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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 possesseth a beauty superior greatly in degree, of which we are eminent- , ly sensible when a thought is communicated with perspicuity and sprighiliness. 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 botiful.* But these beauties, if we wish to think accurately, must be distinguished from cach other. They are in reality so distinct, that we sometimes are conscious of the bighest 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 so 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, that of communicating 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.
* Chapter II. Part i Sect. 5. Demetrius Phalereus (of Elocution, sect. 75.) makes the same observation. We are apt, says that author, to confound the language with the subject; 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 dressed in mean language. Theopompus is celebrated for the force of his diction ; but erroneously: his subject indeed has great force, but his style very little,
The several beauties of language above mentioned, being of different kinds, ought to be handled 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 natural ; 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 resemblance between sound and signification. The beauties of verse are handled in the last section: for though the foregoing beauties are found in verse as was in prose, yet verse has many peculiar beauties, which, for the sake of connexion, 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.
Beauty of Language with respect to Sound.
This subject requires the following order : The sounds of the different letters come first : next, these sounds 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 sounded with a single expiration of air from the wind-pipe, through the cavity of the mouth. By varying this cavity, the different vowels are sounded; for 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 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, e, a, o, u.* Each of these sounds is agreeable to the ear: and if it be required which of them is the most agreeable, it is perhaps safest 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 consonants being letters that of themselves have no sound, serve only in conjunction with vowels to form articulate sounds; and as every articulate sound makes a syllable, consonants come naturally under the second article: to which we prod.
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 sound, though pronounced with one expiration of air, or with one breath as commonly expressed : for however readily two sounds may unite, yet where they differ in tone, both of them must be heard if neither of them be suppressed. For the same reason, every syllable must be composed of as many sounds as there are letters, supposing every letter to be distinctly pronounced.
We next inquire, how far syllables are agreeable to the ear. Few tongues are so polished, as entirely to have rejected sounds that are pronounced with difficulty; 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 sound is always more agreeable than a single sound: every one who has an ear must be sensible, that the dipthong oi or ai is more agreeable than any of these vowels pronounced singly : the same holds where a consonant enters into the double sound; the syllable le has a more agreeable sound than the vowel e, or than any other 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 society; and his provision of articulate sounds 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 same time, would abridge the number of useful sounds, so as perhaps not to leave sufficient for answering the different ends of language.
* In this scale of sounds, the letter i must be pronounced as in the word in terest, and as in other words beginning with the syllable in ; the letter e as in persuasion; the lotier a as in bat; and the letter uas in number.
In this view, the harmony of pronunciation differs widely from that of music properly so called. In the latter are discovered many sounds singly 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. Monosyllables belong to the former head: polysyllables open a different scene. In a cursory view, one would imagine, that the agreeableness or disagreeableness of a word with respect to its sound, 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, syllables in immediate succession, pronounced, each of them, with the same, 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 succession, which, because of its remarkable disagreeableness, is distinguished by a proper name, hiatus. The most agreeable succession is, where the cavity is increased and diminished alternately within moderate limits. Examples, alternative, longevity, pusillanimous. Secondly, words consisting wholly of syllables pronounced slow, or of syllables pronounced quick, commonly called long and short syllables, have little melody in them: witness the words petitioner, fruiterer, dizziness : on the other hand, the intermixture of long and short syllables is remarkably agreeable; for example, degree, repent, wonderful, altitude, rapidity, independent, impetuosity.* 'l'he cause will be explained afterwards, in treating of versification.
Distinguishable from the beauties above mentioned, 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 sound, resembles in any degree what is raised by the sense, we feel a very remarkable pleasure. But this subject belongs to the third section.
The foregoing observations afford a standard to every nation, for estimating, pretty accurately, the comparative merit of the words that enter into their own language: but they are not equally useful in comparing the words of different languages; which
* Italian words, like those of Latin and Greek, have this property almost universally: English and French words are generally deficient. In the for mer, the long syllable is removed from the end, as far as the sound will permit; and in the latter, the last syllable is generally long. For example, Se. nator in English, Senātor in Latin, and Senateur in French.