Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

Of these critics, Dr. Blair appears to have been most anxious, that while Addison is presented as a model to young writers, they should be guarded against an implicit deference to his authority. He has therefore investigated the merits of his style with great minuteness, and a most scrupulous regard to purity and precision, in four very long lectures on Nos. 411, 412, 413, and 414 of the Spectator. For this he offers a modest apology, which his high opinion of Addison, as well as the duties. of office, rendered quite unnecessary; the fair and impartial labours of criticism are direct testimonies in favour of the object. And how well Addison has stood the test of this fastidious scrutiny may appear on this simple calculation, that out of eighty-seven remarks, of which these lectures consist, thirty-seven are in strong recommendation of his style, and of the remainder, some are SO evidently of a trifling nature, that we may adopt as a conclusion what this eminent critic has given as a prefatory apology: "The beauties of Addison are so many, and the general character of his style is so elegant and estimable, that the minute imperfections pointed out, are but like those spots in the sun, which may be discovered by the assistance of art, but have no effect in obscuring its lustre.'

* From inattention to the marks which distinguish the different productions of the Essayists, some critics have censured Addison for that of which he was not guilty. Dr. Blair, for example, enters into the defence of Tasso's Sylvia, against Addison, in the Guardian, No. 38. Here are two mistakes in all the editions I have seen of Dr. Blair's Lectures. The pas sage in question occurs in No. 28; and No. 28 was not written by Addison.

However useful verbal and grammatical critiċism may be, there seems to be this fatality attending all composition, that its errors are more easily discoverable by the critic than by the author. After all the light thrown upon the beauties and defects of style by the most eminent critics of the last century; by Lowth and Priestley, by Kaimes and Campbell, by Beattie and Blair, few, if any writers, have attained an unexceptionable style, or have even been able to follow their own canons. Of this Dr. Blair himself affords a remarkable instance. Notwithstanding the long labour he had bestowed on his "Lectures on Rhetoric," the perpetual revision to which they were subjected, and all the changes and improvements which could be derived from the author's sagacity or the assistance of contemporary writers, they were, on publication to the world at large, convicted of numerous errors, ranged on his own plan, and proved by his own rules. These consisted principally of terms and phrases bordering on vulgar or colloquial language; awkward phrases; redundancies; superlatives for comparatives; double comparatives; adjectives for adverbs; any for either; either for each; &c. &c.; the relative not agreeing with its antecedent; verbs in the plural number instead of the singular; the subjunctive mood instead of the indicative; verbs which ought to be in the active or passive voice employed as neuters; had instead of would; will for shall; the past time for the present; of instead of from; on

for in; among for in; never for ever; that for as; inverted sentences; and mixed metaphors.*

Yet, with all these blemishes, the general merit of Dr. Blair's lectures is incontestable, and it will probably be long before they can be laid aside for a work of more indispensable necessity to the student, or more unquestionable authority in matters of taste.

Style, notwithstanding the many discussions with which it has been honoured by some of the first writers of our nation, is a subject still involved in obscurity. Blair acknowledges, that "the peculiar manner in which a man expresses his conceptions, by means of language," is the best definition he can give. Johnson says it is "the manner of writing with regard to language." Swift, long before, had laid down that "proper words in proper places made the true definition of a style," which is not however a definition, but the character of a good style.

The divisions of style are numerous, and have been multiplied by the critics as fast as they could multiply epithets to distinguish them; but in every nation, and at every period of its literary history, it has been the custom to bestow the honours of style on a few authors, in whom collectively all its excellences are supposed to be found. These in our country, in the prose style, are Hooker, Clarendon,

* See the whole list, with proofs, in the Critical Review for October 1783. The article was the production of the late Rev. Joseph Robertson, of Horncastle, Lincolnshire.

Tillotson, Clarke, Barrow, Atterbury, Shaftesbury, Temple, Swift, Addison, Bolingbroke, Fielding, and Johnson to whom of late have been added Hume, Robertson, Gibbon, Blair, and Burke.* But when we inquire how many of these are to be held up as models, the list becomes smaller as we approach nearer to the severe criticism of our own times. Hooker is now recommended principally for the importance of his matter: Clarendon is considered as an historian of unquestionable authority; but his lengthened periods and general prolixity are prohibited to the young writer. Tillotson, whom Birch characterised as the reformer of pulpit eloquence, is now said to be chiefly valuable for the religious and biblical criticism to be found in his works. Clarke, with more perspicuity, is cold and inanimate. The readers of Barrow are cautioned against his redundancy; and most of them with great safety, for it is the redundancy of an original and fertile genius. To Atterbury's style few objections have been offered on the score of purity and elegance; and his want of depth, or original thinking, will not be readily discovered by those who are forming a style only. Shaftesbury is generally

* "Such authors," says Lord Orford, speaking of Addison, Swift, Bolingbroke, and Dr. Middleton, "fix a standard by their writings. Grammarians regulate niceties, and try careless beauties in works, where carelessness often is a beauty, by the same rigorous laws that they have enacted against graver offenders. Such jurymen, no doubt, write their own letters with as much circumspection as their wills, and are ignorant that it is easier to observe some laws than to violate them with grace." Royal and Noble Authors, art. ROSCOMMON.

and very justly pointed out as a dangerous precedent. Temple is allowed to excel Tillotson in all the estimable qualities of style; and, although he partakes of the common incorrectness attributed to writers of simplicity, familiarity and ease, he is still recommended as an useful model. Bolingbroke is a declaimer, with many of those beauties of declamation which are too frequently contrived to conceal poverty of argument. Bolingbroke was an enemy to religion, probably because it did not flatter his practice. He is now, however, little read; and it is to the honour of our nation that few infidel writers have enjoyed a long popularity. Fielding's style is original, and his humour (different from that of Addison, yet excellent in its kind) is so copious as to extend over his voluminous writings with undiminished force. He has had no successful. imitators. Of the other names mentioned, it is not necessary to add more than that they are the founders of different schools of style, which have as yet produced few scholars of great eminence.

From the whole list, therefore, we can only collect two or three who are universally acknowledged to deserve the attention of those who are ambitious to form a correct style. Yet, when the beauty and defects of all are fully displayed before us, as they have been by modern critics of acknowledged taste, are we not induced to suspect that much of the improvement to be derived from such critical labour is impracticable; that between the style and the mind of every author the connection is indissoluble;

« PředchozíPokračovat »