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the vacuum of the past, but what can indicate to them existence in the vacuum of the future. This anticipation of the future, which is so familiar to us, is nevertheless one of the strongest abstractions at which the ideas of mankind have arrived. Happy the savage who does not know like us, that grief is followed by grief, and whose soul devoid of recollection or of foresight does not concenter in itself, by a sort of painful eternity, the past, the present, and the future.
But what proves incontestably that Mr. Macpherson is the author of Ossian's poems, is the perfection or the beautiful ideal of morals which reigns in them. This de. serves to be somewhat dwelt upon. The beautiful ideal is the offspring of society ; men nearly in a state of nature have no conception of it. They content themselves, in their songs, with painting exactly what they see; and as they live in the midst of deserts, their pictures are always grand and poetical ; for this reason no bad taste is to be found in their compositions, but then they are and must be, monotonous, and the sentiments they express cannot arrive at true heroism. The age
of Homer was already some way removed from this time. Let a savage pierce a kid with his arrows, let him cut it in pieces in the midst of the forests, let him extend his victim upon glowing coals made from the trunk of a venerable oak, so far all is noble in this action. But in the tent of Achilles we find basons, spits, knives; one instrument more and Homer would have sunk into the meanness and littleness of German descriptions, or he must have had recourse to the beautiful ideal by beginning to conceal. Observe this well ;-the following explanation will make all clear.
In proportion as society, increasing in refinement, multiplied the wants and the conveniences of life, the poets learnt that they must not, as before, place every thing
before the eyes but must veil over certain parts of the picture. This first step taken, they next saw that in doing so, some choice must be made, and at length that the thing chosen was susceptible of a finer form, or a finer effect, in such, or such a position. Thus always conceal. ing, and always selecting, always retrenching and always adding, they found themselves by degrees deviating into forms which were not natural, but which were more beautiful than those of nature, and to these forms they gave the name of the beautiful ideal. This beautiful ideal may then be defined as the art of choosing and concealing.
The beautiful ideal in morals was formed on the same principles as the beautiful ideal in physics, by keeping out of sight certain emotions of the soul; for the soul has its degrading wants and its meannesses as well as the body. And I cannot refrain from observing that man is of all living beings the only one who is susceptible of be. ing represented more perfect than he is by nature, and as approaching to divinity. No one would think of painting the beautiful ideal of an eagle, a lion, &c. If I dared carry my ideas to the faculty of reasoning, my dear friend, I
that I see in that a grand idea in the author of all things, and a proof of our immortality.
That society wherein morals have attained with the greatest celerity all the developements of which they are capable, must the soonest attain the beautiful ideal of character. Now this is what eminently distinguishes the societies formed in the christian religion. It is a strange thing and yet strictly true, that through the medium of the Gospel, morals had arrived among our ancestors at their highest point of perfection, while as to every thing else they were absolute barbarians.
I ask now where Ossian could have imbibed those perfect ideas of morals with which he adorns his heroes. It was not in his religion, since it is agreed on all hands
that there is no religion among his savages. Could it be from nature itself ?-And how should the savage Ossian seated upon a rock in Caledonia, while every thing around him was cruel, barbarous, gross and sanguinary, arrive so rapidly at those notions of morals which were scarcely understood by Socrates in the most enlightened days of Greece ?-notions, which the Gospel alone revealed to the world, as the result of observations pursued for four thousand years upon the character of man. Madame de Staël's memory has betrayed her when she asserts that the Scandinavian poetry has the same characteristics which distinguish the poetry of the pretended Scotch bard. Every one knows that the contrary is the fact, the former breathes nothing but brutality and vengeance. Mr. Macpherson has himself been careful to point out this differ, ence and to bring the warriors of Morven into contrast with the the warriors of Lochlin. The ode, to which Madame de Staël refers in a note has even been cited, and commented upon by Doctor Blair, in opposition to the poetry of Ossian. This ode resembles very much the death
song of the Iroquois : “ I do not fear death, I am "brave, why can I not again drink out of the skulls of
my enemies, and devour their hearts,' &c. In fine, Mr. Macpherson has been guilty of mistakes in Natural History, which would alone suffice to betray the imposture: he has planted oaks where nothing but gorse ever grew, and made eagles scream, where nothing was ever heard but the voice of the barnacle, or the whistling of the curlew.
Mr. Macpherson was a member of the English parliament, he was rich, he had a very fine park among the the mountains of Scotland where by dint of much art, and of great care, he had succeeded in raising a few trees; he was besides a very good Christian and deeply read in the
Bible ; he has sung his mountains, his park, and his re. ligion,*
This does not undoubtedly derogate in any way from the merit of the poems of Forgal and Temora ; they are not the less true models of a sort of melancholy of the desert, which is full of charms. I have just procured the small edition which has been recently published in Scot land, and you must not frown, my dear friend, when I tell you that I never go out now without my Wetstein's Ho. mer in one pocket and my Glasgow edition of Ossian in the other. It results howeyer from all I have said that Madame de Staël's system respecting the influence of Ossian upon the literature of the north moulders away ; and if she shall persist in believing that such a per. son as this Scotch bard really did exist, she has too much sense and reason not to perceive that a system which rests upon a basis so disputable must be a bad one. For my part, you see thạt I have every thing to gain by the fall of Ossian, and that in depriving the tragedies of Shakspeare, Young's Night Thoughts, Pope's Eloisa to Abelard, and Richardson's Clarissa, of this gloomy perfectibility I establish victoriously the melancholy of religious ideas. All these authors were christians, it is even believed that Shakspeare was a catholic. If I were now to follow Madame de Staël into the
age of Louis XIV, you would doubtless reproach me with being altogether extravagant. I will confess that, on this subject I, harbour a superstition almost ridiculous. I fall into a holy anger when people would compare the writers of the eighteenth century with those of the seventeenth; even at this moment, while I write, the very idea is ready to drive my reason out of all bounds as Blaise Pascal used to say. I must have been terribly led away by the talents of Madame de Staël, if I could have remained silent in such a cause.
* Several passages of Ossian are evident imitations from the Bible, as are others from Homer. Among the latter is that fine expression the Joy of Grief krueoin tetarpomestha gooio, Book II. verse 211. I must observe that, in the original of Homer there is a cast of melancholy which has not been retained by any of his translators. I do not believe, like Madame de Stael, that there has ever been a particular Age of Melancholy, but I believe that all great geniuses have a disposition to melancholy.
We have no historians she says. I should have thought that Bossuet was worth something. Montesquieu himself is indebted to him for his work on the Grandeur ånd fall of the Roman Empire, the sublime abridgement of which he found in the third part of Bossuet's Essay on Universal History. Herodotus, Tacitus, and Livy, are, according to my ideas little in comparison with Bossuet ; to say this, is sufficient to say that the Guiccardini's, the Marianas, the Humes, the Robertsons, disappear before him. What a survey does he take of the whole earth, he is in a thousand places at once. A patriarch under the palms of Thophel, a minister at the court of Babylon, a priest at Memphis, a legislator at Sparta, a citizen at A. thens and at Rome, he changes time and place at his will, he passes along with the rapidity and the majesty of cen. turies; holding in his hand the rod of the law with an in. credible authoritativeness he drives Jews and Gentiles to the tomb ; he comes at last himself at the end of this convoy of generations, and marching forwards, supported by Isaiah and Jeremiah, utters his prophetic lamentations amid the dust and ruins of mankind.
Without religion a man may have talents, but it is almost impossible to have genius. How little appear to me the greater part of men of the eighteenth century who instead of the infinite instrument employed by the Racines and the Bossuets as the fundamental note on which their eloquence was rested, have recourse to the scale of a narrow philosophy, which subdivides the soul into degrees