« IndietroContinua »
OF PROSODY, OR THE MUSICAL ELEMENT
There is in souls a sympathy with sounds;
William Cowper, The Task, vi. I.
614. The first of these chapters was on the Alphabet, out of which, by a multiplicity of combinations, a conventional garb has been devised for the visible representation of language. By the artifice of literature, speech is presented to the eye as an object of sight. Partly in consequence of the pains which we are at to acquire literary culture; partly also, perhaps, in consequence of the greater permanency of the visual impressions upon the mind,—certain it is, that the cultivated modern is apt to think of language rather as a written than as a spoken thing. And this, although he still makes far greater use of it by the oral than by the literary process. It is, notwithstanding, quite plain that writing is but an external and necessarily imperfect vesture, while the natural and authentic form of language is that which is made of sound, and addressed to the ear.
Human speech consists of two essential elements, and these are Voice and Meaning. I say 'meaning' rather than 'thought,' because it seems a more comprehensive term, including the whole sphere of cognisance, from its innermost and least explored centre to its outermost frontiers in physical sensation.
Voice will, moreover, be found to consist of two parts, by a distinction worthy-to be observed. For, in the first place, there is the voice which is the necessary vehicle of the meaning; and, in the second place, there is the voice which forms a harmonious accompaniment to the meaning. It is, the former of these which is represented in literature; for the latter, literature is almost silent. Here the mechanical arts of writing and printing can do but little.
One may put her words down, and remember them, but how describe her sweet tones, sweeter than musick?—W. M. Thackeray, Esmond, Bk. ii. ch. XT.
615. Here then we must distinguish between the necessary and the noble sound, between Articulation and Modulation.
Poetry, which is the highest form of literature, makes great efforts to express, or at least to intimate to the mind, this finest part of the voicing of language. All the peculiar characteristics of poetry, such as alliteration, assonance, verse, metre, rhyme, are directed towards this end.
In prose this is more faintly and remotely indicated by such means as punctuation and italics and parentheses. Yet the distinction here drawn applies to prose as well as to poetry. It is perfectly well known, and generally recognised. It lies at the base of the demand for ' good reading.' A man may articulate every word, pronounce faultlessly, read fluently, and observe the punctuation, and yet be far from a good reader. So much of voice as is the vehicle of sense is given, but the harmony is wanting, and there is no pleasure in listening to him. It is felt that, besides the sound which conveys the sense of the words, there is a further and a different kind of sound due as an illustrative accompaniment, and it is the rendering of this which crowns the performance of the good reader, as it is the perception of this which constitutes the appreciative listener.
Or again. Consider the sound of a passionless Oh as it might be uttered by a schoolboy in a compulsory reading lesson, and then consider the infinite shades of meaning of which this interjection is capable under the emotional vibrations of the voice, and we must acknowledge that the distinction between these two elements of vocal sound is of a character not unlikely to be attended with philological consequences.
Of sound as the necessary vehicle of speech, and as the passive material of those phenomena which our science is concerned to investigate, we have already treated in the first and second chapters. But of sound as bearing an accordant, concentive, illustrative part, as being an outer harmony to the strains of the inner meaning; of sound as an illustrative, a formative, and almost a creative power in the region of language, we must endeavour to render some account in this concluding chapter.
The distinction here urged is akin to that which is mechanically effected by the musical instrument maker. A musical note on an instrument is a noble sound, from which another sort of sound, namely that which we call Noise, has been eliminated. All mechanical collision produces sound, and that natural sound is ordinarily of a complex kind, being in fact a noise with which a musical note is confusedly blended. It is the work of art to contrive mechanical means whereby these two things may be parted, so that the musical notes which give pleasure may be placed at the command of men. What the musical instrument maker does physically, we may do mentally. We may separate in our minds between the mere brute sound necessary to speech, and that musical tone which more or less blends with it according to the temper and quality of the voice and its companion mind. The latter is a sovereign agency in the illustration and formation and development of language, and this is the Sound of which the 'present chapter treats'.
1. Of Sound As An Illustrative Agency.
616. The modulatory accompaniment of speech is not unworthy of comparison with music, although it is far more restricted in the range of its elevations and depressions. If its ups and downs are altogether on a smaller scale, if its motions are more subdued and less brilliant, yet, on the other hand, it has an advantage in the wider extent of its province, and its greater faculty of diversification. Music is the exponent of emotion only; it cannot be said to have any share in the expression or illustration of thought intellectual Now speech-tones are in force over the whole area of human cognisance and feeling; they are coincident with the whole extent of meaning. They are expressly the illustration of Meaning, and they accompany all that is said.
As music is made of two elements, time and tune, so also is the modulation of speech. Time is expressed in quantitv; and tune, or rather tone (which is the rudiment of tune) is embodied in accent. Our grammatical systems now take little heed of quantity, except as a poetical regulator in classical literature. The poetry of the classics was measured by quantity; that of the moderns is measured by accent
a 'La parole est un bruit oil le chant est renfermeV—3retry, ap. CFi:more, English Metrical Law (1878), p. 29.
The period at which quantity was consciously and studiously observed as an element of ordinary speech must have been very remote. Perhaps we may even venture speculatively to regard quantity as the speech-note of that primitive period before the rise of flexion, when language was (as it still is in some respectable nations) monosyllabic or agglutinative. We know from a thousand experiences how conservative poetry is, and we may reasonably imagine that the quantitive measure of Greek poetry had descended with a continuous stream of song from high antiquity. With the decay of the Roman empire it ceased to be a regulative principle even in poetry, and from that time accent has been foremost, as it had previously been in the background. We must not suppose the principle of quantity to be extinct; but it is no longer formulated; it is absorbed into that general swelling and flowing movement of language which is known under the somewhat vague name of Rhythm.
617. Leaving quantity then, we proceed to consider the illustrative value of accent.
In the first place, accent appears as the ally and colleague of sense in the structure of words. In the first order of compounds we have to do with words like the following: —ash-house, bake-house, brew-house, wood-house. In these words the accent is on the predicate. That is to say, the stress of sound falls on that member of the word which contains the assertion and bears the burden of the meaning. That which is asserted in those words is not house, but ash, bake, brew, wood. House is the subject or thing spoken of, and that which is asserted concerning it is contained in the word prefixed. And this word or syllable is signalised, as with a flag, by having the accent upon it.
There is a difference between good man and goodman.