« PreviousContinue »
of a people so widely diverse from us in all the circumstances of their earthly existence, can be understood only by those who have looked at the subject with enlarged and philosophical views. Thus to enter into the spirit of Grecian poetry, to understand the child-like simplicity of Homer, and appreciate the truth of feeling in his representations, is a high attainment for the classical student, yet the Greeks were our neighbours and kindred, when compared with the more ancient and Oriental Hebrews. When we place ourselves in the tents of the Hebrew patriarchs, on the plains of Arabia, or the mountains of Palestine, every thing is to be learned anew. The language, the habits of life, the modes of thought and of intercourse, the heavens above, and the earth beneath, all are changed, and present to us a strange and foreign aspect. When in addition to this we consider, that the poetry, which we are here called to study, belongs to the earliest periods of recorded time, and embodies many of the first simple and child-like conceptions of the human mind, and when we reflect, too, how difficult it is for us to return upon our own childhood, and revive the faded conceptions and forgotten feelings, with which we then looked abroad upon the works of nature, observed the conduct of our fellowmen, or contemplated our own being and destiny, we may apprehend something of the difficulties, which an author has to overcome, who would fully enter into the spirit of Hebrew poetry, and make it intelligible to a mere English reader. We may understand too how impossible it would be by the method, which Lowth has pursued, and by that alone, to do full justice to a body of poetry so peculiar, and so diverse
in its whole spirit, from that with which he brings it into comparison. Hence the necessity of the work of Herder ; and the end, which he sought to accomplish, was to supply that, which was wanting in the celebrated lectures of Bp. Lowth. He has aimed by tracing the simple and child-like conceptions, which had been transmitted from the infancy of the race, and which had a predominant influence, in connexion with the outward circumstances of their existence, in giving its character and spirit to their poetry, in a word, by looking at these in their causes, to place us in the proper point of view, and enable us to feel and appreciate them for ourselves. But what farther is necessary to be said on this point the author has himself said in the plan of his work, in his preface, and in various parts of the work itself.
How far the author has succeeded in regard to the attainment of his end, the reader, with proper qualifications for forming an opinion, must judge for himself. That he has always apprehended in their true sense the early conceptions of the Hebrews is not to be supposed, nor would any one probably undertake to defend all his views, even of important matters, connected with the early traditions of the race. The biblical representations of Paradise, of the garden of Eden, of the temptation and fall of Adam, of the Cherubim, of the deluge, and of what Herder denominates mythological representations generally, have ever furnished an ample field of speculation, in which every critick feels at liberty to form his own opinions, and for the most part to interpret by his own rules. So far as philosophical and theological considerations inAuenced the author, he seems to have aimed chiefly at
meeting the popular objections to the representations of Scripture, which were then very generally prevalent, and are so more or less in every age, by showing, that, although we cannot understand these, as they would at first seem to mean, when seen from our point of view, they'yet exhibit when seen from the right position, and in their true relations to the age and people, for which they were originally made, a sense both natural and rational. To judge fairly of the author, as a man of piety and of sober and correct views, from the representations, which he has given of these matters, we must consider moreover the atmosphere, in which he wrote, and the free spirit of Biblical criticism, as exhibited at the same time by Eichhorn and other contemporary German writers. But after making due allowances of this sort, it will still be felt, that the work contains some things irreconcilable with just views, nor would I be understood as subscribing to all the sentiments, which I'am herewith exhibiting to the publick.
If it be asked, why then do I exhibit opinions, which I deem erroneous, I can only say, that others, as well as myself, and those in whose judgment I place the highest confidence, have thought it extremely desirable, all things considered, that the work should be given to the publick, and my views of duty to my author, as a faithful translator, did not permit me to misrepresent his opinions in any thing of importance. I was at
*I fear that in one or two instances, the translation, through inadvertence, is such as may seem to convey a sense farther removed from what are considered correct views, than the original. An instance of this occurs on page 189, where “Hell” properly means the place of the dead. It is explained by reference to page
first disposed to avoid the difficulty by accompanying the work with notes, and giving in them my own remarks, on whatever would probably be considered objectionable by the lovers of divine truth. I soon found, however, on considering the nature of the subjects that would require to be noticed in this way, that I must either give a naked opinion, where a sense of propriety would not permit me to do so, or enter into discussions of a philosophical and theological kind, unsuited to the character, and beyond the proper limits of the work. My belief is, moreover, that such is the character and spirit of the work, taken as a whole, as to give it an influence highly beneficial to the cause of truth and of sound Biblical learning among us, if only it be read in the spirit that dictated it, and to correct in the general result, whatever individual errors of opinion it may contain. It is only to be regretted, that the author had not completed the plan which he had sketched, and we could then, no doubt, have judged more fairly, of the proportions and bearings of the parts which we have.
What, and how comprehensive his plan was, will be seen from his own sketch of it, immediately following this preface. It seems, too, to have been his favourite enterprize, and cherished with fondness, as he remarked to one of his friends, from his very childhood. His hopes, however, were never fully realized, and only a part of the general plan was ever executed. During the latter part of his life, when he had hoped for leisure to accomplish it, he was so much oppressed with other duties, as at last to be removed in the midst of his labours, when he had scarcely entered upon the third division of his work.
Even the two first divisions still required some important additions and corrections from the author's hand. The work however was published by him, and nearly in its present form, at Dessau, in 1782 and 1783. After his death, which took place in 1803, a second edition with such additions, as could be made from the papers, which he had left, was published by his friend J. G. Mueller of Schaffhausen, in 1805 and 1806. The third edition, with some small contributions of his own, was published in 1822 by Prof. Justi, of Marburg, in two vols. 8vo. This is esteemed the best edition, and from it the present translation has been made.
Of my own undertaking as translator I have no disposition to say any thing further, except that I have been very well aware of its difficulty, and have aimed to perform it with all reasonable exactness and fidelity to the original. As a work of taste, it requires more care and labour than would be necessary, where less regard was had to elegance of composition, and I have aimed, as far as as I was able, to give a fair expression of the original. The numerous translations from the Hebrew, and other poetical effusions especially, I have endeavoured to exhibit with as much accuracy as could well be attained in a matter of so much difficulty. These were regarded by the author, as the chief object of his work, and his translations from the Hebrew were made with peculiar care.
He aimed to preserve and exhibit, as far as possible, not the thoughts merely, but their form and colouring, and the precise tones of feeling which were associated with them in the minds of the authors, and of those for whom they were originally written. In this he has succeeded, undoubtedly, far better than Lowth, whose poetical paraphrases