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Beauty of Language.

OF all the fine arts, painting only and
fculpture are in their nature imitative.
An ornamented field is not a copy or
imitation of nature, but nature itfelf embellilh-
ed. Architedure is produdive of originals,
and copies not from nature. Sound and motion
may in fome meafure be imitated by mufic ;
but for the moll part mufic, like architedure,
is productive of originals. Language copies
not from nature, more than mufic or architec-
ture ; unlefs, where, like mufic, it is imitative of
found or motion. Thus, in the defcription of
particular founds, language fometimes furnifiieth
words, which, befide their cultomary power of
A 2 exciting


exciting ideas, refemble by their foftnefs or harfh-
nefs the founds defcribed ; and there are words
which, bj the celerity or flownefs of pronuncia-
tion, have fome refemblance to the motion they
iignify. The imitative power of words goes one
ftep farther : the loftinefs of fome words makes
them proper fymbols of lofty ideas ; a rough fub-
je6l is imitated by harfh-founding words ; and
words of many fyllables pronounced How and
fmooth, are expreffive of grief and melancholy.
Words have a feparate e;Te6l on the mind, ab-
ftradling from their fignification and ^from their
imitative power : they are more or lefs agreeable
to the ear, by the fulnefs, fweetnefs, faintnefs, or
roughnefs of their tones.

Thefe are but faint beauties, being known to
thofe only who have more than ordinary acutenefs
of perception. Language polTelTeth a beauty fu-
perior greatly in degree, of which we are emi-
nently fenlible whoii a thought is communicated
with perfpicuity and fprightlinefs. This beauty of
language, arifing from its pov/er of expreliing
thought, is apt to be confounded with the beauty
of the thought itfelf : the beauty of thought, tranf-
ferred to the expreilion, makes it appear more
beautiful *. But thefe beauties, if we wifli to


* Chap. 2. part i.fefl:. 5. Demetrius Phalereus (of Elo-
cution, fec?l:. 75.) makes the fame obfervation. We are
apt, fays that author, to confound the language with the
fiabjedl^ and if the latter be nervous, we judge the fame



think accurately, mull be dillinguifhed from each
other. They are in reality fo diftind:, that we
fometimes are confcious of the higheft pleafure
language can affojsd, when the fubjed: exprelTed is
difagreeable : a tmng that is loathfome, or a fcene
of horror to make one's hair Hand on end, may
be defcribed in a manner fo lively, as that the dif-
agreeablenefs of the fubjedl Ihall not even obfcure
the agreeablenefs of the defcription. The caufes
of the original beauty of language, conlidered as
iignificant, which is a branch of theprefentfubjed:,
will be explained in their order, I Ihall only at
prefent obferve, that this beauty is the beauty of
means fitted to an end, that of communicating
thought : and hence it evidently appears, that of
feveral expreffions all conveying the fame thought,
the mofl beautiful, in the fenfe now mentioned,
is that which in the molt perfect manner anfwers

The feveral beauties of language above men-
tioned, being of different kinds, ought, to be han-
dled feparately. I Ihall begin with thofe beauties
of language that arife from found ; after which
will follow the beauties of language conlidered as"
Iignificant : this order appears natural ; for the


of the former. But they are clearly diftlnguilhable 5 and it
is not uncommon to findfubjeSs of great dignity drefled ia
mean language. Theopompus is celebrated for the force of
his diftionj but erroneoufly : his fubjeft indeed has great
force, but hisftyle very little.


found of a word is attended to, before we confir
der its fignification. In a third fedion come thofe
lingular beauties of language that are derived from
a refemblance between found^and fignification.
The beauties of verfe are han^d in the lafl fec-
tion : for though the foregoing beauties are found
in verfe as well as in pxofe, yet verfe has many pe-
culiar beauties, which for the fake of conneftiou
muft be brought under one view ; and verfifica-
tion, at any rate, is a fnbjecl of fo great import^
ance as to deferve a place by itfelf.

SEC T. h
Beauty of Language with reJpeSl to Sound,

THIS fubject requires the following order.
The founds of the different letters come
firfl : next, thefe founds as united in fyllables :
third, fyllables united in words : fourth, words
united in a period : and in the lail place, periods,
united in a difcourfe.

With refped: to the firfl article, every vowel Is;
founded with a fingle expiration of air from the
wind-pipe, through the cavity of the mouth. By
varying this cavity, the different vowels are found-
ed: for the air in paffing through cavities differing
in lize, produceth various founds, fome high or


fharp, fome low or flat : a fmail cavity occafions a
high found, a large cavity a low found. The five
vowels accordingly, pronounced with the fame ex-=
tenfion of the wind-pipe, but with different open<'
ings of the mouth, form a regular feries of founds^
defcending from high to low, in the following or-
der, f, dj a, 0, M*. Each of thefe founds is a-
greeable to the ear : and if it be required which
of them is the moil agreeable, it is perhaps fafell
to hold, that thofe vowels which are the fartheft
removed from the extremes, will be the moll re-
lifhed. This is all I have to remark upon the firft
article : for confonants being letters that of them-
felves have no found, ferve only in conjundlion
with vowels to form articulate founds ; and as
every articulate found makes a fy liable, confonants
come naturally under the fecond article; to which
we proceed.

A confonant is pronounced with a lefs cavity
than any vowel ; and confequently every fyllable
into which a confonant enters, mull have more
than one found, though pronounced with one ex-
piration of air, or with one breath as commonly ex-
preffed : for however readily two founds may unite,
jet where they differ in tone, both of them mud


* In this fcale of founds, the letter / muft be pronounced
as in the word interejl, and as in other words beginning with
the fyllable in ; the letter e as in perfuajion ; the letter a a*
in bat } and the letter u as ia number.


be heard if neither of them be fuppreffed. For
the fame reafon, every fyllable mull be compofed
of as many founds as there are letters, fuppofing
every letter to be diitindily pronounced.

We next enquire, how far fyllables are agree-
able to the ear. Few tongues are fo polifhed, as
entirely to have rejedted founds that are pronoun-
ced with difficulty ; and it is a noted obfervation.
That fuch founds are to the ear harfh and difa-
greeable. But with refped to agreeable founds, it
appears, that 'a double found is always more a-
greeable than a lingle found : every one who has
an ear muft be feniible, that the dipththong oi or
ai is more agreeable than any of thefe vowels pro-
nounced fingly : the fame holds where a confonant
enters into the double found ; the fyllable le has a
more agreeable found than the vowel e, or than
any vowel. And in fupport of experience, a fatif-
fadtory argument may be drawn from the wifdom
of Providence : fpeech is bellowed on man, to
qualify him for fociety ; and his provilion of arti-
culate founds is proportioned to the ufe he hath
for them ; but if founds that are agreeable lingly
were not alfo agreeable in conjunction, the necef-
iity of a painful fele6lion would render language
intricate and difficult to be attained in any perfec-
tion ; and this feledlion, at the fame time, would
abridge the number of ufeful founds, fo as perhaps
not to leave fufficient for anfwering the different
ends of language.



In this view, the harmony of pronunciation dif-
fers widely from that of mulic properly fo called.
In the latter are difcovered many founds iingly a-
greeable, which in conjundtion are extremely dif-
agreeable ; none but what are called concordant
founds having a good efFedl in conjundion. In
the former, all founds, Iingly agreeable, are in
conjundion concordant ; and ought to be, in or-
der to fulfil the purpofes of language.

Having difculTed fyllables, we proceed to words ;
which make the third article. Monofyllables be-
long to the former head : polyfyllables open a dif-
ferent fcene. In a curfory view, one would ima-
gine, that the agreeablenefs or difagreeablenefs of
a word with refpedt to its found, Ihould depend
upon the agreeablenefs or difagreeablenefs of its
component fyllables : which is true in part, but
not entirely ; for we muft alfo take under confide-
ration, the efFed of fyllables in fucceffion. In the
firft place, fyllables in immediate fucceffion, pro-
nounced, each of them, with the fame, or nearly
the fame aperture of the mouth, produce a fuc-
ceffion of weak and feeble founds ; witnefs the
French words dit-il^ pathetique : on the other
hand, a fyllable of the greateft aperture fucceed-
ing one of the fmallell, or the contrary, makes a
fucceffion, which, becaufe of its remarkable dif-
agreeablenefs, is diftinguilhed by a proper name^
hiatus. The mo|l agreeable fucceffion is, where
the cavity is incrtafed and diminifhed alternately

Vol. IL B within


within moderate limits. Examples, alternative^
longevity^ pujillanimous. Secondly, words con-
lifting wholly of fyllables pronounced flow, or of
fyllables pronounced quick, commonly called long
and Jhort fyllables^ have little melody in them ;
witnefs the words petitioner, fruiterer , dizzinejs:
on the other hand, the intermixture of long and
fhort fyllables is remarkably agreeable ; for ex-
ample, degree, repent, wonderful, altitude, rapi-
dity, independent, impetuofity *. The caufe will
be explained afterward, in treating of verfifica-

Diftinguifhable from the beauties above men-
tioned, there is a beauty of fome words which a-
rifes from their lignification : when the emotion
raifed by the length or fliortnefs, the roughnefs
or fmoothnefs, of the found, refembles in any de-
gree what is raifed by the fenfe, we feel a very
remarkable pleafure. But this fubjed belongs to
the third f^dion.

The foregoing obfervations afford a ftandard to
every nation, for eflimating, pretty accurately, the
comparative merit of the words that enter into
their own language : but they are not equally ufe-

* Italian words, like thofe of Latin and Greek, have this property
almoft univerfally : Englifh and French words are generally deficient.
In the former, the long lyllable is removed from the end, as far as the
found will permit; and in the latter, the laft fyllable is generally long.
Fdr example. Senator in Englifh, Senator in Latin, and Senateur ia



ful in comparing the words of different languages;
which will thus appear. Difterent nations judge
differently of the harflmefs or fmoothnefs of arti-
culate founds ; a found, for example, harfh and
difagreeable to an Italian, may be abundantly
fmooth to a northern ear : here every nation muft
judge for itfelf ; nor can there be any folid ground
for a preference, when there is no common ftand-
ard to which we can appeal. The cafe is precife-
ly the fame as in behaviour and manners : plain-
dealing and fincerity, liberty in words and ac-
tions, form the charader of one people ; polite-
nefs, referve, and a total difguife of every fenti-
ment that can give offence^ form the character of
another people : to each the manners of the other
are difagreeable. An effeminate mmd cannot
bear the leafl of that rrughnefs and fe verity which
is generally efteemed manly, when exerted upon
proper occafions : neither can an effeminate ear
bear the harftinefs of certain words, t i&.t are deem-
ed nervous and founding by thofe accuflomed to
a rougher tone of fpeech. Muft we then relin*
quilh all thoughts of comparing languages in point
of roughnefs and fmoothnefs, as a fruitlefs inqui-
ry ? Not altogether ; for we may proceed a cer-
tain length, though without hope of an ultimate
decifion. A language pronounced with difficul-
ty even by natives, muft yield to a fmoother lan-
guage : and fuppofing two languages pronounced
with equal facility by natives, the rougher Ian-

B 2 guage,


guage, in my judgment, ought to be preferred^
provided it be alfo ftored with a competent fhare
of more mellow founds ; which will be evident
from attending to the. different effeds that articu-
late found ha^h on the mind. A fmooth gliding
found is agreeable, by calming the mind-, and lul-
ling it to reft : a rough bold found, on the con-
trary,^§nimates the mind ; the effort perceived in
pronouncing, is communicated to the hearers,
.who feel in their own minds a fimilar effort, rou-
ling their attention, and difpofing them to adion.
I add another confideration : the agreeablenefs
of contraft in the rougher language, for which
the great variety of founds gives ample opportu-
nity, muft, even in an effeminate ear, prevail over
the more uniform founds of the fmoother langu-
age *. This appears all that can be fafely deter-
mined upon the prefent point. With refpedl to
the other circumftances that conftitute the beau-
ty of words, the ftandard above mentioned is in -
fallible when apply'd to foreign languages as well
as to our own : for every man, whatever be his
mother-tongue, is equally capable to judge of the
length or Ihortnefs of words, of the alternate open-
ing and clofing of the mouth in fpeaking, and of
the relation that the found bears to the fenfe : in

* That the Italian tongue is too fmooth. Teems probable,
from confidering, that in verfification, vowels are frequent-
ly fuppreffed, in order to produce a rougher and bolder



thefe particulars, the judgment is fufceptible of
no prejudice from cuftom, at lead of no invinci-
ble prejudice.

That the Englilh tongue, originally harfh, is at
prefent much foftened by dropping in the pro»
eunciation many redundant confonants, is un-
doubtedly true : that it is not capable of being
further mellowed without fufFering in its force and
energy, will fcarce be th^ought by any one who
poflefles an ear ; and yet fuch in Britain is the
propenfity for difpatch, that, overlooking the ma-
jelly of words compofed of many fyllables aptly
connedled, the prevailing tafte is to feorten words,
even at the expence of making them difagreeable
to the ear, and harfh in the pronunciation. But I
have no occafion to infill upon this article, being
prevented by an excellent writer, who polTefled,
if any man ever did, the true genius of the Eng-
lifh tongue *. I cannot however forbear urging
one obfervation, borrowed from that author : fe-
veral tenfes of our verbs are formed by adding the
final fyllable ed, which, being a weak found, has
remarkably the worfe effect by pofleffing the mofl
confpicuous place in the word : upon which ac-
count, the vowel in common fpeech is generally
fupprefled, and the confonant added to the forego-
ing fyllable ; whence the following rugged founds,

* See Swift's propofal fpr corre£tIng the Englilh tongue,
En a letter to the Earl of Oxford.

B 3 4rudg'd,


drudg'd^ diJliirVd, rebuked, fledged. It is ftill lefs
excufable to follow this pradlice in writing ; for
the hurry of fpeaking may excufe what would be
altogether improper in compoiition : the fyllable
edf it is true, founds poorly at the end of a word ;
but rather that defeft, than multiply the number
of harlh words, which, after all, bear an over-
proportion in our tongue. The author above
mentioned, by fliowing a good example, did all in
his power to reftore that fyllable ; and he well de=
ferves to be imitated. Some exceptions however
J would make, A word that fignifies labour or any
thing harlh or rugged, ought not to be fmooth \
therefore forced, with an apoftrophe, is better
than forced, without it. Another exception is
where the penult fyllable ends with a vowel ; in
that cafe the final fyllable ed may be apoftrophized
without making the word harfh : examples, be-
tray'd, carrfd, dejlroy'dy employed.

The article next in order, is the mufic of words
as united in a period. And as the arrangement
of words in fucceflion fo as to afford the greateft
pleafure to the ear, depends on principles remote
from common view, it will be neceffary to pre-
mife fpme general obferyations upon the appear-
ance that objeds make, when placed in an in-
creafmg or decreaimg feries. Where the ob-
jedls vary by fmall differences, fo as to have a
mutual refemblance, we in afcending conceive



the fecond objed of no greater fize than the firft,
the third of no greater fize than the fecond, and
fo of the reft; which diminifheth in appearance
the fize of every objedt except the firft : but
when, beginning at the greateft obje<5l, we pro-
ceed gradually to the leaft, refemblance makes us
imagine the fecond as great as the firft, and the
third as great as the fecond ; which in appearance
magnifies every objedt except the firft. On the
other hand, in a feries varying by large differen-
ces, where contraft prevails, the eftedls are dired:-
lyoppofite: a great objedl fucceeding a fmall one
of the fame kind, appears greater than ufaal; and
a little objed fucceeding one that is great, appears
lefs than ufual *. Hence a remarkable pleafure
in viewing a feries afcending by large differences ;
diredly oppofite to what we feel when the differ-
ences are fmall. The leaft objed of a feries af-
cending by large differences has the fame effed
upon the mind, as if it fbood fingle without making
a part of the feries : but the fecond objedl, by
means of contraft, appears greater than when
view'd fingly and apart ; and the fame effed is
perceived in afcending progreffively, till we arrive
at the laft objed. The oppofite effedt is produced
in defcending; for in this diredion, every objed,
except the firft, appear^ lefs than when view'd fe-
parately and independent of the feries. We may

* See the reafon, chap. 8.

B 4 then


then aflume as a maxim, which will hold in the
compolition of language as well as of other fub-
jeds, That a llrong impulfe fucceeding a weak,
makes double impreffion on the mind -, and that
a weak impulfe fucceeding a ftrong, makes fcarce
any impreffion.

After ellablilhing this maxim, we can be at no
lofs about its application to the fubjecft in hand.
The following rule is laid down by Diomedes *.
** In verbis obfervandum eft, ne a majoribus ad
" minora defcendat oratio ; melius enim dicitur,
" Vir ejl optimus, quam, Vir optimus ejl.^"* This
rule is alfo applicable to entire members of a pe-
riod, which, according to our author's expreffion,
ought not, more than fingle words, to proceed
from the greater to the lefs, but from the lefs to
the greater f. In arranging the members of a
period, no writer equals Cicero : the beauty of
the following examples out of many,' will not fuf-
fer me to ilur them over by a reference.

Quicum quaeflor fueram,
Quicum me fors confuetudoque majorum,
Quicum me deorum hominumque judicium conjun-

Again :

JIabet honprem quern petlmus,

Habet fpem quam praepofitam nobis habemus,

* De flruflura perfedlae orationis, 1. 2.

f See Demetrius Phalereus of Elocution, fed. 18.



Habet exHlimationem, multo fudore, labore, vigiliif'
que, coUedatn,

Again ;

Eripite nos ex miferiis,
Eripite nos ex faucibus eonim,

Quorum crudelitas nollro fanguine non poteft expleri.

De orator ey I, i. § 52.

This order of words or members gradually in-
creafing in length, may, as far as concerns the
pleafure of found, be denominated a climax in

The laft article is the mufic of periods as united
in a difcourfe ; which Ihall be difpatched in a very
few words. By no other human means is it pof-
iible to prefent to the mind, fuch a number of
objedis, and in fo fwift a fucceffion, as by fpeaking
or writing: and for that reafon, variety ought
more to be ftudied in thefe, than in any other fort
of compolition. Hence a rule for arranging the;
members of different periods with relation to each
other, That to avoid a tedious uniformity of found
and cadence, the arrangement, the cadence, and
the length of the members, ought to be diverfi-
lied as much as poffible : and if the members of
different periods be fufhciently diverfified, the pe-
riods themfelves will be equally fo.




Beauty of Language with refpedl to Signification,

IT is well faid by a noted writer *, " That by
" means of fpeech we can divert our forrows,
" mingle our mirth, impart our fecrets, commu-
" nicate our counfels, and make mutual compacts
" and agreements to fupply and affilt each other."
Conlidering fpeech as contributing to fo many
good purpofes, words that convey clear and di-
ftind ideas, mull be one of its capital beauties.
This caufe of beauty, is too exteniive to be hand-
led as a branch of any other fubjed : for to afcer-
tain with accuracy even the proper meaning of
words, not to talk of their figurative power, would
require a large volume ; an ufeful work indeed, but
not to be attempted without a large flock of time,
ftudy, and refledlion. This branch therefore of
the fubjedl I humbly decline. Nor do I propofe
to exhaull all the other beauties of language that
relate to fignification : the reader, in a work like
the prefent, cannot fairly exped more than a flight
fketch of thofe that make the greatefl figure.
This talk is the more to my talle, as being con-
nedled with certain natural principles j and the

* Scot's Chriftian life.



rules I fhall have occafion to lay down, will, if 1
judge rightljj be agreeable illuftrations of thefe
principles^. JEverj fubjed muft be of importance
that tends to unfold the human heart ; for what
other fcience is of greater ufe to human beings ?
The prefent fubjedt is too extenfive to be dif-
culTed without dividing it into parts; and what
follows fuggefts a divilion into two parts. In e-
very period, two things are to be regarded : firll,
the words of which it is compofed ; next, the
arrangement of thefe words ; the former refem-
bling the ftones that compofe a building, and the
latter refembling the order in which they are pla-
ced. Hence the beauties of language with refpedt
to lignification, may not improperly be diftin-
guilhed into two kinds : firll, the beauties that
arife from a right choice of wofds or materials for
conftru6ling the period; and next, the beauties
that arife from a due arrangement of thefe words
or materials. I begin with rules that diredl us to
a right choice of words, and then proceed to rules
that concern their arrangement.

And with refpedt to the former, communication
of thought being the chief end of language, it is a
^ule, That perfpicuity ought not to be facrificed to
any other beauty whatever : if it fliould be doubt-
ed whether perfpicuity be a pofitive beauty, it
cannot be doubted that the want of it is the
greateft defeat. Nothing therefore in language
Ou^ht more to bf ftudied, than to prevent all ob-



fcurity in the expreffion ; for to have no meaning,
is but one degree worfe, than to have a meaning
that is not underftood. Want of perfpicuity from
a wrong arrangements belongs to the next branch.
I fhall here give a f6iv examples where the obfcu-
rity arifes from a wrong choice of words ; and as
this defed: is too common in the ordinary herd of
writers to make examples from them neceffary, I
confine myfelf to the moll celebrated authors,

Livy, fpeaking of a rout after a battle,

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