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wish to think accurately, must be distinguished from each other, They are in reality so distinct, that we sometimes are conscious of the highest pleasure language can afford, when the subject expressed is disagreeable. A thing that is loathsome, or a scene of horror to make one's hair stand on end, may be described in a manner so lively, as that the disagreeableness of the subject shall not even obscure the agreeableness of the description. The causes of the original beauty of language, considered as significant, which is a branch of the present subject, will be explained in their order. I shall only at present observe, that this beauty is the beauty of means fitted to an end-that of communicating thought; and hence it evidently appears, that of several expressions, all conveying the same thought, the most beautiful, in the sense now mentioned, is that which in the most perfect manner answers its end.
The several beauties of language above-mentioned, being of dif ferent kinds, ought to be handled separately. I shall begin with those beauties of language that arise from sound, after which will follow the beauties of language considered as significant. This order appears natural; for the sound of a word is attended to before we consider its signification. In a third section come those singular beauties of language that are derived from a resemblance between sound and signification. The beauties of verse are handled in the last section; for though the foregoing beauties are found in verse as well as in prose, yet verse has many peculiar beauties, which, for the sake of connexion must be brought under one view: and versification, at any rate, is a subject of so great importance as to deserve a place by itself.
BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE WITH RESPECT TO SOUND.
THIS subject requires the following order: The sounds of the dif ferent letters come first; next, These sounds as united in syllables; third, Syllables united in words; fourth, Words united in a period; and, in the last place, Periods united in a discourse.
With respect to the first article, every vowel is sounded with a single expiration of air from the windpipe through the cavity of the mouth. By varying this cavity the different vowels are sounded; for the air, in passing through cavities differing in size, produceth various sounds, some high or sharp, some low or flat: a small cavity occasions a high sound, a large cavity a low sound. The five vowels, accordingly, pronounced with the same extension of the wind-pipe, but with different openings of the mouth, form a regular series of sounds, descending from high to low in the following order, i, e, a, o, u.* Each of these sounds is agreeable to the ear; and if it be required which of them is the most agreeable, it is, perhaps, safest
*In this scale of sounds the letter i must be pronounced as in the word interest, and as in other words beginning with the syllable in; the letter e as in persuasion; the letter a as in bat; and the letter u as in number.
to hold, that those vowels which are the farthest removed from the extremes will be the most relished. This is all I have to remark upon the first article; for consonants being letters that of themselves have no sound, serve only, in conjunction with vowels, to form articulate sounds; and as every articulate sound makes a syllable, consonants come naturally under the second article, to which we proceed.
A consonant is pronounced with a less cavity than any vowel; and consequently every syllable into which a consonant enters must have more than one sound, though pronounced with one expiration of air, or with one breath as commonly expressed: for however readily too sounds may unite, yet where they differ in tone, both of them must be heard if neither of them be suppressed. For the same reason, every syllable must be composed of as many sounds as there are letters, supposing every letter to be distinctly pronounced.
We next inquire, How far syllables are agreeable to the ear? Few tongues are so polished as entirely to have rejected sounds that are pronounced with difficulty; and it is a noted observation, that such sounds are to the ear harsh and disagreeable. But with respect to agreeable sounds, it appears, that a double sound is al. ways more agreeable than a single sound. Every one who has an ear must be sensible that the diphthong oi, or ai, is more agreeable than any of these vowels pronounced singly: the same holds where a consonant enters into the double sound; the syllable le has a more agreeable sound than the vowel e, or than any other vowel. And, in support of experience, a satisfactory argument may be drawn from the wisdom of Providence. Speech is bestowed on man to qualify him for society; and his provision of articulate sounds is proportioned to the use he hath for them: but if sounds that are agreeable singly were not also agreeable in conjunction, the necessity of a painful -selection would render language intricate and difficult to be attained in any perfection; and this selection at the same time would abridge the number of useful sounds, so as perhaps not to leave sufficient for answering the different ends of language.
In this view, the harmony of pronunciation differs widely from that of music properly so called. In the latter are discovered many sounds singly agreeable, which in conjunction are extremely dis. agreeable; none but what are called concordant sounds having a good effect in conjunction. In the former, all sounds singly agreeable are in conjunction concordant; and ought to be, in order to fulfil the purposes of language.
Having discussed syllables, we proceed to words, which make the third article. Monosyllables belong to the former head; polysyllables open a different scene. In a cursory view, one would imagine that the agreeableness or disagreeableness of a word, with respect to its sound, should depend upon the agree. ableness or disagreeableness of its component syllables: which is true in part, but not entirely; for we must also take under consideration the effect of syllables in succession. In the first place, syllables in immediate succession, pronounced each of them with the same, or nearly the same, aperture of the mouth, produce
a succession of weak and feeble sounds; witness the French words dit-il, pathetique; on the other hand, a syllable of the greatest aperture succeeding one of the smallest, on the contrary, makes a succession, which, because of its remarkable disagreeableness, is distinguished by a proper name hiatus. The most agreeable succes. sion is where the cavity is increased and diminished alternately within moderate limits. Examples, alternative, longevity, pusillanimous. Secondly, words consisting wholly of syllables pronounced slow, or of syllables pronounced quick, commonly called long and short syllables, have little melody in them, witness the words petitioner, fruiterer, dizziness; on the other hand, the intermixture of long and short syllables is remarkably agreeable, for example, degree, repent, wonderful, altitude, rapidity, independent, impetuosity.* The cause will be explained afterwards in treating of versification.
Distinguishable from the beauties above-mentioned, there is a beauty of some words which arises from their signification. When the emotion raised by the length or shortness, the roughness or smoothness of the sound, resembles in any degree what is raised by the sense, we feel a very remarkable pleasure. But this subject belongs to the third section.
The foregoing observations afford a standard to every nation, for estimating, pretty accurately, the comparative merit of the words that enter into their own language; but they are not equally useful in comparing the words of different languages; which will thus appear. Different nations judge differently of the harshness or smooth. ness of articulate sounds. A sound, for example, harsh and disagree. able to an Italian, may be abundantly smooth to a northern ear. Here every nation must judge for itself; nor can there be any solid ground for a preference when there is no common standard to which we can appeal. The case is precisely the same as in behaviour and manners: plain dealing and sincerity, liberty in words and actions, form the character of one people; politeness, reserve, and a total disguise of every sentiment that can give offence, form the character of another people;-to each the manners of the other are disagreeable. An effeminate mind cannot bear the least of that roughness and severity which is generally esteemed manly, when exerted upon proper occasions; neither can an effeminate ear bear the harshness of certain words that are deemed nervous and sound. ing by those accustomed to a rougher tone of speech. Must we then relinquish all thoughts of comparing languages in point of roughness and smoothness as a 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 equal 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
* Italian words, like those of Latin and Greek, have this property almost universally; English and French words are generally deficient. In the former, the long syllable is removed from the end as far as the sound will permit; and in the latter, the last syllable is generally long. For example, Senator in English; Se; pator in Latin, and Senateur in French.
be evident from attending to the different effects that articulate sound hath 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 effect 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 further mellowed without suffering in its force and energy, will scarce 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 expense 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 excel. lent writer, who possessed, if any man ever did, the true genius of the English tongue.† I cannot, however, forbear urging one obser. vation, borrowed from that author: several tenses of our verbs are formed by adding the final syllable ed, which, being a weak sound, has remarkably the worst 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 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 shewing 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 labour, or
* 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 Earl of Oxford.
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 diminisheth in appearance the size of every object, except the first; but when, begining 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 succeeding 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 week impulse succeeding a strong, makes scarce 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, quam, Vir optimus est." This rule is also applicable to entire members 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.
+ De structura perfectæ orationis, 1. 2. + See Demetrius Phalereus of Elocution, sect. 18.
See the reason, chap. 8.