Page images
PDF
EPUB

jingle in the period, which tires the ear, and plainly discovers affectation.

Structure of Sentences.

1

Harmony. Having treated of sentences, with regard to their meaning, under the heads of Perspicuity, Unity, and Strength, we will now consider them with respect to their sound, their harmony, or agreeableness to the ear.

In the harmony of periods, two things are to be considered: First, agreeable sound, or modulation in general, without any particular expression: Next, the sound so ordered, as to become expressive of the sense. The first is the more common; the second the superior beauty,

The beauty of musical construction, it is evident, will depend upon the choice of words, and the arrangement of them. Those words are most pleasing to the ear which are composed of smooth and liquid sounds, where there is a proper intermixture of vowels and consonants, without too many harsh consonants rubbing against each other, or too many open vowels in succession, to produce a hiatus, or unpleasing aperture of the mouth. Long words are generally more pleasing to the ear than monosyllables; and those are the most musical which are not wholly composed of long or short syllables, but of an intermixture of them; such as, delight, amuse, velocity, celerity, beautiful, impetuosity. If the words, however, which compose a sentence, be ever so well chosen and harmonious, yet, if they be unskilfully arranged, its music is entirely

lost. As an instance of a musical sentence, we may take the following from Milton, in his Treatise on Education. “We shall conduct you “to a hill-side, laborious, indeed, at the first “ ascent; but else so smooth, so green, so full “ of goodly prospects and melodious sounds on

every side, that the harp of Orpheus was not “ more charming." Every thing in this sentence conspires to render it harmonious. The words are well chosen ; laborious, smooth, green, goodly, melodious, charming; and besides, they are so happily arranged, that no alteration could be made, without injuring the melody.

There are two things on which the music of a sentence principally depends: these are, the proper distribution of the several members of it, and the close or cadence of the whole.

First, we observe, that the distribution of the several members should be carefully attended to. Whatever is easy and pleasing to the organs of speech always sounds grateful to the ear. While a period is going on, the termination of each of its members forms a pause in the pronunciation; and these pauses should be so distributed as to bear a certain musical proportion to each other. This will be best illustrated by examples. The following passage is taken from Archbishop Tillotson. - This discourse, concerning the “ easiness of God's commands, does, all along,

suppose and acknowledge the difficulties of “ the first entrance upon a religious course; except, only in those persons who have had “ the happiness to be trained up to religion by “ the easy and insensible degrees of a pious and “ virtuous education.” This sentence is far from being harmonious; owing chiefly to this,

as

that there is, properly, no more than one pause in it, falling between the two members into which it is divided ; each of which is so long as to require a considerable stretch of the breath in pronouncing it*. Let us observe now, on the contrary, the grace of the following passage, from Sir William Temple, in which he speaks sarcastically of man. *« But, God be thanked, “his pride is greater than his ignorance; and “ what he wants in knowledge, he supplies by “ sufficiency. When he has looked about him,

far as he can, he concludes there is no “ more to be seen; when he is at the end of his

line, he is at the bottom of the ocean; when « he has shot his best, he is sure none ever did, “ or ever can, shoot better, or beyond it. His

own reason he holds to be the certain measure of truth; and his own knowledge of what is

possible in nature.' Here every thing is, at the same time, easy to the breath, and grateful to the ear.

We must, however, observe, that if composition abounds with sentences which have too many rests, and these placed at intervals too apparently measured and regular, it is apt to savour of affectation.

The next thing which demands our attention is the close or cadence of the whole sentence.

* There is not perhaps so inveterate, or so ill-grounded an error, as that which prevails among all rhetoricians ancient and modern, of supposing that a long sentence necessarily requires a long effusion of breath and occasions great difficulty of pronunciation. Those wlio have perused Elements of Elucution, page 25, and the former part of this treatise, will, I Hatter myself

, see the folly of this notion. Those, above all others, ought not to adopt it who contend that every line of verse, whether the sense require it or nct, ought to be marked with a pause of suspension. See Elements of Liocution, page 238.

[ocr errors]

pauses, and

The only important rule which can here be given is, that when we aim at dignity or elevation, the sound should increase to the last; the longest members of the period, and the fullest and most sonorous words, should be employed in the conclusion. As an instance of this, the following sentence of Mr. Addison may be given. “ fills the mind,” speaking of sight, “ with the

largest variety of ideas; converses with its

objects at the greatest distance; and continues “ the longest in action without being tired or “ satiated with its proper enjoyments.”. Here every reader must be scnsible of a beauty, both in the just division of the members and the manner in which the sentence is rounded and brought to a full and harmonious termination. It

may be remarked, that little words, in the conclusion of a sentence, are as injurious to-melody as they are inconsistent with strength of expression. A musical close in our language seems, in general, to require either the last syllable, or the last but one, to be a long syllable. Words which consist chiefly of short syllables, as contrary, particular, retrospect, seldom terminate a sentence harmoniously, unless a run of long syllables, before, has rendered them pleasing to the ear.

Sentences, however, which are so constructed as to make the sound always swell and grow towards the end, and to rest either on a long or a penult long syllable, give a discourse the tone of declamation. If melody be not varied, the ear soon becomes acquainted and cloyed with it. Sentences constructed in the same manner, with the pauses at equal intervals, should never suc

ceed each other. Short sentences must be blended with long and swelling ones, to render discourse sprightly

as well as magnificent. We now proceed to treat of a higher species of harmony—the sound adapted to the sense. Of this we may remark two degrees: First, the current of sound suited to the tenor of a discourse: Next, a peculiar resemblance effected between some object and the sounds that are employed in describing it.

Sounds have, in many respects, an intimate correspondence with our ideas; partly natural, partly produced by artificial associations. Hence, any one modulation of sound continued, stamps on our style a certain character and expression. Sentences constructed with the Ciceronian fulness and swell excite an idea of what is important, magnificent, and sedate. They suit, however, no violent passion, no eager reasoning, no familiar address. These require measures brisker, easier, and more concise. It were as ridiculous to write a familiar epistle and a funeral oration in a style of the same cadence, as to set the words of a tender love-song to the tune of a warlike march.

Besides that general correspondence which the current of sound has with the current of thought, a more particular expression may be attempted, of certain objects, by resembling sounds. In poetry this resemblance is chiefly to he looked for. It obtains sometimes, indeed, in prose composition; but there in a more faint and inferior degree.

The sounds of words may be employed to describe chiefly three classes of objects; first,

U

« PreviousContinue »