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relations with the sentence, and this sort of relation it can have with a noun or pronoun, as–
They gaped upon me with their mouths, and said: Fie on thee, fie on thee, we saw it with our eyes.—Psalm xxxv. 21.
From that same germ of verbal activity it joins readily with the conjunction. Operating with the conjunction, it rounds off and renders natural an abrupt beginning, and forms as it were the bridge between the spoken and the unspoken :—
Oh if in after life we could but gather
Because of the variety of possible meanings in the interjection, writing is less able to represent interjections than to express grammatical language. Even in the latter, writing is but an imperfect medium, because it fails to convey the accompaniments, such as the look, the tone, the gesture. This defect is more evident in the case of interjections, where the written word is but a very small part of the expression; and the manner, the pitch of tone, the gesture, is nearly everything.
195. Hence also it comes to pass that the interjection is of all that is printed the most difficult thing to read well aloud; for not only does it require a rare command of modulation, but the reader has moreover to be perfectly acquainted with the situation and temperament of the person using the interjection. Shakspeare's interjections cannot be rendered with any truth, except by one who has mastered the whole play.
In the accompaniments of tone, air, action, lies the rhetoric of the interjection, which is used with astonishing effect by children and savages. For it is to these that the interjection more especially belongs; and in proportion to the march of culture is the decline of interjectional speech.
But though the use of interjections is very much reduced by civilisation, and though there are whole fields of literature from which they are utterly banished, as History, Mathematics, Physical Science,—yet they have a sphere in which they are retained, and in this, the literature of the emotions, their importance will always be considerable. It should moreover be added, that while certain of the natural accompaniments of interjectional speech, such as gestures, grimaces, and gesticulations, are restrained by civilisation, there yet remains one, which alone is able to render justice to the interjection, and which culture tends to improve and develope, and that is, modulation. It is this which makes it still worth a poet's while to throw meaning into his interjections.
Moreover, though it is true on the whole that interjectional communications are restrained by civilisation; yet it is also to be noted on the other hand, that there are certain interjections which are the fruits of culture, and only find a place in the higher and more mature forms of human speech. Hence an important division, which will make this chapter fall into the two heads of (1) interjections of nature, or primitive interjections; and (2) artificial or historical interjections. The distinction between these sorts will be generally this, -that the latter have a philological derivation, and the former have not.
§ 1. The Watural Interjection.
196. O; oh! This is well known as one of the earliest articulations of infants, to express surprise or delight. Later in life it comes to indicate also fear, aspiration, appeal, and an indefinite variety of emotions. It would almost seem that in proportion as the spontaneous modulation of the voice comes to perfection, in the same degree the range of this most generic of all interjections becomes enlarged, and that according to the tone in which oh is uttered, it may be understood to mean almost any one of the emotions of which humanity is capable. This interjection owes its great predominance to the influence of the Latin language, in which it was very frequently used. And there is one particular use of it which more especially bears a Latin stamp. That is the O of the vocative case, as when in prayers we say, O Lord; O Thou to whom all creatures bow. We should distinguish between the sign of the vocative and the emotional interjection, writing O for the former, and oh for the latter, as– Who could have thought such darkness lay concealed Within thy beams, O Sun –Blanco White. But she is in her grave, and oh The difference to me !—Wordsworth. This distinction of spelling should by all means be kept up, as it is well founded. There is a difference between ‘O sir!’ ‘O king !’ and “Oh I sir,’ ‘Oh! Lord, both in sense and pronunciation. As to the sense, the O prefixed merely imparts to the title a vocative effect; while the Oh conveys some particular sentiment, as of appeal, entreaty, expostulation, or some other. And as to sound, the O is enclitic; that is to say, it has no accent of its own, but is pronounced with the word to which it is attached, as if it were its unaccented first syllable. The term Enclitic signifies ‘reclining on,' and so the interjection O in “O Lord’ reclines on the support afforded to it by the accentual elevation of the word ‘Lord.' So that ‘O Lord’ moves like such a disyllable as alight, alike, away; in which words the metrical stroke could never fall on the first syllable. Oh / on the contrary, is one of the fullest of
monosyllables, and it would be hard to place it in a verse except with the stress upon it. The example from Wordsworth illustrates this. Precedence has been given to this interjection because it is the commonest of the simple or natural interjections,—not that it is one of the longest standing in the language. Our oldest interjections are la and wa, and each of these merits a separate notice. 197. La is that interjection which in modern English is spelt lo. It was used in Saxon times, both as an emotional cry, and also as a sign of the respectful vocative. The most reverential style in addressing a superior was La leo/, an expression not easy to render in modern English, but which is something like O my liege, or O my lord, or O sir. In modern times it has taken the form of lo in literature, and it has been supposed to have something to do with the verb so look. In this sense it has been used in the New Testament to render the Greek ióot that is, Behold ! But the interjection la was quite independent of another Saxon exclamation, viz. loc, which may with more probability be associated with locian, to look. The fact seems to be that the modern lo represents both the Saxon interjections la and loc, and that this is one among many instances where two Saxon words have been merged into a single English one.
Lo, how they feignen chalk for cheese.
198. The la of Saxon times has none of the indicatory or pointing force which lo now has, and which fits it to go so naturally with an adverb of locality, as “Lo here,' or ‘Lo there'; or
Lo where the stripling, wrapt in wonder, roves.
While lo became the literary form of the word, la has still continued to exist more obscurely, at least down to a recent date, even if it be not still in use. La may be regarded as a sort of feminine to lo. In novels of the close of last century and the beginning of this, we see la occurring for the most part as a trivial exclamation by the female characters.
In Miss Edgeworth's tale of The Good French Governess, a silly affected boarding-school miss says la repeatedly:
‘Lal' said Miss Fanshaw, “we had no such book as this at Suxberry House.’
Miss Fanshaw, to shew how well she could walk, crossed the room, and took up one of the books. “Alison upon Taste—that’s a pretty book, I daresay; but la what's this, Miss Isabella 2 A Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments—dear me ! that must be a curious performance—by a smith ! a common smith !’ In The Election: a Comedy, by Joanna Baillie (1798), Act ii. Sc. I, Charlotte thus soliloquises:— Charlotte. La, how I should like to be a queen, and stand in my robes, and have all the people introduced to me! And when Charles compares her cheeks to the ‘pretty delicate damask rose, she exclaims, ‘La, now you are flattering me.’ 199. That this trivial little interjection descends from early times, and that it is in all probability one with the old Saxon la, we may cite the authority of Shakspeare in the mid interval, who, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, puts this exclamation into the mouths of Master Slender first, and of Mistress Quickly afterwards. Slen. Mistris Anne: your selfe shall goe first. Anne. Not I sir, pray you keepe on. Slen. Truely, I will not goe first: truely la; I will not doe you that wrong. Anne. I pray you Sir.
Slen. Ile rather be vnmannerly, then troublesome; you doe your selfe wrong indeede-la. (Act i. Sc. I.)