Page images
[ocr errors]

an fulness, excite an idea of what is important, magnificent, and sedate. But they suit no violent passion, no eager reasoning, no familiar address. These require measures brisker, easier, and often more, abrupt. It were as absurd to write a panegyric and an invective in a style of the same cadence, as to set the words of a tender love-song to the tune of a war like march.

Beside the general correspondence of the current of sound with the current of thought, a more particular expression of certain objects by resembling sounds may be attempted. In poetry this resemblance is chiefly to be sought. It obtains sometimes indeed in prose composition; but there in an inferior degree.

The sounds of words may be employed for representing chiefly three classes of objects; first, other sounds; secondly, motions; and thirdly, the emotions. and passions of the mind.

In most languages the names of many particular sounds are so formed, as to bear some resemblance of the sound which they signify; as with us the whistling of winds, the buzz and hum of insects, the hiss of serpents, and the crash of falling timber; and many other instances, where the name is plainly adapted to the sound it represents. A remarkable example of this beauty may be taken from two passages in Milton's Paradise Lost; in one of which he describes the sound, made by the opening of the gates of hell; in the other that made by the opening of the gates of heaven.


The contrast between the two exhibits to great advantage the art of the poet. The first is the opening of hell's gates;

-On a sudden open fly

With impetuous recoil and jarring sound
Th' infernal doors; and on their hinges grate
Harsh thunder.

Observe the smoothness of the other;

-Heaven open'd wide

Her ever during gates, harmonious sound!
On golden hinges turning.-

In the second place the sound of words is frequently employed to intimate motion; as it is swift or slow, violent or gentle, uniform or interrupted, easy or accompanied with effort. Between sound and motion there is no natural affinity; yet in the imagination there is a strong one; as is evident from the connexion between music and dancing. The poet can therefore give us a lively idea of the kind of motion he would describe, by the help of sounds which in our ima gination correspond with that motion. Long syllables naturally excite an idea of slow motion; as in this line of Virgil,

Olli inter sese magna vi brachia tollunt.

A succession of short syllables gives the impression of quick motion; as,

Sed fugit interea, fugit irreparabile tempus.

The works of Homer and Virgil abound with instances of this beauty; which are so often quoted, and so well known, that it is unnecessary to produce them.

The third set of objects, which the sound of words is capable of representing, consists of emotions and passions of the mind. Between sense and sound there appears to be no natural resemblance. But, if the arrangement of syllables by their sound alone recal one set of ideas more readily than another, and dispose the mind for entering into that affection which the poet intends to raise; such arrangement may with propriety be said to resemble the sense. Thus, when pleasure, joy, and agreeable objects are described by one who feels his subject, the language naturally runs in smooth, liquid, and flowing numbers.

-Namque ipsa decoram

Cæsariem nato genetrix, lumenque juventa
Purpureum, et lætos oculis afflarat honores.

Brisk and lively sensations exact quicker and more

animated numbers.

-Juvenum manus emicat ardens

Littus in Hesperium.

[ocr errors]

Melancholy and gloomy subjects are naturally connected with slow measures and long words.

In those deep solitudes and awful cells,
Where heavenly pensive contemplation dwells.

Abundant instances of this kind are suggested by a moderate acquaintance with good poets, either ancient or modern.


FIGURES may be described to be that language which is prompted either by the imagination or passions. They are commonly divided by rhetoricians into two great classes, figures of words, and figures of thought. The former are commonly called tropes, and consist in a word's being used to signify something different from its original meaning. Hence, if the word be changed, the figure is destroyed. Thus, for instance, "Light "ariseth to the upright in darkness." Here the trope consists in light and darkness" not being taken literally, but substituted for comfort and adversity; to which conditions of life they are supposed to bear some resemblance. The other class, termed figures of thought, supposes the figure to consist in the sentiment only, while the words are used in their literal sense; as in exclamations, interrogations, apostrophes,

and comparisons; where, though the words be varied, or translated from one language into another, the same figure is still preserved. This distinction however is of small importance; as practice cannot be assisted by it; nor is it always very perspicuous.

Tropes are derived in part from the barrenness of language; but principally from the influence, which the imagination has over all language. The imagination never contemplates any one idea or object as single and alone, but as accompanied by others which may be considered as its accessories. These accessories often operate more forcibly upon the mind, than the principal idea itself. They are perhaps in their nature more agreeable; or more familiar to our conceptions; or remind us of a greater variety of important circumstances. Hence the name of the accessory or correspondent idea is substituted; although the prin cipal has a proper and well known name of its own. Thus, for example, when we design to point out the period in which a state enjoyed most reputation or glory, we might easily employ the proper words for expressing this; but as this in our imagination is readily. connected with the flourishing period of a plant or tree, we prefer this correspondent idea, and say, "The "Roman Empire flourished most under Augustus." The leader of a faction is a plain expression; but, because the head is the principal part of the human body, and is supposed to direct all the animal operation; rest

[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »