« PreviousContinue »
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." In 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. pas ce que vaut une absente."
The first is, “Mille 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 "saouïllent." 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 me thod 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
Of the connectives employed in combining the parts of a sentence.
coarse implements, pins, nails, and cramps. The ancient languages resemble the same art in its most improyed state, after the invention of dovetail joints, grooves, and mortices, when thus all the principal junctions are effected by forming properly the extremities or terminations of the pieces to be joined. For by means of these the union of the parts is rendered closer, whilst that by which their union is produced is scarce perceivable.
ADDISON, if I remember right, somewhere compares an epic poem, (and the same holds, though in a lower degree, of every other literary production) written in Greek or in Latin, to a magnificent edifice, built of marble, porpy hry, or granite; and contrasts with it such a poem or performance in one of our modern languages, which he likens to such a building executed in freestone, or any of those coarser kinds of stone which abound in some northern climates. The latter may be made to answer all the essential purposes of accommodation as well as the former; but as the materials of which it is constructed, are not capable of receiving the same polish, and consequently cannot admit some of the finer decorations, it will not only be inferior in beauty, but its imitative ornaments will be much less lively and expressive. It may nevertheless be equal to the other both in grandeur and in utility. If the representations that have been given of the Chinese language are genuine, if all their words are monosyllabic and indeclinable, if every relation and circumstance, even time and number, must be
Modern languages compared with Greek and Latin, &c.
expressed by separate particles, I should think a performance in their tongue might be justly compared to a building in brick, which may be both neat and convenient, but which hardly admits the highly ornamented finishing of any order of architecture, or indeed any other species of beauty than that resulting from the perception of fitness. But this only by the
If I might be indulged one other similitude, I should remark, that the difference between the ancient Greek and Latin, and the modern European languages, is extremely analagous to the difference there is between their garb and ours. The latter will perhaps be admitted to be equally commodious, possibly for some purposes more so; but with its trumpery of buttons and button-holes, ligatures and plaits formally opposed to one another, it is stiff and unnatural in its appearance; whereas the easy flow and continually varied foldings of the former, are at once more graceful, and better adapted for exhibiting nature in shape, attitude, and motion, to advantage. The human figure is, I may say, burlesqued in the one habit, and adorned by the other. Custom, which can conciliate us to any thing, prevents us from seeing this in ourselves and in one another; but we quickly perceive the difference in pictures and statues. Nor is there a painter or a statuary of eminence who is not perfectly sensible of the odds, and who would not think his art degraded in being employed to exhibit the reigning mode. Nay,
Of the connectives employed in combining the parts of a sentence.
in regard to the trifling changes, for they are but trifling, which fashion is daily making on our garments, how soon are we ourselves brought to think ridiculous, what we accounted proper, not to say elegant, but two or three years ago; whereas no difference in the fashions of the times and of the country, can ever bring a man of taste to consider the drapery of the toga or of the pallium, as any way ludicrous or offensive.
PERHAPS I have carried the comparison farther than was at first intended. What hath been said, however, more regards the form or structure, than the matter, of the languages compared. Notwithstanding the preference given above in point of form to the ancient tongues, the modern may, in point of matter, (or the words of which the language is composed) be superior to them. I am inclined to think that this is actually the case of some of the present European tongues. The materials which constitute the riches of a language, will always bear a proportion to the acquisitions in knowledge made by the people. For this reason, I should not hesitate to pronounce that English is considerably richer than Latin, and in the main fitter for all the subtle disquisitions both of philosophy and of criticism. If I am more doubtful in regard to the preference, when our tongue is compared with Greek, notwithstanding the superiority of our knowledge in arts and sciences, the reason of my doubt is, the amazing ductility of that language, by which