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another, so that the sense of the whole is not brought out till the close. The following is an example of one in which the sense is formed into short, independent propositions, each complete within itself. “I confess, it was want of consideration that made me an author. I wrote because it amused
I corrected, because it was as pleasant to me to correct, as to write. I published, because I was told I might please such as it was a credit to please.”
A train of sentences, constructed in the same manner, and with the same number of members, should never be allowed to succeed one another. A protracted succession of either long or short sentences, or of sentences of the same length, should also be avoided : for the ear tires of such expressions, when they are too long continued. Whereas, by a proper mixture of long and short periods, and of periods variously constructed, not only the ear is gratified, but animation and force are given to our style. A very frequent succession of words or phrases, in couplets, or triplets, is also a great blemish in composition.
We now proceed to consider the things most essential to an accurate and a perfect sentence. They appear to be the four following: 1. CLEARNESS.
4. A JUDICIOUS USE OF 2. UNITY.
THE FIGURES OF 3. STRENGTH.
OF THE CLEARNESS OF A SENTENCE.
See Vol. ii. Part 5. Exercises. Clearness. Cbap. 1.
THE FIRST requisite of a perfect sentence, is Clearness.
Whatever leaves the mind in any sort of suspense as to the meaning, ought to be avoided. Obscurity arises from two causes ; either from a wrong choice of words, or a wrong arrangement of them. The choice of words and phrases, as far as regards perspicuity, has been already considered. The disposition of them comes now under consideration.
The first thing to be studied here, is grammatical propriety. But as the grammar of our language is comparatively not extensive, there may be an obscure order of words, where there is no transgression of any grammatical rule. The relations of words, or members of a period, are, with us, ascer. tained only by the position in which they stand.
Hence a capital rule in the arrangement of sentences is, that the words or members, most clearly related, should be placed in the sentence as near to each other as possible, so as to make their mutual relation clearly appear.
It will be proper to produce some instances, in order to show the importance of this rule.
1. In the posilion of adverbs. “The Romans understood liberty, at least, as well as we.” These words are capable of two different senses, according as the emphasis, in reading them, is laid upon liberty, or upon at least. The words should have been thus arranged : “ The Romans understood liberty as well, at least, as we."
“ Theism can only be opposed to polytheism, or atheism." Is it meant that theism is capable of nothing else besides being opposed to polytheism, or atheism? This is what the words literally import, through the wrong placing of the adverb only. It should have been, “ Theism can be opposed only to polytheism or atheism."
“By the pleasures of the imagination, I mean only such pleasures as arise originally from sight.” When it is said, “I mean only such pleasures,” it may be remarked, that the adverb only is not properly placed. It is not intended here to qualify the word mean, but such pleasures ; and therefore should have been placed in as close connexion as possible, with the word which it limits or qualifies. The style becomes more clear and neat, when the words are arranged thus : "By the pleasures of the imagination, I mean such pleasures only as arise from sight."
In the following sentence, the word more is not in its proper place. “ There is not perhaps, any real beauty or deformity more in one piece of matter than another." The phrase ought to have stood thus : “ Beauty or deformity in one piece of matter, more than in another."
2. In the position of circumstances, and of particular members.
The following passage, taken from Blackstone's Commentary on the laws of England, exhibits a number of depending circumstances distinctly and advantageously arranged. He is writing concerning the origin of civil power. " This is what
is meant by the original contract of society, which, though it has, perhaps, in no instance, ever been formally expressed at the first institution of a state, yet, in nature and reason, should always be understood, in every act of associating together.” In this instance, the original contract of society, is the principal idea, and appears, with propriety, as the first and leading part of the sentence: “ This is what is meant by the original contract of society.”
The action or verb "expres
' . sed," is limited by two circumstances, namely, “in no instance,” and “at the first institution of a state.” The former of these circumstances is placed before the verb, and the latter after it, in a manner perfectly analogous to the position of two adverbs attending on the same verb; viz. "which contract, though perhaps it has, in no instance, been formally expressed, at the first institution of a state.” The second verb or action of the sentence, namely, “understood,” is attended also by two circumstances, viz. “in nature and in reason," and, “in every act of associating together;" which circumstances are arranged in the same manner, and upon the same principle, as those in the former part of the sentence, namely, one before, and the other after, the action; thus: “yet, in nature and in reason, should always be understood, in every act of associating together."
An author, in his dissertation on parties, thus obscurely and irregularly expresses himself: “Are these designs which any man, who is born a Briton, in any circumstances, in any situation, ought to be ashamed or afraid to avow ?" Here we are left at a loss, whether these words, “in any circumstances, in any situation,” are connected with “a man born a Briton, in
а any circumstances or situation," or with that man's “avowing his designs in any circumstances or situation into which he may be brought." As it is probable that the latter was intended, the arrangement ought to have been conducted thus: “Are these designs which any man, who is born a Briton, ought to be ashamed or afraid, in any situation, in any circumstances, to avow ?"
The following is another instance of a wrong arrangement of circumstances. “ A great stone that I happened to find, after a long search, by the sea shore, served me for an anchor." One would think that the search was confined to the sea shore; but as the meaning is, that the great stone was found by the sea shore, the period ought to have run thus: “A great stone, that, after a long search, I happened to find by the sea shore, served me for an anchor."
It is a rule, too, never to crowd many circumstances together, but rather to intersperse them in different parts of the sentence, joined with the principal words on which they depend. For instance : “What I had the opportunity of mentioning to my friend, sometime ago, in conversation, was not a new thought.” These two circumstances, “ sometime ago,” and " in conversation,” which are here put together, would have had a better effect disjoined thus: “What I had the opportunity, sometime ago, of mentioning to my friend, in conversation, was not a new thought.”
Here follows an example of the wrong arrangement of a member of a sentence. “ The minister of state who grows less by his elevation, like a little statue placed on a mighty pedestal, will always have his jealousy strong about him.” Here, so far as can be gathered from the arrangement, it is doubtful whether the object introduced, by way of simile, re·lates to what goes before, or to what follows. The ambiguity is removed by the following order. “ The minister of state who, like a little statue placed on a mighty pedestal, grows less by his elevation, will always,” &c.
Words expressing things connected in the thought, ought to be placed as near together as possible, even when their separation would convey no ambiguity. This will be seen in the following passages from Addison. “For the English are
“ naturally fanciful, and very often disposed, by that gloominess and melancholy of temper, which are so frequent in our nation, to many wild notions and extravagancies, to which others are not so liable." Here the verb or assertion is, by a pretty long circumstance, separated from the subject to which it re
This might have been easily prevented, by placing the circumstance before the verb, thus : “For the English are naturally fanciful, and, by that gloominess and melancholy of temper which are so frequent in our nation, are often disposed to many wild notions," &c.
“For as no mortal author, in the ordinary fate and vicissitude of things, knows to what use his works may, some time or other, be applied,” &c. · Better thus : “For as, in the ordinary fate and vicissitude of things, no mortal author knows to what use, some time or other, his works may be applied,” &c.
From these examples, the following observations will occur: that a circumstance ought never to be placed between two capital members of a period; but either between the parts of a member to which it belongs, or in such a manner as will confine it to its proper member. When the sense admits it, the sooner a circumstance is introduced, generally speaking, the better, that the more important and significant words may possess the last place, quite disencumbered. The following sentence is, in this respect, faulty. *“ The emperor was so intent on the establishment of his absolute power in Hungary, that he exposed the empire doubly to desolation and ruin for the sake
of it.” Better thus : “ That, for the sake of it, he exposed the empire doubly to desolation and ruin."
This appears to be a proper place to observe, that when different things have an obvious relation to each other, in respect to the order of nature or time, that order should be regarded, in assigning them their places in the sentence; unless the scope of the passages require it to be varied. The conclusion of the following lines is inaccurate, in this respect : “But still there will be such a mixture of delight, as is proportioned to the degree in which any one of these qualifications is most conspicuous and prevailing." The order in which the two last words are placed, should have been reversed, and made to stand, prevailing and conspicuous. They are conspicuous, because they prevail.
The following sentence is a beautiful example of strict conformity to this rule. “Our sight fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues the longest in action, without being tired or satiated with its proper enjoyments." This passage follows the order of nature. First, we have the variety of objects mentioned, which sight furnishes to the mind; next, we have the action of sight on those objects; and lastly, we have the time and continuance of its action. No order could be more natural or exact.
The order which we now recommend, is, in single words especially, frequently violated, for the sake of better sound; but, perhaps, in no instances, without a deviation from the line of strict propriety.
3. In the disposition of the relative pronouns, who, which, what, whose, and of all those particles which express the connerion of the parts of speech with one another.
A small error, in the position of these words, may cloud the meaning of the whole sentence; and even where the meaning is intelligible, we always find something awkward and disjointed in the structure of the sentence, when these relatives are out of their proper place. “ This kind of wit,” says an author, , "was very much in vogue among our countrymen, about an age or two ago; who did not practice it for any oblique reason, but purely for the sake of being witty.” We are at no loss about the meaning here; but the construction would evidently be mended, by disposing the circumstance, “about an age or two ago,” in such a manner as not to separate the relative who, from its antecedent our countrymen; in this way: “About an age or two ago, this kind of wit was very much in vogue among our countrymen, who did not practice it," &c.