Page images

“In illustration of this sentiment, permit me to remind you that it is the privilege of poetic genius lo catch, under certain restrictions, of which perhaps at the time of its being exerted it is but dimly conscious, a spirit of pleasure wherever it can be found,--jo the walks of nature, and in the business of men. The poet, trusting to primary instincts, luxuriates among the felicities of love and wine, and is enraptured while he describes the fairer aspects of war: nor does he shrink from the company of the passion of love, though immoderate-from convivial pleasure, though intemperate~nor from the presence of war, though savage, and recognized as the hand maid of desolation. Frequently and admirably has Burns given way to these impulses of nature, both with reference to himself, and in describing the condition of others. Who, but some impenetrable dunce or narrow.minded puritan in the works of art, ever read without delight the picture which he has drawn of the convivial exaltation of the rustie adventurer, Tam O’Shanter! The poet fears not to tell the reader, in the out. set, that his hero was a desperate and sottish drunkard, whose excesses were frequent as his opportunities. This reprobate sits down to his cups, while the storm is roaring; and heaven and earth are in confusion;-the night is driven on by song and cumultuous noise-laughter and jest thicken as the beverage improves upon the palate-conjugal fidelity archly bends to the service of general benevolence-selfishness is not absent, but wearing the mask of social cordiality -and, while these various elements of humanity are blended into one proud and happy composition of elated spirits, the anger of the tempest without doors only heightens and sets off the enjoyment within. I pity him who cannot per. ceive that, in all this, though there was no moral purpose, there is a moral effect.”





" Apt alliteration's artful aid."-CHURCHILL.

Many definitions have been given of alliteration. One calls it “ the repetition of the sanie letter or letters at certain intervals”—another, “ the repetition of the same letters or syllables”a third, “ the repetition of the same letter, at the beginning or any emphatic part of a word, at certain short intervals”-a fourth, " the beginning of two or more words which are consecutive with the same letter.” These definitions are incorrect-being too

limited and vague; limited, because they require a repetition of the same letters, while they should require a repetition of letters of the same power only-vague, because they confound alliteration with rhyme. The following definition is therefore preferred: Alliteration is that species of composition in which the sound of consecutive words or syllables, at certain short intervals, begins with letters of the same or similar powers.

It seems that this kind of ornament has been admired ever since beauty of language was studied. It abounds in Homer, one of the earliest of the Grecian poets. In Virgil, who sought more than Homer for beauty, it is still more frequent. Among the ancient rhetoricians, Hermogenes described it under the name of parechesis; Aristotle called it paromoiosis, and the Latin rhetoricians annominatio. Among the Icelanders it was considered one of the chief requisites of poetry. Van Troil tells us, “the Icelandic poetry requires two things; viz. words with the same initial letters, and words with the same sounds. Equally requisite was it considered among the ancient English and Welch. Giraldus Cambrensis informs us, that, “in the time of Henry II., the English and Welch were so attached to this verbal ornament, in every highly finished composition, that nothing was esteemed as elegantly delivered, no diction considered but as rude and rustic, if it were not first amply refined with the polishing art of this figure.” Indeed, in some of the ancient English poetry, more attention is paid to alliteration than to rhyme, arrangement or measure. It occurs frequently in all the classical poets, from the days of Spencer to the present time. Yet modern rhetoricians seem to have considered it either a false refinement, or as too trivial to employ their attention. Lord Kaimes has indeed condescended to say:-“ When two ideas are so connected as to require but a copulative, it is pleasant to find a connexion in the words that express these ideas, where even so slight as where both begin with the same letter.” But other writers on the subject have passed it over in almost utter silence. This is the more to be wondered at, because they have paid so minute an attention to other branches of rhetoric, not much more important. But, notwithstanding their neglect of it, alliteration has caught the attention of every reader and writer of a delicate taste. Many

have admired it in the writings of others, and they have endeavoured to imitate it, without having considered its nature, or even known its name. A taste for it cannot therefore be factitious, but must be founded in the original principles of our nature. This taste, like all others of the kind, is susceptible of much improvement from 'attention and practice; and this improvement will be serviceable to both the reader and the writer; to the reader, as it will enable him more readily to see, and more fully to enjoy, the beauties of alliteration-and to the writer, as it will facilitate the use of them. It facilitates pronunciation: it imparts both sweetness and energy-and is no inconsiderable aid to the memory. In addition to these powerful considerations, it may also boast the authority of the highest masters. It is found in Homer and Isocrates, in Virgil and Cicero, in Shakspeare, Milton, Dryden, Addison, Gray, Pope, and many later writers.

From what Stewart says (Philosophy of the Human Mind, chap. 5), it appears that alliteration is founded on that association of ideas which arises from resemblance. If this be true, it certainly deserves some attention from those who treat on the philosophy of rhetoric.

Much of the pleasure which alliteration affords is to be accounted for, like that of rhyme, on the principles of music.* But in its nature it is very distinct from rhyme. All the syllables into which it enters are compound, and its beauty consists in the initial sounds of those syllables, while that of rhyme consists in the close ing sounds. Indeed it is necessary to rhyme, that the initial sounds be dissimilar. Rhyme and alliteration differ in another respect. Alliteration gives beauty to prose as well as poetry, but rhyme gives beauty to poetry only. In prose the jingle of rhyme is a positive deformity. In comparing the excellencies of the two, rhyme will be found to have no great preference. In point of richness of melody, perhaps they are equal: and in the places they occupy they are nearly so. For rhyme holds a conspicuous place--the end of the line—and alliteration often occupies one still more so-being the emphatic word. Rhyme has a uniformity of places, and those places being known, the mind always

See Lorid Kaimes' Elements of Criticism, Versification,

expects it, and is always gratified. But the places of alliteration not being fixed, the mind is not prepared for it, and often passes it unnoticed; yet when it is noticed, it pleases the more by being unexpected: and it also pleases more than rhyme, by admitting of greater variety.

We'shall now consider the power and arrangement of letters in alliteration. It is not necessary that the same letter be repeated, to produce this beauty; for many letters have, at times, the power of others, and if rightly arranged, they will produce alliteration. Thus c sometimes has the sound of k, as courts of kings. Both c and k have the power of qu, as, I came from captain Kirwan's quarters. C has also the sound of s, as, the centurion's servant. E and i have the power of u, as, early his irksome task he urged. F has the power of ph, as, then flew the phantom far. G has the power of j, as, gems and jewels. 1, used as a consonant, has the power of u and y, as, 80 convenient for your use. T has the power of sh, as, his actions show his meaning. Finally, alliteration does not entirely cease, when the letters which begin the consecutive syllables have not the same power, but are somewhat similar, as, all things in orderall the ancient patriarche. Accordingly, in the definition which we have suggested, it is made to consist in the repetition of letters of the same or similar powers.

It is generally thought necessary that the letters of the same or similar powers should begin the consecutive words; but it is evident that alliteration would be perfec', provided these letters begin the accented syllables of such words, as, beginning to beguilema great ambiguity. When part of the syllables to which these letters are prefixed are unaccented, it is imperfect, as, a victim of intemperance. It is still more imperfect, but does not cease to please, when all of them are unaccented, as, virtuous by nature. Accordingly it is said, in the above definition, that letters of the same or similar powers may begin, either with the consecutive words, or the syllables that compose them. It should here be added, that these letters of similar powers should be repeated at certain short intervals. They should be short, because, if otherwise, we forget the former before we arrive at the latter.

[blocks in formation]

We have observed that alliteration facilitates pronunciation. This requires more attention, since it is denied by some writers. They doubt, whether a person could pronounce the same sound at intervals easier than he could vary from it. This is a question to be decided by experiment only; and from the trials which we have made, we are decidedly of opinion, that we can repeat the similar sounds more easily than we can enunciate various sounds. It is true some sounds are far more easy to the organs than others; and thus it might be easier to vary from a difficult sound to an easy one, than to repeat the difficult sound: but take two different sounds, equally easy to the organs, and it will be found easier to repeat one of them at intervals, than to enunciate them alternately, This may be accounted for on the principle of that facility which is acquired by habit. It is a well known fact, that we can pronounce a difficult word or syllable more easy for having just before pronounced it. Is it not reasonable, then, to suppose, that any sound is more easily repeated than first pronounced? But it is said again, that though alliteration may facilitate pronunciation, still the facility which it gives could not conduce to the pleasure which this figure yields; for this is the pleasure of the ear, and not of the organs of speech. To this it may be replied, the pleasure which alliteration yields belongs not solely to the ear.

It is acknowledged, that much of it consists in sound. But much of it is also to be accounted for upon the principle of sympathy and the communication of passion among related objects. It is well known, that when a person speaks with case and pleasure to himself, we hear him with pleasure. We sympathize in the pleasure with which he speaks; and this seems to give a degree of excellence to what he utters. Thus alliteration, by giving facility to the speaker, gives pleasure to the hearer, on the same principle.

Some attention ought to be paid to the duration of the intervals at which the letters of similar powers should be repeated. If repeated at some intervals, they render language difficult to the organs of speech, and unpleasant to the ear: but if the length of these intervals be varied, it becomes easy and delightful These intervals must be varied according to the place of the accent, and the power of the letters which compose the alliterative language.

Concise and simple rules concerning them cannot

« PreviousContinue »