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Something the IDLER's character may be fuppofed to promife. Thofe that are curious after diminutive hiftory, who watch the revolutions of families, and the rife and fall of characters either male or female, will hope to be gratified by this paper; for the IDLER is always inquifitive and feldom retentive. He that delights in obloquy and fatire, and wishes to fee clouds gathering over every reputation that dazzles him with its brighness, will fnatch up the IDLER's effays with a beating heart. The IDLER is naturally cenforious; those who at tempt nothing themselves, fuppofe eve. ry thing eafily performed, and confider the unsuccessful always as criminal.

I think it neceffary to give notice, that I make no contract, nor incur any obligation. If those who depend on the IDLER for intelligence and enter tainment, fhould fuffer the disappointment which commonly follows fuch illplaced expectations, they are to lay the blame only on themselves.

Charles I. had, in the improvement of our language, it is proper to mention the common tranflation of the fcriptures, which was undertaken and completed by the command of James As it was the work of different divines, fo there is a great diverfity in the style of the compofition. It is plain, however, that they owed a great deal to the former tranflations, and in many places they are almoft literally the fame. Notwithftanding this, if we confider its importance, its difficulty, and, above all, the vast variety of opinions, and contradictory authorities concerning the meaning of the original, the tranflation is, upon the whole, perhaps the beft executed, and most unexceptionable work of the kind, that ever appeared in the world.

It has in fact, for about 150 years paft, been the ftandard by which the ideas affixed to words, have been determined; and it will be found, upon an accurate review, that in a country of fuch licentiousness both in writing and thinking, the confiftency of the English tongue could have been preferved by no other means, than by appealing to a work, where the fluctuation incident to a living language is restrained, by having recourfe to a dead language, where that fluctuation no longer exifts, and which, at least, ought to fix the meaning of the words into which it is tranflated.

I admit, that a more elegant, or rather a more fmart tranflation, may now be formed. But neither elegance nor smartness are the reigning characteristics of holy writ. Plainnefs always is; but it is a plainnefs that often admits the sublime and the pathetic; and where these are required, our tranflators have fometimes fucceeded to a degree that I had almost faid does no difcredit to the original.

Yet hope is not wholly to be caft away. The IDLER, though fluggish, is yet alive, and may fometimes be ftimu. lated to vigour and activity. He may then defcend into profoundness, or tower into fublimity for the diligence of an IDLER is rapid and impetuous; as ponderous bodies forced into velocity move with violence proportionate to their weight.

But these violent exertions of intellect cannot be very frequent, and he will therefore gladly receive help from any correfpondent, who fhall enable him to pleafe without his own labour. He excludes no ftyle, he prohibits no fubject: only let him that writes to the IDLER remember, that his letters must not be long; no words ought to be fquandered in declarations of esteem, or confeffions of inability; confcious dulnefs has little right to be prolix, and praife is not fo welcome to the IDLER as quiet.

The hiftory of our own language. [149]

LETTER III.

Efore we proceed to illuftrate the great merit which the poets who lived under Elifabeth, James I. and

B

A review of this tranflation, by authority, has been often thought of, and fometimes propofed. Such a review, with regard to the meaning of the original, may, in a few, and but a very few paffages be proper; but a review of is only with an intention to ornament the ftyle, if executed, would, I apprehend, go far towards unhinging our language. The

for

occafioned most of, or all, the fearifications which his editors have committed. A Middlefex or Oxfordshire man, inftance, does not conceive, that, in Staf fordshire, a wretch was a common ex preffion for a young girl or woman; that a card in our northern parts fignifiés a brawling vagabond; and to berry, means to spoil, or to take by might; with a thoufand provincialities of that kind; the true explanation of which would render the very first edition of Shakespear the moft complete by far that has yet appeared.

The bounds of this paper does not admit my giving my reafons for this opinion, with regard to our tranflation of the Bible; but I cannot help thinking that fuch a review may be very proper with regard to the book of Common Prayer. The latter was compiled gradually, and by men, who, many of them, either fecretly favoured Popery, or had great doubts concerning fome controverted points. The greatest part of the liturgy being no other than a tranflation from Popith books of worship, the compilers of which had tinged their Latin with a trong caft of fuperftition and enthufiafm, the fame expreflions were faithfully conveyed in the translation; and this is the true caufe of the many exceptionable paffages that, in fome late writings, have been objected to in our liturgy, and which have even stumbled fome rational well withers to the worship of our church. [xii. 230.]

The Papifts themselves were fo fenfi ble of what I have observed, that in the famous controverfies, immediately before the revolution, between them and the divines of the church of England, which did so much honour to the latter; the expreffions in our liturgy that feemed to favour Popery, were ftrongly urged in its defence. I recollect one in particular, which I fhall mention, because I don't remember it being made ufe of fince that time, and which evidently turns u pon a, perhaps studied, incorrectness of language. For the Papifts urged, that tranfubitantiation was believed by our firit reformers; and the strong argument they urged for it was, that our churchcatechifm fays, the body and blood of Cbrift is VERILY AND INDEED reaived by the faithful in the Lord's fupper. Next to the tranflation of the Bible and the Common-Prayer Book, the works of Shakespear are undoubtedly the leading criterion of our language. He enriched it with phrafes, and fometimes with words, that are now claffical in England, and have been adopted by all fucceeding writers. If he failed in any thing, it was his introducing fome provincial expreffions, that not being understood in or near the capital, have

Shakespear is fo much an original, that it is in vain to attempt to explain his meaning by other printed authorities, and it is dangerous fometimes to do it even by his own. He is the only dramatic writer that gives not only different fentiments, but a different language to different characters. The very idiom in which his English kings and heroes fpeak, differs from thofe of Greece and Rome. The ftyle of Othello has not the leaft refemblance to that of Macbeth, nor the language of Hamlet, to that of Lear. Was this diverfity of ftyle to be examined by an ordinary critic, who knows nothing of Shakespear, he would pronounce his feveral plays to be wrote by feveral authors; but a more difcerning one would fay of his speeches, Facies non omnibus una,nec diverfa tamen; though the refemblance can be found out by no other characteristic but that of EXCELLENCY.

Shakespear had but few predeceffors in the dramatic art to whom he could be beholden; and we find even few of his cotemporaries who can be called even second to him. Maffenger is, if any deferve that rank; but he is longo proximu intervallo. Ben. Johnfon, in his tragedies, has not the leaft fpark of a great writer; Maffenger must have beer, efteemed a very great writer, had it not been for Shakespear.

Some parts of Shakespear's comedies are as fine models for proie writing, as his tragedies are for poetry. Several of his comic characters fpeak with a freedom and eafe, to which no modern write? has attained; and I am convinced, that Eez

n

had any of his epistolary or literary compofitions defcended to pofterity, we Thould have found him to be as great a profe-writer, as he was a poet.

Some may think it amazing, that our language was far from owing any im provement to the abilities of Ben. Johnfon, who was a man of learning, and great critical knowledge. But we are to reflect, that his learning was attended by pride, and his knowledge by whim. Confcious of having studied the ancients, and, in fome of his plays, having equal led, if not outdone their most correct characters of conduct, and imagining that the public paid lefs homage to his learning than they did to Shakespear's genius, he wrapt himself up in a fullen kind of oddity, and was in fact the very Morofe he defcribes. Difdaining either to speak or to write in the common way, he studied phrafes that never can be brought into common ufe; and departing entirely from the character of the English language, he preffed it into the fervice of the ancients. Though Plautus feems to have been his favourite, and his model, he even took the whimfical turn of verfifying Cicero, Salluft, and other authors of antiquity, and bringing them upon the ftage with great pomp and gravity; witnefs his tragedy of Ca tiline. But though the fenfe of those authors is minutely preferved, the whole is a piece of bufkin'd burlesque, and the audience would have been equally entertained had the speeches been in Latin. Notwithstanding this, Johnfon, till within these fifty years, was a more venerable name in English poetry, than Shakefpear; for, being himself a man both of wit and learning, with a keen turn for fatire, he received great incenfe from the writers of thofe days, partly through efteem, and partly through fear. Hence it is that we know a great many more particulars of him than of Shakespear. Notwithstanding this, the latter was always the favourite of the public; 'for this plain reafon, because they underftood his language.

and, though not comparable to fome of his in true merit, greatly exceed them in point of language. They imitated Shakefpear, as far as he was imitable, in the turn and ease of his profe dialogue; and by endeavouring to fuit themfelves to the genteel part of the audience, their ftyle thereby hit the taste both of the great and the vulgar. It does not indeed create fuch exquifite fenfation as that of Shakespear, but it has great freedom and pliability, and enters very readily into the current fervice of life. It is furprising therefore we know fo little as we do, of these pair of authors, who must have been men of fashion, and knowledge in bufinefs.

The plays that go under the name of Beaumont and Fletcher, are of a very, different character from thofe of Johnfon;

The truth is, towards the end of James I.'s reign, many persons of rank who were men of fenfe, began to be secretly difgufted with the pedantry and affectation which then distorted our language, and, in their private correfpondences, cultivated a freedom, and indeed a gracefulness, of style, which, had it been made public, would have done them little fervice in their preferment either in church or ftate. This vitiated tafte was not entirely owing to James. Elifabeth herself, in her more advanced years, had a failing that is often incident to a great genius, that of affecting a character in which he was greatly flattered, but did not in reality poffefs; I mean, that of learning; though it must be owned, fhe poffeffed as much, if not more, than was neceffary for a queen. This affectation, however, fo much infected her ftyle, after she was forty years of age, that it is interjected with Latinifms, Græcifms, and foreign idioms, and in fome places becomes almoft oracular, and, like Shakespear's justice, full of wife faws, and beard of formal cut.

I do not here prefume to throw out this obfervation upon fo great a name by way of cenfure. Her writing in that manner, confidering the parties fhe had to deal with, gave her an air of importance, and was often of vaft fervice to her affairs and perfonal reputation, as learning and wisdom in that age were always held to go together. But I am obliged to take notice of it for the confequences

quences it had. For the manner that in her had an air of majefty and prudence, when adopted (as all her manners were) by her divines and courtiers, and from them by others, became perplexed and pedantic. I cannot, how ever, help introducing here an anecdote of her reign, which is by no means foreign to the fubject I now treat on. One Mr Wilfon, after receiving a uiverfity-education, coming up to Loncon to push his fortune, attached himfelf to Lord Treasurer Burleigh, whom be perfecuted with letters (fome of which re in Strype's collection) in the moft aject train that venality could dictate. And Burleigh, who had a profeffed infenfibility either of wit or want, took no notice of his fupplicant for a long time. But the Queen happening to be then in the very height of war with Philip of Spain, and wanting to animate her fubjects in her quarrel, one day afked Burleigh, whether he could recommend to her, any one who was capable of tranflating the Philippics of Demofthetes. Burleigh requiring a day or two confider, fent for Wilfon, whom he found to be a fhrewd fenfible man, and well qualified for the undertaking the Queen required. In short, he was employed, the tranflation (which is now ve fcarce) was published, and proved fo fpirited a one, that it more than answered the Queen's ends, which were, to infufe into her own fubjects the fame a verfion to Philip of Spain, that Demofthenes wanted to infufe into the Atherians against Philip of Macedon. Elifabeth, who understood Greek fo well as to be able to tranflate fome part of Xenophon, (a part of which I have feen in her own hand writing), was fo well pleafed with this, and the tranflator's abiles, that foon after she made Dr Wilfon one of her principal fecretaries of state. Having mentioned tranflators, I cannot help mentioning Philemon Holland, who lived at this time, and was the most voluminous tranflator that ever exifted. It is true, he understood no language but English and French; and his ftyle is exceffively poor, as well as his perform ance unfaithful: but it is inconceivable

of what fervice his performances were to the English language. It gave his readers the fenfe and fentiments of the ancients; and though I am far from thinking Shakespear was deftitute of a competent knowledge of the learned languages, yet it is impoffible he could have acquired the amazing knowledge he difcovers of the hiftory and manners of antiquity, without the medium of tranflations.

But befides Philemon Holland, great numbers of other tranflators from all languages appeared under Elifabeth and James. And nothing can furnish us with a ftronger proof of the excellency of the ancients, than by reflecting, that, defpicable (and nothing could be more fo) as moft of thofe tranflations were, they were bought up and read by the public with the greatest avidity. They began gradually to perceive, that fim plicity of narrative or reafoning was the character of the ancients; and this led them to dislike the style and manner of their own learned men, who afpired at preferment by deviating from nature.

James I. who in the church, the univerfities, and the law, was the rewarder, patron, and protector, of all quibbling, punning, and abfurdity of language, and who feems to have made them his criterions of judging of all kind of literary merit, in his parliamentary fpeeches, and fome of his theological treatifes, difcovered great proficiency in the fame arts. Notwithstanding this, when James had a mind to lay afide that pedantry which he thought was infeparable to the character of a wife king, no man in his dominions had a more free, nervous, or even pathetic manner of writing; and for this I can appeal to any perfon who, without prejudice, reads his Bafilicon Doron, or, Advice to his fon.

But it happened fortunately for the English language, that the want of learning was one of the qualities that James required in his favourites at court. And the reign of Charles I. with regard to the fubje&t I am now treating of, was like one of thofe Norwegian fummers, where the verdure immediately fucceeds the fnow. The public dispatches, the private

private correfpondences of ftatefmen of all kinds, and the debates in parliament, paffed in a language that far furpaffes a ny thing of the kind we have fince feen, and exceed any thing of antiquity. For the proof of this affertion I need but ap. peal to the printed tranfactions of that time; and to the authentic fpeeches of Deering, Hampden, Wentworth, Hide, Digbye, Falkland, and a hundred others, who, by being not named, are injured by particularifing any.

It is however obfervable, that thofe great men who thus fhone out the cham pions of liberty, and the ornaments of learning, were gentlemen who before had very little or no connections with the court, and had been formed in the fhade of that retirement which the arbitrary measures of government at that time had rendered the post of honour. Most of them, by their fpeeches and writings, dignified the caufe of freedom; but no fooner did the oppofition become unconftitutional, and degenerated into downright rebellion, than they joined, fought for, and died in the King's fervice. On the other hand, when men of darker defigns got the upper hand, public fpeaking of every kind fell into the moft contemptible character it ever had in England. I cannot here help doing

juftice to Charles, that the papers which he drew up with his own hand in prifon, when not fo much as a menial fervant was fuffered to attend, far lefs to aflist him, are, in point of diction, infinitely fuperior to the compofitions of both houtes of parliament upon the fame heads.

The like poverty of style infected all the writings of the party. The pulpits refounded with the most abject stuff, from all the ruling fects; and even the great Milton, in the character of a profe-writer, is as defpicable, as he is divine in that of a poet. Nothing can be more perplexed, mean, and unintelligible, than the fpeeches and papers delivered, and publifhed, by Cromwell, St John, Vane, and the regicides in general; and it was held as a itate-crime in those days, for any man to exprefs himself in the language of common fenfe.

Had it not been for this fatal interruption of the conftitution, and had the troubles of Charles ended with legal oppofition made to his arbitrary measures, it is more than probable that the Englifh language under him would have been brought to a much higher perfection than it has at prefent. But as I have now completed the bounds of a letter, I fhall referve what I have further to fay on this head to my next. Iam,&c.

To the author of the SCOTS MAGAZINE.

SIR,

Newcafle, April 4. 1758.

IN

N one of your Magazines a Cambridge gentleman propofes the following queftion. "Let pp: 99: pp-aa: aa- -qq, and pq-aa : aa—qq :: b: a; Required to find p and q." [xix. 395.] Pleale intert the following folution.

Let ax 99•

99, that

2

·2

Because pp: q: pp-aa: aa—qq, therefore pp: pp-aa :: qq : aa— is, as ax: aa-ax: :x : a—x; therefore pp: aa :: x: 2x-a. Again, becaufe pq-aa : aa—qq :: b: a, and 99 ax, therefore pq-aa: aa— ax :: ba: bxa-x: axa-x; therefore pq-aa- ab-bx; therefore paaxab-bx. Let aaxab-bd, therefore pq-bd-bx, therefore b: p::q:d-x, therefore b2p2 : : d2 : d−x :: ax: d-x, therefore d-x : p2:: ax: b2, Let bar, and a2cg, therefore d-x: p2:: ax: ac: :x : c :: xx: cx; but p2 cg: 2x--a :: cx : cx2x-a; therefore d-x : cg :: xx: CX2x- ·a; therefore d-x :xx:: cg: cx 2x−a: g: 2x-a; therefore dx x 2x- a= d-a

-2

2

2

→→→→ 2

2

- 2

----- 2

a

a

gxx; but g ; therefore d-x X2x-a- xx. The value of x being determined, the values of p and q will likewife be given.

LON

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