Page images

It is to the novelty and utility of this distinction that the author claims the attention of the public. He has already written largely on it, but has still something to add. By the blessing of Providence he has lived long enough to see the truth of his principles universally assented to, and, in some instances, adopted in practice. The utility of them he is fully persuaded of by a thousand experiments; but of this the public at large are undoubtedly the best judges.


THAT part of rhetorick, which relates to composition, has been so elaborately treated both by the ancients and moderns, that I shall in some measure invert the common order, and at first chiefly confine myself to that branch of it, which relates to pronunciation and delivery. Preparatory to this it will be necessary to settle the pronunciation of several letters, syllables, and words, which are not only often mispronounced by the younger class of pupils, but which are frequently little understood by those, who are more advanced in the art. Without quoting

Quintillian, we may easily conclude, that, if these first principles of speaking are not distinctly and accurately learned, whatever we may acquire afterward must be faulty and erroneous. I shall therefore begin with settling the true pronunciation of those letters, syllables, and words, which are the most liable to be mistaken by the generality of readers and speakers.


Too slightly sounding the accented vowels. One of the most general faults in reading is a slight, short, mincing pronunciation of the accented vowels.

This produces a harsh, insignificant, and trifling sound of the words, instead of that bold, round, mellow tone, which ought to be considered as the basis of speaking. The vowels, which ought most to be attended to, are the a and o. E is the slenderest of all the vowels, and i and u are diphthongs, which terminate in slender sounds, and do not afford a sufficient quantity of sound to gratify and fill the ear; but the a in all its three sounds, in bare, bar, and war; fatal, father, and water; has a bold, full sound, which the ear dwells upon with pleasure. The sound of o likewise, when lengthened by e final, as in tone, or ending a syllable, as in noble, &c. may be prolonged with great satisfaction to the ear; and it is to a judicious prolongation of the sound of these vowels, that pronunciation owes one of its greatest beauties. Words of this kind should therefore be selected and pronounced, first by the teacher, and afterward by the pupil, slowly and distinctly.

Too slightly sounding the unaccented vowels.

There is an incorrect pronunciation of the letter u, when it ends a syllable not under the accent, which not only prevails among the vulgar, but is sometimes found in better company; and that is, giving the u an obscure sound, which confounds it with vowels of a very different kind. Thus we not unfrequently hear singular, regular, and particular, pronounced as if written sing-e-lar, reg-e-lar, and par-tick-e-lar; but nothing tends more to impoverish and vulgarise the pronunciation, than this short and obscure sound of the unaccented u. It may, indeed, be observed, that there is scarcely any thing more distinguishes a person of a mean from one of a good education, than the

pronunciation of the unaccented vowels. When vowels are under the accent, the prince and the lowest of the people, with very few exceptions, pronounce them in the same manner: but the unaccented vowels, in the mouth of the former, have a distinct, open, and specific sound; while the latter often totally sink them, or change them into some other sound. Those, therefore, who wish to pronounce elegantly, must be particularly attentive to the unaccented vowels, as a neat pronunciation of these forms one of the greatest beauties of speaking.

The other vowels, when unaccented, are liable to nearly the same indistinctness and obscurity as the u. The first e in event, the first o in opinion, and the i in sensible, terrible, &c. are apt to go into an obscure sound, approaching to short u, as if written uvvent uppinion, sensubble, terrubble, &c. while polite pronunciation, that is the least deliberate, requires these vowels to be heard nearly as distinctly, and with as much purity, as when under the accent. Thus the e in event should be pronounced nearly as e in equal; the o in opinion, as that in open; the i in the unaccented terminations ible, ity, and at the end of other syllables not under the accent, ought to have the sound of e, and this sound to be preserved distinct and pure, as if written sen-se-ble, ter-re-ble, de-ver-se-ty, u-ne-ver-sety, &c.: nay, so strong a tendency has a good speaker to open the vowels e and o, when ending a syllable immediately before the accent, that we frequently hear these vowels in the words effect, efface, occasion, offence, &c. pronounced as if the consonant were single this is certainly a deviation from rule, but it is so general among polite speakers, and so agreeable

« PreviousContinue »