Page images

If such an investigation could prove interesting, I would here follow the history of English words; I would show by what authors they were introduced, and how they have lost or changed their acceptation by departing from their primitive sense. I would treat of compound words, of negative words, in opposition to positive words, in which our language is too deficient, of words that are both substantives and verbs: silence for example signifies at once silence and to make silent, or to silence. But such researches, which would be extremely curious, were our language the object of them, (as it may be seen in the learned Tableau of M. Chasles*) would, in reference to a foreign language, be wearisome or unintelligible to the French reader.

It is only before languages have attained their highest polish that they follow the movement of civilisation: when they have once arrived at that point, they stand still for some time, then go down hill, and become corrupted. It is to be feared that superior talents will henceforth have but a discordant or cracked instrument to give forth their harmonies. A language may, it is true, acquire new expressions with the gradual advance of knowledge; but it cannot change its syntax without

* "Tableau de la Marche et des Progrès des Langues et de la Littérature Françaises," &c.


changing its genius. A happy barbarism remains in a language without disfiguring it; solecisms never gain a footing in it without destroying it. We may have a Tertullian, a Statius, a Silius Italicus, a Claudian; but shall we again have Bossuets, Corneilles, Racines, Voltaires. In a young language, authors have expressions and images which charm like the first beam of morning; in a language completely formed they are brilliant with beauties of every kind; in an aged language, the simplicities of style are but reminiscences, the sublimities of thought, but the produce of an arrangement of words, sought with labour and contrasted with effort.



CRITICISM, at first so useful, has become in London, from its abundance and its diversity, another source of deterioration in the monuments of the English language, by perplexing people's ideas as to the expressions, turns, and words, which they ought to reject, and such as it is right to employ. How can an author discover the truth among so many different opinions, pronounced upon the same work by the Monthly Review, the Critical Review, the Quarterly Review, the Edinburgh Review, the British Review, the Eclectic Review, the Retrospective Review, the Foreign Review, the Foreign Quarterly Review, the Literary Gazette, the London Museum, the Monthly Censor, the Monthly Magazine, the New Monthly Magazine, the Edinburgh Magazine, the Literary Magazine, the London Magazine, Blackwood's

[blocks in formation]

Magazine, the Brighton Magazine, the Annual Register, the Classical Journal, the Quarterly Journal, the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, the Monthly Repertory * ? It would be easy to add a hundred other titles to this motley list, to which might, moreover, be added the literary articles in the daily newspapers.

In France we are not so rich, and our present judgments are less severe. It is possible that literature may appear a puerile occupation to the political and positive age which is commencing among us. If this is really the case, it must be obvious that a writer has very little temptation to create himself a host of enemies, for the satisfaction of upholding the genuine principles of art and taste, in a career in which there is no longer either glory or honours to be acquired.

One critic has of late years ventured to exercise a rigorous censorship: what outcries has he not occasioned? What, then, would the writers of the present day have said, if they had been treated as we were formerly treated! May I be permitted to mention myself as an instance? I had a host of clever men against me: when Atala appeared, the classic army, headed by the Abbé Morellet,

* Persons acquainted with English Literature need not be told that many of the periodicals enumerated here are no longer in existence.-TRANSLAtor.

rushed upon my Florida maiden. The "Genie du Christianisme" roused the whole Voltairian world: it drew upon me admonitions from the most distinguished members of the French Academy. M. Ginguené, examining my work two months after its publication, is apprehensive that his criticism comes too late, the "Genie du Christianisme" being already forgotten. The very clever M. Hoffmann lashed the "Martyrs" in five or six articles of the Journal de l'Empire, then taken from its proprietors, which journal thus proclaimed my speedy end in the vast circle traced by the sword of Napoleon. And what did we-we poor aspirants to renown? Did we think that the whole world was shaken to its foundation? Had we recourse to charcoal or the pistol to rid ourselves of our own lives or of the censor? Full of our own merits, did we obstinately and proudly persist in our faults, determined to conquer the age, and to make it pass under the yoke of our follies? Alas! no: more humble, because we cannot boast the unrivalled talents which nowa-days run the streets, we sought in the first place to justify, and in the next to correct, ourselves. If we had been attacked in too unjust a manner, the tears of the Muses bathed and healed our wounds in short, we were persuaded that criticism has never killed what ought to live, and still

« EelmineJätka »