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of this, no better illustration can be produced than the following passage from Milton, quoted by Mr. Smith, in which the poet has pushed the inversion and transposition of words so far beyond the genius of our language, as to render his meaning, if not altogether unintelligible, at least extremely obscure to those who are not acquainted with the lines in Ho-, race, of which it is a translation :
These remarks of Mr. Smith are important, and, at the time of their publication, they had, at least, in this country, all the merit of novelty; but they do not exhaust the subject, and, therefore, I shall take the liberty of following out the speculation a little farther.
In considering this difference between the genius of ancient and modern languages, two things are to be attended to, which have been often confounded by critics. 1st, The ordinary arrangement of words in common conversation. And, 2d, the deranged collocation in rhetorical and poetical composition. The first of these has been very well considered by Batteux,t and Monboddo ;£ both of whom have shown, that the arrangement of words, in the ancient tongues, was, in some respects, more natural than in purs; that the sentence fractum da mihi (for example) is, in'one view, arranged more naturallyş
• Lord Monboddo is of opinion that Milton intended this translation to serve as a proof how inferior, in point of composition, the English is to the Latin.(Origin and Progress of Language, Vol. I. p. 130.) But this is by no means probable
. Milton in his greatest poetical work, and still more remarkably in his prose writings, has shown a disposition to assimilate the style of English composition to that of the Latin, in a far greater degree than suits the genius of our language.
This translation, which must undoubtedly be considered as a sort of tour de force, seems to have been meant to show, that the English tongue is susceptible of a much greater latitude of transposition than is commonly ima. gined.
Principes de Litterature. Vol. V. Origin and Progress of Language. G“ such an arrangement”
(as Dr. Blair observes, Lecture VII.) “ is precisely putting into words the gesture which nature taught the savage to make, before “ he was acquainted with words ;”--that is, he would first point to the object, and then to himself.
than the sentence give me fruit. * But this and similar observations throw no light on the deranged collocation familiar to us in the classical authors, and which was regulated by principles of a perfectly different nature. What these principles were, it is impossible for us now to ascertain ; but, in general, we know, that although the latitude of arrangement was great, it was not unlimited. Quintilian produces some instances of inversions, which he thinks blameable, that would scarce appear to us inversions at all. The following sentence in Cicero, pro Cluentio, he thinks, needs an apology : “ Animadverti « Judices omnem accusatoris orationein in duas divisam esse " partes.-In duas partes divisam esse, rectum est, sed durum “ et incomptum.” Some transpositions, he says, are entirely peculiar to poetry, and are not admissible in prose ; as in Virgil, “ Hyperboreo septem subjecta Trioni :-quod ora" tio," he adds) “ nequaquam recipiet."
Although, however, these passages show clearly that the collocation of words in the ancient languages was an affair of much greater nicety than our modern composers in Latin are
It appears from Humboldt, that this natural arrangement prevails in the languages of the American Indians, which are certainly as well entitled as any we know, to the appellation of original or primitive. “ The arrangement of words” (he observes) " in the Chayma, is such as is found in every language of both con- tinents which has preserved a certain air of youth. The object is placed before " the verb, the verb before the personal pronoun. The object on which the at" tention should be principally fixed, precedes all modifications of that object. " The American would say, liberty complete love we; instead of, we love com“ plete liberty:-thee with happy am I; instead of, I am happy with thee. There s is something direct, firm, demonstrative, in these turns, the simplicity of which " is augmented by the absence of the article. Ought we to admit that, with an " advanced civilization, these nations, left to themselves, would have changed by “ degrees the arrangement of their phrases ? We are led to adopt this idea, when 66 we recollect the changes which the syntax of the Romans has undergone, in “ the precise, clear, but somewhat timid languages of Latin Europe.”—Personal Narrative, &c. Vol. III. p.
261. I quote from the admirable English version by Helen Maria Williams. Such a translator, faithful, at once, and elegant, falls to the lot of few authors.
* See on the same subject, Diderot's Lettre sur les Sourds et Muets.
On the subject of inversions Diderot has made a very ingenious remark, which deserves to be prosecuted.
“ Nousommes peut-être redevables à la philosophie Péripatécienne, qui a réa“lisé tous les êtres généraux et Métaphysiques, de n'avoir presque plus dans no“ tre langue de ce que nous appellons des inversions dans les langues anciennes: “ En effet nos auteurs Gaulois en ont beaucoup plus que nous, et cette philosophie " a regné tandis que notre langue se perfectionnoit sous Louis XIII. et sous Louis “ XIV. Les Anciens, qui généralisoient moins, et qui étudioient plus la Nature “ en détail et par individus, avoient dans leur langue une marche moins monotone, “ té peut-être le mot d'inversion eût-il été fort étrange pour eux. Vous ne m'ob
jecterez point, ici, Monsieur, que la Philosophie Péripatécienne est celle d’Ari“ stote et par consequent d'une partie des anciens ; car vous apprendrez sans “ doute à vos disciples que notre Péripatéticisme étoit bien différent de celui
apt to imagine ; it is abundantly obvious, on the other hand, that the writers, and speakers who made use of them, enjoyed latitude in the construction of their sentences, to which there is nothing which can be compared in the languages of modern Europe.
It is easy to conceive, how much this latitude in the arrangement of words must have contributed to the harmony and variety of style in ancient composition. But a still more important advantage arose from this, that it enabled the writers or speakers to arrange the different ideas comprehended in a sentence, in that order which is most pleasing to the imagination, or which produces the happiest effects. The following line is mentioned by Batteux as an illustration of this remark.
“ Me, me, adsum qui feci, in me convertite ferrum
The order of words here corresponds exactly with the order of passions or emotions in the mind of the speaker, and gives a spirit to the expression, which it is impossible to preserve in a modern translation. In the following passage, too, of Horace, the mere arrangement of words, particularly the position of the concluding word, produces a pathetic effect which must unavoidably be lost in any English or French version:
- Te maris et terræ numeroque carentis arenæ
The only other instance I shall mention is the arrangement of the words which Virgil puts in the mouth of Eurydice,
“ Feror ingenti circumdata nocte,
Well might Marmontel ask, “ Delille a-t-il pu faire entendre ce non tua désespérant ?"* And yet (with the exception of the worse than useless epithet applied to death) Delille seems to have succeeded as well as the genius of the French tongue admitted of.
• Adieu mon her Orphée; Eurydice expirante
* Ervres Posthumes de Marmontel, Tome I. p. 322.
« L'horrible mort jetant son voile autour de moi
Even in the modern tongues the slight inversions of which they admit have sometimes a singularly happy effect, particularly in poetry, as in these words of Milton, the force and vivacity of which need no comment:
“ Out flew—millions of flaming swords."*
Upon this head of transposition we may remark further, that in consequence of the order observed in the ancient languages, more especially the Latin, the attention of the reader or hearer was kept up completely to the end of the period, where the verb, which is the key of the sentence, was generally to be found. I have elsewhere compared the effect produced by this position of the verb to that of the mirror in a well known optical experiment, by which the apparently shapeless daubings in an anamorphosis are so reformed as to be converted into a beautiful picture.
Quintilian tells us, that every transgression of this rule was a deviation from the established habit of arrangement.--- Verbo " sensum cludere, multo, si compositio patiatur, optimum est. - In verbis enim sermonis vis inest.” He adds, - Sine du" bio omne quod non cludet, hyperbaton est." In our modern languages, the first half of a sentence is no sooner pronounced, than the rest may be anticipated ; and hence it is impossible for a modern discourse to maintain that incessant hold of the hearers attention which was secured by the nature of the lan
* A similar beauty is observable in the following lines of Parnell's Hermit:
- Thus when a smooth expanse receives imprest
Down bend the banks, the trees depending grow,
66 And skies beneath with answering colours glow." In that fine line, too, of Gray,
- Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap."
With what picturesque force does the inverted position of the verb heaves present the image of the broken ground in a crowded church-yard!
The same artifice is employed in various other passages of this elegy, and always with consummate taste and skill.
“ Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight.”
in which the ancient orators spoke ; nor is it possible, to the same degree, to give to every word and phrase their full effect on the imagination or the heart. The ancients compar. ed the period which word Teplodos literally means a circuit) to a sling which throws out the stone after many revolutions ; and Cicero ascribes to this skilful combination of words a great part of the effects produced by the eloquence of Demosthenes. “ Demosthenis non tam vibrarent fulmina, nisi numeris contorta ferentur.
I already hinted, that the deranged collocation of words in the rhetorical compositions of the ancients, was perfectly different from what they themselves considered as the natural order, and which they used in conversation. Of this we may judge from their easy epistolary style; and from that of their dialogues, in which (even in those written by Cicero) there is not nearly so much of inversion and transposition as in their histories and orations. Lord Monboddo observes, that "in " Cicero's Letters ad Familiares,t the arrangement is such, “that the words may be translated into English, in an order "not very different from that in which they stand in the ori"ginal. The same author takes notice of “the simple and “natural arrangement of the words employed in the laws and " decrees both of the Greeks and the Romans.” In Demosthenes we have several of these inserted in his orations, where the arrangement of the words is very different from what it is in the composition of the orator. The same inartificial order of words may be remarked in the Roman laws, or senatus consulta, and in the edicts of their prætors preserved to us in the collection of their laws made by the emperor Justinian. I
It is easy to conceive, from what was formerly said on the association of ideas, how much this specific distinction between the ordinary, and the rhetorical or poetical style of ex
* Orator ad Brutum, LXX.
I must own, however, that Lord Monboddo seems to me to consider, not without reason, this general rule in Latin composition with respect to the position of the verb, as necessarily tending to produce a monotony in the style of their best writers. To illustrate this, he quotes two sentences from the beginning of Cæsar's Commentaries, where not only both sentences terminate with a verh, but in general the several members of each sentence. “ Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belga, propterea quod a cultu atque humanitate provinciæ longissime absunt, minimeque ad eos mercatores sæpe comeant, atque ea, quæ ad effeminandos animos pertinent, important." “ Proximi sunt Germanis, qui trans Rhenum in"colunt, quibuscun continenter bellum gerunt: qua de causa Helvetii quoque reliquos Gallos virtute præcedunt, quod fere quotidianis præliis cum Germanis
contendunt, quum aut suis finibus eos prohibent, aut ipsi in eorum finibus bel" lum gerunt.” –Origin and Progress of Language, Vol. IV. pp. 232, 233.
| The 16th Book of his Letters.