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The following passage is still more censurable. “It is folly to pretend to arm ourselves against the accidents of life, by heaping up treasures, which nothing can protect us against, but the good providence of our Creator.” Which always refers grammatically to the substantive immediately preceding; and that, in the instance just mentioned, is “ treasures." The sentence ought to have stood thus : " It is folly to pretend, by heaping up treasures, to arm ourselves against the accidents of life,
which nothing can protect us against,” &c. With regard to relatives, it may be farther observed, that obscurity often arises from the too frequent repetition of them, particularly of the pronouns who and they, and them and theirs, when we have occasion to refer to different persons ; as in the following sentence of Tillotson.
“ Men look with an evil eye upon the good that is in others, and think, that their reputation obscures them, and their commendable qualities stand in their light; and therefore they do what they can to cast a cloud over them, that the bright shining of their virtues may not obscure them.". This is altogether careless writing. When we find these personal pronouns crowding too fast upon us, we have often no method left, but to throw the whole sentence into some other form, which may avoid those frequent references to persons who have before been mentioned.
To have the relation of every word and member of a sentence marked, in the most proper and distinct manner, not only gives clearness to it, but makes the mind pass smoothly and agreeably along all the parts of it.
OF THE UNITY OF A SENTENCE.
See Vol. ii. Part 5. Exercises. Unity. Chap. 2.
The second requisite of a perfect sentence, is its Unity.
In every composition, there is always some connecting principle among the parts. Some one object must reign and be predominant. But most of all, in a single sentence, is required the strictest unity. For the very nature of a sentence implies that one proposition is expressed. It may consist of parts, indeed, but these parts must be so closely bound together, as to make the impression upon the mind, of one object, not of many. To preserve this unity of a sentence, the following rules must be observed.
In the first place, During the course of the sentence, the scene should be changed as little as possible. We should not be hurried by sudden transitions from person to person, nor from subject to subject. There is commonly, in every sentence, some person or thing which is the governing word. This should be continued so, if possible, from the beginning to the end of it.
The following sentence varies from this rule : “After we came to anchor, they put me on shore, where I was welcomed by all my friends, who received me with the greatest kindness.” In this sentence, though the objects contained in it have a sufficient connexion with each other, yet, by this manner of representing them, by shifting so often both the place and the person, we and they, and land who, they appear in so disunited a view, that the sense of connexion is much impaired. The sentence is restored to its proper unity, by turning it after the following manner. “Having come to an anchor, I was put on shore, where I was welcomed by all my friends, and received with the greatest kindness."
Here follows another instance of departure from the rule. “ The sultan being dangerously wounded, they carried him to his tent; and, upon hearing of the defeat of his troops, they put him into a litter, which transported him to a place of safety, at the distance of about fifteen, leagues." Better thus : "The sultan being dangerously wounded, was carried to his tent; and, on hearing of the defeat of his troops, was put into a litter, and transported to a place of safety, about fifteen leagues distant."
A second rule under the head of unity, is, Never to crowd into one sentence, things which have so little connexion, that they could bear to be divided into two or three sentences.
The violation of this rule tends so much to perplex and obscure, that it is safer to err by too many short sentences, than by one that is overloaded and embarrassed. Examples abound in authors. “Arehbishop Tillotson,” says an author, “died in this year. He was exceedingly beloved by king William and queen Mary, who nominated Dr. Tennison, bishop of Lincoln, to succeed him.” Who would expect the latter part of this sentence to follow in consequence of the former? “ He was exceedingly beloved by both king and queen,” is the proposition of the sentence. We look for. some proof of this, or at least something related to it to follow; when we are on a sudden carried off to a new proposition.
The following sentence is still worse. The author, speaking of the Greeks under Alexander, says: “ Their march was through an uncultivated country, whose savage inhabitants
fared hardly, having no other riches than a breed of lean sheep, whose flesh was rank and unsavoury, by reason of their continual feeding upon sea-fish.” Here the scene is changed upon us again and again. The march of the Greeks, the description of the inhabitants through whose country they travelled, the account of their sheep and the cause of their sheep being ill-tasted food, form a jumble of objects, slightly related to each other, which the reader cannot, without much difficulty, comprehend under one view.
These examples have been taken from sentences of no great length, yet very crowded. Writers who deal in long sentences, are very apt to be faulty in this article. Take, for an instance, the following from Temple. “The usual acceptation takes profit and pleasure for two different things, and not only calls the followers or votaries of them, by the several names of busy and idle men; but distinguishes the faculties of the mind, that are conversant about them; calling the operations of the first, Wisdom; and of the other, Wit: which is a Saxon word, used to express what the Spaniards and Italians call Ingenio, and the French Esprit, both from the Latin ; though I think wit more particularly signifies that of poetry, as may occur in remarks on the Runic language.” When the reader arrives at the end of this perplexed sentence, he is surprised to find himself at so great a distance from the object with which he set out.
It is a frequent and capital error, in the writings even of some distinguished authors, to introduce two or more leading thoughts or agents, which have no natural relation to, or dependence on one another, which cannot concur in pointing towards any one object, and which must therefore destroy the unity of the sentence. Shaftsbury has the following sentence. “ As much as the fertile mould is fitted to the tree; as much as the strong and upright trunk of the oak or elm, is fitted to the twining branches of the vine or ivy; so much are the very leaves, the seeds and fruits of these trees, fitted to the various animals: these, again, to one another, and to the elements where they live, and to which they are as appendices in a manner, fitted and joined ; as either by wings for the air, fins for the water, feet for the earth, and by other correspondent inward parts, of more curious frame and texture."
This long and complicated period presents two agents : trees lead the first member; animals, the second and the third. The sentence, should, therefore, it seems, be divided into two, or perhaps, into three sentences, with the proper agents prefixed. In this view, the first member may remain as it is; but the second and third members will assume the following appearance. ** Animals, again, are fitted to one another, and to the elements
where they live, and to which they are as appendices. They are adapted by wings for the air, fins for the water, feet for the earth, and by other correspondent inward parts, of more curious frame and texture."
Sir William Temple, speaking of the worship of the Saxons, says, " This religious worship the Saxons introduced with them, and continued long in England, till they subdued the Britons, reduced it under their heptarchy, persecuted the British Christians, and drove them with their religion into Wales; where they continued under their primitive priests and bishops, who, with their monks, were all under the superintendance of one arch-priest or bishop of Carleon, the bound of the British principality.” This clumsy period, like the preceding one, contains two agents : it begins with the Saxons, and passes from them to the British Christians; thus diminishing the perspicuity, and destroying the unity. It should have formed two sentences.
Long, involved, and intricate sentences, are great blemishes in composition. In writers of considerable correctness, we find a period sometimes running out so far, and comprehending so many particulars, as to be more properly a discourse than a sentence. An author, speaking of the progress of our language after the time of Cromwell, runs on in this manner : “ To this succeeded that licentiousness which entered with the restoration, and, from infecting our religion and morals, fell to corrupt our language; which last was not like to be much improved by those who at that time made up the court of king Charles the second ; either such as had followed him in his banishment, or who had been altogether conyersant in the dialect of these times, or young men who had been educated in the same country: so that the court, which used to be the standard of correctness and propriety of speech, was then, and I think has ever since continued, the worst school in England for that accomplishment; and so will remain, till better care be taken in the education of our nobility, that they may set out into the world with some foundation of literature, in order to qualify them for patterns of politeness."
The author, in place of a sentence, has here given a loose dissertation upon several subjects. How many different facts, reasonings, and observations, are here presented to the mind at once! and yet so linked together by the author that they all make parts of a sentence, which admits of no greater division in pointing, than a colon between any of its members.
be of use here to give a specimen of a long sentence, broken down into several periods ; by which we shall more clearly perceive the disadvantages of long sentences, and how easily they may be amended. Here follows the sentence in
its orginal form: “ Though, in yesterday's paper, we showed how every thing that is great, new, or beautiful, is apt to affect the imagination with pleasure, we must own, that it is impossible for us to assign the necessary cause of this pleasure, because we know neither the nature of an idea, nor the substance of a human soul: and therefore, for want of such a light, all that we can do, in speculations of this kind, is, to reflect on those operations of the soul that are most agreeable : and to range under their proper heads, what is pleasing or displeasing to the mind, without being able to trace out the several necessary and efficient causes, from whence the pleasure or displeasure arises."
The following amendment, besides breaking down the period into several sentences, exhibits some other useful alterations : “ In yesterday's paper, we showed that every thing which is great, new, or beautiful, is apt to affect the imagination with pleasure. We must own, that it is impossible for us to assign the efficient cause of this pleasure, because we know not the nature either of an idea, or of the human soul. All that we can do, therefore, in speculations of this kind, is to reflect on the operations of the soul which are most agreeable, and to range under proper heads what is pleasing or displeasing to the mind."
A third rule for preserving the unity of sentences, is, to keep clear of all unnecessary parentheses.
On some occasions, when the sense is not too long suspended by them, and when they are introduced in a proper place, they may add both to the vivacity, and to the energy, of the sentence. But for the most part their effect is extremely bad. They are wheels within wheels; sentences in the midst of sentences; the perplexed method of disposing of some thought which a writer wants judgment to introduce in its proper place. The parenthesis in this sentence, is striking and proper :
" And was the ransom paid ? It was ; and paid
(What can exalt the bounty more ?) for thee."
But in the following sentence, we become sensible of an impropriety in the use of it. “ If your hearts secretly reproach you, for the wrong choice you have made, (as there is time for repentance and retreat; and a return to wisdom is always honourable,) bethink yourselves that the evil is not irreparable.” It would be much better to express, in a separate sentence, the thoughts contained in this parenthesis ; thus, “If your hearts secretly reproach you for the wrong choice you have made, bethink yourselves that the evil is not irreparable. Still