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beautiful than the former, when a real person is introduced speaking with propriety and decorum. The speeches which the Jewish poets have put into the mouth of their Jehovah, are worthy the greatness and incomprehensible Majesty of the All-Perfect Being. Hear him asking one of his creatures, with a lofty kind of irony, Where wast thou, when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line
upon it? Whereon are the foundations thereof fastened, or who laid the corner stone? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth as if it had issued out of the womb ? When I brake it
my creed place, and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther, and here shall the pride of thy waves be stayed. How can we reply to these sublime inquiries but in the words that follow? • Behold, I am vile, what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth.'
“ I have in a former treatise observed to you, that Homer has degraded bis gods into men: these writers alone have not violated the Divine Majesty by inadequate and indecent representations, but have made the great Creator act and speak in a manner suitable to the supreme dignity of his nature, as far as the grossness of mortal conceptions will permit. From the sublimity and spirituality of their notions, so different in degree and kind from those of the most exałted philosophers, one may, perhaps, be inclined to think their claim to a divine inspiration reasonable and just, since God alone can describe himself to man.
I had written thus far, when I received dispatches from the Empress Zenobia, with orders to
attend her instantly at Palmyra; but am resolved, before I set out, to add to this letter a few remarks on the beautiful comparisons of the Hebrew poets.
“ The use of similes in general consists in the illustration or amplification of any subject, or in presenting pleasing pictures to the mind by the
suggestion of new images. Homer and the Hebrew bards disdain minute resemblances, and seek not an exact correspondence with every feature of the object they introduce. Provided a general likeness appear, they think it sufficient. Not solicitous for exactness, which in every work is the sure criterion of a cold and creeping genius, they introduce many circumstances that perhaps have no direct affinity to the subject, but taken all together contribute to the variety and beauty of the piece.
“ The pleasures of friendship and benevolence are compared to the perfumes that flow from the ointments usually poured on the priest's head, which run down to his beard and even to the skirts-of his clothing. The sun, rising and breaking in upon the shades of night, is compared to a bridegroom issuing out of his chamber; in allusion to the Jewish custom of ushering the bridegroom from his chamber at midnight with great solemnity and splendour, preceded by the light of innumerable lamps and torches. How amiably is the tenderness and solicitude of God for his favourites expressed ! `As the eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth ábroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead them ! On the other hand, how dreadfully is his indignation described: ‘I will be unto them as a lion, as a leopard by the way will I observe them. I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and I will rend the caul of her heart.' A little afterwards the scene suddenly changes, and
divine favour is painted by the following similitudes : ‘I will be as the dew unto Judea; he shall grow as the lily; his branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell like Mount Libanus.' Menander himself, that just characterizer of human life, has not given us a more apt and lively comparison than the following: 'As the climbing a sandy way is to the feet of the aged, so is a wife full of words to a quiet man.' Nor bas one of our Grecian poets spoken so feelingly, so eloquently, or so elegantly of beauty, as the Emperor Solomon of his mistress, or bride, in images perfectly original and new : Thy hair,' says he is as a flock of goats that appear from Mount Gilead; thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, that come up from the washing :' by which similitude, their exact equality, evenness, and whiteness are justly represented. Thy neck is like the tower of David, builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men:' that is, straight and tall, adorned with golden chains and the richest jewels of the East. • Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies: the exquisite elegance and propriety of which similitude need not be pointed out, and cannot be excelled.
“ I have purposely reserved one comparison for a conclusion, not only for the sake of its beauty and justness, but because it describes a friendship so different from the constancy which I hope will ever be the character of yours and mine. My brethren, says the writer, have dealt deceitfully with me. They are like torrents which, when swoln and increased with winter showers and the meltings of ice, promise great and unfailing plenty of waters; but in the times of violent heats, suddenly are parched up, and disappear. The traveller in the deserts of
Arabia seeks for them in vain ; the troops of Sheba looked, the caravans of Tema waited for them : they came to the accustomed springs for relief; they were confounded, they perished with thirst.'
“ In giving you these short specimens of Jewish poesy, I think I may compare myself to those spies which the abovementioned Moses dispatched to discover the country he intended to conquer; and who brought from thence, as evidences of its fruitfulness, the most delicious tigs and pomegranates, and a branch with one cluster of grapes,
so large and weighty,' says the historian, that they bare it between two upon a staff. Farewell.”
No. 58. SATURDAY, MAY 26, 1753.
Damnant quod non intelligunt.
EURIPIDES, having presented Socrates with the writings of Heraclitus, a philosopher famed for involution and obscurity, inquired afterwards his opinion of their merit. “ What I understand,” said Socrates, “I find to be excellent; and, therefore, believe that to be of equal value which I cannot understand.”
The reflectiou of every man who reads this passage will suggest to him the difference between the practice of Socrates, and that of modern critics : Socrates, who had, by long observation upon bimself and others, discovered the weakness of the strongest, and the dimness of the most enlightened intellect, was afraid to decide hastily in his own favour, or to conclude that an author hath written
without meaning, because he could not immediately catch his ideas; he knew that the faults of books are often more justly. imputable to the reader, who sometimes wants attention, and sometimes penetration; whose understanding is often obstructed by prejudice, and often dissipated by remissness; who comes sometimes to a new study, unfurnished with the knowledge previously necessary; and finds difficulties insuperable, for want of ardour sufficient to encounter them.
Obscurity and clearness are relative terms: to some readers scarce any book is easy, to others not many are difficult: and surely they, whom neither any exuberant praise bestowed by others, nor any eminent conquests over stubborn problems, have entitled to exalt themselves above the common orders of mankind, might condescend to imitate the candour of Socrates; and where they find incontestable proofs of superior genius, be content to think that there is justness in the connexion which they cannot trace, and cogency in the reasoning which they cannot comprehend.
This diffidence is never more reasonable than in the perusal of the authors of antiquity; of those whose works have been the delight of ages, and transmitted as the great inheritance of mankind from one generation to another: surely, no man cạn, without the utmost arrogance, imagine that he brings any superiority of understanding to the perusal of these books which have been preserved in the devastation of cities, and snatched up from the wreck of nations; which those who fled before barbarians have been careful to carry off in the hurry of migration, and of which barbarians have repented the destruction. If in books thus made venerable by the uniform attestation of successive ages, any passages shall appear unworthy of that praise which