Imatges de pÓgina

Harmony of Languages. I have met with more than one Englishman and German who have found harmony in their own languages alone. The Russian language, which is the Sclavonian mixed with some Greek and Tartarian words, appears melodious to Russian ears.

However, a German or an Englishman, with ear and taste, will be more pleased with ouranos' than with

heaven' and ' himmel;' with 'anthropos' than “man;' with · Theos' than with God' oro Gott;' with aristos' than with 'goud.' Dactyls and spondees please his ear more than the uniform and tuneless syllables of all other languages.

Nevertheless, I have known great scholars who have complained bitterly of Horace. How is it, say they, that these men, who


for models of melody, not only continually clash vowels against one another, which is expressly forbidden to us; not only lengthen or shorten a word in the Greek style, according

to their pleasure,—but boldly cut a word in two, and put one half at the end of a line, and the other at the commencement of the following one:

Redditum Civi solio Phraaten
Diffidens plebi numero beato-
rum eximit virtus, &c.

HORACE, lib, ji. od. 2.
It is as if we wrote in a French ode-

Défions-nous de la for

tune, et n'en crayons que la vertu. Horace confined himself not to these slight liberties ; he puts at the end of a line the first letter of the word which commences the following one:

Jove non probante u-
xoris amnis.

Lib. i. od. 2.
What shall we say of these harmonious lines?

Septimi, Gades aditure mecum,
Cantabrum indoctum juga ferre nostra, et

Lib. ii. od. 4. , ,


Horace has fifty of this kind, and Pindar is filled with them.

All is noble in Horace, says Dacier in his preface. Would it not be better to say, Sometimes Horace is noble; sometimes he is refined and felicitous ? &c.

It seems to me, that it is the misfortune of commentators of all kinds, never to form a precise idea, but to pronounce sounding words which signify nothing. Mons. and Madame Dacier, with all their merit, were very subject to this malady.

But to return to that which depends solely on language: it seems evident, that the Romans and Greeks gave themselves liberties which among us would be intolerable.

Why do we see so many half words at the ends of the lines of Horace, and not one example of this licence in Virgil? Is it not because odes were intended to be sung, and that music concealed this fault? It is very likely that such may be the reason, since in Pindar we see so many words divided between two lines, and none in Homer. But you will tell me, that minstrels sang

the verses of Homer. At Rome, passages of the Eneid were also sung, as stanzas of Ariosto and Tasso are sung in Italy at present. It is clear, according to the example of Tasso, that this was not singing, properly so called, but a declamation nearly resembling some melodious parts of the Gregorian chaunt.

The Greeks took other liberties which are strictly forbidden us. For example, they often repeated in the same page epithets, half-lines, and even whole lines, which prove that they were not tied down to the same correctness as ourselves. The podas okus akilles,' the "olimpia domata ekontas,' the ekibolon Apollona,' &c. sound agreeably to the ear; but if in our modern languages we so often rhymed to the light feet and arrows of Apollo, or to the celestial abodes, we should not be tolerated.

If we made one personage repeat the same words that another has addressed to him, this double repetition would be still more insupportable.

If Tasso had sometimes made use of the Bergamask dialect, sometimes of the patois of Piedmont, and sometimes of that of Genoa, he would have been read by nobody. The Greeks therefore had more facilities for their poetry than are permitted to any other nation; and of all people the French are subjected to the most rigorous constraint.


There is no complete language; none which can express all our ideas and sensations; their gradations are too numerous and imperceptible. No person can know the precise degree of sentiment which he experiences. For example: under the general name of love and hate, we are obliged to designate a thousand quite different loves and hates; and it is the same with our griefs and pleasures. Thus, like ourselves, all languages are imperfect.

They have all been composed successively and by degrees, according to our necessities. It was the in : stinct common to all men, which unconsciously composed the first grammars. The Laplanders and negroes, as well as the Greeks, have had occasion to express the past, present, and future, and they have all compassed it; but as assemblies of logicians to form languages have never existed, none could attain to an absolutely regular plan.

All words in all possible languages are necessarily images of sensations; but men having never been able to express what they feel, all has become metaphorical. Everywhere the soul is enlightened; the heart burns; the mind perceives, composes, unites, divides; is alarmed, retires, is dissipated, &c. &c.

All nations have agreed to name the human understanding,-breath, mind, spirit, and soul; a something which they feel without comprehending; just as they call the agitation of the air which they cannot see, wind, breath, spirit, &c.

Among all people, infinite has been the contrary to finite; immensity the contrary to measure: it is in

fact evident, that our five senses have produced all our languages, as well as all our ideas.

The least imperfect are like laws—those which are the least arbitrary are the best. The most complete are necessarily those of the people who have most cultivated society and the arts. Thus the Hebrew should be one of the poorest of languages, like the people who spoke it. How could the Hebrews possess marine terms, who before Solomon never had a boat? How could a people employ terms of philosophy, who were plunged in profound ignorance until they began to learn something in their captivity at Babylon? The language of the Phenicians, whence the Hebrews derived their jargon, must have been very superior, because it was the idiom of a rich, commercial, industrious people, scattered over all the earth.

The most ancient known language ought to be that of the nation the most anciently gathered together. It ought further to be that of a people who have been the least subjugated, or who, having been so, have polished their conquerors; and in this respect the Chinese and Arabian languages are the most ancient of all which are spoken at the present day.

There is no mother tongue. All neighbouring nations have borrowed from one another; but the name of mother tongue has been given to those from which some known idioms are derived. For example : Latin is a mother tongue, in relation to Italian, Spanish, and French; but it was itself derived from the Tuscan, and the Tuscan from the Celtic and Greek.

The finest of all languages should be that which is at once the most copious and sonorous, the most varied in its expression, and the most regular in its metre; that which has most compound words; that which by its prosody best expresses the slow or impetuous movements of the soul; that which most resembles music.

Greek has all these advantages : it has none of the harshness of the Latin, most of the words of which end in um, ur, and us. It has all the pomp of the Spanish with all the softness of the Italian. It has,

с с 3

above all the living languages of the world, the expression of music, by long and short syllables, and by the number and variety of its accents. Thus, disfigured as it now is in Greece, it may still be regarded as the finest language in the universe.

The finest language cannot be the most known, when the people who speak it are oppressed, few in number, and without commerce with other nations, and when these other nations have cultivated their own languages. Thus the Greek should be less understood than the Arabic, and even than the Turkish.

Of all the languages of Europe, French should be the most general, because it is the most proper for conversation. It has taken its character from the people who speak it.

The French, for near a hundred and fifty years, have been the people by whom society has been the most cultivated, the first who have thrown off all constraint, and the first among whom women have been free, and even sovereigns, while elsewhere only slaves. The syntax of this language, always uniform and admitting of no inversions, is a further facility, which other languages scarcely possess : it is a more current coin than the others, even when it wants weight. The prodigious quantity of agreeably frivolous books, is another reason of the favour this language has obtained in all countries.

Profound books give no scope to a language; we translate them, and learn Newton's philosophy, but we do not, generally speaking, learn English to understand them.

What renders French still more common is the perfection to which the drama has been carried in this country. It is to Cinna, Phædra, and Le Misanthrope, that it owes its prevalence, and not to the conquests of Louis XIV.

It is neither so copious and pliable as the Italian, so majestic as the Spanish, nor so energetic as the English; and yet it has made more way than these three languages, because it is more social, and possesses more agreeable books than they possess. It has

« AnteriorContinua »