« PreviousContinue »
But these beauties, if we 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 nanner 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 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, 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 which in the most perfect manner answers its end.
The several beauties of language above mentioned, being of different kinds, ought to be handled separately.
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 na
for the sound of a word is attended to,
dignity dressed in mean language. Thcopompus is celebrated for the force of his diction ; but erroneously : his subject indeed has great force, but his style very little.
pefore we consider its signification. In a third fection come those singular beauties of language that are derived from a resemblance between found and signification. 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 verfe 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 so great importance, as to deferve a place by itself.
N handling this subject, the following order
appears the most natural. The sounds of the different letters come first: next, these founds as united in fyllables: 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; and by varying this cavity, the different vowels are founded : 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 found. The five vowels accordingly, pronounced with the same extension of the windpipe, 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 inquired which of them is the most agreeable, it is perhaps the safest side to hold, that there is no universal preference of any one before the rest : probably 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 which of themselves have no sound, serve only in conjunction with vowels to form articulate sounds; and as every articulate found of this kind makes a syllable, consonants come naturally under the second article; to which therefore we proceed.
All consonants are pronounced with a less cavity than any of the vowels; and consequently they contribute to form a found still more sharp than the sharpest vowel pronounced single. Hence it follows, that every articulate found into which a consonant enters, must necessarily be
* In this scale of sounds, the letter i must be pronounced as in the word interest, and as in other words beginning with the fyl. lal le in ; the latter e as in persuasion; the letter a as in hat: and the letter u as in number.
double, though pronounced with one expiration of air, or with one breath, as commonly exprefled: the reason is, that though two sounds readily unite, yet where they differ in tone, both of them must be heard if neither of them be suppressed. For the fame reason, every fyllable must be coinposed of as many sounds as there are letters, supposing every letter to be distinctly pronounced.
Wė next inquire, how far articulate sounds into which consonants enter, are agreeable to the
With respect to this point, there is a noted observation, that all sounds of difficult pronunciation are to the car harsh in proportion. Few tongues are so polished, as entirely to have rejected sounds that are pronounced with difficulty; and such sounds must in some ineasure be 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 diphthongs oi or ai are more agreeable than any of these vowels pronounced fingly: the fame 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. And in fupport of experience, a satisfactory argument may be drawn from the wisdom of Providence: speech is bestowed upon man, to qualify him for society; and the provision he hath of articulate founds, 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 fame time, would tend to abridge the number of useful sounds, 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, that in conjunction are extremely disagreeable; none but what are called concordant sounds having a good effect in conjunction : in the former, all founds singly agreeable, are in conjunction concordant; and ought to be, in order to fulfill the purposes of language.
Having discussed fyllables, we proceed to words; which make a third article. Monofyllables belong to the former head: polysyllables open a different scene. In a cursory view, one will readily, imagine, that the agreeableness or disagreeableness of a word with respect to its found, hould depend upon the agreeableness or disagreeableness of its component fyllables : which is true in part, but not entirely; for we must also take under consideration, the effect that a number of syllables composing a word have in succession. In the first place, syllables in immediate succession, pronounced, each of them, with the same or nearly the same aperture of the