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to give greater expression to the thoughts which spoken words represent, and to produce on the mind of the hearer a more rapid and intense impression than lifeless enunciation could effect ; so written or printed language is usually accompanied by marks or points, to enable the reader to comprehend at a glance the precise and determinate sense of the author, — a sense which, without these marks, would in many instances be gathered only by an elaborate and painful process, and very often be misunderstood. It therefore obviously follows, that the art which serves to elucidate the meaning of a writer, to bring out his ideas wäh more facility, and to render his expressions, às“ genäite' transcript of the feelings and sentiments which he would convey to the hearts and the minds of others, is entitled to no small degree of attention. ·
Now, it is indisputable that Punctuation does conduce to make written fanguage more effective, by exhibiting with greater precision and definiteness the ideas, feelings, and emotions of an author, than could be accom plished by a mass of werds, however wel! chosen, if brought together without those peculiar marks which show the multifarious varieties of union or of separation existing in thought and expression. For what is Punctuation, and what its aim ? It is the art of dividing a literary composition into sentences, and parts of sentences, by means of points, for the purpose of exhibiting the various combinations, connections, and dependencies of words. And what is this process but a means of facilitating that analysis and combination which must be made, consciously or unconsciously, before we can penetrate to the very core of an author's thoughts, and appropriate them as food for the life and growth of our own minds?
We would not overrate the importance of Punctuation, or deny that many subjects are worthy of a higher regard, and have a more immediate and vital influence on the well-being of society. But we would emphatically say, that this subject ought to be understood by all who are led, by the bent of their tastes, the force of their genius, or their condition in life, to enter upon any of the walks of literature, whether they would tread an humble and a beaten track, or wander into paths adorned by flowers and fruit :If is related to philology and metaphysics, acd indeed, more or less, to every science or art communicated by the instrum.entality of written language. It is intimately connected with the principles of grammar; 'subservient to the purposes of syntax; essential to the clearing-up of ambiguities, which so often obseure, composition; and useful to the more ready understanding even of these sentences whose construction is not liable to the charge of obscurity. By the omission'cr the improper inseriion of points, not only would the beauties and elegances o literature, but even its advantages, be faintly discerned and enjoyed, except by the most attentive readers, or by men of superior taste and information : the sense of even the more simple and familiar class of productions — such as the narrative, the essay, or the epistle — would be liable to be misapprehended, or, at least, to be imperfectly understood. Indeed, the perusal of a single page of any work will bear testimony to the coinparative value of a just punctuation. Nay, scarcely can a sentence be perused with satisfaction or interest, unless pointed with
some degree of accuracy. The well-known speech of Norval, for instance, in the tragedy of “ Douglas,” may, by an erroneous use of the pauses, be delivered in such a manner as to pervert or destroy the meaning; as, –
“My name is Norval on the Grampian bills.
We fought and conquered ere a sword was drawn.
But the insertion of the right stops will restore the sense of these passages, and render their conformable to the conceptions of the dramatist: . con,
“My name is Norva... On the Grampian hills
My father fouds his flock; a frugal swain,
We fought and conquered. Ere a sword was drawn
Notwithstanding however, its utility, Punctuation has not received thắt attention which its importance demands. Considered råerely as the plaything of the pedant, or as the peculiar furretion of the printer, it is often neglected or perverted by those who have occasion to present to the eye either their own thoughts or the thoughts of others. The man of science, the mental philosopher, and the philologist seem to regard it as too
* In the note at the end of this section, page 18, will be found a few other instances of erroneous pointing, which, though in their nature sufficiently ludicrous, show in a forcible manner the necessity of paying a due regard to punctuation. Many happy illustrations of the importance of correct marks may also be seen in Day's valuable little work, entitled “ Punctuation reduced to a System,” pp. 33-45.
trifling, amid their grander researches into the laws of the universe, the internal operations of the human mind, and its external workings by means of language. The grammarian passes it by altogether unheeded, or lays down a few general and abstract principles ; leaving the pupil to surmount the difficulties of the art as well as he may. The lawyer engrosses in a character which is perfectly legible; but, by its deficiency in sentential marks, it often proves, like the laws of which he is the expounder, “ gloriously uncertain ” as to the meaning intended to be expressed. The painter, the engraver, and the lithographer appear to set all rules at defiance, by either omitting the points or misplacing them, when required in certain departments of their work. The letter-writer, with his incessant and indiscriminate dashes, puts his friend, his beloved one, his agent, or his employer, to a little more trouble, in conning over his epistle, than is absolutely necessary. Even the author — who, of all writers, ought to be the most accurate not unfrequently puts his manuscript into the printer's hands, either destitute of grammatical points, or so badly punctuated as to create a needless loss of time to the compositor.
But though an acquaintance with the principles of the art in question has been deemed the peculiar province of the printer, who might therefore be expected to have the requisite qualifications for the performance of his task; yet it must be admitted, that from the press are issued many books, grossly erroneous in sentential marks; and perhaps not a few, which, though distinguished for elegance of style, accuracy of orthography, or beauty of printing, are unworthy of being held up
as models of good taste and judgment in the use of points. It is a fact well known to those connected with the press, that compositors in general have a very deficient knowledge of Punctuation, considered as a branch of science; and that they acquire what they do know of it as an art, chiefly by mechanical habit, or by the correction of innumerable blunders, marked on the proof-sheets.
To make these observations, however, without granting many exceptions, would savor more of the petulance of presumption than of the candor of true criticism. There are numerous masterpieces of composition, in which the writer, the compositor, and the corrector of the press, have, either separately or together, inserted points with taste and propriety..
But enough has been said to demonstrate the necessity for an increased attention to the subject, and to prove a very obvious, though not an acknowledged, truth, that the principles of Punctuation must be duly learned, before they can be understood, or brought into systematic and perfect use. The question, then, will naturally arise, How is the desired improvement to be effected ? how are the theory and practice of the art to be attained ? We answer, By the most simple means; by the very means which are so well adapted to other subjects of learning. Let Punctuation form a branch of academical instruction ; let it be studied, after a competent knowledge of English etymology and syntax has been acquired; let the rules be thoroughly comprehended by the pupil, — be explained to him, if necessary, in the teacher's language, and re-explained by himself in his own words. Let him also write copious exercises, in