« AnteriorContinuar »
Ossian naturally occupies a portion of Dr. C.'s attention ; and his remarks and conjectures on that subject, seem to us as rational as any part of his pamphlet. The following anecdote may not be unacceptable to our readers, at this juncture.
! It is well known in Badenoch by the modern Ossianists ; and I doubt not that it is recollected in Edinburgh, though I believe all the gentlemen from thence concerned in it are now dead.
A party of literary gentlemen from that city, on a jaunt of pleasure through the Highlands, stopped some days at the inn at Pitmain, on the opposite side of the Spey t) Ruthven, formerly the residence of James Macpherson, and round which were the greatest sticklers for the plenitude of Ossian's talents and antiquity. Part of the gentlemen's plan was to satisfy themselves, as far as they could respecting Ossian ; and for this purpose they had taken care to be recommended to the most considerable and best informed gentlemen-in the country. Dining one day in one of these gentlemen's houses, they requested that an old Highlander might be produced, who could repeat any of the old poems in their original, which was to be translated by pne of the gentlemen as the old man went along ; and every measure was taken to prevent imposition, which.good manners would permit. The old man, whether he had forgot his instructions, or had more respect for his new friends and acquaintances, the saints, than he had for the chiefs of other times whom he was disposed to consider no better than pagans, was not well got into his tale, till he had St. Patrick, St. Mungo, and the half of the calendar in full employ; and relicks and miracles crowding in upon him, to the huge consternation and dismay, of the lads of the braes of Badenoch. All these, as we have said, had Macpherson to prune away, and then, I fear, his fragments were few and small; and had he left them as such, notwithstanding the elegant and masterly use he has made of them, the world would have thanked him for the glorious remains of a singular species of ancient poetry; and of a bard whose talents we are not only tempted to disallow, but whose very existence we are disposed to doubt." pp. 46-49.
Among many strange derivations, hazarded by Dr. C., that of the term Piets appears to us one of the strangest. 'We shall readily be excused for not quoting his arguments in its support, when we announce that he supposes this celebrated people to have been so named from Beaks, or wild bees; and that, because they had “ an industrious and numerous husbandry!!” We believe that this is the first time the world has heard of Pictish agriculture. Certainly, neither the Cale. dones, nor. the Vecturiones, were ever famous on this ac
Our author puts into the mouth of an itinerant taylor or shoemaker, the history of Pictish civilization ; and allows hiin to make a second trial at the etymology of their name.
? Ploughs were unknown in these days ; hence theịr operations, at first, were carried on by the pick or the mattack, as is done, in our own times, by the Highlander.' p. 60.
· This first instrument of labour was called, in the Celtic, Peac, Peach, or Peachd ; or it was spelled with io instead of ea, which makes sçarçelý any difference; and the people who used it, Peacich, Peachich, or Peactich. Hence, in Scotland, they are called Pechs, or Pechts; and the Peachd, or t, of the Gaelic, would easily run into the Picti of the Latin,' p. 61.
The analogy of peace and pick, we must readily admit: but we must strenuously resist the derivation of the Latin Picti, or the British phictiaid, either from beuk, or peac..
Now for Di. C.'s peroration !
• In this short, and, 1 may say, casual sketch, I hope I have, with all respect to every author, thrown considerable light on the early and controverted periods of our history. I have rendered the high antiquity assumed by our oldest authors, (who undoubtedly had more to go upon than we now know of,) not only probable, but necessary; and the few links which I have drawn together, seem to be a fair outline of the history the Celtic Scotti, from their arrival in the northern parts of Britain, till the Romans
finally relinquished the island. The means I have taken for this purpose, 1 to be sure, are new, but they appear to me to be uncontrovertible ; and,
I think, by prosecuting the idea, much additional light might still be acquired, both respecting our own history, and, as I have shewn, that of other nations.' pp 65, 66.
We cannot compliment the author with our assent to his conclusions. He has thrown very little, if any, light on his subject. The antiquity assumed by old Irish, Scotch, and British authors, reaches to an incredible extreme. From the more authentic documents published in the Myvyrian Archæology, (although accuracy cannot be attained on such a subject) it appears probable, that both Britain and Ireland became inhabited during a period included between the tenth and sixth centuries before Christ. The means used by Dr. C. are far from being of a new kin:l, and very far from being incontrovertible. We believe, that “much additional light might still be acquired, both respecting our own history and that of other nations;" but it must be by a very different process from that which he has commenced. The various phenomena of national distinctions, especially of language, which remain in our islands, should be diligently ascertained; the most ancient and authentic documents of our national history should be carefully examined ; and these should be compared with the intimations of classical historians and geographers, relative to Britain and other European countries. By such a method, we are confident, much that is fabulous might be detached, much that is obscure might be illustrated, and much that is doubtful might be ascertained, concerning the reruote history of our islands,
Art. VII. Illustrations of Shakspeare, and of Ancient Manners : with Dis
sertations on the Clowns and Fools of Shakspeare; on the Collection of popular Tales, entitled Gesta Romanorum; and on the English Morris Dance. By Francis Douce. 2 vols. 8vo. pp. 528, 497. Price 11.115.6d. Longman and Co. 1807. THE HE liberal and well instructed mind derives both pleasure
and advantage from studies, which the ignorant are unqualified to prosecute, and affect to treat with contempt. An acquaintance, however, with the history of former ages, with the events that have befallen our nation, and the manners adopted by our ancestors, is seldom decried as useless and unworthy of pursuit, even by those who have not acquired it themselves. Disquisitions on the history and use of words have been much less honourably received by general and superficial readers; partly, perhaps, because their value has been overrated by philologists and antiquaries. He who wishes, however, to understand correctly the terms which he uses in daily conversation, will not rest in that slight and undefined know ledge of their meaning which suffices for the common purposes of life ; he will inquire their signification, at earlier periods, and will endeavour to understand them accurately, that he may apply them precisely. With the history of words, indeed, that of manners is in no small degree connected : and the history of manners is that of man. To those who look round with an observanteye, but an uncultivated mind, on the manners of their contemporaries, every caprice and absurdity appears astonishing and unparalleled, and they presently des nounce the age in which these blemishes exist as worse than all that have preceded it. An acquaintance with the opinions and practices of former ages, is necessary to persuade the mind to generalize its observations, and affix and accommodate to the species the estimates it may have formed of individuals. Folly is a prolific tree; like the Banian of India, it sends forth a great multiplicity of branches, some of which flourish more than others at particular times, but which all spring from one root, and tend alike to the earth. The propensities of the human mind are not varied in principle, though they assume different appearances : and it is those only that know not what our forefathers were, who consider them as having been much better, or much wiser than their descendants. The manners of individuals, in the golden days of queen Bess, were strongly marked, as now, by the humour which distinguishes our nation; they were rude, swaggering, extravagant, heedless, independent; compared with those of our own day, they were more gross, without being more honest, less seemly, yet not more sincere.
The dramatic form of writing, wretchedly as it has been perverted to the mest pernicious consequences, and essentially bane
ful as scenic representations have invariably proved, is peculiarly formed to depict and preserve the contemporary manners. In this view, dramatic writers are valuable, according to the accuracy with which they have developed the concealments of the human heart, and the filelity with which they have exposed the maxims and fashions of their age, and “ held up the mirror to nature.” At the head of these, in our nation, and in all others, is Shak-peare; a writer less tainted, than most of bis fellow playwrights, by the profligacy which in his time in. fected both literature and the stage; and not guilty (we speak our sincere conviction,) of by far the major part of those offen. sive passages wbich disfigure his works. Had he published his productions himself, many passages that are now deservedly stigmatized, had never survived to dishonour his memory. With some of these he is doubtless chargeable; but in a large proportion of instances, the severity of censure should only fall on that indifference both to reputation and morality, with which he permitted the degrading interpolations.
In the course of the last century, many ingenious and dili. gent persons employed themselves as editors and commentators of Shakspeare, attempting to restore his text, which had been surprisingly corrupted, and to elucidate his meaning where time had rendered it obscure. They consulted writers, his contemporaries, for illustrations of the peculiar words, or acceptations of words, which he had adopted. Their labours were successful and popular, but, in the prosecution of such inquiries, there was and there continues to be ample occupation for all who are qualified to undertake it.
Mr. Douce has long been known as a gentleman deeply versed in the antiquities of our national literature and manners; and the volumes before us are highly creditable to his taste, his diligence in research, and his skill in our language. The motives that have influenced him in his labours, and the objects that he principally had in view, he has explained in his preface;
• One design (he observes) of these volumes has been to augment the knowledge of our popular customs and antiquities, in which respect alone the writings of Shakespeare have suggested better hints, and furnished am. pler materials than those of any one besides. Other digressions too have been introduced, as it was conceived that they might operate in diminishing that tedium which usually results from an attention to matters purely critical; and that whilst there was almost a certainty of supplying some amusement, there might even be a chance of conveying instruction. Sometimes there has been a necessity for stepping in between two contending critics; and for showing, as in the case of many other disputes, that both parties are in the wrong.
• Some excuse may seem necessary for obtruding on the reader so many
from what Mr. Steevens has somewhere called “ books too mean to be formally quoted.” And yet the wisest among us may be often benefited by the meanest productions of human intellect, if, like medicinal poisons, they be administered with skill.'
PP With this intention, Mr. D. selects a variety of passages from the dramas of Shakspeare, serialim, and elucidates many of them with much skill, and on unquestionable authorities. To these criticisms, he has added, a dissertation on the clowns and fools of Shakspeare: another on that antient and curious collection of fables, the Gesta Romanorum, of which he has discovered two editions, for we know not well by what better name to describe them, thongh one of them has hitherto remained in MS.: and a third dissertation, not the least aunusing, on the ancient English Morris Dance.
A curious instance of the changes which often take place in, the meaning of words, is mentioned in the following note on a passage in the Taming of the Shrew. The term in Matthews's Bible certainly conveyed no ludicrous idea when first adopted ; but were it now retained it would raise a smile in the gravest congregation in London.
• Per. Tush, tush, fear boys with bugs. To fear is to frighten.' In Matthew's Bible, psalm xci. v.5, is thus rendered : “ Thou shalt not nede to be afraied for any bugs by night " in the Hebrew it is “ terror of the night; "a curious passage, evidently alluding to that horrible sensåtion the night-mare, which in all ages has been regarded as the operation of evil spirits. Thus much seemed necessary in explanation or defence of the above most excellent old translation, which we have retained with very lit. tle change in the language ; for the expression, from its influence on a modern ear, might have been liable to a very ludicrous construction. The word buy is originally Celtic, bứg, a ghost or goblin, and hence bug-bear, boggerd, bogle, boggy-bo, and perhaps puz, an old name for the Devil. Boggy-bo seems to signify the spirit Bo, and has been thought, with some pro. bability, to refer to a warrior of that name, the son of Odin, and of great celebrity among the ancient Danes and Norwegians. His name is said to have struck his
enemies with terror, and might have been used by the nurses of those times to frighten children, as that of Marlborough was in Franceon the same occasion. It is remarkable that the Italian women use bau tau, for this
and the French ba bo. It should seem as if bug had: been metaphorically applied to the cimex, that insect being in all respects e terror of the night. Nor was the word used in this sense till late in the sea venteenth century, the old names for the house bug being, wall.louse, wig. louse, chinch, punie, and Jiuneez ; the two last from the French. pp. 328, 329.
Mr.D. comments thus on the expression of Ochello
! Wherein of anties vast and désarts idle. Dr. Johnson has very properly taken notice of Mr. Pope's inadvertency in substituting wild for idle, but whether he is strictly right in regarding this word as “poeti, cally beautiful,” according to Shakspeare's use of it, may : dmit of some doubt. Perhaps in a modern writer it would be poetical, where designed