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Up to the face the quick sensation flies,
Spoken language, by means of gesture, emphasis and accents, is benefitted by this half-mute language of nature. It is imitated by the actor, and is the soul of unpremeditated oratory. But the writer possesses no such advantages. Ask the lover if the broken whisper, the gentle pressure of the hand, and the furtive glance of the eye, can be sufficiently expressed, by the softest words in the vocabulary of love.
When we speak of the natural order of a sentence, if we do not allude to simplicity in opposition to affectation, we must mean that of calm narrative, as differing from what is the effect of strong excitement. The passions, standing in peculiar points of view, see objects in different lights, and in other arrangements than those in which they appear to a less interested spectator; and they have, therefore, in all languages, peculiar modes of utterance, consequent upon the modifications of the mind of him who speaks.
Yesterday morning, as I was walking in the fields, I saw John stab James through the heart, with a dagger.'
This, certainly, is a calm narrative, for the cir
cumstances are as coolly related as if the speaker had, merely, seen a man shoot a hare. The language of feeling would have been differently arranged: the prominent part of the picture would have been brought forward, and the circumstances cast into shade.
James is murdered! I saw John stab him to the heart!' Such would naturally have been the exclamation of a friend.
The former narrative is what would be expected in a Court of Justice; where every circumstance is of consequence, and where the passions ought not to be excited.
"In the Greek and Roman languages," says Dr. Blair," the most common arrangement is, to place that first which strikes the imagination of the speaker most;" and he proceeds to contrast this principle with the order of modern tongues :
"All the modern languages of Europe," says he, have adopted a different arrangement from the ancient. In their prose compositions, very little variety is admitted in the collocation of words; they are mostly fixed to one order, and that order is, what may be called, the Order of the Understanding. They place first in the sentence, the person or thing which speaks or acts; next its action; and lastly, the object of the action. So
that the ideas are made to succeed one another, not according to the degree of importance which the several objects carry in the imagination, but according to the order of nature and of time.
"An English writer, paying a compliment to a great man, would say thus: "It is impossible for me to pass over, in silence, such remarkable mildness, such singular and unheard of clemency, and such unusual moderation, in the exercise of supreme power." Here we have, first presented to us, the person who speaks. "It is impossible for me;" next, what that person is to do, "impossible for him to pass over in silence;" and lastly, the object which moves him so to do, "the mildness, clemency, and moderation of his patron." Cicero, from whom I have translated these words, just reverses this order; beginning with the object, placing that first, which was the exciting idea in the speaker's mind, and ending with the speaker and his action. “Tantam mansuetudinem, tam inusitatam inauditamque clementiam, tantumque in summa potestate rerum omnium modum, tacitus nullo modo præterire possum." [Orat. pro Marcell.]
"The Latin order is more animated; the English, more clear and distinct. The Romans generally arranged their words according to the order in which the ideas rose in the speaker's
imagination. We arrange them according to the order in which the understanding directs those ideas to be exhibited, in succession, to the view of another."
We have extended this extract, because it is generally taken for granted that the English language admits of little variation of construction from what is here termed "the Order of the Understanding." This belief, however, appears to us to be completely erroneous; for scarcely any language can be found that admits of inversion in a greater degree. Every sentence may be begun, at pleasure, with the agent, or with the object; for the Passive voice is the reverse of the Active. There is, indeed, a drawling uniformity of style which has long pervaded the English tongue, but this is no necessary part of its original character; for, in hands that are able to wield its energies, it does not yield in animation to the language of the Romans. The preceding translation might be placed in the Latin order, by a simple transposition, without rendering the meaning ambiguous; or, by changing the voice it would read thus:
"Such remarkable mildness, such singular and unheard-of clemency, and such unusual moderation in the exercise of supreme power, cannot possibly be passed over, by me, in silence."
We might easily cite numerous examples, where this "Order of the Understanding" is disregarded by our best writers:
"In describing the nuisance erected by so pestilential a manufactory, by the construction of so infamous a brothel, by digging a night-cellar for such thieves, murderers, and house-breakers, as never before infested the world, I am so far from aggravating, that I have fallen infinitely short of the evil."
The preceding is from Burke, the following is from Dr. Blair, himself:
"Not only in professed descriptions of the scenery, but in the frequent allusions to natural objects, which occur, of course, in pastorals, the poet must, above all things, study variety."
While, however, we endeavour to free ourselves from the trammels of dull uniformity, we must beware of such inversions as might excite surprise, from the difficulty of unravelling them, or by their pedantic imitation of the structure of the learned tongues. The cases of the pronouns give a facility of transposition, in some degree similar to the more general declensions of the Greek and Latin; but it will seldom be found proper to make much use of this advantage. The pronouns represent nouns; and we feel as if force had been used to drag them from their