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fancied propriety of arrangement, and no imaginary beauty of style, can justify a change of the phraseology to which the public ear has been familiarized.
In those passages where it has been deemed right to desert the English translators, I have endeavoured to assimilate the version to their style and manner of expression. For this reason, I have retained the third singular of verbs in “eth;" a few expletives, as, “ do,” “ did;" a few words almost peculiar to the Bible; and some other modes of diction, now but seldom used, though, in my opinion, they give a majestic simplicity and a venerable air of antiquity to the Scripture style. As these are matters of taste, it cannot be expected that all will be of the same mind; but it is certainly much safer to depart too little, than too much, from the received translation, in as much as the reverence for antiquity is less dangerous than the zeal of innovation.
The Notes which accompany the version are partly critical and partly explanatory. The former are designed to ascertain the full meaning of the sacred text, by a philological inquiry into the signification of the Hebrew words and phrases. In the latter, it is attempted to explain the allusions to ancient facts and customs, to embrace such observations as may serve to illustrate the original, and, occasionally, to present, in a short paraphrase, an exposition of the meaning intended by the Paroemiast.
“ Notes,” says Dr. Johnson, “ are often necessary, but they are necessary evils:” brevity, therefore, should be the constant aim of the annotator, that the evil, which cannot be avoided, may be of the shortest possible duration.* Nothing is more tiresome, than long and laboured commentaries. Malignity itself could scarcely devise a greater punishment, than to be compelled to read, without omissions, the bulky volumes of Dutch and German criticism. Perhaps no one has ever toiled through the prolix commentaries of that profound Orientalist, Albert Schultens, except such as, engaged in similar attempts to this, have considered it a duty to neglect no source of illustration. It is very easy to write long notes : the difficulty lies in compressing much matter in a short space; in omitting what the reader can easily supply;' and in touching upon those circumstances alone which bear upon the point in question.
• In rebus porro omnibus tractandis adhibenda est brevitas quantum res patitur et perspicuitatis lex. Nam latis illis et nimis enucleatis dispatationibus, ut Vitringanis in Esaiam, Lampianis in Joannem, res obscurantur potius quam illustrantur, ingenia confunduntur, certe fatigantur.--Ernesti, Inst. Interp. N. T. p. 167,
A better taste has begun to prevail in Biblical annotation; and, instead of the long and tedious comments, which perplex by their multiplicity, and weary by their amplitude, a shorter, more compact, and withal a more critical illustration is expected. In the Notes I have been studious of brevity, by rejecting every thing not absolutely necessary to ascertain the sense, or vindicate the translation. With this view, I have, in the first place, commonly referred to the grammarians and lexicographers, when I had nothing to add to their illustrations; considering it useless to multiply remarks and authorities which may be supplied by works in the possession of every scholar. Secondly, I have forborne to enumerate the different expositions which have been given by various commentators, except when I hesitated in the choice, or thought that some one, though not so well supported as the one adopted, was, nevertheless, deserving further consideration. I have given what appears to me the true exposition, and have endeavoured to confirm it; but, if the reader is dissatisfied, he must have recourse to other annotators, among whom he will find an astonishing variety of opinions. Thirdly, I have, for the most part, refrained from any endeavour to enforce the aphorisms of the royal Sage, otherwise than by a brief explanation of the meaning. So important are the truths contained in this book, and so well adapted to the various circumstances and conditions of men, that almost every verse would supply matter for moral reflection or admonitory remark: yet the discussion of such topics seems not to belong to the province of the annotator, but of the preacher and ethical instructor. Some few attempts of this nature the ardour excited by a contemplation of inspired wisdom has produced, which the severe critic may, at least, pardon, if not accept, as some relief to the barrenness of philological research.
Though brevity has been my constant aim, I have not sacrificed to it any thing which appeared to me necessary to illustrate the Proverbs. I pretend not to have cleared every obscurity, or to have elucidated every ambiguity discoverable in the book; but I have spared no pains in the attempt, by carefully examining the force of the Hebrew phraseology, and by diligently consulting such helps as an extensive critical apparatus can supply. In those instances where my doubts were very great, I have retained the authorized translation, reserving for the note such observations as occurred in examining the passage. In other places, where probability alone is attainable, I have carefully noted the grounds
upon which it is founded; and in no case have I decided without stating the reasons by which the decision was influenced.
This cautious method of investigation may appear tame and insipid to the admirers of daring criticism and ingenious conjecture. But, in the operations of Biblical interpretation, it is scarcely possible to be too cautious. An injudicious exposition leads to error, where error is the most dangerous. It is, therefore, more consistent with the reverence due to the sacred Oracles, and more becoming the humility and diffidence which should belong to the commentator upon the Word of God, to pause and hesitate, than to decide precipitantly, where inspired truth is concerned.
Such is the nature and design of the work now submitted to the public eye; and, whatever may be the sentence of the tribunal before which he ventures to appear, the author will, at least, enjoy the consciousness of having endeavoured well; a consciousness which no malevolence of criticism, no severity of censure, can destroy.