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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.”
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 na Utopian place, where “pleasure is duty, and the manners perfect freedom.” S. C.]
19 [Sir Roger L'Estrange, of an ancient family in Norfolk, is another result must 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 positions which I controvert are contained in the sentences—" a 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.]
20 [“ A selection of language really used by men,” in the later editions. 8. C.]
I object, in the very first instance, to an equivocation in the use of the word “ real.” Every man's language varies, according to the extent of his knowledge, the activity of his faculties, and the depth or quickness of his feelings. Every man's language has, first, its individualities; secondly, the common properties of the class to which he belongs; and, thirdly, words and phrases of universal use. The language of Hooker, Bacon, Bishop Taylor, and Burke, differs from the common language of the learned class only by the superior number and novelty of the thoughts and relations which they had to convey. The language of Algernon Sydney differs not at all from that, which every well educated gentleman would wish to write, and (with due allowances for the undeliberateness, and less connected train of thinking natural and proper to conversation) such as he would wish to talk. Neither one nor the other differs half as much from the general language of cultivated society, as the language of Mr. Wordsworth’s homeliest composition differs from that of a common peasant. For “ real,” therefore, we must substitute ordinary, or lingua communis. And this, we have proved, is no more to be found in the phraseology of low and rustic life than in that of any other class. Omit the peculiari. ties of each, and the result of course must be common to all. And assuredly the omissions and changes to be made in the language of rustics, before it could be transferred to any species of poem, except the drama or other professed imitation, are at least as numerous and weighty, as would be required in adapting to the same purpose the ordinary language of tradesmen and manufacturers. Not to mention, that the language so highly extolled by Mr. Wordsworth varies in every county, nay, in every village, according to the accidental character of the clergyman, the existence or non-existence of schools; or even, perhaps, as the exciseman, publican, and barber happen to be, or not to be, zealous politicians, and readers of the weekly newspaper pro bono publico. Anterior to cultivation, the lingua communis of every country, as Dante has well observed, exists everywhere in parts, and nowhere as a whole.
Neither is the case rendered at all more tenable by the addition of the words, “ in a state of excitement." For the nature
of a man's words, when he is strongly affected by joy, grief, or anger, must necessarily depend on the number and quality of the general truths, conceptions, and images, and of the words expressing them, with which his mind had been previously stored. For the property of passion is not to create, but to set in increased activity. At least, whatever new connexions of thoughts or images, or-(which is equally, if not more than equally, the appropriate effect of strong excitement)—whatever generalizations of truth or experience the heat of passion may produce; yet the terms of their conveyance must have pre-existed in his former conversations, and are only collected and crowded together by the unusual stimulation. It is indeed very possible to adopt in a poem the unmeaning repetitions, habitual phrases, and other blank counters, which an unfurnished or confused understanding interposes at short intervals, in order to keep hold of his subject, which is still slipping from him, and to give him time for recollection; or, in mere aid of vacancy, as in the scanty companies of a country stage the same player pops backwards and forwards, in order to prevent the appearance of empty spaces, in the procession of Macbeth, or Henry VIII. But what assistance to the poet, or ornament to the poem, these can supply, I am at a loss to conjecture. Nothing assuredly can differ either in origin or in mode more widely from the apparent tautologies of intense and turbulent feeling, in which the passion is greater and of longer endurance than to be exhausted or satisfied by a single representation of the image or incident exciting it. Such repetitions I admit to be a beauty of the highest kind; as illustrated by Mr. Wordsworth himself from the song of Deborah. At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down ; at her feet he bowed, he fell ; where he bowed, there he fell down dead. Judges v., 27.
Language of metrical composition, why and wherein essentially different
from that of prose-Origin and elements of metre-Its necessary consequences, and the conditions thereby imposed on the metrical writer in the choice of his diction.
I CONCLUDE, therefore, that the attempt is impracticable; and that, were it not impracticable, it would still be useless. For the very power of making the selection implies the previous possession of the language selected. Or where can the poet have lived ? And by what rules could he direct his choice, which would not have enabled him to select and arrange his words by the light of his own judgment ? We do not adopt the language of a class by the mere adoption of such words exclusively, as that class would use, or at least understand ; but likewise by following the order, in which the words of such men are wont to succeed each other. Now this order, in the intercourse of uneducated men, is distin. guished from the diction of their superiors in knowledge and power, by the greater disjunction and separation in the component parts of that, whatever it be, which they wish to communicate. There is a want of that prospectiveness of mind, that surview, which enables a man to foresee the whole of what he is to convey, appertaining to any one point; and by this means so to subordinate and arrange the different parts according to their relative importance, as to convey it at once, and as an organized whole.
Now I will take the first stanza, on which I have chanced to open, in the Lyrical Ballads. It is one the most simple and the least peculiar in its language.
“ In distant countries have I been,
And yet I have not often seen