destitute of the use of letters, they themselves had not the means of transmitting their great actions to remote posterity. Foreign writers saw them only at a distance, and described them as they found them. The vanity of the Romans induced them to consider the nations beyond the pale of their empire as barbarians; and consequently their history unworthy of being investigated. Their manners and singular character were matters of curiosity, as they committed them to record. Some men, otherwise of great merit among ourselves, give into confined ideas on this subject. Having early imbibed their idea of exalted manners from the Greek and Roman writers, they scarcely ever afterwards have the fortitude to allow any dignity of character to any nation destitute of the use of letters.
Without derogating from the fame of Greece and Rome, we may consider antiquity beyond the pale of their empire worthy of some attention. The nobler passions of the mind never shoot forth more free and unrestrained than in the times we call barbarous. That irregular manner of life, and those manly pursuits from which barbarity takes its name, are highly favourable to a strength of mind unknown in polished times. In advanced society the characters of men are more uniform and dignified. The human passions lie in some degree concealed behind forms, and artificial manners; and the powers of the soul, without an opportunity of exerting them, lose their vigour. The times of regular government, and polished manners, are therefore to be wished for by the feeble and weak in mind. An unsettled state, and those convulsions which attend it, is the proper field for an exalted character, and the exertion of great parts. Merit there rises always superior; no fortuitous event can raise the timid and mean into power. To those who look upon antiquity in this light, it is an agreeable prospect; and they alone can have real pleasure in tracing nations to their source.
The establishment of the Celtic states, in the north of Europe, is beyond the reach of written annals. The traditions and songs to which they trusted their history, were lost, or altogether corrupted, in their revolutions and migrations, which were so frequent and universal,
that no kingdom in Europe is now possessed by its original inhabitants...
have displayed a genius for poetry. It was, alone, in matters of antiquity, that they were monstrous in their fables. Their love-sonnets, and their elegies on the death of persons worthy or renowned, abound with simplicity, and a wild harmony of numbers. They become more than an atonement for their errors, in every other species of poetry. But the beauty of these species, depends so much on a certain curioso felicitas of expression in the original, that they must appear much to disadvantage in another language.
D I S S E R T A T I O N
POEMS O F O S S I A N.
SON OF FINGAL.
By HUGH BLAIR, D. D.
One of the Ministers of the High Church, and Professor of
Rhetorick and Belles-Lettres, in the University of
D I S S E R T A T I O N
POEMS OF OSSIAN,
SON OF FINGAL.
AMONG the monuments remaining of the ancient state of nations, few are more valuable than their poems or songs. History, when it treats of remote and dark ages, is seldom very instructive. The beginnings of society, in every country, are involved in fabulous confusion; and though they were not, they would furnish few events worth recording. But, in every period of society, human manners are a curious spectacle; and the most natural pictures of ancient manners are exhibited in the ancient poems of nations. These present to us, what is much more valuable than the history of such transactions as a rude age can afford. The history of human imagination and passion. They make us acquainted with the notions and feelings of our fellow-creatures
in the most artless ages...
to transport, to melt, the heart; we may very safely infer, that his productions are the offspring of true and uncommon genius; and we may boldly assign him a place among those whose works are to last for ages.
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