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Of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.

nified; and this doubtless tends to strengthen the impression made by the discourse. This subject, I acknowledge, hath been very much canvassed by critics; I shall therefore be the briefer in my remarks, confining myself chiefly to the two following points. First, I shall inquire what kind of things language is capable of imitating by its sound, and in what degree it is capable; secondly, what rank ought to be assigned to this species of excellence, and in what cases it ought to be attempted.

PART I....What are articulate sounds capable of imitating, and in what degree?

FIRST, I shall inquire what kinds of things language is capable of imitating by its sound, and in what degree it is capable.

AND here it is natural to think, that the imitative power of language must be greatest, when the subject itself is things audible. One sound may surely have a greater resemblance to another sound, than it can have to any thing of a different nature. In the description therefore of the terrible thunder, whirlwind and tempest, or of the cooling zephyr and the gentle gale, or of any other thing that is sonorous, the imitation that may be made by the sound of the description will certainly be more perfect, than can well be expected in what concerns things purely intelligible,

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or visible, or tangible. Yet even here the resemblance, if we consider it abstractly, is very faint.

THE human voice is doubtless capable of imitating, to a considerable degree of exactness, almost any sound whatever. But our present inquiry is solely about what may be imitated by articulate sounds, for articulation greatly confines the natural powers of the voice; neither do we inquire what an extraordinary pronunciation may effectuate, but what power in this respect the letters of the alphabet have, when combined into syllables, and these into words, and these again into sentences, uttered audibly indeed and distinctly, but without any uncommon effort. Nay, the orator, in this species of imitation, is still more limited. He is not at liberty to select whatever articulate sounds he can find to be fittest for imitating those concerning which he is discoursing. That he may be understood, he is under a necessity of confining himself to such sounds as are rendered by use the signs of the things he would suggest by them. If there be a variety of these signs, which commonly cannot be great, he hath some scope for selection, but not otherwise. Yet so remote is the resemblance here at best, that in no language, ancient or modern, are the meanings of any words, except perhaps those expressing the cries of some animals, discoverable, on the bare hearing, to one who doth not understand the language,

Of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.

INDEED, when the subject is articulate sound, the speaker or the writer may do more than produce a resemblance, he may even render the expression an example of that which he affirms. Of this kind precisely are the three last lines of the following quotation from Pope:

These equal syllables alone require,

Tho' oft the ear the open vowels tire,
While expletives their feeble aid do join,

And ten low words oft creep in one dull line *.

But this manner, which, it must be owned, hath a very good effect in enlivening the expression, isot imitation, though it hath sometimes been mistaken for it, or rather confounded with it.

As to sounds inarticulate, a proper imitation of them hath been attempted in the same piece, in the subsequent lines, and with tolerable success, at least in the concluding couplet :

Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,

And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;

But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,

The hoarse rough verse should like the torrent roar †.

An attempt of the same kind of conformity of the sound to the sense, is perhaps but too discernible in the following quotation from the same author:

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Milton's description of the opening of hell-gates ought not here to be overlooked.

On a sudden open fly

With impetuous recoil and jarring sound,
Th' infernal doors, and on their hinges grate
Harsh thunder

The same author has, in another performance, given an excellent specimen in this way,

Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw †.

He succeeds the better here, that what he says is evidently accompanied with a design of exciting contempt, This induceth us to make allowance for his leaving the beaten road in search of epithets. In this passage of the Odyssey,

Ode on St Cecilia's day.

* Paradise Lost, B. II.

† Lycidas. An imitation of a line of Virgil, Ecl. 3. Stridenti miserum stipula disperdere carmen.

Of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.

His bloody hand

Snatch'd two unhappy of my martial band;

And dash'd like dogs against the stony floor *;

the sound, but not the abruptness of the crash, is, I imagine, better imitated than in the original, which, on account of both, especially the last, was much admired by the critic of Halicarnassus. An excellent attempt in this way we have in a poem of Dyer:

The pilgrim oft

At dead of night mid his oraison hears.

Aghast the voice of time, disparting towers,

Tumbling all precipitate down-dash'd,

Rattling around, loud thundering to the moon †.

But the best example to be found in our language is, in my opinion, the following lines of Mr Pope,

What! like Sir Richard, rumbling, rough and fierce,
With arms, and George, and Brunswic croud the verse,
Rend with tremendous sounds your ears asunder,
With gun, drum, trumpet, blunderbuss, and thunder?
Then all your muse's softer art display,
Let Carolina smoothe the tuneful lay,
Lull with Amelia's liquid name the nine,

And sweetly flow thro' all the royal line .

The success here is the greater that the author appears

*Pope's Od. In Homer thus,

Συν δε δύω μαρψας, ώτε σκύλακας ποτε γαιη


+ Ruins of Rome, Dodsley's Collection, vol. i.

Sat. I.

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