Page images




Beauty of Language.

[ocr errors]


Fall the fine arts, painting only and sculpture are in their nature imita

tive. A field laid out with taste, is not, properly speaking, a copy or imitation of nature, but nature itself embellished. Architecture deals in originals, and copies not from nature. Sound and motion may in some measure be imitated by music; but for the most part music, like architecture, deals in originals. Language has archetype in nature, more than music or architecture; unless where, like mufic, it is imitative of found or motion. In the description of particular sounds, language sometimes happily furnisheth words, which, beside their customary power of exciting ideas, resemble by their softness or harshness the found described: and there are words, which, by the celerity or flowpess of pronunciation, have some resemblance


[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

to the motion they signify. This imitative power of words

goes one step farther. The loftinefs of some words, makes them proper symbols of lofty ideas : a rough subject is imitated by harsh-sounding words; and words of many syllables pronounced flow and smooth, are naturally expressive 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 roundness, sweetness, faintness, or roughness, of their tones.

These are beauties, but not of the first rank: They are relished by those only, who have more delicacy of sensation than belongs to the bulk of mankind. Language poffefseth a beauty superior greatly in de gree, of which we are eminently conscious when a thought is communicated in a strong and lively manner. This beauty of language, arising from its power of expressing thought, is apt to be confounded with the beauty of the thought expressed; which beauty, by a natural transition of feeling among things intimately connected, is con


[merged small][ocr errors]


vey'd to the expression, and makes it appear more beautiful *. But these beauties, if we wish to think accurately, must be carefully distinguished from each other, They are indeed so distinct, that we fometimes 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 the liveliest manner. In this case, the disagree ableness of the subject, doth 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 present observe, that this beauty is the beauty of means fitted to an end, viz. the communication of 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

See chap. 2. part I. sect. 4.

which in the most perfect manner answers its end.

The several beauties of language above mentioned, being of different kinds and distinguishable from each other, ought to be handled separately. I thall begin with those beauties of language which 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 fingular beauties of language that are derived from a resemblance betwixt sound and signification, The beauties of verse I propose to handle in the last section. 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 perfpicuity 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.

[ocr errors]

S E C T.: I.

Beauty of language with respect to found.

I Propose to handle this subject in the fol

lowing order, which appears the most natural. The sounds of the different letters come first. Next, these sounds as united in fyllables. Third, fyllables united in words. Fourth, words united in a period. And in the last place, periods united in a difcourse.

With respect to the first article, every vowel is founded by a single expiration of air from the wind-pipe through the cavity of the mouth ; and by varying this cavity, the different vowels are founded. The air in passing through cavities differing in size, produceth various sounds, fome 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

« PreviousContinue »