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Be it thine to save
AN apostrophe to Ambition, in which the poet laments the misery and the mischief which she and her attendants, Terror and Danger, Pride and Contention, have entailed upon mankind under the specious name of glory, opens the fifth book of Arthur. Lancelot is then described, as morning beams, marshalling his troops, and after addressing them in the most animating language, he assigns to Fiacha, an Irish king, the conduct of that part of the army which he destines for the attack of the Norwegians assembled under the command of Hacon, whilst he himself, assisted by Hoel, confronts. the Danes and Saxons led on by Waldemar.
The British and their allies commence the engagement by Fiacha's march against the division of Hacon, who, kindling at the view, rushes for
wards to the head of his warriors, and orders his bards to sing the song of battle, including a description of Odin, and of his punishment of the coward, and reward of the brave, which inspires his worshippers with the most enthusiastic military ardour. The action now becomes general, and Hacon and his son Sweno particularly distinguish themselves. The latter, a youth of great promise, brave and generous beyond his compeers, and the grace and pride of his country, seems deservedly a favourite with the poet, and his deeds of heroism are minutely recorded. One of the most pleasing features of epic poetry, from Homer to the present day, has consisted of those little sketches which are so frequently given of the fallen heroes, when expiring beneath the might of their opponents, and which, from their usually mournful and pathetic strain, form a contrast so delightful with the surrounding scenes of ferocity and carnage. Mr. Hole has been often singularly fortunate in the introduction of these touches of valedictory tenderness, or domestic affection ; and in no case has he been more so, than where describing the death of Conal, as he sinks beneath the arm of Sweno, he
beautifully adds, in the very tone and spirit of Ossian,
Unconscious of her much-loved hero's fall, Ithona sits in Thomond's lofty hall, And bids the bards to him awake their lays— For who like Conal claimed the mead of praise? Sudden, ere yet they touch'd the warbling wire, Burst mournful sounds instinctive from the lyre: And lo! the dogs, companions of the chase, In shuddering terror gaze on vacant space. Their lord's sad image rises to their view; Faint gleam his arms, and pallid is his hue. His dimly-rolling eyes on Thomond's fair In grief he bends; then borne aloft in air, And wrapt in darkness on the gale he flies; Deep mourn the faithful train, and howlings wild arise. She marks the signs that speak her hero low; Rends her dark tresses, beats her breast of snow, And gives her days to solitary Woe".
B. v. p. 143.
* “The images in this passage are borrowed from Ossian. * It was formerly the opinion,’ says Mr. Macpherson, ‘that the souls of heroes went immediately after their death to the hills of their country, and the scenes they frequented the most happy times of their life. It was thought too, that dogs and horses saw the ghosts of the deceased.’ The opinion that dogs perceived the appearance of any supernatural being prevailed likewise in ancient Greece. Those of Eumaeus (Odyss. B. xvi. 1, 62.) are described as being Hacon in the mean time singles out the Irish monarch, who is performing prodigies of valour, as the object most worthy of his sword. He fails, however, in his attack, for his courser being struck dead by the ponderous mace of Fiacha, he is thrown prostrate at the feet of his enemy, and the same weapon is about to extinguish his own existence, when Sweno rushes to his aid, and directing his spear beneath the uplifted arm of Fiacha, pierces through his chest, and the brave Hibernian falls bathed in gore.
Panic-struck at this disastrous event, the Irish give way in every direction, and it is probable that the British would have shared the calamity, had
not Arthur at this critical moment appeared on the field:
terrified at the sight of Minerva, though at the same time she was invisible to Telemachus. It is remarkable that a similar kind of superstition should still prevail among our country people; but Addison drew from real life when he represents a servant terrified at ‘ the candle's burning blue, and the spayed bitch's looking as if she saw something.' To which the others answer very characteristically: ‘Ay, poor cur, she is almost frightened out of her wits;–I warrant
ye she hears him (the supposed ghost) many a time, and often when we don't,'”—Hole.
Lo! darting through the plain, in arms whose blaze
B. v. p. 147.
In short, the presence and invincible ardour of the British prince turn the fortune of the day; all rally around him, and rushing on the hitherto victorious Norwegians, he encounters Sweno, who had as yet found no equal. The result of the contest is the fall of this noble youth, whose death, and the consequent anguish of his father, are painted by the poet in strains worthy of the tenderness of Virgil.
Hurl’d from his seat, beside the stream he lies;
B. v. p. 149.