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The poets are much given to imitation of sounds. As one among innumerable instances, take this from Taylor's translation of Bürger's Lenore :
He cracked his whip! the locks, the bolts
Cling-clang asunder flew ! Take the following description by Tennyson of Sir Bedivere's hurling the magic sword Excalibur. Note the striking analogy of whirling, flashing, and rushing, which the broken measure of the poetry suggests :
Clutched the sword,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn! Orators, too, select with care words whose sound harmonizes with their mental moods. “Some words," says an eloquent writer, “sound out like drums; some breathe memories sweet as flutes; some call like a clarionet; some shout a charge like trumpets; some are sweet as children's talk; others, rich as a mother's answering back.”
See how Everett suggests, by the sound of his well-chosen words, the midnight silence broken by a rushing train of cars :
All was wrapped in darkness and hushed in silence, broken only by what seemed, at that hour, the unearthly clank and rush of the train.
Webster suggests the din of civil war by the jarring words, – States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; a land rent with civil feuds, and drenched, it may be, with fraternal blood.
But whether words be chosen with reference to fitness of sound or not, it is a part of the business of every speaker to
of the following, out of hundreds of similar words: babble, bang, bellow, bow-wow, bubble, buzz, click, cluck, coo, cuckoo, crack, crash, croak, crunch, ding-dong, drum, gong, gurgle, grunt, grumble, gobble, growl, hoot, hiss, howl, hum, hurly-burly, jingle, mew, murmur, quack, rattle, roar, ruba-dub, rumble, sob, slam, tinkle, tick, twitter, thud, wheeze, whine, whiz, whistle, whisper. See Introduction to Wedgwood's Dictionary of English Etymology.
give by his tones as vivid an impression as possible, and to infuse into every sentence the appropriate force, volume, movement, pitch, slides, stress, and quality.
We have thus far dealt, for the most part, with outward correspondences.*
A more difficult matter now presents itself. How shall the orator represent the inner workings of the soul? What elements of vocal expression shall body forth the emotions? There is undoubtedly a best expression of every mental act and state. How to find it, is the inquiry.
Here is a comparatively unexplored field. We may indicate one method of investigation; but the limits of the present treatise require that we confine ourselves mostly to results that lie upon
the surface. Take the sentiment of awe. Elocutionists, without giving any reason, tell us that it requires low pitch, large volume, slow movement, slight force, median stress, falling slides, hoarse quality. What is the philosophical explanation ?
Awe is perhaps oftenest awakened by the great forces of nature, the roar of lions, the noise of the torrent, the avalanche, the wind, the thunder, the earthquake. These utter themselves in a deep, grave, bass sound. Hence, from time immemorial, a low pitch has been deemed appropriate to what is vast, solemn, or awful. Their voices, like themselves, are vast. Hence, the awful is expressed by large volume. These sounds swell and sink. Hence, by a kind of imitation, they give rise to a slight median stress. These sounds are slow; and, besides, they repress our activity. Hence our voices move with corresponding slowness. They overpower us, teach us our nothingness. Hence we speak of them with bated
* See, however, the remarks on initial stress as appropriate for anger, and on median stress as expressive of gentle emotion, and final stress as fit to give the sense of impatience (pages 29, 30). See also the remarks (on page 27) on the circumflex slide as suggestive of crooked thought and insincere dealing.
breath, and, at most, with only moderate force. They enforce silent acquiescence,
“ While thinking man Shrinks back into himself, — himself so mean
'Mid things so vast.” Hence short and falling slides, to express awe.
They have hoarse tones ; and so our voices, when not hushed to a whisper, are apt to express awe by deep, almost hoarse, utterance. Awe, then, commonly has low pitch, large volume, median stress, slow movement, slight or moderate force, falling slides, and impure (hoarse) quality.
If such be the facts in regard to awe, evidently, by a natural antithesis, mirthfulness would be expressed, to some extent at least, by opposite elements; as high pitch, small volume, initial stress, quick movement, rising slides, pure quality. But, as mirth is often imitative, these elements would be more or less varied according to circumstances.
By similar methods of investigation, doubtless much of the philosophy of the vocal expression of emotions might be revealed ; but our limited space compels us to present only the results of observation and research. Latitude must be allowed for a diversity of tastes in regard to some of the details. Not even the best elocutionists will agree on all points.
SUGGESTIONS IN REGARD TO VOCAL EXPRESSION.
TRANQUILLITY is usually of moderate force, or a little less; rather slow movement; middle pitch, tending to low; pure quality ; moderate or slight volume ; gentle and median stress; moderate or short slides, mostly falling. Thus:
At the close of the day, when the hamlet is still,
No more with himself or with nature at war,
CHEERFULNESS is usually of moderate force, or a little greater; quick movement; middle pitch, or a little higher; pure quality; moderate or slight volume; initial stress, sometimes median; moderate or longer slides. Thus :
O, young Lochinvar is come out of the west !
He stayed not for brake, and he stopped not for stone:
MIRTH, if the degree of fun be considerable, and the person be demonstrative, is usually rather loud, quick, high, pure, except in imitation of the opposite qualities; of moderate or small volume; initial stress ; extensive, often circumflex, slides. Thus, in Holmes's Treadmill Song :
The stars are rolling in the sky,
The earth rolls on below ;
Revolving as we go.
And make the axle fly ;
Like planets in the sky ?
And shake your spider legs.
What though you ’re awkward at the trade ?
There's time enough to learn,
And take another turn.
They've built us up a noble wall,
To keep the vulgar out;
But just to walk about !
And try to beat the ends,
HOLMES. Mirth, however, may be imitative, and a tone of mock seriousness may be adopted. The degree to which imitation should be carried, and the vocal expression varied to hit that which is burlesqued, parodied, or laughed at, will differ with different readers. Usually, attempts to personate are only partially successful.
Humor is more quiet than mirth, and is more under control. It commonly has moderate force, moderate or quick movement, moderate or high pitch, pure quality, slight volume; initial, but not explosive, stress; moderate slides. Thus :
Now, while our soldiers are fighting our battles,
Each at his post to do all that he can,
What are you doing, my sweet little man ?
All the brave boys under canvas are sleeping,
All of them pressing to march with the van,
What are you waiting for, sweet little man ?
You with the terrible warlike mustaches !
Fit for a colonel or chief of a clan,
Where are your shoulder-straps, sweet little man ?
Cover his face, lest it freckle and tan;