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divisions corresponding with the actual sequence of subjects, together with a simple caption at the head of each section, to designate, in as few words as may be, not the possible or theoretical, but the actual and undoubted, purport of the section.
We have made these remarks to show how large a field of labor King James's translators left open to those who should succeed them. Their deficiencies, as we have said, belonged to their times and opportunities, rather than to the men. They did what they could, and more than there were a priori grounds for anticipating. And in one respect they have distanced all rivalry. They have clothed the Hebrew poets in a diction so full of euphony, majesty, and strength, as to make more accurate versions often seem tame and mean, and to constrain subsequent translators of taste to adhere to their phraseology, whenever there are not cogent reasons for departing from it. The author of a new translation must, then, be not only an acute and accomplished Hebrew scholar, but must also have at his command the richest materials of his own tongue, that his corrections of the established version may not seem insufferably harsh and flat by the side of those portions of its phraseology which he cannot help employing.
In this work, demanding at once so high attainments and so pure a taste, and on which many eminent men have entered with various degrees of success, we believe that the most careful critical comparison will award to Dr. Noyes the first honors. His versions of Job, the Psalms, and the Prophets, have been long before the public, and have already rendered edifying to hundreds of readers portions of the sacred volume which they had regarded as for ever sealed. No person of common intelligence will find it more difficult, by his aid, to follow a Hebrew prophet through his entire book, without dropping the thread of his discourse or encountering an utterly obscure sentence, than he will to trace the plot and to understand the successive portions of the Paradise Lost. Dr. Noyes's translation is always perspicuous and exact. He seldom deviates unnecessarily from the language of the common version ; and his own words, both in their choice and their arrangement, display the most intimate conversance with the resources of the English tongue, a sound and discriminating taste, and a moderately good rhythmical ear. If we qualify our praise in any particular, it must be in this last. We sometimes find him employing words and phrases entirely in accordance with the best usage, which yet fail to ring upon the ear with the leaping, stirring melody of the established version. He sometimes uses words of Latin derivation, when he had better Saxon words at hand. In some instances, also, he translates into our English idiom Hebraisms, which are sufficiently well understood, and bave incomparably more of euphony when literally rendered. Tbese instances are, however, but few; and because few, they are the more striking when they occur, from contrast with the generally elevated diction and spirited and melodious movement of the translation. In all of these works, the metrical arrangement of the original is strictly observed, and the text is broken into paragraphs and sections in accordance with the natural divisions, while the chapters and verses of the common system are marked in the margin for purposes of reference. Then there is prefixed to each of the books a brief introduction, exhibiting the results, without any of the parade, of learning, and presenting a synopsis of the facts, with reference to the external history of the work, with which the general reader needs to be acquainted. The notes are very few and short, adapted, with hardly an exception, to the comprehension and taste of the merely English reader, and for the most part either indicating the grounds of preference for the rendering given in the text, or explaining idiomatic or elliptical expressions, which could not have been unfolded in the text without an inadmissible periphrasis.
The volume now before us corresponds in its style of execution, and in its claims upon the public regard and gratitude, with those that preceded it. It makes with them a complete version of the poetical portion of the Hebrew canon. It hardly admits of criticism apart from the rest ; nor has the diligent perusal of all of them enabled us to pronounce either of them superior to the others in the traces of care, or skill, or learning. The series was not commenced till the author had made himself second to none in his qualifications for his task ; nor is it in his nature, or consonant with his rigid conscientiousness, so to lean on an established reputation as to remit in the last of the series any thing of that diligent elaboration which commended the first to universal favor.
In one point of view, indeed, the volume just issued might seem of inferior importance, as less needed than the others. Undoubtedly, the book of Proverbs is better understood in the common version than any of the other poetical books. Yet still, there are many pearls there dropped, which Dr. Noyes has strung again, — many maxims, to which he has restored their native brilliancy and point, and converted them from homely truisms back to apophthegms equally original and striking, both in their artistical form and their ethical significance. This book deserves the most diligent attention and study, as a compend of the practical morality and piety which sprang from the Mosaic revelation. It exhibits both the preēminent ethical value of the Jewish theology beyond all other ancient religions, and, at the same time, ils inadequacy to conduct the nation to that lofty spiritual stand-point which we owe to Him through whom immortality was at once revealed and made manifest. The collection is the more valuable, in this regard, from the fact, that it is not the work of one hand, but of at least five different authors or compilers, between the reigns of Solomon and Hezekiah, inclusive ; and that, therefore, it may be assumed as representing the moral tone and standard of ihe wisest and best men that flourished under the kings of Judah. It certainly adds abundant confirmation to the divine origin of the Jewish faith, while in its frequently superficial and external character, and in its many lacunæ, it indicates the need of the more comprehensive and profound ethics of the New Testament.
Ecclesiastes is supposed, from the Aramæan complexion of its language, to have been written after the Babylonish captivity, and probably at a later date than any other book of the Jewish canon. It could not have been the author's design to pass it off as the work of Solomon ; but, in giving the mature results of an extended experience of the wonders, pleasures, and vanities of life, he assumed the name and person of Solomon, as of an eminent historical character, within the range of whose powerful, prosperous, guilty, afflicted, penitent reign, every phasis of human experience might be naturally portrayed. This book is of kindred value with the Proverbs, as presenting views of human life which indicate far more breadth and justness of conception as to the aims and ends of life than could have been attained without the guidance of revelation, and yet illustrating man's intense need of full faith in immortality to cast light upon the dark passages, the limitations, and the failures of his earthly pilgrimage. This work, in our established version, is exceedingly obscure ; and, in the original, its style is harsh, diffuse, and vague. On no portion of his labors can Dr. Noyes have found more need of elaborate study, and keen, critical acumen, than here; and never before, as we believe, have the lucubrations of the Preacher” been clothed in intelligible English.
But bere we hardly meet with a sentence that does not interpret itself at the first glance ; and the translation is so free from ambiguity in the text, as to render three fourths of the few notes appended to it superfluous. There are one or two instances, indeed, in which we should have preferred a different rendering, and could quote high critical authority in our favor ; but in every such case, Dr. Noyes has fortified his ground by substantial reasons. We quote the closing chapter as a specimen of the style of the translation, and the more readily, because, with all its acknowledged pathos and beauty, some portions of it bear but a dim and doubtful significance in our common version.
“Remember, also, thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, of which thou shalt say, 'I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars become dark, and the clouds return after the rain ; at the time when the keepers of the house trem. ble, and the men of war bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows are darkened; when the doors are shut in the streets, because the sound of the grinding is low; when they rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music are brought low; when, also, they are afraid of that which is high, and terrors are in the way, and the almond is despised, and the locust is a burden, and the caper-berry fails; since man goes to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets ; – before the silver cord be snapped, and the golden bowl be broken, or the bucket broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return to God who gave it.
“Mere vanity, saith the Preacher, all is vanity!
“ Moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge ; yea, he considered, and sought out, and set in order, many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words, and the correct writing of words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, yea, as driven nails are the words of members of assemblies, given by one teacher. And, more. over, by these, my son, be warned! Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the flesh. Let us hear the end of the whole discourse! Fear God and keep his commandments ! For this is the duty of all men. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” – pp. 114, 115.
The Canticles, Dr. Noyes, in common with many critics of every denomination, supposes to be a collection of amatory idyls, written, if not by Solomon, at least in his reign, or soon after it. His translation of them is full of life and beauty. Though he assigns to them no mystical sense and no religious purpose, yet those who would spiritualize them so as to represent the relations of Christ and the church ought to attach a peculiar value to his version ; for with them, a literal and perspicuous rendering is of course essential as a basis for their allegorical interpretations. But there is one consideration which perhaps renders these songs of still higher religious worth when we regard them as mere love-songs. We well know how much of manifest and glaring impurity there is in the amatory lyrics of ancient Greece and Rome. We have here, beyond a doubt, the favorite, so to speak, the classical, love-songs of the Hebrews; and we find them, though in one or two instances marked by a license of speech inconsistent with modern notions of propriety, yet, so free from every thing absolutely gross or necessarily indelicate, that they still retain a seldom challenged place between the same covers with the Psalms and the Gospels, and suggest only associations of devoted piety and high religious fervor to many of the purest and best minds of the race. How shall we account for this contrast, except by supposing even the lighter literature of the Hebrews to have been held in check by that sound moral principle, and elevated religious sentiment, which could have flowed only from divine inspiration ?
We regard these works of Dr. Noyes, not only as worthy and useful in a religious point of view, but as among the ripest fruits of American scholarship, and the most valuable contributions to American literature. They have won for him the highest reputation, both at home and abroad, and have received the warmest praise from critics of various denominations. They must take their place on that brief list of sacred classics that will not need expurgation, till the language in which they are written grows obsolete.