Page images

which are so frequent in our nation, to many wild notiong 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 refers 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 vicis. situde 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 be. tween two capital members of a period; but either between the parts of the 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 strice


conformity to this rule. “ Dar 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 sigbt 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 Connexion 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 practise 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 :

6 About an age or two ago, this kind of wit was very much in vogue among our countrymen, who did not practise it,” &c.

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 im mediately 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 trea. surex, to arm ourselves against the accidents of life, which nothing can protect us against,” &c.

With regard to relatives, it may be further 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 refer. ences 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, pot only gives clearness to it, but makes the mind pass smoothly and agrecably along all the parts of it.See the APPENDIX to the Exercises.


OF THE UNITY OF A SENTENCE. 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, aor 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 objecte 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 I and who, they appear in so disunited a view, that the sense of connexion is much impaired. The sentence is re.. stored 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 piace of safety, at the distance of about Biteca leagues." Better thus: “The sultan being dangerously wounded, was carried to his tent; and, on hearing of the font 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.

I'he 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. “ Archbishop Tillotsor," 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 fesh was rank and unsavoury, by reason of their continnal feeding upon sea-fish.” Here

[ocr errors]

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 distance from the object with which he set out.

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 conversant in the dialect of these times, or young men who bad 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 accomplish

« PreviousContinue »