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I would die sooner than mention it.
If we mean only to declare our choice between dying and mentioning, the falling inflection must be placed on die, as this is the part of the sentence that corresponds to the positive part of the declaration : If we would express this choice with emphasis, so as to show that we would not only undergo great difficulties, but that we would even die sooner than mention it, the same inflection is preserved on the same word, with a small addition of emphatick force : If it were understood that we would die sooner than mention it, but for fear mention should be taken in too large a sense, we wish to express a resolution of dying before we would discover the smallest part of it ; in this case, I say, we should lay the strong emphasis and falling inflection on mention, which would intimate a new antithesis, and the equivalent to saying, I would not only die before I would declare or relate it, but even before I would mention it ; and here we find the word die assume the weak emphasis and rising inflection, as the question in this case is not so much about dying as about the degree of mention we are resolved not to make.
But if both parts of the comparison be understood, aud therefore to be taken simply and without emphasis, and it is the intention of the speaker to declare, with emphasis, the priority or preferableness only; in this case, the comparative word has the strong emphasis and falling inflection, and the word compared has the weak emphasis and rising inflection. Thus Gay, in his fable of the Elephant and Bookseller, makes the latter offer pay to the former for writing satire ; and in order to show there is no necessity to hire beasts to prey on men, while men, by envy, prey on each other, says,
Bookseller, maka and in order to show while men,
Here the word sharper has the strong emphasis and falling inflection, as envy is not said, with emphasis, to be a sharper spur than pay; for envy is not here opposed to any other disposition, or to a disposition less malevolent; nor is pay opposed to any other, or to a less reward ; but the emphasis is confined to the comparative word, sharper; as if he had said, Envy is not only a spur equally sharp, but sharper than pay.
On these principles we may account for the emphasis which a good actor always places on the first part of the antithesis in the following examples :
Ham. What! look'd he frowningly?
It is a custom
Oh! the blood mòre stirs, To rouse a lion than to start a hare.
Shakes. Hen. IV. Part I. Acti.
This last example is the parallel of that from Gay; and it is presumed, that a judicious actor would lay the great stress, that is, the emphasis with the falling inflection, on the word more, and give the words lion and hare the weak emphasis and rising inflection. For Hotspur, in this passage, is talking of dangers, and is not so much comparing them as the advantages that arise from them; and the paraphrase of this emphasis would be, the resistance we make to great and small danger is not equal; a great danger stirs the blood much more than a small one.
This paraphrasing or drawing out the signification of emphatick words seems the best guide where the sense is not quite obvious, and will lead us to decide in many doubtful cases, where nothing but the taste of the reader is commonly appealed to. To illustrate this still farther, let us examine a line in Otway's Venice Preserved, where Pierre, expatiating on the wretched state of Venice, says,
Justice is lame as well as blind among us.
The phrase, as well as, signifies nothing more than parity, and is nearly similar in sense to the conjunction and ; if, therefore, we lay the falling inflection on blind, it would be equivalent to saying, Justice is not only lame, but blind; and this is a piece of information we did not want : For justice is always supposed to be blind. But the falling inflection on lame, and the rising on blind, is equivalent to saying, Justice is not only blind, as she is every where else, but in Venice she is lame as well as blind. And that this is the true meaning of the passage, cannot be doubted. If the poet had writen the line in this manner :
Justice is as lame as she is blind among us :
The falling inflection placed on blind, would imply, that Justice is not only very lame, but even as lame as she is blind. Thus we see the sense varies with the different emphasis we adopt, and is never fully and forcibly displayed without the kind of emphasis that is peculiarly suited to it.
But it may be asked, since the sense must be fully conceived before we can adapt the emphasis to the words, of what use is it to ring all these changes upon the different emphases, when, though we conceive them ever so distinctly they will only suggest one particular sense, but will never tell us which we shall adopt as most suitable to the meaning of the author. To this it may be answered, that whatever tends to show the different import of each kind of emphasis, enables us the better to judge of the suitable
ness or unsuitableness of each emphasis to the sense.
This unfolding and displaying of what is suggested by each emphasis is that assistance to the understanding which spectacles are to the eye ; magnifying glasses are not calculated for those whose powers of sight are so strong and clear as to have no need of them, nor for those who have no sight at all ; but for such as wish to view objects distinctly, and with less labour than without this assistance. Where the sense is clear, we need no such assistance : but where the sense is obscure and dubious, it can scarcely be doubted that displaying and unfolding it by such paraphrases as are suggested by the application of different kinds of emphasis, will tend greatly to take away the ambiguity, will show which kind of emphasis is most suitable to the sense, and enable us to pronounce with greater confidence and security.
From what has been said of the nature of emphasis, it will evidently follow, that pronunciation is à kind of supplement to written language. As vivacity and force depend greatly on brevity, and brevity borders naturally on obscurity; in order to preserve the meaning without losing the force, pronunciation interposes, and, as it were, supplies the ellipsis in the written words, by a stress and inflection of voice, which imply what belongs to the sense, but which is not sufficiently obvious without oral utterance. Hence we may conclude, that language is never perfect till it is delivered. A just pronun. ciation brings to view its latent and elliptical senses, without clogging it with repetitions which would retard its communication and enfeeble its strength. Thus by pronouncing the following sentence: Exercise and temperance strengthen an indifferent constitution : By pronouncing this sentence, I say, with the falling infection on the word indifferent, I convey as much to the understanding as if I had
said, Exercise and temperance strengthen not only a common constitution, but even an indifferent constitution. And the inferiority of the latter sentence, from its tautology and pleonastick tardiness, sufficiently shows the necessity of a just pronunciation to supply the ellipses of written language.
The double emphasis, as we have already observ. ed in page 213, seems most frequently to be regulated by the harmony of the sentence ; for as it is a general rule, that the rising inflection must take place in the middle of such a sentence, the second branch of the first member must necessarily have the rising inflection, and the rest of the branches must have such an emphasis and inflection as contribute most to the harmony of the period. With this general rule, that the two parts of the antithesis have each of them the two different inflections, arranged in an opposite order ; that is, as two inflections in the same member cannot be alike, if the second branch of the first member has the rising, the first branch must, of course, have the falling inflection; and as the last branch of the second member forms the period, and therefore requires the falling, the first branch of this member must necessarily have the rising inflection ; this is the arrangement of inflection which seems universally adopted by the ear, as it will be found, upon experiment, no other is so various and musical. An example will soon convince us of this :
The pleasures of the imagination, taken in their full extent, are not so gross as those of sénse, nor so refined as those of the understanding
Spect. No. 411.