Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Sentences, however, which are so constructed as to make the sound always swell and grow towards the end, and to rest either on a long or a penult long syllable, give a discourse the tone of declamation. If melody be not varied, the ear soon becomes acquainted and cloyed with it. Sentences constructed in the same manner, with the pauses at equal intervals, should never succeed each other. Short sentences must be blended with long and swelling ones, to render discourse sprightly as well as magnificent.

We now proceed to treat of a higher species of harmony—the sound adapted to the sense. Of this we may remark two degrees: First, the current of sound suited to the tenor of a discourse: Next, a peculiar resemblance effected between some object and the sounds that are employed in describing it.

Sounds have, in many respects, an intimate correspondence with our ideas; partly natural, partly produced by artificial associations. Hence, any one modulation of sound continued, stamps on our style a certain character and expression. Sentences constructed with the Ciceronian fulness and swell excite an idea of what is important, magnificent, and sedate. They suit, however, no violent passion, no eager reasoning, no familiar address. These require measures brisker, easier and more concise. It were as ridiculous to write a familiar epistle and a funeral oration in a style of the same cadence, as to set the words of a tender love-song to the tune of a warlike march.

Besides that general correspondence which the current of sound has with the current of thought, a more particular expression may be attempted, of certain objects, by resembling sounds. In poetry this resem

blance is chiefly to be looked for. It obtains sometimes, indeed, in prose composition ; but there in a more faint and inferior degree.

The sounds of words may be employed to describe ehiefly three classes of objects; first, other sounds; secondly, motion ; and thirdly, the emotions and passions of the mind.

In most languages it will be found, that the names of many particular sounds are so formed as to bear some resemblance to the sound which they signify; as with us, the whistling of winds, the buzz and hum of insects, the hiss of serpents, and the crash of falling timber; and many other instances, where the word has been plainly constructed from the sound it

represents. * A remarkable example of this beauty we shall produce from Milton, taken from two passages in his Paradise Lost, describing the sound made in the one, by the opening of the gates of hell; in the other, by the opening of those of heaven. The contrast between the two exhibits to great advantage the art of the poet. The first is the opening of hell's gates :

-On a sudden, open fly,
With impetuous recoil, and jarring sound,
Th'infernal doors ; and on their hinges grate

Harsh thunder.

Observe the smoothness of the other :

-Heaven opened wide
Her ever-during gates, harmonious sound !

On golden hinges turning. The second class of objects, which the sound of words is frequently employed to imitate, is motion : as it is swift or slow, violent or gentle, uniform or interrupted, easy or accompanied with effort. Between sound and motion there is no natural affinity; yet in the imagination there is a strong one, as is evident from the connexion between music and dancing. The poet can, consequently, give us a lively idea of the kind of motion he would describe, by the help of sound, which corresponds in our imagination, with that motion. Long syllables naturally excite the idea of slow motion ; as in this line of Pope :

* For a fuller explanation of this figure in composition, see page 228.

Up the high hill he heaves a huge round stone. A succession of short syllables gives the impression of quick motion : as, in Milton,

While on the tawny sands and shelves

Trip the pert fairies and the dapper elves. The works of Homer and Virgil abound with instances of this beauty, which are so often quoted, and so well known, that it is unnecessary to produce them.

The third set of objects, which we mentioned the sound of words as capable of representing, consists of the emotions and passions of the mind. Between sense and sound there appears, at first view, to be no natural resemblance. But if the arrangement of syllables, by the sound alone, calls forth one set of ideas more readily than another, and disposes the mind for entering into that affection which the poet intends to raise, such arrangement may, with propriety, be said to resemble the sense, or be similar and correspondent to it. Thus when pleasure, joy, and agreeable objects, are described by one who sensibly feels his subject, the language naturally runs into smooth, liquid, and flowing numbers : :

O joy, thou welcome stranger! twice three years,
I have not felt thy vital beams; but now
It warms my veins and plays around my heart :
A fiery instinct lifts

from the ground,
And I could mount-

Young Brisk and lively sensations excite quicker and more animated numbers :

The offer likes not, and the nimble gunner
With linstock now the dev'lish cannon touches,
And down

goes
all before him.

Shakspeare. Melancholy and gloomy subjects are naturally connected with slow measures and long words :

In these deep solitudes and awful cells,

Where leav'nly pensive contemplation dwells. Pope. Abundant instances of this kind will be suggested by a moderate acquaintance with the good poets, either ancient or modern.

General Characters of Style. Diffuse, Concise, Feeble, Nervous, Dry, Plain, Neat,

Elegant, Flowery. That different subjects ought to be treated in different kinds of style, is a position so self-evident, that it requires not illustration. Every one is convinced, that treatises of philosophy should not be composed in the same style with orations. It is equally apparent, that different parts of the same composition require a variation in the style and manner. amidst this variety, we still expect to find, in the composition of any one man, some degree of uniformity or consistency with himself, in manner; we expect to find some prevailing character of style impressed on all his writings, which shall be suited to, and shall

Yet

distinguish, his particular genius and turn of mind. The orations in Livy differ considerably in style, as they ought to do, from the rest of his history. The same thing may be observed in those of Tacitus. Yet in the orations of both these elegant historians, the distinguishing manner of each may be clearly traced ; the splendid fulness of the one, and the sententious brevity of the other.

Wherever there is real or native genius, it prompts a disposition to one kind of style rather than to another. Where this is wanting, where there is no marked nor peculiar character which appears in the compositions of an author, we are apt to conclude, and not without cause, that he is a vulgar and trivial author, who writes from imitation, and not from the impulse of original genius.

One of the first and most obvious distinctions of the different sorts of style arises from an author's expanding his thoughts more or less. This distinction constitutes what are termed the diffuse and concise styles. A concise writer compresses his ideas into the fewest words; he employs none but the most expressive; he lops off all those which are not a material addition to the sense.

Whatever ornament he admits is adopted for the sake of force, rather than of grace. The same thought is never repeated. The utmost precision is studied in his sentences; and they are generally designed to suggest more to the reader's imagination than they immediately express.

A diffuse writer unfolds his idea fully. He holds it out in a variety of lights, and assists the reader, as much as possible, in comprehending it completely.

He is not very anxious to express it at first in its full strength, because he intends repeating the im

« VorigeDoorgaan »