« ÎnapoiContinuați »
letters on Chivalry, has observed, that the Gothic manners, and Gothic superstitions, are more adapted to the uses of poetry, than the Grecian. The devotion of those times was gloomy and fearful, not being purged of the terrors of the Celtic fables. The Priest often availed himself of the dire inventions of his predecessor, the Druid. The church of Rome adopted many of the Celtic superstitions; others, which were not established by it, as points of faith, still maintained a traditional authority, among the vulgar. Climate, temper, modes of life, and institutions of
government, seem all to have conspired to make the superstitions of the Celtic nations melancholy and terrible. Philosophy had not mitigated the austerity of ignorant devotion, or tamed the fierce spirit of enthusiasm. As the Bards, who were our philosophers and poets, pretended to be possessed of the dark secrets of magic and divination, they certainly encouraged the ignorant credulity, and anxious fears, to which such impostures owe their suc
cess and credit. The retired and gloomy scenes appointed for the most solemn rites of devotion; the austerity and rigour of Druidical discipline and jurisdiction ; the fasts, the penances, the sad excommunications from the comforts and privileges of civil life; the dreadful anathema, whose vengeance pursued the wretched beyond the grave, which bounds all human power and mortal jurisdiction, must deeply imprint on the mind
form of superstition, which such an 'hierarchy presented. The bard, who was subservient to the Druid, had mixed them in his heroic song; in his historical annals ; in his medical practice: genii assisted his heroes ; dæmons decided the fate of the battle; and charms cured the sick, or the wounded. Nay, after the consecrated groves were cut down, and the temples demolished, the tales that sprung from them were still preserved, with religious reverence, in the minds of the people.
The Poct found himself happily situated amidst enchantments, ghosts, goblins; every element supposed the residence of a kind of deity; the Genius of the Mountain, the Spi. rit of the Floods, the oak endued with sacred prophecy, made men walk abroad with a fearful apprehension
Of powers unseen, and mightier far than they.
On the mountains, and in the woods, stalked the angry spectre; and in the gayest and most pleasing scenes, even within the cheerful haunts of men, amongst villages and farms,
Tripp'd the light fairies and the dapper elves.
The reader will easily perceive what resources remained for the Poet, in this visionary land of ideal forms. The general scenery of nature, considered as inanimate, only adorns the descriptive part of poetry; but being, according to the Celtic traditions, animated by a kind of intelligences, the bard could better make use of them, for his
moral purposes. That awe of the immediate presence of the Deity, which, among
, the vulgar of other nations, is confined to temples and altars, was here diffused over every object. The Celt passed trembling through the woods, and over the mountain, and near the lakes, inhabited by these invisible
powers: such apprehensions must indeed
Deepen the murmur of the falling floods,
give sadder accents to every whisper of the animate or inanimate creation, and arm every shadow with terrors.
With great reason, therefore, it has been assorted, that the Western bards had anadvantage over Homer, in the superstitions of their country. The religious ceremonies of Greece were more pompous than solemn; and seemed as much a part of their civil institutions, as belonging to spiritual matters: nor did they impress so deep a sense of invisible being, and prepare the mind to catch the enthusiasm of the poet, and to receive with veneration the phantoms, he
Our countryman has another kind of superiority over the Greek poets, even the earliest of them, who, having imbibed the learning of mysterious Egypt, addicted themselves to allegory; but our Gothic Bard, instead of mere amusive allegory, employs the potent agency of sacred fable. When the world becomes learned and philosophical, fable refines into allegory. But the age
of fable is the golden age of poetry: when reason, and the steady lamp of inquisitive philosophy, throw their penetrating rays upon the phantoms of imagination, they discover them to have been mere shadows, formed by ignorance. The thunderbolts of Jove, forged in Cimmerian caves; the cestus of Venus, woven by the hands of the attracting Graces, cease to terrify and allure. Echo, from an amorous nymph, fades into voice, and nothing more; the very