« AnteriorContinuar »
SECT. I. — THE IMPORTANCE AND USEs of CoRRECT PUNCTUATION.
No one will hesitate to admit, that next in value to the capacity of discerning or discovering truth, and of feeling the blessed relations which we sustain to the Being who made us, and to our fellow-creatures, particularly those with whom we are more immediately connected, is the power by which intelligence and emotion are communicated from one mind to another. By it the great and the gifted of past times have bequeathed to us many a rich legacy of thought and deed; and by it those of the present either re-create the old materials, or fashion new ones, for the delight and improvement of their own generation; and transmit to the future — to beings yet unborn — their treasures of wisdom, of genius, and of love. This power, it is needless to say, is language, oral and written, especially the latter. But as oral speech has its tones and inflections, its
pauses and its emphases, and other variations of voice, 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 with more facility, and to render his expressions a genuine 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 language more effective, by exhibiting with greater precision and definiteness the ideas, feelings, and emotions of an author, than could be accomplished by a mass of words, however well 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 2 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. It is related to philology and metaphysics, and indeed, more or less, to every science or art communicated by the instrumentality 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 obscure composition; and useful to the more ready understanding even of those sentences whose construction is not liable to the charge of obscurity. By the omission or the improper insertion of points, not only would the beauties and elegances of 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 comparative 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 hills.
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 them conformable to the conceptions of the dramatist: —
“My name is Norval. On the Grampian hills
We fought and conquered. Ere a sword was drawn,
Notwithstanding, however, its utility, Punctuation has not received that attention which its importance demands. Considered merely as the plaything of the pedant, or as the peculiar function 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