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which he complains of this obsoleteness, is now nearly two centuries old and scarcely a tinge of obsoleteness is thrown over its language. It might have been written yesterday for one of our periodicals. What a difference in the degree of innovation in half a century before Dryden and two centuries after him! The same remark is true of the Latin language, half a century before Cicero, and all the innovations which succeeded him. The law by which a language progresses and stops, we cannot stay to discuss.
Fifteenthly, it is a law of literature which seems very much like a caprice, that we should be very much under the influence of traditionary criticism. We are most of us great admirers of pointed-out beauties. Indeed this sort of literary popery has been claimed and analyzed by the critics. Modeste et circumspecto judicio de tantis viris pronunciandum est, ne (quod plerisque accidit) damnent quod non intelligunt. Mr. Addison, though a friend to civil liberty, lays down the same law : “ If a man would know whether he is possessed of this faculty, I would have him read over the celebrated works of antiquity, which have stood the test of the politer part of our contemporaries. If upon the peru. sal of such writings, he does not find himself delighted in an extraordinary manner, or if in reading the admired pas. sages in such authors, he finds a coldness and indifference in his thoughts, he ought to conclude, not (as is too usual among tasteless readers) that the author wants the perfections admired in him, but that he himself wants the faculty of discovering them.” 2 Such lessons teach abundance of humility, but very little individualism. To be men of taste, we must echo the public sentiment.
No doubt, in some of the departments of taste, there is · much truth in similar injunctions. Sir Joshua Reynolds in. forms us that he saw the works of the first painters in Italy with a feeling of disappointment. It was only by following tradition that he got at nature. Painting and music are eminently recondite departments and demand a taste to
i Quinctilian's Institutes.
% Spectator, No. 469.
which we must be educated. But in eloquence and popular poetry you must be right at first sight, or never. Our no. blest pleasure is the surprise of an instant inspiration.
Sixteenthly, how may we know whether, in our admiration and censures, we are under the influence of a traditionary criticism? We are all under this influence to a certain degree. But one does not like to be wholly a factitious being. An absurd criticism is better than an everlasting echo. One is a little surprised at the rank given to Æsop's Fables by Luther. But the great reformer showed his independence by his criticism. He showed the character of his mind and taste. He ventured to say (what no doubt was true): “I find more pleasure in reading Æsop's fables than in perusing the Iliad.” He had a right to his opinion; and we, no doubt, have a right to say, he was very singular in it. Taste in general is not wholly factitious, nor wholly natural. Your attention has been turned to a particular direction; its slumbering admiration has been called forth, by hearing others admire; and yet it may be a real beauty which you would have found and relished with somewhat less intensity and exclusion. Suppose a rose and lily to grow side by side in the same garden. Both have intrinsic excellence. But your attention has been more devoted to the rose than to the lily ; you have seen it oftener, and examined it more. It would not be wonderful if you should exalt the one and depreciate the other; and yet had the rival plant been a homely weed, the comparison would have been clearer and your admiration could not have been so clearly turned from the one to the other. You have a natural taste diverted, while you thought you were improving it.
Would you know whether your taste is factitious or not? There is an easy rule, and an obvious way of applying it. Just ask yourself, how you were affected by certain authors before you knew there was such a thing as criticism. Did Pilgrim's Progress turn every road into a pathway to the celestial city? Did Robinson Crusoe set you to making a cave and building a boat? Did Don Quixote mount you on a Rosinante and make you twist your felt hat into an
helmet? Did these inebriating volumes shorten your suminer days and steal away your winter nights? Did you meet some stray quotation from Shakspeare, music to your boyish ears, and did it chain you to the volume as soon as you could find it, and did you grieve that all was not as good as the first gem that was stolen from its setting? Did you ever read the Spectator, turning over half the numbers and fixing on the Vision of Mirza, as the most thrilling peep into the mystic world you were ever favored with? Particularly were you struck with the close, and did you wonder what became of the Genius with the musical instrument in his hand, and the vision of the arched bridge and the rolling waters? “ I turned about to address myself to him a second time, but I found he left me; I then turned again to the vision which I had so long been contemplating; but instead of the rolling tide, the arched bridge, and the happy Islands, I saw nothing but the long hollow valley of Bagdat, with oxen, sheep, and camels grazing upon the side of it.” Was there ever such a close ? So transcendently beautiful! So mystic! So thrilling! In order to feel its utmost power, you must be an imaginative boy; you must read it, for the first time, when about twelve years old, in order to realize the sweet, visionary world, which the transporting author has presented to your fancy. At any rate, you may be assured that your taste, whatever its erraties may be, is not wholly under the influence of traditionary criticism.
1 There is in Miss Burney's Memoirs an amusing instance in a monarch, gir. ing his own impressions, and yet trembling before the authority of traditional criticism. His Majesty, George the Third, is represented as saying, in a whisper perhaps : “ There is sad stuff in that Shakspeare, though it wont do to say it aloud." The royal critic in giving his individual impressions is, after all, more respectable than Lamb, Coleridge, and Hazlitt, with all their mingled blindness and penetration ; blindness which cannot see the surface, and penetration which discovers what none but servile followers can recognize. There is a story in Dr. Moor's travels in Italy, about artificial rapture in criticism, which is pat to our point. “Very early in life," says he, “I resided about a year in Paris, and happened one day to accompany five or sis of our countrymen to view the pie tures of the Palais Royal. A gentleman who affected an enthusiastic passion for the fine arts, particularly that of painting, and who had the greatest desire to
Lastly. The last law of literature which we shall notice is the frame-work of language, which I think was early
be thought a connoisseur, was of the party. He had read the lives of the painters, and had the Voyage Pittoresque de Paris by heart. From the moment we entered the rooms, he began to display all the refinements of his taste; he instructed us what to admire, and drew us away with every sign of disguist when we stopped a moment at an uncelebrated picture. We were afraid of appearing pleased with anything we saw, till he informed us whether or not it was worth looking at. He shook his head at some, tossed up his nose at others ; commended a few, and pronounced sentence on every picture as he passed along, with the most imposing tone of sagacity. “Bad, that Caravaggio is too bad, indeed, devoid of all grace; but here is a Caracci that makes amends; how charming the grief of that Magdalen! The virgin, you'll observe, gentlemen, is only fainting, but the Christ is quite dead. Look at the arm, did you ever see anything so dead? – Aye, here's a Madonna which they tell you is an original, by Guido; but anybody may sce it is only a tolerable copy. – Pray, gentlemen, observe this St. Sebastian, how delightfully he expires! Don't you feel the arrow in your hearts? I'm sure I feel it in mine. Do let us move on; I should die with agony, if I looked any longer.'
“We at length came to St. John, by Raphael; and here this man of taste stopped short in an ecstasy of admiration. One of the company had already passed it without minding it, and was looking at another picture; on which the connoisseur bawled out: Good heavens, sir, what are you about?' The honest gentleman started and stared around to know what crime he had been guilty of.
6 • Have you eyes in your head, sir?' continued the connoisseur; 'don't you know St. John when you see him?' 'St. John!' replied the other, in amazement. “Aye, sir! St. John the Baptist, in propria persona.'
** I don't know what you mean, sir,' said the gentleman, peevishly.' – Don't you?' rejoined the connoisseur; 'then I'll endeavor to explain myself. I mean St. Jolin in the wilderness, by the divine Raffaelle Sanzio da Urbino, and there he stands by your side ; – Pray, my dear sir, will you be so obliging as to bestow a little attention on that foot ? Does it not start from the wall? Is it not perfectly out of the frame? Did you ever see such coloring ? They talk of Titian. Can Titian's coloring excel that? What truth, what nature in the head! To the elegance of the antique, here is joined the simplicity of nature.'”
* We stood listening in silent admiration, and began to imagine we perceived all the perfections he enumerated ; when a person in the Duke of Orlean's service came and informed us that the original, which he presumed was the picture we wished to see, was in another room; the Duke having allowed a painter to copy it. That which we had been looking at was a very wretched daubing, done from the original by some obscure painter, and had been thrown with other rubbish into a corner, where the Swiss had accidentally discovered it, and had hung it up merely by way of covering the vacant space till the other should be replaced.
“How the connoisseur looked on this trying occasion I cannot say. It would have been barbarous to have turned an eye on him. I stepped into the next room, fully determined to be cautious in dealing on the merit of painting, per ceiving it was not safe in this science to speak even from the book." - A View of Society and Manners in Italy, by John Moor, Vol. I.
formed and has been preserved amidst all the improvements and innovations arising from all the wanderings of the people and the accretions of time. The grand peculiarity in the Hebrew language by which it has only two tenses, is preserved in the under-structure of the English; and the affinity is striking and complete. It is true we have a more artificial table in our grammars; but the additional tenses are made by our auxiliary verbs. Strictly speaking, the old fundamental English comports with the Hebrew, and our common people show the impediments and the devices to conquer them, which are found in the Hebrew. I have heard plain people (particularly from Middlesex county in this state) use a language which reminds one of the Hebrew. Thus they throw a general proposition into the future : “ You shall go down to the sea ; you shall see the flats all covered at high water," etc. Just as the Hebrew says: “ A wise son shall make a glad father,” etc.Language becomes complex by artificial accretions, but its old elements remain. A plain, colloquial speaker would not be surprised at the limited number of tenses in the Hebrew. Other affinities may be found; and by a knowledge of them a nice perception of these antiquated forms is facilitated and becomes a far easier task. We can explain the grammar by the current language of common life. All this and more has been verified by the late splendid discoveries of the linguistic affinities in all the languages of the civilized world. In Conant's translation of Gesenius's Hebrew grammar, page 3d, is the following sentence: “ The Semitic stock, in its grammatical structure, compared with that of other languages, particularly the Indo-Germanic, exhibits many peculiarities which collectively constitute its distinctive character, although many of them are found singly in other tongues.” The last qualification is well put in.
Such are some of the laws of literature which underlie its caprices. The subject has some important applications:
First, we find in the Old Testament frequent allusion to
1 I am aware that this instance is not an exact exemplification of the two originai tenses.