Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

by a comparison either direct or implied; similar to the ywa (gnomai) and adages of the wise men : The other was truly poetical, adorned with all the more splendid colouring of language, magnificently sublime in the sentiments, animated by the most pathetic expression, and diversified and embellished by figurative diction and poetical imagery; such are almost all the remaining productions of the prophets. Brevity or conciseness was a characteristic of each of these forms of composition, and a degree of obscurity was not unfrequently attendant upon this studied brevity. Each consisted of metrical sentences; on which account chiefly the poetic and proverbial language seem to have obtained the same appellation: and in these two kinds of composition, all knowledge human and divine was thought to be comprised.

The sententious style, therefore, I define to be the primary characteristic of the Hebrew poetry, as being the most conspicuous and comprehensive of all. For although that style seems naturally adapted only to the didactic, yet it is found to pervade the whole of the poetry of the Hebrews. There are indeed many passages in the sacred writings highly figurative, and infinitely sublime, but all of them manifestly assume a sententious form. There are some too, and those not inelegant, which possess little more of the characteristics of poetry than the versification, and that terseness or adaptation of the sentences which constitutes so important a part even of the harmony of verse. This is manifest in most of the didactic psalms, as well as in some others, the matter, order, diction, and thoughts of which are clearly historical, but the conformation of the sentences wholly poetical. There is indeed so strict an analogy between the structure of the sentences and the versification, that when the former chances to be confused or obscured, it is scarcely possible to form a conjecture concerning the division of the lines or verses, which is almost the only part of the Hebrew versification that remains. It was therefore necessary, before I could explain the mechanism of the Hebrew verse, to remark many particulars which properly belong to the present topic.

The reason of this (not to detain you with what is obvious in almost every page of the sacred poetry) is as follows. The Hebrew poeis frequently express a sentiment with the utmost brevity and simplicity, illustrated by no circumstances, adorned with no epithets, (which in truth they sel

dom use); they afterwards call in the aid of ornament; they repeat, they vary, they amplify the same sentiment; and adding one or more sentences which run parallel to each other, they express the same or a similar, and often a contrary sentiment, in nearly the same form of words. Of these three modes of ornament, at least, they make the most frequent use, namely, the amplification of the same ideas, the accumulation of others, and the opposition or antithesis of such as are contrary to each other: they dispose the corresponding sentences in regular distichs adapted to each other, and of an equal length, in which, for the most part, things answer to things, and words to words, as the Son of Sirach says of the works of God, two and two, one against the other.* These forms again are diversified by notes of admiration, comparison, negation, and more particularly interrogation; whence a singular degree of force and elevation is frequently added to the composition.

Each language possesses a peculiar genius and character, on which depend the principles of the versification, and in a great measure the style or colour of the poetic diction. In Hebrew, the frequent or rather perpetual splendour of the sentences, and the accurate recurrence of the clauses, seem absolutely necessary to distinguish the verse: so that what in any other language would appear a superfluous and tiresome repetition, in this cannot be omitted without injury to the poetry. This excellence, therefore, the sententious style possesses in the Hebrew poetry, that it necessarily prevents a prosaic mode of expression, and always reduces a composition to a kind of metrical form. For, as Cicero remarks, “ in certain forms of expression there exists such a degree of conciseness, that a sort of metrical arrangement follows of course. For, when words or sentences directly correspond, or when contraries are opposed exactly to each other, or even when words of a similar sound run parallel, the composition will in general have a metrical cadence.”+ It possesses, however, great force in other respects, and produces several great and remarkable beauties of composition. For, as the sacred poems derive from this source a great part of their elegance, harmony, and splendour, so they are not unfrequently indebted to it for their sublimity and strength. Frequent and laconic sentences render the composition remarkably concise, harmonious, and animated ;

+ Orator.

* Ecclus. xxxiii. 15.

D

the brevity itself imparts to it additional strength, and being contracted within a narrower space, it has a more energetic and pointed effect.

Examples sufficient to evince the truth of these remarks will occur hereafter in the passages which will be quoted in illustration of other parts of our subject; and, in all probability, on a future occasion the nature of my undertaking will require a more ample discussion of this subject.*

See Lect. 19.

LECTURE V.

OF THE FIGURATIVE STYLE, AND ITS DIVISIONS.

2. The Figurative Style ; to be treated rather according to

the genius of the Hebrew poetry than according to the forms and arrangements of Rhetoricians— The definition and constituent parts of the Figurative Style, METAPHOR, ALLEGORY, COMPARISON, PERSONIFICATION

The reason of this mode of treating the subject : difficulties in reading the Hebrew poetry which result from the Figurative Style ; how to be avoided. 1. Of the METAPHOR, including a general disquisition concerning poetic imagery ; the nature of which is explained ; and four principal sources pointed

out,--Nature, Common life, Religion, History. In my last Lecture I offered it as my opinion, that the Hebrew word expressive of the poetic style had not one simple and distinct meaning, but might commodiously enough be supposed to admit of three constituent parts or divisions: in other words, that it might imply the sententious, the figurative, and the sublime. On the sententious style, its nature, origin, and effect in the Hebrew poetry, I offered such brief remarks as occurred to me at the time: and now that I am about to treat of the figurative style, I observe before me an infinity of matter and an ample field; in which, lest we should too freely expatiate, or irregularly. wander, the scope and order of our journey, the outlets of the road, the circuitous paths, and the most direct avenues, are in the first place to be carefully investigated. In order to the full comprehension also of those matters which will be treated of in this part, for they are in some degree remote from common use, it may not be improper previously to explain as clearly as possible, and therefore with some degree of copiousness, my immediate design; on what principles, in what order and method, and to what end, I mean to treat of the figures which are chiefly employed in the Hebrew poetry:

The word Mashal, in its most common acceptation, denotes resemblance, and is therefore directly expressive of the

figurative style, as far as the nature of figures consists in the substitution of words, or rather of ideas, for those which they resemble; which is the case even with most of the figures that have been remarked by the rhetoricians. This definition, therefore, of the figurative style, drawn both from the writings of the Hebrews and the sense of the word itself, I mean to follow in explaining the nature of their poetry; and this I do the more willingly, because it will enable me to confine our investigation within narrower limits. I shall also venture to omit the almost innumerable forms of the Greek rhetoricians, who possessed the faculty of inventing names in the highest perfection; I shall neglect even their primary distinction between tropes and figures, and their subdivisions of the figures themselves, denominating some Figures of expression, and some Figures of sentiment. In disregarding these distinctions, I might in my own justification allege the authority of C. Artorius Proculus, who gave the name of figure to a trope, as Quintilian informs us; and, indeed, the example of Quintilian himself.+ I omit them, however, upon a different ground, for I do not pretend to say that in their proper place they are destitute either of reality or use; but our present concern is not to explain the sentiments of the Greek, but of the Hebrew writers. By figurative language I would be understood to mean, that in which one or more images or words are substituted in the room of others, or even introduced by way of illustration upon the principle of resemblance. That resemblance, if it be only intimated, and confined to a few words, is called a Metaphor ; if the figure be continued, it is called an Allegory ; if it be directly expressed by comparing the ideas together, and by the insertion of any words expressive of likeness, it is called Simile or Comparison. I

* This distinction is very judiciously laid aside, since cach of these words is but a partial mode of expressing the same thing. A trope signifies no more than the turning a word from its appropriate meaning; and a figure, an appearance incidentally assumed, without the least implication of its being borrowed. -S. H.

+ See Quint. lib. ix. 1.

# Comparison appears to be the first and most natural of all rhetorical figures. When at a loss to explain our meaning, we naturally apply to the associating principle to furnish an illustration : and this seems almost an involuntary act of the mind. A metaphor is a comparison, without the words indicating resemblance. When a savage experienced a sensation, for which he bad as yet no name, he applied that of the idea which most resembled it, in order to explain himself. Thus the words expressing the faculties of the mind

« PreviousContinue »