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“ But to count my work unfinished, till I sweep them from the world :
Professor Trench excels in this species of didactic symbolism, which indeed is characteristic of all his writings, prose and verse—be it lecture or lyric, sermon or song.
His collection of “Sacred Latin Poetry” is tasteful and comprehensive -though it omits the thrilling Stabat Mater, and certain other rhymed Latin hymns which are, rightly or wrongly, objectionable to Protestant students of hymnology. Some of these can, however, be as ill-spared in such a collection as the lovely Consolator optime, or the sublime Dies ire. But this little volume is too rich with sweet concords to allow of critical discords, harsh and grating, and not of ample power to subdue its attraction.
Of Professor Trench's theological writings this is not the place to speak, except en passant. His Hulsean Lectures, and his Notes on the Miracles and on the Parables of the New Testament, are held in high esteem within and without the pale of his own Church. He belongs to the Coleridgean school of divines, if such a description is allowable in reference to a group of pastors and teachers representing somewhat diverse as well as divers opinions-comprehending an Arnold and a Hare, Kingsley and Maurice, Derwent Coleridge and Arthur Stanley. His every work is pervaded by true earnestness, instinct with spiritual thought, and animated by a refined, chastened, effective eloquence. His weak side is a rather crotchety fancy and love of analogy.
“The Study of Words” is a right winning little volume, designed to awaken attention to the riches that lurk in language. It is marked by extensive reading and a genial spirit of investigation ; but its chiefest value lies in its suggestiveness-its provocative, stimulant, “educational” tone. Perhaps it is a little open to objection on the side of its frequently sermonising, and Sunday didactic manner; sometimes haling in rather irrelevant matter, and verging on a disposition to prose in the way of “ practical inferences from this subject." . This is explicable, by the fact that the book consists of a series of lectures delivered before the pupils of a diocesan training school; and although we could have wished to see them printed in a revised form, others may (indeed others do) find an additional value in the characteristic to which we have taken exception. So let that pass. The book is a jewel of a book-not spoilt in the setting. Its subject, what has been called “ fossil poetry.” For, says Emerson, “ as the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin."* Hence the value of a book which is framed to remind us of this nobility of pedigree, and with the lofty sanctify the low, and, as it were, recal the baptismal time of these garment-soiled, time-stricken words, when the fresh dew of their morning-tide was upon them, and they were pledged to a vocation long since neglected or forgotten. Winged words deserve scrutiny in their flight. “On words," says Landor, “rests the axis of the intellectual world. A winged word" hath stuck ineradicably in a million hearts .... On a winged word hath hung the destiny of nations. On a winged word hath human wisdom been willing to cast the immortal soul, and to leave it dependent for all its future happiness.”+ Alluding to Emerson's expression, Mr. Trench happily observes that language may be, and indeed is, “fossil poetry"--but is also, and with equal truth, fossil ethics, or fossil history. He calls it the embodiment, the incarnation of the feelings, thoughts and experiences of a nation, often of many nations, and of all which through centuries they have attained to and won--standing like the pillars of Hercules, to mark how far the moral and intellectual conquests of mankind have advanced, only not like those pillars, fixed and immovable, but ever itself advancing with the progress of these, and even itself a great element of that advance. He calls it the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. He reserves the dictum which pronounces words the wise man's counters and the fool's money; for in words he descries a reality, a living power, not merely an arbitrary symbolism; to his eye they are not like the sands of the sea, innumerable disconnected atoms, but growing out of roots, connecting and intertwining themselves with all that men have been doing and thinking and feeling from the beginning of the world until now.
And thus he regards language as a moral barometer, which indicates and permanently marks the rise or fall of a nation's life. • To study a people's language will be to study them, and to study them at best advantage, where they present themselves to us under fewest disguises, most nearly as they are.” It will bear the stamp of national frivolity, shallowness and triviality, or of high sentiment and superiority to everything mean and base. And though it may be lost labour to seek for the parentage of all words, yet all have an ancestry, or descent of some kind. “ There is no word which is not, as the Spanish gentleman loves to call himself, an hidalgo, the son of somebody” —so that, when a word entirely refusest to give up the secret of its origin, it can be regarded in no other light but as a riddle which no one has succeeded in solving, a lock of which no one has found the key-but still a riddle which has a solution, a lock for which there is a key, though now, it may be, irrecoverably lost. To be indifferent to the Study of Words is like “incurious dulness” to the image and superscription of ancient coins; current words being like current coinage, with this addition in the latter case, that each piece of money passing through our hands has something of its own characteristic and note-worthy-one, stamped with some striking maxim, another with some important fact, another with some memorable date-some pieces being works of finest art, graven with rare and beautiful devices, or bearing the head of immortal sage or heroic king—others again being the sole surviving monuments of mighty nations that once filled the world with their fame.
* Emerson's Essays. Second Series. (" The Poet.”) † Imaginary Conversations (Lucian and Timotheus).
Among words which are but of yesterday, and yet with a marvellous rapidity have forgotten the circumstances of their origin, Mr. Trench refers to the terms, Roundheads, Cannibal, Huguonots, Canada, and a word which the Anglo-Americans might be supposed quite able to explain, since it plays so prominent a part in their elections,-viz. Caucus.
Great are the curiosities of etymology. We remember to have seen an incredulous smile excited by Professor Maurice on the faces of a group of listeners, when he mentioned, as an instance of this curiosity, the radical identity of the Greek hylè (un) and the English savage ; although he had but to supply the few and satisfactory links of relationship to convince the most sceptical. Even within the compass of our mother-tongue, the relationships of words are often unsuspected. Thus Mr. Trench shows how from the one Anglo-Saxon word to sheer, comes a family so seemingly unrelated as shire, shore, share, sheers, shred, sherd. The multiform usages of the word post may be brought to a common centrepost being the Latin positus, “ that which is placed”—and thus a piece of timber is “placed” in the ground, and so a post—a military station is a “post,” for a man is "placed” in it, and must not quit it without orders -to travel “post,” is to have certain relays of horses “placed” at intervals, so that no delay on the road may occur—the “post”-office is that which avails itself of this mode of communication—to *post" a ledger is to "place" or register its several items. We are reminded that “heaven" is only the perfect of to heave, being properly the sky as it is raised aloft ; the “smith” has his name from the blows he smites on the anvil ; 6 wrong" is the perfect participle of to wring,—that which is wrung or wrested from the right; the “ brunt” of a battle is its heat, where it burns the most fiercely; the “ haft" of a knife is that whereby you have or hold it; the “ left” hand is the hand we leave, inasmuch as for twenty times we use the right hand, we do not once employ it. In the section entitled “On the History in Words,” we find numerous interesting results of philological study, tending to show how far such a study may go in helping to reproduce the past history of England-for instance, while the statelier superstructure of the language (almost all articles of luxury, all that has to do with the chase, with chivalry, with personal adornment) is Norman throughout, the broad basis of the language, and therefore of the life (the great features of nature, all the prime social relations), is Saxon-the stable elements of Anglo-Saxon life, however overlaid for a while, still making good their claim to be the solid groundwork of the after nation as of the after language. A suggestive history in words is pointed out in miscreant, a term applied by the Crusaders to the Mahometans, and meaning at first simply a misbeliever, and then as applicable to the royal-hearted Saladin as to the most infamous wretch that fought in his armies ;-in saunter, and saunterer, derived from “la Sainte Terre," whither wended at last every idler that liked strolling about better than performing the duties of his calling ;-in poltroon, the supposed derivative from pollice truncus, one who has deprived himself of his thumb, to
shirk his share in military service ;-in caitiff, one who suffers himself to be taken “ captive," and craven, one who has “craved” his life at the enemies' hand, instead of resisting to the death ;-in dunce, i. e, duns: man, from Duns Scotus (though he was a certainly one of the keenest and most subtle-witted of men”);- in mammetry, from Mahometry (another curiously perverted usage);-in tariff, from the Moorish fortress Tarifa, from which all merchant ships passing the Straits of Gibraltar were watched, and taxed according to a fixed scale ;-in bigot, from the Spanish “bigote,” or mustachio—the Spaniard being in old times the standing representative, to English Protestantism, of the bigot and persecutor, as we see, for example, in the pictures of the early editions of Fox's." Book of Martyrs," where “the pagan persecutors of the first Christians are usually arrayed in the armour of Spanish soldiers, and sometimes graced with tremendous bigotes.” Trust Mr. Trench for a slap at Popery, whenever within reach.
In illustration of the truth that many a single word is in itself a concentrated poem, having stores of poetical thought and imagery laid up in it, Mr. Trench adduces the word “dilapidated ;” observing that he who spake first of a dilapidated fortune, must have had before his mind's eye impressive imagery of some falling house or palace, stone detaching itself from stone, till all had gradually sunk into desolation and ruin. “Many a man had gazed, we may be sure, at the jagged and indented mountain ridges of Spain, before one called them sierras,' or saws, the name by which they are now known, as Sierra Morena, Sierra Nevada; but that man coined his imagination into a word which will endure as long as the everlasting hills which he named.” There are some valuable hints, too, on the manner in which new words arise in a language-how the philosophic is superadded on the picturesque ; with apt references to the philological contributions or expositions of such Students of Words as Horne Tooke, De Quincey,* and Coleridge. The chapter on Synonyms, again, is rich with erudition, conveyed chiefly by hint and suggestion. When he does develop his meaning, it is with a felicitous completeness which leaves nothing to be desired, but more of the same kind. For example, turn to the distinction drawn between “invention” and “ discovery"-between “opposite” and “contrary"-and between “abandon” and “desert” —which last diversity is memorably associated with Lord Somers' speech, that “masterly specimen of synonymous discrimination," on the abdication of James II.
Still better calculated for popular acceptance, wide and hearty, was the little treatise on the “ Lessons in Proverbs.” What though Lord Chesterfield superbly declared that no man of fashion would have any. thing to do with proverbs? Aristotle collected them; Plautus rejoiced in them; and so did Rabelais and Montaigne, Shakspeare and Cervantes, Fuller and Butler. Whole nations love them. Indeed, however they may be defined, popularity, or popular recognition, is an essential condition to their being; for without it, no saying, as Mr. Trench rightly affirms, however brief, however wise, however seasoned with salt, however worthy on all these accounts* to have become a proverb, however fulfilling all its other conditions, can yet be esteemed as such. As an instance, he cites a mot of Goethe's (or Schiller's?): “A man need not be an architect to live in a house,” which seems to have every essential of a proverb, except only that it has not passed over upon the lips of men, not received the stamp of popular acceptance; and however wise it may be, still it is not (at least in this form) the wisdom of many; it has not stood the test of experience ; nor embodies the consenting voice of many and at different times to its wisdom and truth; it has not the value, because it has not the currency of the recognised coin of the realm.t Not however that proverbs are mostly to be traced to the populace as their author as well as authority. “ They spring rather from the sound healthy kernel of the nation, whether in high place or in low; and it is surely worthy of note, how large a proportion of those with the generation of which we are acquainted, owe their existence to the foremost men of their time, I to its philosophers, its princes, and its kings; as it would not be difficult to show.” Lord Bacon's saying, that the genius, wit, and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs, is enforced and illustrated, briefly but satisfactorily, by Mr. Trench. He shows that we may learn from the proverbs current among a people what is nearest and dearest to their hearts, the aspects under which they contemplate life, how honour and dishonour are distributed among them, what is of good and what of evil report in their eyes. He passes in review the proverbs of the Greeks, which testify of a people leavened through and through with the most intimate knowledge of its own mythology, history, and poetry-teeming with an infinite multitude of slight and fine allusions to legend and national chronicle, with delicate side glances at Hesiodic theogony and Homeric tale;—those of the Romans, comparatively few
* In quoting a passage from the Opium-Eater's “ Letters to a Young Man whose Education has been neglected,” Mr. Trench observes, “ Though it only says over again what is said above son Wordsworth's great philosophic distinction between Fancy and Imagination), yet it does this so much more forcibly and fully, that I shall not hesitate to quote it, and the more readily that these letters, in many respects so valuable, have never been reprinted, but lie buried in the old numbers of a magazine, like so many other of the disjecta membra of this illustrious master of English prose.” Yes; but we do hope at length to see these letters, and all his contributions to the London Magazine, reprinted in the edition of his writings now in progress. Could you but have seen us, domine illustrissime! many a time and oft, besieging book-stalls during broiling dog-days and under pitiless snow-showers, in quest of your dispecta membra, surely we had not waited so long.
* One definition of a proverb being, that it is a synthesis of shortness, sense, and salt-i. e. it must be (1) succinct, utterable in a breath; (2) shrewd, and not the mere small-talk of conversation; (3) pointed and pungent, having a sting in it, a barb which shall not suffer it to drop lightly from the memory. With this explanation of the proverb, Mr. Trench aptly compares Martial's admirable epigram upon epigrams:
“ Omne epigramma sit instar apis; sit aculeus illi,
Sint sua mella, sit et corporis exigui;” which he thus renders:
Three things must epigrams, like bees, have all
A sting, and honey, and a body small." + Mr. Trench believes the explanation of the word “ proverb" to lie in the confidence with which a man appeals to it, as it were from his mere self and single fallible judgment, to a larger experience and wider conviction. He uses it pro verbo; he employs for and instead of his own individual word, this more general word which is every man's.
| Lord John Russell is said to have defined a proverb thus: “ The wit of one man, the wisdom of many."