Page images
PDF
EPUB

requires the interpreter to search as if for a grain of wheat in a bushel of chaff, and which if found would scarcely be worth the search. Discourse which is especially offensive in this respect is called bombast, the remedy for which lies beyond cautions in the use of language ; for an inflated style can be remedied only by removing the inflation of the writer.

Euphony. —- Euphony — literally sound and well is that quality of a word which makes it pleasant to the ear. Strictly speaking, euphonious sounds are free sounds, — sounds made when nothing obstructs the emerging column of breath. Hence, euphony is more closely allied to elegance than to clearness or energy. All words difficult to speak are rough, harsh, and unpleasant to the ear. This property belongs strictly to oral words; yet by association, the written word suggests the sensation of its sound, and thus becomes a diverting and unpleasant element. Euphony depends on (1) the choice of the word and (2) on the way it is spoken.

1. The pleasant sounds include the vowels and the liquid consonants l, m, n, r; and the unpleasant sounds are especially the gutterals g and x and the sibilants s and z.

This classification depends on the degree of freedom in the emergence of the sound, which strictly followed would not put letters in classes, but would mark each letter as differing from every other in respect to the beauty of its sound. Suppose that in the emergence of the column of breath every obstruction be removed as fully as possible, there will be produced the most beautiful sound in language — long Italian a; the first sound in every language. By slightly closing the mouth horizontally the modified a's and e's and i's are produced, which are less beautiful because there is a sense of obstruction in the sound. By closing the mouth partially laterally the sound of o and kindred sounds are produced. The consonants are produced by completely shutting off the column of breath, and are ugly because their sound is obstructed. In the liquid consonants there is still an easy flow of the breath; hence, liquid sounds. The different sounds in the alphabet are produced by different kinds and degrees of obstruction, and there is a constant increasing of bondage of sound from the long Italian a to the gutterals and sibilants. The chief fault in English is its hissing s and . sound, represented by five letters, -c before e and i ; s, , x(=ks), and t before ion; as, cessation, science, Xerxes, exactly.

When all the individual sounds are pleasant only the right proportion of vowels and consonants will secure euphony. An excess of liquids or vowels is not euphonious ; as, “ Tho' oft the ear the open vowels tire.” Harshness is produced by the union of too many consonants; as, form’dst, splutters, stretched, church, smoothedst, inextricableness, excogitation, twitches, sarcastical.

Long words accented on the first syllable, as perfectness, peremptorily, disciplinary, expiatory, are difficult to utter and unpleasant to hear. Euphony is violated in words in which a syllable is immediately repeated; as, holily, lowlily, wilily. Vowels coming together in the middle of a word or between two words, as hiatus, idea, idea of, you unto, produce an unpleasant effect. The same consonant ending one word and beginning the next, as, his son, keep people looking, is not euphonious. The repetition of the same word causes an unpleasant sensation; as, Whatever is, is right, How it was was not explained, He perceives that that sentence is not euphonious. It is obvious here, as in all the preceding, that the utterance is made with difficulty; hence, the lack of beauty.

Words impress the idea by means of the sound which they signify. Such words are called Onomatopoetic; as, buzz, crackle, hiss, crash, rub-a-dub-dub. Hawthorne describes the rain thus:

“ All day long, and for a week together, the rain was drip-dripdripping and splash-splash-splashing from the eaves into the tubs beneath the spouts.”

Milton, in describing the opening of hell's gate, uses this kind of energy with good effect:

“On a sudden open fly
With impetuous coil, and jarring sound,
The infernal doors ; and on their hinges grate

Harsh thunder.” Words not imitative, but whose sound is suggestive of the feeling to be expressed are impressive, as may be observed in the closing lines of each stanza of Poe's “ Raven,” which repeatedly employ the long sound of o as a fitting sound for the refrain of sadness: — “Then this ebon bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, By the grave and stern decorụm of the countenance it wore,

• Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, “art sure

no craven; Ghastly, grim, and ancient Raven, wandering from the nightly

shore, Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian

shore?' Quoth the Raven, • Nevermore.'”

The same art of impression is employed effectively in the following stanza from Tennyson's “ Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington”:

“ Lead out the pageant; sad and slow,

As fits an universal woe,
Let the long, long procession go,
And let the sorrowing crowd about it grow,
And let the mournful martial music blow; .
The last great Englishman is low.”

Words which prolong emphasis, as “nevermore,” favor energy. Words whose magnitude of sound are suggestive of the magnitude of the idea lend force to expression. When an important truth is pushed to the end of the sentence to give it prominence, a full, round cadence is essential to its emphasis.

Words that require energy of utterance contribute to energy of impression, as may be observed by contrasting the following: bent, bended; burnt, burned; spelt, spelled.

2. Not only the selection of a word, but the manner of uttering it is subject to the law of euphony. The word most euphonious in itself may be pronounced disagreeably, and the harsh ones may be softened by a pleasant voice. A pure, pleasant tone is indispensable to him who would communicate thought orally. The most musical composition is often marred or obscured by a shrill or husky voice. Some speakers have the offensive habit of giving prominence to rough sounds, especially the hissing sound of s or %, while euphony requires that these be slurred and prominence given to the full, round, musical tones.

It must not be supposed that a euphonious word which will exactly fit the idea to be expressed can always be found. The sound must not interfere with the sense. Of two words otherwise equal, the pleasant sounding one should be chosen; and here the obligation to euphony ends, except what aid pronunciation can bring

These oral qualities, except to a certain extent in euphony, are under the control, not of the writer, but of the reader or speaker. At this point the art of oral expression arises out of the science of discourse. Elocution which has for its purpose the effective oral delivery of thought is only a pushing out into a more complete form and fixing in habit of speech the principles of oral expression which here begin to rise to the surface.

Not only are individual discourses, but languages are marked by their difference in euphony. The most euphonious languages are Greek and Latin, and the modern languages derived from the Latin, Italian, Portugese, Spanish, and French. Teutonic languages are harsh. In respect to euphony, the English language is intermediate, having a mixture of both Teutonic and Latin elements. Byron's exaggeration of

« PreviousContinue »