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I have said, that the chief reason of the confusion which has appeared in the writings of all who have treated on that subject, is, that they did not see the difference between the use of the ancient and modern accent. Together with the term, they have also adopted their definition; whereas in reality they are two things utterly distinct. The ancient accents, consisted in the elevation, or depression of the voice: the English accent, in the mere stress of the voice, with out any change of note. Among the Greeks, all syllables were pronounced either in a high, low, or middle note; or else in a union of the high and low by means of the intermediate. The middle note, which was exactly at an equal distance between the high and the low, was that in which the unaccented syllables were pronounced. But every word had one letter, if a monosyllable, or one syllable, if it consisted of more than one, distinguished from the rest; either by a note of the voice perceptibly higher than the middle note, which was called the acute accent; or by a note perceptibly and in equal proportion lower than the middle one, which was called the grave accent; or by a union of the acute and grave on one syllable, which was done by the voice passing from the acute, through the middle note, in continuity down to the grave, which was called the circumflex.
Now in pronouncing English words, it is true that one syllable is always distinguished from the rest, but it is not by any perceptible elevation or depression of the voice, any high or low note that it is done, but merely by dwelling longer upon it, or giving it a more forcible stroke. When the stress or accent is on the vowel, we dwell longer on that syllable than the rest. As, in the words, glóry, fáther, hóly. When it is on the consonant, the voice, passing rapidly over the vowel, gives a smarter stroke to the consonant, which distinguishes that syllable from others; as, in the words, bat'tle, hab'it, bor'row. Thus we see, that the whole difference between the ancients and us, lies in this; that they distinguished one syllable from the rest by a change of note upon it; and we distinguish it equally well, without any change of note, by stress only. To illustrate this, let us suppose the same movenients beat upon the drum, and sounded by the trumpet. Take, for instance, a succession of words, where the accent is on every second syllable, which forms an Iambic movement; the only way by which a drum (as it is incapable of any change of notes) can mark that movement, is by striking a soft note first, followed by one more forcible, and so on in succession. Let the same movement be sounded by the trumpet, in an alternation of high and low notes, and it will give a distinct idea of the difference between the English accent, and those of the ancients.*
* Mr. Walker in his “observations on the Latin and Greek accent” thus controverts the opinion of our author. “Mr. Sheridan, with his usual decision tells us that accent is only a greater force upon one syllable than another, without any relation to the elevation or depression of the voice: while almost every other writer on the subject makes the elevation or depression of the voice inseparable from accent. When words are pronounced in a monotone as the bellman repeats
The difficulty of conceiving the use of the ancient accents, arises from our never having heard any people speak, who had taken the pains to reduce their
his verses, the crier pronounces his advertisements, or the clerk of a church gives out the psalm, we hear an ictus or accentual force upon the several accented syllables which distinguishes them from the others, but no more variety of tone than if we were to beat the syllables upon a drum, which may be louder or softer, but cannot be higher or lower; this is pronouncing according to Mr. Sheridan's definition of accent: and this pronunciation certainly comes under the definition of singing; it is singing ill indeed, as Julius Cæsar said of a bad reader, but still it is singing, and therefore essentially different from speaking; for in speaking, the voice is continually sliding upwards or downwards; and in singing it is leaping, as it were from a lower to a higher, or from a higher to a lower note: the only two possible ways of varying the human voice with respect to elevation or depression." But Mr. W. admits, that “ that excellent scholar, Mr. Forster,” and that “most ingenious, learned and candid inquirer” Mr. Nares, were of the same opinion with Mr. Sheridan.
It is left for the reader to judge whether Walker has, in this instance, done justice to Sheridan. It should be borne in mind, that our author makes an important distinction between accent and emphasis. The former, he considers as “the link which ties syllables together and forms them into words.” “ The essence of a syllable consists in articulation only;-but the essence of a word, consists in accent as well as articulation. This will be made clear by an example. If I pronounce the word ar-ti-cu-la-tion, in that manner without distinguishing any syllable from the rest, it is no longer a word, but a succession of syllables; but when I pronounce it articulation, laying an accent on the syllable lá, that it is which constitutes a word, by uniting the preceding syllables and the subsequent
common mode of utterance, like singing, to a musical proportion: for, surely there is nothing in the nature of things, to prevent our modifying the various notes of the speaking voice, by a due proportion, any more than those of the singing voice. We know for certain, that the Greeks and Romans did modulate their several languages in that way, and carried the point to perfection; though in this we do not find they were ever followed by any other people.*
one to itself. Emphasis unites words together and forms them into sentences, or members of sentences. Accent is the mark which distinguishes words from each other as simple types of our ideas, without reference to their agreement or disagree. ment: emphasis is the mark which points out the several degrees of relationship, and the rank which they hold in the mind. Accent addresses itself to the ear only; emphasis through the ear to the understanding. Were there no accents, words would be resolved into their original syllables ; were there no emphasis, sentences would be resolved into their original words; and in this case, the hearer must be at the pains himself, first of making out the words, and afterwards their meaning."
The inflexions of voice and variety of tones which are necessary to graceful and effective delivery, may be more appropriately classed among the properties of emphasis than those of accent.-.For it must be manifest I think, to every one who seriously reflects on the subject, that they are dependent upon sentiments uttered, or emotions of the mind, rather than upon the quantity or quality of syllables and words.
That Mr. S. does not advocate that monotonous sing-song style of Elocution which Mr. Walker would represent to be the necessary consequence of his doctrine upon the accent, will be manifest to the reader when we come to present some extracts from his Lectures on the pitch and management of the voice, tones, &c.—Ed.
If it be asked how it was possible that these nice proportions could be observed in common discourse by a whole people ; it may be answered that this was a matter not left to chance. When the practice of the best orators of Greece, had established the proportion of these accents, observation on the pleasing effects which such proportion produced on the ear, gave rise to the rules of art; and the children of all the better class of people, were regularly taught these proportions, at the same time that they learned to read, by the same masters who taught the art of singing, and playing upon musical instruments: for the use of a false accent, would have been an unpardonable fault, in any one who attempted to speak in public. This uniformity in the higher class, was easily transferred,
* Mr. Sheridan refers to the Scotch as using freely the acute, grave and circumflex, though not in the same regular and musical cadences which distinguished those accents among the ancient Greeks. As one consequence of this peculiarity of the Scotch pronunciation, the term canting, or chanting, has been extensively applied to their style of public Elocution, and especially in the pulpit. So universal and popular was this chanting style in the days of Whitefield, that when that eminent minister of Jesus Christ (who was one of the most accomplished and powerful orators the world ever saw,) visited Scotland, he was received with little favour, on account of his natural style of Elocution: the common remark was, that he wanted the holy tone !-Ed.