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I have heard professors teach that certain passages in Virgil are amplifications, as for instance the following :
Nox erat, et placidum carpebant fessa soporem
At non infelix animi Phænissa.
Unhappy Dido was alone awake.- -DRYDEN. If the long description of the reign of Sleep throughout all nature did not form an admirable contrast with the cruel inquietude of Dido, these lines would be no other than a puerile amplification; it is the words At non infelix animi Phænissa—“ Unhappy Dido,” &c.which give them their charm.
That beautiful ode of Sappho's which paints all the symptoms of love, and which has been happily translated into every cultivated language, would, doubtless, have been less touching had Sappho been speaking of any other than herself; it might then have been considered as an amplification.
The description of the tempest, in the first book of the Æneid, is not an amplification; it is a true picture of all that happens in a tempest; there is no idea repeated, and repetition is the vice of all which is merely amplification.
The finest part on the stage in any language is that of Phédre (Phædra.) Nearly all that she says would be tiresome amplification, if any other were speaking of Phædra's passion.
Athènes me montra mon superbe ennemi;
D'un sang qu'elle poursuit tourmens inévitables ! Yes ;-Athens showed me my proud enemy; I saw him-blushed-turned pale ;A sudden trouble came upon my soul, My eyes grew dim-my tongue refused its office,I burned-and shivered ;-through my trembling frame Venus in all her dreadful power I felt, Shooting through every vein a separate pang! It is quite clear that, since Athens showed her her proud enemy Hippolytus, she saw Hippolytus; if she blushed and turned pale, she was doubtless troubled. It would have been a pleonasm-a redundancy, if a stranger had been made to relate the loves of Phædra; but it is Phædra, enamoured and ashamed of her passion her heart is full-everything escapes her ;
Ut vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error.
I saw him-blushed--turned pale.-
Mes yeux ne voyaient plus, je ne pouvais parler;
I burned-and shivered ;-
These lines, though imitated, flow as from their first source; each word moves and penetrates the feeling heart: this is not amplification, it is the perfection of nature and of art.
The following is, in my opinion, an instance of amplification, in a modern tragedy, which nevertheless has great beauties. Tydeus is at the court of Argos; he is in love with a sister of Electra; he làments the fall of his friend Orestes and of his father; he is divided betwixt his passion for Electra and his desire of vengeance : while in this state of care and perplexity, he gives one of his followers a long description of a
tempest, in which he had been shipwrecked some time before.
Tu sais ce qu'en ces lieux nous venions entreprendre; Tu sais que Palamède, avant que de s'y rendre, Ne voulut point tenter son retour dans Argos, Qu'il n'eut interrogé l'oracle de Délos. A de si justes soins on souscrivit sans peine: Nous artimes, comblés des bienfaits de Thyrrène ; Tout nous favorisait ; nous voyaguàmes long-tems Au gré de nos désirs, bien plus qu'au gré des vents : Mais, signalant bientôt toute son inconstance, La mer en un moment se mutine et s'elance : L’air mugit, le jour fuit, une épaisse vapeur Couvre d'un voile affreux les vagues en fureur; La foudre, éclairante seule une nuit si profonde, A sillons re.loublés ouvre le ciel et l'onde, Et comme un tourbillon, embrassant nos vaisseaux, Semble en sources de feu bouillonner sur les eaux : Les vagues quelquefois, nous portant sur leurs cimes, Nous font rouler après sous de vastes abîmes, Où les éclairs pressés, pénétrans avec nous, Dans des gouffres de feu semblaient nous plonger tous : Le pilote effrayé, que la flamme environne, Aux rochers qu'il fuyait lui-même s'abandonne; A travers les écueils notre vaisseau poussé, Se brise, et nage enfin sur les eaux dispersé. Thou know'st what purpose brought us to these shores; Thou know'st that Palamed would not attempt Again to set his foot within these walls Until he'd questioned Delos' oracle. To his just care we readily subscribed ; We sailed, and favouring gales at first appeared To announce a prosperous voyage ; Long time we held our course, and held it rather As our desires than as the winds impelled : But the inconstant ocean heaved at last Its treacherous bosom ; howling blasts arose ; The heavens were darkened; vapours black and dense Spread o'er the furious waves a frightful veil, Pierced only by the thunderbolts, which clove The waters and the firmament at once, And wbirling round our ship, in horrid sport Chased one another o'er the boiling surge ; Now rose we on some watery mountain's summit, Now with the lightning plunged into a gulph That seemed to swallow all. Our pilot, struck Powerless by terror, ceased to steer, and left us Abandoned to those rocks we dreaded most; Soon did our vessel dash upon their points, And swim in scattered fragments on the billows, VOL. I.
In this description we see the poet' wishing to surprise his readers with the relation of a shipwreck, rather than the man who seeks to avenge his father and his friend-to kill the tyrant of Argos, but who is at the same time divided between love and vengeance.
Several men of taste, and among others the author of Telemachus, have considered the relation of the death of Hippolytus, in Racine, as an amplification : long recitals were the fashion at that time. The vanity of actors makes them wish to be listened to, and it was then the custom to indulge them in this way. The archbishop of Cambray says, that Theramenes should not, after Hippolytus' catastrophe, have strength to speak so long; that he gives too ample a description of the monster's threatening horns, his saffron scales, &c. That he ought to say in broken accents, Hippolytus is dead- -a monster has destroyed him-I beheld it.
I shall not enter on a defence of the threatening horns, &c.; yet this piece of criticism, which has been so often repeated, appears to me to be unjust. You would have Theramenes say nothing more than, Hippolytus is killed—I saw him die—all is over. cisely what he does say ;-Hippolyte n'est plus ! (Hippolytus is no more!) His father exclaims aloud; and Theramenes, on recovering his senses, says,
J'ai vu des mortels périr le plus aimable.
I have seen the most amiable of mortals perish. and adds this line, so necessary and so affecting, yet so agonizing for Theseus
Et j'ose dire encore, Seigneur, le moins coupable.
And, Sire, I may truly add, the most innocent. The gradations are fully observed; each shade is
This is pre
• A portion of similar observation upon this tragedy is omitted, there being few in the French language wbich will not illustrate the abuse of the figure amplification. The remarks on the celebrated narrative of the death of Hippolytus in the Phædra of Racine, are, however, retained, because that fine piece of recitation is well known to the students of the Drama all over Europe. It is, nevertheless, suspected, that, with the English reader at least, the judginent of 'Fenelon will in this instance take precedence of that of Voltaire.-T.
accurately distinguished. The wretched father asks what God—what sudden thunder-stroke has deprived him of his son? He has not courage to proceed; he is mute with grief; he awaits the dreadful recital, and the audience await it also. Theramenes must answer: he is asked for particulars; he must give them.
Was it for him who had made Mentor and all the rest of his personages discourse at such length, sometimes even tediously,—was it for him to shut the mouth of Theramenes? Who among the spectators would not listen to him? Who would not enjoy the melancholy pleasure of hearing the circumstances of Hippolytus' death? Who would have so much as three lines struck out? This is no vain description of a storm unconnected with the piece-no ill-written amplification; it is the purest diction—the most affecting language ; in short, it is Racine.
Amplification, declamation, and exaggeration, were at all times the faults of the Greeks, excepting Demosthenes and Aristotle.
There have been absurd pieces of poetry on which time has set the stamp of almost universal approbation, because they were mixed with brilliant Aashes which threw a glare over their imperfections, or because the poets who came afterwards did nothing better. The rude beginnings of every art acquire a greater celebrity than the art in perfection : he who first played the fiddle was looked upon as a demi-god, while Rameau had only enemies.
In fine, men, generally going with the stream, seldom judge for themselves, and purity of taste is almost as rare as talent. At the present day, most of our sermons,
funeral orations, set discourses, and harangues in certain ceremonies, are tedious amplifications-strings of common place expressions repeated again and again a thousand times. These discourses are only supportable when rarely heard. Why speak when you have nothing new to say? It is high time to put a stop to this excessive waste of words; and therefore we conclude our article.