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HYMN TO SUNSET.
CALM, pensive, prayer-inspiring hour,
Day's fairest, first of daughters, hail !
Thy breath is balm from primrose dale,
Thy sigh the breeze, whose whispers stray
O’er the lone stream, or lingering die ;
From earth that streams into the sky,
O be it mine to walk with thee!
On dewy footstep through the vale,
Where willows droop their foliage pale,
And take me by the hand, where'er
By valley, stream, or upland dell,
To bid the bird's green haunts farewell,
And lead me to the mountain crest,
Gray sentinel of land and sea,
Where thy last look is sure to be,
Sweet hour! thy voice, thy breath of balm,
Thy sigh of breeze, thy smile of light,
That wings my spirit on its flight
An ordinary observer will perceive that of the numerous elements which constitute the fame of writers, one of the most, if not the most important of all, is that which is commonly called Style. It does appear extraordinary that that which is considered nothing more than the mere dress in which thought is arrayed, should exercise so powerful an influence in determining the value of writers, as a little observation cannot fail to establish. If we only consider those mighty minds, who have a commanded the applause of different professionslives-pursuits—ages—and modes of thinking,” and upon whom, therefore, according to the authority of Longinus, the judgment of unquestionable pre-eminence has been pronounced, it will be perceived that all reached their elevation, not so much by the force and vigour of their thoughts, as by the harmony and purity of the language in which they have been conveyed; and that they are all, almost without a solitary exception, marked by a singular beauty and nervousness of style. On the other hand, it is not the less true, as the experience of every day proves, that no weight of subject-no profundity of thought—nó accuracy and strength of reflection-no perception, however correct and masterly, can insure, not popularity, but the measure of ordinary consideration to works written in a dry, repulsive style. The works of this class are numerous. They contain many of the sterling qualities we have enumerated—deep and masculine thought-a multitude of fine sentiments, the produce of an elevated understanding; but they possess not the faculty of fully extricating the sentiment or thought from vapour which surrounds it in the mind, and of robing it in the graceful light of appropriate diction. We can easily discover the vigour of their intellectual grasp, and the progress of the severe struggle to weave the “network of silver for the apples of gold,” and we can also trace their failure in the cold and arid words they adopted. A few students are, perhaps, acquainted with their contents—they decorated, perhaps, the libraries of the learned, who can appreciate the profound matter they contain, disregarding the immaterial accessory of style—there they may be found; but as to any striking or important influence upon the living world of action—upon the opinions, habits, or tastes of men, they possess none whatever. Like plants possessing some rare hidden virtue, they are passed by as sterile and unproductive of good, until some one more just and observant than the rest draws out the magnificent truths they contain, and clearing them from the dust of neglect and oblivion, sends them abroad in a new and attractive apparel to become the fascination and idols of fashion. How many grand and sublime discoveries in science and philosophy—how many novel and beautiful thoughts in literature lay hidden in forgotten volumes, until some master, skilled in the
Oct. 1838.-VOL. XXIII.NO. XC.
magical efficacy of eloquent diction, presented them again in a new shape, to instruct or delight the world! This has been made a cause of vehement complaint, and assuredly there is in it a strong degree of apparent justice. They who appreciate more highly profound and vigorous thought than the less valuable acquisition of language, argue that few will be so bold as to assert that the stamp is of more importance than the metal—or that a gilt bit of lead, merely because it is impressed with a well-executed and handsome image of the queen,
is to have the "currency of sterling gold? Why, they stoutly say, should the architect of a solid and harmonious temple be suffered to pass into oblivion, because the columns are not carefully polished, or the palm leaves of the capital delicately chiselled? Why is a bit of Chinese filagree work to be looked on with admiration, while the imposing majesty of a structure less beautifully decorated is to perish unobserved? Such is a feeble statement of the triumphant case put forth by the advocates of mind, independent of the excellencies of composition. All it contains, however, is not based on truth, or at least they are inAuenced by motives which prove them not wholly void of partiality. They who observe that a strong understanding is sometimes embarrassed and deformed by a bad style are solicitous to reverse the inference in their own favour, and make repulsiveness and obscurity the evidence of depth, and rudeness of vigour. Such persons can recognise no excellence but in a coarse and bald homeliness, and affect to see all the virtues of composition in cold, plodding expression. With them
grace is a derision, and elegance a quality of the most suspicious character-beauty is a trick worthy only of literary mountebanks, and brilliancy of style a heap of burning coals on their heads. Copiousness and energy fare as ill as grace and elegance in the estimation of men, who complacently regard the staring and fleshless bones of their own famished intellects as ample developement of mental muscle, and their naked and unfruitful barrenness as neither more nor less than a generous luxuriance, choked by the very wantonness and excess of its fertility. With such prejudices they calmly contemplate the hollow prejudices of the world in favour of style as a vulgar error of the worst description, and have the sensibility to look with compassion on those whose absence of discrimination and judgment renders them incapable of distinguishing the rich bullion of solid thought from its showy but corrupt and worthless counterfeit. But however individuals may form incorrect opinions, it is very seldom that the whole world is wrong. An opinion very generally diffused, and which has firmly maintained its ground for ages, although it may not in every particular be true, may at least, however, be safely concluded to contain at least a nucleus of truth within it; and if a pure and beautiful style has been invariably valued, and men have been honoured with immortality in proportion as they have cultivated or neglected it, without a very great stretch of presumption one may be allowed to think that it is not altogether so futile as its opponents would represent it. If the greatest men the world has produced in every clime and century-if the deepest thinkers—the noblest poets -the profoundest philosophers——the ablest generals—the most consummate orators- the most sagacious statesmen,-if
, in fact, the great dominant intellects of the world are, at least in the immense majority, distinguished by the commanding beauty of their style, it would be wiser and more consistent with truth to endeavour to trace the cause of this opinion, than attempt to run down or depreciate so uniform an attendant upon genius.
But that this is the case must immediately appear from a simple enumeration of the “heroes of literature.” A glance at their intellectual character will fully elucidate the fact to which we have been adverting. Bacon has never been thought deficient in intellectual depth or comprehension, and yet through the whole range of literature it would be difficult to find anything more beautifully sparkling and fanciful than his style. It resembles a rich web, stiff with embroidered gold. Few men ever possessed a more exalted military genius than Buonaparte: then look at his style as contained in his written or oral addresses to his soldiers, in his orders in council, or in his ordinary conversation—how bold, energetic, and spirit-stirring is it? It somewhat resembles what we trace of Hannibal in the few fragments of his eloquence which have survived to us in Roman history. Benjamin Constant says of Napoleon, that in the discussions in council which took place after his return from Elba, when certain public documents had been agreed on, he was astonished at the beauty and animation of his expressions. Many of them, grammatically speaking, were incorrect, but they could not be altered without mutilating their force and brilliancy, and it was therefore very rightly determined to send them forth to the world with the stamp of his magnificent mind freshly impressed upon them. Nor was the description different twenty centuries ago, when Quintilian finely said of Cæsar, that he wrote with the same energy with which he fought. In politics, Burke is no mean authority ; neither is he deficient in wisdom, learning, or comprehension ; in the processes of abstract reasoning, as his philosophical essay proves, not wanting in the strictest severity of deduction. Yet what unites more ease, dignity, copiousness, and grandeur, than his superb style, jewelled and studded as it is with the rich gorgeousness of a beautiful and prodigal imagination? Who, “of woman born," had a more enlarged and varied knowledge of human nature, through all its complex workings -a more pure and healthy morality, a nobler philosophy, or a more masculine general understanding, than Shakspeare ; and yet what an astonishing force, splendour, and beauty, pervades his unparalleled style? This curious felicity of expression is not confined to poets, philosophers, historians, generals, or statesmen—it is not the sole property of particular classes of men, but is diffused throughout the whole imperial circle of genius, modified, of course, according to the nature of the subject, and the pursuit or profession of the person who employs it. It is not similar in the general and the poet-in the legislator and historian; but each is characterised by a peculiar mode of conveying his sentiments, which constituted his style. In mathematics, and there is scarce a single exception, the profoundest minds are the clearest and most succinct in enunciation. If you are ambitious to be confused and bewildered, you may easily effect your purpose by taking the ill-digested commentary of an inferior intellect,
and you are at once in a labyrinth of perplexities.' But if, which is the more probable, you wish to obtain a clear and sharp notion of the subject-one which will continue strongly impressed on your mind, and which will be a source of future discoveries--go at once to the original. From its very simplicity it may cost somewhat more of trouble and meditation, but you cannot fail to find the proposition expressed in the clearest and most consecutive manner, and in the smallest amount of words in which it was possible to express it. Light moves in right lines—ignorance delighteth in curves. Commentators fill the ear with critical and philological garbage-they talk
“ About it, goddess! and about it"but one may travel a diameter of the earth in a spiral without making any possible advances to the object of his journey. Time is lost, but knowledge is not gained.
There is, however, something more in style than the mere dress of thought-it is not the mere clothing of the sentiment in diction, as some would fain believe. A great portion of an elevated style consists of thoughts—thoughts applied to elucidate, enforce, and adorn other thoughts. How can a thought be adequately conveyed, unless through the instrumentality of other thoughts ; so that, in truth, one of the main elements of style is thought. But if it were a mere vehicle, yet the simple expression of new ideas, feelings, and truths, is not altogether so easy a task as to make it despised. Only consider for a moment what a vast multitude of notions float shapeless and unformed through the minds of men, to which no expression has been given, until some man of genius reduces them to order, and makes them palpable by clothing them in words. The enunciation of a mathematical proposition is such a combination of words, each having a given meaning, that the result shall unite the signification of all into a totally new expression. To adjust words into a period, so that the electric current may be complete, is sometimes a task of labour and delicacy. We have often thought, and doubtless so did many more, that the great cause of Shakspeare's popularity is not so much to be ascribed to the grandeur and profundity of his original genius as to the masterly vigour with which he expressed common thoughts, which thousands, millions, had felt as strongly as he, although they were unable to enclose them in a sentence. There is no truth, for instance, more universal and common, than that men of all ages and countries have the same feelings and dispositions, and from the common character of their natures are united by secret sympathies to one another. But it was perhaps never expressed with so much warmth of feeling and truth as in that beautiful line
« One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,"
which not only expresses the naked proposition that we are connected by our sympathies, but, as it appears to us, conveys the additional affecting circumstance, that we feel as though we had been bound to