Imatges de pàgina

We have suppressed rate, and are now confined to | vapeurs.'

The same author says,* that the French are above all things pleased at what they call • avoir de l'esprit.' This expression, he says, is proper to our language, and is not found in any other. There is nothing in English more common: wit and witty are precisely the same thing. Lord Rochester always called king Charles Is the witty king, who, according to him, never said a foolish thing and never did a wise one. The English pretend, that it is themselves who say good things, and that the French only laugh at them.

And what will become of the 'ingegnoso' of the Italians and the 'agudeza' of the Spaniards, of which we have spoken in the article FRANK ?

The same author very judiciously remarks,t that whilst a people are savage, they are simple, and their expressions are so also. “The Hebrew people were half savage: the book of their laws treats openly of natural things which our languages are careful of expressing. It is a sign, that with them there is nothing licentious in the mode of speaking, for they would not havė written a book of law in a style contrary to their manners,” &c.

We have given a striking example of this simplicity which at present would be more than cynical, in our quotation of the adventures of Aholah and Aholibah, and those of Hosea ; and though it may be permitted to change opinion, we hope we shall always be of that of the author of the Mechanism of Languages, even when several scholars might be otherwise.

But we cannot think with the author of this Mechanism, when he says :

“In the west a shameful idea is attached to the union of the sexes; in the east it is connected with the use of wine. Among the mussulmans, who are forbidden wine by the law, the word cherub,' which in general signifies syrup, sherbet, liquor, but more particularly wine, with other words relative to it, are regarded by

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very religious people as obscene terms, or at least too free to be in the mouth of a person of good manners. Prejudice, in regard to obscenity, is carried so far, that it ceases not even when the thing or action, to which the idea is attached, is honest and legitimate, permitted and prescribed ; so that it is frequently indecent to say what it is very often decent to do.

In truth, decency is here contented with a very small sacrifice. It must always appear singular, that obscenity may exist in the words, and not in the ideas attached to them," &c.

The author appears very ill informed of the manners of Constantinople. If he interrogates M. de Tott, he will tell him, that the word wine is not at all indecorous among the Turks. It is impossible that it can be so, since the Greeks are authorised to sell wine among them. Obscenity in any language is attached only to certain pleasures which are never permitted before witnesses, because organs are employed which it is necessary to conceal. We do not hide our mouths. It is a sin among mussulmen to play at dice, not to sleep with their wives on Friday, to drink wine, or to eat before sunset during Ramadan; but it is not obscene.

It must be remarked, that all languages have various terms, which give very different ideas of the same thing. To consummate marriage, matrimonis uti,' presents only the idea of a duty accomplished. “Membrum virile in vaginam intromittere," is merely an expression of anatomy. “Amplecti amorose juvenum uxorem” is å voluptuous idea. Other words convey images which alarm modesty.

Let us add, that if in the first ages of a simple, stupid, and gross nation, they made use of the only terms they knew to express the act of generation, as the author has very well observed of the half-savage Jews, other people use obscene words when they have become more refined and polished. Hosea uses a term which answers to the fodere' of the Latins; but Augustus impudently hazards the words “futuere, mentula' in his infamous epigram against Fulvius. Horace is lavish of these terms. They even invented the shameful expressions, often found in Catullus and Martial, which represent turpitudes scarcely known among us; neither have we terms to express them.

The word ' gabaoutarz' invented at Venice in the sixteenth century, expressed an infamy unknown to other nations.

There is no language which can translate certain epigrams of Martial, so dear to the emperors Adrian and Lucius Verus.

Genius of Languages. The aptitude of a language to convey, in the shortest and most harmonious manner, that which others express less happily, is called its genius.

For example, Latin is more suitable to the lapidary style than modern languages, because of their auxiliary verbs, which lengthen an inscription and weaken it.

Greek, by its melodious blending of vowels and consonants, is more favourable to music than German and Dutch.

Italian, by its still oftener repeated vowels, is perhaps better for soft music.

Latin and Greek, being the only languages which have a true quantity, are more adapted for poetry than all other languages in the world.

French, by the natural turn of its constructions, and also by its prosody, is more proper to conversation than

For this reason strangers understand French books more easily than those of other people. In philosophical French books they approve a clearness of style, which elsewhere is found very rarely.

: This is what has caused the French language to be preferred even to the Italian, which, by its immortal works of the sixteenth century, previously bore sway in Europe.

The author of the Mechanism of Languages attempts to despoil the French language even of the order and clearness, which form its principal'advantage. He goes. so far as to quote authors of little credit, and even Pluche, to make it believed, that the inversions of the Latin-are natural, and that it is the natural construc

any other


tion of the French which is forced; but it is not such examples that the author of the Mechanism of Language should have quoted. Why did he not refer to the fine verses of Racine? Why did he not compare natural syntax with the inversions admitted into all our ancient poetry?

Jusqu'ici la Fortune et la Victoire mêmes
Cachaient mes cheveux blancs sous trente diadèmes.
Mais ce temps-là n'est plus

Mithridate, act iii. sc. 5. Transpose these terms according to the Latin genius in the manner of Ronsard,“ Sous diadèmes trente cachaient mes cheveux blancs, Fortune et victoire : mêmes. Plus n'est ce temps heureux.”

It is thus that we formerly wrote, and it was only for us to continue it; but we have felt that this construction agreed not with the genius of our language, which must always be consulted. This genius, which is that of dialogue, triumphs in tragedy and comedy, which is merely a continual dialogue; and it pleases in all which requires simplicity, agreeableness in the art of narrating, explaining, &c. It perhaps accommodates itself less to the ode, which bespeaks a kind of intoxication and disorder, and which formerly required the accompaniment of music.

However this may be, acquaint yourself with the genius of your own language, meddle little with foreign languages, and particularly with those of the east, at least until you have lived thirty years at Aleppo.


Boileau observes, in his Art of Poetry, that the greatest genius, without command of language, makes but a poor writer.

Sans la langue, en un mot, l'auteur le plus divin
Est toujours, quoi qu'il fassé, un méchant écrivain..

BOILEAU.--Art. Poetique, chant i. v. 161, 162. Three things are absolutely necessary-regularity, clearness, and grace. With the two first we may not write badly; with the third we must write well.

These three qualities, which are absolutely unknown

in the university of Paris from its foundation, are almost always united in the works of the professor of ancient history, Rollin. Before him, we neither knew how to write or think in French; he has rendered an eternal service to youth.

What may appear astonishing is, that the French have no author more correct in prose than Racine and Boileau are in verse; for it is ridiculous to regard as faults some noble poetical licences, which are true beauties, and which enrich the language rather than disfigure it.

Corneille too often sinned against language, although he wrote during the time it was perfected. It was his misfortune to have been provincially educated, and to compose his best pieces in the country. In him are often found improprieties, solecisms, barbarisms, and obscurities; although in his finest pieces he is often as pure as he is sublime.

The person who criticised Corneille with so much impartiality, who, in his Commentary, spoke with so much warmth of the fine passages of his tragedies, and who only undertook such commentary for the better establishment of this great man's grand-daughter, has remarked, that there is not a single error of language in the great scene of Cinna and Emilius, in which Cinna gives an account of his meeting with the conspirators; and he scarcely finds above one or two in the other immortal scene, in which Augustus deliberates whether he shall abdicate the empire.

By a singular fatality, the coldest scenes of his other pieces are those in which the errors of language most abound. Almost all these scenes, not being animated by true and interesting sentiments, but merely filled with perplexed reasoning, err as much in expression as in thought. Nothing is clear, nothing shows itself openly; so true is it, that what is strongly conceived is clearly expressed:Ce que l'on conçoit bien s'énonce clairement.

Art. Poétique, chant. i. v. 153. The worst works are commonly the most defective in language. VOL. IV.


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