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No. CXXXIII. TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14.
Dum tacent, clamant.
Sheer-lane, February 13. SILENCE is sometimes more significant and sublime, than most noble and most expressive eloquence, and is on many occasions the indication of a great mind. Several autlors have treated of silence, as a part of duty and discretion, but none of them have considered it in this light. Homer compares the noise and clamour of the Trojans advancing towards the enemy, to the cackling of cranes, when they invade an army of pigmies. On the contrary, he makes his countrymen and favourites, the Greeks, move forward in a regular determined march, and in the depth of silence. I find in the accounts, which are given us of some of the more eastern nations, where the inhabitants are disposed by their constitutions and climates to higher strains of thought, and more elevated raptures than what we feel in the northern regions of the world, that silence is a religious exercise among them. For when their public devotions are in the greatest fervour, and their hearts lifted up as high as words can raise them, there are certain suspensions of sound and motion for a time, in which the mind is left to itself, and supposed to swell with such secret conceptions, as are too big for utterance. I have myself been wonderfully delighted with a master-piece of music, when in the very tumult and ferment of their harmony, all the voices and instruments have stopped short on a sudden, and after a little pause recovered themselves again as it were, and renewed the concert in all its parts. Methought this short interval of silence has had more music in it, than any the same space of time before or after it. There are two instances of silence in the two greatest poets, that ever
were, which have something in them as sublime as any of the speeches in their whole works. The first is that of Ajax, in the eleventh book of the Odyssey. Ulysses, who had been the rival of this great man in his life, as well as the occasion of his death, upon meeting his shade in the region of departed heroes, makes his submission to him
with an humility next to adoration, which the other passes over with dumb sullen majesty, and such a silence, as (to use the words of Longinus) had more greatness in it than any thing he could have spoken.
The next instance I shall mention is in Virgil, where the poet doubtless imitates this silence of Ajax in that of Dido; though I do not know that any of his commentators have taken notice of it. Æneas, finding among the shades of despairing lovers the ghost of her who had lately died for him, with the wound still fresh upon her, addresses himself to her with expanded arms, floods of tears, and the most passionate professions of his own innocence, as to what had happened; all which Dido receives with the dignity and disdain of a resenting lover, and an injured queen; and is so far from vouchsafing him an answer, that she does not give him a single look. The poet represents her as turning away her face from him while he spoke to her; and after having kept her eyes for some time upon the ground, as one that heard and contemned his protestations, flying from him into the grove of myrtle, and into the arms of another, whose fidelity had deserved her love.
I have often thought our writers of tragedy have been very defective in this particular, and that they might have given great beauty to their works, by certain stops and pauses in the representation of such passions, as it is not in the power of language to express. There is something like this in the last act of Venice Preserved, where Pierre is brought to an infamous execution, and begs of his friend, as a repa.
ration for past injuries, and the only favour he could do him, to rescue him from the ignominy of the wheel hy stabbing him. As he is going to make this dreadful rew quest he is not able to communicate it; but withdraws his face from his friend's ear, and bursts into tears. The melancholy silence that follows hereupon, and continues till he has recovered himself enough to reveal his mind to his friend, raises in the spectators a grief that is inexpressible, and an idea of such a complicated distress in the actor, as words cannot utter. It would look as ridiculous to many readers to give rules and directions for proper silences, as for penning a whisper: but it is certain, that in the extremily of most passions, particularly surprize, admiration, astonishment, nay, rage itself, there is nothing more graceful than to see the play stand still for a few moments, and the audience fixed in an agreeable suspense, during the silence of a skilful actor.
But silence never shews itself to so great an advantage, as when it is made the reply to calumny and defamation, provided that we give no just occasion for them. We might produce an example of it in the behaviour of one in whom it appeared in all its majesty, and one, whose silence, as well as his person, was altogether divine. When one considers this subject only in its sublimity, this great instance could not but occur to me; and since I only make use of it to shew the highest example of it, I hope I do not offend in it. To forbear replying to an unjust reproach, and overlook it with a generous, or (if possible) with an entire neglect of it, is one of the most heroic acts of a great mind: and I must confess, when I reflect upon the behaviour of some of the greatest men in antiquity, I do not so much admire them that they deserved the praise of the whole age they lived in, as because they contemned the envy and detraction of it.
All that is incumbent on a man of worth, who suffers under so ill a treatment, is to lie by for some time
in silence and obscurity, till the prejudice of the times be over, and his reputation cleared. I have often read, with a great deal of pleasure, a legacy of the famous Lord Bacon, one of the greatest geniuses that our own, or any country has produced. After having bequeathed his soul, body, and estate, in the usual form, he adds, “ My name and memory I leave to foreign nations, “ and to my countrymen, after some time be passed " over.”
At the same time that I recommend this philosophy to others, I must confess, I am so poor a proficient in it myself, that if in the course of my lucubrations it happens, as it has done more than once, that my paper is duller than in conscience it ought to be I think The time an age till I have an opportunity of putting oui another, and growing famous again for two days.
I must not close my discourse upon silence, without informing my reader, that I have by me an elaborate treatise on the Aposiopesis, called an Et Cætera, it being a figure much used by some learned authors, and particularly by the great Littleton, who, as my Lord Chief Justice Coke observes, had a most admirable talent at an &c.
To oblige the pretty fellows, and my fair readers, I have thought fit to insert the whole passage abovementioned relating to Dido, as it is translated by Mr. Dryden.
Not far from thence, the mournful fields appear;
Made by her son. He saw Pasiphæ there,