James Rush.

The philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita online

. (page 20 of 59)
Online LibraryJames RushThe philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita → online text (page 20 of 59)
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restricted to the use of the alternately strong and weak percusive
acent. For the sake of the general principle in some important
maters, we do well, perhaps, in the present make-shift state of
the human mind, to rely implicitly, for a time, on the authority
of our teachers ; but many find cause to regret the necesit}^ of this
confidence in particular instances. From the finely governed and
varied quantities of Mrs. Siddons, I first learned, by beautiful and
impresive demonstration, that the English language poseses sim-
ilar, if not equal resources, with the Greek and the Latin, in this
department of the luxury of speech : and I found myself indebted
to the Stage, for the opening of a source of poetical and oratorical
pleasure, which the more virtuous pretences, and the hack-instruc-
tion of a Colege, either knew not or disregarded. AVhrle listening
to the intonations of this surpasing Actress, I first felt a want of
that elementary knowledge which would have enabled me to trace
the ways of all her excelence. I could not however,* avoid learn-
ing from her instinctive example, what the apointed elders over
my education should have tat me ; that one of the most important
means of expresive intonation, both in poetry and prose, consists
in the extended time of sylabic utterance.*

I do not here mean to sayj the quantity of English sylables has
not been recognized by prosodians ; or its beauty not been per-
ceved by a good ear, wherever it has been well used by design, or
acidentaly, in English versification, and in the well adjusted sylabic
arangement of prose. I mean to convey a regret that its poM'ers
have been undervalued; that its elegant and dignified r}'thmic
combination with acent and pause, have been overlooked in the

* I had the good fortune to hear this acomplishod Actres, both in Edin-
burgh and London, while pursuing my medical studies, from eighteen hun-
dred and nine, till eighteen hundred and eleven. On the first publication of
this Work, in eighteen hundred and twenty-seven, it came into my mindj
perhaps scarcely warranted, even by my admiration both here, and subse-
quently expresedj to send her a Copy : not however without suficient warn-
ing, from some floating anticipation, that the book itself would be regarded
by that peculiar Actor-ism of Actors, as an unwelcome, if not a presumptuous
ofering on the Theatric Altar of Anti-docility and Self-sufiicient 'Genius.'
I think it was then, and now after seven and twenty years, when I add this
note, I more than think it is still so regarded.


modern afectation of the unfluent plalness of a coloquial style;
and that it ha.s been exoludal from its place in elementary rhetor-
ical instruction ; thereby depriving the ear of one of its highest
prerogatives of perception, in poetry and speech.

We may ver>' properly askj whether a clasical scholar is gravely
in earnest, or only vain of a colege-liveiy, in declaring his enjoy-
ment of Greek and Latin temporal rythums, while ignorant of
similar resources of neglected quantity in his own language. The
Greeks and the Latins have left us their gramar, their writen words,
sylables, and elements ; but our uncertainty of the true voice of
these elements both individually and combined, has given rise,
among modern scholars, to a difference in the pronunciation of
them. Asuming the English manerj the subject of Greek and
Latin prosody may be resolved into its simple principles, and
briefly described. Long sylables, or their temporal efects, are
made in two ways : First, by the absolute duration of sylables,
constituted like those we called indefinite : Second, by the short
time of those we called imutable and mutable, folowed by a pause ;
the time of pronunciation aded to the time of the pause, being
equal to that of a long sylable. Short sylables are made by the
short-timed pronunciation of indefinite sylables ; or by imutable
ones ; and there is nothing in this acount of Ancient quantity, not
true of the English language.

And further, not only are these general principles of sylabic
construction the same in Greek, Latin, and English, but the very
sylables themselves are comon to these three languages ; nay, it
may be said, to all languages. For we must bear in mindj there
Is in all languages, severaly about the same number, both of vowels
and consonants ; that most of these elements themselves are comon
to all ; and that universaly, no sylable ever includes more than
one tonic, or vowel. The average number of audible consonants
in every sylable being about three to one vowel, the law of permu-
tation in this case would not furnish sylables enough to alow a
diferent set, respectively to all the languages of past and present
time : and it apears on comparison, not suficient to make a dis-
coverable diference even between two. If the Reader will try
ever}' line of Homer, and Horace, he will find scarcely a sylable
that does not form the whole, or part of some word in his own


tongue ; both as regards the elemental sounds, and the most exact
coincidence of quantity. But it is on sylables alone, the rules of
quantity are founded in every language. When therefore we deny
that the English tongue admits of the temporal measure, we must
come to the absurd conclusion, that identical sounds have in Greek
type the most finished fitnes for sylabic quantity, and in English
have none at all.*

These remarks refer principaly to the time of sylables separately
considered. There may be some diferences in the several words
of these languages, that render it easier to construct a rythmus of
quantity in one than in another : we however, here speak of the
admision of the system of quantity into English, and not of the
cc^mparative ease of its execution when adopted. There may be
some facilities in the Greek for certain kinds of measure, arising
out of the greater length of the generality of words in this lan-
guage. The Greek may possess an advantage over the English in
some of the purposes of vocal expresion and poetic quantity, by
having a greater number of indefinite sylables, and by making
less use of the abrupt elements, in positions that produce an
imutable time. Greek sylables have, in general, fewer letters than
English ; and they more frequently end with a tonic element.

* That this may not be regarded as an exagerated conclusion, I add, from
among a thousand authorities that might be quoted for the same purpose, the
folowing substantial support to it. In the chapter on versification, in an
English translation of Baron Bielfeld's 'Elements of Universal Erudition^'
after many remarks on the subject of ancient quantity and modern accent,
which in nowise qualify the folowing extraordinary asertion, the author saysj
' Propei'ly speaking, there are not, therefore, in modern languages, any sensible
distinctions of long and short sylables, but many that are to be lightly pased
over, and others on which a strong acent, or inflection of the voice, is to be
placed.' This was writen towards the close of the last centurj-, by the ' Pre-
ceptor to a European Prince, and the Chancelor of all the Universities in the
Prussian dominions.' Even before his time, some prosodians were not without
the sense of hearing; and tho the existence of long and short sylables in
modern languages has, since the epoch of his deep deafnes, been goneraly
admited, yet it is still held to be imposible to make agreeable measure out of
their relations.

In candor, it should be stated:! the Baron was a comi)ilcr ; but such writers
generaly represent curent opinions, and they always know more of indexes,
popular books, and other men's notions, than is cither known or coveted by
those who ' observe, and read, and tliink, l\)r themselves.'


Tlic employment of quantity in English prose composition,
sometimes acidentaly produces the regular measure of Greek and
Latin lines. If these ocasional passages of temporal rj'thmus are
well accomodated to the 'genius' of the English language, it does
not apear, why the studied contrivance of a poet might not use
those existing quantities, in the continued course of verse. The
folowing sentence luus not the acentual form of any of our estab-
lishal meters, and is therefore,' in its rythmus, purely English
prose: Rome, in her downfall, blazoned the fame of barbarian
conquests. This sentence, independently of its impresive tonic
sounds, with stres and time upon them, derives its character, from
the relative position of its long and short quantities ; which is
exactly that of a Latin and of a Greek hexameter line, here shown
by comparison.

Dactyl Spondee Dactyl Dactyl Dactyl Spondee.

Ev dzTTS I f7£ !^wfT I rrjfjc a | p-qpori | -upoq o | ifrroq.

Si nihil | ex tant | a supe | ris placet | Qrbe re | linqui.

Rome in h§r | downfall | bliizOn'd the | fame 6f bar | barian | conquests.

When this last sentence is read with its proper pauses, and with
deliberate pronunciation, it coresponds in measure with the long
and short times of the superscribed Latin and the Greek. Let us
not however think it strange, for anticipation takes oiF the edge
of surprisej if a clasic scholar should deny the identity of its tem-
poral impresion, with that of the colated lines. We are so little
acustomed to regard English sylables in reference to their quantity,
that it is diiicult at first, to make it even a subject of perception.
For he who, acording to vulgar persuasion belevesj there is an
openes of tlie senses to first physical impresions, greater than that
of the mind to new subjects of thot, plainly indicates that he has
overlooked the ways and ])0wers of both the senses and the mind ;
the senses having cqualy their ignorance, obstinacy, and prejudice;
equaly perceving what is familiar, and for a long time j)erceving
no more. And perhaps when the powers of observation, and
experimental reflection shall be directed to the mind, exclusively as
a physical phenomcnonj the now contradistinguished functions of


the senses and the mind will apear to be one and the same, in most
of their ways and means. A cultivated and searching eye and ear
are as rarely found, as a well discijjlined and self-dependent mindj
the latter being produced by the former ; and a wise master, in
human policy and morals, would not have more dificulty, where
interest is not inimical, in efecting his designs of melioration, than
an original observer in physical science Avould experience from the
massj I was about to say of the Philosophic worldj upon solicit-
ing an imediate asent to the realitj' of a manifest development
of nature, or of some useful invention of art. It is a pasive and
an easy thing to look and to listen ; but, with a purpose of inteli-
gent inquiry, it is a labor of wisdom to see and to hear.

In speaking of the indefinite sylables of the English language,
it was saidj their time might be varied without deforming pro-
nunciation ; and we must recolect, that the abrupt elements, M'hich
generaly terminate imutable sylables, have necesarily after the
oclusion, a pause which alows them, with the adition of the time
of that pause, to hold the place, and fulfil the function of a long
one. AVith these materials for the construction of a temporal
rythmus in English versification, nothing but deafnes or prejudice
prevents our perceving that its institution has been strongly
prompted by nature, and is already half established in our poetry.
We alow a reader full liberty over the quantity of sylables, for
the sake of expresion in speech ; and song employs tlie widest
ranges of time on tonic sounds ; why should we refuse to the
measure of verse, a less striking departure from the rules of comon

Mr. Sheridan, who does not overlook the existence of quantity
in the English language, and its use in the expresion of speech,
but Avho nevertheles, maintains that the ' genius ' of our tongue is
exclusively disposed to the acentual measure^ seems to ground his
opinion on the special rules of Greek and Latin prosody, not being
aplicable to the cases of varying time in English pronunciation.
He might as fairly have concluded, that the good English style
of his own lectures could not be as perspicuous as a Latin con-
struction, because its arangement is diferent from the apropriate
inversions of the later tongue.

On this subject we have briefly to inquirej Has the English


language long and short sylables ; and can these varying quanti-
ties be arange

Online LibraryJames RushThe philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita → online text (page 20 of 59)