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William Shepherd.

Systematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) online

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only in the expressions of the orator, in the beginning, but in his
whole manner, in his looks, in his gestures, and in the tone of
his voice. It should, however, be observed, that the modesty
of an introduction should never betray any thing mean or ab-
ject. The orator, while he exhibits real modesty and diffi-
dence, should manifest a becoming sense of dignity, arising
from a persuasion of the justice or importance of the subject
of which he is about to speak. Besides the qualities of pro-
priety and modesty, the exordium should be distinguished by
its brevity, by the easiness of the style, and by the calmness
of the manner.

In the proposition of the subject, the qualities chiefly to be
aimed at, are clearness and distinctness. These qualities are
of the most essential importance, and the attainment of them
is well worthy the utmost care and pains. In debates of every
kind, that speaker is listened to with the greatest pleasure,
^o is able briefly and plainly to give the most accurate ac-
count of the points in question.

As the narrative^ or explanation of facts, is to be the

ground-work of all future reasonings of the orator, it is obvi-

^ ously his duty to recount them in such a manner as may be

most favourable to his cause ^ to place in the most striking



?'.<



PR&ifi COMPOSITION. 173

light every circumstance which is to ^is advantage ; and to
soften or palliate such as make against him. He should exer-
cise consummate judgment, so that his narrative may be at
once concise and full, copious and distinct. A perfect narra-
tion is one, from which nothing can be taken without rendering
it obscure, and to which nothing can be added without weak-
ening its force.

In his arguments, a speaker should possess logic as a phi-
losopher, and employ it as an orator. He should follow the
lucid order of nature in their disposition, and express them in
such a style and manner as to give them full force. He should <^^'f
take care not to multiply them to too great an extent, and to ^
bring into a conspicuous point of view those which are most
weighty and cogent.

In the pathetic part of his discourse, which generally intro-
duces and pervades the peroration, the ancient orator collected
all his talents to strike a finishing stroke. But Quintilian, with
his usual judgment, warns the orator against dwelling too long
upon this topic. " Tinje," he says, "soon calms real griefs ;
how much more easily must it dissipate the illusory impres-
sions which act only upon the imagination ! Let not, then, .,y
the pathetic strain be too long continued. If this precept be ^. <:
not well observed, the auditor is fatigued, he resumes his tran-
quillity, and recovering from the transitory emotion, he returns
under the influence of reason. We ought not, then, to suffer
his feelings to cool ; but when we have carried them as far as
they can go, we ought to stop, and not imagine that the mind
will for any long space of time be sensible to emotions which
are foreign to it." 0r

The precise nature of the peroration, or conclusion of any
discourse, must be determined, in a great measure, by the
nature and the circumstances under which it is delivered. It
is frequently expedient in this part of the discourse to com-
press a repetition of the substance of a long train of antecedent'^
argument. The peroration, therefore, may generally be said
to consist of two parts ; first, a recapitulation, in which the



174 BELLES LETTRES.

substance of what is gone before, is collected briefly and cur-
sorily, and summed up with new force and weight : secondly,
the moving of the passions. The qualities required in a pero-
ration are, that it be vehement aud passionate, and that it be
short. Cicero particularly excelled in the peroration. In this
part of his discourse, that great orator not only set his judges
and auditors on fire, but even seemed to burn himself; espe-
cially when he was to raise pity and commiseration towards
the accused. The great rule of a conclusion, is to place that
last, in which we think the strength of the cause should rest.
Sermons commonly conclude with inferences : these should
rise naturally, and so much ^gree with the strain of sentiment
throughout the whole discourse, as not to break the uuity of
the sermon. Dr. Blair, in treating on this subject, says, *' it
is a matter of importance to biing our discourse just to a
point, neither ending abruptly and unexpectedly, nor disap-
pointing the hearers when they look for the close, and conti-
nuing to hover round the conclusion, till they become heartily
tired of us. We should endeavour to go off with a good
grace ; not to end with a languishing and drawling sentence ;
but to close with dignity and spirit, that we may leave the
minds of the hearers warm, and dismiss them with a favourable
impression of the subject and of the speaker."

The conclusion of !Mr. Burke's address to the electors of
Bristol, when he was about to quit the hustuigs, at the elec-
tion of 1780, has been given as a fine instance of peroration:
" It has been usual for a candidate who dechnes, to take leave
by a letter to the sheriffs ; but I received your trust in the face
of day, and in the face of day I accept your dismission. I
am not I am not at all ashamed to look upon you ; nor can
my presence discompose the order of business here. I hum-
bly and respectfully take my leave of the sheriffs, the candi-
dates, and the electors, wishing heartily that the choice may
be for the best, at a time w hich calls, if ever time did call, for
the service that is not nominal. It is no play-thing you are
about. J tremble when 1 consider the Uwit I have presumed



PRO^ COMPOSITION. 175

to ask. I confided, perhaps, too much in my intentions^
They were really fair and upright ; and I am bold to say, that
I ask no ill thing for you, when, on parting from this place,
I pray, that whoever you choose to succeed me, may resemble
me exactly in all things, excepting my abilities to serve, and
my fortune to please you.''



^



CHAP XII.



'*



OF POETRY.



Poetty, in what first used Its excellencies pointed oat Poetic represen.
tatioD, how effected Of ancient poetry Classical poetry: Homer;
Lyrical composition; the heroic ode; Dramatic poetry Roman poets;
Eonius, Virgil, Ovid, Tibollus, &c.

r OETRY is unquestionably the oldest, and the most excel-
lent of the fine arts. It was the first fixed form of language ;
the earliest perpetuation of thought ; it existed before prose
in history, before music in melody, and before painting in
description. *At a very early period of the world it was em-
ployed to celebrate the praises of the Almighty, to communi-
cate lessons of wisdom, and to extol the achievements of va-
lour: music was invented to accompany, and painting, to illus-
trate it. Poetry transcends all other literary compositions, in
harmony, beauty and splendour of style, imagery and thought,
as well as in the permanency and vivacity of its iufiuonce on
the mind, for its language and sentiments are so intimately
connected, that they are remembered together: it excels
music in the passion and pathos of its movements ; and being
progressive, it is superior to painting, which is stationary in
its powers of description. The energies of painting are more
confined to those objects that can be represented by colour
and figure. Poetry can express these objects, though in an
inferior degree ; but the deficiency b compensated by the ex-



t POETRY. - 177

tensive range of the poet's excursions. He dives into the
human breast, developes the windings of the heart, pourtrays
^le workings of the passions, gives form and body to the most
abstract idea's, and, by the language which he puts into the
mouths of his characters, unlocks the secrets of their mind.
Another grand advantage, to which we have alluded, and
which the poet possesses over the painter, is that the latter is
confined to transactions that happen in an instant of time,
while the former presents to the view a long series of events,
" An interesting picture," says a writer on this subject, "might,
no doubt, be drawn of the pious agony with which JEneas
witnessed the obstinacy of his father, in refusing to save him-
self from the sword of the Greeks, by quitting his ancient and
long-loved abode. But what a varied pleasure do we expe-
rience in reading of the circumstances that preceded and that
followed this event ; in tracing the steps of the duteous son
from the palace of Priam to his father's mansion ; and in be-
holding him at length bearing his parent beyond the rea'ch of
the foe. Since every finished composition should have a be- ,
ginning, a middle, and an end, so the mind feels a superior
degree of satisfaction, when the rise, the circumstances, and
the consequences of events are displayed before it in artful
order. Poetry can eflfect this ; but, in painting, the present
only exists ; the past and the future are wanting."

Moreover, poetic representation is effected not merely by
words, but by words metrically, or, at least, melodiously ar-
ranged : this is the exterior distinction ; but too many writers
seem to assign to it a place of eminence,- to which it is by no
means entitled. Poetry, if it deserv^^he title, must include
something more than thfe " mere measuring of syllables, and
the tagging of a verse." If the heart do not glow with the
flame of genius, the mechanism of art will be unavailing. No
one can excite strong feelings in others, who is not himself
strongly excited ; no one can raise vivid images in the mind
of his reader, who is not himself illumined by the sportive light
of fancy.

VOL. I. *^ N



Mm



178 BELLES LETTRfes.

The poet should never forget, that the end of poetry is to
amu^e the taiicy and p<>werfully excite the feelings, which will
be best effected by impressing the mind with the most vivid
pictures. " The primary aim of the poet," says Dr. Blair,
*' is to please and to move ; and, therefore, it is to the imagi-
nation and the passions that he speaks. He may, and he ought
to have it in his view, to instruct and to inform ; but it is in-
directly, and by pleasing and moving, that he accomplishes this
end. His mind is supposed to be animated by some interest-
ing object, which fires the imagination, or engages his pas-
sions ; and which, of course, communicates to his style a pe-
culiar elevation, suited to his ideas, very different from that
mode- of expression, which is natural to the mind in its calm
and ordinary state."

As, then, the chief end of poetry is to make a lively impres-
sion on the feelings, we may in some measure estimate the
vastness (f its powers; and in this respect facts will corres-
pond "with pre-conceived theory. In consequence of the effi-
cacy of poetry upon the human feelings, the maxims of early
wisdom, the first records of history, and even the dictates of
law, were delivered in a poetic dress. " In the infancy of
states, poetHf is a method equally captivating and powerful in
forming the dispositions of the people, and kindling in their
hearts that love of glory, which is their country's safeguard in
the day of peril. Whether we look to the cold regions of
Scandinavia, or the delicious clime of Greece ; whether we
contemplate the North American Indian, or the wild Arab of
the desert ; it will be found that, when mankind have made a
certain progress in society, they are strongly influenced by the
love of song, and listen with raptured attention to the strains
that record the tale of other times, and the deeds of heroes of
oM. They listen till they imbibe the enthusiasm of warfare,
and, in the day of battle, the hero's arm has not unfrequently
been nerved by the rough energy of the early bard."

It is a well-known fact, that the Greeks were accustomed to
march to the fight while singing in praise of Apollo ; and that



POETRY. 179

the songs written in honour of Harmodius and Aristogiton, by
being habitually recited at their banquets and solemn festivals,
tended in no inconsiderable degree to preserve among the
Athenians an enthusiastic love of liberty. Nor is the power
of the muses done away by tlie progress of civilization.
Every nation, at every period of its existence, possesses some
indigenous poetry, which nourishes the flame of patriotism.
Such is the wonderful influence of poetical composition; and
when directed to worthy objects, it is one of the most pleasant
and most efficacious means of forming the youthful mind, and
of exciting the emotions, and enforcing the principles of virtue.
Having said so much concerning poetry in general, we shall
proceed to give an account of the different kinds of poetry,
for which we shall be much indebted to an article in a very
popular work. '

Of ancient Poetry. That the higher order of poetry is
attainable in an early stage of society, is a truth eminently illus-
trated by the example of the Hebrew people. It is evident
that the bards of this nation composed their lofty songs for a
primitive race, tenacious of its customs and opinions, unen-
lightened by science, uncorrected by taste, and as little ac-
quainted with the arts, as the refinements of polished life. The
simplicity and energy of the Hebrew language accorded hap-
pily with the sublime nature of sacred poetry ; and to the
peculiarities in its constitution it is perhaps owing, that the pri-
mitive character of its composition is tenaciously preserved to
whatever language transferred, or with whatever idioms assi-
milated. The distinctive feature of Hebrew poetry was a
symmetrical disposition of the sentences, which were cast into
parallel verses of equal length, and correspondent in sense and
sound; the sentiment expressed in the first distich, being repeated
and amplified in the second, as in the following examples :

The Lord rewardeth me according to my righteousness :
According to the cleanness of my band he hath recompensed me.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever :
The judgments of the Lord are pure and righteous altogether.
N 2



180 BELLES LETTRES.

This practice, which was, perhaps, peculiar to the Hebrews,
was derived from their rites of worship, in which the sacred
hymns were chaunted by bauds of singers, who alternately
responded to each other. The Hebrew bards employ few
epithets ; but the brevity of their style renders its sublimity
conspicuous ; their imagery is bold and energetic ; their ima-
gination is ever rich and exuberant ; and to them, metaphors
spontaneously arise on every subject, in inexhaustible beauty
and fertility. Although Hebrew poetry presents nothing that
can properly be classed with epic or dramatic composition, it
affords innumerable examples of the lyric, the elegiac, aiMl
the didactic style. In the prophecies, the favourite figure is
allegory : the Hebrews, in commor\.widi other Oriental na-r
tions, liad a decided predilection for the parabolic species of
writing; their images are highly natural, and, on minute
examination, they will be found to have harmonized with
scenes and manners familiar to their observation and expe-
rience.

The figure, however, which elevates beyond all others the
poetical style of the Scriptures, is the prosopopoeia, or perso-
nification ; and it is certain, that the personifications of the
sacred writings exceed in boldness and sublimity eveiy thing
that can be found in other poems. This is especially the case
when any appearance or operation of the Almighty is con-
cerned, as the following examples will prove : " Before Him
went the pestilence. The waters saw Thee, O God, and were
afraid. The mountains saw Thee, and they trembled. The
deep uttered his voice, and Hfted up his hands on high." Of
the sacred Poets, the most eminent are, the author of the
Book of Job, David, and the Prophet Isaiah. In the dif-
ferent compositions of David, there is a great variety of style
and manner. He excels in the soft and tender ; but there are
likewise many lofty passages in the Book of Psalms. In
strength of description, he yields to Job ; and, in sublimity,
he is inferior to Isaiah. The most sublime of all poets, with-
out exception, is Isaiah, whom Dr. Lowth compares to



POETRY. 181

Homer ; Jeremiah, he compares to Simonides ; and Ezekiel, to
^schyhis. Among the minor prophets, Hosea, Joel, Micah,
Habakkuk, and more particularly Nahum, are eminent for
poetical spirit. The Book of Job is extremely ancient, but
the author is uncertain. It is remarkable, that it has no sort
of connexion with the affairs, or the manners of the Jews and , ; /

Hebrews. Its poetry is highly descriptive. It abounds in a '

peculiar glow of fancy and metaphor. Whatever the author
treats of, he renders visible. The scene is laid in the land of
Uz, or Idumaea, which is a part of Arabia ; and the imagery
employed in it differs from that which is peculiar to the He-
brews.

The Arabs were not, like the Hebrews, a stationary people,
and insulated from the rest of mankind : they engaged in com-
merce and war, and, in their intervals of leisure, were no less
ambitious to obtain poetical distinction, than they had been to
secure military fame. With them, poetry became a polite ac-
complishment ; and as the copiousness of their language sup-
plied all the aptitudes of numbers, it is not surprising that ,. - ,<Ly.i
bards should be found even in th^ir deserts. The distich, and
some other forms of metrical composition, adapted to familiar
occasions, were of Arabian invention ; and it is thought by
Sir William Jones, that rhymes were borrowed from Eastern
literature by the poets of Spain and Portugal, through whose
influence they were naturalized in Europe.

With the copiousness and jlexibility of the Arabic, the Per-
sian language is found to possess an amenity and an elegance,
which render it eminentlj^ susceptible of poetical beauty. Its
poets, like those of ancient Greece, have the power of ren-
dering language subservient to their pleasure, and of clothing
original conceptions in newly created words. Several of the " ^

Arabic and Persian poems are of the epic and dramatic cast ;
but the compositions most familiar to the European, are of an ( "
amatory, elegiac, and lyric character. In general, Oriental
poetry deviates from the primitive simplicity so conspicuous in







182 BELLES LETTRES.

Hebrew compositions, and often degenerates into affectation
and bombast.



Of classical Poetry. It is not possible to ascertain, with
any degree of f>recision, the causes which have given to ancient
Greece a pre-eminence in this department of Hieraiure. From
the susceptibihty of his language, the poet was enabled to ex-
hibit the same idea under a new aspect, and to give to eVery
fluctuation of feeling a permanent expression. If the vivacity
of his descriptions fascinated the imagination, his numbers
dwelt with no less enchantment on the ear. The length and
sbortnAs of syllables in the Greek and Roman languages,
which constituted their quantities, were determined by rules
no less accurate than the notes in music ; and on the proper
distribution and adjustment of these quantities, the harmony of
their metre depended. A slated interval of time was allowed
to the pronunciation of every verse ; and to facilitate the labour
of composition, artificial combinations of syllables, by the
name of feet, were invented ; and by the numbers of these,
and the quantities included in them, the character of the verse
was ascertained. To these combinations various names Vere
given ; the most important were the spondee, composed of two
long syllables ; and the dactyl, formed by one long and two
short syllables. These were employed in hexameter verse,
of which an imitation has been vainly attempted in the ug-
lish language.

It is not certain what species of poetry was first cultivated
in Greece. Fables were undoubtedly of great antiquity ; the
pde formed a part of religious worship ; and the pastoral must
have been introduced in an age sufficiently refined to relish
simplicity. Tlie Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer were com-
posed at an early epoch of Grecian literature, and transmitted
by oral tradition to a more polished age. Homer, of all the
poets, our own Shakespeare excepted, ma> be considered as the
poet of nature. His very epithets are beautiful and expressive.



* POETRY. 183

and peculiarly appropriated to the character or objects which
they describe ; and they are so picturesque, that they often
exhibit more in a single word, than can be found elsewhere in
a much larger description. His allusions to the sea are fre-
quent, and the ferociousness of his warriors is often compared
to that of wild beasts, which give peculiar force and variety
to his descriptions. Vast, violent, and loud motions are best
described by Homer; smooth, gentle, or graceful ones, by
Virgil : while, therefore, the latter poet excels in grace and
beauty, the other transcends in descriptions of terror and sub-
limity. Upon the whole. Homer is at once majestic and
simple; various, dramatic, and full of incident; highly de-
scriptive and picturesque, yet natural ; master of the most
commanding strokes of the pathetic, and dwelling upon them
when occasion requires ; always moral, thopgh apparently
without design. The Iliad, though, at first view, and, to an
inattentive reader, it may appear a rhapsody of battles, high
passions, and characters formed without due discrimination, is
nevertheless a most regular piece, and there is no poem in the
world constructed with greater art and judgment. When cri-
tically examined, its time of action will be found regularly
conducted ; every part of it is seen connected with another, in
due succession : it begins with the anger of Achilles, and ends
with the death of Hector, when that anger ceased. All the
parts rise out of each other in a natural, but surprising gra-
dation ; and every action has a manifest tendency either to
elucidate or enforce the subject of the poem, exalt the
principal character, or promote the design of the whole.

It has been pretended, that the Iliad and Odyssey of
Homer were composed at different aeras, by various authors ;
and that these desultory tales of Troy were at length collected
by some ingenious person, who might have been distinguished
by the appellation of Homer. It is, however, generally ad-
mitted, that one excellence in which the poet is supposed to
stand uurivalled, is the energy of his conceptions, which



184 BELLES LKTTRES.

gives to his personages, bis scenes, and his descriptions, a
real and individual existence. So happily, indeed are his
characters cast, that uo reader of fetling can be at a loss to
conceive how Achilles uould look, or Nestor speak, or
Ulysses act on any given occasion. This being admitted, and
it may be asked, whether such harmony of design could have
been the result of chance, or whether each book had its sepa-
rate Homer, or whether they were not all planned and exe-
cuted by the same mind.

In lyrical composition, tlie most popular was the heroic
ode. The name of Pindar has come down to us with great
honour ; but the poems which inspired in his compatriots the
most exalted enthusiasm, are very imperfectly understood by
the moderns. The public recitation of the ode was accompa-
Died by music and dancing; a circumstance to which its
structure is obviously adapted. The two first stanzas, called
the strophe and antistrophe, were of equal length. In the
first part, the performers approached the altars of their god;
in the latter, the dance being inverted, they measured back
their steps to their former place, where they sung the epode.
This form was peculiar to the heroic ode ; but there were
other lyrical compositions of a different cast. Sappho's poems
breathe only the tender, impassioned sentiment ; those of
Anacreou are equally remote from the sublimity of Pindar,
and the softness of Sappho.

The heroic ode is evidentfy of a dramatic character, and
was the source from whence the regular drama was produced.
7Vagedy originated in the hymns sung in honour of Bacchus,
and its name was derived from the goat, which was the vic-
tim consecrated to that deity. ITie imention of the dialogue
and. action belongs to iEschyhis ; the orighial ode was pre-
served in the chorus, which constituted the popular part of
the entertainment. The chorus, like the band of a modern
orchestra, was composed of several persons, who recited in
a different maimer from tlie other performers. Their busir-



POETRY. . 185

ness was to deduce from the passing scene some lesson of
morality, or to inculcate on the spectator some religious



Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 44)