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CONTAINING RULES AND OBSERVATIONS FOR ASSISTING YOUNG
PERSONS TO WRITE WITH PERSPICUITY AND ACCURACY. TO BE STUDIED AFTER THEY HAVE ACQUIRED A COMPETENT INOWLEDGE OF ENGLISH GRAMMAR.
PERSPICUITY "S the fundamental quality of style: a quality so essenHal 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.
The study of perspicuity and accuracy of expression consists of two parts: and requires attention, first, to Single Words and Phrases ; and then, to the Construction of Sentences.
respect to single Words and Phrases. THESE qualities of style, considered with regard to words and phrases, require the following properties : PURITY, PROPRIETY, and PRECISION,
OF PURITY. 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 ungramma. tical, 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 ; selfsame; delicatesse, for delicacy; politesse, for poLiteness; hauteur, for haughtiness; incumberinent, connexity, martyrised, 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 uot 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
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 inay be pure, that is, it may be strictly English, without Scotticisms or Gallicisms, or ungrarnmatical, irregular expressions of any kind, and may, nevertheless, be deficient in propriety: for the words may be ill chosen, not adapted to the subject, por 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, burly burly, pellmell; having a month's mind for a thing; cur
rying favour with a person ; dancing attendance on the
“ 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 the 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 a's 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.
generous action greatly increased his former services;” it should have been, “greatly increased the merit of his former services." ** the pleasures of the imagination or fancy (which I shall use promiscuously) I here mean," &c. This passage ought to have had the word "terms” supplied, which would have made it correct : “ terms which I shall use promiscuously.”
It may be proper in this place to observe, that articles and prepositions are sometimes improperly omitted; as in the following instances : “ How immense the difference between the pious and profane !" “ Death is the common lot of all ; of good men and bad." They should have had the article and preposition repeated : “ How immense the difference between the pious and the profane!" "Death is the common lot of all ; of good men and of bad."
The repetition of articles and prepositions is proper, when we intend to point out the objects of which we speak, as distinguished from each other, or in contrast; and when we wish that the reader's attention should rest on that distinction : as, “ Our sight is at once the most delightful, and the most useful of all our senses.
3. In the saine sentence, be careful not to use the same word too frequently, nor in different senses. “One may have an air which proceeds from a just sufficiency and knowledge of the inatter before him, zhich may paturally produce some motions of his head and body, which might be. come the bench better than the bar."
The pronoun which is here thrice used, in such a man. der as to throw obscurity over the sentence.
Gregory favoured the undertaking, for no other rea. son than this, that the manager, in countenance, favoured his friend." It should have been, “ resembled his friend."
Charity expands our hearts in love to God and man: it is by the virtue of charity that the rich are blessed, and the poor supplied. In this sentence, the word “ charity” is improperly used in two different senses; for the highest benevolence, and for almsgiving.
4. Avoid the injudicious use of technical terms. To in. form those who do not understand sea-phrases, that “ We tacked to the larboard, and stood off to sea," would be expressing ourselves very obscurely. Technical phrases not being in current use, but only the peculiar dialect of a particular class, we should never use them but when we know they will be understood.
5. Avoid equivocal or ambiguous words. The following sentences are exceptionable in this respect. “ As for such animals as are mortal or noxious, we have a right to de. stroy them.” “ I long since learned to like nothing but what
.” “ He aimed at nothing less than the crown," may denote either, “ Nothing was less aimed at by him than the crown," or Nothing inferior to the crown could satisfy his ambition.” “ I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." The first part of this sentence denotes, “ I will exercise mercy;" whereas it is in this place employed to signify, “ I require others to exercise it.” The translation shonid therefore have been accommodated these different meanings. They were both much more ancient among the Persians, than Zoroaster or Zerdusht.” The or in this sentence is equivocal. It serves either as a copula. tive to. synonymous words, or as a disjunctive of different things. If, therefore, the student should not know that Zoroaster and Zerdusht mean the same person, he will mistake the sense. “ The rising tomb a lofty colump bore :" " And thus the son the fervent sire addrest.” Did the tomb bear the column, or the column the tomb? Did the son address the sire, or the sire the son ?
6. Avoid unintelligible and inconsistent words or phrases “I have observed,” says Steele, “ that the superiority among these coffeehouse politicians, proceeds from an
opinion of gallantry and fashion.” This sentence, con. sidered in itself, evidently conveys no meaning. First, it is not said whose opinion, their own, or that of others : Secondly, it is not said what opinion, or of what sort, fa. vourable or unfavourable, true or false, but in general, "an opinion of gallantry and fashion,” which contains no definite expression of any meaning. With the joint assist. ance of the context, reflection, and conjecture, we shall perhaps conclude that the author intended to say ; the rank among these politicians was determined by the opinion generally entertained of the rank, in point of gal. lantry and fashion, that each of them had attained."
“ This temper of mind,” says an author, speaking of humility, “keeps our understanding tight about us.” Whether the author had any meaning in this expression, or what it was, is not easy to determine.
Sometimes a writer runs on in a specious verbosity, amusing his reader with synonymous terms and identical propositions, well-turned periods, and high sounding words; but at the same time, using those words so indefinitely, that the reader can either affix no meaning at all to them, or may affix to them almost any meaning he pleases.
“ If it is asked,” says a late writer," whence arises the harmony, or beauty of language? what are the rules for obtaining it? the answer is obvious. Whatever renders a period sweet and pleasant, makes it also graceful. A good ear is the gift of nature ; it may be much improved, but not acquired by art. Whoever is possessed of it, will scarcely need dry critical precepts to enable him to judge of a true rhythmus, and melody of composition. Just numbers, accurate proportions, a musical symphony, magnificent figures, and that decorum which is the result of all these, are unison to the human mind."
The following is a poetical example of the same nature, in which there is scarcely a glimpse of meaning, though ; it was composed by an eminent poet.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began :
From harmony to harmony