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the genealogy of every great family. They became fa. mous among the people, and an object of fiction and poetry to the bards.
The bards erected their immediate patrons into heroes, and celebrated them in their songs. As the circle of their knowledge was narrow, their ideas were confined in proportion. A few happy expressions, and the manners they represent, may please those who understand the language; their obscurity and inaccuracy would disgust in a translation. It was chiefly for this reason that I lave rejected wholly the works of the bards in my publications. Ossian acted in a more extensive sphere, and his ideas ought to be more noble and universal ; neither gives he, I presume, so many of those peculiarities, which are only understood in a certain period or country. The other bards have their beauties, but not in this species of .composition. Their rhimes, only calculated to kindle a martial spirit among the vulgar, afford very little pleasure to genuine taste. This observation only regards their poems of the heroic kind; in every inferior species of poetry they are more successful. They express the tender melancholy of desponding love, with simplicity and nature. So well adapted are the sounds of the words to the sentiments, that, even without any knowledge of the language, they pierce and dissolve the heart. Successful love is expressed with peculiar tenderness and elegance. In all their compositions, except the heroic, which was solely calculated to animate the vulgar, they give us the genuine language of the heart, without any of those affected ornaments of phraseology, which, though intended to beautify sentiments, divest them of their natural force. The ideas, it is confessed, are too local to be admired in another language; to those who are acquainted with the manners they represent, and the scenes they describe, they must afford pleasure and satisfaction.
It was the locality of their description and sentiment, that, probably, has kept them hitherto in the obscurity of an almost lost language. The ideas of an unpolished period are so contrary to the present advanced state of society, that more than a common mediocrity of taste is required to relish them as they deserve. Those who alone are capable of transferring ancient poetry into a modern language, might be better employed in giving originals of their own, were it not for that wretched envy and meanness which affects to despise contemporary genius. My first publication was merely accidental. Had I then met with less approbation, my after-pursuits would have been more profitable; at least I might have continued to be stupid, without being branded with dulness.
These poems may furnish light to antiquaries, as well as some pleasure to the lovers of poetry. The first popu. lation of Ireland, its first kings, and several circumstances, which regard its connection of old with the south and north of Britain, are presented in several episodes. The subject and catastrophe of the poems are founded upon facts, which regard the first peopling of that country, and the contest between the two British nations, who originally inhabited that island. In a preceding part of this Dissertation, I have shown how superior the probability of this system is to the undigested fictions of the Irish bards, and the more recent and regular legends of both Irish and Scottish historians. I mean not to give of fence to the abettors of the high antiquities of the two nations, though I have all along expressed my doubts con. cerning the veracity and abilities of those who deliver down their ancient history. For my own part, I prefer the national fame, arising from a few certain facts, to the legendary and uncertain annals of ages of remote and obscure antiquity. No kingdom now established in Europe can pretend to equal antiquity with that of the Scots, ix
considerable as it may appear in other respects, even according to my system, so that it is altogether needless to fix its origin a fictitious millennium before.
Since the first publication of these poems, many insinuations have been made, and doubts arisen, concerning their authenticity. Whether these suspicions are suggested by prejudice, or are only the effects of malice, I neither know nor care. Those who have doubted my veracity, have paid a compliment to my genius; and were even the allegation true, my self-denial might have atoned for my fault. Without vanity I say it, I think I could write tolerable poetry; and I assure my antagonists, that I should not translate what I could not imitate.
As prejudice is the effect of ignorance, I am not sur· prised at its being general. An age that produces few
marks of genius ought to be sparing of admiration. The truth is, the bulk of mankind have ever been led by reputation more than taste, in articles of literature. If all the Romans who admired Virgil understood his beauties, he would have scarce deserved to have come down to us, through so many centuries. Unless genius were in fashion, Homer himself might have written in vain. He that wishes to come with weight, on the superficial, must skim the surface, in their own shallow way. Were my aim to gain the many, I would write a madrigal sooner than an heroic poem. Laberins himself would be always sure of more followers than Sophocles.
Some who doubt the authenticity of this work, with peculiar acuteness appropriate them to the Irish nation. Though it is not easy to conceive how these poems can belong to Ireland and to me, at once, I shall examine the subject, without further animadversion on the blunder. · Of all the nations descended from the ancient Celtæ, the Scots and Irish are the most similar in language, custom, and manners. This argues a more intimate connection between them, than a remote descent from the great Celtic stock. It is evident, in short, that at some one period or other, they formed one society, were subject to the same government, and were, in all respects, one and the same people. How they became divided, which the colony, or which the mother nation, I have in another work amply discussed. The first circumstance that induced me to disregard the vulgarly-received opinion of the Hibernian extraction of the Scottish nation, was my observations on their ancient language. That dialect of the Celtic tongue, spoken in the north of Scotland, is much more pure, more agreeable to its mother language, and more abounding with primitives, than that now spoken, or even that which has been written for some centuries back, amongst the most unmixed part of the Irish nation. A Scotchman, tolerably conversant in his own language, understands an Irish composition, from that derivative analogy which it has to the Galic of North Britain. An Irishman, on the other hand, without the aid of study, can never understand a composition in the Galic tongue. This affords a proof, that the Scotch Galic is the most original, and, consequently, the language of a more ancient and unmixed people. The Irish, however backward they may be to allow any thing to the prejudice of their antiquity, seem inadvertently to acknowledge it, by the very appellation they give to the dialect they speak. They call their own language Caëlic, Eirinarch, i. e. Caledonian Irish, when, on the contrary, they call the dialect of North Britain a Chaëlic, or the Caledonian tongue, emphatically. A circumstance of this nature tends more to decide which is the most ancient nation, than the united testimonies of a whole legion of ignorant bards and senachies, who perhaps never dreamed of bringing the Scots from Spain to Ireland, till some one of them, more learned than the rest, discovered that the Romans called the first Iberia, and the latter Hibernia. On such a slight foundation were probably built the romantic fictions concerning the Milesians of Ireland.
From internal proofs it sufficiently appears, that the po. ems published under the name of Ossian, are not of Irish composition. The favourite chimæra, that Ireland is the mother country of the Scots, is totally subverted and ruined. The fictions concerning the antiquities of that country, which were forming for ages, and growing as they came down, on the hands of successive senachies and fileas, are found, at last, to be the spurious brood of modern and ige norant ages. To those who know how tenacious the Irish are of their pretended Iberian descent, this alone is proof sufficient, that poems, so subversive of their system, could never be produced by an Hibernian bard. But when we look to the language, it is so different from the Irish dia. lect, that it would be as ridiculous to think, that Milton's Paradise Lost could be wrote by a Scottish peasant, as to suppose, that the poems ascribed to Ossiah were writ in Ireland.
The pretensions of Ireland to Ossian proceed from another quarter. There are handed down, in that country, traditional poems, concerning the Fiona, or the heroes of Fion Mac Comnal. This Fion, say the Irish annalists, was general of the militia of Ireland, in the reign of Cormac, in the third century. Where Keating and O'Flaherty learned, that Ireland had an embodied militia so early, is not easy for me to determine. Their information certainly did not come from the Irish poems concerning Fion. I have just now, in my hands, all that remain of those composi. tions ; but, unluckily for the antiquities of Ireland, they appear to be the work of a very modern period. Every stanza, nay almost every line, afford striking proofs, that they cannot be three centuries old. Their allusions to the manners and customs of the fifteenth century, are so