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was elected to the poetical professorship. In that chair he delivered in Latin those Prelections on Hebrew poetry, which opened up a new and delightful field of investigation to those who, loving letters much, love their Bible more. Later in life he was raised successively to the bishoprics of St David's, Oxford, and London. He died Nov. 3, 1787.
The language in which the “ Prelections” were written, would prevent us from giving a specimen, if they had not been so admirably translated by Mr Gregory. It would have been a pity, if lectures so essentially popular had remained locked up in Latin.
Personification. It would be an infinite task to specify every instance in the sacred
poems, which on this occasion might be referred to as worthy of notice ; or to remark the easy, the natural, the bold and sudden personifications; the dignity, importance, and impassioned severity of the characters. It would be difficult to describe the energy of that eloquence which is attributed to Jehovah himself, and which appears so suitable in all respects to the Divine Majesty; or to display the force and beauty of the language which is so admirably and peculiarly adapted to each character; the probability of the fiction; and the excellence of the imitation. One example, therefore, must suffice for the present; one more perfect it is not possible to produce. It is expressive of the eager expectation of the mother of Sisera, from the inimitable ode of the prophetess Deborah.*
The first sentences exhibit a striking picture of maternal solicitude, both in words and actions; and of a mind suspended and agitated between hope and fear :
Through the window she looked and cried out, The mother of Sisera, through the lattice: Wherefore is his chariot so long in coming ? Wherefore linger the wheels of his chariot ?"
* Judges v. 28–30.
THE SONG OF DEBORAH.
Immediately, impatient of his delay, she anticipates the consolations of her friends, and her mind being somewhat elevated, she boasts, with all the levity of a fond female, —
(Vast in her hopes and giddy with success); - Her wise ladies answer her ;
Yea, she returns answer to herself :
Have they not found? Have they not divided the spoil ? " Let us now observe, how well adapted every sentiment, every word is, to the character of the speaker. She takes no account of the slaughter of the enemy, of the valour and conduct of the conqueror, of the multitude of the captives, but
66 Burns with a female thirst of prey and spoils." Nothing is omitted which is calculated to attract and engage the passions of a vain and trifling woman-slaves, gold, and rich apparel. Nor is she satisfied with the bare enumeration of them : she repeats, she amplifies, she heightens every circumstance; she seems to have the very plunder in her immediate possession; she pauses, and contemplates every particular :
66 Have they not found ? Have they not divided the spoil ?
To every man a damsel, yea a damsel or two?
To add to the beauty of this passage, there is also an uncommon neatness in the versification, great force, accuracy, and perspicuity in the diction, the utmost elegance in the repetitions, which, notwithstanding their apparent redundancy, are conducted with the most perfect brevity. In the end, the fatal disappointment of female hope and credulity, tacitly insinuated by the sudden and unexpected apostrophe,
“ So let all thine encmies perish, 0 Jehovah !” is expressed more forcibly by this very silence of the person
who was just speaking, than it could possibly have been by all the powers of language,
But whoever wishes to understand the full force and excellence of this figure, as well as the elegant use of it in the Hebrew ode, must apply to Isaiah, whom I do not scruple to pronounce the sublimest of poets. He will there find, in one short poem, examples of almost every form of the prosopopeia, and indeed of all that constitutes the sublime in composition. I trust it will not be thought unseasonable to refer immediately to the passage itself, and to remark a few of the principal excellencies. *
The prophet, after predicting the liberation of the Jews from their severe captivity in Babylon, and their restoration to their own country, introduces them as reciting a kind of triumphal song upon the fall of the Babylonish monarch, replete with imagery, and with the most elegant and animated personifications. A sudden exclamation, expressive of their joy and admiration on the unexpected revolution in their affairs, and the destruction of their tyrants, forms the exordium of the poem. The earth itself triumphs with the inhabitants thereof; the fir-trees and the cedars of Lebanon (under which images the parabolic style frequently delineates the kings and princes of the Gentiles) exult with joy, and persecute with contemptuous reproaches the humbled power of a ferocious enemy : 6. The whole earth is at rest, is quiet; they burst forth into a joyful shout:
Even the fir-trees rejoice over thee, the cedars of Lebanon:
* Isa, xiv. 4–27.
The lordly Lebanon waves high
His pines triumphant shoot into the sky :
Tyrant, no barb'rous axe invades,
This is followed by a bold and animated personification of Hades, or the infernal regions. Hades excites his inhabitants, the ghosts of princes, and the departed spirits of kings : they rise immediately from their seats, and proceed to meet the monarch of Babylon; they insult and deride him, and comfort themselves with the view of his calamity :“ Art thou, even thou too, become weak as we? Art thou made like
unto us? Is then thy pride brought down to the grave? the sound of thy
sprightly instruments ? Is the vermin become thy couch, and the earth-worm thy covering ?” Again, the Jewish people are the speakers, in an exclamation after the manner of a funeral lamentation, which indeed the whole form of this composition exactly imitates. The remarkable fall of this powerful monarch is thus beautifully illustrated :66. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!
Art cut down from earth, thou that didst subdue the nations!” He himself is at length brought upon the stage, boasting in the most pompous terms of his own power, which furnishes the poet with an excellent opportunity of displaying the unparalleled misery of his downfall. Some persons are introduced, who find the dead carcase of the king of Babylon cast out and exposed : they attentively contemplate it, and at last scarcely know it to be his :“ Is this the man, that made the earth to tremble ? that shook the
kingdoms ? That made the world like a desert; that destroyed the cities? They reproach him with being denied the common rites of sepulture, on account of the cruelty and atrocity of his conduct; they execrate his name, his offspring, and their posterity. A solemn address, as of the Deity himself, closes the scene; and He denounces against the king of Babylon, his posterity,
and even against the city which was the seat of their cruelty, perpetual destruction; and confirms the immutability of His
l own counsels by the solemnity of an oath.
How forcible is this imagery, how diversified, how sublime ! how elevated the diction, the figures, the sentiments! The Jewish nation, the cedars of Lebanon, the ghosts of departed kings, the Babylonish monarch, the travellers who find his corpse, and last of all Jehovah Himself, are the characters which support this beautiful lyric drama. One continued action is kept up, or rather a series of interesting actions is connected together in an incomparable whole. This, indeed, is the principal and distinguished excellence of the sublimer ode, and is displayed in its utmost perfection, in this poem of Isaiah, which may be considered as one of the most ancient, and certainly the most finished specimen of that species of composition which has been transmitted to us. The personifications here are frequent, yet not confused; bold, yet not improbable; a free, elevated, and truly divine spirit pervades the whole; nor is there anything wanting in this ode to defeat its claim to the character of perfect beauty and sublimity. If, indeed, I may be indulged in the free declaration of my own
I sentiments on this occasion, I do not know a single instance in the whole compass of Greek and Roman poetry, which, in every excellence of composition, can be said to equal, or even to approach it.
The Sublime of Passion. As the imitation or delineation of the passions is the most perfect production of poetry, so, by exciting them, it most completely effects its purpose. The intent of poetry is to profit while it entertains us; and the agitation of the passions, by the force of imitation, is in the highest degree both useful and pleasant.
This method of exciting the passions is in the first place