Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

necessary to the length and complexity of sentences, in order to make this interdependency felt, hence it is that the Germans have no eloquence. The construction of German prose tends to such immoderate length of sentences, that no effect of intermodification can ever be apparent. Each sentence, stuffed with innumerable clauses of restriction, and other parenthetical circumstances, becomes a separate section an independent whole. But, without insisting on Lord Brougham's oversights, or errors of defect, I will digress a moment to one positive caution of his, which will measure the value of his philosophy on this subject. He lays it down for a rule of indefinite application, that the Saxon part of our English idiom is to be favored at the expense of that part which has so happily coalesced with the language from the Latin or Greek. This fancy, often patronized by other writers, and even acted upon, resembles that restraint which some metrical writers have imposed upon themselves of writing a long copy of verses, from which some particular letter, or from each line of which some different letter should be carefully excluded. What followed? Was the reader sensible, in the practical effect upon his ear, of any beauty attained? By no means; all the difference, sensibly perceived, lay in the occasional constraints and affectations to which the writer had been driven by his self-imposed necessities. The same chimera exists in Germany; and so much farther is it carried, that one great puritan in this heresy (Wolf) has published a vast dictionary, the rival of Adelung's, for the purpose of expelling every word of foreign origin and composition out of the language, by assigning some equivalent term spun out from pure native Teutonic materials. Bayonet, for example, is patriotically rejected, because a word may be readily compounded tantamount

to musket-dirk; and this sort of composition thrives showily in the German, as a language running into composition with a fusibility only surpassed by the Greek.

But what good purpose is attained by such caprices? In three sentences the sum of the philosophy may be stated. It has been computed (see Duclos) that the Italian opera has not above six hundred words in its whole vocabulary: so narrow is the range of its emotions, and so little are those emotions disposed to expand themselves into any variety of thinking. The same remark applies to that class of simple, household, homely passion, which belongs to the early ballad poetry. Their passion is of a quality more venerable, it is true, and deeper than that of the opera, because more permanent and co-extensive with human life; but it is not much wider in its sphere, nor more apt to coalesce with contemplative or philosophic thinking. Pass from these narrow fields of the intellect, where the relations of the objects are so few and simple, and the whole prospect so bounded, to the immeasurable and sea-like arena upon which Shakspeare careers co-infinite with life itselfyes, and with something more than life. Here is the other pole, the opposite extreme. And what is the choice of diction? What is the lexis? Is it Saxon exclusively, or is it Saxon by preference? So far from that, the Latinity is intense not, indeed, in his construction, but in his choice of words; and so continually are these Latin words used, with a critical respect to their earliest (and where that happens to have existed, to their unfigurative) meaning, that, upon this one argument, I would rely for upsetting the else impregnable thesis of Dr. Farmer as to Shakspeare's learning. Nay, I will affirm that, out of this regard to the Latin acceptation of Latin words, may be

For

absolutely explained the Shakspearian meaning of certain words, which has hitherto baffled all his critics. instance, the word modern, of which Dr. Johnson professes himself unable to explain the rationale or principle regulating its Shakspearian use, though he felt its value, it is to be deduced thus: First of all, change the pronunciation a little, by substituting for the short o, as we pronounce it in modern, the long o, as heard in modish, and you will then, perhaps, perceive the process of analogy by which it passed into the Shakspearian use. The matter or substance of a thing is, usually, so much more important than its fashion or manner, that we have hence adopted, as one way for expressing what is important as opposed to what is trivial, the word material. Now, by parity of reason, we are entitled to invert this order, and to express what is unimportant by some word indicating the mere fashion or external manner of an object as opposed to its substance. This is effected by the word modal or mōdern, as the adjective from modus, a fashion or manner; and, in that sense, Shakspeare employs the word. Thus, Cleopatra, undervaluing to Cæsar's agent the bijouterie which she has kept back from inventory, and which her treacherous steward had betrayed, describes them as mere trifles

'Such gifts as we greet modern friends withal; '

where all commentators have felt that modern must form the position, mean, slight, and inconsiderable, though perplexed to say how it came by such a meaning. A modern friend is, in the Shakspearian sense, with relation to a real and serviceable friend, that which the fashion of a thing is, by comparison with its substance. But a still better illustration may be taken from a common line, quoted every day, and ludicrously misinterpreted. In the

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

'Full of wise saws and modern instances; '

which (horrendum dictu!) has been explained, and, I verily believe, is generally understood to mean, full of wise sayings and modern illustrations. The true meaning is full of proverbial maxims of conduct and of trivial arguments; i. e. of petty distinctions, or verbal disputes, such as never touch the point at issue. The word, modern, I have already deduced; the word, instances, is equally Latin, and equally used by Shakspeare in its Latin sense. It is originally the word, instantia, which, by the monkish and scholastic writers, is uniformly used in the sense of an argument, and originally of an argument urged in objection to some previous argument.*

I affirm, therefore, that Lord Brougham's counsel to the Glasgow students is not only bad counsel and bad

* I cannot for a moment believe that the original and most eloquent critic in Blackwood is himself the dupe of an argument, which he has alleged against this passage, under too open a hatred of Shakspeare, as though it involved a contradiction to common sense, by representing all human beings of such an age as schoolboys, all of such another age as soldiers, of such another as magistrates, &c. Evidently the logic of the famous passage is this—that whereas every age has its peculiar and appropriate temper, that profession or employment is selected for the exemplification which seems best fitted, in each case, to embody the characteristic or predominating quality. Thus, because impetuosity, self-esteem, and animal or irreflective courage, are qualities most intense in youth, next it is considered in what profession those qualities find their most unlimited range; and, because that is obviously the military profession, therefore it is that the soldier is selected as the representative of young men. For the same reason, as best embodying the peculiar temper of garrulous old age, the magistrate comes forward as supporting the part of that age. Not that old men are not also soldiers: but that the military profession, so far from strengthening, moderates and tempers the characteristic temper of old age.

[ocr errors]

a

counsel for the result, as well as for the grounds, which are either capricious or nugatory - but also that, in the exact proportion in which the range of thought expands, it is an impossible counsel, an impracticable counsel counsel having for its purpose to embarrass and lay the mind in fetters, where even its utmost freedom, and its largest resources will be found all too little for the growing necessities of the intellect. Long-tail'd words in osity and ation!' what does that describe? Exactly the Latin part of our language. Now, those very terminations speak for themselves: All high abstractions end in ation, that is, they are Latin; and, just in proportion as the abstracting power extends and widens, do the circles of thought widen, and the horizon or boundary (contradicting its own Grecian name) melts into the infinite. On this account it was that Coleridge (Biographia Literaria) remarks on Wordsworth's philosophic poetry, that, in proportion as it goes into the profound of passion and of thought, do the words increase which are vulgarly called 'dictionary words.' Now these words, these dictionary' words, what are they? Simply words of Latin or Greek origin no other words, no Saxon words, are ever called by illiterate persons dictionary words. And these dictionary words are indispensable to a writer, not only in the proportion by which he transcends other writers as to extent and as to subtility of thinking, but also as to elevation and sublimity. Milton was not an extensive or discursive thinker, as Shakspeare was; for the motions of his mind were slow, solemn, sequacious, like those of the planets; not agile and assimilative; not attracting all things within its own sphere; not multiform: repulsion was the law of his intellect he moved in solitary gran

deur. Yet, merely from this quality of grandeur - unapproachable grandeur- his intellect demanded a larger

« ForrigeFortsæt »