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dame de Staël has also classed the English language among those which, like the German, the Swedish, the Danish, the Dutch, &c. are obviously derivable from the Teutonic ; but it is true that it participates as much in the Roman or Latin. Since the time of Caesar and Agricola, it was the fate of Great Britain to be continually conquered and occupied by different nations, which imposed not only their laws but their language on the vanquished. The Anglo-Saxon prevailed at the time of the union of the heptarchy. Canute introduced the Danish, but the Anglo-Saxon had taken such deep root from the time of Edward the Confessor, that William the Bastard was disabled from making more of the Franco-Normand than the language of the court and the bar. Accordingly, when Edward III., through hatred to France, proscribed the French language, he found that the AngloSaxon was still spoken by the lower classes. To speak correctly, there was at that time a complete fusion of the two dialects already reciprocally modified. At present the Teutonic appears to bear the sway. In the Lord's prayer, for instance, there are only three” words of Latin original : it may be added, that the construction of the phrases is more conformable to that of the Teutonic languages; and that the pronunciation, if not the orthography, disfigures whatever remains of the Norman words.
The English tongue, thus formed, continued to
* Trespass, temptation, deliver.
be a true patois, but a short time previous to the epoch of the reformation, and the bloody civil wars, which ensued. It did not acquire its finishing polish till the authors of Charles the First’s time raised it to the full degree of perfection, of which it was more susceptible, in consequence of the remarkable richness and simplicity of its construction. The English is, in fact, the most simple of European languages; the termination of its substantives only varying in the double genitive and the plural; the verbs suffer little more than six or seven changes in their roots. Enriched by terms of art and science, allowing its authors to create as many new words as they please, or to borrow them from all the known dialects, the English language continues to be still the same hissing instrument of speech, of the imperfection of which the Spectator took cognizance. It is not less true, that it has always been sufficient for the purposes of genius. Milton's palace of bricks is not the less magnificient palace. The multiplicity of monosyllables is its most remarkable feature. This was what gave occasion to the noted phrase of Voltaire, that an Englishman gained more than three hours a day in conversation upon a Frenchman. As Algebra is the most perfect of tongues, the English are pleased with repeating that theirs has an Algebraic precision. It is singular enough that the reproach of circumlocution is that which its writers especially deserve. Such is the proficiency of the true English poets, that I would unreservedly maintain, even against an Italian, the following eulogium of the English language. I believe it is Aaron Hill who has said, “Modern English is the most appropriate language for poetry. Its abundance of monosyllables (to which some persons have had the rashness to object) renders it energetic, expressive, and concise. Its Greek and Latin derivatives have adorned it with a variety of cadences, and intermingled the excess of its energetic consonants with the melody of the liquid sounds of the vowels.” Here the objection arises of itself; and our tongue has the same defect. It is the rarity of the vowels which impairs the harmony of the English poetry. But our author continues: “the English language lends itself to rhyme, and it is adorned by it. It nevertheless treats it in the quality of a subject, instead of obeying it in that of a tyrant. It is grave, solemn, sweet, gentle, airy, or majestic. It exhibits by turns the lingering of complaint or pity, and the transports of more energetic passions. It is an inexhaustible Bazar, augmented by whatever is excellent in other tongues; but all that it seizes is so well adapted, that it may be compared to the bee which gathers honey from the juices of flowers.” I am not inclined to object to any part of this eulogium ; on the contrary, I feel prompted to apply to the English language that which Madame de Staël said of all the Teutonic dialects. In quoting the poets whom I shall endeavour to make known, I shall be unfortunately obliged to discolour beautiful verses by translating them. I am
therefore, bound in conscience to apprise my readers of all which they will lose.
“L'esprit general des dialectes teutoniques, c’est l'independence: les ecrivains cherchent avant tout a transmettre ce qu'ils sentent. Ils diraient volontiers a la poesie comme Heloise a son amant: “S'il y a un mot plus vrai, plus tendre, plus profond encore, pour exprimer ce que je prouve c'est celui que je veux choisir.” “Le souvenir des convenances desocietépoursuit en France, le talent jusque dans ses emotions les plus intimes, et la crainte de ridicule est l'épeé de Damocles, qu'aucune fete de l’imagination ne peut faire oublier.”* But relinquishing the mode of employing the sentences of another work, in order to express my own conceptions, I will add, that what I admire in English poetry is its combination of oriental pomp, (natural to a people who constantly read the bible literally translated), with a commercial familiarity which has nothing of a revolting cast in a literary commonwealth, wherein the people have their representatives as well as the society of the drawing-rooms. This pomp, and this familiarity combine equally well with a certain metaphysical turn of thought, which we are somewhat prompted to consider as romantic mysticism, but which does not displease the taste of contemplative minds. I appeal to the admirers of the fine talents of M. de Lamertine. In general the English poets attach themselves more to a picturesque and free style of expression, and to the variety of contrasts rather than to the academic forms of style. Their muse may create words and borrow them from all the languages of the world : and this imparts to her an air of wildness which does not ill associate with her independent attractions. But it is time to investigate the style of each writer, since it would be difficult to fix upon a common standard.
* De L'Allemagne, Tome 1.
TO M. COULMANN.
DESIRING to enter into some details respecting the English poets, our contemporaries, I cannot allow myself to do more than cast a rapid coup d’ail on those of the preceding ages. A critical history of English poetry is still a desideratum in France; nor is there any complete one in England. A more interesting study cannot well be imagined for us than that of tracing the progress of the sublimest of the arts among the rivals of our glory. This study is essentially connected with that of history, since the poetry of a people is the faithful mirror of