Page images
[blocks in formation]

freedom almost to idolatry, voluntarily hamper ourselves in the trammels of the French academy? Not that I think we should disdain to receive instruction from any quarter, from neighbours, or even from enemies. But as we renounce implicit faith in more important matters, let us renounce it here too. Before we adopt any new measure or limitation, by the practice of whatever nation it comes recommended to us, let us give it an impartial examination, that we may not, like servile imitators, copy the bad with the good. The rules of our language should breathe the same spirit with the laws of our country. They ought to prove bars against licentiousness, without being checks to liberty.

SECT. III....Modern languages compared with Greek and Latin, particularly in regard to the composition of sentences.

BEFORE I Conclude this chapter, I must beg leave to offer a few general remarks on the comparison of modern languages with Greek and Latin. This I am the rather disposed to do, that it will serve further to illustrate the principles above laid down. I make no doubt but the former have some advantages in respect of perspicuity. I think not only that the disposition of the words, according to certain stated rules, may be made more effectually to secure the sentence against ambiguous construction, than can be done VOL. II.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Of the connectives employed in combining the parts of a sentence.

merely by inflection, but even that an habitual method of arranging words which are in a certain way related to one another, must, from the natural influence of habit, on the principle of association, even where there is no risk of misconstruction, more quickly suggest the meaning, than can be done in the freer and more varied methods made use of in those ancient languages. This holds especially with regard to Latin, wherein the number of equivocal inflections is considerably greater than in Greek; and wherein there are no articles, which are of unspeakable advantage, as for several other purposes, so in particular for ascertaining the construction. But whilst the latter, though in this respect inferior, are, when skilfully managed, by no means ill adapted for perspicuous expression, they are, in respect of vivacity, elegance, animation, and variety of harmony, incomparably superior. I shall at present consider their advantage principally in point of vivacity, which in a great measure, when the subject is of such a nature as to excite passion, secures animation also.

IN the first place, the brevity that is attainable in these languages gives them an immense superiority. Some testimonies in confirmation of this remark may be obtained by comparing the Latin examples of antithesis quoted in the notes of the second section of the preceding chapter, with any English translation that can be made of these passages. And I suspect, if a version were attempted into any other European

Sect. III. Modern languages compared with Greek and Latin, &c.

tongue, the success would not be much better. It is remarkable, that in any inscription in which it is intended to convey something striking or emphatical, we can scarcely endure a modern language. Latin is almost invariably employed for this purpose in all the nations of Europe. Nor is this the effect of caprice or pedantry, as some perhaps will be apt to imagine. Neither does it proceed merely, as others will suppose, from the opinion that that language is more universally understood; for I suspect that this is a prerogative which will be warmly contested by the French; but it proceeds from the general conviction there is, of its superiority in point of vivacity. That we may be satisfied of this, let us make a trial, by translating any of the best Latin inscriptions or mottos which we remember, and we shall quickly perceive, that what charms us expressed in their idiom, is scarcely supportable when rendered into our own. The

* Let us make the experiment on the inscriptions of some of the best devices or emblems that are extant. I shall give a few examples, for illustration's sake, from the sixth of Bouhour's Entretiens d'Ariste et d'Eugene, called Les devises. The first shall be, that of a starry sky without the moon, as representing an assembly of the fair, in which the lover finds not the object of his passion. The motto is, "Non mille quod absens." In English we must say, "A thousand cannot equal one that is absent." Another instance shall be that of a rock in the midst of a tempestuous sea, to denote a hero, who with facility baffles all the assaults of his enemies. The motto, " Conantia frangere frangit." In English," I "break the things which attempt to break me." In this example

[ocr errors]

Of the connectives employed in combining the parts of a sentences.

luggage of particles, such as pronouns, prepositions, and auxiliary verbs, from which it is impossible for us entirely to disincumber ourselves, clogs the expression, and enervates the sentiment.

But it is not in respect of brevity only that the an

we are obliged to change the person of the verb, that the words may be equally applicable, both in the literal sense and in the figurative, an essential point in this exercise of ingenuity. The personal pronoun in our language must always be expressed before the verb. Now the neuter it will not apply to the hero, nor the masculine be to the rock; whereas the first person applies equally to both. The third instance shall be that of the ass eating thistles, as an emblem of a parasite who serves as a butt to the company that entertain him. The motto, 66 Pungent dum saturent." English, "Let them sting me, provided they fill my belly." In all these, how nervous is the expression in the original; how spiritless in the translation! Nor is this recourse to a multitude of words peculiar to us. All European languages labour, though not equally, under the same inconvenience. For the French, take Bouhour's version of the preceding mottos. ne valent

[ocr errors]


pas ce que vaut une absente."



The first is,
The second, "Il brise

ce qui fait effort pour le briser." This version is not perfectly adequate. The Latin implies a number of enemies, which is not implied here. Better thus, " Il brise les choses qui font effort pour "le briser." The third is, "Qu'ils me piquent, pourveu qu'ils me "saouillent." These are in no respect superior to the English. The Italian and the Spanish answer here a little better. Bouhours himself, who is extremely unwilling, even in the smallest matters, to acknowledge any thing like a defect or imperfection in the French tongue, is nevertheless constrained to admit, that it is not well adapted for furnishing such mottos and inscriptions.

Sect. III.

Modern languages compared with Greek and Latin, &c.

cient tongues above mentioned are capable of a more vivid diction, than the modern. For when, in the declensions and conjugations, the inflection, as is frequently the case, is attended with an increase of the number of syllables, the expression on the whole cannot always be denominated briefer, even when it consists of fewer words. However, as was observed before, when the construction is chiefly determined by inflection, there is much ampler scope for choice in the arrangement, and consequently the speaker hath it much more in his power to give the sentence that turn which will serve most to enliven it.

Bur even this is not all the advantage they derive from this particularity in their structure. The various terminations of the same word, whether verb or noun, are always conceived to be more intimately united with the term which they serve to lengthen, than the additional, detached, and in themselves insignificant, syllables or particles, which we are obliged to employ as connectives to our significant words. Our method gives almost the same exposure to the one as to the other, making the insignificant parts and the significant equally conspicuous; theirs much oftener sinks, as it were, the former into the latter, at once preserving their use, and hiding their weakness. Our modern languages may in this respect be compared to the art of carpentry in its rudest state, when the union of the materials employed by the artisan, could be effected only by the help of those external and

« PreviousContinue »