Immagini della pagina

little in the forefront of modern English literature. They are the offspring of a period when the chime of the word was more aimed at than it now is. And we may in some ancient literatures find this so-called onomatopoeia in greater vigour than in English.

Most abounding in examples of this kind is the Hebrew language, where we have a glorious literature that was formed under the conditions now spoken of; that is to say, while the language was still sensitive to the grouping of consonants in the chime of its words. An illustration or two may serve.

It is no mere illusion which causes even a slightly imbued Hebrew scholar to feel that in the kindly, soothing, ‘nocturne' sound of laïlah, the Hebrew word for night, there is a suggestion of that thought which some have supposed to be etymologically expressed by the Greek cuppóvn, the thought which is thus rendered in familiar lines from the Hebrew fountain :

And from the due returns of night

Divine instruction springs. 644. The Hebrew word for 'righteousness,' zědākah, has a melody which chimes admirably with the idea. Whatever beauty of thought is embodied in the Themis and Dikē and Astræa of the Greek personifications, may all be heard in the sound of the Hebrew zědākah. Nor is this mere fancy. That the word spoke not to the mind alone through the ear as a mere channel, but that the sound of the word had a musical eloquence for the mental ear of the Hebrew, we have such evidence as the case admits of. We find it set against the cry of the oppressed zẽghākah, where the dental has been exchanged for the most rigid of gutturals, represented here by gh. In fact, there is a stage in language when the musical appropriateness of the word is the chief


This is the stage of the Hebrew antstheses and parallelisms. In the passage alluded to, not only is there the contrast already described, but also that of mishpat, judgment,' with mishpach, oppression, and here also the gentle sound of the dental is changed to the grating sound of a guttural, though milder than in the other instance.

He looked for judgment (mishpat), but behold oppression (mishpach); for righteousness (zědākah), but behold a cry (zėghākah). —Isaiah v. 7.

645. This class of cases has been sometimes inconsiderately treated as if they approached in some sort to the nature of the paronomasia or pun. But no two things could be more distinct. The pun rests on a duplicity of sense under unity of sound, and it is essentially of a laughter-provoking nature, because it is a wanton rebellion against the first motive of speech, whereby diversity of sense induces diversity of sound, that the sound may be an echo to the sense.

A few years ago, in the time of spring, two men were riding together across the fields, and observing how backward the season was. Neither of them had seen the may-blossom yet.

Presently one dashed ahead towards something white in a distant hedge, but soon turned round again, exclaiming to his companion : No, it is not the may, it is only the common sloe,' whereupon the ready answer came: · Then the may is uncommon slow!' That is a pun, where the unity of sound between widely different words is suddenly and surprisingly fitted into the sense of the conversation.

Different, but akin, is the Double-meaning, where the two senses of an identical word are played upon. Mr. Wadge, in his speech of thanks on the occasion of a presentation banquet in his honour, at the Albion, June 1, 1866, was dilating on the interest he had taken from earliest youth in the study of mineral deposits; how he found matter even in his school-books to feed this enthusiasm; how he devoured Lucretius De Rerum Natura, but especially the passage about the discovery of metals. This being delivered with some intenseness, was pleasantly relieved by the ensuing remark, that only in one thing did the speaker differ from the poet. Lucretius deplored that whereas in the good old time, brass was highly valued and gold disregarded, now that was changed, -gold had dethroned brass, and the harder metal was of no account by the side of the softer.

I have nothing to say against gold, which certainly now, as when the poet wrote, is in summum honorem ; but I must say something for brass. (Laughter.) Whatever may have been the case when Lucretius wrote, it cannot now be truly said nunc jacet aes; for in my experience brass is, Rext to gold, the greatest power that influences the world. (Great cheers and laughter.)

Such are the double-meaning and the pun. But these things are very wide of the feature now under consideration. These are laughable from their eccentricity. They are funny because they traverse the first law of language in a playful manner. As an expression of wit they are perfectly legitimate only so long as the rhetoric of the language turns on word-sound. Hence we may observe that the mind of the scholar,' that is to say, the mind which is imbued with the elder conditions of language, is ever prone to punning. In English these forms of wit are now but half-recognised, because the language has passed beyond that stage of which they were a wanton inversion.

646. In contradistinction to all this, the Hebrew antitheses arise out of the legitimate exercise of the rhetorical properties of the language; and their very consonance with the present condition of the language is an element of their solemnity.

In every successive stage of language there is a music proper to that stage; and if we seek the focus of that music,

we must watch the action of the language in its exalted moods. When we see that the poetry and the oratory of a language avails itself largely of the contrast of word-sounds, we cannot doubt that the national ear is most alive to that particular form of speech-music which gives prominence to individual words. This is the case of the Hebrew parallelisms; and it is the key also to alliteration in poetry, where the echo of word to word is the sonorous organ of the poet. But a period comes in the course of the higher development of language, when the sonorousness of words gives place to the sentiment of modulation, whereby a musical unity is given to the sentence like the unity of thought. It is to this that the foremost languages of the world, and the English language for one, have now attained. If we look at Saxon Literature, we see two widely different eras of language living on side by side, the elder form in the poetry, and the later one in the prose. The alliterative poetry belongs to an age in which the word-sound was the prominent feature; the prose is already far gone into that stage in which the sound of the word has fallen back and become secondary to the rhythm of the sentence. The development of rhythm had already become so full and ample by the time of the Conquest, that the restraint of metre was needful, and it was readily accepted at the hands of our French instructors. Rhyme also was adopted, not absolutely for the first time, as rare examples occur before ; but the general use of rhyme came in with metre under French influence.

647. Rhyme is an attendant upon metre; its office is to mark the 'verse' or turn of the metre, where it begins again. Rhyme is an insignificant thing in itself, as compared with alliteration : for whereas this is, as

we have before shown, an accentual reverberation, and rests upon the most vital part of words; rhyme is but a syllabic resonance, and rests most frequently upon syllables which are of secondary consideration. It is, however, otherwise important. Not only is it one among many evidences of a fondness in man for a sonorous accompaniment to his language, but inasmuch as the turn of the verse is necessarily at a rhythmical division, rhyme is wedded to rhythm, and is rescued from being a mere external appendage productive only of a sensual effect. The general acceptance of Rhyme testifies to modern progress of Rhythm.

Rhyme has developed its luxuriance in its native regions, that is to say in the Romanesque dialects. The rhyming faculty was not born with our speech, and it is still but imperfectly naturalised among us. The English language is found to be poor in rhymes when it is put to the proof, as in the essay of translating Dante in his own terza rima.

Chaucer pointed to the difficulties of rhyming in English, and said he could not keep pace with the French rhymes :

Hit is a grete penaunce,
Syth ryme in Englissh hath such skarsete,
To folowe worde by worde the curiostie
Of Graunson, floure of them that make in Fraunce.

The Compleynt of Mars and Venus.

The German language has taken more kindly to this Romanesque ornament than English has. This is largely due to their conservation of Flexion. Rhyme is naturally easy in an inflected language. We may almost say that Flexion invites to Rhyme: and in our earliest examples of Rhyme, namely the mediæval Latin hymns, the music of rhyme sometimes fails to please just because the rhyming seems too cheap.

648. Metre and rhythm must move together, in order to produce poetic harmony. The harmonious working of

« IndietroContinua »