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that of the plainest prose. We shall take, as an example, the introductory lines of “ La Henriade," accompanied with a literal and interlinear translation: “ Je chante ce Héros qui régna sur la France,
I sing the Hero who reigned over France,
par droit de conquête, et par droit de naissance ;
Descends du haut des cieux, auguste Vérité,
Descend from the height of the heavens, august Truth, Répands sur mes écrits ta force et ta clarté: Spread upon my writings thy strength and thy clear
With those lines of Voltaire, one of their greatest poets, let us contrast the opening of Milton's Paradise Lost:
“Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
The interjection of numerous details, between those parts of a sentence which are closely combined by the rules of Syntax, is so frequent in English poetry that it escapes the notice of a native; while, to foreigners, when studying the language, it presents a series of insoluble enig
Goldsmith is characterized by the simplicity of his diction, as much as by the tenderness of his sentiments; but, nevertheless, we suspect that the grammatical analysis of the following, as well as many of his other paragraphs, would puzzle a French learner:
But me, not destin'd such delights to share,
The Syntax of this passage connects the penult line with the first, “But my fortune leads me to traverse, " &c. All the intermediate lines are completely parenthetical.
English adjectives, having no change of termination, either in gender, number, or case, are scarcely separable from their substantives; and, in so far, the Latin is less limited in its construction; but the French have gender and number in their adjectives, without being able, in their composition, to make use of those advantages. With a few fixed exceptions, their adjectives always follow the substantives, and this they term the natural order, while we account it the reverse. They say, for instance, that 'une pomme aigre,' an apple sour, is a more natural arrangement than 'a sour apple;' and they give this unanswerable reason " that a thing must exist before it can have qualities." We should say, on the other hand, that they are qualities only with which we are acquainted: take these away, one by one, and you annihilate the being.
The comparison of languages is of great advantage to the student; for it leads him to reflect on the peculiarities of his own. Dr. Spurzheim, of Craniological fame, makes the following curious remarks on this subject:
“ The construction of every language denotes the manner of thinking of each nation. The French like facts, and direct their attention to them without first considering the cause.
It is natural to begin, in general, with the subject;
[agent] and, after that, the French immediately join the action of the subject; after this, the other circumstances are expressed. If cause and effect are indicated, the French style begins with the effect; and the cause is related afterwards. The German language is quite different; it requires much more attention than the French. It begins also, ordinarily, with the subject; then follow the expressions of the relations between the subject and the object, which are mentioned; and, lastly, the action of the subject upon the object is expressed. Moreover, if a fact and its cause are spoken of, the cause is ordinarily denoted first, and the fact after it. It is known that certain languages admit a great number of inversions, others very few. It appears to me, that the former are more logical; for, it seems natural that attention should be directed first to the most important object. The French language begins almost always with the fact; hence French understandings consider the fact as the most important. From these observations relative to languages, we may easily conceive that the spirit of any one language cannot become general. I am of opinion that the spirit of the French language never will please Germans; and that Frenchmen, on the other hand, will always dislike the spirit of the German; because the manner of thinking, and the concatenation of ideas, are quite different in the two nations.”
The unfettered state of the arrangement of the subordinate parts, in an English sentence, gives us some advantages over the formal (though differing) constructions of the French and German. A teacher of English Composition ought not to hold forth any particular style of writing as a pattern to his pupils. He who gives and nights to the study of Addison,” cultivates only one branch of his art: the gentle murmuring of the stream, that wanders through the vale, is soothing to the ear; but there are moments in which we are not unwilling to be roused by the precipitous dashing of the mountain torrent.
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