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ONE OF THE SENATORS OF THE COLLEGE OF JUSTICE, AND ONE OF THE
THIRD AMERICAN FROM THE EIGHTH LONDON EDITION.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
PUBLISHED BY SCOTT AND SEGUINE, NO. 276 PEARL-ST
J. ORAM PRINTER,
ELEMENTS OF CRITICISM.
Beauty of Language.
Of all the fine arts, painting only and sculpture are in their nature imitative. An ornamented field is not a copy or imitation of nature, but nature itself embellished. Architecture is productive of originals, and copies not from nature. Sound and motion may in some measure be imitated by music; but for the most part music, like Architecture, is productive of originals. Language copies not from nature, more than music or architecture; unless, where, like music, it is imitative of sound or motion. Thus, in the description of particular sounds, language sometimes furnisheth words, which, beside their customary power of exciting ideas, resemble by their softness or harshness the sounds described; and there are words, which by the celerity or slowness of pronunciation, have some resemblance to the motion they signify. The imitative power of words goes one step farther: the loftiness of some words makes them proper symbols of lofty ideas; a rough subject is imitated by harsh-sounding words; and words of many syllables pronounced slow and smooth, are expressive of grief and melancholy. Words have a separate effect on the mind, abstracting from their
signification and from their imitative power: they are more or less agreeable to the ear, by the fulness, sweetness, faintness, or roughness of their tones.
These are but faint beauties, being known to those only who have more than ordinary acuteness of perception. Language possesseth a beauty superior greatly in degree, of which we are eminently sensible when a thought is communicated with perspicuity and sprightliness. This beauty of language, arising from its power of expressing thought, is apt to be confounded with the beauty of the thought itself: the beauty of thought, transferred. to the expression, makes it appear more beautiful.* But these beauties, if we wish to think accurately, must be distinguished from each other. They are in reality so distinct, that we sometimes are conscious of the highest pleasure language can afford, when the subject expressed is disagreeable: a thing that is loathsome, or a scene of horror to make one's hair stand on end, may be described in a manner so lively, as that the disagreeableness of the subject shall not even obscure the agreeableness of the description. The causes of the original beauty of language, considered as significant, which is a branch of the present subject, will be explained in their order. I shall only at present observe, that this beauty is the beauty of means fitted to an end, that of communicating thought : and hence it evidently appears, that of several expressions all conveying the same thought, the most
*Chapter II. Part i. Sect. 5. Demetrius Phalereus (of Elocution, sect. 75.) makes the same observation. We are apt, says that author, to confound the language with the subject; and if the latter be nervous, we judge the same of the former. But they are clearly distinguishable; and it is not uncommon to find subjects of great dignity dressed in mean language. Theopompus is celebrated for the force of his diction; but erroneously: his subject indeed has great force, but his style very little.