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extract, the figure of Amplification comprises that of Antithesis.
We have now finished what was proposed, concerning Perspicuity in single words and phrases, and the accurate construction of sentences. The former has been considered, under the heads of Purity, Propriety, and Precision; and the latter, under those of Clearness, Unity, Strength, and the proper use of Figurative Language. Though many of those attentions which have been recommended, may appear minute, yet their effect upon writing and style, is much greater than might, at first, be imagined. A sentiment which is expressed in accurate language, and in a period, clearly, neatly, and well arranged, always makes a stronger impression on the mind, than one that is expressed inaccurately, or in a feeble or embarrassed manner. Every one feels this upon a comparison : and if the effect be sensible in one sentence, how much more in a whole discourse, or composition that is made up of such sentences ?
The fundamnental rule for writing with accuracy, and into which all others might be resolved, undoubtedly is, to communicate, in correct language, and in the clearest and most natural order, the ideas which we mean to transfuse into the minds of others. Such a selection and arrangement of words, as do most justice to the sense, and express it to most advantage, make an agreeable and strong impression. To these points have tended all the rules which have been given. Did we always think clearly, and were we, at the same time, fully masters of the language in which we write, there would be occasion for few rules. Our sentences would then, of course, , acquire all those properties of clearness, unity, strength, and accuracy, which have been recommended. For we may rest assured, that whenever we express ourselves ill, besides the mismanagement of language, there is, for the most part, some mistake in our manner of conceiving the subject. Embarrassed, obscure, and feeble sentences, are generally, if not always, the result of embarrassed, obscure, and feeble thought. Thought and expression act and re-act upon each other. The understanding and language have a strict connexion ; and they who are learning to compose and arrange their sentences with accuracy and order, are learning, at the same time, to think with accuracy and order; a consideration which alone will recompense the student, for his attention to this branch of literature.
We now proceed to consider the Third Part of our subject, namely, the great principle or standard, by which the propriety of language is ascertained and determined.
OF PERSPICUITY AND ACCURACY OF
EXPRESSION, With respect to the Great Principle, which, on all occasions,
decides the propriety of language.
AMIDST the diversity and fluctuation of sentiment, respecting the correctness of language and the true idiom of our tongue, which are so frequently found to prevail amongst writers and critics, the student will naturally wish to be directed to some authority and standard, by which his doubts may, on most, if not all occasions, be removed, and the propriety of his literary compositions ascertained. This principle or standard, is reputable, national, and present use.
In the course of our grammatical labours, we have occasionally referred, or alluded, to this standard: but the nature and importance of it require a more extensive and particular examination. A proper view of the subject involves, indeed, much critical discussion, and many necessary cautions, rules, and distinctions. But though the execution of such a work, is a delicate and arduous task, it has been happily accomplished by the learned and ingenious Doctor Campbell, in his “Philosophy of Rhetoric.” We shall therefore, availing ourselves of his labours, produce a copious extract (with some additions and alterations) from what he has written on the subject; which we hope will afford the ingenious student complete satisfaction.
The nature and characters of the use which gives law to language.
Every tongue whatever is founded in use or custom,
" Whose arbitrary sway Words and the forms of language must obey.” * FRANCIS.
Language is purely a species of fashion, (for this holds equal. ly of every tongue,) in which, by the general, but tacit consent
of the people of a particular state or country, certain sounds come to be appropriated to certain things, as their signs; and certain ways of inflecting and combining those sounds comes to be established, as denoting the relations which subsist among the things signified.
It is not the business of grammar, as some critics seem preposterously to imagine, to give law to the fashions, which reguIate our speech. On the contrary, from its conformity to these, and from that alone, it derives all its authority and value. For, what is the grammar of any language? It is no other than a collection of general observations methodically digested, and comprising all the modes previously and independently established, by which the significations, derivations, and combinations of words in that language, are ascertained. It is of no consequence here to what causes originally these modes or fashions owe their existence; whether to imitation, or reflection, to affectation, or to caprice : they no sooner obtain and become general, than they are laws of the language, and the grammarian's only business is, to note, collect, and methodise them.*
Nor does this truth concern only those more comprehensive analogies or rules, which affect whole classes of words; such as nouns, verbs, and the other parts of speech; but it concerns every individual word, in the inflecting or the combining of which, a particular mode has prevailed. Every single anomaly, therefore, though departing from the rule assigned to the other words of the same class, and on that account called an exception, stands on the same basis, on which the rules of the tongue are founded, custom having prescribed for it a separate rule.--If use be here a matter of such consequence, it will be necessary, before advancing any farther, to ascertain precisely, what it is. We shall otherwise be in danger, though we agree about the name, of differing widely in the notion that we assign to it.
Of reputable use.
In what extent then must the term be understood ? It is sometimes called general use; yet is it not manifest, that the generality of people speak and write very badly? Nay, is not this a truth that will be even generally acknowledged ? It will be so; and this very acknowledgment shows, that many terms and idioms may be common, which, nevertheless, have
It is scarcely necessary to observe, that, with the moral misapplication of words and phrases, this work bas pot any concern. No usage whatever can justify such perversions of language.
not the general sanction; no, nor even the suffrage of those that use them. The use here spoken of, implies not only currency but vogue. It is properly reputable custom.
This leads to a distinction between good use, and bad use in language, the former of which will be found to have the approbation of those who have not themselves attained it. The far greater part of mankind, perhaps ninety-nine of a hundred, are, by reason of poverty and other circumstances, deprived of the advantages of education, and obliged to toil for bread, almost incessantly, in some narrow occupation. They have neither the leisure nor the means of attaining scarcely any knowledge, except what lies within the contracted circle of their several professions. As the ideas which occupy their minds are few, the portion of the language known to them must be very scanty. It is impossible that our knowledge of words should outstrip our knowledge of things. It may, and often does, come short of it. Words may be remembered as sounds, but cannot be understood as signs, whilst we remain unacquainted with the things signified.
From the practice of those who are conversant in any art, elegant or mechanical, we may always take the sense of the terms and phrases belonging to that art: in like manner, from the practice of those who have had a liberal education, and are therefore presumed to be best acquainted with men and things, we judge of the general use in language. If, in this particular, there be any deference to the practice of the great and rich, it is not ultimately because they are greater and richer than others; but because, from their greatness and riches, they are imagined to be wiser and more knowing. The source, therefore, of that preference which distinguishes good use from bad in language, is a natural propension of the human mind to believe, that those are the best judges of the proper signs, and of the proper application of them, who understand best the things which they represent.
But who are they, that in the public estimation are possessed of this character ? This question is of the greatest moment for ascertaining that use, which is entitled to the epi. thets reputable and good. Vaugelas makes them in France to be," the soundest part of the court, and the soundest part of the authors of the age. _With us Britons, the first part, at least, of this description, will not answer. Use in language requires firmer ground to stand upon. No doubt, the conversation of men of rank and eminence, whether of the court or not, will have its influence. And in what concerns merely the proter, in
nunciation, it is the only rule to which we can refer the mat
every doubtful case : but in what concerns the words themselves, their construction and application, it is of importance to have some certain, steady, and well known standard to recur to, a standard which every one has access to canvass and examine. And this can be no other than authors of reputation. Accordingly we find that these are, by universal consent, in actual possession of this authority ; as, to this tribunal, when any doubt arises, the appeal is always made.
I choose to name them, authors of reputation, rather than good authors, for two reasons : first, because it is more strictly conformable to the truth of the case. It is solely the esteem of the public, and not their intrinsic merit, (though these two go generally together,) which raises them to this distinction, and stamps a value on their language. Secondly, this character is more definitive than the other, and therefore more extensively intelligible. Between two or more authors, different readers will differ exceedingly, as to the preference in point of merit, who agree perfectly as to the respective places they hold in the favour of the public. You may find persons of a taste so particular, as to prefer Parnel to Milton; but you will hardly find a person that will dispute the superiority of the latter in the article of fame. For this reason, I affirm,
I that Vaugelas's definition labours under an essential defect, in as much as it may be difficult to meet with two persons whose judgments entirely coincide, in determining who are the sounder part of the court, or of the authors of the age. I need scarcely add, that when I speak of reputation, I mean not only in regard to knowledge, but in regard to the talent of communicating knowledge. I could name writers, who, in respect of the first, have been justly valued by the public, but who, on account of a supposed deficiency in respect of the second, are considered as of no authority in language.
Nor is there the least ground to fear, that we should be cramped here within too narrow limits. In the English tongue, there is a plentiful supply of noted writings, in all the various kinds of composition, in prose and verse, serious and ludicrous, grave and familiar. Agreeably then to this first qualification of the term, we must understand to be comprebended under general use, whatever modes of speech are authorized as good, by the writings of a great number, if not the majority, of celebrated authors.