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Even the pronoun it, especially when joined with some of the prepositions, as, with it, in it, to it, cannot, without a violation of grace, be the conclusion of a sentence. Any phrase which expresses a circumstance only, cannot conclude a sentence without great imperfection, and inelegance.
Circumstances are, indeed, like unshapely stones in a building, which try the skill of an artist, where to place them with the least offence. We should carefully avoid crowding too many of them together, but rather intersperse them in different parts of the sentence, joined with the principal words on which they depend. Thus, for instance, when Dean Swift says, “What I had the honour of mentioning to your lordship, sometime ago, in conversation, was not a new thought”—(Letter to the Earl of Oxford.) These two circumstances, sometime ago, and in conversation, which are here joined, would have been better separated thus : “ What I had the honour, sometime ago, of mentioning to your lordship in conversation.”
The last rule which we shall mention concerning the strength of a sentence is, that in the members of it, where two things are compared or contrasted to one another, where either a resemblance or an opposition is designed to be expressed, some resemblance in the language and construction ought to be observed. The following passage, from Pope's preface to his Homer, beautifully exemplifies the rule we are now giving. “Homer was the greater genius; Virgil the better artist : in the one, we admire the man; in the other, the work. Homer hurries us with a commanding impetuosity; Virgil leads us with an attractive majesty. Homer scatters with a generous profusion ;
Virgil bestows with a careless magnificence. Homer, like the Nile, pours out his riches with a sudden overflow ; Virgil, like a river in its banks, with a constant stream. And when we look upon their machines, Homer seems like his own Jupiter in hís terror, shaking Olympus, scattering the lightnings, and firing the heavens. Virgil, like the same power, in his benevolence, counselling with the gods, laying plans for empires, and ordering his whole creation.” Periods of this kind, when introduced with propriety, and not too frequently repeated, have a sensible and attractive beauty : but if such a construction be aimed at in all our sentences, it betrays into a disagreeable uniformity, and produces a regular jingle in the period, which tires the ear, and plainly discovers affectation.
Harmony of Sentences.
Having treated of sentences, with regard to their meaning, under the heads of perspicuity, unity, and strength, we will now consider them with respect to their sound, their harmony, or agreeableness to the
In the harmony of periods, two things are to be considered: First, agreeable sound, or modulation in general, without any particular expression : Next, the sound so ordered, as to become expressive of the
The first is the more common; the second the superior beauty.
The beauty of musical construction, it is evident, will depend upon the choice of words, and the arrangement of them. Those words are most pleasing to the ear which are composed of smooth and liquid sounds, where there is a proper intermixture of vowels and consonants, without too many harsh consonants, rubbing against each other, or too many open vowels in succession, to produce a hiatus, or unpleasing aperture of the mouth. Long words are generally more pleasing to the ear than monosyllables; and those are the most musical which are not wholly composed of long or short syllables, but of an intermixture of them ; such as, delight, amuse, velocity, celerity, beautiful, impetuosity. If the words, however, which compose a sentence, be ever so well chosen and harmonious, yet, if they be unskilfully arranged, its music is entirely lost. As an instance of a musical sentence we may take the following from Milton, in his Treatise on Education.
“ We shall conduct you to a hill-side, laborious, indeed, at the first ascent; but else so smooth, so green, so full of goodly prospects and melodious sounds on every side, that the harp of Orpheus was not more charming.” Every thing in this sentence conspires to render it harmonious. The words are well chosen ; laborious, smooth, green, goodly, melodious, charming; and besides, they are so happily arranged, that no alteration could be made, without injuring the melody
There are two things on which the music of a sentence principally depends : these are, the proper distribution of the several members of it, and the close or cadence of the whole.
First, we observe, that the distribution of the several members should be carefully attended to. Whatever is easy and pleasing to the organs of speech always sounds grateful to the ear. While a period is going on, the termination of each of its members
forms a pause in the pronunciation; and these pauses should be so distributed as to bear a certain musical proportion to each other. This will be best illustrated by examples. The following passage is taken from Archbishop Tillotson. “ This discourse, concerning the easiness of God's commands, does, all along, suppose and acknowledge the difficulties of the first entrance 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.” This sentence is far from being harmonious; owing chiefly to this, that there is, properly, no more than one pause in it, falling between the two members into which it is divided; each of which is so long as to require a considerable stretch of the breath in pronouncing it.* Let us observe now, on the contrary, the grace of the following passage, from Sir William Temple, in which he speaks sarcastically of man. 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 reason he holds to be the certain measure of truth; and his own knowledge of what is possible in nature.” Here
There is not perhaps so inveterate, or so ill.grounded an error, as that which prevails among all rhetoricians, ancient and modern, of supposing that a long sentence necessarily requires a long effusion of breath and occasions great difficulty of pronunciation. Those who have perused Elements of Elocution, page 37, and the former part of this treatise, will, I flatter myself, see the folly of this notion. Those, above all others, ought not to adopt it, who contend, that every line of verse, whether the sense require it or not, ought to be marked with a pause of suspension, See Elements of Elocution, page 279.
every thing is, at the same time, easy to the breath, and grateful to the ear. We must, however, observe, that if composition abounds with sentences which have too many rests, and these placed at intervals too apparently measured and regular, it is apt to savour of affectation.
The next thing which demands our attention is the close or cadence of the whole sentence. The only important rule which can here be given is, that when we aim at dignity or elevation, the sound should increase to the last; the longest members of the period, and the fullest and most sonorous words, should be employ. ed in the conclusion. As an instance of this, the following sentence of Mr. Addison may be given. " It fills the mind,” speaking of sight, “ with the largest variety of ideas; converses with its object at the greatest distance ; and continues the longest in action without being tired or satiated with its proper enjoyments.” Here every reader must be sensible of a beauty, both in the just division of the members and pauses, and the manner in which the sentence is rounded and brought to a full and harmonious termination.
It may be remarked, that little words, in the conclusion of a sentence, are as injurious to melody, as they are inconsistent with strength of expression. A musical close in our language seems, in general, to require either the last syllable, or the last but one, to be a long syllable. Words which consist chiefly of short syllables, as contrary, particular, retrospect, seldom terminate a sentence harmoniously, unless a run of long syllables, before, has rendered them pleasing to the ear.