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Though brevity is a characteristic of the sacred writers, yet they are no strangers to that kind of amplification which gives an energy and an interest to their observations. Languor and feebleness are the characteristics of old age, but how beautifully is this expressed in the following passage:
“ Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say I have no pleasure in them.
“ While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain. In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders (rather millers or men that grind) cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burthen, and desire shall fail : because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets."
From the first paragraph that I have quoted, the style is highly figurative, expressive of the failure of the senses, and of the animal powers. The decay of sight is expressed by the light of the sun and the moon and the stars (all amplification) being darkened. The loss of strength by the “keepers of the house (the hands and arms I believe) trembling;" and the strong men, (the limbs) bowing themselves.” “ The millers, or men that grind, ceasing because they are few,” evidently alludes to the loss of the teeth; and the failure of the sight is again described under the figure of “those who look out at the windows being darkened.”
I cannot say that I understand the meaning of the phrase “the almond tree shall flourish;" but the expression “the grasshopper shall be a burthen, and desire shall fail," is inexpressibly beautiful, and the finest description, in few words, that I ever saw of the extreme debility and helplessness of old age. The concluding expression is so striking that it has become proverbial, “because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets.”
In poetry there is more exercise for the imagination, and consequently more opportunity for this kind of amplification than in any prose composition whatever. The poems of Goldsmith, which, being of the descriptive kind, afford the most ample scope, are almost entirely composed of it. Take as an example, the charming character of the village preacher from the Deserted Vitlage....
“ Near yonder copse, where once the garden smil'd,
Wept o'er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done,
I cannot resist the temptation of adding the portrait of the schoolmaster.....
“ Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way,
Full well they laugh’d, with counterfeited glee,
Convey'd the dismal tidings when he frown'd;
You will easily see that these two characters might have been delineated in few words; but the enumeration and display of all the little circumstances that serve to mark them, renders the picture striking and perfect.
But though poetry affords the finest field for this exercise of the fancy, so convinced were the ancients of its necessity to fine composition, that they proposed certain topics or common places to assist the memory in bringing forward every thing that served to illustrate a subject. Aristotle's Rhetoric, which I would have you read as the curious effort of the most methodical understanding that ever existed, is chiefly a collection of these topics. The topics, or common places, they distributed into two kinds; general or metaphysical topics; or particular topics. Of the first kind were happiness, virtue, the profitable, the good, &c. &c.; particular topics regarded men, places, or times.
Thus under the general topic or division happiness, they would enumerate health, security, power, nobility, friends, children, fame, success, disposition, wealth, &c.
Under the particular topic person, they would have regard to sex, age, fortune, education, ability, family, offices, &c.
Thus in descanting upon the excellence and utility of any virtue, and to shew how it contributed to happiness, by turning to that general topic, the orator or the student would be led to argue how far it was essential to health, to security, to fame, &c.
Or in delineating a character, by glancing his eye on his common-place book, he would be led to declare what the person was as to birth, fortune, education, ability, offices, connexions, &c.
This method is however too mechanical to be pursued by a person of genius, and none but a person of genius
ill ever succeed in amplification on any subject. Yet I think I may recommend to you, when you are to write on any subject, to sit down previously and consider it in all its parts, circumstances and relations, and even to take notes of those topics on which it may be proper to enlarge. In short, though amplification may not be necessary to plain didactic or narrative composition, it may be fairly inferred that almost all the beauties of fine writing will proceed more or less from a judicious application of this principle.
I must repeat, however, that it depends entirely on the taste and judgment of the author to select such circumstances as are really striking, for nothing can be more stupid than an amplified detail of trifling matters. It would be a very instructive exercise, if a judicious tutor in rhetoric, was to give occasionally his pupils, as themes on which to enlarge, some general heads; as some well-known character in history, the imaginary description of a landscape, a battle, a garden, &c. Or you may do the same for yourself, taking a subject from Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon; writing your own thoughts upon it, and afterwards comparing your effort with that of the author. M. Rollin produces some of these subjects to which I shall refer, in order to enable you to pursue with more effect this excellent exercise of the youthful mind.
“ The theme is to display the religion and piety of marshal Turenne, even in the midst of battles and victories.
“ The writer must begin with a common-place, to represent how difficult it is for a general, at the head of a great army, neither to be elate with pride, nor to consider himself infinitely superior to the rest of mankind. Even the aspect of the war, the noise of arins, the cries of soldiers, &c. conspire to make him forget what he himself and what God is. It was on such occasions, Salmoneus, Antiochus, and Pharaoh, had the presumption and impiety to think themselves gods; but it must be confessed that religion and humility never appear more illustrious, than when they render a man submissive and obedient to God in such high fortunes.
“ It was on such occasions that M. Turenne gave the greatest proofs of his piety: he was often seen to withdraw into woods, and, in the midst of the rain and dirt, prostrate himself before God. He ordered prayers to be said in the camp every day, at which he assisted in person with singular devotion.
“ Even in the heat of battle, when success appeared infallible, and news was brought him of it from all quarters, he used to suppress the joy of the officers, by saying; "If God does not support us, and finish his own work, we may still be defeated.'
This subject, as treated by M. Mascaron, in the funeral
oration of M. Turenne.
“ Do not imagine that our hero lost those religious sentiments at the head of armies, and in the midst of victories. Certainly, if there is any conjuncture in which the soul, full of itself, is in danger of forgetting God, it is in those illustrious stations where a man becomes as a god to others, by the wisdom of his conduct, the greatness of his courage, the strength of his arm, and