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obscure, and imperfcct; yet still there has been a general persuasion, that some books of the Old Testament are written in verse, but that the writings of the Prophets are not of that number.
The learned Vitringa says,* that Isaiah's composition has a sort of numbers, or measure ; « esse orationem suis adstrictam numeris :" he means, that it has a kind of oratorial number, or measure, as he afterwards explains it; and he quotes Scaliger as being of the same opinion, and as adding, that “however upon this account it could not rightly be called poetry.”'f About the beginning of this century, Herman Von der Hardt, I the Hardouin of Germany, attempted to reduce Joel's Elegies, as he called them, to iambic verse ; and, consistently with his hypothesis, he affirmed, that the Prophets wrote in verse. This is the only exception I meet with to the universality of the contrary opinion. It was looked upon as one of his paradoxes, and little attention was paid to it. But what was his success in making out Joel's iambics, and in helping his readers to form in consequence a more just idea of the character of the prophetic style, I cannot say, having never seen his treatise on that subject.
The Jews of early times were of the same opinion, that the books of the Prophets are written in prose, as far as we have any evidence of their judgment on this subject. Jerome s certainly speaks the sense of his Jewish preceptors as to this matter. Having written his translation of Isaiah from the Hebrew Verity in stichi, or lines divided according to the cola and commata, after the manner of verse, which was often done in the prophetic writings for the sake of perspicuity, he cautions his reader “not to mistake it for metre, as if it were any thing like the Psalms, or the writings of Solomon ; for it was nothing more than what was usual in the copies of the prose works of Demosthenes and Cicero." The later Jews have been uniformly of the same opinion; and the rest of the learned world seem to have taken it up on their authority, and have generally maintained it.
But if there should appear a manifest conformity between the prophetical style and that of the books supposed to be metrical -a conformity in every known part of the poetical character, which equally discriminates the prophetical and the metrical books from those acknowledged to be prose-it will be of use to trace out and to mark this conformity with all possible ac
* Prolegom. in Iesaiam, p. 8.
See Wolfii Biblioth. Hebr. tom. ii. p. 169.
curacy; to observe how far the peculiar characteristics of each style coincide; and to see whether the agreement between them be such as to induce us to conclude, that the poetical and the prophetical character of style and composition, though generally supposed to be different, yet are really one and the same. ;
This I purpose to do in the following Dissertation; and I the more readily embrace the present opportunity of resuming this subject, as what I have formerly written* upon it seems to have met with the approbation of the learned. And here I shall endeavour to treat it more at large; to pursue it further, and to a greater degree of minuteness; and to present it to the English reader in the easiest and most intelligible form that I am able to give it. The examples with which I shall illustrate it shall be more numerous, and all (a very few excepted) different from those already given; that they may serve by way of supplement to that part of the former work, as well as of themselves to place the subject in the fullest and clearest light.
Now, in order to make this comparison between the prophetical and the poetical books, it will be necessary, in the first place, to state the true character of the poetical or metrical style; to trace out carefully whatever plain signs or indications yet remain of metre, or rhythm, or whatever else it was that constituted Hebrew verse; to separate the true, or at least the probable, from the manifestly false ; and to give as clear and satisfactory an explanation of the matter as can now reasonably be expected in the present imperfect state of the Hebrew language, and on a subject which for near two thousand years has been involved in great obscurity, and only rendered still more obscure by the discordant opinions of the learned, and the various hypotheses which they have formed concerning it.
The first and most manifest indication of verse in the Hebrew poetical books, presents itself in the acrostic or alphabetical poems;—of which there happily remain many examples, and those of various kinds—so that we could not have hoped, or even wished, for more light of this sort to lead us on in the very entrance of our inquiry. The nature, or rather the form, of these poems is this: The poem consists of twenty-two lines, or of twenty-two systems of lines, or periods, or stanzas, according to the number of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet; and every line, or every stanza, begins with each letter in its order as it stands in the alphabet; that is, the first line, or first stanza, begins with X, the second with ), and so on. This was certainly
* De Sacra Poesi Hebræorum Prælect. xviii. xix.
intended for the assistance of the memory, and was chiefly employed in subjects of common use, as maxims of morality, and forms of devotion; which being expressed in detached sentences, or aphorisms, (the form in which the sages of the most ancient times delivered their instructions, the inconvenience arising from the subject, the want of connexion in the parts, and of a regular train of thought carried through the whole, was remedied by this artificial contrivance in the form. There are still extant, in the books of the Old Testament, twelve* of these poems; (for I reckon the four first chapters of the Lamentations of Jeremiah as so many distinct poems); three of them perfectly † alphabetical, in which every line is marked by its initial letter; the other nine less perfectly alphabetical, in which every stanza only is so distinguished. Of the three former it is to be remarked, that not only every single line is distinguished by its initial letter, but that the whole poem is laid out into stanzas; two of these poems each into ten stanzas, all of two lines, except the two last stanzas in each, which are of three lines: in these, the sense and the construction manifestly point out the division into stanzas, and mark the limit of every stanza. The third § of these perfectly alphabetical poems consists of twenty-two stanzas of three lines; but in this the initial letter of every stanza is also the initial letter of every line of that stanza; so that both the lines and the stanzas are infallibly limited: and, in all the three poems, the pauses of the sentences coincide with the pauses of the lines and stanzas.
It is also further to be observed of these three poems, that the lines so determined by the initial letters in the same poem, are remarkably equal to one another in length, in the number of words nearly, and probably in the number of syllables; and that the lines of the same stanza have a remarkable congruity one with another, in the matter and the form, in the sense and the construction.
Of the other nine poems less perfectly alphabetical, in which the stanzas only are marked with initial letters, six || consist of stanzas of two lines, two T of stanzas of three lines, and one ** of stanzas of four lines; not taking into the account at present some irregularities, which in all probability are to be imputed to the mistakes of transcribers. And these stanzas likewise naturally divide themselves into their distinct lines, the sense and the construction plainly pointing out their limits; and the lines have the same congruity one with another in matter and form,
* Psal. xxv. xxxiv. xxxvii. cxi. cxii. cxix. cxlv. Prov. xxxi. 10–31. Lam. i. ji. iji, iv. * Psal. cxi. cxii. Lam. iii.
Psal. cxi, cxii. ' Lam. ji. | Psal. xxv. xxxiv. cxix. cxly. Prov. xxxi. Lam. iv. Lam, i. ii.
** Psal. xxxvii.
as was above observed in regard to the poems more perfectly alphabetical.
Another thing to be observed of the three poems perfectly alphabetical is, that in two * of them the lines are shorter than those of the third f by about one-third part, or almost half; and of the other nine poems, the stanzas only of which are alphabetical, that three $ consist of the longer lines, and the six others of the shorter.
Now, from these examples, which are not only curious, but of real use, and of great importance in the present inquiry, we may draw some conclusions, which plainly follow from the premises, and must be admitted in regard to the alphabetical poems themselves; which also may by analogy be applied with great probability to other poems, where the lines and stanzas are not so determined by initial letters, yet which appear in other respects to be of the same kind.
In the first place, we may safely conclude, that the poems perfectly alphabetical consist of verses properly so called; of verses regulated by some observation of harmony or cadence; of measure, numbers, or rhythm. For it is not at all probable in the nature of the thing, or from examples of the like kind in other languages, that a portion of mere prose, in which numbers and harmony are totally disregarded, should be laid out according to a scale of division, which carries with it such evident marks of study and labour, of art in the contrivance, and exactness in the execution. And I presume it will be easily granted in regard to the other poems which are divided into stanzas by the initial letters, which stanzas are subdivided by the pauses of the sentence into lines easily distinguished one from another, commonly the same number of lines to a stanza in the same poem, that these are of the same kind of composition with the former, and that they equally consist of verses: And, in general, in regard to the rest of the poems of the Hebrews, bearing evidently the same marks and characteristics of composition with the alphabetical poems in other respects, and falling into regular lines, often into regular stanzas, according to the pauses of the sentences; which stanzas and lines have a certain parity or proportion to one another; that these likewise consist of verse --of verse distinguished from prose, not only by the style, the figures, the diction, by a loftiness of thought and richness of imagery, but by being divided into lines, and sometimes into systems of lines; which lines, having an apparent equality, similitude, or proportion one to another, were in some sort measured by the ear, and regulated according to some general laws of metre, rhythm, harmony, or cadence.
* Psal. cxi. cxii.
of Lam. iij.
† Lam, i. ii. iv,
Further, we may conclude, from the example of the perfectly alphabetical poems, that whatever it might be that constituted Hebrew verse, it certainly did not consist in rhyme, or similar and correspondent sounds at the ends of the verses; for, as the ends of the verses in those poems are infallibly marked, and it plainly appears that the final syllables of the correspondent verses, whether in distichs or triplets, are not similar in sound to one another, it is manifest that rhymes, or similar endings, are not an essential part of Hebrew verse. The grammatical forms of the Hebrew language in the verbs, and pronouns, and the plurals of nouns, are so simple and uniform, and bear so great a share in the termination of words, that similar endings must sometimes happen, and cannot well be avoided; but, so far from constituting an essential or principal part of the art of Hebrew versification, they seem to have been no object of attention and study, nor to have been industriously sought after as a favourite accessary ornament.
That the verses had something regular in their form and composition, seems probable from their apparent parity and uniformity, and the relation which they manifestly bear to the distribution of the sentence into its members. But as to the harmony and cadence, the metre or rhythm, of what kind they were, and by what laws regulated, these examples give us no light, nor afford us sufficient principles on which to build any theory, or to form any hypothesis. For harmony arises from the proportion, relation, and correspondence of different combined sounds; and verse, from the arrangement of words, and the disposition of syllables, according to number, quantity, and accent; therefore the harmony and true modulation of verse depends upon a perfect pronunciation of the language, and a knowledge of the principles and rules of versification; and metre supposes an exact knowledge of the number and quantity of syllables, and, in some languages, of the accent. But the true pronunciation of Hebrew is lost lost to a degree far beyond what can ever be the case of any European language preserved only in writing; for the Hebrew language, like most of the other Oriental languages, expressing only the consonants, and being destitute of its vowels, has lain now for two thousand years in a manner mute and incapable of utterance: the number of syllables is in a great many words uncertain; the quantity and accent wholly unknown. We are ignorant of all these particulars, and incapable of acquiring any certain knowledge concerning them ; how then is it possible for us to attain to the knowledge of Hebrew verse ? That we know nothing of the quantity of the syllables in Hebrew, and of the number of them in many words, and of the accent, will hardly now be denied by any man; but if any should still maintain the authority of the