« PreviousContinue »
versify, words followed him of course. We may add to Antipater the ancient rhapsodists of the Greeks, and the modern improvisatori of the Italians. If this then be practicable in verse, how much more so in prose? In prose, the laws of which so far differ from those of poetry, that we can at any time relax them as we find expedient? Nay, more, where to relax them is not only expedient, but even necessary, because though numerous composition may be a requisite, yet regularly returning rhythm is a thing we should avoid.
In every whole, whether natural or artificial, the constituent parts well merit our regard, and in nothing more than in the facility of their coincidence. If we view a landscape, how pleasing the harmony between hills and woods, between rivers and lawns? If we select from this landscape a tree, how well does the trunk correspond with its branches, and the whole of its form with its beautiful verdure? If we take an animal, for example, a fine horse, what a union in his colour, his figure, and his motions? If one of human race, what more pleasingly congenial, than when virtue and genius appear to animate a graceful figure?
Pulchro veniens e corpore virtus ?
The charm increases, if to a graceful figure we add a graceful elocution. Elocution, too, is heightened still, if it convey elegant sentiments; and these again are heightened, if clothed with graceful diction, that is, with words which are pure, precise, and well arranged.
But this brings us home to the very spot whence we departed. We are insensibly returned to numerous composition, and view in speech, however referred, whether to the body or the mind, whether to the organs of pronunciation or the purity of diction, whether to the purity of diction or the truth of sentiment, how perfectly natural the coincidence of every part?
We must not then call these verbal decorations, minutia. They are essential to the beauty, nay, to the completion of the whole. Without them the composition, though its sentiments may be just, is like a picture, with good drawing, but with bad and defective colouring.
These we are assured were the sentiments of Cicero, whom we must allow to have been a master in his art, and who has amply and accurately treated verbal decoration and numerous composition in no less than two capital treatises,' strengthening withal his own authority with that of Aristotle and Theo
the power of habit, subjoins, Id autem bona disciplina exercitatis, qui et multa scripserint, et quæcunque etiam sine scripto dicerent similia scriptorum effecerint, non erit difficilimum. Ante enim circumscribitur mente sententia, confestimque verba concurrunt, &c. Orator. ad Brut. s. 200.
e Multum interest, utrum numerosa sit (id est, similis numerorum) an plane e numeris, constet oratio. Alterum si sit, intolerabile vitium est: alterum nisi sit, dissipata, et inculta, et fluens est oratio. Ejusd. ad Brut. s. 220.
His Orator, and his De Oratore.
phrastus; to whom, if more were wanting, we might add the names of Demetrius Phalereus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Dionysius Longinus, and Quinctilian.
Having presumed thus far to advise authors, I hope I may be pardoned for saying a word to readers, and the more so, as the subject has not often been touched.
Whoever reads a perfect or finished composition, whatever be the language, whatever the subject, should read it, even if alone, both audibly and distinctly.
In a composition of this character, not only precise words are admitted, but words metaphorical and ornamental. And further, as every sentence contains a latent harmony, so is that harmony derived from the rhythm of its constituents parts.
A composition, then, like this, should (as I said before) be read both distinctly and audibly; with due regard to stops and pauses; with occasional elevations and depressions of the voice, and whatever else constitutes just and accurate pronunciation." He who, despising, or neglecting, or knowing nothing of all this, reads a work of such character, as he would read a sessionspaper, will not only miss many beauties of the style, but will probably miss (which is worse) a large proportion of the sense.
Something still remains concerning the doctrine of whole and parts, and those essentials of dramatic imitation, manners, sentiment, and the fable. But these inquiries properly form other chapters.
CONCERNING WHOLE AND PARTS, AS ESSENTIAL TO THE CONSTITUTING OF A LEGITIMATE WORK-THE THEORY ILLUSTRATED FROM THE GEORGICS OF VIRGIL, AND THE MENEXENUS OF PLATO-SAME THEORY APPLIED ΤΟ SMALLER PIECES TOTALITY, ESSENTIAL TO SMALL WORKS, AS WELL AS GREAT-EXAMPLES TO ILLUSTRATE ACCURACY, ANOTHER ESSENTIAL-MORE SO TO SMALLER PIECES, AND WHYTRANSITION TO DRAMATIC SPECULATIONS.
EVERY legitimate work should be one, as much as a vegetable, or an animal; and, to be one like them, it should be a whole, consisting of parts, and be in nothing redundant, in nothing deficient. The difference is, the whole of an animal, or a vegetable, consists of parts, which exist at once: the whole of an oration, or a poem, as it must be either heard or perused, consists of parts not taken at once, but in a due and orderly succession.
The description of such a whole is perfectly simple, but not, for that simplicity, the less to be approved.
8 See before, from p. 410 to p. 416. 1. iii. s. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. p. 4. 73, 74, 75. Vid. Scriptor. ad Herenn. 1. i. s. 3. edit. Oxon. 1718.
A whole, we are informed, should have a beginning, middle, and end. If we doubt this, let us suppose a composition to want them would not the very vulgar say, it had neither head nor tail?
Nor are the constitutive parts, though equally simple in their description, for that reason less founded in truth. “A beginning is that, which nothing necessarily precedes, but which something naturally follows. An end is that, which nothing naturally follows, but which something necessarily precedes. A middle is that, which something precedes, to distinguish it from a beginning; and which something follows, to distinguish it from an end."k
I might illustrate this from a proposition in Euclid. The stating of the thing to be proved, makes the beginning; the proving of it, makes the middle; and the asserting of it to have been proved, makes the conclusion, or end: and thus is every such proposition a complete and perfect whole.
The same holds in writings of a character totally different. Let us take for an example the most highly-finished performance among the Romans, and that in their most polished period, I mean the Georgics of Virgil.
Quid faciat lætas segetes, quo fidere terram
Virg. Georg. i.
In these lines, and so on (if we consult the original) for forty-two lines inclusive, we have the beginning; which beginning includes two things, the plan, and the invocation.
In the four first verses we have the plan, which plan gradually opens and becomes the whole work, as an acorn, when developed, becomes a perfect oak. After this comes the invocation, which extends to the last of the forty-two verses above mentioned. The two together give us the true character of a beginning, which, as above described, nothing can precede, and which it is necessary that something should follow.
The remaining part of the first book, together with the three books following, to verse the 458th of book the fourth, make the middle; which also has its true character, that of succeeding the beginning, where we expect something further; and that of preceding the end, where we expect nothing more.
The eight last verses of the poem make the end, which, like the beginning, is short, and which preserves its real character by
1 Ολον δέ ἐστι τὸ ἔχον ἀρχὴν καὶ μέσον καὶ τελευτήν. Arist. Poet. cap. 7. p. 231. edit. Sylb.
κ ̓Αρχὴ δὲ ἔστιν, δ αὐτὸ μὲν ἐξ ἀνάγκης μὴ μετ ̓ ἄλλο ἐστί· μετ ̓ ἐκεῖνο δ ̓ ἕτερον πεφυκὲν εἶναι ἢ γινέσθαι. Τελευτὴ δὲ
τοὐναντίον, δ ̓ αὐτὸ μετ ̓ ἄλλο πέφυκεν εἶναι, ἢ ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἢ ὡς ἐπιτοπολὺ, μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἄλλο οὐδέν· Μέσον δὲ καὶ αὐτὸ μετ ̓ ἄλλο, καὶ μετ ̓ ἐκοῖνο ἕτερον. Arist. Poet. cap. 7. p. 231, 232. edit. Sylb.
satisfying the reader, that all is complete, and that nothing is to follow. The performance is even dated. It finishes like an epistle, giving us the place and time of writing; but then giving them in such a manner as they ought to come from Virgil.1
But to open our thoughts into a further detail.
As the poem from its very name respects various matters relative to land, (Georgica,) and which are either immediately or mediately connected with it; among the variety of these matters the poem begins from the lowest, and thence advances gradually from higher to higher, till having reached the highest, it there properly stops.
The first book begins from the simple culture of the earth, and from its humblest progeny, corn, legumes, flowers, &c."
It is a nobler species of vegetables which employs the second book, where we are taught the culture of trees, and, among others, of that important pair, the olive and the vine." Yet it must be remembered, that all this is nothing more than the culture of mere vegetable and inanimate nature.
It is in the third book that the poet rises to nature sensitive and animated, when he gives us precepts about cattle, horses, sheep, &c.o
At length, in the fourth book, when matters draw to a conclusion, then it is he treats his subject in a moral and political way. He no longer pursues the culture of the mere brute nature; he then describes, as he tells us,
Mores, et studia, et populos, et prælia, &c.
For such is the character of his bees, those truly social and political animals. It is here he first mentions arts, and memory, and laws, and families. It is here (their great sagacity considered) he supposes a portion imparted of a sublimer principle. It is here that every thing vegetable or merely brutal seems forgotten, while all appears at least human, and sometimes even divine.
His quidam signis, atque hæc exempla secuti,
Georg. iv. 219.
When the subject will not permit him to proceed further, he suddenly conveys his reader, by the fable of Aristæus, among nymphs, heroes, demi-gods, and gods, and thus leaves him in company, supposed more than mortal.
This is not only a sublime conclusion to the fourth book,
1 See Philosophical Arrangements, page 336.
m These are implied by Virgil in the first line of his first book, and in every other part of it, the Episodes and Epilogue excepted.
n This too is asserted at the beginning
of his first book, Ulmisque adjungere vites, and is the entire subject of the second, the same exceptions made as before.
This is the third subject mentioned in the Proeme, and fills (according to just order) the entire third book, making the same exceptions as before.
but naturally leads to the conclusion of the whole work; for he does no more after this than shortly recapitulate, and elegantly blend his recapitulating with a compliment to Augustus.
But even this is not all.
The dry didactic character of the Georgics made it necessary they should be enlivened by episodes and digressions. It has been the art of the poet, that these episodes and digressions should be homogeneous; that is, should so connect with the subject, as to become (as it were) parts of it. On these principles every book has for its end, what I call an epilogue; for its beginning, an invocation; and for its middle, the several precepts relative to its subject, I mean husbandry. Having a beginning, a middle, and an end, every part itself becomes a smaller whole, though with respect to the general plan it is nothing more than a part. Thus the human arm, with a view to its elbow, its hand, its fingers, &c. is as clearly a whole, as it is simply but a part with a view to the entire body.
The smaller wholes of this divine poem may merit some attention; by these I mean each particular book.
Each book has an invocation. The first invokes the sun, the moon, the various rural deities, and, lastly, Augustus; the second invokes Bacchus; the third, Pales and Apollo; the fourth, his patron Mæcenas. I do not dwell on these invocations, much less on the parts which follow, for this, in fact, would be writing a comment upon the poem. But the epilogues, besides their own intrinsic beauty, are too much to our purpose to be passed in silence.
In the arrangement of them, the poet seems to have pursued such an order, as that alternate affections should be alternately excited; and this he has done, well knowing the importance of that generally acknowledged truth, "the force derived to contraries by their juxta-position or succession." The first book ends with those portents and prodigies, both upon earth and in the heavens, which preceded the death of the dictator Cæsar. To these direful scenes the epilogue of the second book opposes the tranquillity and felicity of the rural life, which (as he informs us) faction and civil discord do not usually impair :
Non res Romanæ, perituraque regna.
In the ending of the third book we read of a pestilence, and of nature in devastation; in the fourth, of nature restored, and, by help of the gods, replenished.
As this concluding epilogue (I mean the fable of Aristaus) occupies the most important place, so is it decorated accordingly with language, events, places, and personages.
No language was ever more polished and harmonious. The descent of Aristæus to his mother, and of Orpheus to the shades, P See before, p. 401, 402.