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better choice of words, a more perspicuous arrangement of sentences, and a greater simplicity of expression, were introduced. Of the authors enumerated during this era, all contributed in no slight degree toward the amelioration of our language; but we may point with peculiar approbation to the sweetness and ease of Cowley, to the dignified simplicity of Taylor, to the energy and copiousness of Barrow, to the elegance and naivete of Temple, and to the warmth and mellow richness of Dryden. Though much was done by these illustrious ornaments of English literature to polish and reform their native tongue, much still was wanting to impart a systematic correctness, and to give that force and precision, that luminous and harmonious structure, of which by late experience we know the language to be susceptible. The reign of Queen Anne, which commenced in 1702, has been generally esteemed, from the value of its literary productions, the Augustan Age of Great Britain; an appellation which, though not perfectly well founded, it maintained with little opposition until the accession of his present Majesty. A period of national success and glory has been frequently found to add fresh nerves and vigour to the pursuits of literature and science. The elevation to which Great Britain attained in consequence of the campaigns of Marlborough, and the powerful attitude which she assumed with regard to the nations on the continent, appear to have stimulated to enthusiasm the literary genius of our isle. The principal authors of Queen Anne's reign were likewise active political characters, and their influence in the state added much to their dignity and power. Swift, Addison, Bolingbroke, and Prior, at the same time that they held the first rank in the republic of letters, performed the most important services to government; all contributed to support what they deemed the cause of their country by their compositions, and the three latter likewise by official situations. The writers who, immediately previous to Addison, contributed most essentially, though in very different ways, to enlarge and refine our language, were Dean Swift and Lord Shaftesbury. The style of Swift, though it claim appropriate praise, has been extravagantly, and therefore injudiciously, applauded. Lowth has declared him the most correct of our prose writers; and Blair says that "he knew, almost, beyond any man, the purity, the extent, the precision of the English language; and therefore, to such as wish to attain a pure and correct style, he is one of the most useful models." Of this latter encomium, part is true and part unfounded. No man has equalled Swift in the knowledge of the force and purity of English words, or in fecundity of idiomatic expression; but in collocation and grammatical accuracy, it were absurd, in the present day, to consider him as a model. Of his wit, humour, and intellectual powers, I entertain the highest opinion; and I deem his works a rich copia verborum, which displays, in an unprecedented degree, the independent wealth of his native tongue; but, in the arrangement of these words into sentences he is not only inattentive to harmony and grace, but he is for the most part singularly negligent and harsh. It is true, the plainness of his style frequently sets off to advantage the keenness of his wit; but except where the vulgarity of the character may require it, it will not be contended, I imagine, that careless construction can assist his views; and yet, notwithstanding the great authorities above-mentioned, I have little hesitation in asserting, that, in point of grammatical precision, he is inferior to several of his contemporaries. Mr. Sheridan, though an ardent admirer of the Doctor, and a repeater of the common idea with regard to his correctness, has in his preface and notes to the edition of
1784 *, with great propriety, pointed out many of his grammatical errors, solecisms, and inaccuracies; a service which might be considerably extended, and which, were prejudice set aside, would militate strongly against the popular opinion. Great verbal purity and copiousness, a most extensive knowledge of idiom, and diction plain, forcible, and clear, form the merits of the Dean's style; a slovenly arrangement of sentences, an almost total want of modulation or smoothness, and frequent laxity in grammatical construction, are its defects. From one of his best productions, the Tale of a Tub, which was published in the year 1704,1 select two specimens; the first includes three or four inaccuracies, the second is nearly correct, and abounds in humour and idiomatic phraseology. The Dean thus commences A Digression In Praise Of Digressions.
"I have sometimes heard of an Iliad in a nutshell; but it has been my fortune to have much oftener seen a nutshell in an Iliad. There is no doubt that human life has received most wonderful advantages from both; but to which of the * These are likewise retained in the very valuable edition by Nichols, in nineteen volumes 8vo. published in 1801. two the world is chiefly indebted, I shall leave among the curious, as a problem worthy of their utmost inquiry. For the invention of the latter, I think the commonwealth of learning is chiefly obliged to the great modern improvement of digressions: the late refinements in knowledge, running parallel to those of diet in our nation, which, among men of a judicious taste, are dressed up in various compounds, consisting in soups and olios, fricassees and ragouts.
"It is true, there is a sort of morose, detracting, ill-bred people, who pretend utterly to disrelish these polite innovations; and as to the similitude from diet, they allow the parallel, but are so bold to pronounce the example itself, a corruption and degeneracy of taste. They tell us, that the fashion of jumbling fifty things together in a dish, was at first introduced, in compliance to a depraved and debauched appetite, as well as to a crazy constitution: and to see a man hunting through an olio, after the head and brains of a goose, a widgeon, or a woodcock, is a sign he wants a stomach and digestion for more substantial victuals *."
The following pleasant ridicule on the doctrine of transubstantiation, I have chosen as a favourable example of our author's composition:
* Tale of a Tub, Section 7th.