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from joining them in time; but he put forth in his bark alone on the ensuing day. On his voyage he passed his friends, who were returning victorious, without his perceiving them, and landed singly on the hostile shore. Consistently with the chivalrous honour of the times, he would not fly; but struck his shield as a token of defiance to the islanders, against whom he maintained, singly, a desperate conflict, and kept the enemy at a distance; till at length a stone, rolled from above, disabled him from moving or fighting any longer; in which situation he was left by the dastardly enemy to pine and die without succour. His wife Evirchoma, anxious for his fate, embarked, with her infant son Ogall at her breast, in quest of her lord, whom she found in this pitiable condition; when, rousing all her might to assist him, she just succeeded in dragging him to the boat, and then fainted away over his body; in which state, speechless and in the act of dying, they were both discovered the next morning by Ossian, who had sailed in quest of them, and who was only able to save the child. From the poem thus introduced, and which is not generally known in this part of the island, I must beg leave to offer an extract or two. The following is Ossian's description of Evirchoma, as she witnessed the mournful departure of her husband :
In the light ship of rough waves
The following is an exquisite picture of mingled and overwhelming passions-courage, heroism, and tenderness. Having chivalrously planted his standard, and singly defied all the enemy, a rushing thought of his wife and his child, of Evirchoma and Ogall, damps his resolution for a moment; but he is instantly recalled to himself by the idea of the spirit of his heroic father hovering over him ;
Morni! behold me from the mountain.
The conflict of passions in the breast of Evirchoma, on reaching the hostile shore, is described with equal force-her desire to proceed in quest of her husband, and her fear of leaving her babe behind her in the boat. It was now late in the evening :
She glanced by the scanty beam
I have said that the generous Ossian pursued them in another boat, and found them both in the act of dying. The following is his own inimitable description: it is strikingly impressive, and especially the manner in which the faint and dying mother commends her son to his care; and calls forth a sigh from his heart that his own wife Evirallin is no more.
I lifted his helmet: I saw his locks
Dear child! vain is thy fondling ;
Yet the poem must not be closed without giving you its conclusion ; its exquisite moral, and its sublime epitaph.
What is the strength of the warrior,
Prepare, ye children of musical strings,
Its leaves, from the extremity of the land,
Until all of these shall perish,
The voice of the passions, then, whether of joy or sorrow, of rage or tenderness, is the voice of poetry; and the voice of poetry is, in consequence, the voice of the passions. It is hence the earliest language of every nation; and it is not, therefore, to be wondered at that it should have been employed from a very remote period as the medium of national history, national mythology, and moral precepts; its glowing and animated style being peculiarly calculated to captivate the attention, and the recurrent measure or versification which, under some shape or other, it has assumed, and could not fail to assume, in every part of the world, being admirably adapted to assist the memory
Hence, in the first ages of Greece, as well as of every other nation, priests, philosophers, and statesmen, all delivered their instructions in poetry. Apollo, Orpheus, and Amphion, the earliest bards of the Grecian states, are represented as the first tamers of mankind, the first founders of order and civilization. Minos and Thales sung to the lyre the laws which they composed; and till the age immediately preceding that of Herodotus, history appeared in no other form than that of poetical tales. At this time, however, science began to rear her head through the regions of Arcadia; the judgment acquired daily strength; and, while a soberer style was found to be befitting the severer studies, and the simple narrative of national or biographical events, the dialect of the passions was limited to those branches of speech or writing which require ornament, attraction, or an excitement of the passions themselves: and by such a change verbal composition soon rose to the rank of a very extensive and complicaled science; the value of every word became
weighed in its root, combinations, and inflections; in its strict and figurative senses; in its proper enunciation and accent. And hence the origin of the elementary studies of etymology, grammar, prosody, and criticism; while the general mint of language, thus prepared and struck off, was still subject to the inquisitorial powers of logic and rhetoric; the art of reasoning or assigning determinate ideas to determinate words; and the art of polishing or adorning the dry skeleton of naked sense with the gay and ornamental dress of trope, figure, and elegant collocation.
Rhetoric, therefore, is nothing more than the natural language of the passions, or the imagination which so closely associates with them, reduced to the rules of art. It is the study of those peculiar modes of expression, warm, exclamatory, abrupt, interjective, full of energy, image, and personification, by which the passions characterize themselves when called into action; and which, as the natural symbols of the passions, have the wonderful power, not only during recitation, but on paper alone, when read by ourselves in the privacy of the closet, of 'enkindling in the mind of the reader or hearer the very feelings of which they are the representatives.
Hence the soothing tranquillity produced by pastoral poetry; the melting sympathy with which we yield to metrical tales of distress and misery; the rousing, dithyrambic effect of national songs; the sublime enthusiasm of devotional lyrics. Hence the well-planned fictions of the epic Muse excite all the interest of real life; the popular orator, laying hold of the same weapons, subdues every heart to his own purposes; but, above all, hence the magic spell of the drama, that, by personating the characters and scenery of the subject it selects, transports us to the time, place, and circumstance of the representation, and makes us parties to its own story.
The drama, above every thing else, is the language of the passions carried into real life, and enlisted on the side of virtue. I say on the side of virtue, because such power has virtue over the human mind, by the wise and gracious constitution of our nature, that neither epic poetry can excite admiration, nor tragic poetry emotion, unless virtuous feelings be awakened within us. Every poet finds it impossible to interest an audience in a character without representing that character as worthy and honourable, though it may not be perfect; and he is equally aware that the great secret for raising indignation, is to paint the person who is to be the object of it in the colours of vice and DE
And hence Aristotle speaks with his usual correctness, when he tells us, that the design of tragedy (and it is to the tragic drama I am now limiting my attention) is to purify our corrupt tendencies by means of pity and terror. Such was the direct scope of the simple tragedy of the Greeks; the uniform object of Æschylus who founded it; of Euripides, who improved, and of Sophocles, who perfected it; and all within the short space of little more than twenty years.
And such is equally the object of the more operose and complicated tragedy of modern times, whether French or English; whether turning, as in the former case, upon a series of artful and refined conversations, connected, indeed, with interesting attractions, but carried on with little action and vehemence, though with much poetical beauty, and the strictest propriety and decorum; or whether, as in the latter instance, made to hinge on a combat of strong passions, set before us in all their violence, producing deep disasters; often irregularly conducted, abounding in action, and filling the spectators with grief. It is, indeed, peculiarly worthy of remark, that three of the greatest, if not the three greatest, masterpieces of the French tragic theatre turn wholly upon religious subjects: the Athalie of Racine, the Polyeucte of Corneille, and the Zaire of Voltaire. The first is founded upon an historical passage of the Old Testament: while, in the other two, the distress arises from the zeal and attachment of the principal personages to the Christian faith. So powerfully has each of these writers felt, whatever may have been his private creed, the majesty which may be derived from religious ideas, and the deep impression they are calculated to produce on the human heart.
To select such topics, however, for such a purpose, demands a very deli
cate judgment; and no serious mind would readily consent, I apprehend, that they should be resorted to and promulgated as sources of entertainment in the theatres of our own country. I mention the fact with the mere view of contrasting it with what has of late years been the predominant and licentious taste of the French metropolis; and to show the readiness with which this polite and elegant, but gay and giddy, people rush from one extreme to the other of that sober medium which will, I trust, ever limit and characterize our own national feelings and conduct.*
It is well known to have been the opinion of Dr. Johnson, that religious subjects are but little calculated for poetry of any kind; that the fire of the Muses will not cordially blend with the fame of devotion. From this opinion, however, I must beg leave altogether to dissent.
There is no topic so well qualified for enkindling and enlisting into its service all the best and purest passions of the heart; and none, therefore, to which the language of the passions, subject, indeed, to the discipline of a nice judgment, is better adapted, or can be more laudably consecrated.
And on turning accidentally to Sir William Jones's “Essay on the Arts commonly called Imitative," I find this opinion fortified; and the general survey of the subject now offered supported by the authority of this great scholar, whose name and judgment I may fairly put into the scale against those of our celebrated lexicographer.
“ It seems probable, that poetry was originally no more than a strong and animated expression of the human passions, of joy and grief, love and hatred, admiration and anger, sometimes pure and unmixed, sometimes variously modified and combined; for, if we observe the voice and accents of a person affected by any of the violent passions, we shall perceive a something in them very nearly approaching to cadence and measure; which is remarkably the case in the language of a vehement orator, whose talent is chiefly conversant about praise or censure ; and we may collect from several passages in Tully, that the fine speakers of old Greece and Rome had a sort of rhythm in their sentences, less regular, but not less melodious, than that of the poets.
“If this idea be just, one would suppose that the most ancient sort of poetry consisted in PRAISING THE Deity: for if we conceive a being created with all his faculties and senses, endued with speech and reason, to open his eyes in a most delightful plain; to view for the first time the serenity of the sky, the splendour of the sun, the verdure of the fields and woods, the glowing colours of the flowers; we can hardly believe it possible, that he should refrain from bursting into an ecstasy of joy, and pouring his praises to the Creator of those wonders, and the Author of his happiness. This kind of poetry is used in all nations; but as it is the sublimest of all, when it is applied to its true object, so it has often been perverted to impious purposes by pagans and idolaters.”
It is true the devotional poetry of our own country that can pretend to any high degree of merit is but very sparing, when compared with what we may reasonably boast on most other subjects. Not, however, that we are without writers of high and deserved reputation, or specimens of admirable excellence and sublimity. Yet we must not judge, as Dr. Johnson appears to have done, from our own country alone; since, perhaps, no people celebrated for great refinement in taste and language have so little cultivated this branch of the poetic art. It is a remarkable fact, that the metrical psalmody of our established church, which ought to be the best, is the worst of all English poetry in its old version, and not always improved as one could wish in its new, though several of the psalms in this later version are exquisitely turned.
And here it is obvious, that the fault does not lie with the subject, for the original Hebrew is full of excellences of every kind. Our poets of the highest reputation, whether epic, dramatic, or lyric, have seldom ventured upon sacred themes; and in the few instances in which they have made such
It should be recollected that this fecture was composed and delivered during the reign of Buonaparte, Edsay on the Arts commonly called Iinitative Works, iv. 550, 410.
an attempt, they have too frequently proved themselves to be equally unacquainted with the style and character of devotion ; which, like those of every other science (for I am now only speaking of it in its subordinate and exterior attributes), can only be acquired by a peculiar genius for the task, and a long course of study in it. Let any one examine critically the Universal Prayer of Pope, or the Veni Creator Spiritus, or Te Deum, of Dryden, and I have little doubt that he will accede to the correctness of this remark. There is a constraint in these productions, which belongs to the writers nowhere else; an elegant exterior, but without a vivifying spirit; a total want of that happy union of bosom ease, and ardour, and raciness, which the French theologians call unction, that prove a man to be at home upon his subject, to have drunk deeply of the inspiring stream, and that it circulates freely through his heart; that which renders Addison as much superior to both these poets upon this point as he was inferior to them upon every other; which is deeply impressive in Cowper's devotional pieces; which peculiarly characterizes, not only the more lofty and ornamental, but even the mere doctrinal hymns of Dr. Watts, which admit of but little embellishment; and which we sometimes behold in the congregational contributions of persons possessing few pretensions to learning and genius, and who, perhaps, make a boast of their deficiency: · Let it be remembered, that elegance alone will not answer, nor will ease alone answer, nor will general descriptions alone answer; whether of the perfections of the Deity, the beauty of creation, the penitence of the soul, or its ardent longing for the happiness of heaven, or for communion with God on earth. We have at times seen attempts of this kind (and many of us, as I trust, with real grief of heart) by lyrical writers of the first attainments as poets, but the lowest attainments as Christians, in our own day; and whose direct object has been to furnish words to what has been vended along with them under the name of SACRED Music; to cheat the sacred hours of the Sunday, and of those who hail the return of the Sunday, by a show of Sundayaliment and occupation. Such attempts have had their day, but have never been able to support themselves. In the midst of all their external glitter and polished rhapsody, they have been found vapid and unsatisfactory; an airy, flatulent food, that the soul could never feed or fatten upon. And, on analyzing several of these attempts, with a friend of the nicest judgment, and who was, at first, strangely captivated by their pretensions, we found, that by a change in a very few of the terms, chiefly, indeed, by a mere substitution of human names for divine, they were reduced, with great advantage to themselves, to their proper and natural level of love-ditties and ballads, from which alone they seemed to have been raised, by an irreverent adoption of mere misnomers, for the base purpose of finding them a market in what is called the religious world.
On every account, however, I am much afraid that we must yield the palm of devotional poetry to some of the nations on the Continent. The best French writers upon this subject are Racine the younger, son of the celebrated dramatist of the same name, John Baptiste Rousseau, and Pompignan; all contemporaries, and the last of whom had the honour of being ridiculed by Voltaire, Helvetius, and their associates, for having had the boldness to deliver before the French Academy, in 1760, a discourse in favour of Christianity. And when to these I add the name of my late venerable friend the Abbé Delille, I fear it will be difficult to muster an equal group, possessing like power, in our own country. Spain, however, in this respect, at least rivals, if it does not surpass the master-poets of France; as I believe every one must allow, who is acquainted with the sacred poetry of Melendez, Miguel Sanchez, and the Conde de Noroña. Germany has also a few poets of the same kind of great merit, but it is to Italy we must turn for the best specimens of devotional lyrics in modern times ;-Italy, where, almost from the revival of literature, the devotional muse, though surrounded by corruption, has been courted and warmly caressed by many of her best scholars, her best poets, and her best men. Her sacred verse was at first, indeed, too much