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to them. I, this, as in all things else, he shows his great want to have been the want of a heart. We scarcely know how better to close this view of his character, than, without meaning to excuse him, to apply bis own remark upon a much bolder person than he in both extremes ; we mean his friend, Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke, when he says of him, “Upon the whole of this extraordinary character, where good and ill were perpetually jostling each other, what can we say but, Alas! poor human nature !”
ART. VII. – A New Translation of the Proverbs, Eccle
siastes, and the Canticles, with Introductions, and Notes, chiefly Explanatory. By George R. Noyes, D. D., Hancock Professor of Hebrew, etc., and Dexter Lecturer in Harvard University. Boston : James Munroe & Co. 1846. 12mo. pp. 290.
Of Greek poetry earlier than Hesiod's Theogony we have only a few fragments, and those of doubtful genuineness; and how gross are the religious ideas that pervade the Theogony few of our readers can need to be told. Its gods are base-born and depraved, clothed with every brutal and fiendish attribute ; and they are made to reach their respective seats of empire, and to attain their due prerogatives, only after a series of conflicts, a comparison with which might give dignity to a modern prize-fight, or attach tasteful associations to the passages at arms between the feline combatants that wrangle while we write. From a much earlier antiquity have come down to us the Psalms of David, and with them, in the historical books of the Jewish canon, numerous traits of the domestic and social condition of the Hebrews during David's reign, indicating a grossness and barbarity of taste, manners, and institutions vastly below the starting-point of authentic Greek history, and not many degrees in advance of the aborigines of North America. Yet to that rude age and people, and to their half-savage king, we are indebted for a collection of sublime religious lyrics, which bear up the soul of man, in harmony with the worship of universal nature, to the one omnipotent and all-pervading Spirit, and which adequately express the most comprehensive views of the divine unity and sovereignty, and the deepest emotions of trust, gratitude, and praise, that can fill the Christian mind and heart. Whence this heaven-wide contrast? We can account for it only by supposing, that the warrior-king had access to fountains of higher inspiration than those that gushed from Helicon.
We might draw a similar inference from the translucency of the Psalms, and of the Hebrew poetry in general, through the most obscure and inaccurate version. These writings, hardly half “done into English ” by King James's translators, often so rendered as not to suggest a tithe of the original signification, often gratuitously hampered with self-contradictions and perverted by gross anachronisms, are yet no less precious and nutritive to the pure and cultivated literary taste than they are to devotional feeling. Though uncounted gems of fancy, though metaphors more brilliant and graphic than all antiquity beside can furnish, lie buried beneath the rubbish of unmeaning words, still so much remains unhidden, so many are the traits of beauty and grandeur that flash perpetually upon the readers of our common English Bible, that it is often difficult to convince them that the sacred poets could be read through a clearer and more satisfying medium. There are no other writings extant, which could afford to part with so much of their significance and spirit in the process of transfusion, and still present themselves rich in all the highest attributes of true poetry
But many portions of these writings are read aphoristically, and are understood and admired in single passages, sentences, and phrases, and not in the continuous flow of thought and imagery. Few merely English readers expect to derive connected or congruous ideas from an entire chapter of Isaiah or Ezekiel, or would think of the possibility of tracing an unbroken thread of thought from the top to the bottom of a page. Many of the passages from the prophets, which adhere to every one's memory, and are constantly quoted in the pulpit and in religious conversation, lie hemmed in between portions on which an impenetrable darkness rests, and, no doubt, equally rested to the eyes of our translators. Nor, in saying this, let us be understood as speaking reproachfully of those venerable men to whom we are indebted for our vernacular version of the Bible. Their work was a remarkable one for their times, especially when we consider that they wrought it, not of their own free will, in the underived consciousness of adequate scholarship, but by the choice and bidding of the most foolish monarch that ever sat on the throne of England. But they had access to few philological aids in their study of the Jewish Scrip
The critical knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, in its infancy on the continent of Europe, had hardly been sought in England; for previous professed translations from the Hebrew had leaned upon the Septuagint and the Vulgate. Nor did King James leave his translators the liberty, either to omit rendering passages which they found unintelligible, or to indicate by marginal notes when the words in the text were designed to mean nothing. Yet there are manifestly many instances in which they have purposely so thrown together English words and phrases, as to preclude the possibility of their suggesting any signification whatever.
What else can have been the design of the following sentence, from the description of the leviathan or crocodile in Job, — "Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more"? — a sentence which the grammatical construction, without violence, permits us to render, “If thou lay thy hand upon him, thou wilt no more remember the battle.” * For another specimen of the absolutely unintelligible in our common version, we might refer to a passage, the phraseology of which is familiar to every ear, but which suggests only two or three glimmerings of sense in a dreary waste of words ; namely, the first five verses of the ninth chapter of Isaiah, constituting the greater part of the Christmas morning lesson in the services of the Épiscopal Church. Our readers may perhaps have become so accustomed to the sound of these words, as to think that they understand them; but we would defy the most cunning“ interpreter of dark sentences” to bring the last member of the third verse into harmony with the first, or to assign a meaning to the Italicized portion of the following sentence :—“Every
This, or something similar, was the translation given by Dr. Noyes, in the first edition of his Job. On referring to his second edition, we find a much less significant rendering, and one for which, on examination of the Hebrew sentence, we can discover no philological grounds of preference. battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood ; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.” We solicit a careful comparison between the common version of this passage, and the following by Dr. Noyes. “ But the darkness shall not remain where now is distress; Of old he brought the land of Zebulon and the land of Naph.
tali into contempt; In future times shall he bring the land of the sea, beyond Jor.
dan, the circle of the Gentiles, into honor.
Then, too, in many passages, of which the main thought is clearly presented, our translators have inserted some irrelevant and unmeaning word or phrase, which the mind of the reader unconsciously omits and ignores, but which might be exchanged for one which would add new light and beauty to the sentiment. For instance, few probably have ever confessed to themselves that they do not fully understand the following verses from the nineteenth Psalm.
" There is no speech nor language where their voice that of the heavens, or the celestial luminaries] is not heard ; their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” And yet we have asked more than a score of intelligent and cultivated people, whether they had ever attached any meaning to the word line ; and they have all confessed, both that they knew not what it meant, and that they had never discovered, till we made the inquiry, that it was void of meaning. Now the Hebrew word, thus rendered, does indeed denote a measuring line, but it also signifies a musical chord ; and through the neglect of this latter sense, the Psalm has been
stripped of one of the rarest gems of poetical fancy to be found in any language. By omitting the word where, which has been interpolated in Italics by the translators, to the perversion of the sense, which was complete without it, we may render the passage as follows :
They (the heavens] have no speech nor language,
Their notes reach the bounds of the universe. Besides accurate translation of these ancient writings, English readers need a division and arrangement of them more consonant both with the genius of Hebrew poetry, and the scope of the respective writers, than our present chapters and verses, in which the measuring-line plays as impertinent and obtrusive a part as in the version of the psalm just quoted. Apart from the rhythm of the Hebrews, which it is idle to think of restoring, the essence of their poetry consists in a parallelism of sentiment, which unites two, three, or four versicles of nearly the same length into a stichos, or stanza. Sometimes one, two, or three versicles repeat the same sentiment in different words ; or, of four, the first corresponds to the third, and the second to the fourth. Sometimes the second member of the stichos, parallel in form, presents in thought a pointed antithesis to the first, or the third and fourth to the first and second. And then again, kindred, but not identical, sentiments are often thrown into couplets or triplets by a similarity of grammatical construction, and, so far as we have the means of judging, by an identity of rhythm. Now, all this parallelism is merged in our common system of verses, which groups together from two to five versicles, in the form of continuous prose, and with nothing, even in the pointing, to indicate the metrical divisions. The chapters, too, seldom coincide with the natural divisions of the respective books, while the brief summaries of contents prefixed to each chapter in our English Bibles generally display great carelessness, and are formed from the most superficial view of each chapter by itself, and not with reference to what precedes and follows. _Now a great deal may be done for the satisfaction of the English reader by an arrangement which will represent the poetical structure of the original, and by VOL. LXIII. — NO. 132.