Page images

. Yet this must be understood with some limitations.

For 1. There are in every language some current and authorized forms of speech, which can hardly be avoided by a writer without affectation. They are such as express the most obvious fentiments, and which the ordinary occasions of life are perpetually obtruding on us. Now these, as by common agreement, we chuse to deliver to one another in the fame form of words. Convenience dictates this to one set of writers, and politeness renders it facred in another. Thus it will be true of certain phrases (as, universally, of the words, in any language), that they are left in common to all writers; and can be claimed as matter of property, by none. Not that such phraseology will be frequent in nobler compositions, as the familiarity of its usage takes from their natural reserve and dignity. Yet on certain occasions, which juftify this negligence, or in certain authors, who are not over sollicitous about these indecorums, we may expect to meet with it. Hamlet says of his father,


He was a man, take him for all in all ;

I shall not look upon his like again. which may be suspected of being stolen from Sophocles, who has the following palsage in the TRACHINÍAE: .

Πάνων άρισον άνδρα των επί χθονί

ver. 8246

The sentiment being one of the commonest, that' offers itself to the mind, the fole ground of suspicion must lie in the expression, I shall not look upon bis like " again,to which the Greek so exactly answers. But these were the ordinary expressions of such sentiment, in the two languages; and neither the characters of the great poets, nor the situation of the speakers, would suffer the affe&tation of depart, ing from common usage.

What is here faid of the situation of the Speakers reminds me of another class of expressions, which will often be similar in all poets. Nature, under the same conjunctures, gives birth to the same conceptions ;


and if they be of such a kind, as to exclude all thought of artifice, and the tricks of eloquence (as on occasions of deep anxiety and distress), they run, of themselves, into the same form of expression. The wretched Priam, in his lamentation of Hector, lecs drop the following words : . . ..5 ye? Čxo oču xałcícile did elow.

" This line, says his translator, is particu“ larly tender, and almost word for word " the same with that of the Patriarch Jacob; " who, upon a like occasion, breaks out in " the same complaint, and tells his children,' " that, if they deprive him of his son Benjamin, they will bring down his grey hairs with forrow to the grave."

. We may further except, under this head, certain, privileged forms of speech, which the peculiar idioms of different languages make necessary in them, and which poetry consecrates in all. But this is easily observed, and its effect is not very confi- , derable.

2. In pleading this identity of expresfion; regard must be had to the language from which the theft is supposed to be made. If from the same language (setting aside the exceptions just mentioned), the same arrangement of the same words is admitted as a certain argument of plagiarism: nay, less than this will do in some instances, as where the imitated expresion is pretty singular, or so remarkable, on any account, as to be well known, &c. But, if from another language, the matter is not so easy. It can rarely häppen, indeed, but by design, that there should be the same order or composition of words in two languages. But that which paffes even for literal translation is but a similar composition of corresponding words. And what does this imply, but that the writers conceived of their obje£t in the same manner; and had occafion to set it in the same light? an occasion, which is perpetually recurring to all authors; as may be gathered from that frequent and strong resemblance in the expression of moral sentiments, observable in the writers of every age and country. Can there be a comVOL. III.



[ocr errors]

moner reflexion, or which more constantly occurs to the mind under the same appear. ance, than that of our great poet, who, speaking of the state after death, calls it

That undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns ! Shall we call this a translation of the Latin poet ;

Nunc it per iter tenebricosum
Illuc, unde negant redire quenquam !

CATUL. III. 11. Or, doth it amount to any more than this, that the terms employed by the two writers in expressing the same obvious thought are correspondent? But correspondency and identity are different things. The latter is only where the words are numerically the same, which can only happen in one and the lame language: the other is effected by different sets of words, which are numerous in every language, and are therefore no convincing proof (abstractedly from other circumstances) of imitation,

From these general reflexions on language, without refining too far, or prying


« PreviousContinue »