Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

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 re

venge 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

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

as

* Exod. xv. 9, 10. The word by our interpreters rendered wind, also denotes spirit, and breaih. A similar homonymy in the corresponding term, may be observed not only in the oriental, but in almost all ancient îanguages. 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.

[blocks in formation]

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.

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.

[blocks in formation]

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 conneet 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

[blocks in formation]

reasoning itself the force and vivacity of painting, fol. low the method first prescribed, and that even when you represent the energy of spiritual causes, which were never subjected to the scrutiny of sense. You will thus convert a piece of abstruse reflection, which; however just, makes but a slender impression upon the mind, into the most affecting and instructive imagery.

Ir is in this manner the psalmist treats that mosť sublime, and at the same time most abstract of all subjects, the providence of God. With what success he treats it, every person of taste and sensibility will judge. After a few strictures on the life of man, and of the inferior animals, to whatever element, air, or earth, or water, they belong, he thus breaks forth : “ These “ wait all upon thee, that thou mayest give them their “ meat in due season. Thou givest them. They ga“ ther. Thou openest thy hand. They are filled “ with good. Thou hidest thy face. They are “ troubled. Thou takest away their breath. They " die and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth.

thy Spirit. They are created. Thou renewest the “ face of the earth *". It must be acknowledged, that it is not every subject, no, nor every kind of composition, that requires, or even admits the use of such glowing colours. The psalm''is of the nature of the ode, being, properly defined, a sacred ode; and it is allowed, that this species of poesy demands more fire than any

[ocr errors]

other.

* Psalms, civ. 27, 28, 29, 30.

Of vivacity as depending on che arrangement of the words.

It may indeed be thought, that the vivacity resulting from this manner of composing is sufficiently accounted for, from the brevity which it occasions, and of which I have had access formerly to treat. It is an undoubted truth, that the brevity here contributes to the force of the expression, but it is not solely to this principle that the effect is to be ascribed. A good taste will discern a difference in a passage already quoted from the song of Moses, as it stands in our version, and as it is literally rendered from the Hebrew * ; though in both, the number of words, and even of syllables, is the same, Observe also, the expression of the psalmist, who, having compared man, in respect of duration, to a flower, says concerning the latter, “ The wind passeth over it, and it is gone t." Had he said, “ The wind passing over it, destroys it,” he had expressed the same sentiment in fewer words, but more weakly.

[ocr errors]

But it may be objected, If such is the power of the figure asyndeton, and if the conjunctive particles are naturally the weakest parts in a sentence, whence comes it that the figure polysyndeton, the reverse of the former, should be productive of that energy which thetoricians ascribe to it? I answer, the cases 'must be very different which require such opposite methods. Celerity of operation, and fervour in narration, are best expressed by the first. A deliberate attention to

* Exod. xv. 7.

+ Psal. ciii. 16.

« PredošláPokračovať »