Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

unpleasant sinkings from the height to which the poet had previously lifted them, and to which he again re-elevates both him. self and his reader.

If then I am compelled to doubt the theory, by which the choice of characters was to be directed not only à priori, from grounds of reason, but both from the few instances in which the poet himself need be supposed to have been governed by it, and from the comparative inferiority of those instances; still more must I hesitate in my assent to the sentence which immediately follows the former citation ; and which I can neither admit as particular fact, nor as general rule. “The language, too, of these men has been adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust because such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived ; and because, from their rank in society and the same. ness and narrow circle of their intercourse, being less under the

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

Last Christmas when they talked of this,
Old Farmer Simpson did maintain,
That in her womb the infant wrought
About its mother's heart, and brought
Her senses back again :
And, when at last her time drew near,
Her looks were calm, her senses clear.
No more I know, I wish I did,
And I would tell it all to you ;
For what became of this poor child
There's none that ever knew :
And if a child was born or no,
There's no one that could ever tell;
And if 'twas born alive or dead,
There's no one knows, as I have said :
But some remember well,
That Martha Ray about this time
Would up the mountain often climb.**

action of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions."It To this I reply; that a rustic's language, purified from all provincialism and grossness, and so far re-constructed as to be made consistent with the rules of grammar-(which are in essence no other than the laws of universal logic, applied to psychological materials)—will not differ from the language of any other man of common sense, however learned or refined he may be, except as far as the notions, which the rustic has to convey, are fewer and more indiscrimi. nate. This will become still clearer, if we add the consideration-(equally important though less obvious)—that the rustic, from the more imperfect development of his faculties, and from the lower state of their cultivation, aims almost solely to convey insulated facts, either those of his scanty experience or his tradi- i tional belief; while the educated man seeks chiefly to discover and express those connexions of things, or those relative bearings of fact to fact, from which some more or less general law is de. ducible. For facts are valuable to a wise man, chiefly as they lead to the discovery of the indwelling law, which is the true being of things, the sole solution of their modes of existence, and in the knowledge of which consists our dignity and our power.

As little can I agree with the assertion, that from the objects with which the rustic hourly communicates the best part of lan- !

For first, if to communicate with an object implies such an acquaintance with it, as renders it capable of being discriminately reflected on, the distinct knowledge of an uneducated rustic would furnish a very scanty vocabulary. The few things and modes of action requisite for his bodily conveniences would alone be individualized; while all the rest of na. iure would be expressed by a small number of confused general terms. Secondly, I deny that the words and combinations of words derived from the objects with which the rustic is familiar, whether with distinct or confused knowledge, can be justly said : to form the best part of language. It is more than probable that many classes of the brute creation possess discriminating sounds, by which they can convey to each other notices of such objects,

guage is formed.

16 (Preface. P. W., ii., p. 207 S. C.]

[ocr errors]

as concern their food, shelter, or safety. Yet we hesitate to call the aggregate of such sounds a language, otherwise than metaphorically. The best part of human language, properly so called, is derived from reflection on the acts of the mind itself. It is formed by a voluntary appropriation of fixed symbols to internal acts, to processes and results of imagination, the greater part of which have no place in the consciousness of uneducated man; though in civilized society, by imitation and passive remembrance of what they hear from their religious instructors and other superiors, the most uneducated share in the harvest which they neither sowed nor reaped. If the history of the phrases in hourly currency among our peasants were traced, a person not previously aware of the fact would be surprised at finding so large a number, which three or four centuries ago were the exclusive property of the universities and the schools; and, at the commencement of the Reformation, had been transferred from the school to the pulpit, and thus gradually passed into common life. The extreme difficulty, and often the impossibility, of finding words for the simplest moral and intellectual processes in the languages of uncivilized tribes has proved perhaps the weightiest obstacle to the progress of our most zealous and adroit missionaries. Yet these tribes are surrounded by the same nature as our peasants are; but in still more impressive forms; and they are, moreover, obliged to particularize many more of them.

When, therefore, Mr. Wordsworth adds, accordingly, such a language”—(meaning, as before, the language of rustic life purified from provincialism)—“ arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets, who think that they are conferring honor upon themselves and their art in proportion as they indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression ;??!? it may be answered, that the language, which he has in view, can be attributed to rustics with no greater right, than the style

17 (Preface, p. 309.-" In proportion as they separate themselves from the sympathies of men, and indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression, in order to furnish food for fickle tastes, and fickle appetites, of their own creation.” S. C.)

of Hooker or Bacon to Tom Brown or Sir Roger L'Estrange. 19 Doubtless, if what is peculiar to each were omitted in each, the

18 [Thomas Brown, the son of a farmer in Shropshire, lived towards the close of the 17th century, died in 1704. His works in prose and verse, with his remains, were printed in 4 vols. 12mo., in 1707. There was a 9th edition in 1730. " His poems,” says Dr. Drake, in his “ Character of the author," are most of them imitations of antiquity, and so called by him, but generally so improved under his hands, they may justly be esteemed originals. They were generally Odes, Satires, or Epigrams, Paraphrases, Imitations of Horace and Martial.”

His prose works consist of Letters from the Dead to the Living, &c., after the manner of Lucian, Dialogues, Essays, Declamations, Satires, Letters, and other miscellaneous productions, being Amusements Serious and Comical, calculated for the meridian of London. I would fain believe, to speak from a mere glance into these volumes, that the Meridian of London is improved since Mr. Brown's days : and sorry to learn that this “vulgar writer's” works are not likely just yet to visit

“ The waters of Oblivion's lake.”

[ocr errors]

The author appears to have possessed, besides an acquaintance with French, Italian, and Spanish, some classic lore, and to have employed it in working up the alloy and baser portions of ancient wit into modern shapes. “ And if he was not so nice in the choice of his authors,” says Dr. Drake,

as might be expected from a man of his taste, he must be excused; because, doing those things for his subsistence, he did not consult his own liking so much as his booksellers', taking such as they have offered the best price for.” Poor man! he had better have tried to dig, and ought to have been less ashamed to beg, than to follow in the track of those who, though they do not call evil good, yet stimulate under pretence of satirizing it. . His eulogist and defender adds, Nor can he be blamed for this, since fortune having provided no other way for him to live by, prudence directed him to prefer the drudgery of most gain, before a more specious one of applause, and taught him not to barter his ease and profit for the reputation of being nice.” What lax notions must have been generally tolerated in times when a grave man could write such a sentence as this in sober earnest, weighing money gains against reputation for delicacy, and leaving morals out of the question! It would seem as if Charles Lamb's remark On the Artificial Comedy of the last Century must be applied to a great deal of our literature besides comedy, both in that century and the preceding one : that it is out of the moral world altogether, to be judged by no laws but those of a land where laws of conscience are unrecognised - Utopian place, where “ pleasure is duty, and the manners perfect free. dom

S. C.] 10 [Sir Roger L'Estrange, of an ancient family in Norfolk, is another

а

result inust needs be the same. Further, that the poet, .who uses an illogical diction, or a style fitted to excite only the low and changeable pleasure of wonder by means of groundless novelty, substitutes a language of folly and vanity, not for that of the rustic, but for that of good sense and natural feeling.

Here let me be permitted to remind the reader, that the posi. tions which I controvert are contained in the sentences—" selection of the real language of men ;20__"the language of these men” (that is, men in low and rustic life)“ has been adopted; I have proposed to myself to imitate, and, as far as is possible, to adopt the very language of men.'

“ Between the language of prose and that of metrical composition, there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference :" it is against these exclusively that my opposition is directed. “ eminent writer in the 17th century," who eminently displays the worse characteristics of that period of our literature. He lived from about 1617 to December 12, 1705 ; was a royalist; contrived to keep in with Cromwell, but was in trouble, as a disaffected person, under King William. He wrote a great many tracts for those times, but as an author is at present best known by The Alliances of Divine Offices, exhibiting all the Liturgies of the Church of England since the Reformation, 1699, folio_The Reign of Charles I., 1654–History of the Times 1687, and a tract against Milton, entitled No Blind Guides.

His writings have been characterized with great severity by Mr. Thomas Gordon, who declares them “not fit to be read by any who have taste and breeding "_“full of technical terms, of phrases picked up in the streets from apprentices and porters.” “ His sentences,” says the critic, “besides their grossness, are lively nothings, which can never be translated.” After giving a specimen, “ Yet this man,” he adds, was reckoned a master, nay, a reformer of the English language; a man who writ no language, nor does it appear that he understood any; witness his miserable translations of Cicero's Offices and Josephus.—Sir Roger had a genius for buffoonery and a rabble, and higher he never went.–To put his books into the hands of youth or boys, for whom Æsop, by him burlesqued, was designed, is to vitiate their taste, and to give them a poor low turn of thinking: not to mention the vile and slavish principles of the man.

He has not only turned Æsop's plain beasts from the simplicity of nature into jesters and buffoons, but out of the mouths of animals inured to the boundless freedom of air and deserts, has drawn doctrines of servitude and a defence of tyranny.” (Quoted from the General Dictionary, Historical and Critical, vol. vii.) S. C.]

!" A selection of language really used by men,” in the later editions,

« AnteriorContinuar »