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petite high towards the subaltern beauties and lower “ order of wordly symmetries and proportions, the con“ duct will infallibly turn this latter way*.” This is that figure of speech which the French critics call galimalias, and the English comprehend under the general name bombast, and which may not improperly be defined the sublime of nonsense. You have lofty images and high sounding words, but are always at a loss to find the sense. The meaning, where there is a mearing, cannot be said to becommunicated and adorned by the words, but is rather buried under them. Of the same kind are the two following quotations from the same author : “ Men must acquire a very peculiar and strong habit of
turning their eye inwards, in order to explore the in“ terior regions and recesses of the mind, the hollow “ caverns of deep thought, the private seats of fancy, " and the wastes and wildernesses, as well as the more “ fruitful and cultivated tracts of this obscure climate.t” A most wonderful way of telling us, that it is difficult to trace the operations of the mind. This may serve to give some notion of the figure which the French Phebus, no offence to the Grecian who is of a very different family, is capable of making in an English dress. His lordship proceeds in his own inimitable manner, or rather in what follows hath outdone himself: 6 But what
can one do ? or how dispense with these darker dis“ quisitions, and moon-light voyages, when we have to " deal with a sort of moon-blind wits, who, though very
acute and able in their kind, may be said to renounce “ day-light, and extinguish in a manner the bright visible “ outward world, by allowing us to know nothing be“ side what we can prove by strict and formal demon“ stration.” It must be owned, the condition of those wits is truly deplorable, for though very acute and able in their kind, yet being moon-blind, they cannot see by night, and having renounced day-light, they will not see
• Characteristics, Vol. II. Misc. ii. Chap, 2.
by day : so that, for any use they have of their eyes, they are no better than stone-blind. It is astonishing too, that the reason for rendering a moon-light voyage indispensable, is that we have moon-blind persons only for our company, the very reason which to an ordinary understanding would seem to render such a voyage improper. When one narrowly examines a piece of writing of this stamp, one finds one's self precisely in the situation of the fox in the fable, turning over, and considering the tragedian's mask*, and can hardly refrain from exclaiming in the same words :
How vast a head is here without a brain! +
Part III.-From want of meaning.
I come now to the last class of the unintelligible, which proceeds from a real want of meaning in the writer. Instances of this sort are even in the works of good authors much more numerous than is commonly imagined. But how shall this defect be discovered ? There are indeed cases, in which it is hardly discoverable ; there are cases, on the contrary, in which it may be easily discovered. There is one remarkable difference between this class of the unintelligible, and that which was first taken notice of, proceeding from confusion of thought, accompanied with intricacy of expression. When this is the cause of the difficulty, the reader will not fail, if he be attentive, to hesitate at certain intervals, and to retrace his progress, finding himself bewildered in the terms, and at a loss for the meaning. Then he will try to construe the sentence, and to ascertain the significations of the words. By these means, and by the help of the context, he will possibly come at last at what the author would have said, Whereas, in that species of the unintelligible which proceeds from a vacuity of thought, the reverse commonly happens. The sentence is generally simple in its struc
* Persona tragica is commonly rendered so ; but it was very different from what is called a mask with us. It was the case which covered the whole head, and had a face painted on it suitable to the character to be represented by it.
+ O quanta species, inquit, ast cerebrum non habet'! Phædrus.
ture, and the construction easy. When this is the case provided words glaringly unsuitable are not combined, the reader proceeds without hesitation or doubt. He never suspects that he does not understand a sentence, the terms of which are familiar to him, and of which he perceives distinctly the grammatical order. But if he be by any means induced to think more closely on the subject, and to peruse the words a second time more attentively ; it is probable that he will then begin to suspect them, and will at length discover, that they contain nothing, but either an identical proposition which conveys no knowledge, or a proposition of that kind, of which one cannot so much as affirm, that it is either true or false. And this is justly allowed to be the best criterion of nonsense*. It is, indeed, more difficult to distinguish sentences of this kind from those of the second class of the unintelligible already discussed, in wbich the darkness is chiefly imputable to an affectation of excellence. But in these matters it is not of importance to fix the boundaries with precision. Sometimes pompous metaphors, and sonorous phrases, are injudiciously employed to add a dignity to the most trivial conceptions : sometimes they are made to serve as a vehicle for nonsense. And whether some of the above citations fall under the one denomination, or the other, would scarcely be worth the while to inquire. It hath been observed, that in madmen there is as great a variety of character, as in those who enjoy the use of their reason.
In like man. ner, it may be said of nonsense, that, in writing it, there is as great scope for variety of style, as there is in writ. ing sense. I shall therefore not attempt to give speci
Of all that is written in this style we may justly say in the words of Lord Verulum (De Aug. Sci. L. vi. C. 2.) applying to a particular purpose the words of Horace,
-Tantum series juncturaque pollet,
ut speciem artis, nescio cujus, præclaræ sæpenumero reportent ea, quæ si sol. vantur, segregentur,
denudentur, ad nihilum fere recasura forent.As to the causes of the deception there is in this manner of writing, I shall attenipt the investigation of them in the following charter.
mens of all the characters of style which this kind of composition admits. The task would be endless. Let it suffice to specify soine of the principal.
1. The Puerile.
The first I shall mention is the puerile, which is always produced when an author runs on in a specious verbosity, amusing his reader with synonymous terms and identical propositions, well-turned periods, and high-sounding words : but, at the same time, using those words so indefinitely, that the latter can either affix no meaning to them at all, or may almost affix any meaning to them he pleases. “ If 'tis asked,” says a late writer, “ Whence arises this harmony or beauty of lan
guage? what are the rules for obtaining it? The “ answer is obvious, Whatever renders a period sweet " and pleasant, makes it also graceful; a good ear is " the gift of Nature, it may be much improved, but not “ acquired by art; whoever is possessed of it, will " scarcely need dry critical precepts to enable him to
judge of a true rythmus, and melody of composition ;
just numbers, accurate proportions, a musical sympho“ ny, magnificent figures, and that decorum, which is “ the result of all these, are unison to the human mind;
we are so framed by Nature, that their charm is ir“ resistible. Hence all ages and nations have been smit 56 with the love of the muses *.” Who can now be at a loss to know whence the harmony and beauty of language arises, or what the rules for obtaining it, are? Through the whole paragraph, the author proceeds in the same careless and desultory manner, not much unlike that of the critical essay upon the faculties of the mind; affording at times some glimmerings of sense, and perpetually ringing the changes on a few favourite words and phrases. A poetical example of the same signature, in which there is not even a glimpse of meaning, we have in the following lines of Dryden :
• Geddes on the composition of the Ancients, Sect. 1.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began ;
From harmony to harmony
In general it may be said, that in writings of this stamp, we must accept of sound instead of sense, being assured at least, that if we meet with little that can inform the judgment, we shall find nothing that will offend the ear.
2. The Learned.
Another sort I shall here specify, is the learned nonsense. I know not a more fruitful source of this species, than scholastical theology. The more incomprehensible the subject is, the greater scope has the declaimer to talk plausibly without any meaning. A specimen of this I shall give from an author, who should have escaped this animadversion, had he not introduced from the pulpit a jargon which (if we can say without impropriety, that it was fit for any thing) was surely fitter for the cloister : For what cannot in the least contribute to the instruction of a christian society, may afford excellent matter of contemplative amazement to dronish monks. Al.
though we read of several properties attributed to “ God in scripture, as wisdom, goodness, justice, &c. “ we must not apprehend them to be several powers,
habits, or qualities, as they are in us; for as they are “ in God, they are neither distinguished from one ano.
ther, nor from his nature or essence in whom they are " said to be. In whom, I say, they are said to be : for, “ to speak properly, they are not in him, but are his
very essence or nature itself; which, acting severally
upon several objects, seems to us to act froin several “ properties or perfections in him ; whereas, all the dif“ ference is only in our different apprehensions of the “ same thing. God in himself is a most simple and
pure act, and therefore cannot have any thing in him,
+ Song for St Cecilia's day, 1687.