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Words considered as sounds.
scure, improper, languid, or inelegant expression, is quickly discovered by a person of knowledge and tasté, and pronounced to be a blemish. Nor is this species of resemblance to be considered as on the same footing with those superior excellencies, the want of which; by reason of their uncommonness, is never censured as a fault, but which, when present, give rise to the highest admiration. On the contrary, not the absence only, but even the attainment of this resemblance, as far as it is attainable, runs more risk of passing unheeded than any other species of beauty in the style. I ought however to except from this, the imitation produced by the different kinds of measure in poetry, which, I acknowledge, is sufficiently observable, and hath a much stronger effect than any other whereof language alone is susceptible. The reason why in other cases it may so readily pass unnoticed, is, that even the richest and most diversified language hath very little power, as hath been shown already, in this particular. It is therefore evident, that if the merit of every kind of fhetorical excellence is to be ascertained by the effect, and I know of no other standard, to this species we can only assign with justice the very lowest rank. It ought consequently ever to give place to the other. virtues and ornaments of elocution, and not they to it.
As to the other question, In what cases it may be proper to aim at the similitude in sound of which I have been treating; those cases will appear to one
Of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.
who attentively considers what hath been already advanced on the subject, to be comparatively few. Hardly any compositions in prose, unless those whose end is to persuade, and which aim at a certain vehemence in style and sentiment, give access to exemplify this resemblance. And even in poetry it is only the most pathetic passages, and the descriptive parts, to which the beauty whereof I am speaking seems naturally adapted. The critical style, the argumentative, and the didactic, by no means suit it. Yet it may be said, that some of the examples above quoted, for the illustration of this subject, are taken from writings of the kind last mentioned, from Pope on Criticism, and Vida on Poesy. But it must be observed, that the authors, in the passages alluded to, are discoursing on this very subject. An exemplification was therefore necessary in them, in order to convey to their readers a distinct idea of what they meant to recommend.
I MUST further observe, that, even in those poems wherein this kind of resemblance is most suitable, it is only in a few passages, when something more striking than ordinary comes to be described, that it ought to be attempted. This beauty in language is not to be considered as bearing an analogy to dress, by which the whole person is adorned, but to those jewels which are intended solely for the decoration of certain parts, and whose effect depends very much on their being placed with judgment. It is an invariable rule, that
Words considered as sounds.
in every poem and oration, whatever be the subject, the language, in the general tenor of it, ought to be harmonious and easy. A deviation, in a few particu lar passages, may not only be pardonable, but even meritorious. Yet this merit, when there is a merit in introducing harsh sounds and jarring numbers, as on some occasions there doubtless is, receives great relief from its contrariety to the general flow of the style. And, with regard to the general flow, as I observed already, the rule holds invariably. Supposing the subject of the piece were the twelve labours of Hercules, should the poet, in order to adapt his language to his theme, choose words of the most difficult utterance, and through the whole performance studiously avoid harmony and grace; far from securing to himself admiration, he would not even be read.
I SHALL only add, that though it is not prudent in an author to go a step out of his way in quest of this capricious beauty, who, when she does not act spontaneously, does nothing gracefully, a poet in particular may not unreasonably be more solicitous to avoid her opposite, especially in the expression of the more striking thoughts; as nothing in such a case can be more ungraceful in the style, than when, either in sound or in measure, it serves as a contrast to the sentiment.
Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.
SECT. I....This quality explained and exemplified.
WHEN I entered on the subject of vivacity *, I observed that this quality of style might result either from a happy choice of words, from their number, or from their arrangement. The first I have already discussed, and shown how words may conduce to vivacity, not only from their sense, whether they be proper or figurative, but also from their sound.
I COME now to consider how far vivacity may be affected by the number of the words. On this article it may be established as a maxim that admits no exception, and it is the only maxim which this article admits, that the fewer the words are, provided neither propriety nor perspicuity be violated, the expression is always the more vivid. " Brevity," says Shakespeare, "is the soul of wit t."
tain, that of whatever kind the
Thus much is cersentiment be, witty,
humorous, grave, animated, or sublime, the more briefly it is expressed, the energy is the greater, or
This quality explained and exemplified.
the sentiment is the more enlivened, and the particular quality for which it is eminent, the more displayed.
AMONG the ancients, the Lacedemonians were the most remarkable for conciseness. To use few words, to speak energetically, and to be laconic, were almost synonymous. As when the rays of the sun are collected into the focus of a burning glass, the smaller the spot is which receives them, compared with the surface of the glass, the greater is the splendor; or as in distillation, the less the quantity of spirit is, that is extracted by the still, compared with the quantity of liquor from which the extraction is made, the greater is the strength; so in exhibiting our sentiments by speech, the narrower the compass of words is, wherein the thought is comprised, the more energetic is the expression. Accordingly we shall find, that the very same sentiment expressed diffusely, will be admitted barely to be just; expressed concisely, will be admired as spirited.
To recur to examples, the famous answer returned by the Countess of Dorset, to the letter of Sir Joseph Williamson, secretary of state to Charles the Second, nominating to her a member for the borough of Appleby, is an excellent illustration of this doctrine. “I have been bullied," says her ladyship, " by an usurper, I have been neglected by a court, but I will not "be dictated to by a subject, your man sha'n't stand*."
*Catalogue of royal and noble authors.