Imatges de pÓgina

Your eyes are black and lovely; but wild • and disdainful as those of a stag.

The wretched Ibrahim sighs in these verses one dart from your eyes hath pierced • through my heart1.

[ocr errors]

Ah, Sultana! STAG-EYED : an angel among angels! I desire, and my desire re'mains unsatisfied.

Turn to me, Sultana!-let me gaze on thy • beauty".

[ocr errors]

Adieu-I go down to the grave: If thou 'callest me, I return.

My heart is hot as sulphur; sigh, and it 'will flame.'

On this song I will subjoin two observations; the first is from Mr. Harmer, that "the 'passion of the nightingale is to seek roses,' alludes to a popular Arabian fable of the amours of the nightingale and the rose.-The second is a criticism of Sir W. Jones, on the epithet STAG-EYED in the translation of this song: he supposes the original [ahû chesm] to intend the eyes of a young fawn-the same as the GAZEL of the Arabians, and the ZABI of the Hebrews. I have seen one (says • Sir William), it is exquisitely beautiful, with eyes uncommonly black and large: -The

: Ch. vi. 13

3 Ch. viii. 6.

1 Ch. iv. 9.
Essay on Eastern Poetry.
Eres, fawn-eyed. Pers. Gram. p. 71.

'Turks mean to express fulness, with a soft and languishing lustre.'

[ocr errors]

The above are sufficient to give an idea of the eastern taste in poetic composition; and the similitude between these images and Solomon's, is too obvious to be insisted on. In the critical notes to the commentary, however, I may subjoin some other passages from the easterns to illustrate the text.

I come now to justify the language of my author from the charges of immodesty and indelicacy. In order to which I must submit to the consideration of my readers, the difference between the manners and customs of different nations, particularly in the east and west. Many of the Mosaic laws and regulations respecting women, sound very indelicately to the ears of English ladics, and are certainly very improper to be read in our religious assemblies, or in mixed companies; but does this fix the stain of immodesty on the Jewish legislator? Certainly not; the legal code of the Hindoos contains many of the same laws, quite as naturally expressed; and so do those of other eastern nations. On the other hand, our laws, in many cases, demand that kind of evidence from injured females, in an open court, which would by no means be required by an eastern judge. Also many liberties between the sexes, which, from their intermixture in conversation are thought innocent with us, would be esteemed highly criminal in Turkey, and other parts of the east. The promiscuous dancing of the two sexes," for instance, so

[ocr errors]

fashionable in Europe, is viewed with horror' by the Turks; and an European ball is an object of disgust and detestation to Musselmen'.-I may add that the Hebrew language, in its ancient state, wants words for many indelicate and offensive objects named by us without hesitation '.

It is also to be observed that even in the same country, in different periods, the same expressions are either modest or indelicate. As a nation proceeds in luxury and refinement, the language is also refined, while the manners, perhaps, grow more licentious. This has been particularly the case with us. I doubt not but the passages excepted against in our translation of this very poem appeared modest enough to our translators, who were grave and learned men: and though this certainly is not the case at present, who will say that the morals of the nation are not more relaxed than in the reign of Elizabeth and James I? To instance in one circumstance, I doubt not but our ladies were as modest when they wore their bosoms exposed as they are at present; and then I suppose the description of this feature appeared no more indelicate than now the description of a female face. Such appear to be the ideas of the eastern poets above referred to by Sir W. Jones; and even the colder poets

[ocr errors]


Niebuhr's Travels, vol. I. p. 140.

The Hebrew has no word for urine, but calls it the water of the feet; nor have they any literal term for those sexual distinctions which our modest writers generally name in Latin.


of the north, who are neither chargeable with lewd intentions nor unchaste expressions.

In the celebrated poems of OsSIAN, which, whether genuine or not, were certainly faithful copies of the manners of the age and country, we have the following images; one of which is the same as Solomon's;

'Thy breasts are like two smooth rocks seen 'from Banno of the streams.

'Lovely with her raven hair is the white'bosom'd daughter of Songlan'.

'Her white-breast heaves like snow on the 'heath, when the gentle winds arise and slowly 'move it in the night'.

• Her breasts are like foam on the waves, and ( her eyes like the stars of light: her hair was as the raven's wing".

He must be a fastidious critic indeed, that condemns these beautiful images as licentious or immodest. Yet I know nothing in the Song of Solomon more licentious, and impassioned. The two descriptions of the bride and bridegroom will here perhaps rush into the reader's recollection, especially the former, and make it necessary for me to explain and remove some expressions, which, as they stand in our translation, I can by no means justify.

The translation of the Bible is indeed so important and valuable a work, and the translators were such good and learned men, that I feel pain in finding fault with either: yet as they


Fingal, book I.

2 Battle of Lora.

3 Carthon. Compare Sol. Song, ch. v. 11.

were but men, and laid no claim to inspiration or infallibility, it conveys no censure to say that they sometimes erred. In the present instance, I have shewn that part of their error must be laid to the state of our language and manners near two centuries ago; and another part to the state of learning at that period. Literature, it must be recollected, was then but just awakened from a slumber of a thousand years. The Hebrew language was very imperfectly understood, and less was known of the Hebrew poetry. The attention of our reformers and translators was drawn to objects of more immediate importance, and confined, in a great measure, to the subjects controverted between them and the church of Rome. Thus much

at least must be admitted in their apology. Let us now advert to the very indelicate description they have given us of the spouse in the beginning of the seventh chapter.

If the reader will please to compare my translation of this passage with the common one (neither of which I think it necessary to transcribe here), he will at once perceive the grand difference to be, that what they refer to the naked features, I refer to the dress; which I hope takes off at once the grand objection of its indelicacy. For the import of the individual words and phrases, I must refer to my critical notes: in defence of the general idea, I must beg leave to argue from the following topics.

1. From the nature of the case. Waving the divine authority of the book, and supposing

« AnteriorContinua »