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the mouth of a very angry man? or do even the vulgar expect blustering expressions from him who melts with pity or love or sorrow? Between groans and pain, tears and grief, laughter and jocularity, trembling and fear, the connexion is not more natural, than between certain sentiments of the human mind and certain modificaons of human language.
Natural language and good language are not the same: and Swift's definition, which is equally applicable to both, will not perhaps be found to express adequately the characteristick of either. The qualities of good language are perspicuity, simplicity, elegance, energy, and harmony. But language may possess all these qualities, and yet not be natural. Would the Anacreontick or Ovidian simplicity be natural in the mouth of Achilles, upbraiding Agamemnon with his tyranny and injustice; or of Lear defying the tempestuous elements, and imprecating perdition upon his daughters? Would that perspicuity which we justly admire in Cato's soliloquy,* be accounted natural in Hamlet's, † by those who know, that the former is supposed to speak with the rationality of a philosopher, and the latter
* It must be so. Plato, thou reason'st well, &c. † To be, or not to be, &c.
with the agitation of a young man tortured to madness with sorrow and love, disappointment and revenge? Would language so magnificent as that in which the sublime Othello speaks of the pomp and honours of war, be natural in the mouth of the soft, the humble, the brokenhearted Desdemona bewailing her unhappy fate? Or would the sonorous harmony of the dithyrambick song or epick poem, suit the simplicity of shepherds, contending in alternate verse, and praising their mistresses, putting forth riddles, or making remarks upon the weather? Yet language must always be so far simple as to have no superfluous decoration; so far perspicuous, as to let us see clearly what is meant; and so far elegant, as to give no ground to suspect the author of ignorance, or want of taste.
Good language is determinate and absolute. We know it wherever we meet with it; we may learn to speak and write it from books alone. Whether pronounced by a clown or a hero, a wise man or an idiot, language is still good if it be according to rule. But natural language is something not absolute but relative; and can be estimated by those only, who have studied men as well as books; and who attend to the real or
supposed character of the speaker, as well as to the import of what is spoken.
There are several particulars relating to the speaker which we must attend to, before we can judge whether his expression be natural. It is obvious, that his temper must be taken into the account. From the fiery and passionate we expect one sort of language, from the calm and moderate another. That impetuosity which is natural in Achilles, would in Sarpedon or Ulysses be quite the contrary; as the mellifluent copiousness of Nestor would ill become the blunt rusticity of Ajax. Those diversities of temper which make men think differently on the same occasion, will also make them speak the same thoughts in a different manner. And as the temper of the same man is not always uniform, but is variously affected by youth and old age, and by the prevalence of temporary passions; so neither will that style which is most natural to him be always uniform, but may be energetick or languid, abrupt or equable, figurative or plain, according to the passions or sentiments that may happen to predominate in his mind. And hence, to judge whether his language be natural, we must attend, not only to the habitual temper, but also to the present passions, and even to the age of the speaker. Nor should we overlook his intellectual peculiarities. If his thoughts be confused or indistinct, his style must be immethodical and obscure; if the former be much diversified, the latter will be equally copious. The external circumstances of the speaker, his rank and fortune, his education and company, particularly the two last, have no little influence in characterising his style. A clown and a man of learning, a pedantick and a polite scholar, a husbandman and a soldier, a mechanick anda seaman, reciting the same narrative, will, each of them, adopt a peculiar mode of expression, suitable to the ideas that occupy his mind, and to the language he has been accustomed to speak and hear: and if a poet, who had occasion to introduce these characters in a comedy, were to give the same uniform colour of language to them all, the style of that comedy, however elegant, would be unnatural. Our language is also affected by the very thoughts we utter. When these are lofty or groveling, there is a correspondent elevation or meanness in the language. The style of a great man is generally simple, but seldom fails to partake of the dignity and energy of his sentiments. In Greece and Rome, the corruption of literature was a consequence of the corruption of manners; and the manly simplicity of the old writers disappeared, as the nation became effeminate and servile. Horace and Longinus * scruple not to ascribe the decline of eloquence, in their days, to a littleness of mind, the effect of avarice and luxury. The words of Longinus are remarkable. « The truly “ eloquent (says he) must possess an exalted and “noble mind; for it is not possible for those who “ have all their lives been employed in servile “pursuits, to produce any thing worthy of im“ mortal renown or general admiration.” In fact, our words not only are the signs, but may be considered as the pictures of our thoughts. The same glow or faintness of colouring, the same consistency or incoherence, the same proportions of great and little, the same degrees of elevation, the same light and shade, that distinguish the one, will be found to characterise the other; and from such a character as Achilles or Othello we as naturally expect a bold, nervous, and animated phraseology, as a manly voice and commanding gesture. It is hardly necessary to add, that style, in order to be natural, must be adapted to the sex and to the nation of the speaker. These circumstances give a peculiarity to human thought, and must therefore diversify the modes of human language. I