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But this propensity operates not in every state of mind. immoderately grieved, seeks to afflict himself, rejecting all consolation immoderate grief accordingly is mute: complaining is strug gling for consolation
It is the wretch's comfort still to have
Some small reserve of near and inward wo,
Which they unseen may wail, and weep, and mourn,
Mourning Bride, Act I. Sc. 1.
When grief subsides, it then and no sooner finds a tongue: we complain, because complaining is an effort to disburden the mind of its distress.*
Surprise and terror are silent passions for a different reason: they agitate the mind so violently as, for a time, to suspend the exercise of its faculties, and among others the faculty of speech.
Love and revenge, when immoderate, are not more loquacious than immoderate grief. But when these passions become moderate, they set the tongue free, and, like moderate grief, become loquacious: moderate love, when unsuccessful, is vented in complaints; when successful, is full of joy expressed by words and gestures.
As no passion has any long uninterrupted existence, nor beats always with an equal pulse, the language suggested by passion is not only unequal, but frequently interrupted: and even during an uninterrupted fit of passion, we only express in words the more capital sentiments. In familiar conversation, one who vents every single thought is justly branded with the character of loquacity; because sensible people express no thoughts but what mak some figure: in the same manner, we are only disposed to express the strongest pulses of passion, especially when it returns with impetuosity after interruption.
I formerly had occasion to observe, that the sentiments ought to be turned to the passion, and the language to both. Elevated sentiments require elevated language: tender sentiments ought to be clothed in words that are soft and flowing: when the mind is depressed with any passion, the sentiments must be expressed in words that are humble, not low. Words being intimately connected with the ideas
* This observation is finely illustrated by a story which Herodotus records, b. 3. Cambyses, when he conquered Egypt, made Psammenitus the king prisoner; and for trying his constancy, ordered his daughter to be dressed in the habit of a slave, and to be employed in bringing water from the river; his son also was led to execution with a halter about his neck. The Egyptians vented their sorrow in tears and lamentations; Psammenitus only, with a downcast eye, remained silent Afterward meeting one of his companions, a man advanced in years, who, being plundered of all, was begging alms, he wept bitterly, calling him by his name. Cambyses, struck with wonder, demanded an answer to the following question: "Psammenitus, thy master, Cambyses, is desirous to know, why, after thou hadst seen thy daughter so ignominiously treated, and thy son led to execution, without exclaiming or weeping, thou shouldst be so highly concerned for a poor man, no way related to thee?" Psammenitus returned the following answer: "Son of Cyrus, the calamities of my family are too great to leave me the power of weeping; but the misfortunes of a companion, reduced in his old age to want of bread, is a fit subject for lamentation."
† See Chap. 2. Part 3.
+ Chap. 16.
they represent, the greatest harmony is required between them: to express, for example, an humble sentiment in high sounding words, is disagreeable by a discordant mixture of feelings; and the discoid is not less when elevated sentiments are dressed in low words:
Versibus exponi tragicis res comica non vult.
Horace, Ars Poet. 1. 89. -
This, however, excludes not figurative expression, which, within moderate bounds, communicates to the sentiment an agreeable elevation. We are sensible of an effect directly opposite, where figurative expression is indulged beyond a just measure: the opposition between the expression and the sentiment, makes the discord apnear greater than it is in reality.*
At the same time, figures are not equally the language of every passion pleasant emotions, which elevate or swell the mind, vent themselves in strong epithets and figurative expression; but humbling and dispiriting passions affect to speak plain :
Figurative expression, being the work of an enlivened imagination, cannot be the language of anguish or distress. Otway, sensible of this, has painted a scene of distress in colors finely adapted to the subject: there is scarcely a figure in it, except a short and natural simile with which the speech is introduced. Belvidera talking to her father of her husband:
Think you saw what past at our last parting
* See this explained more particularly in Chap. 8.
I fear not death, but cannot bear a thought
To preserve the foresaid resemblance between words and theit neaning, the sentiments of active and hurrying passions ought to be dressed in words where syllables prevail that are pronounced short or fast; for these make an impression of hurry and precipitation. Emotions, on the other hand, that rest upon their objects, are best expressed by words where syllables prevail that are pronounced long or slow. A person affected with melancholy has a languid and slow train of perceptions: the expression best suited to that state of mind, is where words, not only of long but of many syllables, abound in the composition; and, for that reason, nothing can be finer than the following passage.
In those deep solitudes, and awful cells,
Pope, Eloisa to Abelard.
To preserve the same resemblance, another circumstance is requisite, that the language, like the emotion, be rough or smooth, broken or uniform. Calm and sweet emotions are best expressed by words that glide softly: surprise, fear, and other turbulent passions, require an expression both rough and broken.
It cannot have escaped any diligent inquirer into nature, that, in the hurry of passion, one generally expresses that thing first which is most at heart: which is beautifully done in the following pas
Passion has often the effect of redoubling words, the better to make them express the strong conception of the mind. This is finely 'mitated in the following examples.
-Thou sun, said I, fair light!
Paradise Lost, book VIII. 273
Against God only; I, 'gainst God and thee:
* Demetrius Phalereus (of Elocution, sect. 28.) justly observes, that an accurate adjustment of the words to the thought, so as to make them correspond in every particular, is only proper for sedate subjects; for that passion speaks plain, and rejects all refinements.
Shakspeare is superior to all other writers in delineating passion. It is difficult to say in what part he most excels, whether in moulding every passion to peculiarity of character, in discovering the sentiments that proceed from various tones of passion, or in expressing properly every different sentiment: he disgusts not his reader with general declamation and unmeaning words, too common in other writers his sentiments are adjusted to the peculiar character and circumstances of the speaker: and the propriety is no less perfect between his sentiments and his diction. That this is no exaggeration, will be evident to very one of taste, upon comparing Shakspeare with other writers in similar passages. If upon any occasion he falls below himself, it is in those scenes where passion enters not: by endeavoring in that case to raise his dialogue above the style of ordinary conversation, he sometimes deviates into intricate thought and obscure expression:* sometimes, to throw his language out of the familiar, he employs rhyme. But may it not, in some measure, excuse Shakspeare, I shall not say his works, that he had no pattern, in his own or in any living language, of dialogue fitted for the theatre? At the same time, it ought not to escape observation, that the stream clears in its progress, and that in his later plays he has attained the purity and perfection of dialogue; an observation that, with greater certainty than tradition, will direct us to arrange his plays in the order of time. This ought to be considered by those who rigidly exaggerate every blemish of the finest genius for the drama ever the world enjoyed: they ought also for their own sake to consider, that it is easier to discover his blemishes, which lie generally at the surface, than his beauties, which can be truly relished by those only who dive deep into human nature. One thing must be evident to the meanest capacity, that wherever passion is to be
* Of this take the following specimen :
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
From our achievements, though perform'd at height,
So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
Hamlet, Act 1. Sc. 7.
displayed, nature shows itself mighty in him, and is conspicuous by the most delicate propriety of sentiment and expression.
I return to my subject, from a digression from which I cannot repent. 'That perfect harmony which ought to subsist among all the constituent parts of a dialogue, is a beauty no less rare than conspicuous: as to expression in particular, were I to give instances, where, in one or other of the respects above mentioned, it corresponds not precisely to the characters, passions, and sentiments, I might from different authors collect volumes. Following, therefore, the method laid down in the chapter of sentiments, I shall confine my quotations to the grosser errors, which every writer ought to avoid.
And, first, of passion expressed in words flowing in an equal course without interruption.
In the chapter above cited, Corneille is censured for the impropriety of his sentiments: and here, for the sake of truth, I am obliged to attack him a second time. Were I to give instances from that author of the fault under consideration, I might transcribe whole tragedies; for he is no less faulty in this particular, than in passing upon us his own thoughts as a spectator, instead of the genuine sentiments of passion. Nor would a comparison between him and Shakspeare, upon the present article, redound more to his honor, than the former upon the sentiments. Racine is here less incorrect than Corneille; and from him, therefore, I shall gather a few instances. The first shall be the description of the sea-monster in his Phædra, given by Theramene, the companion of Hippolytus. Theramene is represented in terrible agitation, which appears from the following passage, so boldly figurative as not to be excused but by violent perturbation of mind:
Le ciel avec horreur voit ce monstre sauvage,
Yet Theramene gives a long pompous connected description of that event, dwelling upon every minute circumstance, as if he had been only a cool spectator:
A peine nous sortions des portes de Trézène,
The critics seem not perfectly to comprehend the genuis of Shakspeare. His plays are defective in the mechanical part; which is less the work of genius than of experience, and is not otherwise brought to perfection but by diligently observing the errors of former compositions. Shakspeare excels all the ancients and moderns in knowledge of human nature, and in unfolding even the most obscure and refined emotions. This is a rare faculty, and of the greatest importance in a dramatic author; and it is that faculty which makes him surpass all other writers in the comic as well as tragic vein.