Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

THE MELODY OF SENTENCES.

27. Rhythm.-IN what may be called the orator

ical style, a style particularly pleasing when pronounced, a peculiar balance of sentences is often preserved. Prose has its rhythm as well as poetry, only it is less restrained, less artificial, and more varied. A rhythm is often secured by a proper admixture of long sentences and short, loose sentences and periods, interspersed with various forms of expression, such as interrogations, exclamations, repetitions, and climaxes; but also a single long sentence may have a rhythmical balance of its parts. For instance, observe the following:

"As we perceive the shadow to have moved along the dial-plate, but did not perceive it moving; and it appears that the grass has grown, though nobody ever saw it grow: so the advances we make in knowledge, as they consist of such minute steps, are only perceivable by the distance."

"And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went up, thus he said: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would to God I had died

for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

"It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.".

"The ocean may roll its waves, the warring winds may join their forces, the thunder may shake the skies, and the lightnings pass swiftly from cloud to cloud; but not the forces of the elements com

bined, not the sound of thunders, nor of many seas, though all united in one peal, and directed to one point, can shake the security of the tomb."

28. Advantages of Rhythm.-Not only does the harmony of a sentence please the ear, but it commands attention, aids the memory, and deepens the impression.

It will be observed in the chapter on Antithesis, that the use of this figure of speech is almost invariably accompanied by a balance of words, corresponding with the contrasted thoughts.

"Gold can not make a man happy, nor rags render him misera

ble."

"We charge him with having broken his coronation-oath, and we are told that he kept his marriage vow! We accuse him of having given up his people to the merciless inflictions of the most hot-headed and hard-hearted of prelates, and the defense is, that he took his little son on his knee and kissed him!"

"The first sentence which broke the awful silence was a quotation from Rousseau: 'Socrates died like a philosopher, but Jesus Christ-like a God!' Never before did I completely understand what Demosthenes meant by laying such a stress on delivery."

29: Rough and Smooth Sounds. -Some writers on Rhetoric have recommended a particular attention to the degree of roughness or smoothness of the sounds of various words, and to reject words that are made up of several consonants in succession, such as adjudged, sixth; to avoid the immediate succession of vowels, such as in lineal, reappear, and to secure a happy combination of sounds. Such rules are more finical than wise. Use words to express thoughts, and pronounce them distinctly.

It may be well, however, to observe that sentences

THE SOUND OF SENTENCES.

215

closing with unimportant words, and particularly with a succession of unaccented syllables, such as immobility, incompatibility, are not pleasing to the ear.

Sentences that interpose expressions between a preposition and its object are often disagreeable.

"He was greatly indebted to, and had received many favors from, and finally was induced to repay, his friend," is awkward.

Better recast the sentence thus:

"He was greatly indebted to his friend, having received from him many favors, and was induced to repay him."

Sometimes qualifying phrases are inserted, as indeed single adverbs and adjectives also are, out of their proper place.

"They determined to rebel against a nation of which they constituted a part, and to which they had sworn fidelity not only, but also to erect a bastard republic in its place."

The "not only" should be before "rebel." Such solecisms can be tolerated occasionally, but when seemingly from a fondness for the sound a speaker has a peculiarity of this kind, it is an offensive mannerism.

30. How far should the Sound of Sentences be regarded?-There is a power about the mere sound of words, and when a valuable idea is clothed in a melodious expression it lingers long in the memory, and is often repeated. "The old man eloquent," "the almighty dollar," "masterly inactivity," "master of the situation," "Let us have peace," are examples. There is also such a thing as a harmony of the sound with the Scorn hisses, anger jerks its words out abruptly, love chooses smooth and liquid expressions. Mo

sense.

tion also may be imitated. This has been attempted by many in poetry.

But little attention should be given to this subject, except by the way of rejecting disagreeable combinations of sounds, especially when revising a production. It has been well remarked by John Stuart Mill, of the ancient writers, who are supposed to have been very critical:

"The ancients, in the good times of their literature, would as soon have thought of a coat in the abstract, as of style in the abstract: the merit of a style, in their eyes, was, that it exactly fitted the thought. Their first aim was, by the assiduous study of their subject, to secure to themselves thoughts worth expressing; their next was to find words which would convey those thoughts with the utmost degree of nicety; and only when this was made sure did they think of ornament.”*

Whether "the ancients" did this or not, all ought to do it who seek perfection in style. Probably a larger portion of the moderns than of the ancients succeed in this effort.

31. Is the English Language rough or smooth ?—The English language was originally rough and harsh to the ear, and the disuse of nearly all the old AngloSaxon variations of declension and conjugation, and the razeeing of so many polysyllables down into monosyllables have, in some instances, made the enunciation still more jerking and harsh. But at the same time many guttural sounds have been dropped out, as from the words daughter, laughter, and some smoothsounding words and terminations have been adopted from the French and other sources, so that the language now commands a great variety of roughness *J. Stuart Mill's Dissertations, vol i. p. 137.

THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.

217

and smoothness. Byron, eulogizing the Italian language in a rather loose stanza, unfavorably contrasts with it the English tongue.

"I love the language, that soft bastard Latin,
Which melts like kisses from a female mouth,
And sounds as if it should be writ on satin,

With syllables which breathe of the sweet South;
And gentle liquids gliding all so pat in,

That not a single accent seems uncouth,
Like our harsh Northern, whistling, grunting, guttural,
Which we're obliged to hiss, and spit, and sputter all."

On account of the prevalence of the hissing sound of s in our language, those who speak it have been called by foreigners a nation of serpents. This sound is much more prevalent in some speakers than in oth

ers.

The harshness of the language is alleviated by the introduction of many long and melodious words from the Latin and other languages, and our words may be combined so as to present a succession of remarkably melodious sounds; also the most of the old guttural pronunciations have been dropped.

32. Elasticity of the English Language.—The elasticity of the English language is great. It combines harshness, melodiousness, lassitude, and strength. Passages in it are as smooth as any in the ancient Greek or modern Italian; as majestic as any in the ancient Latin or modern Spanish; as strong as the German, as precise as the French. Still there are certain particulars in which nearly every language is superior to any other, but it may be doubted whether there is any speech, ancient or modern, which combines so many

K

« PreviousContinue »