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of study amongst even classical scholars. I doubt whether, at this day, there exist twenty men in Europe who can be said to have even once read Demosthenes; and, therefore, it was that, when Mr. Mitford, in his "History of Greece," took a new view of this orator's political administration a view which lowered his character for integrity -- he found an unresisting acceder to his doctrines in a public having no previous opinion upon the subject, and, therefore, open to any casual impression of malice or rash judgment. Had there been any acquaintance with the large remains which we still possess of this famous orator, no such wrong could have been done. I, from my childhood, had been a reader, nay, a student of Demosthenes; and, simply, for this reason, that, having meditated profoundly on the true laws and philosophy of diction, and of what is vaguely denominated style, and finding nothing of any value in modern writers upon this subject, and not much as regards the grounds and ultimate principles even in the ancient rhetoricians, I have been reduced to collect my opinions from the great artists and practitioners, rather than from the theorists; and, among those artists, in the most plastic of languages, I hold Demosthenes to have been the greatest.
The Greek is, beyond comparison, the most plastic of languages. It was a material which bent to the purposes of him who used it beyond the material of other languages; it was an instrument for a larger compass of modulations; and it happens that the peculiar theme of an orator imposes the very largest which is consistent with a prose diction. One step further in passion, and the orator would become a 18
poet. An orator can exhaust the capacities of a language an historian, never. Moreover, the age of Demosthenes was, in my judgment, the age of highest development for arts dependent upon social refinement. That generation had fixed and ascertained the use of words; whereas, the previous generation of Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, &c., was a transitional period: the language was still moving, and tending to a meridian not yet attained; and the public eye had been directed consciously upon language, as in and for itself an organ of intellectual delight, for too short a time, to have mastered the whole art of managing its resources. All these were reasons for studying Demosthenes, as the one great model and standard of Attic prose; and, studied him I had, more than any other prose writer whatever. Pari passu, I had become sensible that others had not studied him. One monotonous song of applause I found raised on every side; something about being "like a torrent, that carries everything before it." This original image is all we get in the shape of criticism; and never any attempt even at illustrating what is greatest in him, or characterizing what is most peculiar. The same persons who discovered that Lord Brougham was the modern Bacon have also complimented him with the title of the English Demosthenes. Upon this hint, Lord Brougham, in his address to the Glasgow students, has deluged the great Athenian with wordy admiration. There is an obvious prudence in lodging your praise upon an object from which you count upon a rebound to yourself. But here, as everywhere else, you look in vain for any marks or indications of a personal and
direct acquaintance with the original orations. The praise is built rather upon the popular idea of Demosthenes, than upon the real Demosthenes. And not only so, but even upon style itself, and upon the art of composition in abstracto, Lord Brougham does not seem to have formed any clear conceptions – principles he has none. Now, it is useless to judge of an artist until you have some principles on the art. The two capital secrets in the art of prose composition are these: 1st, The philosophy of transition and connection, or the art by which one step in an evolution of thought is made to arise out of another: all fluent and effective composition depends on the connections; - 2dly, The way in which sentences are made to modify each other; for, the most powerful effects in written eloquence arise out of this reverberation, as it were, from each other in a rapid succession of sentences; and, because some limitation is 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 oversight, 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 further 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 musketdirk; 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 these 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 coextensive 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 sealike arena upon which Shakspeare careers - co-infinite with life itself - yes, 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 absolutely explained the Shakspearian meaning of certain words, which has hitherto baffled all his critics. For 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