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AMONG the various kinds of poetry, which we are at present employed in examining, the ancient Hebrew poetry, or that of the Scriptures, justly deserves a place. Viewing these sacred books in no higher light, than as they present to us the most ancient monuments of poetry extant, at this day, in the world, they afford a curious object of criticism. They display the taste of a remote age and country. They exhibit a species of composition, very different from any other with which we are acquainted, and at the same time beautiful. Considered as inspired writings, they give rise to discussions of another kind. But it is our business, at present, to consider them not in a theological, but in a critical view; and it must needs give pleasure, if we shall find the beauty and dignity of the composition adequate to the weight and importance of the matter. Dr Lowth's learned treatise, "De Sacra "Poësi Hebræorum," ought to be perused by all

who desire to become thoroughly acquainted with this subject. It is a work exceedingly valuable, both for the elegance of its composition, and for the justness of the criticism which it contains. In this Lecture, as I cannot illustrate the subject with more benefit to the reader, than by following the track of that ingenious author, I shall make much use of his observations.

I need not spend many words in showing, that among the books of the Old Testament there is such an apparent diversity in style, as sufficiently discovers which of them are to be considered as poetical, and which as prose compositions. While the historical books, and legislative writings of Moses, are evidently prosaic in the composition, the book of Job, the Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, a great part of the Prophetical Writings, and several passages scattered occasionally through the historical books, carry the most plain and distinguishing marks of poetical writing.

There is not the least reason for doubting, that originally these were written in verse, or some kind of measured numbers; though, as the ancient pronunciation of the Hebrew language is now lost, we are not able to ascertain the nature of the Hebrew verse, or at most can ascertain it but imperfectly. Concerning this point there have been great controversies among learned


men, which it is unnecessary to our present purpose to discuss. Taking the Old Testament in our own translation, which is extremely literal, we find plain marks of many parts of the original being written in a measured style; and the "disjecta membra poëtæ" often shew themselves. Let any person read the historical introduction to the book of Job, contained in the first and second chapters, and then go on to Job's speech in the beginning of the third chapter, and he cannot avoid being sensible, that he passes all at once from the region of prose to that of poetry. Not only the poetical sentiments, and the figured style, warn him of the change, but the cadence of the sentence, and the arrangement of the words, are sensibly altered; the change is as great as when he passes from reading Cæsar's Commentaries, to read Virgil's Æneid. This is sufficient to show, that the sacred Scriptures contain what must be called poetry in the strictest sense of that word; and I shall afterwards show, that they contain instances of most of the different forms of poetical writing. It may be proper to remark, in passing, that hence arises a most invincible argument in honour of poetry. No person can imagine that to be a frivolous and contemptible art, which has been employed by writers under divine inspiration, and has been chosen as a proper channel for conveying to the world the knowledge of divine truth.

From the earliest times, music and poetry were


cultivated among the Hebrews. In the days of the Judges, mention is made of the schools or colleges of the prophets; where one part of the employment of the persons trained in such schools was, to sing the praises of God, accompanied with various instruments. In the first book of Samuel (chap. x. 7.) we find, on a public occasion, a company of these prophets coming down from the hill where their school was, prophesying," it is said, "with the psaltery, tabret, " and harp before them." But in the days of King David, music and poetry were carried to their greatest height. For the service of the tabernacle he appointed four thousand Levites, divided into twenty-four courses, and marshalled under several leaders, whose sole business it was to sing hymns, and to perform the instrumental music in the public worship. Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, were the chief directors of the music; and from the titles of some Psalms it would appear, that they were also eminent composers of hymns or sacred poems. In chapter xxv. of the first book of Chronicles, an account is given of David's institutions relating to the sacred music and poetry, which were certainly more costly, more splendid and magnificent, than ever obtained in the public service of any other nation.

The general construction of the Hebrew poetry is of a singular nature, and peculiar to itself. It consists in dividing every period into correspondent, for the most part into equal members, which


answer to one another both in sense and sound. In the first member of the period a sentiment is expressed; and in the second member, the same sentiment is amplified, or is repeated in different terms, or sometimes contrasted with its opposite; but in such a manner that the same structure, and nearly the same number of words, is preserved. This is the general strain of all the Hebrew poetry. Instances of it occur every-where on opening the Old Testament. Thus, in Psalm xcvi. "Sing un"to the Lord a new song-Sing unto the Lord, "all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, and bless "his name-shew forth his salvation from day to 'day. Declare his glory among the heathen"his wonders among all the people. For the "Lord is great, and greatly to be praised-He is "to be feared above all the gods. Honour and majesty are before him-Strength and beauty "are in his sanctuary." It is owing, in a great measure, to this form of composition, that our version, though in prose, retains so much of a poetical cast. For the version being strictly word for word after the original, the form and order of the original sentence are preserved; which by this artificial structure, this regular alternation and correspondence of parts, makes the ear sensible of a departure from the common style and tone of prose.


The origin of this form of poetical composition among the Hebrews, is clearly to be deduced

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