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be raised, for any considerable length of time, above its ordinary tone.
The writings most distinguished for sublimity of composition are those of Homer, Ossian, Milton, Shakspeare, and the Bible. Ossian, amidst all his sonorous inanity, his turgid and exaggerated expression, abounds with examples of the sublime. Never were images of more awful sublimity employed to heighten the terror of battle than those by which the poet describes the contest of Lochlin and Inisfail. What can be more sublime than his address to the evening star in the songs of Selma, or that admirable invocation of the sun in the poem of Carthon ? which are passages almost worthy of the pen of the prophet Isaiah or of our own great epic bard. Milton's excellence in sublimity of thought and expression is great and abundant. It is impossible for the imagination of man to conceive greater and more sublime ideas than those which are contained in the first, second, and sixth books of Paradise Lost. The effulgence of the splendour described in the third book, v. 380, &c. as surrounding the Deity, is one of the happiest and most picturesque images ever conceived by the human imagination. The works of Shakspeare are equally profuse in specimens of sublimity of composition. When the Bard of Avon represents Macbeth shrinking from the sight of Macduff, pierced with a lively sense of the wrongs which he has done him, overwhelmed by his own guilt, oppressed and crushed by the power of conscience, with his stout heart quailing and trembling on almost every occasion, till he gives vent to the expression of his terror—“ How is it with me, when every “ noise appals me?" we feel the language to be truly sublime. So, when Macbeth, rebutting the charge of cowardice by his wife on his refusing to murder Duncan, cries out: “ I dare do “ all that may become a man; who dares do more is none," we cannot but feel the force and power of the sublimity of the emotion. The whole of this tragedy, as also those of Othello, Lear, and Hamlet, especially the last mentioned, abound with specimens of sublimity. The perfection of the Grecian bard in this species of composition is too well known to the classical scholar to need citation.
But of all writings, the Bible contains the most splendid instances of sublime composition. The Psalms, the Book of Job, and the prophetical writings abound with them. Of all the magnificent images in the Sacred Volume, perhaps no one is more eminently transcendant than the description of the Deity. “ The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet."
6 He rode upon the cherubim, and did fly: he came flying upon the 66 wings of the wind,” (Isa. ch. xxiv, ver. 24), which last specimen of perfect sublimity of composition has been rendered in the version of the Psalms in the truest spirit of poetry :
« On cherub and on cherubim full royally He rode,
And on the wings of mighty wind came flying all abroad."
The description of the formation of the universe, in which the Almighty is represented as measuring the waters in the hollow of his hand, meting out the heavens with a span, comprehending the dust of the earth in a measure, weighing the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance;—that of the fall of Babylon, and the joy of all nations at seeing that proud and insolent city brought low as themselves : “ Hell from “ beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming. All “ they shall speak and say unto thee, ' Art thou also become « weak as we? Art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp
“ is brought low down to the grave—the worm is spread under " thee, and the worms cover thee. How art thou fallen from “ heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morn!'”—that of the prophet Job, in which he describes how fear came over him, " in thoughts from the visions of the night when deep sleep “ falleth upon men, then a spirit passed over me: the hair of
my flesh stood up: it stood still, but I could not discern « the form thereof;" and that of the war horse in the same writer, “ whose neck is clothed with thunder, who mocketh at
fear, and swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage”— are equally sublime and magnificent. The exclamation in which the Saviour of the world gives utterance to his compassion for the lot of Jerusalem—“ Oh! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, " which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent “ unto thee, how often would I have gat' ered thy children “ together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and
ye would not,” is highly sublime; and the sublimity consists in the benevolence of the thought. Indeed, in no volume, ancient or modern, can there be found more sublime philosophy, more elevated poetry, pathos more artless and touching, eloquence more energetic and persuasive, morality more pure and perfective of human nature, and that, too, delivered in the most graceful and dignified simplicity of language, than in the volume which has been comprehensively and emphatically, entitled “ The Book” or “ The Bible."
But though sublimity of thought and expression are the peculiar and emphatic properties and adjuncts of the composition of the works just mentioned, passages partaking of this species of style are to be found in the pages of all classical authors, both ancient and modern, and that, too, in authors whose subjects seem the least adapted to admit of it. Thus, among other writers that might be readily mentioned, many passages of the highest grandeur and sublimity of thought and expression occur in the writings of Hooker and Bacon. Burnet's description, in his “ Theory of the Earth,” of the supposed appearance of the globe after the general conflagration of the world, is also a perfect specimen of sublime composition:“ Where are now the great empires of the world, and their
great imperial cities? Their pillars, trophies, and monu“ ments of glory? Show me where they stood, read the
inscription, tell me the victor's name! What now remains “ of them, what difference or distinction do you see in this
mass of fire? But it is not cities only, and the works of “ men's hands; the everlasting hills, the mountains and rocks “ of the earth are melted away as wax before the sun, and “ their place is no where [to be] found. All these have va“ nished, dropped away as the snow upon their beads, and “ swallowed up in a red sea of fire.” Nor is this the only instance in that really eloquent and philosophical but romantic work, of sublimity of style; the work abounds with fine composition and magnificent description.
Lastly. Among the other leading rules of composition deserving the attention of those who are desirous of writing and speaking correctly and tastefully, sameness of language or uniformity of expression and of structure of sentences should be particularly guarded against, as that defect of style is equally destructive of the beauty and effect of each species of composition, whether simple, elegant, or sublime. But whether we wish to write with simplicity, elegance, or sublimity, we should never forget that first and golden rule of composition, that our style should be adapted to the subject we wish to illustrate. No writer, notwithstanding the notions of his tasteless and purblind critics to the contrary, excels Shakspeare in the adaptation of his language to his subject: his thoughts are not only delineated in the sweetest touches of poetry and nature, but they are clothed in language as exquisite and inimitable as his keen-sighted observation, his deep and far reaches of thought, and graphic expression of character, are unequalled by any writer ancient or modern. No poet has touched more of the familiar, the most interesting, and the deepest toned chords of our nature. But candid criticism compels the acknowledgement that the most inimitable and appropriate language, the sublime stmetaphors, and the most lofty and magnificent images to which human genius ever gave birth, are often to be found in the closest juxtaposition with the most defective and vulgar phraseology, the most forced and incongruous figures, and the most grotesque and extravagant conceits.
THE FORMATION OF STYLE AND LITERARY TASTE.
To persons desirous of making their first essay in literary composition, the great and besetting difficulty is to obtain ideas, or the materials of thought and expression; or, in more popular but less philosophical language, to know how to compose or what to say about a subject: and this difficulty is much greater in attempting written composition than in oral or spoken language. The cause of this apparent anomaly is, that the vis vivida, or glow of composition, is much stronger and of a more onward and impelling character in the last than in the first mentioned species of composition. But this difficulty
« inedia verborum” in expressing our thoughts in writing may be greatly lessened by attention to the following rules :