Page images
PDF
EPUB

subject is imitated by harsh-sounding words ; and words of many syllables pronounced flow and smooth, are expreflive of grief and melancholy. Words have a separate effect on the mind, abstracting from their signification and from their imitative power : they are more or less agreeable to the ear, by the fulness, sweetness, faintness, or roughness of their

tones.

These are but faint beauties, being known to those only who have more than ordinary acuteness of perception. Language poffefseth a beauty superior greatly in degree, of which we are eminently fenfible when a thought is communicated with perspicuity and sprightliness. This beauty of language, arising from its power of expressing thought, is apt to be confounded with the beauty of the thought itself: the beauty of thought, transferred to the expression, makes it appear more beautiful.* But these beau. ties, if we wish to think accurately, must be distin. guished from each other. They are in reality so diftinct, 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 fo 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 fignificant, which is a branch of the present subject, will be explained in their order. I shall only at pres

ent

* Chap. 2. part 1. fe&t. 5. Demetrius Phalereus (of Elocution, feet. 75.) makes the same observation. We are ant, says that author, to confound the language with the fubje&t; and if the latter be nervous, we judge the same of the former. But they are clearly distinguishable ; and it is not uncommon to find subjects of great dignity dreslid in mean language. Theopompous is celebrated for the force of his diction ; but era roneously : his subject indeed has great force, but bis style very little.

ent 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 ex. pressions all conveying the fame thought, the most beautiful, in the fenfe now mentioned, is that whic! in the most perfect manner answers its end.

The several beauties of language above mentioned, being of different kinds, ought to be handled feparately. I !hall begin with those beauties of language

that arise from sound ; after which will follow the beauties of language considered as significant ; this order appears naturai ; 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 refemblance between sound and fignification. The beauties of verse are handled in the last fection : for though the foregoing beauties are found in verse as well as in profe, yet verse has many peculiar beauties, which for the sake of connection must be brought under one view'; and versification, at any rate, is a subject of fo great importance as to deserve a place by itself.

SECTION I.

Beauty of Language with respect to Sound.
This

HIS subject requires the following or der. The sounds of the different letters come first : next, thesesounds 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 founded with a single expiration of air from the wind-pipe, through the cavity of the mouth. By varying this cavity, the diferent vowels are founded; for the air in palling through cavities differing in size A 2

produceth

produceth various sounds, some high or sharp, some low or flat: a small cavity occasions a high found, 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, c, a, o, u.* Each of these founds is agreeable to the ear : and if it be required which of them is the most agreeable, it is perhaps fafest 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 con!onants being letters that of themselves have no found, serve only in conjunction with vowels to form articulate founds; and as every articulate found makes a syllable, consonants come naturally under the second article ; to which we pro, ceed.

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 found, though pronounced with one expiration of air, or with one breath as commonly expressed : for however readily two founds may unite, yet where they differ in tonę, both of them must be heard if neither of them be suppressed. For the same reason, every fyllable must be composed of as many sounds as there are letters, supposing every letter to be diftinaly pronounced.

We next inquire, how far fyllables are agreeable to the ear. Few tongues are so polished, as entirely to have rejected sounds that are pronoụnced with dif.

ficulty ;

# In this scale of sounds, the letter i muft be pronounced as in the word interoft, and as in other words beginning with the syllable in ; the Jentere, as in perfuafion; the letter a as in bat ; and the letter at as in inter,

ficulty ; 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 found is always more agreeable than a single found : every one who has an ear must be sensible, that the dipththong oi or ai is more agreeable than any of these vowels pronounced fingly : the same holds where a consonant enters into the double found; the syllable le has a more agreeable found than the vowel e, or than any vowel.

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 fociety; and his provision of articulate founds is proportioned to the use he hath for them; but if sounds that are agreeable fingly, 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 founds, fo 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 fingly agreeable, which in conjunction are extremely disagreeable ; 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. Monofyllables belong to the former head : polysyllables open a different scene. In a cursory view, one would imagine, that

the

the agreeableness or disagreeableness of a word with respect to its found, should depend upon the agreeableness 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, fyllables in immediate succession, pronounced, each of them, with the fame, 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, or the contrary, makes a fuccefsion, which, because of its remarkable disagreeableness, is distinguished by a proper name, bia

The most agreeable succession is, where the cavity is increased and diminished alternately within moderate limits, Examples, alternative, longevity, pufillanimous. Secondly, words consisting wholly of Tyllables pronounced flow, or of fyllables pronounced quick, commonly called long and short fyllablcs, have little melody in them ; witness the words petitioner, fruiterer, dizziness : on the other hand, the intermixture of long and short fyllables is remarkably agreeable ; for example, degree, repent, wonderful, altitude, rapidity, independent, ime petuofity.* The cause will be explained afterward, in treating of versification.

Distinguishable from the beauties above mention, ed, 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 found, resembles in any degree what is raised

by

* Iralian words, like thofe of Latin and Greek, bave this property alr of universally : English and French words are generally defcieni. In the former, the long syllable is removed from the end, as far as the found will permit; and in the latter, the last syllable is generally long, For example, Senator in English, Senātor in Latin, and Senateur in French,

« PreviousContinue »