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No. LVII. Tuesday May 22. 1753.
Nec vox hominem fonat
To the ADVENTUREX.
LONGINUS proceeds to address his friend Terentianus in the following manner :
It is the peculiar privilege of poetry, not only to place material objects in the most amiable attitudes, and to clothe them in the most graceful dress, but also to give life and motion to immaterial beings ; and form, and colour, and action, even to abstract ideas ; to embody the virtues, the vices, and the paffions; and to bring before our eyes, as on a ftage, every faculty of the human mind.
Prosopopoeia, therefore, or perfonification, conducted with dignity and propriety, may be juftly esteemed one of the greatest efforts of the creative power of a warm and lively imagination. Of this figure many illustrious examples may be produced from the Jewish writers I have been so earnestly recommending to your perusalz among whom, every part and object of nature is animated, and endowed with sense, with passion, and with language,
To say that the lightning obeyed the commands of God, would of itself be sufficiently sublime; but a Hebrew bard expreffes this idea with far greater energy and life: “ Canst thou send lightnings, that they may
go, and say unto thee, Here we are !" And again, “ God sendeth forth light, and it goeth; he calleth it “ again, and it obeyeth him with fear." 'How animated, how emphatical, is this unexpected answer, “ Here we are !"
Plato, with a divine boldness, introduces in his Crito, the Laws of Athens, pleading with Socrates, and diffuading him from an attempt to escape from the prifon in which he was confined ; and the Roman rival of
; Demofthenes has made his country tenderly expoftulate with Cataline, on the dreadful miseries which his rebellion would devolve on her head. But will a candid critic prefer either of these admired personifications, to those passages, in the Jewish poets, where Babylon, or Jerusalem, or Tyre, are represented as fitting on the dust, covered with fackcloth, stretching out their hands in vain, and loudly lamenting their desolation ? Nay, farther, will he reckon them even equal to the following fictions ? Wisdom is introduced, saying of herself; “ When God prepared the heavens, I was there; " when he fet a circle upon the face of the deep, when gave
to the sea his decree that the waters should “ not pass his commandments, when he appointed the 6 foundations of the earth, then was I by him as one “ brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, “ playing always before him," Where, Terentianus, shall we find our Minerva, speaking with such dignity and elevation? The goddess of the Hebrew bard, is not only the patroness and inventress of arts and learn
ing, the parent of felicity and fame, the guardian and conductress of human life ; but she is painted as immortal and eternal, the constant companion of the great Creator himself, and the partaker of his counsels and designs. Still bolder is the other Prosopopæia : 66 Destruction and Death fay (of Wisdom) we have -66 heard the fame thereof with our ears." ders to taste and judgment censure such a fiction as extravagant and wild, I despise their frigidity and gross insensibility.
When Jehovah is represented as descending to punish the earth in his just anger, it is added, “ Before him
went the peftilence.” When the Babylonian tyrant is destroyed, " the fir-trees rejoice at his fall, and " the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid 4 down, no feller is come up against us." And at the captivity of Jerusalem the very ramparts and the walls Jament, " they languish together." Read likewise the following address, and tell me what emotion you feel at the time of perusal : “ O thou sword of the Lord, how
long will it be e'er thou be quiet ? Put up thyself in
to thy scabbard, rest and be filent.” Art thou not amazed and delighted, my friend, to behold joy and anguish, and revenge, ascribed to the trees of the fo
. Teft, to walls and warlike instruments.
Before I conclude these obfervations, I cannot forbear taking notice of two remarkable passages in the Hebrew writers, because they bear a close resemblance with two in our own tragedians.
Sophocles, by a noble Prosopopæia, thus aggravates the misery of the Thebans, visited by a dreadful plague-“ Hell is enriched with groans and la“ mentations." This image is heightened by a Jewish VOL. II.
author, who defcribes Hell or Hades, as,
Cassandra, in Ełchylus, struck with the treachery and barbarity of Clytemnestra, who is murdering her lufband Agamemnon, suddenly exclaims in a prophetic fury, • Shall I call her the direful mother of Hell !" to represent the most terrible species of destruction, the Jewish poet says, “ the first born of Death shall devour “ his strength.”
Besides the attribution of person and action to objects immaterial or inanimate, there is still another fpecies of the Profopopæia no less lively and beautiful than the former, when a real person is introduced speaking with propriety and decorum. The speeches which the Jewish poets have put into the mouth of their Jehovah, are worthy the greatness and incomprehensible Majesty of the All-Perfect Being. Hear him asking one of his creatures, with a lofty kind of irony, " Where wast thou, when I laid the foundations of the * earth? declare, if thou hast understanding, Who *" hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or " who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereon are “ the foundations thereof fastened, or who laid " the corner-stone? When the morning stars fang to
gether, and all the fons of God shouted for joy ? Or 66 who shut
up the sea with doors, when it brake forth if it had issued out of the womb ? When I brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars, and doors, ** ard said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther,
66 and here shall the pride of thy waves be stayed." How can we reply to these sublime inquiries, but in the words that follow ?“ Behold, I am vile, what shall
" I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my 66 mouth." I have in a former treatise observed to
that Homer has degraded his Gods into men: these writers alone have not violated the Divine Majesty by inadequate and indecent representations, but have made the great Creator act and speak in a manner suitable to the supreme dignity of his nature, as far as the grossness of mortal conceptions will permit. From the fublimity and spirituality of their notions, so different in degree and kind from those of the most exalted philosophers, one may, perhaps, be inclined to think their claim to a divine inspiration reasonable and just, since God alone can describe himself to man.
I had written thus far, when I received dispatches from the emprefs Zenobia, with orders to attend her instantly at Palmyra ; but am resolved, before I set out, to add to this letter a few remarks on the beautiful comparisons of the Hebrew poets.
The use of fimilies in general consists in the illustration or amplification of any subject, or in presenting pleasing pictures to the mind by the suggestion of new images. Homer and the Hebrew bards disdain minute resemblances, and seek not an exact correspondence with every feature of the object they introduce. Provided a general likeness appear, they think it sufficient. Not solicitous for exactness, which in every work is the sure criterion of a cold and creeping genius, they introduce many circumstances that perhaps have no direct affinity to the subject, but taken all together contribute to the variety and beauty of the piece.
The pleasures of friendship and benevolence are compared to the perfumes that flow from the ointments G2