« PreviousContinue »
in the field of letters, and merits praise rather than reproof. But the very ability displayed in his work, magnifies the gravity of the errors which it contains; hence, the need of a public protest against them. Under these circumstances, Mr. Gould will, I trust, while he accepts the criticisms themselves as a mild rebuke for his carelessness, accept also the fact of my writing them, as an acknowledgment of much that is excellent in his work.
That hastily-written contributions to journals contain errors in grammar, and are faulty in construction, is not to be wondered at; but that
; there should be, in treatises on those errors, the identical faults which those treatises are written to condemn, is a circumstance well calculated to impress all students of the language, with the necessity for increased vigilance; for, if those who have specially devoted their time to the cultivation of a pure and an accurate style of writing, occasionally fail to write correctly, even after their most careful efforts, how numerous must be the faults of those who consider that but little attention on their part is needed, to perfect themselves in the knowledge and use of their mother tongue.
As a lesson, then, which may be instructive to such persons; and as an example of the proneness to error observable in the works of even those who aspire to the office of public teachers of grammar, let us look at the composition of Mr. Gould's 'Good English, or Popular Errors in 'Language.
The very title implies an assurance that the author has taken great pains with the book; and this assurance is confirmed by our finding in it the following passages. I quote from page 61 :
“ It is not overstating the case to say that Dean
Trench, while he is beyond question a writer of
general excellence and force, is frequently guilty “of extreme carelessness,—which, in books of phi"lological criticism, is hardly to be excused."
Again, page 116:"The Dean [of Canterbury] can plead neither haste
nor inadvertence in his present work; "he may fairly be held responsible for every error “ it contains.”
Once more, page 131:
“And now, as to the style of the Dean's book, taken
as a whole. He must be held responsible for "every error in it; because, as has been shown, he
has had full leisure for its revision."
Surely, such language is not more applicable to Archbishop Trench and to Dean Alford, than it is to him who critically reviews their writings; and I beg that the readers of the following criticisms will bear in mind what Mr. E. S. Gould has said upon this subject, and they will see how gladly at last he shelters himself behind the very defence which he denied to others.
There are, in Mr. Gould's book, instances of erroneous judgment, as well as errors of grammar. One of the former occurs in reference to a passage of mine in a criticism on Mr. Marsh's essays. I had said ;
“That, no doubt, was what he intended to do; but
certainly it was not what he did.”
Concerning this, Mr. Gould remarks that the italicized words should be in the present tense, and not in the past, as I have put them. With all due respect to Mr. Gould's opinion in general, I beg leave to differ with him here. In
I expressing either abstract or universal truths, the present tense of the verb ought undoubtedly to be employed ; and if a circumstance spoken of exists only in the present, then, too, the verb must be in the present tense; but if we are speaking not of abstract truths, but of some specific circumstance which existed in the past and which still exists, we may, at our option, speak of either its past or its present state. In the criticism referred to, that which the person spoken of intended to do, and that which he did not intend to do, are as much matters of the past, as they are of the present; therefore, my sentence is not incorrect; I say, “is not"; but if I chose to speak of the past, I might say that it “was not" incorrect. . A very simple test of the fitness or the unfitness of the tense of the verb to convey our meaning is, to put the adverb "now" after the verb in the present tense, and the adverb "then” after the verb in the past tense.
Mr. Gould has done well to notice the common error of confounding the past and present tenses of verbs; but an apter illustration of it may be found in a sentence of his own. On page 186, he says of Kean and Macready ;
“ And the result was, that they gained the prize for
“which they contended; namely, enduring fame.”
Now, the perpetuity of Kean's and of Macready's fame, is a matter of the present and of the
future, rather than of the past; indeed, if the fame existed in the past only, it could not properly be said to be “enduring". Therefore, it would be more consistent to say ;-" The result " is that they have gained enduring fame.”
Elsewhere Mr. Gould censures me for not exposing what he calls an error of Dean Alford's; but it is Mr. Gould who is in fault in condemning Dean Alford for what is not an error, and me for not exposing it. The passage in question is this :-“If I had believed the Queen's English to “have been rightly laid down by the dictionaries "and the professors of rhetoric, I need not have “troubled myself to write about it." Mr. Gould says that this is wrong; and that the Dean should have said ;-"If I had believed it to be”, etc. In my opinion both forms are right; and Mr. Gould errs in condemning either of them.
Another instance is found on page 191. I read :
“It is needless for me to add, that your doing so
“would [future] cost you no effort. You would merely have done (past] what you do every day, without a thought as to how you do it."
It seems as if Mr. Gould had here sacrificed