Page images

Just writes to make his barrenness appear,

And strains from hard-bound brains eight lines a-year.

Pope's Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, 1. 181.

I shall close with one example more, which of all makes the finest figure. In the first section mention is made of a climax in sound; and in the second, of a climax in sense. It belongs to the present subject to observe, that when these coincide in the same passage, the concordance of sound and sense is delightful: the reader is conscious not only of pleasure from the two climaxes separately, but of an additional pleasure from their concordance, and from finding the sense so justly imitated by the sound. In this respect, no periods are more perfect than those borrowed from Cicero in the first section.

The concord between sense and sound is no less agreeable in what may be termed an anticlimax, where the progress is from great to little; for this has the effect to make diminutive objects appear still more diminutive. Horace affords a striking example:

Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.

The arrangement here is singularly artful: the first place is occupied by the verb, which is the capital word by its sense as well as sound: the close is reserved for the word that is the meanest in sense as well as in sound. And it must not be overlooked, that the resembling sounds of the two last syllables give a ludicrous air to the whole.

Reviewing the foregoing examples, it appears to me, contrary to expectation, that, in passing from the strongest resemblances to those that are fainter, every step affords additional pleasure. Renewing the experiment again and again, I feel no wavering, but the greatest pleasure constantly from the faintest resemblances. And yet how can this be? for if the pleasure lie in imitation, must not the strongest resemblance afford the greatest pleasure? From this vexing dilemma I am happily relieved, by reflecting on a doctrine established in the chapter of resemblance and contrast, that the pleasure of resemblance is the greatest, where it is least expected, and where the objects compared are in their capital circumstances widely different. Nor will this appear surprising, when we descend to familiar examples. It raises no degree of wonder to find the most perfect resemblance between two eggs of the same bird: it is more rare to find such resemblance between two human faces; and upon that account such an appearance raises some degree of wonder: but this emotion rises to a still greater height, when we find in a pebble, an agate, or other natural production, any resemblance to a tree or to any organised body. We cannot hesitate a moment, in applying these observations to the present subject: what occasion of wonder can it be to find one sound resembling another, where both are of the same kind? It is not so common to find a resemblance between an articulate sound and one not articulate; which accordingly affords some slight pleasure. But the pleasure swells greatly, when we employ sound to imitate things it resembles not otherwise than by the effects produced in the mind.

[ocr errors]

I have had occasion to observe, that to complete the resemblance between sound and sense, artful pronunciation contributes not a little. Pronunciation therefore may be considered as a branch of the present subject; and with some observations upon it the section shali be concluded.

In order to give a just idea of pronunciation, it must be distinguished from singing. The latter is carried on by notes, requiring each of them a different aperture of the windpipe: the notes properly belonging to the former, are expressed by different apertures of the mouth, without varying the aperture of the windpipe. This, however, does not hinder pronunciation to borrow from singing, as one sometimes is naturally led to do, in expressing a vehement passion.

In reading, as in singing, there is a key-note: above this note the voice is frequently elevated, to make the sound correspond to the elevation of the subject: but the mind in an elevated state, is disposed to action; therefore, in order to a rest, it must be brought down to the key-note. Hence the term cadence.

The only general rule that can be given for directing the pronunciation, is, to sound the words in such a manner as to imitate the things they signify. In pronouncing words signifying what is elevated, the voice ought to be raised above its ordinary tone; and words signifying dejection of mind, ought to be pronounced in a low note. To imitate a stern and impetuous passion, the words ought to be pronounced rough and loud; a sweet and kindly passion, on the contrary, ought to be imitated by a soft and melodious tone of voice: in Dryden's ode of Alexander's Feast, the line Faln, faln, faln, faln, represents a gradual sinking of the mind; and therefore is pronounced with a falling voice by every one of taste, without instruction. In general, words that make the greatest figure ought to be marked with a peculiar emphasis. Another circumstance contributes to the resemblance between sense and sound, which is slow or quick pronunciation for though the length or shortness of the syllables with relation to each other, be in prose ascertained in some measure, and in verse accurately; yet taking a whole line or period together, it may be pronounced slow or fast. A period, accordingly, ought to be pronounced slow, when it expresses what is solemn or deliberate; and ought to be pronounced quick, when it expresses what is brisk, lively, or impetuous.

The art of pronouncing with propriety and grace, being intended to make the sound an echo to the sense, scarcely admits of any other general-rule than that above mentioned. It may indeed be branched out into many particular rules and observations: but without much success; because no language furnishes words to signify the different degrees of high and low, loud and soft, fast and slow. Before these differences can be made the subject of regular instruction, notes must be invented, resembling those employed in music. We have reason to believe, that in Greece every tragedy was accompanied with such notes, in order to ascertain the pronunciation; but the moderns hitherto have not thought of this refinement. Cicero,

indeed.* without the help of notes, pretends to give rules for ascertaining the various tones of voice that are proper in expressing the different passions; and it must be acknowledged, that in this attempt he has exhausted the whole power of language. At the same time, every person of discernment will perceive, that these rules avail little in point of instruction: the very words he employs, are not inteligible, except to those who beforehand are acquainted with the subject.

To vary the scene a little, I propose to close with a slight comparison, between singing and pronouncing. In this comparison, the five following circumstances relative to articulate sound, must be kept in view. 1st, A sound or syllable is harsh or smooth. 2d, It is long or short. 3d, It is pronounced high or low. 4th, It is pronounced loud or soft. And, lastly, A number of words in succession, constituting a period or member of a period, are pronounced slow or quick. Of these five the first depending on the component letters, and the second being ascertained by custom, admit not any variety in pronouncing. The three last are arbitrary, depending on the will of the person who pronounces; and it is chiefly in the artful management of these that just pronunciation consists. With respect to the first circumstance, music has evidently the advantage; for all its notes are agreeable to the ear; which is not always the case of articulate sounds. With respect to the second, long and short syllables variously combined, produce a great variety of feet; yet far inferior to the variety that is found in the multiplied combinations of musical notes. With respect to high and low notes, pronunciation is still more inferior to singing; for it is observed by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, that in pronouncing, i. e. without altering the aperture of the windpipe, the voice is confined within three notes and a half: singing has a much greater compass. With respect to the two last circumstances, pronunciation equals singing.

In this chapter, I have mentioned none of the beauties of language but what arise from words taken in their proper sense. Beauties that depend on the metaphorical and figurative power of words, are reserved to be treated, Chap. XX.

* De Oratore, 1. iii. cap. 58.

+ De Structura Orationis, sect. 2.



The different impressions of poetry and prose on the ear-The distinction between verse and prose-The laws to which verse is subject-Latin Hexameter and English heroic verse only, to be examined-The five things premised as of importance-The purposes for which pauses are necessary-The different rules to be observed in different cases-The heads under which Latin and Greek Hexameter are to be treated-Substitutes for Dactyles and Spondees-Excep tion to the rule that finds the pause after the fifth syllable-One syllable always distinguished by a capital accent-English heroic examined-Number-Quantity-Arrangement-Pause-Accent-Heroic, commonly Iambic-Exception -melody in heroic verse, arises from pause and accent-One capital pause in a line-Two inferior pauses-A full pause not to divide a word-A pause interjected between a noun and an adjective-Between a verb and an adverbBetween an agent and his actions-Between an active verb and the subject of the action-When the pause may be inserted-Concluding pause-Words separated in an inverted order-When a musical pause may be inserted-Double effect of accents-The effect of accenting a low word-Accent confined to long syllables-The most important accent-It is of two kinds-In expressing dejec tion, the capital accent excluded-The effect of the position of the accent on the sense-Different powers denoted by the lines from the different position of the pause-The first order-The second order-The third order-The fourth order -Each order distinguished by its final accent and pause-The sentiment in each order-Blank verse-Its advantages-The pauses and accents of blank verse-Its superior melody-Advantages of Hexameter over English rhyme Blank verse unites the properties of both-The number and variety of pauses and accents of English rhyme-Other advantages of blank verse-The defects of French heroic verse-Not possible to introduce Hexameter into EnglishThe foundation of rhyme in nature-Its effect in a couplet-Not fit for a lofty subject-Its effect on a low subject-Not fit for anguish or deep distress-Not suited to serious subjects.

THE music of verse, though handled by every grammarian, merits more attention than that with which it has been honored. It is à subject intimately connected with human nature; and to explain it thoroughly, several nice and delicate feelings must be employed. But before entering upon it, we must see what verse is, or, in other words, by what mark it is distinguished from prose-a point not sa easy as may at first be apprehended. It is true, that the construction of verse is governed by precise rules; whereas prose is more loose, and scarcely subjected to any rules. But are the many who have no rules, left without means to make the distinction? and even with respect to the learned, must they apply the rule before they can with certainty pronounce whether the composition be prose or verse? This will hardly be maintained; and therefore instead of rules, the ear must be appealed to as the proper judge. But by what mark does the ear distinguish verse from prose? The proper and satisfactory answer is, that these make different impressions upon every one who has an ear. This advances us one step in our inquiry.

Taking it then for granted, that verse and prose make upon the ear different impressions; nothing remains but to explain this diffe rence, and to assign its cause. To this end, I call to my aid, an observation made above upon the sound of words, that they are more agreeable to the ear when composed of long and short sylla bles, than when all the syllables are of the same sort: a continued



sound in the same tone, makes not a musical impression: the same note successively renewed by intervals, is more agreeable; but still makes not a musical impression. To produce that impression, variety is necessary as well as number: the successive sounds or syllables, must be some of them long, some of them short: and if also high and low, the music is the more perfect. The musical impression made by a period consisting of long and short syllables arranged in a certain order, is what the Greeks call rythmus, the Cicero justly observes Latins numerus, and we melody or measure. that in one continued sound there is no melody: "Numerus in continuatione nullus est." But in what follows he is wide of the truth, Distinctio, if by numerus he means melody or musical measure: et æqualium et sæpe variorum intervallorum percussio, numerum conficit; quem in cadentibus guttis, quod intervallis distinguuntur, notare possumus.' s." Falling drops, whether with equal or unequal And this intervals, are certainly not music: we are not sensible of a musical impression but in a succession of long and short notes. also was probably the opinion of the author cited, though his expression be a little unguarded.†


It will probably occur, that melody, if it depend on long and short syllables combined in a sentence, may be found in prose as well as in verse; considering especially, that in both, particular words are accented or pronounced in a higher tone than the rest; and therefore that verse cannot be distinguished from prose by melody merely. The observation is just; and it follows, that the distinction between them, since it depends not singly on melody, must arise from the difference of the melody: which is precisely the case; though that difference cannot with any accuracy be explained in words; all that can be said is, that verse is more musical than prose, and its melody more perfect. The difference between verse and prose, resembles the difference, in music properly so called, between the song and the recitative and the resemblance is not the least complete, that these differences, like the shades of colors, approximate sometimes so nearly as scarcely to be discernible: the melody of a recitative approaches sometimes to that of a song; which, on the other hand, degenerates sometimes to that of a recitative. Nothing is more distinguishable from prose, than the bulk of Virgil's Hexameters : many of those composed by Horace, are very little removed from prose: Sapphic verse has a very sensible melody: that, on the other hand, of an Iambic, is extremely faint.‡

* The distinction (of sounds) and (its) percussion (on the ear) at equal, and frequently at varying intervals, produce a measured cadence, which we may remark in the falling of drops, because they are repeated by intervals.

+ From this passage, however, we discover the etymology of the Latin term for musical impression. Every one being sensible that there is no music in a continued sound; the first inquiries were probably carried no farther than to discover, that to produce a musical impression a number of sounds is necessary. A musical impression obtained the name of numerus, before it was clearly ascertained, that variety is necessary as well as number.

+ Music, properly so called, is analyzed into melody and harmony. A succession of sounds so as to be agreeable to the ear, constitutes melody: harmony arises from co-existing sounds. Verse therefore can only reach melody, and not harmony.

« PreviousContinue »