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more signally exemplified than in small compositions, such as stories, essays, parables, songs, proverbs, and all the minor and more exquisite forms of composition. It is a fact, not obvious perhaps, but capable of perfect proof, that knowledge, in all eras which have been distinguished as enlightened, has been propagated more by tracts than by volumes. We need but appeal, in evidence of this, to the state of learning in our own land at the present day, when all classes of people are more or less instructed. On this point I
hall have a future opportunity of expatiating, and will therefore, at present, offer only two examples of the permanence of words, involving sacred or important truth, of equal value and application, in all periods and countries, and among all people to whom they may be delivered.
In the youth of the Roman Commonwealth, during a quarrel between the patricians and plebeians, when the latter had separated themselves from the former, on the plea that they would no longer labour to maintain the unproductive class in indolent luxury, Menenius Agrippa, by the well-known fable of a schism in the human body, in which the limbs mutinied against the stomach, brought the seceders to a sense of their duty and interest, and reconciled a feud, which, had it been further inflamed, might have destroyed the state, and turned the history of the world itself thenceforward into an entirely new channel, by interrupting the tide of events which were carrying Rome to the summit of dominion. The lesson which that sagacious patriot taught to his countrymen and contemporaries, he taught to all
generations to come. His fable has already, by more than a thousand years, survived the empire which it rescued from premature destruction.
The other instance of a small form of words, in which dwells not an immortal only, but a divine spirit, is that prayer which our Saviour taught his disciples. How many millions and millions of times has that prayer been preferred by Christians of all denominations ! So wide, indeed, is the sound thereof gone forth, that daily, and almost without intermission, from the ends of the earth, and afar off upon the sea, it is ascending to Heaven like incense and a pure offering ; nor needs it the gift of prophecy to foretell, that though
66 Heaven and earth shall pass away,” these words of our blessed Lord “ shall not pass away,” till every petition in it has been answered
-till the kingdom of God shall come, and his will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
We now proceed to the immediate purpose of these papers,—to take a brief and necessarily imperfect, but perhaps not altogether uninteresting, retrospect of the history of literature, from the earliest data to the period immediately preceding the revival of letters in modern Europe. I must premise, that the method of handling such an argument in so small a compass, can scarcely be otherwise than discursive and miscellaneous.
The general Forms of Literature.
Literature, as a general name for learning, equally includes the liberal arts, and the useful and abstruse
sciences. Philosophy, in this acceptation of the word, is a branch of literature. But literature, in its peculiar sense as distinct from philosophy, may be regarded as the expression of every fixed form of thought, whether by speech or writing. Literature in this view will embrace poetry, eloquence, history, romance, didactics, and indeed every kind of verbal composition, whatever be the subject : all books, in reference to their execution, are literary works; and so are the songs and traditions of barbarians, among whom letters are unknown; the latter, not less than the former, being vehicles for communicating premeditated thought in set terms.
Of literature thus defined, there are two species, verse and prose: and the first takes precedence of the second: for though the structure of ordinary discourse be prose, the earliest artificial compositions, in all languages, have assumed the form of verse; " because, as the subjects were intended to be emphatically impressed upon the mind, and distinctly retained in the memory,-point, condensation, or ornament of diction, combined with harmony of rhythm, arising from quantity, accent, or merely corresponding divisions of sentences, were the obvious and elegant means of accomplishing these purposes.
The most ancient specimen of oral literature on record, we find in the oldest book - which is itself the most ancient specimen of written literature. This is the speech of Lamech to his two wives in the
fourth chapter of Genesis), which, though consisting of six hemistichs only, nevertheless exemplifies all the peculiarities of Hebrew verse - parallelism, amplification, and antithesis. The passage is exceedingly obscure, and I shall not attempt to interpret it: the mere collocation of words, as they stand in the authorised English Bible, will answer our present purpose:
66 Adah and Zillah ! hear my voice;
Ye wives of Lamech ! hearken unto my speech.”
This is a parallelism, the meaning of both lines being synonymous, though the phraseology is varied, and the two limbs of each correspond to those of the other :
6 Adah and Zillah ! hear my voice;
Ye wives of Lamech! | hearken unto my speech. “ For I have slain a man to my wounding, And a young man to my
hurt." Here is amplification; — concerning the man slain in the first clause, we have the additional information in the second, that he was
a young man." 6. If Cain shall be avenged seven fold
Truly Lamech seventy and seven fold.” The antithesis in this couplet consists not in contrariety, but in aggravation of the opposing terms seven fold contrasted with seventy and seven fold.
The context of this passage has a peculiar interest, at this time, when the proscription of everlasting ignorance is taken off from the multitude, and know
ledge is become as much the birthright of the people of Britain as liberty. This Lamech, who, if not the inventor of poesy, was one of the earliest of poets, had three sons; of whom, Jabal, the father of such as dwell in tents, followed agriculture ; Jubal, the father of all such as handle the harp and organ, cultivated music; while Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron, practised handicraft. Thus, in the seventh generation of man, in one family we find poetry, music, agriculture, and the mechanical arts. Hence literature, which is connected with the two first, is not inconsistent with the pursuits of the two latter, There are two traditions respecting the second and third of these brethren, each of which may, without impropriety, be introduced herę. Of Tubal-Cain, it is said, to borrow the homely verse of Sylvester's Du Bartas,
“ While through a forest Tubal, with his yew
And ready quiver, did a boar pursue,
There is a classical tradition of the discovery of iron, by a volcanic eruption of Mount Ida, so nearly allied to this, that it may be concluded the one was