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the accuracy of a philosopher, says, in a short poem, devoted to the praises of mirth, that
"Young and old come forth to play,
In merry Spring-time, not only birds, but melancholic, old fellows, like myself, sing. The sun is the poet's, the invalid's, and the hypochon'driac's friend. Under clement skies, and genial sunshine, not only the body is corroborated, but the mind is vivified, and the heart becomes "open as day." I may be considered fanciful in the assertion, but I am positive that many, who, in November, December, January, February, and March, read nothing but Mandeville, Rochefoucault,* and Hobbes, and cherish malignant thoughts, at the expense of poor human nature, abjure their evil books and sour theories, when a softer season succeeds. I have, myself, in Winter, felt hostile to those, whom I could smile upon in May, and clasp to my bosom in June. Our moral qualities, as well as natural objects, are affected by physical laws; and I can easily conceive that benevolence, no less than the sun flower, flourishes and expands under the luminary of day.
With unaffected earnestness, I hope that none of my readers will look upon the agreeable visitation of the sun, at this beauteous season, as the impertinent call of a crabbed monitor, or an importunate dun. I hope that none will churlishly tell him "how they hate his beams." I am credibly informed that several of my city friends, many fine ladies, and the worshipful society of loungers, consider the early call of the above red-faced personage, as downright intrusion. It must be confessed that he is fond of prying into chambers and closets, but, not like a rude searcher, or libertine gallant', for injurious or licentious purposes. His designs are beneficent, and he is one of the warmest friends in the world.
Notwithstanding his looks are sometimes a little suspi cious, and he presents himself with the fiery eye and flushed cheek of a jolly toper, yet this is only a new proof of the fallacy of physiognomy,† for he is the most regular being in the universe. He keeps admirable hours, and is steady, diligent and punctual to a proverb. Conscious of his shining merit, and dazzled by his regal glory, I must rigidly inhibit all from attempting to exclude his person. I caution
+ Pron. fizh-e-og-no-mê.
sluggards to abstain from the use of shutters, curtains, and all other villanous modes of insulting my ardent friend. My little garden, my only support, and myself, are equally the object of his care, and were it not for the constant loan of his great lamp, I could not always see to write
THE LAY PREACHER.
Extract from 'A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of
BESIDES human personages, divine or supernatural agents are often introduced into epic poetry; forming what is called the machinery of it; which most critics hold to be an essential part. The marvellous, it must be admitted, has always a great charm for the bulk of readers. It gratifies the imagination, and affords room for striking and sublime description. No wonder, therefore, that all poets should have a strong propensity towards it.
But I must observe, that nothing is more difficult, than to adjust properly the marvellous with the probable. If a poet sacrifice probability, and fill his work with extravagant supernatural scenes, he spreads over it an appearance of romance and childish fiction; he transports his readers from this world, into a fantastic, visionary region; and loses that weight and dignity which should reign in epic poetry. No work, from which probability is altogether banished, can make a lasting or deep impression. Human actions and manners, are always the most interesting objects which can be presented to a human mind.
All machinery, therefore, is faulty which withdraws these too much from view; or obscures them under a cloud of incredible fictions. Besides being temperately employed, machinery ought always to have some foundation in popular belief. A poet is by no means at liberty to invent what system of the marvellous he pleases : He must avail himself either of the religious faith, or the superstitious credulity, of the country wherein he lives; so as to give an air of probability to events which are most contrary to the common course of nature.
In these respects, Ossian appears to me to have been remarkably happy. He has indeed followed the same
course with Homer. For it is perfectly absurd to imagine, as some critics have done, that Homer's mythology was invented by him, in consequence of profound reflections on the benefit it would yield to poetry. Homer was no such refining genius. He found the traditionary stories on which he built his Iliad, mingled with popular legends, concerning the intervention of the gods; and he adopted these, because they amused the fancy.
Össian, in like manner, found the tales of his country full of ghosts and spirits: It is likely he believed them himself; and he introduced them, because they gave his poems that solemn and marvellous cast, which suited his genius. This was the only machinery he could employ with propriety; because it was the only intervention of supernatural beings, which agreed with the common belief of the country. It was happy; because it did not interfere, in the least, with the proper display of human characters and actions; because it had less of the incredible, than most other kinds of poetical machinery; and because it served to diversify the scene, and to heighten the subject by an awful grandeur, which is the great design of machinery.
As Ossian's mythology is peculiar to himself, and makes a considerable figure in his other poems, as well as in Fingal, it may be proper to make some observations on it, independent of its subserviency to epic composition. It turns for the most part on the appearances of departed spirits.
These, consonantly to the notions of every rude age, are represented not as purely immaterial, but as thin airy forms, which can be visible or invisible at pleasure; their voice is feeble; their arm is weak; but they are endowed with knowledge more than human. In a separate state, they retain the same dispositions which animated them in this life. They ride on the wind; they bend their airy bows; and pursue deer formed of clouds. The ghosts of departed bards continue to sing. The ghosts of departed heroes frequent the fields of their former fame. They rest together in their caves, and talk of mortal men. Their songs are of other worlds. They come sometimes to the ear of rest, and raise their feeble voice."
All this presents to us much the same set of ideas, concerning spirits, as we find in the eleventh book of the Odyssey, where Ulysses visits the regions of the dead: And in the twenty-third book of the Iliad, the ghost of Patroclus, after appearing to Achilles, vanishes precisely like
one of Ossian's, emitting a shrill, feeble cry, and melting away like smoke.
But though Homer's and Ossian's ideas concerning ghosts were of the same nature, we cannot but observe that Ossian's ghosts are drawn with much stronger and livelier colors than those of Homer. Ossian describes ghosts with all the particularity of one who had seen and conversed with them, and whose imagination was full of the impression they had left upon it. Crugal's ghost, in particular, in the beginning of the second book of Fingal, may vie with any appearance of this kind, described by any epic or tragic poet whatever.
Most poets would have contented themselves with telling us, that he resembled, in every particular, the living Crugal; that his form and dress were the same, only his face more pale and sad; and that he bore the mark of the wound by which he fell. But Ossian sets before our eyes a spirit from the invisible world, distinguished by all those features, which a strong astonished imagination would give to a ghost. "A dark red stream of fire comes down from the hill. Crugal sat upon the beam; he that lately fell by the hand of Swaran, striving in the battle of heroes. His face is like the beam of the setting moon. His robes are of the clouds of the hill. His eyes are like two decaying flames. Dark is the wound of his breast. The stars dimtwinkled through his form; and his voice was like the sound of a distant stream."
The circumstance of the stars being beheld, “ dim-twinkling through his form," is wonderfully picturesque; and conveys the most lively impression of his thin and shadowy substance. The attitude in which he is afterwards placed, and the speech put into his mouth, are full of that solemn and awful sublimity, which suits the subject. "Dim, and in tears, he stood and stretched his pale hand over the hero. Faintly he raised his feeble voice, like the gale of the reedy Lego. My ghost, O Connal! is on my native hills; but my corse is on the sands of Ullin. Thou shalt never talk with Crugal, or find his lone steps in the heath. I am light as the blast of Cromla; and I move like the shadow of mist. Connal, son of Colgar! I see the dark cloud of death. It hovers over the plains of Lenna. The sons of green Erin shall fall. Remove from the field of ghosts. Like the darkened moon he retired in the midst of the whistling blast."
Several other appearances of spirits might be pointed out as among the most sublime passages of Ossian's poetry. The circumstances of them are considerably diversified; and the scenery always suited to the occasion. "Oscar slowly ascends the hill. The meteors of night set on the heath before him. A distant torrent faintly roars. Unfrequent blasts rush through aged oaks. The half-enlightened moon sinks dim and red behind her hill. Feeble voices are heard on the heath. Oscar drew his sword."
Nothing can prepare the fancy more happily for the awful scene that is to follow. "Trenmor came from his hill, at the voices of his mighty son. A cloud, like the steed of the stranger, supported his airy limbs. His robe is of the mist of Lano, that brings death to the people. His sword is a green meteor, half-extinguished. His face is without form, and dark. He sighed thrice over the hero: And thrice, the winds of the night roared around. Many were his words to Oscar. He slowly vanished, like a mist that melts on the suny hill,"
To appearances of this kind, we can find no parallel among the Greek or Roman poets. They bring to mind that noble description in the book of Job: "In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon ine, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake. Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up: It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes: -There was silence, and I heard a voice-Shall mortal man be more just than Gol?”*
The Dungeon.-LYRICAL BALLADS.
AND this place our forefathers made for man!
*Job iv, 13-17.