« AnteriorContinua »
though this rule of decorum be so essential to dramatic writing, yet, as the greatest Masters in that art frequently betrayed their own Times and Country in their fictitious Works *, we can hardly suppose a Jewish Writer more exact in what only concerned the critical perfection of his Piece. But as decorum is one of the plainest and simplest principles of Composition, we cannot suppose a good writer ignorant of it; and so are not to look for such glaring absurdities as are to be found in the dramatic writings of late barbarous ages ; but such only as might easily escape the most exact and best instructed Writer.
Some slight indecorums therefore we may reasonably expect to find, if the Author were indeed a Jew: and such, if I am not much mistaken, we shall find. Job, speaking of the wicked man, says, He that speaketh flattery to his friends, even the eyes of his children shall failt-God layeth up iniquity for his children I. And in the course of the dispute, and in the heat of altercation, this peculiar dispensation is touched upon yet inore precisely. Job, in support of his doctrine, paints at large the happy condition of prosperous wicked men; a principal circumstance of whose felicity is, that they spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave $, i.e. without sickness, or the terrors of slow-approaching death. The lot which prosperous libertines of all times, who believe no future reckoning, most ardently wish for. Now in the declining times of the Jewish Economy, pious men had always their answer ready, The prosperous wicked man (say they) shall be pu:
Sec note (L) at the end of this volunie. * Chap. xvii. ver. 5.
Chap. xxi. ver. 19. See note (M) at the end of this volume, $ Chap. xxi. ver. 13.
nished in his Posterity, and the afflicted good man rewarded in them. To the first part of the solution concerning the wicked, Job answers thus, God layeth up his iniquity for his children; he rewardeth him, and he shall know it *. As much as to say, the evil man sees and knows nothing of the punishinent; in the mean time, he feels and enjoys his own felicity, as a reward. To the second part, concerning the good, he answers thus, His eyes shall see his destruction, and he shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty : For what pleasure hath he in his house after him, when the number of his months is cut off in the midst ? + i.e. The virtuous man sees and feels nothing but his own miseries; for what pleasure can the good things reserved for his posterity afford to him who is to taste and enjoy none of it; being not only extinct long be*fore, but cut off untimely?
In another place, Job says, That idolatry was an iniquity to be punished by the judge I. Now both this and the former species of punishment were, as we have shewn, peculiar to the Mosaic Dispensation. But a Jew might naturally mistake them for a part of the general Law of God and nature: and so, while he was really describing the Economy under which he lived, suppose himself to be representing the notions of more ancient times : which that it was his design to do, in the last instance at least, appears from his mentioning only the most early species of idolatry, the worship of the Sun and Moon §. Again, the language of Job with regard to a future state is the very same with the Jewish Writers. He that goeth down to the grave (says this writer) shall come up no more :--they shall not awake or be raised out of their sleep. Thus the Psalmist;o-In death there is no remembrance of thee.-Shall the dead' ARISE and praise theel-And thus the author of Ecclesiastes, ---Thę dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a REWARD* And we know what it was that hindered the Jews from entertaining any expectations of a future state of rewards and punishments, which was a popular dock trine amongst all their Pagan neighbours.
Chap. xxi. ver. 19: + Ver. 20, 21. 1 Chap. xxxi. ver. 28. See note (N) at the end of this volume. Ver. 26. X 3
shall See Exod. iii. 8.-xiii. 5.— xxxii. 3: Deut. xxxi. 20,2 Kings xviii. 32.
But there is, besides this of Customs and Opinions; another circumstance that will always betray a feigued Composition, made in an age remote from the sub ject: and that is, the use of later phrases. These are more easily discovered in the modern, and even in what we call the learned languages: but less certainly, in the very ancient ones; especially in the Hebrew, of which there is only one, and that no very large Volume, remaining. . And yet even here, we may detect an author of a later age. For, besides the phrases of common growth, there are others, in every language, interwoven alike into the current style, which owe their rise to some singular circumstance of time and places and so may be easily traced up to their original : though, being long used in common speech in a general acceptation, they may well escape even an attentive Writer. Thus Zophar, speaking of the wicked man, says, He shall not see the rivers, the floods, the BROOKS OF HONEY AND BUTTER T: This in ordinary speech only conveyed the idea of plenty in the abstract; but seems to have been first made a proverbial saying from the descriptions of the holy Land I
Again, Eliphaz says, Receive, I pray thee; THE LAW FROM HIS MOUTH, and lay up his words in * See the preceding Book, p. 178. + Chap. XX. ver. 17.
thine heart * That is, be obedient: but the phrase was taken from the verbal delivery of the Jewish Law from Mount Sinai. The Rabbins were so sensible of the expressive peculiarity of this phrase, that they say the Law Of Aloses is here spoken of by a kind of prophetic anticipation. Again, Job cries out, that I were--as I was in the days of my youth, when the SECRET of God WAS UPON MY TABERNACLE T, that is, in full security: Evidently taken from the residence of the Divine Presence or SHEKINAH, in a visible form, on the ark, or on the tent where the ark was placed. And again--Othat one would hear me! Behold my desire is that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine Adversary had written a book. Surely I would take it upon my shoulder and bind it is a CROWN to me f. A phrase apparently taken from the use of their PHYLACTERIES; which at least were as ancient as their return from Captivity, and coeval with their scrupulous adherence to the Law. :)
A third circumstance, which will betray one of these feigned compositions, is the Author's being drawn, by the vigour of his imagination, from the scat of Action and from the manners of the Scene, to one very different; especially, if it be one of great fame and celebrity. So here, though the scene be the deserts of Arabia, amongst family-heads of independent 'Fribes, and in the simplicity of primitive Manners, yet we are carried by a poetic fancy, into the midst of EGYPT, the best policied, and the most magnificent Empire then existing in the world.-IV hy died I nöt from the womb (says the chief Speaker) for nori I should have lien, still and been quiet, I should hare slept; then had I been at rest; with Kings and
* Chap. xxii. ver. 22. # Chap: xxix. ver. 4. 3 Chap. xxxi. ver. 35, 36.
COUNSELLORS OF THE EARTH, which build DESOLATE PLACES for themselves * ; i.e. magnificent buildings, in desolate places, meaning plainly the PYRAMIDS raised in the midst of barren sands, for the burying places of the kings of Egypt - Kings and counsellors of the earth---was, by way of eminence, the designation of the Egyptian Governors. So Isaiah ---the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become brutish. How say ye unto Pharaoh, I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings t. But it may be observed in general, that though the Scene confined the Author to scattered Tribes in the midst of Deserts, yet his images and his ideas are, by an insensible allure, taken throughout, from crowded Cities and a civil policied People. Thus he speaks of the Children of the wicked being crushed in the gate I, alluding to a City taken by storm, and to the destruc- :: tion of the flying inhabitants pressing one another to death in the narrow passage of the City-gates.-Again, of the good man it is said, that he shall be hid from the scourge of tongues g; that pestilent mischief which rages chiefly in rich and licentious Communities. But there would be no end of giving instances of this kind, where they are so numerous.
Hitherto the Author seems unwarily to have betrayed his Times and Country. But we shall now see that he has made numerous allusions to the miraculous History of his Ancestors with serious purpose and design. For this poem being written, as will appear, for the comfort and solace of his Countrymen, he reasonably supposed it would advance his principal
* Chap. iii. ver. 12, 13, 14.
+ Isaiah xix. 11. 1 Chap. v. ver. 4. The Septuagint renders it very expressively κολαβρισθείησαν επί θύραις ήσσόνων. .
See note (O) at the end of this volume.