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that the ideas are made to succeed one another, not according to the degree of importance which the several objects carry in the imagination, but according to the order of nature and of time.
“ An English writer, paying a compliment to a great man, would say thus: “It is impossible for me to pass over, in silence, such remarkable mildness, such singular and unheard of clemency, and such unusual moderation, in the exercise of supreme power.” Here we have, first presented to us, the person who speaks. “ It is impossible for me;" next, what that person is to do, “impossible for him to pass over in silence;" and lastly, the object which moves him so to do, “the mildness, clemency, and moderation of his patron.” Cicero, from whom I have translated these words, just reverses this order; beginning with the object, placing that first, which was the exciting idea in the speaker's mind, and ending with the speaker and his action. “ Tantam mansuetudinem, tam inusitatam inauditamque clementiam, tantumque in summa potestate rerum omnium modum, tacitus nullo modo præterire possum." [Orat. pro Marcell.]
“ The Latin order is more animated; the English, more clear and distinct. The Romans generally arranged their words according to the order in which the ideas rose in the speaker's imagination. We arrange them according to the order in which the understanding directs those ideas to be exhibited, in succession, to the view of another."
We have extended this extract, because it is generally taken for granted that the English language admits of little variation of construction from what is here termed “the Order of the Understanding.” This belief, however, appears to us to be completely erroneous; for scarcely any language can be found that admits of inversion in a greater degree. Every sentence may be begun, at pleasure, with the agent, or with the object; for the Passive voice is the reverse of the Active. There is, indeed, a drawling uniformity of style which has long pervaded the English tongue, but this is no necessary part of its original character; for, in hands that are able to wield its energies, it does not yield in animation to the language of the Romans. The preceding translation might be placed in the Latin order, by a simple transposition, without rendering the meaning ambiguous; or, by changing the voice it would read thus:
“Such remarkable mildness, such singular and unheard-of clemency, and such unusual moderation in the exercise of supreme power, cannot possibly be passed over, by me, in silence."
We might easily cite numerous examples, where this “ Order of the Understanding” is disregarded by our best writers :
“ In describing the nuisance erected by so pestilential a manufactory, by the construction of so infamous a brothel, by digging a night-cellar for such thieves, murderers, and house-breakers, as never before infested the world, I am so far from aggravating, that I have fallen infinitely short of the evil.”
The preceding is from Burke, the following is from Dr. Blair, himself:
“ Not only in professed descriptions of the scenery, but in the frequent allusions to natural objects, which occur, of course, in pastorals, the poet must, above all things, study variety.”
While, however, we endeavour to free ourselves from the trammels of dull uniformity, we must beware of such inversions as might excite surprise, from the difficulty of unravelling them, or by their pedantic imitation of the structure of the learned tongues. The cases of the pronouns give a facility of transposition, in some degree similar to the more general declensions of the Greek and Latin; but it will seldom be found proper to make much use of this advantage. The pronouns represent nouns; and we feel as if force had been used to drag them from their
proper station, when they are made to stand in a place which the nouns themselves could not possibly occupy. The great value of pronouns is to avoid tautology,—not to form transpositions. The authorized translation of St. Paul's famous address to the Athenians contains a notable example of this pronominal inversion:
“Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you."
The acknowledged sanctity of the subject, and the hoar of years which covers the translation, must shield the preceding passage from criticism. It has even been quoted as elegant; but it is not, therefore, to be imitated.
The relative pronouns This and That (and their plurals These and Those) are used with nice discrimination, in the construction of sentences: this referring to the noun, or to the phrase, last spoken, and that to what was first mentioned. Thus,
Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul;
" Some place the bliss in action, some in ease; Those call it pleasure, and contentment these."
A regulation of a somewhat similar nature is observed, when two pairs of Antithetical clauses occur in the same sentence. In such a case the same order is preserved in the consequent phrases as was assumed in the antecedents to which they refer. In this respect, the first of the following couplets is faulty, and the second correct. The poet is speaking of Superstition:
“ She, from the rending earth,—and bursting skies,
Saw Gods descend,and Fiends infernal rise:
In every language, (at least in every modern one,) there is a certain arrangement which, when the thoughts are common, the words are apt to assume. This is what we termed the narrative form, and, we believe, is what Dr. Blair meant by the “ Order of the Understanding.” On this subject, he copied Du Marsais, who compared the order of the Latin with thatof his own nation. But the French language is, of all others, the least capable of inversion; for even its Poetry depends on rhyme alone to distinguish the construction from