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the Alexander's Feast, an ode that hath been as much celebrated as perhaps any in our language, and from wbich I propose to produce some illustrations. The poet, on recognising Jove as the father of his hero, hath used the most regular and perfect iambics
But when he comes to sing the jovial god of wine, he very judiciously changes the measure into the brisk trochaic.
Bacchus ever fair and young,
Rich the tréasure.
Sweet the pleasure,
Again, when he describes his liero as wrought up to madness, and setting fire to the city in a fit of revenge, he with great propriety exhibits this frenzy in rapid anapests, the effect of which is set off the more strongly by their having a few iambic lines interspersed.
So much for the power of numbers. It may not be amiss now, ere I conclude this topic, to make a few cursory remarks on the imitative powers of the several letters which are the elements of all articulate sounds. And first, soft and delicate sounds are mostly occasioned by an equal mixture of consonants with short and monophthung vowels; the consonants being chiefly those denominated liquids, l, m, n, r, and those among the mutes called slender, p, t, k, or c and ch when they sound as k ; to these add v, also z and s, when they sound as in the two words Zion and Asia. In like manner the duplication of a consonant sounds more delicately than the combination of different consonants. Thus ammiro is softer than admiro, fatto than facto, alto than apto, and disse than dire. Secondly, strong and loud sounds are better exhibited by dipthongs and long vowels, those of the mutes called middle, and which comparatively may be termed hard, b, d, g, in both its sounds, and j; especially when these are combined with liquids which render them more sonorous, without occasioning harshness, as in the words bombard, thunder, clangour, bludgeon, grumble. Thirdly, to roughness the letter h contributes as well as the gutturals. Such is the Greek X, to which there is no corresponding sound in English, though there is in Spanish and in German; also those of the mutes called aspirates, as f, or ph, and th, in both its sounds,* the double r, and all uncouth cornbinations. Fourthly, to sharp and cutting sounds the following letters best contribute, s when it sounds as in mass, c when it has the same sound, ch when it sounds as in chide, X, sh, and wh; from the abounding of which letters and combinations amongst us, foreigners are apt to remark I know not what appearance of whistling or hissing in our conversation. Indeed, the word whistle is one whose sound is as expressive of the signification, as perhaps any other word whatever. Fifthly, obscure and tingling sounds are best expressed by the nasals, ng, and nk, as in ringing, swinging, twanging, sinking; by the sn, as in snuffle, sneeze, snort ; and even by the n simply when it follows another liquid or mute, and when the vowel (if there be a vowel interposed between it and the preceding consonant,) is not very audibly pronounced, as in inorn, horn, sullen, fallen, bounden, gotten, beholden, holpen. This sound formerly much abounded in English. It was not only the termination of many of the participles, but also of most plurals, both of nouns and of verbs. As a plural termination, if we except a very few nouns, we may say it is now entirely banished, and very much, perhaps too much, disused in participles. The sound is unmusical, and consequently when too frequent, offensive, but may, nevertheless, have a good effect when used sparingly. Besides, it would be convenient, especially in verse, that we could oftener distinguish the preterit from the participle, than our language permits.
Now, of the five sorts of sound above explained, it may be remarked by the way, that the first is characteristic of the Italian, the second of the Spanish, the third of the Dutch, and perhaps of most of the Teutonic dialects; the fourth of the English, and the fifth of the French, whose final m and n, when not followed by a vowel, and whose terminations, ent and ant, are much more nasal than the ng and nk of the English. I suspect too, both from their prosody and from their pronunciation, that of all the languages above mentioned, the French is the least capable of that kind of imitatiom of which I have been speaking. On the other hand, I think, but in this opinion I am not confident, that of all those languages the English is, on the whole, the most capable. There is perhaps no particular excellence of sound in which it is not outdone by one or other of them, the Italian hath doubtless more sweetness, the Spanish more majesty, the German perhaps more bluster ; but none of them is in this respect so various as the English, and can equal it in all the qualities.
So much for the properties in things that are susceptible of a kind of imitation by language, and the degree in which they are susceptible.
* Of these one occurs in the noun breath, the other in the verb breathe. The first is the roughest.
Part II. - In what esteem ought this kind of imitation to be held,
and when ought it to be attempted ?
It remains now to consider what rank ought to be assigned to this species of beauty, and in what cases it ought to be attempted.
As to the first of these inquiries, from what hath been already said it appears very plain, that the resemblance or analogy which the sound can be made in any case to bear to the sense, is at best, when we consider the matter abstractly, but very remote. Often a beauty of this kind is more the creature of the reader's fancy, than the effect of the writer's ingenuity.
Another observation, which will assist us in determining the question, is, that when the other properties of elocution are attained, the absence of this kind of imagery, if I may express it by so strong a term, occasions no defect at all. We never miss it. We never think of it. Whereas an ambiguous, obscure, improper, languid, or inelegant expression, is quickly discovered by a person of knowledge and taste, and pronounced to be a blemish. Nor is this species of resemblance to be considered as on the same footing with those superior excellences, the want of which, by reason of their uncommonness, is never censured as a fault, but which, when present, give rise to the highest admiration. On the contrary, not the absence only, but even the attainment of this resemblance, as far as it is attainable, runs more risk of passing unbeeded than any other species of beauty in the style. I ought however to except from this, the imitation produced by the different kinds of measure in poetry, which, I acknowledge, is sufficiently observable, and hath a much stronger effect than any other whereof language alone is susceptible. The reason why in other cases it may so readily pass unnoticed is, that even the richest and most diversified language hath very little power, as hath been shown already, in this particular. It is therefore evident, that if the merit of every kind of rhetorical excellence is to be ascertained by the effect, and I know of no other standard, to this species we can only assign with justice the very lowest rank. It ought consequently ever to give place to the other virtues and ornaments of elocution, and not they to it.
As to the other question, In what cases it may be proper to aim at the similitude in sound of which I have been treating ; those cases will appear to one who attentively considers what hath been already advanced on the subject, to be comparatively few. Hardly any compositions in prose, unless those whose end is to persuade, and which aim at a certain veheinence in style and sentiinent, give access to exemplify this resemblance. And even in poetry it is only the most pathetic passages, and the descriptive parts, to which the beauty whereof I am speaking seems naturally adapted. The critical style, the argumentative, and the didactic, by no means suit it. Yet it may be said, that some of the examples above quoted for the illustration of this subject, are taken from the writings of the kind last mentioned, from Pope on Criticism, and Vida on Poesy. But it must be observed, that the authors, in the passages alluded to, are discoursing on this very subject. An exemplification was therefore necessary in
them, in order to convey to their readers a distinct idea of what they meant to recommend.
I must further observe, that, even in those poems wherein this kind of resemblance is most suitable, it is only in a few passages, when something more striking than ordinary comes to be described, that it ought to be attempted. This beauty in language is not to be considered as bearing an analogy to dress by which the whole person is adorned, but to those jewels which are intended solely for the decoration of certain parts, and whose effect depends very much on their being placed with judgement. It is an invariable rule, that in every poem and oration, whatever be the subject, the language, in the general tenour of it, ought to be harmonious and easy. A deviation in a. few particular passages may not only be pardonable, but even meritorious. Yet this merit, when there is a merit in introducing harsh sounds and jarring numbers, as on some occasions there doubtless is, receives great relief from its contrariety to the general flow of the style. And with regard to the general flow, as I observed already, the rule holds invariably. Supposing the subject of the piece were the twelve labours of Hercules, should the poet, in order to adapt his language to his theme, choose words of the most difficult utterance, and through the whole performance studiously avoid harmony and grace ; far from securing to himself admiration, he would not even be read.
I shall only add, that though it is not prudent in an author to go a step out of his way in quest of this capricious beauty, who, when she does not act spontaneously, does nothing gracefully, a poet in particular may not unreasonably be more solicitous to avoid her opposite, especially in the expression of the more striking thoughts; as nothing in such a case can be more ungraceful in the style, than when, either in sound or in measure, it serves as a contrast to the sentiment.
OF VIVACITY AS DEPENDING ON THE NUMBER OF THE WORDS.
THIS QUALITY EXPLAINED AND EXEMPLIFIED.
When I entered on the subject of vivacity,* I observed that this quality of style might result either from a happy choice of words, from their number, or from their arrangement. The first I have already discussed, and shown how words may conduce to vivacity, not only from their sense, whether they be proper or figurative, but also from their sound. • I come now to consider how far vivacity may be affected by the number of the words. Of this article it may be established as a maxim that admits no exception, and it is the only maxim which this article admits, that the fewer the words are, provided neither propriety nor perspicuity be violated, the expression is always the more vivid. • Brevity,” says Shakspeare, " is the soul of wit.”+ Thus much is certain, that of whatever kind the sentiment be, witty, humorous, grave, animated, or sublime, the more briefly it is expressed the energy is the greater, or the sentiment is the more enlivened, and the particular quality for which it is eminent the more displayed.
Among the ancients the Lacedemonians were the most remarkable for conciseness. To use few words, to speak energetically, and to be laconic, were almost synonymous. As when the rays of the sun are collected into the focus of a burning glass, the smaller the spot is which receives them, compared with the surface of the glass, the greater is the splendour ; or as in distillation, the less the quantity of spirit is that is extracted by the still, compared with the quantity of liquor from which the extraction is made, the greater is the strength ; so in exhibiting our sentiments by speech, the narrower the compass of words is wherein the thought is comprised, the more energetic is the expression. Accordingly we shall find, that the very same sentiment, expressed diffusely, will be admitted barely to be just ; expressed concisely, will be admired as spirited.
To recur to examples, the famous answer returned by the Countess of Dorset to the letter of Sir Joseph Williamson, secretary of state, to Charles the Second, nominating to her a member for the borough of Appleby, is an excellent illustration of this doctrine. “I have been bullied,” says her ladyship, "by an usurper, I have been
* Book III. Chap. i.