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Resemblance between articulate sounds and the things they represent—The beauty
of this resemblance- A concord may exist without a resemblance Examples given by critics of sense, may be resolved into a resemblance of effects-Slow motion imitated by long syllables; quick, by a succession of short ones—Interrupted motion, by monosyllables-Rough motion, rough sounds--Smooth, equable, smooth sounds—Prolonged motion, Alexandrian line-Gravity or solemnity, a period of long syllables-Melancholy, a period of polysyllables-Hard labor, long syllables made short-Rough words pronounced with difficulty-A climax of sound and sense, delightful-An anticlimax-The pleasure of a weak resemblance—The effect of pronunciation, or the resemblance between sense and sound - Difference between notes in singing and reading-The key note in reading-Cadence-Direction for pronunciation-In Greek, the tones marked—The comparison between pronunciation and singing—The former fixed; the latter, arbitrary-The notes of music, with respect to the first, agreeable-With respect to the second, music has its greatest variety—In pronunciation, in the third, the voice confined within three and a half notes—Last two equal singing.
A RESEMBLANCE between the sound of certain words and their sig. nification, is a beauty that has escaped no critical writer, and yet it is not handled with accuracy by any of them. They have probably been of opinion, that a beauty so obvious to the feeling, requires no explanation. This is an error; and to avoid it, I shall give exam. ples of the various resemblances between sound and signification, accompanied with an endeavor to explain why such resemblances are beautiful. I shall begin with examples where the resemblance between the sound and signification is the most entire; and shall next give examples where the resemblance is less and less so.
There being frequently a strong resemblance of one sound to another, it will not be surprising to find an articulate sound resembling one that is not articulate: thus the sound of a bow-string is imitated by the words that express it:
The string let fly,
Odyssey, XXI. 449.
Loud sounds the axe, redoubling strokes on strokes,
Iliad, XXIII. 144,
Pope's Essay on Criticism, 369.
The rough rock roars: tumultuous boil the waves. Pope. No person can be at a loss about the cause of this beauty: it is obviously that of imitation.
That there is any other natural resemblance of sound to signification, must not be taken for granted. There is no resemblance of sound to motion, nor of sound to sentiment. We are however apt to
be deceived by artful pronunciation: the same passage may be pronounced in many different tones, elevated or humble, sweet or harsh, brisk or melancholy, so as to accord with the thought or sentiment : such concord must be distinguished from that concord between sound and sense, which is perceived in some expressions independent of artful pronunciation: the latter is the poet's work; the former must be attributed to the reader. Another thing contributes still more to the deceit. In language, sound and sense being intimately connected, the properties of the one are readily communicated to the other : for example, the quality of grandeur, of sweetness, or of melancholy, though belonging to the thought solely, is transferred to the words, which by that means resemble, in appearance, the thought that is expressed by them.* I have great reason to recommend these observations to the reader, considering how inaccurately the present subject is handled by critics : not one of them distinguishes the natural resemblance of sound and signification, from the artificial resemblances now described; witness Vida in particular, who in a very long passage has given very few examples but what are of the latter kind."
That there may be a resemblance of articulate sounds to some that are not articulate, is self-evident; and that in fact there exist such resemblances successfully employed by writers of genius, is clear from the foregoing examples, and from many others that might be given. But we may safely pronounce, that this natural resemblance can be carried no farther : the objects of the different senses, differ so widely from each other, as to exclude any resemblance. Sound in particular, whether articulate or inarticulate, resembles not in any degree taste, smell, or motion: and as little can it resemble any internal sentiment, feeling or emotion. But must we then admit, that nothing but sound can be imitated by sound? Taking imitation in its proper sense, as importing a resemblance between two objects, the proposition must be admitted : and yet in many passages that are not descriptive of sound, every one must be sensible of a peculiar concord between the sound of the words and their meaning. As there can be no doubt of the fact, what remains is to inquire into its cause.
Resembling causes may produce effects that have no resemblance; and causes that have no resemblance may produce resembling effects. A magnificent building, for example, resembles not, in any degree, an heroic action; and yet the emotions they produce, are concordant, and bear a resemblance to each other. We are still more sensible of this resemblance in a song, when the music is properly adapted to the sentiment: there is no resemblance between thought and sound; but there is the strongest resemblance between the emotion raised by music tender and pathetic, and that raised by the complaint of an unsuccessful lover. Applying this observation to the present subject, it appears, that in some instances, the sound, even of a single word, makes an impression resembling that which is made by the thing it signifies: witness the word running, composed of two short syllables; and more remarkably the words rapidity, impetuosity, precipitation. Brutal manners produce, in the * See Chap. 2. Part I. sect. 5.
† Poet. L. 3. 1. 365-454.
spectator, an emotion not unlike what is produced by a harsh and rough sound; and hence the beauty of the figurative expression rugged manners. Again, the word little, being pronounced with a very small aperture of the mouth, has a weak and faint sound, which makes an impression resembling that made by a diminutive object. This resemblance of effects is still more remarkable where a number of words are connected in a period: words pronounced in succession make often a strong impression; and when this impression happens to accord with that made by the sense, we are sensible of a complex emotion, peculiarly pleasant; one proceeding from the sentiment, and one from the melody or sound of the words. But the chief pleasure proceeds from having these two concordant emotions combined in perfect harmony, and carried on in the mind to a full close. Except in the single case where sound is described, all the examples given by critics of sense being imitated in sound, resolve into a resemblance of effects: emotions raised by sound and signification may have a resemblance; but sound itself cannot have a resemblance to any thing but sound.
Proceeding now to particulars, and beginning with those cases where the emotions have the strongest resemblance, I observe, first, that by a number of syllables in succession, an emotion is sometimes raised extremely similar to that raised by successive motion; which may be evident even to those who are defective in taste, from the following fact, that the term movement in all languages is equally applied to both.
In this manner, successive motion, such as walking, run. ning, galloping, can be imitated by a succession of long or short syllables, or by a due mixture of both. For example, slow motion may be justly imitated in a verse where long syllables prevail; especially when aided by a slow pronunciation. Illi inter sese magnâ vi brachia tollunt.
Geor. IV. 174. On the other hand, swift motion is imitated by a succession of short syllables :
Quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum. Again:
Radit iter liquidum, celeres neque commovet alas. Thirdly; a line composed of monosyllables, makes an impression, by the frequency of its pauses, similar to what is made by laborious interrupted motion :
With many a weary step, and many a groan,
Odyssey, XI. 736.
Iliad, XXIII. 138. Fourthly; the impression made by rough sounds in succession, resembles that made by rough or tumultuous motion : on the other hand, the impression of smooth sounds resembles that of gentle motion. The following is an example of both.
* See Chap. 2. Part 4.
Two craggy rocks projecting to the main,
Odyssey, III. 118.
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
Essay on Criticism, 366.
A needless Alexandrine ends the song;
Essay on Criticism, 356.
The waves behind impel the waves before,
Iliad, XIII. 1004.
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Essay on Criticism, 373. Again, speaking of a rock torn from the brow of a mountain :
Still gath'ring force, it smokes, and urg'd amain,
Iliad, XIII. 197. Sixthly; a period consisting mostly of long syllables, that is, of syllables pronounced slow, produces an emotion resembling faintly that which is produced by gravity and solemnity. Hence the beauty of the following verse:
Olli sedato respondit corde Latinus. It resembles equally an object that is insipid and uninteresting. Tædet quotidianarum harum formarum.
Terence, Eunuchus, Act II. Sc. 3. Seventhly; a slow succession of ideas is a circumstance that belongs equally to settled melancholy, and to a period composed of polysyllables pronounced slowly: and hence by similarity of emo-tions, the latter is imitative of the former:
In those deep solitudes, and awful cells,
And ever-musing melancholy reigns. Pope, Eloisa to Abelard. Eighthly; a long syllable made short, or a short syllable made long, raises, by the difficulty of pronouncing contrary to custom, a feeling similar to that of hard labor:
When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw,
The line too labors, and the words move slow. Essay on Crit. 370. Ninthly; harsh or rough words pronounced with difficulty, excite a feeling similar to that which proceeds from the labor of thought to a dull writer:
Just writes to make his barrenness appear,
Pope's Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, 1. 181. I shall close with one example more, which of all makes the finest figure. In the first section mention is made of a climax in sound; and in the second, of a climax in sense. It belongs to the present subject to observe, that when these coincide in the same passage, the concordance of sound and sense is delightful: the reader is conscious not only of pleasure from the two climaxes separately, but of an additional pleasure from their concordance, and from finding the sense so justly imitated by the sound. In this respect, no periods are more perfect than those borrowed from Cicero in the first section.
The concord between sense and sound is no less agreeable in what
may be termed an anticlimax, where the progress is from great to little ; for this has the effect to make diminutive objects appear still more diminutive. Horace affords a striking example:
Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. The arrangement here is singularly artful : the first place is occupied by the verb, which is the capital word by its sense as well as sound: the close is reserved for the word that is the meanest in sense as well as in sound. And it must not be overlooked, that the resembling sounds of the two last syllables give a ludicrous air to the whole.
Reviewing the foregoing examples, it appears to me, contrary to expectation, that, in passing from the strongest resemblances to those that are fainter, every step affords additional pleasure. Renewing the experiment again and again, I feel no wavering, but the greatest pleasure constantly from the faintest resemblances. And yet how can this be ? for if the pleasure lie in imitation, must not the strongest resemblance afford the greatest pleasure? From this vexing dilemma I am happily relieved, by reflecting on a doctrine established in the chapter of resemblance and contrast, that the pleasure of resemblance is the greatest, where it is least expected, and where the objects compared are in their capital circumstances widely different. Nor will this appear surprising, when we descend to familiar examples. It raises no degree of wonder to find the most perfect resem. blance between two eggs of the same bird: it is more rare to find such resemblance between two human faces; and upon
that account such an appearance raises some degree of wonder: but this emotion rises to a still greater height, when we find in a pebble, an agate, or other natural production, any resemblance to a tree or to any organ. ised body. We cannot hesitate a moment, in applying these observations to the present subject : what occasion of wonder can it be to find one sound resembling another, where both are of the same kind? It is not so common to find a resemblance between an articulate sound and one not articulate; which accordingly affords some slight plea
But the pleasure swells greatly, when we employ sound to imitate things it resembles not otherwise than by the effects produced in the mind.