Images de page
PDF
ePub

a

poetry the larger half draws its inspiration from the tragedy of life.

For the treatment of so universal a subject Hebrew has advantages over other languages. It bases its verse system on a parallelism which is also a function of prose; accordingly it constitutes a highly elastic medium, which can shift at will from the measured beauties of verse to the freedom of prose, while the verse itself can reflect any change of feeling in some metrical variation. Again, what seems at first a defect of Hebrew literature in reality increases its range: the lack of a theatre to specialise drama has caused the dramatic impulse to spread through other literary forms, until epic, lyric, discourse, are all drawn together on a common basis of dramatic presentation. Thus of the two distinguishing features of Hebrew, the one draws together the different forms of poetry, and the other tands to unite poetry with prose. Thus in the Book of Job all these literary forms can be combined, and all the modes of thinking of which these forms are the natural vehicles. The bulk of the work is a philosophical discussion of the question of suffering, and different mental attitudes to this question are successively exhibited. But the philosophical discussion is also a dramatic debate : with rise and fall of passion, varieties of personal interest, quick changes in the movement of thought; while a background of nature, ever present, makes a climax in a whirlwind which ushers us into the supernatural. Interest of rhetoric is added for

[ocr errors]

emphasis: the argument is swayed out of its course by sustained outbursts of verbal workmanship, such as are wont to rouse assemblies of men to strong feeling. Again, the situation, which is to be discussed with all these varieties of resource, is brought forward for discussion by a narrated story; a story so evenly poised between the two functions of story - epic and history - that readers are divided on the question whether the Book of Job is a narrative of fact or an imagined parable. All this does not exhaust the elements of this literary masterpiece. The human world which endures and meditates on the suffering is in the Book of Job presented as fringed round with another world, the region of transcendental existence from which prophecy draws its inspiration; and the question which is debated in the human drama has in the prologue been solved in the mysteries of heaven.

Not only have we here the whole range of literary expression applied to a universal topic, but another note of the universal is struck in the selection of the personages in whose experience and meditation the topic is to be presented. It is no mere poet's caprice that has located the story in the land of Uz. No doubt the scene is idealised; but the very name carries us to a conception of patriarchal life, which is a middle point in human development in touch with the whole of human experience. It is a full life that these patriarchs lead; there is no narrowness of external circumstances such as might cramp sympathy and mental vision. The description of Job's wealth displays the pastoral life united with the settled life of agriculture, and house or tent is used indifferently to express a dwelling place. The mention of camels implies traffic and merchandise which would draw out of isolation into world intercourse. Country has combined with city: we have the administration of justice in the gate, — simple justice, with its daysman to lay hands on combatants, its single witness, its simple infamy of the stocks. The picture stops short only of the enterprise and competition that tend to swallow up life in adding to the means of livelihood. The age of the patriarchs seems to make a borderland in social evolution, from which the whole can be studied; and a speech of Job describes with scientific precision the changes from the primitive commune to the turbulence of crowded life. But for themselves these children of the east have adopted a stationary life: absorbed in higher thoughts they are content to sit still and let the world go by, as swift posts between great empires hurry past them, or the caravans of Tema stay a night in their neighbourhood, passing to and from the desert. In their thoughts they are familiar with the whole range of the larger world. They speak of kings and counsellors and judges and priests; of solitary sepulchral piles where the great lie with their buried gold; Egypt, under the name Rahab, is a byword with them. They have marked the lessons of nations in their rise and fall. They know of cities, the abode of the prosperous wicked, who cover their faces with fatness and have collops of fat on their flanks; the place also of prisons, slaves, and taskmasters. They talk familiarly of the gold of Ophir, and the topaz of Ethiopia, and can picture every detail of the miner's venture into the earth. War they know: the casting up of military roads and encampments, the warrior with his thick bosses of bucklers, his iron weapon and bow of brass ; they know the chances of war, and have perhaps had their share in redeeming from oppressors, and delivering the fatherless from the casting of lots. They know also the robber bands, whose god is their strong right hand, breaking upon the prosperous out of their lairs in desolate and ruinous cities. Their knowledge extends even to the outcasts of mankind, savages gaunt with want and famine, gnawing the dry ground in the gloom of wasteness and desolation, children of fools, driven out of the land. Of all these extremes they are content only to know: they have themselves attained the golden mean of restful serenity, as far from the glitter of life as from its stains.

So, for all its simplicity, it is a stately life that is lived by these patriarchs in the land of Uz. For the young there are rounds of feasting on ceremonial days; sisters lend their presence to their brothers, for their joy is not sensuous indulgence but festal mirth. The old also have their days of observance, marked by solemnity and ritual offerings. As brothers and sisters are in the world of

66

youth, so in mature life is the relationship of friends. Visits of ceremony are exchanged between these friends, and they behave with formal dignity of manners; it is an elementary instinct of order that leads Job's visitors to move together in their weeping, and rending their garments, and casting dust upon their heads; they sit down on the ground for seven days and seven nights” before they can break in upon the silent majesty of grief. The speech of these patriarchs is sparing because it is so weighty: pointed words of wisdom, inherited riches of tradition multiplied by long brooding and observation; if there is occasion for more, it takes the shape of a formal curse or ritual oath of innocence. Their moral principles are as fixed as the laws of nature; if one is violated, it is as if a rock were removed out of its place. Their veneration is for antiquity, for tradition uncorrupted from without. The greatest of them feels that he is but of yesterday; no disputant can be expected to resist a cause supported by one “much older than his father "; they or their fathers have received wisdom from “ those to whom the land was given, and no stranger passed through it.” The greatest sensation of the poem, short of the supernatural climax, is when the aged have to endure, in astonished silence, youth breaking in to plead nervously for a view of truth separated by but a hair's breadth from their own. Thus, amid the various ideals which men have formed for themselves, the ideal of the patriarchs is the stable life: a.

« PrécédentContinuer »