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THE HON. GEORGE P. MARSH.
CONDENSATION is one of the last lessons which a young writer learns. He is afraid to be simple, and has no faith in beauty which is unadorned; hence, he crowds his sentences with superlatives, and never uses a noun without accompanying it with an adjective. In his estimation, turgidity passes for eloquence, and simplicity is but an other name for that which is weak and unmeaning. But there is an error which is the very opposite of diffuseness, and which is equally to be avoided. It consists of so injudicious a compression of our language that the meaning becomes distorted. I will illustrate this by the following passage from Mr. Marsh's Notes'. He says;
“Not only every author known to fame, but hundreds
“whose names have scarcely survived themselves,
The errors in this sentence are obvious. “Every” is singular; whereas “all” is either singular or plural; therefore, as the verb is in the plural, it would have been better to say ;“Not only all authors known to fame, but hun“dreds whose names have scarcely survived “themselves have been," etc. In the latter part of the sentence, where it may be thought undesirable to change "every" into "all", the verb should have been put in the singular, thus :“Every first occurrence, every happy use, every "forcible example has been, or will be, accepted".
Mr. Marsh's sentence is singularly faulty. What are we to understand by “every first
occurrence.....of each word”? How can there be more than one first occurrence of each word ?
There is, in Booth's Principles of English Grammar', * page 115, an excellent rule respecting the proper use of
“shall” and “will”.
It is as follows: "If the speaker is the nomi“native to the verb, and also determines its
* “Booth certainly excelled most other grammarians in learning and acuteness.”—G. Brown's Grammar of English Grammars,' p. 233.
accomplishment;—or, if he is neither the “nominative to the verb nor determines its
accomplishment, — the proper auxiliary is “o will’: in every other case it is shall’." Let the reader follow me in illustrating this rule, and its value will soon be apparent to him. I will take the old story of the man who fell into the water and exclaimed ;—“I will “be drowned, and nobody shall save me.” In the phrase “I will be drowned", the speaker is the nominative to the verb, but he did not mean to determine its accomplishment; he had no intention of being drowned; hence, the impropriety of his using "will". In the phrase “no“body shall save me", the speaker was not the nominative to the verb, neither did he intend to determine its accomplishment; therefore he could not with propriety use “shall”. He should have said; I shall be drowned, and nobody will “save me"; because, in the first clause, the speaker is the nominative to the verb, but does not determine its accomplishment; hence, the propriety of using “shall"; and, in the last clause, he is neither the nominative to the verb, nor does he determine its accomplishment; hence, the propriety of using “will”. Mr. Marsh, in
speaking of the English lexicon now in process of compilation by the London Philological Society, says;
“But though we have thus held ourselves aloof from
“this great enterprise, the orthography which “ shall be adopted by the editors of this lexicon “will, probably, be universally accepted on our « side of the Atlantic as well as on the other.”
By the foregoing rule, we see that Mr. Marsh should have used "will" instead of " shall".
There are some words which, describing a condition that is unalterable, do not admit of comparison. One of these is “universal"; yet what is more common than to read of a practice which is said to be "so universal”? Another of these words is "perfect"; yet writers are continually speaking of “a more perfect” state of things. What is meant, we can only guess.
Complete" is another word of this class. The idea which it conveys is that of a state of fulness, having no deficiency, entire. What, then, does Mr. Marsh wish us to understand by
Completest”, “our completest dictionaries”, "greater
How can anything be completer than that which is complete? How can there be a better than the best, or a greater than the greatest ? One dictionary may be more copious, or be more comprehensive, than an other ; but it cannot be more complete; for, completeness is a fixed state, one not admitting of increase. I am aware that the Most High has been spoken of as the Most HIGHEST ; and the solecism has been pardoned in consideration of the intensity of the religious feeling in which it had its origin. I am aware, also, that Milton has spoken of a depth which is “lower" than the "lowest". But, whatever license may be allowed to a great poet, such an expression in simple prose is sheer nonsense.
There is a nice distinction to be observed between the meaning of the words
“ 80” and “as
when used in connection with such superlative words as those of which I have been speaking. We may say of two things, each of which is perfect;—"one is as perfect as the other”; but if we wish to speak in a negative form and to state of two things, that one is perfect and the other is not perfect, however near it may be to perfection,