صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]



is surely a very fine idea; yet who is there who recollects the long, gentle, silent heave, as it were, of respiration, which exists even on the calmest day, who does not at once perceive how true and natural the sentiment appears? We must notice here Byron's truly Homerie comparison of the sea to a high-blooded steed,

And lay my hand upon thy mane, as I do here." We once formed a curious notion of the origin of this idea. We thought Byron had in his mind's eye Virgil's phrase "æquora ponti," which, literally translated, signifies the “ main of the sea, or its smooth surface, and that, by a fortuitous change of type, substituted for “ main," and so originated, as we once dreamed, the noblest sentiment in all his works. But to return to Homer. How many a man has seen a horse just let out of the stable look back exultingly on his sleek and glossy sides, without ever hitting on the warmth and beauty of the description contained in Ο δαγλαϊηφί TETOLOws? Who but Homer' observed the “ huge mouth of deadly war ?” and yet nothing can be more just-for to a spectator placed at a distance a battle appears an unintelligible monster, devouring every thing within its reach. How many a person has seen the extended ocean, without perceiving its likeness to the blue floor of the mighty heaven? Æschylus compares the flame arising from the beacon-fires that announced the fall of Troy to a huge beard.”

The strength and truth of the expression are equally manifest. We shall quote from Shakspeare another remarkable instance of the principle we have been laying down, the practical illustration of which we have ourselves witnessed. Florizel say to Perdita“

" When you do dance, I wish you A wave o' the


that you might ever do Nothing but that.' With persons of more luminous understandings it may perhaps expose us to some ridicule, when we acknowledge that the application of this simile was long quite unintelligible to our less vivid perception. Some time since, however, happening to be on a steam voyage from Dublin to Cork, we were, as unfortunately is our wont, dreadfully sea-sick ; but the horrors of that terrible situation may be safely left to the reader's recollection. If he has ever be

bright-blue sea,' and has not bowels of granite, the bare mention of that loathsome pest will conjure up an intestine insurrection in his nether man. Off the Toscar Rock the wind at length died away, (so did our sea-sickness) and it was a beautiful summer evening. The sun was setting in the west, and shot his level beams along the ocean, that lay as smooth and polished as a mirror, except where the steam-boat clove her way through it. Passing by a port-hole, with a heaving stomach, a bursting headache, and a face dismally indicative of sensations by no means pleasurable, and with, Heaven knows, no eye for the picturesque, yet we were arrested by the beautiful shining undulations that started every instant, and spread outwards from the paddle of the vessel. We were sorely pressed for time, yet we stopped for three full seconds to admire the yielding ease with which they flowed on through the

on the 56


bright and tranquil mass of waters. With dry land came an oblivion of all these magical effects, until some time after we again met the simile-its-truth and beauty at once flashed on us, and we considered it the happiest and most natural in poetry to express the flowing ease of motion which the harmonious limbs of a graceful woman exhibit in dancing

From this acuteness of observation results the substitution of the physical for the mental effect, which gives such a vigour and liveliness to style. When Hector says to Achilles,

Why dost thou so oppress me with thine eye ?” there is in it something more than mere figurative language. press there, is not a metaphorical expression, as it appears to us. We always deemed it a literal description of the suspended respiration—the thrilling agony—and the whole bodily convulsion that might be expected to be produced by a gaze so ominous and intense. Nothing is more natural in the case of ordinary men; but whether the habitually firm nerves of Hector yielded to the terrible frown of his antagonist, is a question which we should wish to answer in the affirmative. Did not Homer ungenerously throw him on his knees to beg his life? The force of

I know you'll swear-terribly swear

Into strong shudders, and to heavenly agues,

The immortal gods that hear you," is derived from the same source of substituting one effect for another. The instances that now occur to us of highly impressive similitudes are those given by Bacon—" of sparks flying upwards,”-“ of straws showing which way the wind blows," &c. But these, with their application, are so well known, that it is sufficient barely to mention them. As, however, the head named “ Philosophical Observation” may be reckoned obscure, we may be allowed to explain it by Homer's epithet of war; “ povoç, impartial.” Now certainly, at first sight, this same war seems anything but impartial—there is little doubt that one party must be beaten, and Mars assuredly is one of the last judges that any rational man would feel inclined to select on account of his freedom from passion. What, then, was the meaning of Homer, for he rarely perverted the proper application of terms ? Why this ? that the spectator of a battle sees but a confused agitation and slaughter, in which men perish without distinction ; 'he does not perceive two parties--all are blended together in a hot and fiery mass. The sum of his perceptions is, in fact, contained in these four words, “ the gored battle bleeds.". In this sense, “impartial ” is strikingly correct. But if he be a philosopher, he observes a scene of the contest of human passions and vices, “never ending, still beginning,". one of those vast and momentous operations by which so many of the human species are cut off to satisfy some mysterious law of the economy of nature.

By propriety of language is not meant the strict severe use of words in their proper acceptation, though it is plain that ordinary writers cannot attain even that, and it may therefore be regarded as another mode in which style is the evidence of mental power; but by it we mean that happy adaptation of the expression to the nature of the sentiment which represents it precisely, as it is either in its dim vagueness of form, or in all the sharpness of its clear outline. Can anything be conceived nobler and more striking to express the mysterious beauty of the stars, leading the mind into the wilderness of new worlds, than that used by Job ? “ The sweet influences of the Pleiades." How vague and undefined, but yet how powerful, “influences !” What, on the other hand, can be more grand and startling

-“ Canst thou send the lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Behold us !" What can be more limitless and unmarked than “ the world's huge spaces," or that still more indistinct expression, though clear by reason of its very indistinctness

“ The unbodied figure of the thought

That gave it surmised shape.” The power of subduing the expression to the dimness of the original sentiment, is always in proportion to the vividness and intensity of the writer's conceptions. None but birds of extraordinary acuteness of vision possess a nictatating membrane to diminish its

when circumstances require it. The testimony afforded by the structure of sentences or versification seems to depend altogether, if not quite, on experience of the fact that it generally attends on the superior order of genius; and that our happiest efforts, when we do aim at it, occur when the mind is fully possessed by some noble or beautiful idea. To prove that this is the case, we need only refer to the great master-poets. The sublimity of Homer is astonishing—we are amazed at the crowd of his elevated or touching sentiments, moving forward in a perpetual panorama. Even the last line of the Iliad appears to us, in the simple and subduing sentiment it contains, to be one of the most beautiful of all. How consonant with Hector's character, the keeping of the poem, and Homer's power of producing great effect by the simplest means, is that solemn description of the burial of the dead tamer of horses ! But remarkable as are the fruits of his extraordinary mind, they are not more remarkable than the flowing harmony and elegance of his versification, which, notwithstanding the early age in which he lived, has never been approached in the fulness of its beauty : the verse rises or subsides with the sentiment; and so exquisitely do they harmonise, that we almost think a person not acquainted with the Greek language, but possessed of a fine intelligent ear, would, from the reading of the line, almost guess the sentiment it conveys. Of the Greeks, Sophocles comes after in the sweet and pure flow of his verse—he moves on like a clear river, from its source to its mouth, unbroken by a rapid. Even in the scenes where terror is the prevailing sentiment, as where the Furies make their appearance, you can perceive a struggle to break from his habitual sweetness, and to clothe the thoughts in words of corresponding rug. gedness. Of all the ancients, Virgil comes next to Homer in versification—he had much of the power of his great prototype, and all of his elegance, with a mind saturated with the finest principles and influences of taste. The passages in which he exhibits his great skill


in harmony are mere translations from Homer, argue some persons, and therefore he does not merit that high consideration which we should not withhold from a mind and judgment purely original. But, instead of a fault, we look on this as one of his greatest triumphs over versification. The difficulty of adequate translation is well knownfew have ever reached the excellencies of the original. It is a matter of no trifling importance to transfuse the thought of a writer into a different language, preserving the spirit, the idiom, the style and mode of expression—all of which Virgil has accomplished in the passages he has borrowed from his master. And when to these are added a beauty and melody of verse that captivate the ear before the meaning catches the mind, and which Homer himself would not have disdained to employ, we cannot agree with the objectors in the diminu'tion of his renown. Milton also exhibits the same quality; and it may almost be said, with truth, that in him alone, and Shakspeare, is blank verse more than verse to the eye. Read the description of the battle in the “Paradise Lost,” or the celebrated “ Address to Light," or the trite but beautiful passage, 6 Sweet is the breath of Morn," and our opinion will receive confirmation. Shakspeare has an extraordinary modulation, but always in accordance with the subject. Can any person of feeling read the following passage, and deny it?

“ 'Tis not the balm--the sceptre and the ball

The sword—the mace—the crown imperial-
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl-
The forced title running 'fore the king-
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp,

That beats upon the high shore of the world.”
Can anything be more delightfully modulated ? Or take this —

“ How could communities,
Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commérce from dividable shores-
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,

But by degrees stand in authentic place?" '. Ancient writers have dwelt at great length on the harmony of the periods of Demosthenes and Cicero,* and traced through their orations a singular propriety. Long before we heard of the opinions of Dion of Halicarnassus or Quintilian, on the harmonious structure of their sentences, the same fact struck ourselves. This is proved by the great number of heroic lines, perfect in their quantities and

* On the subject of Cicero's modulated sentences, we remember an acute remark made by Mr. O'Connell

. He said be bad almost invariably observed that the substance of the meaning was generally conveyed in the opening part of the sentence, so that the mind being set at rest, was left free to receive the impressions of the harmonious conclusion of the period. He added that he had sometimes imitated it. And we would have noticed the fact, although he bad not mentioned it; for we perceived in many of his most successful speeches, especially in popular assemblies, where he was left free to follow the bent of his own feelings without the parliamentary dragochain, that he conveyed the substance in the opening of the period, and then wound up at his ease with a humorous illustration, or a dash of his inspiring Irish eloquence.

cadences, that occur in the boldest and most rapid passages of each. In the “. Crown” and the “ Archias” these instances are frequent. Was this combination the result of chance or dull labour ?

We should say, assuredly not. Practice, no doubt, was employed; but we may be certain that the finest instances occurred when the orator was borne away on the strong wings of excited feelings, and language, by intense emotion, assumed any form the speaker pleased. Does any reader, for a moment, imagine that the versification of Dryden's noble ode was produced by dull

, 'school-boy hammering of rhymes ? Or that Byron could have written

6 and each, clasped by an arm,

Yielded to the deep twilight's purple charm—" one of the very finest instances in poetry of a richness and depth of corresponding harmony-had not his soul been suffused with the glowing beauty of the hour ? Of the sources of style, the most copious by far is the last, which, as has been seen, extends through all the rest. It is this that forms the most contrasted and apposite appearances—the austere and solemn severity of Aristotle's style, and the noble richness of Plato's—the naked, sinewy strength of Demosthenes, and the luxuriant fulness of his Roman rival--the grandeur and learned dignity of Milton's, and the irregular vigour of Shakspeare's—the calm and praying philosophy of Wordsworth, and the passionate enthusiasm of Byron;—from all these apparent diversities this quality deduces the same inference of genius. It is this that forms the style into which the grief or glow of different passions is burned, or which calmly exhibits the sublime idea it contains, or again is stamped with the boldness of a mind thrusting aside everything that stands between it and its object—that impresses the man of judgment and feeling with the superior ability of the writer. All that we call figures, as apostrophes, personifications, &c., depend on this quality for their influence. They are natural products of a great mind, and can only overwhelm a little intellect if it employs them. Why do we admire the famous oath—“ O Athenians! you have not brought misfortunes on yourselves. No; I swear to you by the men who died at Marathon, and those who fell in the van of the battle at Platæa !" These are simple words, yet why do we reject for them the philosophical personifications of intelligence, virtue, education, in the peroration of Æschynes ? Why are we affected, when Napoleon, a short time before his death, complaining of the cruelty and indignities he had suffered from the kings of Europe, feelingly exclaims-“ But I had forgotten that cowardice had taken victory by surprise-its decisions are without appeal ?” Why do we look with suspicion on the personification of the Alban Hills in Cicero, and the coloured compliment that the “rocks and solitudes answer to his voice ?” Is it not because we suspect, in the latter class, the artifices of rhetoric, and feel, in the other, the strength of real passion, and the true energy of intellect? How utterly ridiculous are not the ordinances of critics to teach the mode of employing these noble figures, as if they were under the dominion of pedagogues, or could be present to any one but a naturally powerful mind! It were far better at once to

« السابقةمتابعة »