« 前へ次へ »
L E C T U R E XIII.
STRUCTURE OF SENTENCES,
IT HERTO we have considered fenten
ces, with respect to their meaning, under the heads of perfpicuity, unity, and ftrength. We are now to consider them, with respect to their found, their harmony, or agreeableness to the ear ; which was the last quality belonging to them that I proposed to treat of.
Sound is a quality much inferior to sense ; yet such as must not be disregarded. For, as long as founds are the vehicle of conveyance for our ideas, there will be always a very considerable connexion between the idea which is conveyed, and the nature of the found which conveys it. Pleasing ideas can hardly be transmitted to the mind, by means of harsh and disagreeable sounds. The imagination revolts as soon as it hears them uttered. ( Ni“ hil," says Quintilian, “ poteft intrare in affec
tum, quod in aure, velut quodam vestibulo, fta" tim offendit*." Music has naturally a great
Nothing can enter into the affections, which stumbles at the threshold, by offending the car."
power over all men, to prompt and facilitate cere fain emotions : infomuch, that there are hardly any difpofitions which we wish to raise in others, but certain sounds may be found concordant to thofe difpofitions, and tending to promote them: Now, language may, in some degree, be render ed capable of this power of music ; a circumstance which must needs heighten our idea of lat guage, as a wonderful invention. Not content with fim ply interpreting our ideas to others, it can give them those ideas enforced by corresponding sounds and to the pleafire of communicated thought, can add the new and separate pleafure of melody,
In the harmony of periods, two things may be considered. First, agreeable found, or modulation in general, without any particular expression : next, the found so ordered, as to become expressive of the sense. The first is the more common ; the sea cond, the higher beauty
First, let us consider agreeable found, in gena eral, as the property of well-conftruded sentence : and, as it was of prose sentences we have hitherto treated, we Niall confine ourselves to them under this head. This beauty of musical construction in profe, it is plain, will depend upon two things ; the choice of words, and the arrange ment of them. * I begin with the choice of words ; on which head, there is not much to be said, unless I were to defcend' into a tedious and frivolous detail, concerning the powers of the several letters, or fimple founds, of which speech is composed. It is evident, that words are most agreeable to the ear, which are composed of finooth and liquid sounds where there is a proper intermixture of vowels and confonants'; without too many harsh consonants rubbing against each other ; or too many open vowels in suecellion, to cause a hiatus, or difagree
able aperture of the mouth. It may always be af funed as a principle, that, whatever sounds are di licult in pronunciation, are, in the same proportion, harsh and painful to the ear. Vowels give softness i consonants, strength to the sound of words. The music of language requires a just proportion of both; and will be hurt, will be rendered either grating or effeminate, by an excess of either. Long words are commonly more agreeable to the ear than monosyllables. They please it by the coinposition, or succession of sounds which they present to it ;' and, accordingly, the most mufical languages abound most in them. Among words of any length, those are the most musical, which do not run wholly either upon long or short fullables, but are composed of an intermixture of then ; such as, repent, produce, velocity, celerity, independent, impetuolity.
The next head, respecting the harmony which results from a proper arrangement of the words and members of a period, is more complex, and of greater nicety. For, let the words themsel es be ever so well chofen, and well founding, yet, if they be ill disposed, the music of the sentence is utterly loít. In the harmonious structure and dif. position of periods, no writer whatever, ancient or modern, equals Cicero. He had studied this with care ; and was fond, perhaps to excess, of what he calls, the “ Plena ac numerosa oratio.” We need only open his writings, to find instances that will render the effect of musical language sensible to every ear. What, for example, can be more full, rou 'd, and swelling, 'than the following sentence of the 4th oration against Catiline ? "Cogitate,
quantis laboribus fundatum imperium, quanta 66 virtute stabilitam libertatem, quanta decorum 6 benignitate auctas exaggeratasque fortunas, una "nox pene delerit.” In English, we may take,
for an instance of a musical sentence, the following from Milton, in his treatise on education : “to
Shall conduct you to a hill-side, laborious, in« deed, at the first afcent; but elfe, so smooth, to
green, so full of goodly protpeets, and melodi
ous sounds on every side, that the harp ot Or« pheus was not more charming.” Every thing in this sentence confpires to promote the harmo! y. The words are happily chosen ; full of liquids and 1 foft founds ; laborious, smooth, green, goodly, melodious, charming : and these words so artfully arranged, that, were we to alter the collocation of any one of them, we should, presently, be sensible of the melody suffering. For, let us observe, low finely the members of the period lwell one above another. “ So smooth, so green,- so full of good“ ly prospects,—and melodious sounds on every w lide;" —till the ear, prepared by this gradual rise, is conducted to that full close on which it rests
+ with pleasure ;—" that the harp of Orpheus was
not more charming.'
The structure of periods, then, being fuseeptible of a very sensible melody, our next enquiry Mould be, how this melodious structure is formed, what are the principles of it, and by what laws it is regulated ? And, upon this subject, were I to follow the ancient rhetoricians, it would be easy to give a great variety of rules. For here they have ertered into a very minute and particular detail, more particular, indeed, than on any other head that regards language. They hold, that to profe, as well as to verse, there belong certain numbers, less strict indeed, yet sueh as can be aseertained by rule. They go so far as to specify the feet, as they are called, that is, the succeflion of long and short fyl!ables, which should enter into the different members of a sentence, and to show what the effect of each of these will be. Wherever they treat of the firuce
ture of sentences, it is always the music of them that makes the principal obje&t. Cicero and Quintilian are full of this. The other qualities of precifion, unity, and strength, which we consider as of chief importance, they handle slightly ; bụt when they come to the “ junctura et numerus, " the mom dulation and harmony, there they are copious Diorysius of Halicarnassus, one of the most judicious critics of antiquity, has written a treatise og the composition of words in a sentence, which is altogether confined to their musical effect. He makes the excellency of a sentence to consist in four things : first, in the sweetness of single sounds; fecondly, in the composition of sounds, that is, the numbers or fecț ; thirdly, in change or variety of found ; and, fourthly, in found suited to the sense. On all these points he writes with great accuracy and refinement; and is very worthy of being confulted ; though, were one now to write a book on the structure of sentences, we should expect to find the subject treated of in a more extensive manner.
In modern times, this whole subject of the mofical structure of discourse, it is plain, has been much less studied ; and, indeed, for several reasons, can be much less subjected to rule. The reafons, it will be necessary to give, both to justify my not following the track of the ancient rhetoricians on this subject, and to show how it has come to pass, that a part of composition, which once made so conspicuous a figure, now draws much less attention.
In the first place, the ancient languages, I mean the Greek and the Roman, were much more fufceptible than ours, of the graces and the powers of melody. The quantities of their fyllables were inore fixed and determined ; their words were longer, and more fonorous ; their method of vae