Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

parts among country gentlemen. This is in fact the missing link between the ei or eye sound and the French diphthong oi or oie-in imitation of which the peculiarity originated. The French words loi and joie are sounded as l’wa and j'wa. When the French pronunciation had degenerated so far in such words as join, joint, that the o was taken no account of, and they were uttered as jine, jinte, a reaction set in, and

was had to the native English fashion of pronouncing the diphthong oi. Hence our present join, joint, &c., do' not always rhyme where they ought to rhyme, and once did rhyme.

That beautiful verse in the icóth Psalm (New Version) is hardly producible in refined congregations, by reason of this change in its closing rhyme :

recourse

• O may I worthy prove to see
Thy saints in full prosperity !
That I the joyful choir may join,
And count thy people's triumph mine!'

The fashion has not yet quite passed away of pronouncing Rome as the word room is pronounced. This is an ancient pronunciation, as is well known from puns in Shakspeare. No doubt it is the phantom of an old French pronunciation of the name, bearing the same relation to the French Rome (pron. Rom) that boon does to the French bon. But what is odd about it, is, that in. Shakspeare's day the modern pronunciation (like roam) was already heard and recognised, and that the double pronunciation should have gone on till now, and it should have taken such a time to establish the mastery of the latter. The fact probably is, that the room pronunciation has been kept alive in the aristocratic region, while the rest of the world has been saying the name as it is generally said now. Room is said to have been the habitual pronunciation of the late Lord Lansdowne; not

to instance living persons. The Shakspearean evidence
is from the following passages. King John, iii. 1 :
Con.

O lawfull let it be
That I have roome with Rome to curse a while.'

[ocr errors]

So also in Julius Cæsar, i. 2.

But in i Henry VI, iii. 1:

· Wincb. Rome shall remedie this.
Warw. Roame thither then.'

There still exist among us a few personages who culminated under George IV, and who adhere to the now antiquated fashion of their palmy days. With them it used to be, and indeed still is, a point of distinction to pronounce gold as gould or gu-uld; yellow as yallow ; lilac as leyloc ; china as cheyney ; oblige as obleege, after the French obliger.

To this group of waning and venerable sounds, which were talismans of good breeding in their day, may be added the pronunciation of the plural verb are like the word air. The following quotation from Wordsworth, Thoughts near the Residence of Burns, exhibits it in rhyme with prayerbear-share :

• But why to him confine the prayer,
When kindred thoughts and yearnings bear
On the frail heart the purest share

With all that live?
The best of what we do and are,

Just God, forgive!'

Rarer are the instances in which the number of syllables has been affected by change of pronunciation. A celebrated example is the plural 'aches,' which is thus commented upon in Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli :

• ACHES.—Swift's own edition of “ The City Shower" has “old a-ches throb.” Aches is two syllables, but modern printers, who had lost the right pronunciation, have aches as one syllable, and then, to complete the metre, have foisted in "aches will throb.” Thus what the poet and the linguist wish to preserve is altered, and finally lost.

A good example occurs in Hudibras, iii. 2, 407, where persons are mentioned who

“ Can by their pangs and aches find

All turns and changes of the wind.” The rhythm here demands the dissyllable a-ches, as used by the older writers, Shakespeare particularly, who, in his Tempest, makes Prospero threaten Caliban

“If thou neglect'st, or dost unwillingly

What I command, I'll rack thee with old cramps ;
Fill all thy bones with aches; make thee roar

That beasts shall tremble at the din.” John Kemble was aware of the necessity of using this word in this instance as a dissyllable, but it was so unusual to his audiences that it excited ridicule; and during the O.P. row, a medal was struck, representing him as manager, enduring the din of cat-calls, trumpets, and rattles, and exclaiming “Oh! my head aitches !

[ocr errors]

But for such examples we might be apt to imagine that our pronunciation was as fixed as our orthography. These and a few more may lead us to observe that when spelling ceases to wait on pronunciation it begins to take a sort of lead and to draw pronunciation after it. An interesting illustration of this may be gathered from the history of the word tea.

We have all heard some village dame talk of her dish o'tay’; but the men of our generation are surprised when they first learn that this pronunciation of lea is classical English, and is enshrined in the verses of Alexander Pope. The following rhymes are from the Rape of the Lock.

• Soft yielding minds to Water glide away,
And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental Tea.' (Canto i.)

• Here thou, great Anna ! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes Tea.' (Canto iii.)

That this was the general pronunciation of good company down to the close of the last century there is no doubt. The following quotation will carry us to 1775, the

date of a poem entitled Bath and It's Environs, in three cantos, p. 25.

• Muse o'er some book, or trifle o'er the tea,
Or with soft musick charm dull care away.'

A.

This old pronunciation was borrowed with the word from the French, who still call the Chinese beverage tay, and write it thé. Our present pronunciation has resulted from an important movement in the phonetic signification of EA. There is now only one acknowledged value of EA; but formerly there were two. A change has gradually crept over certain words that had EA, sounding like ay. These have mostly (but not entirely) been assimilated to the more numerous instances in which EA sounds like EE or E. It is certain that when tea was introduced into England by the name of tay, it seemed natural to represent that sound by the letters T, E,

Although there are a great many words in English which hold the diphthong ea, as beat, dear, death, eat, fear, gear, head, learn, mean, neat, pear, read, seat, teat, wean,-yet the cases of ea ending an English word are very few. Ben Jonson, in his day, having produced four of them, viz. flea, plea, sea, yea, added, “and you have at one view all our words of this termination.' He forgot the word lea, or perhaps regarded it as a bad spelling for ley or lay. This makes five. A sixth, pea, has come into existence since.

It is a mere creature of grammar, a singular begotten of the young plural pease. In the sixteenth century pease was singular, and peason or peasen was plural, as we see in the following passages from Surrey :

All men might well dispraise
My wit and enterprise,
If I esteemed a pease
Above a pearl in price.'

• Tickle treasure, abhorred of reason,
Dangerous to deal with, vain, of none avail;
Costly in keeping, past not worth two peason ;

Slipper in sliding, as is an eeles tail.'
To these there has been added a sixth, viz. Tea.

At the time when this orthography of TEA was determined, it is certain that most instances of EA final sounded as Ay, and probable that all did. In a large number of words with EA internal, the pronunciation had long been different. even in these cases there is room to suspect that the AY sound was once general, if not universal. We still give it the AY sound in measure, pleasure, treasure : where EA, though in the midst of a word, is at the close of a syllable. But there are cases in which it is still so sounded in the middle of a syllable, as it is in great and break.

In Surrey we find heat rhyme to great, and no doubt it was a true rhyme. Surrey pronounced heat as the majority of our countrymen, at least in the west country, still do, viz. as hayt. The same poet rhymes ease to assays ::

The peasant, and the post, that serves at all assays;

The ship-boy, and the galley-slave, have time to take their ease ;'where it is plain that ease still kept to the French sound of aise. Then, further, the same poet has in a sonnet, the following run of rhyming words :

ease misease please

days

which renders it tolerably plain, that please was pronounced as the French plaise, as it still is pronounced by the majority of English people.

These investigations suggest many questions as to the alterations that our pronunciation may have undergone. For instance, did Abraham Cowley pronounce cheat as we

« IndietroContinua »