Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

interspersed among its rules of art have themselves that moral grandeur without which even the highest genius cannot rise into sublimity; its criticisms are almost invariably just, acute, and penetrating, and there is this nobility of feeling conspicuous in them all, that their praise and censure go hand in hand. It is not the way of Longinus to cull the absurdities and faults of any writer, unless he can also praise him for some quality of excellence or gather from his works some passage to be commended. There is a certain heroism in conduct of this sort, when a man will grapple with none but a worthy antagonist, and rightly feels that a composition, which is not worth praising, is likewise not worth abusing.

The word, which has given a title to the work and a glorious epithet to its author, is the translation of a Greek substantive which means in the first instance simply “height.” That simple expression of a physical relation easily adapts itself to the most stupendous concep

The "

tions; it supplies, for instance, in Isaiah, the basis of the divine comparison, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts;" the “high hand” is the symbol of power irresistible; the “king that is higher than Agag” is the Lord of the whole earth.

height” of which Longinus has written touches indeed, as he shews, sublimity in general, the moral as well as the intellectual Sublime; but his especial branch of the subject is elevation of style, loftiness and grandeur of language, the attainment in the spoken or the written thought of splendour and magnificence and awe-commanding majesty. He seeks to lay down rules, to set forth examples, to explain the means, whereby the mind that has in it any spark of native genius, any self-consciousness of noble capacity, may rise above the common level, and spurning even the middle flight of ordinary ambition, wing its soaring way into “the empyreal air.”

The treatise of Longinus, then, is a treatise upon oratory, a treatise upon eloquence in general, a discussion of the supreme excellence of language attainable or to be aimed at either in “prose or

numerous verse." But while framing its canon of the Sublime from the masterpieces of antiquity, it so unfolds the secret springs of success as to encourage all noble endeavour, even on the part of those who cannot hope to approach or equal the few masterminds, who seem, in the marvellous originality of their genius, not so much to have obeyed the rules of Art, as, by their own performances, to have given Art her laws.

The Englishman, dull and unready in conversation, not eager for amusements, caring for few things but his business and his fireside, is nevertheless not merely open to the influences of eloquence, not merely keenly alive to its excitement, but beyond all other men seeks it as his necessary intellectual aliment, bows down cither to the reality or the semblance of it, and orders his life according to its dictation. In England the education of the multitude is effected (or has been hitherto) not so much by national schools and regular teaching, as by newspaper eloquence; the government of the country is entrusted, sometimes indeed to one party and sometimes to another, but always to the ablest parliamentary speakers; the limits of the national church are maintained and extended, not by its rich and dignified benefices,- for on what principle are they distributed ?-not by the splendour of its ceremonial, for there is no such splendour existing; not by the superstition of ages, for its faith is challenged unceasingly; but, if we look only to second causes, in the main by the voices and the writings of its preachers and apologists. Accepting it therefore as an axiom that noble expression is the outcome and bloom of lofty thoughts, and that grand thoughts spring only from great and exalted minds, we may trace an immediate connection between the object of this treatise and the well

one

being of our country. And though it be true that many noble-minded men cannot express their thoughts with corresponding eloquence, it is no less true that it would be a great boon for the world if they could; and that in a nation like our own, wherein so much depends on this capacity, it is a culpable piece of indolence to neglect its cultivation, and a lamentable error to suppose

that of the noblest and most powerful faculties of our nature is improper to be used in defence of reason and religion, because it is sometimes exerted, and, partly from this very mistake, exerted successfully, to their hindrance and discredit. For let this be borne in mind, that if truth and falsehood, the honourable and the base, wisdom and foolishness, be equally drawn by the highest skill of eloquence, and with her fairest colours, the pigments used in portraying truth and virtue and good counsel, being mixed with the sunshine of their inborn godlikeness, will infallibly cause every rival hue to pale before them by the

« ZurückWeiter »