Page images
PDF
EPUB

general similarity of manner, as prove it to be wholly prosaic, or wholly metrical.,

1

To which class, then, ought the Ecclesiastes to be attributed? Several reasons establish the opinion, that it is written in metre. The qualities of the poetical style, which exist in the acknowledged metrical books, may, in some degree, be discovered in it; a choice of epithets, a combination of images, an inverted order of the words, a frequency of ellipses, an accumulation of rhetorical figures, and, above all, that parallelism which is the great principle of Hebrew verse. These circumstances, occurring throughout the whole book, clearly determine its poetical character. Nor need it surprise uş to find a grave and philosophical discourse in measured lines ; for some of the didactic pieces in the Sacred Volume are written in the same manner; as, for instance, the argumentative parts of the book of Job and the book of Proverbs. The Orientals have always had a wonderful predilection for metre: they not only employ it on subjects of religion and morality, but introduce it occasionally, where we should least expect it, in an historical record, and a dry, treatise on law. The Persian Sadder and the Hindu Vedas exhibit, in their outward dress, a. species of versification; and the Koran, the great source of Mohammedan religion and law, is, as

Sir William Jones observes, “ composed in sentences not only modulated with art, but often exactly rhymed."*

The hemistichal division, it is confessed, is not every where equally distinguishable: though, in a majority of instances, it is extremely evident, in others it is exceedingly obscure, perhaps impossible to be made out satisfactorily; but this is only what occurs in most of the metrical parts of the Sacred Volume. Bishop Lowth confesses he had frequent doubts in settling the distribution of the lines or verses, in his admirable translation of Isaiah ; and Dr. Blaney acknowledges the same difficulty in his version of Jeremiah. “In the metrical division of the lines,” says he, “I fear I cannot always claim the merit of being exactly right. In some instances the case is clear, and capable of being ascertained with the greatest precision: as in the acrostic, or alphabetical poems, and wherever there is a plain and evident parallelism in the construction of the sentences. But where there is neither acrostic nor parallelism, there may be, and assuredly often is, versification, if we may credit the similarity of diction, and other marks of discrimination.” Archbishop Newcome also observes, that “doubts must always remain, not

Works, vol. viii. p. 164, 8vo od. See also Sale, Prelim. Disco 9 iii. p. 81.

only as to the division of particular lines which appear to have a poetical cast, but as ta passages of some length whether they resolve themselves into metre or not."*

The difficulty sometimes of ascertaining the hemistichal division need not be matter of surprise, when it is considered that the true pronunciation of the Hebrew is irrecoverably lost, and the nature of Hebrew metre entirely unknown. It would, indeed, be astonishing if, under these circumstances, we met with no perplexity in tracing the versification of the Hebrew poets; but, however intricate the subject may be, it would be uncritical, on that account, to regard any passage, or any book, as a prose composition. If the metrical division is found to exist clearly and unequivocally in a large proportion of the book, it is rational to infer that the whole is poetical, and that the parallelism is only obscure, in any particular instance, in consequence of our ignorance. Applying these observations to the Ecclesiastes, we observe the hemistichal arrangement so evidently to predominate, as to leave no doubt that the whole book is written in poetical numbers.

* Newcome, Vers. of the Minor Prophets, Pref. p. 15. Blaney, Prel. Diss. to Jeremiah, p. 9. Lowth, Prel. Diss. to Isaiah, p. 42. See also Prælect. 19. It is observed by Jahn, “ Membra parallela, poësi Hebrææ propria, non raro neglecta sunt."--Introd. ad Lib. Sac. $213.

It may be observed, that the result of what has been advanced in this Dissertation is, that the book of Ecclesiastes is the genuine production of Solomon; that it is of canonical authority; that it is an inquiry into the Summum Bonum, which is determined to consist in Wisdom, or Religion, which Wisdom, or Religion, therefore, it is designed to recommend and inculcate; and lastly, that it is written in a poetical style and in metre. It may, consequently, be characterized as a Didactic Poem in recommendation of Wisdom. It is now time to advert to the nature and object of the present publication.

SECTION VI.

THE OBJECT AND DESIGN OF THIS PUBLICATION.

A Paraphrase, strictly speaking, is an exposition of the author's sense in different words; but it is sometimes used to denote that species of explanatory illustration in which the author's expressions are interwoven with a commentary, as in Doddridge's Family Expositor. This latter mode of paraphrase is here adopted, as best calculated to explain and illustrate the reasoning of the royal philosopher. It is formed upon the basis of the authorized translation, from which, however, I have sometimes taken the liberty to depart; but in no instance without what appears to me the most urgent necessity, or without being supported by the soundest principles of criticism. These departures from the standard version are not many; and wherever a different rendering is adopted, it is indicated by the annexation of an asterisk in the margin.

The accompanying Notes are intended to establish the scope and design of the work, to point out the chain of argument, and to embody such observations as seem proper to enforce and ! elucidate the whole. I have also added some Critical Notes, designed either to show the correctness of the received version, or to confirm, by critical reasons, some other rendering here adopted, or to discuss briefly some grammatical and philological question. As such remarks are only intelligible to the learned reader, they are placed at the end, as an Appendix, with proper references.

The general principles by which I have been guided in this Illustration of Ecclesiastes being precisely the same as in my Attempt towards an Improved Translation of the Proverbs, in the Preliminary Dissertation to which they are fully detailed, it is unnecessary to repeat them here; I shall, therefore, conclude these remarks with a

« EelmineJätka »