« ZurückWeiter »
ject of this paper, and that sensitive taste which gives us a relish of every different flavour that affects the palate Accord ingly we find, there are as many degrees of refinement in the intellectual faculty, as in the sense which is marked out by this common denomination.
Spect. No. 409.
If we do but place the rising inflection on accordingly, and the falling on find, the rising on many, and the falling on refinement, in the last sentence, we shall perceive a great variety, as well as harmony add. ed to the whole passage.
The foregoing observations on the harmony of the cadence, have, undoubtedly, suggested to the read. er that great object of ancient and modern composition, the harmony of prose : this is a subject so intimately connected with harmonious pronunciation, that it seems necessary to investigate the principles of that composition which is generally esteemed harmonious, in order, if possible, to throw some light upon the most accurate mode of delivering it.
The ancients thought harmonious prose to be only a looser kind of numbers, and resolved many passages of their most celebrated orations into such feet as composed verse. In modern languages, where accent seems to stand for the quantity of the ancients, we find harmonious prose resolvable into an arrangement of accented syllables, somewhat similar to that of versification. The return of the accented syllable, at certain intervals, seems the common definition of both.
In verse we find these intervals nearly equal ; and it is this equality which forms the measure. Thus in the following couplet :
Short is the date, alas ! of modern rhymes ;
And ’tis but just to let them live betimes. Pope. An undisciplined reader, in pronouncing this sentence, would be apt, from the greater smocthness of the line, to lay the accent, or metrical emphasis, as it may be called, on the word is in the first line ; but as this would bring forward a word which, from its nature, is always sufficiently understood, a good reader will place the accent on short and date, and sink the words is the into a comparative obscurity; and as this interval of two syllables happens at the beginning of a line, it is so far from having a bad effect on the ear, that it frequently relieves it from the too great sameness to which rhyming verse is always liable.
But if this inequality of interval is sometimes, for the sake of variety, necessary in verse, it is not to be wondered, that, for a similar reason, we avoid as much as possible too great a regularity of interval between the accented syllables in prose. Loose and negligent, however, as prose may appear, it is not entirely destitute of measure : for it may be with confidence asserted, that, wherever a style is remarkably smooth and flowing, it is owing in some measure to a regular return of accented syllables. And though a strength and severity of style has in it something more excellent than the soft and flowing, yet the latter holds certainly a distinguished rank in composi. tion. The musick of language never displeases us, but when sense is sacrificed to sound ; when both are compatible, we should deprive a thought of half its beauty, not to give it all the harmony of which language is susceptible. As all subjects are not masculine, sublime, and strong; all subjects do not require, and indeed are not susceptible of a strength and severity of style. Those, therefore, which are beautiful, didactick and persuasive, demand a smoothDess and elegance of language; which is not only agreeable, as it is suited to the objects it conveys, but, like fine colours or sounds, is, in some measure, pleasing for its own sake. Accordingly, we find, that, though we cannot so easily trace that accentual rhythmus which forms the harmony of the beginning and middle of a sentence, yet the latter part, or what is commonly called the cadence, consists (when harmoniously constructed) of such an arrangement of accented words as approaches nearly to verse. Every ear will immediately find a ruggedness and want of harmony in the conclusion of the following sentence :
We are always complaining our days are few, and acting as though there would be no end of them.
Addison. The reason of this harshness seems to be, that vast chasm of unaccented words that extends from the word acting to the word end. The ear, indeed, sensible of the want of accent, lays a little stress upon though : but this does not quite remedy the evil : still there are four words unaccented, and the sentence remains harsh : but if we alter its structure, by placing a word that admits of an accent in the middle of these four words, we shall find harmony succeed to harshness and inequality,
We are always complaining our days are few, and acting as though there would never be an end of them.
This difference, therefore, can arise from nothing but an unequal and unmetrical arrangement of accent in the former sentence, and a greater approach to equal and metrical arrangement of accent in the latter.
As a farther corroboration of the truth of this opinion, let us take a sentence remarkable for its harmony, and try whether it arises from the foregoing principles.
We hear at this distance but a faint echo of that thunder in Demosthenes, which shook the throne of Macedon to its foundations; and are sometimes at a loss for that conviction in the are guments of Cicero, which balanced in the midst of convulsions the tottering republick of Rome.
In the latter part of this sentence, we find the accented syllables at exactly equal intervals from the word sometimes to the word midst ; that is, there are three unaccented syllables between every accented syllable : and from the word midst to the word Rome, there is an exact equality of intervals; that is, two unaccented syllables, or, which is perfectly equivalent, syllables pronounced in the time of two, to one unaccented.
Now, if we change a few of the words of this sentence to others of different length and accent, we shall find the harmony of the sentence considerably diminished, though the sense may be inviolably preserved.
We hear at this distance but a faint echo of that thunder in Demosthenes which shook the throne of Macedon to its foundations ; and are sometimes at a loss for that force in the proofs of Cicero, which balanced in the midst of anarchy the toitering state of Rome.
That full flow of prosaick harmony, so perceptible in the former sentence, is greatly diminished in this; and the reason seems plainly pointed out : for as the harmony of verse is owing solely to an equal and regular return of accent, the harmony of prose must arise from the same source ; that is, as verse owes its harinony entirely to a regular return of accent, prose can never be harmonious by a total want of it. The sole difference between them seems to lie in the constant, regular, and artificial arrangement of accent in the one, and the unstudied, various, and even opposite arrangement in the other. Verse, with some few exceptions, proceeds in a regular alternation of accent, from one end of the poem to the other ; harmo.
nious prosé, on the contrary, in some members, adopts one species of arrangement, and in some another ; but always so as to avoid such clusters of accents in one place, and such a total absence of them in another, as necessarily occasions a ruggedness and difficulty of pronunciation.
At first sight, perhaps, we should be led to suppose, that the intervals between the accents ought rather to diminish than increase as they approach the end of a sentence; and yet, if we consult the ear, we shall find that intervals of two unaccented syllables sound better, even in the closing member of a sentence, than intervals of one unaccented syllable only. Let us take the following sentence as an example of this :
Demetrius compares prosperity to the indulgence of a fond mother to a child, which often proves his ruin; but the affection of the Divine Being to that of a wise father, who would have his sons exercised in labour, disappointment, and pain, that they may gather strength and fortitude.
Now, if, instead of the word strength, we substitute experience, though the sense may be weakened, the sound will, perhaps, be improved ; and if the ears of others should agree with mine in this particu. lar, it may be laid down as a rule, that other circumstances being equal, the last members of sentences ought rather to end in the dactylick than in the iambick measure. In this appellation of the measure of prose, I adopt the terms generally made use of, and particularly by Mason, in his Essay on Prosaick Numbers. This gentleman deserves much praise for his attempt to investigate the causes of prosaick harmony, but appears to me to have an idea of English metre so blended with that of the Latin and Greek, as to throw errour and confusion over his whole performance. For what can we make of his