Page images
PDF
EPUB

Of vivacity as depending on the arrangement of the words,

different languages *. He will discover also, that to render the artificial or conventional arrangement as it were sacred and inviolable, by representing every deviation (whatever be the subject, whatever be the design of the work) as a trespass against the laws of composition in the language, is one of the most effectual ways of stinting the powers of elocution, and even of damping the vigour both of imagination and of passion. I observe this the rather, that in my apprehension, the criticism that prevails amongst us at present leans too much this way. No man is more sensible of the excellence of purity and perspicuity, properly so called; but I would not hastily give up

[ocr errors]

All the French critics are not so immoderately national as Bouhours. Since composing the foregoing observations, I have been shown a book entitled, Traité de la formation mechanique des langues. The sentiments of the author on this subject, are entirely coincident with mine. He refers to some other treatises, particularly to one on Inversion by M. de Batteux, which I have not seen. Concerning it he says, "Ceux qui l'auront lu, verront

66

que c'est le défaut de terminaisons propres à distinguer le nomina "tif de l'accusatif, que nous a forcé à prendre cet ordre moins na"turel qu'on ne le croit: que l'inversion est dans nôtre langue, non "dans la langue latine, comme on se le figure: que les mots étant

plus faits pour l'homme que pour les choses, l'ordre essentiel à "suivre dans le discours représentatif de l'idée des objets n'est pas "tant la marche commune des choses dans la nature, que la succes❝sion véritable des pensées, la rapidité des sentimens, ou de l'intér"êt du cœur, la fidélité de l'image dans le tableau de l'action: que "le latin, en préférant ces points capitaux, procede plus naturel"lement que le françois," &c.

[blocks in formation]

some not inconsiderable advantages of the English tongue, in respect both of eloquence and of poetry, merely in exchange for the French netteté.

[ocr errors]

I SHOULD next proceed to make some remarks on the disposition and the form of the clauses in complex sentences; for though some of the examples already produced are properly complex, in these I have only considered the arrangement of the words in the principal member, and not the disposition of the members. But before I enter on this other discussion, it will be proper to observe, and by some suitable examples to illustrate the observation, that the complex are not so favourable to a vivacious diction as the simple sentences, or such as consist of two clauses at the most.

Of all the parts of speech, the conjunctions are the most unfriendly to vivacity; and next to them the relative pronouns, as partaking of the nature of conjunction. It is by these parts, less significant in themselves, that the more significant parts, particularly the members of complex sentences, are knit together. The frequent recurrence, therefore, of such feeble supplements, cannot fail to prove tiresome, especially in pieces wherein an enlivened and animated diction might naturally be expected. But nowhere hath simplicity in the expression a better effect in invigorating the sentiments, than in poetical description on interesting subjects. Consider the song composed by

[ocr errors]

Of vivacity as depending on the arrangement of the words.

Moses, on occasion of the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, and you will find, that part of the effect produced by that noble hymn is justly imputable to the simple, the abrupt, the rapid manner adopted in the composition. I shall produce only two verses for a specimen. "The enemy said, I will pur"sue: I will overtake: I will divide the spoil: my revenge shall be satiated upon them: I will draw my "sword: my hand shall destroy them :-thou blewest "with thy breath: the sea covered them: they sank “as lead in the mighty waters *." This is the figure which the Greek rhetoricians call asyndeton, and to which they ascribe a wonderful efficacy. It ought to be observed, that the natural connection of the particulars mentioned, is both close and manifest; and it

Exod. xv. 9, 10. The word by our interpreters rendered wind, also denotes spirit, and breath. A similar homonymy in the corresponding term, may be observed not only in the oriental, but in almost all ancient languages. When this noun has the affix pronoun, by which it is appropriated to a person, the signification wind is evidently excluded, and the meaning is limited to either spirit or breath. When it is, besides, construed with the verb blow, the signification spirit is also excluded, and the meaning confined to breath. It is likewise the intention of the inspired penman, to represent the wonderful facility with which Jehovah blasted all the towering hopes of the Egyptians. Add to this, that such a manner is entirely in the Hebrew taste, which considers every great natural object as bearing some relation to the Creator and Sovereign of the universe. The thunder is God's voice; the wind, his breath; the heaven, his throne; the earth, his footstool; the whirlwind and the tempest are the blasts of his nostrils.

Sect. II.

Simple sentences.

66

·

is this consideration which entirely supersedes the artificial signs of that connection, such as conjunctions and relatives. Our translators, (who, it must be acknowledged, are not often chargeable with this fault) have injured one passage in endeavouring to mend it. Literally rendered it stands thus: "Thou sentest forth thy wrath: it consumed them as stubble *." These two simple sentences have appeared to them too much detached. For this reason they have injudiciously combined them into one complex sentence, by inserting the relative which, and thereby weakened the expression. "Thou sentest forth thy wrath, which con"sumed them as stubble." They have also thought fit sometimes to add the conjunction and, when it was not necessary, and might well have been spared.

VOL. II.

If any one perceives not the difference, and consequently is not satisfied of the truth of this doctrine, let him make the following experiment on the song now under review. Let him transcribe it by himself, carefully inserting conjunctions and relatives in every place which will admit them in a consistency with the sense, and then let him try the effect of the whole. If after all he is not convinced, I know no argument in nature that can weigh with him. For this is one of those cases in which the decision of every man's own taste must be final with regard to himself.

* Exod. xv. 7.

T

[ocr errors]

Of vivacity as depending on the arrangement of the words.

BUT those who feel the difference in the effects, will permit such as are so disposed, to speculate a little about the cause. All that comes under the cognizance of our senses, in the operations either of Nature or of Art, is the causes which precede, and the effects which follow. Hence is suggested to the mind, the notion of power, agency, or causation. This notion or idea (call it which you please) is from the very frame of our nature suggested, necessarily suggested, and often instantaneously suggested; but still it is suggested, and not perceived. I would not choose to dispute with any man about a word, and therefore lest this expression should appear exceptionable, I declare my meaning to be only this, that it is conceived by the understanding, and not perceived by the senses, as the causes and the effects themselves often are. Would you then copy Nature in a historical or descriptive poem, present to our imaginations the causes and the effects in their natural order; the suggestion of the power or agency which connects them will as necessarily result from the lively image you produce in the fancy, as it results from the perception of the things themselves when they fall under the cognizance of the senses.

BUT if you should take the other method, and connect with accuracy where there is relation; and, with the help of conjunctions and relatives, deduce with care effects from their causes, and allow nothing of the kind to pass unnoticed in the description, in lieu of a picture, you will present us with a piece of reasoning or declamation. Would you, on the contrary, give to

« PreviousContinue »