Page images
PDF
EPUB

The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.

the gospel. Indeed, in every sort of composition of a figurative character, more attention is always and justly considered as due to this circumstance, than in any other sort of writing. Æsop's fables are a noted example of this remark. In further confirmation of it, we may observe that no pieces are commonly translated with greater ease and exactness, than the allegorical ; and that even by those who apprehend nothing of the mystical sense. This sure could never be the case, if the obscurity were chargeable on the language.

The same thing holds here as in painting emblems, or graving devices. It may, without any fault in the painter or engraver, puzzle you to discover what the visible figure of the sun, for example, which you observe in the emblem or the device, was intended to signify ; but if you are at a loss to know whether it be the figure of the sun or the figure of the moon, that you are looking at, he must have been undoubtedly a bungling artist. The body, therefore, if I may so express myself, of the emblem or of the device, and precisely for the same reason, of the riddle or of the allegory, must be distinctly exhibited, so as scarce to leave room for a possibility of mistake. The exercise that in any of these performances is given to ingenuity, ought wholly to consist in reading the soul.

I KNOW no style to which darkness of a certain sort is more suited than to the prophetical. Many reasons

[blocks in formation]

might be assigned which render it improper that prophesy should be perfectly understood before it be accomplished. - Besides, we are certain, that a prediction may be very dark before the accomplishment; and yet so plain afterwards, as scarcely to admit a doubt in regard to the events suggested. It does not belong to critics to give law to prophets, nor does it fall within the confines of any human art, to lay down rules for a composition so far above art. Thus far, however, we may warrantly observe, that when the prophetic style is imitated in poetry, the piece ought, as much as possible, to possess the character abovementioned. This character, in my opinion, is possessed in a very eminent degree by Mr Gray's ode called The Bard. It is all darkness to one who knows nothing of the English history, posterior to the reign of Edward the first, and all light to one who is well acquainted with that history. But this is a kind of writing whose peculiarities can scarce be considered as exceptions from ordinary rules.

But, further, may not a little obscurity be sometimes very suitable in dramatic composition ? Sometimes, indeed, but very seldom ; else the purpose of the exhibition would be lost. The drama is a sort of moral painting, and characters must be painted as they are. A blunderer cannot properly be introduced conversing with all the perspicuity and precision of a critic, no more than a clown can be justly represented expressing himself in the polished style of a courtier. VOL. II.

I

May there not be an excess of perspicuity ?

[ocr errors]

In like manner, when the mind is in confusion and perplexity, arising from the sudden conflict of violent passions, the language will of necessity partake of the perturbation. Incoherent hints, precipitate sallies, vehement exclamations, interrupted perhaps by feeble checks from religion or philosophy, in short, every thing imperfect, abrupt, and desultory, are the natural expressions of a soul overwhelmed in such a tumult. But even here it may be said with truth, that to one skilled in reading Nature, there will arise a light out of the darkness, which will enable him to penetrate farther into the spirit, than he could have done by the help of the most just, most perspicuous, and most elaborate description. This might be illustrated, were it necessary, but a case so singular is hardly called an exception. The dramatist then can but rarely claim to be indulged in obscurity of language, the fabulist

[ocr errors]

never.

CHAP. IX.

May there not be an excess of perspicuity ?

[ocr errors]

und I SHALL conclude this subject, with inquiring whether it be possible that perspicuity should be carried to excess. It hath been said, that too inuch of it has a tendenèy to cloy the reader, and, as it gives no play

[ocr errors]

May there not be an excess of perspicuity ?

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

to the rational and active powers of the mind, will soon grow irksome through excess of facility. In this männer some able critics have expressed themselves on this point, who will be found not to differ in sentiment, but only in expression from the principles above laid down. The objection ariseth manifestly from the confounding of two objects, the common and the clear, and thence very naturally their contraries, the new and the dark, that are widely different. If you entertain your reader solely or chiefly with thoughts that are either trite or obvious, you cannot fail soon to tire him. You introduce few or no new sentiments into his mind, you give him little or no information, and consequently afford neither exercise to his reason, nor entertainment to his fancy. In what we read, and what we hear, we always seek for something in one respect or other new, which we did not know, or at least attend to before. The less we find. of this, the sooner we are tired. Such a trifling minuteness, therefore, in narration, description, or argunient, as an ordinary apprehension would render superfluous, is apt quickly to disgust us. The reason is, not because any thing is said too perspicuously, but because many things are said which ought not to be said at all. Nay, if those 'very things had been expressed obscurely (and the most obvious things may be expressed obscurely), the fault would have been much greater ; because it would have required a good deal of attention to discover what, after we had discovered it, we should perceive not to be of sufficient value for re

tla.

re!

Havi

ed

May there not be an excess of perspicuity ?

quiting our pains. To an author of this kind we should be apt to apply the character which Bassanio in the play gives of Gratiano's conversation : " He

speaks an infinite deal of nothing. His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff; you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when

you have them, they are not worth the search.” It is therefore futility in the thought, and not perspicuity in the language, which is the fault of such performances. There is as little hazard that a pięce shall be faulty in this respect, as that a mirror shall be too faithful in reflecting the images of objects, or that the glasses of a telescope shall be too transparent.

At the same time, it is not to be dissembled that, with inattentive readers, a pretty numerous class, darkness frequently passes for depth. To be perspicuous, on the contrary, and to be superficial, are regarded by them as synonymous. But it is not surely to their absurd notions that our language ought to be adapted.

It is proper, however, before I dismiss this subject, to observe, that every kind of style doth not admit an equal degree of perspicuity. In the ode, for instance, it is difficult, sometimes perhaps impossible, to reconcile the utmost perspicuity with that force and vivacity which the species of composition requires. But

* Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

« EelmineJätka »