« PreviousContinue »
upon the principles established by ancient critics, we have aimed to accommodate to our own language.
But we stop not here, having a few more speculations to suggest, which, appearing to arise from the principles of the old critics, are amply verified in our best English authors. But more of this in the following chapter.
OTHER DECORATIONS OF PROSE BESIDES PROSAÏC FEET-ALLITERATION -SENTENCES-PERIODS. CAUTION TO AVOID EXCESS IN CONSECUTIVE MONOSYLLABLES. OBJECTIONS, MADE AND ANSWERED. AUTHORITIES ALLEGED. ADVICE ABOUT READING.
BESIDES the decoration of prosaïc feet, there are other decorations admissible into English composition, such as alliteration and sentences, especially the period.
First, therefore, for the first; I mean alliteration.
Among the classics of old there is no finer illustration of this figure, than Lucretius's description of those blessed abodes, where his gods, detached from providential cares, ever lived in the fruition of divine serenity.
Apparet Divum numen, sedesque quietæ,
Quas neque concutiunt venti, neque nubila nimbis
Lucret. iii. 18.
The sublime and accurate Virgil did not contemn this decoration, though he used it with such pure, unaffected simplicity, that we often feel its force, without contemplating the cause. Take one instance out of infinite with which his works abound:
Aurora interea miseris mortalibus almam
P The following account of this figure is taken from Pontanus, one of these ingenious Italians, who flourished upon the revival of a purer literature in Europe.
Ea igitur sive figura, sive ornatus, condimentum quasi quoddam numeris affert, placet autem nominare alliterationem, quod e literarum allusione constet. Fit itaque in versu, quoties dictiones continuatæ, vel binæ, vel ternæ ab iisdem primis consonantibus, mutatis aliquando vocalibus, aut ab iisdem incipiunt syllabis, aut ab iisdem primis vocalibus. Delectat autem alliteratio hæc mirifice in primis et ultimis locis facta, in mediis quoque, licet ibidem aures minus sint intentæ. Ut "Sæva sedens super arma.
Tales casus Cassandra canebat.
En. xi. 183.
Insontem infando indicio.
Magno misceri murmure pontum. Ejusd. Quæque lacus late liquidos."
Fit interdum per continuationem insequentis versus, ut in his Lucretianis: “Adverso flabra feruntur Flumine."
Atqui alliteratio hæc ne Ciceroni quidem displicuit in oratione soluta, ut cum dixit in Bruto, "Nulla res magis penetrat in animos, eosque fingit, format, flectit." Et in secundo de Oratore: "Quodque me sollicitare summe solet." Quid quod ne in jocis quidem illis tam lepidis neglecta est a Plauto; ut cum garrientem apud herum induxit Pænulum; "Ne tu oratorem hunc pugnis plectas postea." Atque hæc quidem
To Virgil we may add the superior authority of Homer:
Iλ. S'. 201.
Hermogenes, the rhetorician, when he quotes these lines, quotes them as an example of the figure here mentioned, but calls it by a Greek name, wapńxnois.
Cicero has translated the above verses elegantly, and given us, too, alliteration, though not under the same letters:
Qui miser in campis errabat solus allæis,
Ipse suum cor edens, hominum vestigia vitans.
Aristotle knew this figure, and called it rapoμolwois: a name, perhaps, not so precise as the other, because it rather expresses resemblance in general, than that which arises from sound in particular. His example is, ̓Αγρὸν γὰρ ἔλαβεν, ἀργὸν παρ αὐτοῦ.
The Latin rhetoricians styled it annominatio, and give us examples of similar character.
But the most singular fact is, that so early, in our own history, as the reign of Henry the Second, this decoration was esteemed and cultivated both by the English and the Welch. So we are informed by Giraldus Cambrensis, a contemporary writer, who, having first given the Welch instance, subjoins the English in the following verse,
God is together Gammen and Wisedóme; that is, "God is at once both Joy and Wisdom."
He calls the figure by the Latin name annominatio; and adds, "that the two nations were so attached to this verbal ornament in every high finished composition, that nothing was by them esteemed elegantly delivered, no diction considered but as rude and rustic, if it were not first amply refined with the polishing art of this figure."t
It is perhaps from this national taste of ours that we derive many proverbial similes, which, if we except the sound, seem to have no other merit: "Fine as fivepence,' "Round as a robin," &c.
Even Spenser and Shakspeare adopted the practice, but then it was in a manner suitable to such geniuses.
alliteratio quemadmodum tribus in iis fit vocibus, fit alibi etiam in duabus simili modo. Ut, "Taciti ventura videbant. Virg. Tamo tempus erit.” Ejusd. Johannis Joviani Pontani Actius, Dialogus. vol. ii. p. 104. edit. Venetis, ap. Ald. 1519.
The explanation of it, given by Hermogenes, exactly suits his instance. Пaph χησις δέ ἐστι κάλλος ὁμοίων ὀνομάτων, ἐν διαφόρω γνώσει ταὐτὸν ἠχούντων : “Parechesis is beauty in similar words, which, under a different signification, sound the same." 'Epμoy. Teρl Evρeσ. Toμ. 8. p. 193. edit. Porti, 1570.
Aristot. Rhet. iii. 9. p. 132. edit. Sylb.
Præ cunctis autem rhetoricis exornationibus annominatione magis utuntur, eaque præcipue specie, quæ primas dictionum litteras vel syllabas convenientia jungit. Adeo igitur hoc verborum ornatu duæ nationes (Angli scil. et Cambri) in omni sermone exquisito utuntur, ut nihil ab his eleganter dictum, nullum nisi rude et agreste censeatur eloquium, si non schematis hujus lima plene fuerit expolitum. Girald. Cambrensis Cambria Descriptio, p. 889. edit. fol. Camdeni, 1603.
For not to have been dipt in Lethe lake
Could save the son of Thetis from to die;
And again :
Had my sweet Harry had but half their numbers,
Milton followed them:
For eloquence the soul; song charms the sense.
Better to hunt in fields for health unbought,
Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheav'd
Par. Lost, vii. 471.
many, for no one
From Dryden we select one example out of appears to have employed this figure more frequently, or (like Virgil) with greater simplicity and strength.
Pope sings in his Dunciad:
Hen. IV. part ii. act 2.
Par. Lost. ii. 556.
'Twas chatt'ring, grinning, mouthing, jabb'ring all;
Gray begins a sublime ode,
Which lines, though truly poetical and humorous, may be suspected by some to shew their art too conspicuously, and too nearly to resemble that verse of old Ennius,
O! Tite, Tute, Tati, Tibi Tanta, Tyranne, Tulisti.
" Vid Arist. Rhet. iii. c. 9. Demetr. Phal. de Elocut. s. 10, &c.
The compact combining character of the
Ruin seize thee, ruthless king, &c.
We might quote also alliterations from prose writers, but those we have alleged we think sufficient.
Nor is elegance only to be found in single words, or in single feet; it may be found, when we put them together, in our peculiar mode of putting them. It is out of words and feet thus compounded that we form sentences, and among sentences none so striking, none so pleasing, as the period. The reason is, that, while other sentences are indefinite, and (like a geometrical right-line) may be produced indefinitely, the period (like a circular line) is always circumscribed, returns, and terminates at a given point. In other words, while other sentences, by the help of common copulatives, have a sort of boundless effusion; the constituent parts of a period have a sort of reflex union," in
period is well illustrated by Demetrius in the following simile: Εοικε γοῦν τὰ μὲν περιοδικὰ κῶλα τοῖς λίθοις, τοῖς ἀντερεί
which union the sentence is so far complete, as neither to require, nor even to admit a further extension. Readers find a pleasure in this grateful circuit, which leads them so agreeably to an acquisition of knowledge.
The author, if he may be permitted, would refer, by way of illustration, to the beginnings of his Hermes and his Philosophical Arrangements, where some attempts have been made in this periodical style. He would refer, also, for much more illustrious examples, to the opening of Cicero's Offices; to that of the capital oration of Demosthenes concerning the Crown; and to that of the celebrated Panegyric, made (if he may be SO called) by the father of periods, Isocrates.
Again; every compound sentence is compounded of other sentences more simple, which, compared to one another, have a certain proportion of length. Now it is in general a good rule, that among these constituent sentences the last (if possible) should be equal to the first; or if not equal, then rather longer than shorter. The reason is, that without a special cause, abrupt conclusions are offensive, and the reader, like a traveller quietly pursuing his journey, finds an unexpected precipice, where he is disagreeably stopped.
To these speculations concerning sentences, we subjoin a few others.
It has been called a fault in our language, that it abounds in monosyllables. As these, in too lengthened a suite, disgrace a composition, lord Shaftesbury (who studied purity of style with great attention) limited their number to nine, and was careful, in his Characteristics, to conform to his own law. Even in Latin, too, many of them were condemned by Quinctilian.
Above all, care should be had, that a sentence end not with a crowd of them, those especially of the vulgar, untunable sort, such as, to set it up, to get by and by at it, &c., for these disgrace a sentence that may be otherwise laudable, and are like the rabble at the close of some pompous cavalcade.
It was by these, and other arts of similar sort, that authors in distant ages have cultivated their style. Looking upon knowledge (if I may be allowed the allusion) to pass into the mansions of the mind through language, they were careful (if I may pursue the metaphor) not to offend in the vestibule. They did not esteem it pardonable to despise the public ear, when they saw the love of numbers so universally diffused."
de Orat. iii. s. 136.
Etiam monosyllaba, si plura sunt, male continuabuntur: quia necesse est, compositio, multis clausulis concisa, subsultet. Inst. Orat. ix. 4.
z Nihil est autem tam cognatum mentibus nostris, quam numeri atque voces; quibus et excitamur, et incendimur, et lenimur, et
Nor were they discouraged, as if they thought their labour would be lost. In these more refined, but yet popular arts, they knew the amazing difference between the power to execute, and the power to judge: that to execute was the joint effort of genius and of habit; a painful acquisition, only attainable by the few: to judge, the simple effort of that plain but common sense, imparted by Providence in some degree to every one."
But here methinks an objector demands, "And are authors then to compose, and form their treatises by rule? Are they to balance periods? To scan pæans and cretics? To affect alliterations? To enumerate monosyllables," &c.
If, in answer to this objector, it should be said, They ought; the permission should at least be tempered with much caution. These arts are to be so blended with a pure but common style, that the reader, as he proceeds, may only feel their latent force. If ever they become glaring, they degenerate into affectation; an extreme more disgusting, because less natural, than even the vulgar language of an unpolished clown. It is in writing, as in acting, the best writers are like our late admired Garrick. And how did that able genius employ his art? Not by a vain ostentation of any one of its powers, but by a latent use of them all in such an exhibition of nature, that, while we were present in a theatre, and only beholding an actor, we could not help thinking ourselves in Denmark with Hamlet, or in Bosworth field with Richard.b
There is another objection still: these speculations may be called minutiæ; things partaking at best more of the elegant than of the solid; and attended with difficulties, beyond the value of the labour.
To answer this, it may be observed, that, when habit is once gained, nothing so easy as practice. When the ear is once habituated to these verbal rhythms, it forms them spontaneously, without attention or labour. If we call for instances, what more easy to every smith, to every carpenter, to every common mechanic, than the several energies of their proper arts? How little do even the rigid laws of verse obstruct a genius truly poetic? How little did they cramp a Milton, a Dryden, or a Pope? Cicero writes, that Antipater the Sidonian could pour forth hexameters extempore; and that, whenever he chose to
languescimus, et ad hilaritatem et ad tristitiam sæpe deducimur; quorum illa summa vis, &c. Cic. de Orat. iii. s. 197.
a Mirabile est, cum plurimum in faciendo intersit inter doctum et rudem, quam non multum differat in judicando. Ibid. iii. s. 197.
b Ubicunque ars ostentatur, veritas abesse videtur. Quinctil. Instit. x. 3. p. 587. edit. Capp. Quæ sunt artes altiores, plurumque occultantur, ut artes sint. Ejusd. viii. c. 3.
p. 478. edit. Capper. Desinit ars esse, si appareat. Ejusd. iv. 2. p. 249.
See Dionys. Halicarn. de Struct. Orat. s. 25. where this argument is well enforced by the common well-known habit of reading, so difficult at first, yet gradually growing so familiar, that we perform it at last without deliberation, just as we see, or hear.
d Cic. de Oratore, l. iii. 194. The same great writer, in another place, speaking of