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PERSPICUITY is the fundamental quality of style: a quality so essential in every kind of writing, that for the want of it nothing can atone. It is not to be considered as merely a sort of negative virtue, or freedom from defect. It has higher merit: it is a degree of positive beauty. We are pleased with an author, and consider him
as deserving praise, who frees us from all fatigue of searching for his meaning: who carries us through his subject without any embarrassment or confusion: whose style flows always like a limpid stream, through which we see to the very bottom.
Authors sometimes plead the difficulty of their subject, as an excuse for the want of perspicuity. But the excuse can rarely, if ever, be admitted. For whatever a man conceives clearly, he may, if he will be at the trouble, put it into distinct propositions, and express it clearly to others; and upon no subject ought any man to write, where he cannot think clearly. His ideas may, very excusably, be on some subjects incomplete or inadequate ; but still, as far as they go, they ought to be clear; and wherever this is the case, perspicuity, in expressing them, is always attainable.
The study of perspicuity and accuracy sion, consists of Three Parts: and requires attention, First, to Single Words and Phrases ; Secondly, to the Construction of Sentences ; and Thirdly, to the Great Principle which decides the propriety of language. If words are properly chosen, correctly arranged, and conformable to present established usage, it is impossible that the sense can be ambiguous.
OF PERSPICUITY AND ACCURACY OF
EXPRESSION, With respect to Single Words and Phrases. THESE qualities of style, considered with regard to words and phrases, require the following properties:
See Vol. ii. Part 5. Exercises. Chap. 1.
Purity of style consists in the use of such words, and such constructions, as belong to the idiom of the language which we speak; in opposition to words and phrases that are taken from other languages, or that are ungrammatical, obsolete, new-coined, or used without proper authority. All such words and phrases as the following, should be avoided : Quoth he; I wist not; erewhile ; behest; self-same; delicatesse, for delicacy; politesse, for politeness ; hauteur, for haughtiness ; incumberment, connexity, martyrized, for encumbrance, connexion, martyred.
Foreign and learned words, unless where necessity requires them, should never be admitted into our composition. Barren languages may need such assistance, but ours is not one of these. A multitude of Latin words, in particular, have, of late, been poured in upon our language. On some occasions, they give an appearance of elevation and dignity to style ; but they often render it stiff and apparently forced. In general, a plain, native style, is more intelligible to all readers : and by a proper management of words, it can be made as strong and expressive as this Latinised English, or any foreign idioms.
* Purity requires that those words only shall be employed, which are of classical authority: Propriety, that, of classical words, those shall always be selected, which are best adapted to express the meaning: Precision, that no more words shall be introduced, than are necessary to convey the sense. Classical authority consists of speakers and writers, who are deservedly in high estimation : speakers, distinguished for their elocution, and persuasive eloquence ; writers, eminent for correct taste, solid matter, and refined
See Vol. ii. Part 5. Exercises. Chap. 2. PROPRIETY of language, is the selection of such words as the best usage has appropriated to those ideas, which we intend to express by them ; in opposition to low expressions, and to words and phrases which would be less significant of the ideas that we mean to convey. Style may be pure, that is, it may be strictly English, without Scotticisms or Gallicisms or ungrammatical, irregular expressions of any kind, and may, nevertheless, be deficient in propriety; for the words may be ill chosen, not adapted to the subject, nor fully expressive of the author's sense.
To preserve propriety, therefore, in our words and phrases, we must avoid low expressions ; supply words that are wanting ; be careful not to use the same word in different senses ; avoid the injudicious use of technical phrases, equivocal or ambiguous words, unintelligible expressions, and all such words and phrases as are not adapted to our meaning.
1. Avoid low expressions : such as,“ Topsy turvy, hurly burly, pellmell; having a month's mind for a thing ; currying favour with a person ; dancing attendance on the great,” &c.
“ Meantime the Britons, left to shift for themselves, were forced to call in the Saxons for their defence."
The phrase “left to shift for themselves.” is rather a low phrase, and too much in a familiar style to be proper in a grave treatise.
2. Supply words that are wanting. “ Arbitrary power I look upon as a greater evil than anarchy itself, as much as a savage is a happier state of life, than a slave at the oar:' it should have been, “as much as the state of a savage, is happier than that of a slave at the oar." “ He has not treated this subject liberally, by the views of others as well as his own;" “ By' adverting to the views of others," would have been better.