« PreviousContinue »
fruitless inquiry? Not altogether; for we may proceed a certain length, though without hope of an ultimate decision. A language pronounced with difficulty even by natives, must yield to a smoother language: and supposing two languages pronounced with equa. facility by natives, the rougher language, in my judgment, ought to be preferred, provided it be also stored with a competent share of more mellow sounds; which will be evident from attending to the different effects that articulate sound has on the mind. A smooth gliding sound is agreeable, by calming the mind, and lulling it to rest: a rough bold sound, on the contrary, animates the mind; the effort perceived in pronouncing, is communicated to the hearers, who feel in their own minds a similar effort, rousing their attention, and disposing them to action. I add another consideration: the agreeableness of contrast in the rougher language, for which the great variety of sounds gives ample opportunity, must, even in an effeminate ear, prevail over the more uniform sounds of the smoother language. This appears all that can be safely determined upon the present point. With respect to the other circumstances that constitute the beauty of words, the standard above mentioned is infallible when applied to foreign languages as well as to our own: for every man, whatever be his mother-tongue, is equally capable to judge of the length or shortness of words, of the alternate opening and closing of the mouth in speaking, and of the relation that the sound bears to the sense in these particulars, the judgment is susceptible of no prejudice from custom, at least of no invincible prejudice.
That the English tongue, originally harsh, is at present much softened by dropping in the pronunciation many redundant consonants, is undoubtedly true: that it is not capable of being farther mellowed without suffering in its force and energy, will scarcely be thought by any one who possesses an ear; and yet such in Britain is the propensity for dispatch, that, overlooking the majesty of words composed of many syllables aptly connected, the prevailing taste is to shorten words, even at the expence of making them disagreeable to the ear, and harsh in the pronunciation. But I have no occasion to insist upon this article, being prevented by an excellent writer, who possessed, if any man ever did, the true genius of the English tongue. I cannot, however, forbear urging one observation, bor rowed from that author: several tenses of our verbs are formed by adding the final syllable ed, which, being a weak sound, has remarkably the worse effect by possessing the most conspicuous place in the word: upon which account, the vowel in common speech is generally suppressed, and the consonant added to the foregoing syllable; whence the following rugged sounds, drudg'd, disturb'd, rebuk'd, fledg'd. It is still less excusable to follow this practice in writing; for the hurry of speaking may excuse what would be altogether
* That the Italian tongue is too smooth, seems probable, from considering, that in versification, vowels are frequently suppressed, in order to produce a rougher and bolder tone.
+ See Swift's proposal for correcting the English tongue, in a letter to the Ear of Oxford.
improper in composition: the syllable ed, it is true, sounds poorly at the end of a word; but rather that defect, than multiply the number of harsh words, which, after all, bear an over-proportion in our tongue. The author above mentioned, by showing a good example, did all in his power to restore that syllable; and he well deserves to be imitated. Some exceptions however I would make. A word that signifies labor or any thing harsh or rugged, ought not to be smooth; therefore forc'd with an apostrophe, is better than forced, without it. Another exception is where the penult syllable ends with a vowel; in that case the final syllable ed may be apostrophized without making the word harsh: examples, betray'd, carry'd, destroy'd, employ'd.
The article next in order, is the music of words as united in a period. And as the arrangement of words in succession so as to afford the greatest pleasure to the ear, depends on principles remote from common view, it will be necessary to premise some general observations upon the appearance that objects make, when placed in an increasing or decreasing series. Where the objects vary by small differences, so as to have a mutual resemblance, we, in ascending, conceive the second object of no greater size than the first, the third of no greater size than the second, and so of the rest; which diminishes, in appearance, the size of every object except the first: but when, beginning at the greatest object, we proceed gradually to the least, resemblance makes us imagine the second as great as the first, and the third as great as the second; which in appearance magnifies every object except the first. On the other hand, in a series varying by large differences, where contrast prevails, the effects are directly opposite: a great object succeeding a small one of the same kind, appears greater than usual; and a little object suc ceeding one that is great, appears less than usual.* Hence a remarkable pleasure in viewing a series ascending by large differences; directly opposite to what we feel when the differences are small. The least object of a series ascending by large differences has the same effect upon the mind, as if it stood single without making a part of the series: but the second object, by means of contrast, appears greater than when viewed singly and apart; and the same effect is perceived in ascending progressively, till we arrive at the last object. The opposite effect is produced in descending; for in this direction, every object, except the first, appears less than when viewed separately and independent of the series. We may then assume as a maxim, which will hold in the composition of language as well as of other subjects, that a strong impulse succeeding a weak, makes double impression on the mind; and that a weak impulse succeeding a strong, makes scarcely any impression.
After establishing this maxim, we can be at no loss about its application to the subject in hand. The following rule is laid down by Diomedes.† "In verbis observandum est, ne a majoribus ad minora descendat oratio; melius enim dicitur, Vir est optimus, quàm, Vir optimus est." This rule is also applicable to entire mem. + De structura perfectæ orationis, 1. 2.
✦ See the reason, Chap. 8.
bers of a period, which, according to our author's expression, ought not, more than single words, to proceed from the greater to the less, but from the less to the greater. In arranging the members of a period, no writer equals Cicero: the beauty of the following examples out of many, will not suffer me to slur them over by a reference.
Quicum quæstor fueram,
Quicum me sors consuetudoque majorum,
Quicum me deorum hominumque judicium conjunxerat.†
Habet honorem quem petimus,
Habet spem quam præpositam nobis habemus,
Habet existimationem, multo sudore, labore, vigiliisque, collectam.+
Eripite nos ex miseriis,
Eripite nos ex faucibus eorum,
Quorum crudelitas nostro sanguine non potest expleri.§
De Oratore, 1. 1. § 52. This order of words or members gradually increasing in length, may, as far as concerns the pleasure of sound, be denominated a climax in sound.
The last article is the music of periods as united in a discourse; which shall be dispatched in a very few words. By no other human means is it possible to present to the mind, such a number of objects, and in so swift a succession, as by speaking or writing; and for that reason, variety ought more to be studied in these, than in any other sort of composition. Hence a rule for arranging the members of different periods with relation to each other, that to avoid a tedious uniformity of sound and cadence, the arrangement, the cadence, and the length of the members, ought to be diversified as much as possible and if the members of different periods be sufficiently diversified, the periods themselves will be equally so.
* See Demetrius Phalereus of Elocution, § 18.
With whom I was quæstor-with whom the fortunes and the customs of our ancestors-with whom the judgment of gods and men had joined me.
He, whom we seek, hath honor-he hath the hope which we have set before us-he hath esteem, gained by much sweat, labor and vigils.
§ Snatch us from our miseries-snatch us from the jaws of those whose cruelty cannot be satisfied, but with our blood.
Beauty of language with respect to signification, divided into words, and arrangement-Perspicuity not to be sacrificed to any other beauty-Want of perspicuity arising from defect in arrangement-Giving different names to the same thing in the same sentence, another error-The language to accord with the subject-An accordance of a peculiar kind-The impression made by the word and by the thought to be the same-The conjunction and disjunction contained in the sentiment to be imitated in the expression-Connected members of a thought, to be expressed by connected members of a sentence-Alliteration-A connection in words, when there is none in thought, a deformity-A verbal antithesis-The union of a negative and an affirmative proposition, unpleasantTwo distinct ideas not to be put in the same sentence-To crowd them into a member of a sentence still worse-In describing resembling objects, a resemblance in the members of the sentence to be studied-In words also-Opposition to be studied, in words that express contrasted objects-The scene not to be changed-Remarks on the use of the copulative-Arrangement, the second kind of beauty-Words that import relation, to be distinguished from those that do not-Declension and juxtaposition used by the Greeks and the Latins to express relation-Juxtaposition, the principal method used in English-The relation between substantives expressed by particles-The same true with respect to qualities-Difference between natural and inverted order-When the natural order may be departed from-Remarks on inversion, and its advantages-The two kinds of ambiguities, occasioned by wrong arrangement-Examples illustrative of these errors, with the observations upon them-A pronoun to be placed as near as possible to its noun-The depression or elevation of an object-Many circumstances not to be used-A circumstance to be disposed of as soon as possible-A sentence to be closed with the most important wordThe longest member of a sentence to bring up the rear-When liveliness of expression is demanded, the sense to be brought out at the end-Why an inverted style is pleasing-A short period lively, a long solemn-A sentence to be closed with the former-Long and short syllables to be intermixed-Natural order beautiful; inverted not.
It is well said by a noted writer,* "That by means of speech we can divert our sorrows, mingle our mirth, impart our secrets, communicate our counsels, and make mutual compacts and agreements to supply and assist each other." Considering speech as contributing to so many good purposes, words that convey clear and distinct ideas, must be one of its capital beauties. This cause of beauty, is too extensive to be handled as a branch of any other subject: for to ascertain with accuracy even the proper meaning of words, not to talk of their figurative power, would require a large volume; an useful work indeed, but not to be attempted without a large stock of time, study, and reflection. This branch, therefore, of the subject, I humbly decline. Nor do I propose to exhaust all the other beauties of language that relate to signification: the reader, in a work like the present, cannot fairly expect more than a slight sketch of those that make the greatest figure. This task is the more to my taste, as being connected with certain natural principles; and the rules I shall have occasion to lay down, will, if I judge rightly, be agreeable illustrations of these principles. Every subject must be of importance that tends to unfold the human heart; for what other science is of greater use to human beings?
Scot's Christian Life.
The present subject is too extensive to be discussed without dividing it into parts; and what follows suggests a division into two parts. In every period, two things are to be regarded: first, the words of which it is composed; next, the arrangement of these words; the former resembling the stones that compose a building, and the latter resembling the order in which they are placed. Hence the beauties of language with respect to signification, may not improperly be distinguished into two kinds: first, the beauties that arise from a right choice of words or materials for constructing the period; and next, the beauties that arise from a due arrangement of these words or materials. I begin with rules that direct us to a right choice of words, and then proceed to rules that concern their arrangement.
And with respect to the former, communication of thought being the chief end of language, it is a rule, that perspicuity ought not to be sacrificed to any other beauty whatever. If it should be doubted whether perspicuity be a positive beauty, it cannot be doubted that the want of it is the greatest defect. Nothing, therefore, in language ought more to be studied, than to prevent all obscurity in the expres sion; for to have no meaning, is but one degree worse, than to have a meaning that is not understood. Want of perspicuity from a wrong arrangement, belongs to the next branch. I shall here give a few examples where the obscurity arises from a wrong choice of words; and as this defect is too common in the ordinary herd of writers to make examples from them necessary, I confine myself to the most celebrated authors.
Livy, speaking of a rout after a battle,
Multique in ruina majore quàm fuga oppressi obtruncatique.
L. 4. § 46. And many in a ruin greater than flight, were crushed and slain. This author is frequently obscure, by expressing but part of his thought, leaving it to be completed by his reader. His description of the sea-fight, 1. 28. cap. 30. is extremely perplexed.
Horace, Epod. XIII. 22.
Unde tibi reditum certo subtemine Parcæ
From whence (the Fates have spun it so,)
Qui persæpe cava testudine flevit amorem,
Horace, Epod. XIV. 11.
Who often lamented his love on the hollow shell, to no labored foot.
Me fabulosa Vulture in Appulo,
Ludo, fatigatumque somno,
Horace, Carm. 1. 3. ode 4.
Me tired with sleep, and yet a child
From kind Apulia's bounds beguiled,
Up in mount Vultur, now so famed and known,
The woodland doves concealed with foliage newly blown.