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liest data to the period immediately preceding the revival of letters in modern Europe. I must premise that the method of handling such an argument in so small a compass can scarcely be otherwise than discursive and miscellaneous.
The general Forms of Literature.
Literature, as a general name for learning, equally includes the liberal arts, and the useful and abstruse sciences. Philosophy, in this acceptation of the word, is a branch of literature. But literature, in its peculiar sense as distinct from philosophy, may be regarded as the expression of every fixed form of thought, whether by speech or writing. Literature in this view will embrace poetry, eloquence, history, romance, didactics, and indeed every kind of verbal composition, whatever be the subject: all books, in reference to their execution, are literary works; and so are the songs and traditions of barbarians among whom letters are unknown; the latter, not less than the former, being vehicles for communicating premeditated thought in set terms.
Of literature thus defined there are two species, verse and prose; and the first takes precedence of the second; for though the structure of ordinary discourse be prose, the earliest artificial compositions, in all languages, have assumed the form of verse; because, as the subjects were intended to be emphatically impressed upon the mind, and distinctly retained in the memory-point, condensation, or ornament of diction, combined with harmony of rhythm, arising from quantity, accent, or merely corresponding divisions of sentences, were the obvious and elegant means of accomplishing these pur
The most ancient specimen of oral literature on record we find in the oldest book, which is itself the most ancient specimen of written literature. This is the speech of Lamech to his two wives (in the fourth chapter of Genesis), which, though consisting of six hemistichs only, nevertheless exemplifies all the peculiarities of Hebrew verse-parallelism, amplification, and antithesis. The passage is exceedingly obscure, and I shall not attempt to interpret it the mere collocation of words, as they stand in the authorized English Bible, will answer our present purpose:
"Adah and Zillah! hear my voice;
Ye wives of Lamech! hearken unto my speech."
This is a parallelism, the meaning of both lines being synonymous, though the phraseology is varied, and the two limbs of each correspond to those of the other :
"Adah and Zillah!
hear my volu? ;
Ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto any spech,
Here is amplification: concerning the man slain in the first clause, we have the additional information in the second that he was 66 a young man."
"If Cain shall be avenged seven fold,
The antithesis in this couplet consists, not in contrariety, but in aggravation of the opposing terms -seven fold contrasted with seventy and seven fold.
The context of this passage has a peculiar inter
est at this time, when the proscription of everlasting ignorance is taken off from the multitude, and knowledge is become as much the birthright of the people of Britain as liberty. This Lamech, who, if not the inventor of poesy, was one of the earliest of poets, had three sons; of whom Jabal, the father of such as dwell in tents, followed agriculture; Jubal, the father of all such as handle the harp and organ, cultivated music; while Tubal-Cain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron, practised handicraft. Thus, in the seventh generation of man, in one family we find poetry, music, agriculture, and the mechanical arts. Hence literature, which is connected with the two first, is not inconsistent with the pursuits of the two latter. There are two traditions respecting the second and third of these brethren, each of which may, without impropriety, be introduced here. Of Tubal-Cain, it is said, to borrow the homely verse of Sylvester's Du Bartas,
While through a forest Tubal, with his yew,
A burning mountain from his fiery vein,
There is a classical tradition of the discovery of iron, by a volcanic eruption of Mount Ida, so nearly allied to this that it may be concluded the one was borrowed from the other; or, if both had a common origin, the coincidence would almost stamp the authenticity of the fact itself.
Jubal, on the other hand, is reported to have found
the upper shell of a tortoise, in which, though the flesh of the animal had perished, the integuments remained. These at his touch trembled into music, giving forth sounds which suggested the idea of a stringed instrument. He mused a while, then set his fingers to work, and forthwith came the harp out of his hands. This invention has also been celebrated in British verse, but of a higher mood than the strain already quoted
"When Jubal struck the chorded shell,
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
To return to the general subject: the hemistichs of Lamech, on which we have commented, are only verse in form; neither the voice nor the soul of poetry are there. The next specimen which occurs in Sacred Writ are the words of Noah, when he awoke from his wine, and knew what his children had respectively done unto him:
"Cursed be Canaan
A servant of servants shall he be to his brethren:
And Canaan shall be his servant :
God shall enlarge Japheth,
And he shall dwell in the tents of Shem,
This quotation, in the closing triplet, rises into genuine poetry, by the introduction of a fine pastoral metaphor illustrative of the manner of living among the ancient patriarchs :
"God shall enlarge Japheth,
And he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.
But these lines are more striking, as exhibiting the first example of the union of poesy and prophecy ; for in those primitive days,
"the sacred name
I have passed over the reputed prophecies of Enoch before the flood, because, though we have a quotation from them in the Epistle of St. Jude, the original language in which they were uttered is either itself extinct, or, if it were the Hebrew, has lost the words that imbodied them. It may be observed, however, that the translated extract in the Greek Testament bears tokens of the original having been rhythmical, which is specially indicated by the use of one emphatical word four times in as many lines-a pleonasm that would hardly have occurred in prose composition, even in the age of Adam, but might be gracefully adapted to the cadence and character of the most ancient mode of verse.
Isaac's benedictions on Esau and Jacob are at least presumptive evidence of the advanced state of oral literature (for writing was probably not yet invented) in his age. The critics, I believe, do not allow the language to have the decided marks of Hebrew rhythm. If so, the passage may be, without hesitation, set down as the oldest specimen of prose in the world.
Of the words of dying Jacob, however, there is no question that the structure of them is verse, and the substance of them at once poetry and prophecy of the highest order. It might seem, from the power of the sentiments and the brilliancy of the illústrations, as though the patriarch on his dying couch, surrounded by his mourning family, were again caught up into the visions of God-as when in his youth