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the rough quality of the English well illustrates and emphasizes the truth of its harshness :
“Our harsh, northern, whistling, grunting gutteral, Which we 're obliged to hiss, and spit, and splutter all.”
Here Byron makes good use of the sound to impress the sense. His statement is perfectly transparent and admirably forcible.
Harmony. — The eye and the ear follow words in their succession. The succession of form to the eye produces no effect different in kind from that produced in observing single words. The accumulated effect by the addition of words is an appreciable quantity, and can only be reduced as stated above. But the succession of sounds to the ear produces an effect different in kind from the effect of the individual sounds — an effect depending wholly on the character of the succession. The sounds themselves may be smooth and pleasant, yet the total effect be jarring and unpleasant; and when unpleasant, the sound becomes an obstruction to the thought instead of its perfect vehicle. That quality of the sentence by which the energies of the mind are not wasted because of the character of the succession of sounds is called Harmony
Harmony is the adjustment of the sounds of words to each other in their successions so that they will fall smoothly and pleasantly on the ear. Or, harmony is that structure of the sentence which permits its utterance with the natural rise and fall of the breath, i.e., when it permits free utterance. Harmony as a means of clearness need not reach the degree of positive pleasure as in music and poetry, but only the degree which secures the absence of its opposite — negative harmony. Harmonious sounds stimulate the faculties to appropriate the truth, while inharmonious sounds repel from such appropriation. Unless one write poetry or pronounce an oration, he seldom thinks of constructing his discourse with reference to the sound. But harmony is not a matter of elegance or energy only. The experience of every one has convinced him that the smooth onflowing of the sentence which sets well to the ear is an essential condition to ease of interpretation. This results chiefly from the clearness given to the medium; but the stimulation of the pleasant sound to the faculties, when not so great as to enlist the attention, enables them to do their work with greater ease and more thoroughly. This energizing power of language over the mind belongs to force of expression - rather than to clearness.
Unpleasant combination of words cannot always be avoided without obscuring the sense. While sound must not be ignored, it must never be allowed to modify or obscure the meaning. The more rigid requirements of exact truth and genuine sentiment must check any temptation to use words merely to round out a musical period.
No definite rules on the subject of harmony can be prescribed. The reliance must be in the ear made susceptible by training to harmonious discourse. Some general suggestions, however, may be helpful.
As in words ease of pronunciation is the test of euphony, so in sentences, ease and agreeableness to the organs of speech is the test of harmony. It is, therefore, essential to harmony that the parts of the sentence be so arranged that the connection between them will fall at the proper intervals to make the breathing easy and natural. The following sentence from Tillotson, quoted by Blair, illustrates the lack of harmony arising from the number and distributions of the rests:
“ This discourse concerning the easiness of God's commands, does, all along, suppose and acknowledge the difficulties of the first upon a religious course; except only in those persons who have had the happiness to be trained up to religion by the easy and insensible degrees of a pious and virtuous education.”
Concerning this sentence, Blair says: “Here there is no harmony; nay, there is some degree of harshness and unpleasantness; owing principally to this, that there is, properly, no more than one pause or rest in the sentence, falling betwixt the two members into which it is divided, each of, which is so long as to occasion a considerable stretch of the breath in pronouncing it.”
The following paragraph from the same author contains a sentence which, with the comments upon it, makes clear the distinction between the harmonious and the inharmonious sentence: –
“ But, God be thanked, his pride is greater than his ignorance, and what he wants in knowledge, he supplies by sufficiency. When he has looked about him, as far as he can, he concludes there is no more to be seen; when he is at the end of his line, he is at the bottom of the ocean; when he has shot his best, he is sure none ever did, or ever can, shoot better, or beyond it. His own measure he holds to be the certain' measure of truth; and his own knowledge of what is possible in nature."
“Here everything is at once, easy to the breath, and grateful to the ear; and, it is this sort of flowing measure, this regular and proportional division of the members of his sentence which renders Sir William Temple's style always agreeable. I must observe at the same time, that a sentence with too many rests, and these placed at intervals too apparently measured and regular, is apt to savour of affectation."
The parts separated by pauses should have harmonious proportion; not only rests at easy intervals, but variety in quality and length of parts; yet, with all, unity of flow in the sound, — the fuller swell of sound alternating with subsidence, each merging gradually into the other in an undulation of pleasant proportion. The longest and most sonorous member should be put last, and the others arranged according to the principle of climax. This sentence from Irving illustrates well the proper division into members, and how the sound may increase to a full and harmonious close:
“ But the sorrows of the poor, who have no outer appliances to soothe, — the sorrows of the aged, with whom life at best is but a wintry day, and who can look for no after-growth of joy, — the sorrows of a widow, aged, solitary, destitute, mourning over an only son, the last solace of her years; these are indeed sorrows that make us feel the impotency of consolation."
The weakening of the sound at the close by gradually shortening the members and closing with a short word is both in harmonious in sound and feeble in thought. This may be illustrated by reversing the order in the foregoing sentence.
Harmony in discourse requires not only variety and unity of movement in the single sentences, but also variety and unity in their succession. If the conditions of harmony are all met in a sentence, a repetition of the same arrangement in each succeeding sentence becomes monotonous and offensive. Sentences constructed on a similar plan should never follow one another. Short sentences and long ones should be intermixed. It may be necessary to violate harmony in the single sentence to secure harmony when connected with others. Monotony is incompatible with harmony. Variety, with the suggestion of unity by the easy, uninterrupted movement of voice, is the secret, the soul of harmony. The strained, monotonous humdrum of a speaker or reader, even when the sentences in themselves and in their arrangement favor harmony, often prevents the effective delivery of thought. Modulation in the discourse as a whole, like modulation in the sentence, is an essential condition to effective delivery.
Rhythm. — We now arrive at what is strictly known as poetic form — measured, musical utterance. There may be poetry in spirit and thought — in essence without metrical form, yet the most intense poetic spirit naturally clothes itself in musical utterance. The rhythmical sound itself may, as in music, symbolize the emotion, without the necessity of articulate speech; but aside from this the sound itself is so pleasing as to become an end in itself. Thus at this point the sense qualities of language arise out of the servitude to thought — realize their freedom from thought, and