Imágenes de páginas

Sheridan has shown, in his lectures, that we abound more in vowel and diphthong sounds, than most languages; and these too, so divided into long and short, as to afford a proper diversity in the quantity of our syllables. Our consonants, he observes, which appear so crowded to the eye on paper, often form combinations, not disagreeable to the ear in pronouncing; and, in particular, the objection which has been made to the frequent recurrence of the hissing consonant s in our language, is unjust and ill-founded. For, it has not been attended to, that very commonly, and in the final syllables especially, this letter loses altogether the hissing sound, and is transformed into a z, which is one of the sounds on which the ear rests with pleasure; as in has, these, those, loves, hears, and innumerable more, where, though the letter s be retained in writing, it has really the power of z, not of the common s.

After all, however, it must be admitted, that smoothness, or beauty of sound, is not one of the distinguishing properties of the English tongue. Though not incapable of being formed into melodious arrangements, yet strength and expressiveness, more than grace, form its character. We incline, in general, to a short pronunciation of our words, and have shortened the quantity of most of those which we borrow from the Latin, as orator, spectacle, theatre, liberty, and such like. Agreeable to this, is a remarkable peculiarity of English pronunciation, the throwing the accent farther back, that is, , nearer the beginning of the word than is done by any other nation. In Greek and Latin, no word is accented farther back than the third syllable from the end, or what is called the antepenult. But, in English, we have many words accented on the fourth, some on the fifth syllable from the end, as, mémorable, convéniency, ámbulatory, prófitableness. The general effect of this practice of hastening the accent, or placing it so near the beginning of a word, is to give a brisk and a spirited, but at the same time, a rapid and hurried, and not very musical, tone to the whole pronunciation of a people.

The English tongue possesses, undoubtedly, this property, that it is the most simple in its form and construction, of all the European dialects. It is free from all intricacy of cases, declensions, moods, and tenses. Its words are subject to fewer variations from their original form than those of any other language. Its substantives have no distinction of gender, except what nature has made, and but one variation in case. Its adjectives admit of no change at all, except what expresses the degree of comparison. Its verbs, instead of running through all the varieties of ancient conjugation, suffer no more than four or five changes in termination. By the help of a few prepositions and auxiliary verbs, all the purposes of significancy in meaning are accomplished; while the words, for the most part, preserve their form unchanged. The disadvantages in point of elegance, brevity, and force, which follow from this structure of our language, I have before pointed out. But, at the same time, it must be admitted, that such a structure contributes to facility. It renders the acquisition of our language less laborious, the arrangement of our words more plain and obvious, the rules of our syntax fewer and more simple.

I agree, indeed, with Dr. Lowth, (Preface to his grammar) in thinking, that the simplicity and facility of our language occasion its being frequently written and spoken with less accuracy. It was necessary to study languages which were of a more complex and artificial form, with greater care. The marks of gender and case, the varieties of conjugation and declension, the multiplied rules of syntax, were all to be attended to in speech. Hence language became more an object of art. It was reduced into form; a standard was established; and any departures from the standard became conspicuous. Whereas, among us, language is hardly considered as an object of grammatical rule. We take it for granted, that a competent skill in it may be acquired without any study; and that in a syntax so narrow and confined as ours, there is nothing which demands attention. Hence arises the habit of writing in a loose and inaccurate manner.

I admit, that no grammatical rules have sufficient authority to control the firm and established usage of language. Established custom in speaking and writing, is the standard to which we must at last resort for determining every controverted point in language and style. But it will not follow from this, that grammatical rules are superseded as useless. In every language, which has been in any degree cultivated, there prevails a certain structure and analogy of parts, which is understood to give foundation to the most reputable usage of speech; and which, in all cases, when usage is loose or dubious, possesses considerable authority. In every language, there are rules of syntax which must be inviolably observed by all who would either write or speak with any propriety. Forsyntax is no other than that arrangement of words, in a sentence, which renders the meaning of each word, and the relation of all the words to one another, most clear and intelligible.

All the rules of Latin syntax, it is true, cannot be applied to our language. Many of these rules arose from the particular form of their language, which occasioned verbs or prepositions to govern, some the genitive, some the dative, some the accusative or ablative case. But, abstracting from these peculiarities, it is to be always remembered, that the chief and fundamental rules of syntax are common to the English as well as the Latin tongue; and, indeed, belong equally to all languages. For in all languages, the parts which compose speech are essentially the same; substantives, adjectives, verbs, and connecting particles: and wherever these parts of speech are found, there are certain necessary relations among them, which regulate their syntax, or the place which they ought to possess in a sentence. Thus, in English, just as much as in Latin, the adjective must by position, be made to agree with its substantive; and the verb must agree with its nominative in person and number; because, from the nature of things, a word, which expresses either a quality or an action, must correspond as closely as possible with the name of that thing whose quality, or whose action, it expresses. Two or more substantives, joined by a copulative, must always require the verbs or pronouns, to which they refer, to be placed in the plural number; otherwise, their common relation to these verbs or pronouns is not pointed out. An active verb must, in every language, govern the accusative ; that is, clearly point out some substantive noun, as the object to which its action is directed. A relative pronoun must, in every form of speech, agree with its antecedent in gender, number, and person; and conjunctions, or connecting particles, ought always to couple like cases and moods; that is, ought to join together words which are of the same form and state with each other. I mention these, as a few exemplifications of that fundamental regard to syntax, which, even in such a language as ours, is absolutely requisite for writing or speaking with any propriety.

Whatever the advantages or defects of the English language be, as it is our own language, it deserves a high degree of our study and attention, both with regard to the choice of words which we employ, and with regard to the syntax, or the arrangement of these words in a sentence. We know how much the Greeks and Romans, in their most polished and flourishing times, cultivated their own tongues. We know how much study both the French, and the Italians, have bestowed upon theirs. Whatever knowledge may be acquired by the study of other languages, it can never be communicated with advantage, unless by such as can write and speak their own language well. Let the matter of an author be ever so good and useful, his compositions will always suffer in the public esteem, if his expression be deficient in purity and propriety. At the same time, the attainment of a correct and elegant style, is an object which demands application and labour. If any imagine they can catch it merely by the ear, or acquire it by a slight perusal of some of our good authors, they will find themselves much disappointed. The many errors, even in point of grammar, the many offences against purity of language, which are committed by writers who are far from being contemptible, demonstrate, that a careful study of the language is previously requisite, in all who aim at writing it properly.*

QUESTIONS. Of the verb, what is observed ? In verb from'other parts of speech? Hence, It, what appears; and therefore, what what follows; and why? What has follows? Why will our author avoid arisen from this sort of eminence ? dwelling longer on this subject, than is Why must verbs have been coeval absolutely necessary? What property with men's first attempts towards the has the verb, in common with the ad-formation of language? What, is it jective? In all verbs, what three things probable, was its radical form ; and are implied at once? How is this re- why? What did such verbs afterwards mark illustrated ? Of the particle shi- become, and into what did they branch ning, what is remarked ? What may out? For what are the tenses contrithe infinitive mood, to shine, be called ; ved ? Why must notice be taken of and why? Hence, what resemblance these? Of what divisions of time do we does the infinitive mood often carry ? naturally think? Under what circumWhat examples are given ? What is stances might we imagine that no more that which chiefly distinguishes the 'were needful ? But how does language

* On this subject, the reader ought to peruse Dr. Lowth's Short Introduction to English Grammar, with Critical Notes; Dr. Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric ; and Dr. Priestly's Rudiments of English Grammar.

[ocr errors]

proceed; and into what does it split|what relations, do they serve? For time? How does it consider it; and connecting what, are conjunctions emhence, what follɔws? How may the ployed; and what examples are given? present be considered? What examples In what manner do prepositions connect are given ? How many past tenses are words; and what examples are given ? found in the poorest languages ? How When was the force of these epoken of ? many has ours ? Define each, and give From what is it evident that all these the illustrative examples. Here, what connective particles must be of the do we, with pleasure, observe? What greatest use in speech; and, therefore, tense have they not? In both cases, what follows ? As a nation improves in what must they say? How is the ad-science, and as its language becomes vantage of our language illustrated? more perfect, what may we expect ? Define the two varieties of the future, and Accordingly, what language contains give examples of each. Besides tenses, the greatest quantity of them; and what other distinction do verbs admit? why? On what does much of the beauFor what are moods designed ? Define ty and strength of every language dethe indicative, the imperative, and the pend? What depends on the right or subjunctive moods; and give examples wrong management of them ? Before of each. What does this manner of ex-lhe dismisses the subject of language, pressing an affirmation, &c. form ? what observation does our author reWhat now clearly appears? How is quest to be allowed to make; and this fully illustrated ? What is a curi- why? How is this subject illustrated in ous and remarkable fact? In what a quotation from Quintilian? What languages is conjugation esteemed most subject do we next approach ? Of the perfect? What is said of the tenses of language which is at prewnt spoken oriental tongues? How is this deficien-throughout Great Britaisı, what is obcy supplied? What example is given ? served ? What was the language of Of the tenses and moods of the Greek the first inhabitants of the island ? Of language, what is remarked? Of the this Celtic tongue, what is remarked, Latin, what is observed ? What is the and where did it obtain? Of what state of conjugation, in modern Euro-countries was it the language; and till pean tongues? In what do they admit what period? Where, only, does it now few varieties; and to what have they subsist? What evidence have we of constant recourse ? To what is the this? How long did this continue to be change which language has undergone the language of the island ? in conjugation, similar ? What illus- How did the Saxons treat the Britration of this remark is given ? How tons? Of what was the Saxon tongue may the alteration be easily under- a dialect; and of what did it lay the stood ? Of the auxiliary verbs, what is foundation? How long did it continue remarked? What do they imply? to be spoken throughout the southern With what, in the early state of speech, part of the island ? What language would their import be incorporated ? did he introduce? Of what, then, is the In what manner was it afterwards English which is now spoken a mixfound that these auxiliaries might sup- ture? What language is spoken in the ply the place of most of the moods and low countries of Scotland? For what, tenses ? Hence, what followed? What can we not easily account? What are, examples of illustration are given ? still, uncertain and contested points What few varieties were retained ? What appears, from what has been What was the consequence of this said, to be the basis of our present practice? What effect had it on lan- speech; and how has it been imported guage? What are the remaining parts among us? From what ancient lanof speech called? Of these, what are guage are many of our words, also, the first that occur? To what are they derived; and how did we receive them? reducible ; and why ? For the most What evidence have we of this? With part, what are they; expressing what? what language has the French always Hence, of them, what may be con- continued to have a very considerable ceived ; and accordingly, whence are affinity; and hence, what follows? the great body of them derived ? From the influx of so many streams, What class of words do prepositions, what naturally follows ? What can and conjugations form; and to express I we not expect from it? Why is its

syntax narrow? What remark fol-, what is remarked? What has Mr. She lows? How are these disadvantages, ridan, in his lectures, shown? Of our if they be such, balanced ? In what consonants, what does he observe; and subject is our language particularly why? After all, what must be admitcopious ? How has this been produced ? | ted? To what do we, in general, inIn what also are we rich; and in what cline; and agreeably to this, what is a does it ditler from prose? What does remarkable peculiarity of our pronunthis show; and to what language are ciation? How does the English differ we, in this respect, infinitely superior ? from the Greek and Latin in this reOi' their poetical language, what is re- spect? What is the general effect of marked? Where does our language ihis practice? What peculiar property chiefly display its power of expression ? does the English language possess ? How many words are we said to have Illustrate this, fully. What opinion of to denote the varieties of the passion of Dr. Lowth is here introduced ? Why anger ? Repeat them. Where is our were ancient languages an object of tongue less fertile ? In what does the art ? What do we take for granted; French tongue surpass ours? How and hence, what follows ? For what may any one be convinced of this? | are grammatical rules insufficient; and For what is the French, of all lan- what in this case must be the stanguages, the most copious; and for dard? What will not follow from this; what is it the happiest language in the and why? Why cannot all the rules of world? But where does ours excel it? Latin syntax be applied to our lanWhence does language receive its pre-guage? But what is always to be redominant feature? What must we, membered; and for what reason ? however, not expect; and why? What How is this fully illustrated? What do evidence, however, have we that na- these exemplifications show? What tional character will always have some remark on the English language folintluence on the turn of language ? | lows? How is this illustrated ? Who From the genius of our language, what will find themselves much disappointmay it be expected to have? To what ed? What affords a sufficient proof that is its prolixity owing; and what is its a careful study of the language is reeffect? How is this illustrated? Why quisite ? may our language still be esteemed to possess considerable force of expression? Of what isthe style of Milton a sufficient

ANALYSIS. proof? What is a quality of great importance in speaking or writing; and / 1. Verbs. on what three things does it depend ? A. Their nature and importance. What tongue most eminently possesses B. Tenses. this quality? What advantages did it c. Voices. possess? What is the character of the D. Moods. Latin tongue in this respect? Of the E. Conjugation. Italian language, what is remarked ? 2. Auxiliary verbs. By considering whose style, may one 3. Adverbs. be convinced that our language is not | 4. Prepositions. destitute of flexibility ? With what has 5. Conjunctions. our language been most taxed ? What 6. The origin of the English language. alone is sufficient to prove that our lan A. Its character. guage is not unmusical? Of our verse, I B. Its syntax.


STYLE.-PERSPICUITY AND PRECISION Having finished the subject of language, I now enter on the consideration of style, and the rules that relate to it.

It is not easy to give a precise idea of what is meant by style. The best definition I can give of it, is, the peculiar manner in which

« AnteriorContinuar »