An introduction to the history of Great Britain and Ireland: By James Macpherson, ...
Macpherson, James, 1736-1796.

The Paradise of the ancient British Nations.

* The ancient inhabitants of Britain, to enjoy the felicity of a future state, as|cended not into heaven with the Chris|tians, nor dived under the ocean with the poets of Greece and Rome. Their Page  189 FLATH-INNIS, or NOBLE ISLAND*, lay surrounded with tempest, in the Western ocean. Their brethren on the continent, in an early period, placed the seats of the Blessed in Britain; but the Britons themselves, as we shall have occasion to shew, removed their Fortu|nate Island very far to the west of their own country.

* The ancients are extremely imperfect in their accounts of the pleasures which the Celtae enjoyed in their future state; neither does the Islandic Edda, now in the hands of the learned, supply that de|fect. The nations to the North and East of the Baltic were a very different race of men from the more ancient inhabitants of the rest of Europe. It was after the tyranny and civilization of the Romans had broken the spirit, and destroyed the virtues of the Celtae, that the Sarmatic Tartars of the East and North advanced into the South, and established their opinions in the regions which they sub|dued. It is therefore in vain to trace the speculative ideas of the ancient Bri|tons, concerning their NOBLE ISLAND, in the legends of Odin's Hall.

Page  190* On this subject we must derive our in|telligence from a domestic source. The Scottish bards, with their compositions in verse, conveyed to posterity some poetical romances in prose. One of those tales, which tradition has brought down to our times, relates to the Paradise of the Celtic nations. The following extract will con|tribute to illustrate the detached infor|mations which the writers of Greece and Rome have transmitted from antiquity, concerning the Fortunate Islands.

"In former days," says the bard, "there lived in SKERR* a magician of high renown. The blast of wind waited for his commands at the gate; he rode the tempest, and the troubled wave offered itself as a pillow for his re|pose. His eye followed the sun by day; his thoughts travelled from star to star in the season of night. He thirsted after Page  191 things unseen. He sighed over the narrow circle which surrounded his days. He often sat in silence beneath the sound of his groves; and he blamed the careless billows that rolled between him and the green Isle of the West."

"One day, as the magician of SKERR sat thoughtful upon a rock, a storm arose on the sea: A cloud, under whose squally skirts the foaming waters complained, rushed suddenly into the bay; and from its dark womb at once issued forth a boat with its white sails bent to the wind, and hung round with a hundred moving oars: But it was destitute of mariners; itself seeming to live and move. An unusual terror seized the aged magician: He heard a voice though he saw no human form.

"Arise, behold the boat of the heroes—arise, and see the green Isle of those who have passed away§."

"He felt a strange force on his limbs: he saw no person; but he moved to the boat. The wind immediately changed. In the bosom of the cloud he sailed away. Seven days gleamed faintly round him; seven nights added their gloom to his darkness. His ears were stunned with shrill voices. The dull murmur of winds Page  192 passed him on either side. He slept not; but his eyes were not heavy: he ate not, but he was not hungry. On the eighth day the waves swelled into mountains; the boat rocked violently from side to side. The darkness thickened around him, when a thousand voices at once cried aloud,

"The Isle, the Isle."
The billows opened wide before him; the calm land of the departed rushed in light on his eyes*."

"It was not a light that dazzled, but a pure, distinguishing, and placid light, which called forth every object to view in their most perfect form. The Isle spread large before him like a pleasing dream of the soul; where distance fades not on the sight; where nearness fatigues not the eye. It had its gently-sloping hills of green; nor did they wholly want their clouds: But the clouds were bright and transparent; and each involved in its bosom the source of a stream; a beaute|ous stream, which, wandering down the Page  193 steep, was like the faint notes of the half|touched harp to the distant ear. The valleys were open, and free to the ocean; trees loaded with leaves, which scarcely waved to the light breeze, were scattered on the green declivities and rising grounds. The rude winds walked not on the moon|tain; no storm took its course through the sky. All was calm and bright; the pure sun of autumn shone from his blue sky on the fields. He hastened not to the West for repose; nor was he seen to rise from the East. He sits in his mid-day height, and looks obliquely on the Noble Isle."

"In each valley is its slow-moving stream. The pure waters swell over the banks, yet abstain from the fields. The showers disturb them not; nor are they lessened by the heat of the sun. On the rising hill are the halls of the departed—the high-roofed dwellings of the heroes of old."

* Thus far is the Tale worthy of transla|tion. Incoherent fables succeed the de|scription; and the employments of the Blessed in their Fortunate Island differ, in no respect, from the amusements of the most uncultivated inhabitants of a moun|tainous country. The bodies with which the bard clothes his departed heroes have more grace, and are more active, than Page  194 those they left behind them in this world; and he describes with peculiar elegance the beauty of the women. After a very transient vision of the NOBLE ISLE, the magician of Skerr returned home in the same miraculous manner in which he had been carried across the ocean. But though in his own mind he comprehended his absence in sixteen days, he found every thing changed at his return. No trace of his habitation remained; he knew not the face of any man. He was even forced, says the Tale, to make inquiry concern|ing himself; and tradition had scarcely carried down his name to the generation who then possessed the Island of SKERR. Two complete centuries had passed away since his departure; so imperceptible was the flight of time in the felicity of the Celtic Paradise.

* The departed, according to the Tale, retained in the midst of their happiness a warm affection for their country and liv|ing friends. They sometimes visited the first; and by the latter, as the bard ex|presses it, they were transiently seen in the hour of peril, and especially on the near approach of death. It was then that at midnight the death-devoted, to use the words of the Tale, were sud|denly awakened by a strange knocking at their gates; it was then that they heard Page  195 the undistinct voice of their departed friends calling them away to the Noble Isle*.—

"A sudden joy,"
continues the Author of the Tale,
"rushed in upon their minds: and that pleasing melancholy, which looks forward to happiness in a distant land."
It is worthy of being re|marked, that though those who died a natural death were not excluded from the Celtic Paradise, the more pleasant divi|sions of the FLATH-INNIS, or NOBLE ISLE, were assigned to men who fell in war.

* The animated descriptions which the Druids and Bards gave of FLATH-INNIS, or the NOBLE ISLE, rendered the Celtic nations careless about a transitory life which must terminate in happiness. They threw away with indifference the burden when it galled them, and became in some measure independent of fortune in her worst extreme. They met death in the field with elevation and joy of mind; they sought after him with Page  196 eagerness when oppressed with disease, or worn out with age. To the same cause, and not to a want of docility of dispo|sition and temper, we ought to ascribe their small progress in the arts of civil life before the Phoenicians and Greeks, with their commerce, and the Romans, with their arms, introduced a taste for luxury into the regions of the West and North.