Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

the understanding, and are an inconceivable bar against pafsion and sympathy. Nothing wil upon examination appear more certain, than that the forcible expression of passion demands closeness and compression. This is so true, that it will be found impossible to convey a great and electrical burst of the foul, in phrases, in which polysyllabic words, words, as Horace calls them, of a foot and a half long", are freely employed. It is not only necessary in this respect for the poet and the orator, where they would give their Atrongest shocks, to divest themselves of unnecefsary words, but even of unnecessary fyllables.

Another fault, which is perhaps more or less imputable to every English writer before the prefent age, is, that they were prone to tell their ftory or unfold their argument in a relaxed and disjointed style, more resembling the illiterate effufions of the nurse or the rustic, than those of a man of delicate perceptions and classical cultivation, who watched with nice attention the choice of his words and the arrangement of his phrases. The English language has lately afsumed a loftier port. We may now ofteri meet with it, though simple and elegant, yet with its nerves well ftrung, and its step at once skilful and

Sesquipedalia verba.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

B b 3

firm,

[ocr errors]

firm. It is not unfrequent in examining an accidental pamphlet, or a news-paper correspondence, to find the language characterised by that clearness, propriety and compression, which command our thoughts, and seize upon a portion of our esteem.

One thing further is to be observed before we proceed immediately to the subject. It bas been already said, that the only satisfactory way of determining the question, is by adducing a series of instances. These instances therefore will form the main body of our disquisition. It seems proper for the most part that they should be left with the reader, and suffered to make their own impression.

Some readers indeed might feel disposed to call upon the critic, “ to declare his particular objections to the passages cited, to diffect their grammar, analyse their construction, and descant upon each individual error by which they may

be supposed to be characterised.”

The reasons that diffuade us from a compliance with this demand, are as follow.

It is obvious to remark how tedious the difquisition would by this means be rendered, and that an essay, already sufficiently long, would thus be swelled beyond all bounds of proportion.

But this is not all.

[ocr errors]

Minute criticism is a thing particularly deceitful. If a man will give himself the trouble to be sufficiently refined and subtle in his remarks, it is past doubt that no writer will stand his examination. All terms were terms of sense, before they were terms of abstraction. If therefore we are resolved to reduce the words of our author to their original meaning, we shall find mixt metaphors and incongruities in every page. Even in grammar, a topic susceptible of greater correctness, if we were to follow the rule of the Bible, He that is without fin among you, - let him throw the first stone*; the first stone would never be thrown. Innumerable are the faults, that supineness engenders, or that human vigilance is inadequate to counteractt, which deform every literary composition that ever was produced. It is inconceivable how much the inexpert or thoughtless reader is, in this respect, at the mercy of the wanton or malicious critic, who scatters his own filth upon a composition, and then bids us note its deformity.

But the object of our present enquiry is foreign to this exquisiteness of remark. peal lies to those glaring and prominent features,

[ocr errors]

The ap

* John, Chap. viii, ver. 7.

+ Quas aut incuria fudit, Aut bumana parum cavit natura.

HOR.

Bb4

which which cannot fail to strike the

every attentive observer. If the cause here maintained cannot be supported without minuteness of difquisstion, it then deserves to be regarded with a suspicious eye. The enquirer may rest assured, that the most correct or eloquent writer in the best of times, is not invulnerable to this species of attack. The superiority of our own age, it is here meant to be asserted, stands forward to the observation of every unprejudiced reader, The present Effay pretends to no more than to compress the simple and undistorted evidence of a number of competent witnesses in a short compass; and the doctrine it is intended to support, is, that this is all that is requisite for a complete decision of the question before us.

eye
of

SECT,

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

WE have already referred to the testimony of Swift, who in his Letter to Lord Treasurer Oxford, containing a Proposal for correcting, improving and ascertaining the English Tongue, ftates the period in which our language "received most improvement, to commence with the beginning of queen Elizabeth's reign, and to conclude with the Great Rebellion in 1642."

To the authority of Swift we may add that of Johnson. In the Preface to his Dictionary he delivers himself thus :

“ So far have I been from any care to grace my pages with modern decorations, that I have ftudiously endeavoured to collect examples and authorities from the writers before the restoration, whose works I regard as the wells of English undefiled, as the pure sources of genuine diction. Our language, for almost a century, has, by the concurrence of many causes, been gradually departing from its original Teutonick character, and deviating towards a Gallick structure and phraseology, from which it ought to be our endeavour

« VorigeDoorgaan »