Page images

Such empty expressions are finely ridiculed in the


Was't not unjust to ravish hence her breath,
And in life's stead to leave us nought but death.

ACT IV. Sc. 1.


What remarkable propensity is noticed?

Is it the most immoderate grief which complains most?
What passions are silent?

How is it with love and revenge?

Why should the language of passion be interrupted?
To what should the sentiments and language be tuned?
Give examples.

What is the effect of figurative expressions?-what is their effect when exaggerated?

What sort of words are used in expressing the active passions? -what sort for the expression of melancholy?

What other circumstance is requisite to preserve the resemblance between the sound and the sense?

Give examples of passion redoubling words to express strong conceptions.

In what is Shakspeare superior to all other writers?
In what does he excel most others?

Where does he occasionally fall below himself?
What is Corneille's great fault?

What is the criticism on a passage of Phædra?
What are Corneille's merits?

What should be the character of soliloquies?
Who furnishes the best models?

What is observed of the soliloquies of Corneille and Racine? How should soliloquies on lively subjects be carried on?

Give an example.

How should soliloquies where a man reasons on an important subject be carried on?

What is the next class of errors noticed?

Give examples.

What is the third class of errors?

Give an example.

Give specimens of language too light for a severe passion?
What is remarked concerning a play of words?

How is Shakspeare's playing on the sound of words sometimes justified?

Give an example.

Give an example of a jingle of words—of words with no distinct meaning.


Beauty of Language.

PAINTING and sculpture are imitative fine arts; architecture and music are productive of originals: language resembles these last, and like them copies but little from nature. The beauty of language arises from its power of expressing thought; the beauty of thought makes it appear more beautiful. This beauty is the beauty of means fitted to an end. The beauty of language arises from sound; signification; resemblance between sound and signification; and the beauties of verse and prose.

SECTION I-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. The vowels are sounded with a single respiration; each of the vowels, a, e, i, o, u, sound agreeably to the ear. Consonants have no sound of themselves, but serve with vowels to form articulate sounds; every syllable into which a consonant enters has more than one sound, though pronounced with one expiration of breath: every syllable is composed of as many sounds as there are letters, supposing every letter to be distinctly pronounced.

In inquiring how far syllables are agreeable to the ear, we find a double sound more agreeable than a single sound; for the diphthong oi, or ai, is more agreeable than either of these vowels pronounced singly. Thus, the harmony of pronunciation differs widely from that of music; since in the latter we find many sounds which are singly agreeable, but in conjunction disagreeable.


From syllables we proceed to words, of which the agreeableness or disagreeableness depends partly upon the effect of syllables in succession; and principally from the agreeableness or disagreeableness of their component syllables. But different nations judge differently of the harshness or smoothness of articulate sounds. The English language is rough: the Italian so smooth, that vowels are frequently suppressed to produce a rougher and bolder tone.

We come next to the music of words as united in a period. Periods may be constructed to ascend, or to descend, in musical harmony. The rising series, or a strong impulse succeeding a weak, makes double impression on the mind; the falling series, or a weak impulse succeeding a strong, scarce any impression.

The last article, the music of periods as united in a discourse, shall be dispatched in few words. By no other human means is it possible to present to the mind such a number of objects, and in so swift a succession, as by speaking or writing; and for that reason variety ought more to be studied in these, than in any other sort of composition. Hence a rule for arranging the members of different periods with relation to each other, that to avoid a tedious uniformity of sound and cadence, the arrangement, the cadence, and the length of the members, ought to be diversified as much as possible and if the members of different periods be sufficiently diversified, the periods themselves will be equally so.

SECTION II.-The Beauty of Language with respect to Signification.

The present subject divides itself into parts; and what follows suggests a division into two parts. In every period, two things are to be regarded: first, the words of which it is composed; next, the arrangement of these words; the former resembling the stones that compose a building, and the latter resembling the order

[ocr errors]

in which they are placed. Hence the beauty of language with respect to signification may be distinguished into two kinds: first, the beauties that arise from a right choice of words for constructing the period; and next, the beauties that arise from a due arrangement of these words. I begin with rules that direct us to a right choice of words, and then proceed to rules that concern their arrangement.

And with respect to the former, communication of thought being the chief end of language, it is a rule that perspicuity ought not to be sacrificed to any other beauty whatever: if it should be doubted whether perspicuity be a positive beauty, it cannot be doubted that the want of it is the greatest defect. Nothing therefore in language ought more to be studied, than to prevent all obscurity in the expression; for to have no meaning, is but one degree worse than to have a meaning that is not understood.

Want of perspicuity from a wrong arrangement, belongs to the next branch. Obscurity from a wrong choice of words is a common error among the herd of writers; and there may be a defect in perspicuity proceeding even from the slightest ambiguity in construction; as where the period commences with a member conceived to be in the nominative case, which afterward is found to be in the objective. Another error against perspicuity, and which passes with some writers for a beauty, is the giving different names to the same object, mentioned oftener than once in the same period.

The next rule, because next in importance, is, that language ought to correspond with the subject. Heroic actions or sentiments require elevated language; tender sentiments ought to be expressed in words soft and flowing; and plain language void of ornament, is adapted to subjects grave and didactic. Language is the dress of thought: and where the one is not suited to the other, we are sensible of incongruity; as where a judge is dressed like a fop, or a peasant like a man of

quality. Where the impression made by the words resembles the impression made by the thought, the similar emotions mix sweetly in the mind, and double the pleasure; but where the impressions made by the thought and the words are dissimilar, the unnatural union they are forced into is disagreeable.

This concordance between the thought and the words has been observed by every critic, and is so well understood as not to require any illustration. But there is a concordance of a peculiar kind, that has scarcely been touched upon in works of criticism, though it contributes to neatness of composition. It is what follows. In a thought of any extent, we commonly find some parts intimately united, some slightly, some disjoined, and some directly opposed to each other. To find these conjunctions and disjunctions imitated in the expression, is a beauty; because such imitation makes the words concordant with the sense. Two members of a thought, connected by their relation tó the same action, will be expressed by two members of the period governed by the same verb; in which case these members, to improve their connexion, ought to be constructed in the same manner. This beauty is common among good writers. Where two ideas are so connected, as to require but a copulative, it is pleasant to find a connexion in the words that express these ideas, were it even so slight as where both begin with the same letter.

Next as to examples of disjunction and opposition in the parts of the thought, imitated in the expression; an imitation that is distinguished by the name of antithesis. Speaking of Coriolanus soliciting the people to be made consul:

With a proud heart he wore his humble weeds.



Had you rather Cæsar were living, and die all slaves, than that Cæsar were dead, to live all free men? JULIUS CAESAR.

Artificial connexion among words is a beauty when it represents any peculiar connexion among the con

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »