« PreviousContinue »
Haughtiness, disdain. Haughtiness is founded on the bigh opinion we entertain of ourselves; disdain, on the low opinion we have of others.
Only, alone.--Only, imports that there is no other of the same kind; alone, imports being accompanied by no other. An only child, is one that has neither brother nor sister; a child alone, is one who is left by itself. There is a difference, therefore, in precise language, between these two phrases : “ Virtue only makes us happy;" and “ Vir. tue alone makes us happy.”
Wisdom, prudence.-Wisdom leads us to speak and act what is most proper. Prudence, prevents our speaking or acting improperly.
Entire, complete. -A thing is entire, by wanting none of its parts : complete, by wanting none of the appendages that belong to it. A man may have an entire house to himself, and yet not have one complete apartment.
Surprised, astonished, amazed, confounded.- I am surprised with what is new or unexpected; I am astonished at what is vast or great; I am amazed at what is incomprehensible; I am confounded by what is shocking or terrible.
Tranquillity, peace, calm.-Tranquillity, respects a siCuation free from trouble, considered in itself; peace, the same situation with respect to any causes that might interrupt it; calm, with regard to a disturbed situation going before or following it. A good man enjoys tranquillity, in himself; peace, with others; and calm, after the storm.
These are some of the numerous instances of words, in our language, whose significations approach, but are not precisely the same. The more the distinction in the meaning of such words is attended to, the more clearly and forcibly shall we speak or write. It may not, on all occasions, be necessary to pay a great deal of attention to very nice distinctions; yet-the foregoing instances show the utility of some general care to understand the distinct import of our words.
While we are attending to precision, we must be on our guard, lest, from the desire of pruning too closely, we retrench all copiousness. Scarcely in any language are there two words that convey precisely the same idea',
a person thoroughly conversant in the propriety of the language, will always be able to observe something that distinguishes them. As they are like different shades of the same colour, an accurate writer can employ them to great advantage, by using them so as to beighten and complete the object which he presents to us. plies by one what was wanting in the other, to the strength, or to the finishing, of the image which he means to exbibit. But, for this purpose, he must be attentive to the choice of his words, and not employ them carelessly, merely for the sake of filling up a period, or of rounding or diversifying his language, as if their signification were exactly the same, while in truth it is not. To unite copiousness and precision, to be full and easy, and at the same time correct and exact in the choice of every word, is no doubt one of the highest and most difficult attainments in writing.
OF PERSPICUITY AND ACCURACY OF EXPRESSION, WITH RE
SPECT TO THE CONSTRUCTION OF SENTENCES. SENTENCES, in general, should neither be very long, aor very short : long ones require close attention to make us clearly perceive the connexion of the several parts ; and short ones are apt to break the sense, and weaken the connexion of thought. Yet occasionally they may both be used with force and propriety; as may be seen in the following sentences
“ If you look about you, and consider the lives of others as well as your own ; if you think how few are born with honour, and how many die without name or children; how little beauty we see, and how few friends we hear of; how much poverty, and how many diseases there are in the world; you will fall down upon your knees, and instead of repining at one affliction, will admire so many blessings which you have received from the Divine band.
This is a sentence composed of several members linked together, and hanging upon one another, so that the sense of the whole is not brought out till the close. The following is an exaniple of one in which the sense is formed into short independent propositions, each com
plete within itself. “I confess, it was want of consideration that made me an author. I wrote because it amused me. 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 long succession of either long or short sentences should also be avoided ; for the ear tires of either of them when 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
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. 2. UNITY. 3. STRENGTH. 4. A JUDICIOUS USE OF THE FIGURES of SPEECH.
OF THE CLEARNESS OF A SENTENCE. Purity, propriety, and precision, in words and phrases separately considered, have already been explained, and shown to be necessary to perspicuous and accurate writing. The just relation of sentences, and the parts of sentences, to one another, and the due arrangement of the whole, are the subjects which renain to be discussed.
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 as, ascertained 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 possi. ble, 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 position 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 read, ing 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 athe
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. An author, in his dissertation on parties, thus
expresses himself: “ Are these designs which any man, who is bora. 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 situa. • tion," are connected with “ å man born in Britain, in any circumstances or situation," or with that man's "avowing his designs in any circumstances or situation into which we
may be brought." As it is probable that the latter was intended, the arrangement ought to have beeu 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 arrange ment 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 con. fined 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 opportu. nity of mentioning to my friend, sometime ago, in conver. sation, 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 01 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
Here, so far as can be gathered from the arrange. ment, it is doubtful whether the object introduced, by way of simile, relates to what goes before, or to what fol. lows. 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 Qisposed by that gloominess and melancholy of temper ::