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certain nations; and even those which seem most general, will always have some latent connexion with their immediate origin, and with their native soil. It is the first duty of a critic, therefore, to remark, as far as is possible, the situation and habits of the author, the natural history of his country, and the scene of the poem. Unless we continually attend to these points, we shall scarcely be able to judge with any degree of certainty concerning the elegance or propriety of the sentiments: the plainest will sometimes escape our observation; the peculiar and interior excellencies will remain totally concealed.*
* We must not omit noticing, in this place, those images which are derived from rivers and fountains, and the earth recreated with rain; which are indeed used by our poets, but more frequently by the orientals. For the scarcity of water, and the extreme heat of the summer, together with the wonderful fertility of the soil when watered, render this a more elegant and jocund comparison in the East than with us. In spring and summer, if the east wind continues to blow a few days, the fields are in general so parclied that scarcely a blade of any thing green remains ; many rivers and streams are dried up, the others are rendered briny, and all nature seems at the point of dissolution. After a plentiful shower, however, the fields revive beyond all expectation, the rivers resume their course, and the springs pour forth more delicious water. Mahomet makes use of this idea frequently, as figurative of the resurrection ; and in this he shows himself no less of a philosopher than a poet. Dr Russel has described this regeneration of nature in most lively colours in bis Natural History of Aleppo, a book which every man ought to read, who wishes not only literally to understand the oriental writers, but to feel them. Indeed, for want of this, many similes appear to us bold and unusual, which among the orientals have a proper and distinct signification. Caab, an Arabic poet, who was contemporary with Mahomet, in one of his poems compares the teeth of a young lady when she smiled to wine mixed with water, in which remained bubbles of yesterday's rain. In Isaiah there are many allusions of this nature, the favourable or adverse state of the nations being frequently expressed by this image, which many commentators have attempted to explain with more exactness than a poetical idea will bear. They have taken what the poet meant tiguratively, sometimes in a literal sense; and at other times they have explained every thing in a mystical manner, and have pretended to define what is meant by the water, who are those that are thirsty, &c. &c. intermingling many very pious reflections, but utterly foreign to the subject, and such as never once entered the mind of the poet. For it certainly was not the intention of the prophet to write enigmas, but to illustrate and adorn the beautiful figure which he introduces. Thus, ch. xxxv. 6, 7. speaking of the happy state of Palestine, at the time that Idumea was laid waste and subdued :
“ The desert, and the waste, shall be glad;
And the wilderness shall rejoice and flourish:
It is however to be remarked, that the level ground suffers most from the intolerable heat, and that the deserts are almost destitute of water. He amplifies the same image in a different manner in ch. xxxv. 17. celebrating the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian exile :
“ The poor and the needy seek for water, and there is none;
Their tongue is parched with thirst :
The pine and the box together.". This is admirable painting, and displays a most happy boldness of invention : The trees of different kinds transplanted from their native soils to grow together in the desert; the fir-tree and the pine, which are indigenous to Lebanon, to which snow, and rain, and an immense quantity of moisture, seem almost essential ; the olive, which is the native of Jerusalem ; the Egyptian thorn, indigenous to Arabia—both of them requiring dry soil; and the myrtle, which flourishes most on the sea-shore. The same image occurs, cb. xxxiii. 18–20. but placed in a different light. The poet feigns in this place, that the wild beasts of the desert, and the dragons themselves, which had been afflicted with thirst, pour forth their nocturnal cries in thankfulness to God for sending rain upon the desert. See also ch. xxxiv. 3, 4. Sometimes in the district of Jerusalem, which by nature is a very dry soil, and in which there are few streams, an immense flood is seen to burst forth, and with irresistible violence fall into the Dead Sea, so that its water, which is more salt than that of any other sea, is rendered sweet. Gihon seems to have afforded the basis of the above description ; a rivulet which proceeds from Sion, when perhaps some uncommon flood had prodigiously increased it. If I am not mistaken, David was the firsi who made use of this bold figure, but with such a degree of modesty as becomes the author who first introduced it, Psal. xlvi. 2-6. I suspect something of the kind indeed to have happened about the time of his composing that Psalm, for it is usual in earthquakes for some streams to be entirely drained, while others overflow. But his imitators, in their ardour for novelty, have gone far beyond bim. Thus Joel intermingles with this figure the picture of the golden age, ch. iii. 18. :
• The mountains shall drop down new wine,
And the hills shall flow with milk,
OF POETIC IMAGERY FROM COMMON LIFE.
Examples of poetical imagery from common life-- The habits
of life extremely simple among the Hebrews, whose principal employments were agriculture and pasturage- The dignity of these employments ; and the splendour of the imagery which is borrowed from them: Threshing, and the threshing instruments - The sublimity of the imagery which is taken from familiar objects results from its proprietyThe poetic Hell of the Hebrews explained; the imagery of which is borrowed from their subterraneous sepulchres and funeral rites.
In my last Lecture I explained three causes, which have enabled the Hebrew poets to preserve in their figurative style the most perfect union between perspicuity and sublimity. I remarked, in the first place, that they chiefly employed images taken from familiar objects, such I mean as were generally known and understood ; secondly, that, in the use or application of them, they observed a regular track, method, or analogy; and, lastly, that they used most freely that kind of imagery which was most familiar, and the application of which was most generally understood. The truth of these observations will, I think, find further and more decisive confirmation, if those metaphors be considered which are taken from arts, manners, and common life. These, you will easily recollect, I before pointed out as another source of poetical imagery; and for this part of the subject a few general observations will suffice, with an example or two out of the great number which present themselves in the sacred writings. The whole course and method of common or domestic life among the Hebrews of the more ancient times, was simple and uniform in the greatest degree. There existed not that variety of studies and pursuits, of arts, conditions, and employments, which may be observed among other nations who boast of superior civilization; and rightly, indeed, if luxury, levity, and pride, be the criterions of it. All enjoyed the same equal
liberty; all of them, as being the offspring of the same ancient stock, boasted an equality of lineage and rank: there were no empty titles, no ensigns of false glory; scarcely any distinction or precedence but that which resulted from superior virtue or conduct, from the dignity of age and experience, or from services rendered to their country. Separated from the rest of mankind by their religion and laws, and not at all addicted to commerce, they were contented with those arts which were necessary to a simple and uncultivated (or rather uncorrupted) state of life. Thus their principal employments were agriculture and the care of cattle; they were a nation of husbandmen and shepherds. The lands had been originally parcelled out to the different families; the portions of which (by the laws of the country) could not be alienated by sale, * and therefore descended to their posterity without diminution. The fruits of the earth, the produce of his land and labour, constituted the wealth of each individual. Not even the greatest among them esteemed it mean and disgraceful to be employed in the lowest offices of rural labour. In the scripture history, therefore, we read of eminent persons called to the highest and most sacred offices, heroes, kings, and prophets, from the plough and from the stalls.t
Such being the state of things, we cannot reasonably be surprised to find the Hebrew writers deducing most of their metaphors from those arts particularly, in which they were educated from their earliest years. We
e are not to wonder that those objects which were most familiar to their senses afforded the principal ornaments of their poetry; especially since they furnished so various and so elegant an assortment of materials, that not only the beautiful, but the grand and magnificent, might be collected from them. If any person of more nicety than judgment should esteem some of these rustic images grovelling or vulgar, it may be of some use to him to be informed, that such an effect can only result from the ignorance of the critic, who, through the medium of his scanty information and peculiar prejudices, presumes to estimate matters of the most remote antiquity ;£ it cannot
* Lev. xxv. 13-16. and 23, 24. Compare 1 Kings xxi. 3.
+ See Judges iii. 31. vi. 11. 1 Sam. ix. 3. xi. 5. 2 Sam. vii. 8. Psal. Ixxviii. 72, 73. ) Kings xix. 19, 20. Amos i. 1. vii. 14, 15.
# One would almost think that this keen remark was prophetically levelled at a late critic of a very extraordinary cast. It was a little unfortunate for that learned gentleman, that these Lectures were not translated previous to the
reasonably be attributed as an error to the sacred poets, who not only give to those ideas all their natural force and dignity, but frequently, by the vivacity and boldness of the figure, exhibit them with additional vigour, ornament, and beauty.
It would be a tedious task to instance particularly with what embellishments of diction, derived from one low and trivial object, (as it may appear to some), the barn or the threshing-floor, the sacred writers have contrived to add a lustre to the most sublime, and a force to the most important subjects: Thus, “ Jehovah threshes out the heathen as corn, tramples them under his feet, and disperses them. He delivers the nations to Israel to be beaten in pieces by an indented flail,* or to be crushed by their brazen hoofs. He scatters his enemies like chaff upon the mountains, t and disperses them with the whirlwind of his indignation.”+ “ Behold I have made thee a threshing wain;
A new corn-drag armed with pointed teeth :
Of these quotations it is to be remarked, first, that the nature of this metaphor, and the mode of applying it, are constantly and cautiously regarded by the different authors of the sacred poems; and on this account, notwithstanding the boldness of it, both chastity and perspicuity are preserved, since they apply it solely to exaggerate the slaughter and dispersion of the wicked. The force and aptness of the image itself in illustrating the subject, will also afford a very proper and ready apology for some degree of freedom in the application of it, particularly if we advert to the nature and method of this rustic operation in Palestine. It was performed in a high situation exposed to the wind, by bruising the ear, either by driving in upon the sheaves a herd of cattle, or else by an instrument constructed of large planks, and sharpened underneath with stones or iron; and sometimes by a machine in the form of a cart, with iron wheels or axles
publication of his book : if they had, he certainly would never have laid himself open to the application of so pointed a sarcasm.-T. * Hab), iii. 12. Joel iii. 14. Jer. li. 33. Isa. xxi, 10. + Mic. iv. 13. Psal. Ixxxiii. 11. 16. Isa, xvij. 13.
$ Isa. xli. 15, 16.