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THE WRITER. Many things are indispensable to admirable merit and blissful success in the use of the pen. One requisite, and the first of all, is a careful education, including much study and much practice in writing. A pure literary taste is the result of innumerable disciplinary impressions. Hence, the education should be a work of long time. A trait of simplicity must needs be acquired; for, without simplicity, no style whatever can be good.
The young writer, if he is ambitious, should expect to receive criticism. This, all the great authors had, in their early years, to suffer. It were well, should the young man timely seek and secure this, so that his faults be privately, rather than publicly, corrected. But, however the literary rod may be administered to him, he should endure it, as something due from mature judgment to young ambition.
The very sting of criticism, is educative. Condemn not the critic, because he condemns your faults ; but join with him against yourself. When Charles Lamb's farce, entitled “Mr. H.,'' was acted in the Drury Theatre, the interest of the audience waned more and more towards the conclusion. “Elia” felt inexpressible pain in his heart. But he took the wisest course, and participated with the audience, in bissing and hooting. So should you participate with the critic, when he ridicules the blemishes of your style.
You are a young writer. Your experience in literature is not ripe. Many men with half your excellent vigor, know a hundred times more than you do, concerning rhetoric canons and delicacy of taste. Hence, do not pout when one of these men calls your style crude. Perhaps it is so. Do you ignorantly violate the wholesome rules of grammatic purity, and thus incur the reproach of barbarism, solecism, or of impropriety? Do you misplace your adverbs and adjuncts? Do you fail in clearness and precision, in unity, in strength or in harmony? Are
your sentences unintelligible, either from confusion of thought, or from affectation of excellence? Do you employ sonorous language which conveys no distinct meaning? Do your periods end with clauses expressing circumstances, with mere particles, or with “nothings of much sound?” Are your figures far-fetched, mixed, strained, or undignified? Do many of your sentences express incomplete propositions ? Are you licentious in the use of intensive epithets ? Do you employ vulgar idioms ? Does your strength in writing lie less in thought than in language? Do you use words out of the simple way? Do your productions abound, too extensively, with compound words? Do you write in the swelling mode ? Do you personify abstract ideas ? Do you come down to disgusting particulars? Are you liable to the charge of sophomorical! “ Think on these things !"
Cicero's and Quintilian's suggestions, in respect to style, claim the attention of him who is ambitious to succeed as a writer. The former says it is not proper always to em. ploy a continued strain and a sort of regular compass of phrases ; that style should be often broken down into smaller members; and that he is truly eloquent who can discourse of humble subjects in a plain style, who can treat important ones with dignity, and can speak of things which are of a middle nature, in a temperate strain. Quintilian, speaking of circumstances, says they should be inserted wherever the happiest place for them can be found; as, in a structure composed of rough stones, there are always places where the most irregular and unshapely may find some adjacent one to which it can be joined, and some basis on which it may rest. Speaking of the structure of periods, he says that sentences should rise and grow.
Coleridge defines prose to be words in their best order; and poetry to be the best words in their best order.
But, perhaps, no better counsel could be given to a young writer, than that which a certain eminent editor and divine now living, once sent in a letter to one of his correspondents. This valuable letter has, I believe, never before appeared in print.
“I cannot doubt,” says he," that perseverance in effort will crown you with success, provided especially it is rightly directed. The difficulty that lies before you is this. Your style is crude. You bave not properly studied the elementary principles of shaping sentences. Allow me to recommend to your close study, so old and so elementary a book as Blair's Lecture on Rhetoric. From his chapters on the structure of sentences, I learned more of the art of composition, perhaps, than from any other one source. And to my close observation of the rules given, more than to any other cause, I attribute what little success I may have attained as a writer. That you have not properly attended to these primary principles, is as plain to the eye of a critic, as would be the neglect of an ambitious young painter, of elementary sketching, to the eye of a connoisseur. In penmanship, right practice improves, but wrong practice depreciates ; and the more, the worse. Allow me, therefore, to say, that it is perfectly indispensable to your success in style --first, to study the principles of composition; then to pursue good models with an eye to style ; and finally to reduce the principles thus deduced to rigid and careful practice. Take this course and I cannot but believe that you have the elements of success in your nature, as well as an honorable ambition for success in your heart. I fear I may seem severe in my judgment; but, follow my suggestions and I think you will ultimately find that my severity is kindness."
But a person will, obviously, not be able to attain eminence as a writer, if he is meritorious and successful only in respect to delicacy and correctness of taste. There is another and more important requisite.-J. D. BELL.
“ Reason and virtue alone can bestow liverty.”
READING AS A MEANS OF MENTAL CULTURE.
We are a reading people. In the times of the early republics, the popular mind was moved and influenced by the pursuasive eloquence of the orator. As a consequence of this state of society, a Demosthenes and a Cicero were demanded and produced. But with us the pen has supplanted the mouth. It is true that we delight to hang upon the lips of an eloquent man, but, before we are ready to yield to the arguments of him who thus enraptures us, we demand that those arguments be written out or printed, that we may retire with them to the pri. vacy of our homes and there carefully weigh their import and worth.
But, although a reading people, there could scarcely be a people of poorer readers. As a nation we have suffered more from the careless, beggarly habits acquired in early life while professing to learn this, to an American, art of arts, than from any other cause. As if the chewing and spitting out of words were the only things required in reading, and getting ohead, the only object of this study! We are hurried from Primer to Speller, from Speller to Reader-1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th, and even 6th. Judging from the manner in which this art has been taught in most of our schools, the ideal of perfection in it is rapidity. The scholar that can glide along the most rapidly and with the least hesitancy is accorded the palm. Accuracy in pronunciation and distinctness in enunciation are not always insisted upon. The pupil that hesitates is the one most likely to be reproved and corrected.
In this way, rapid, parrot-like utterers of words are manufactured. No thought is given to the meaning of the matter read. There is no time for the care necessary to such a course. To think requires effort, too, which is altogether irksome to this class of persons. Under this regimen voracious devourers of books are produced. Volume after volume is gulped down until they become the mental dyspeptics so aptly described by Locke. “There are those who are very assiduous in reading, and yet do not much advance their knowledge by it. They dream on in a constant course of reading and cramming themselves; but not digesting anything, it produces nothing but a heap of crudities." They have an abundance of materials for thought, but they lie heaped up together in such an incongruous mass that the patient labor of years does not suffice to assort and arrange them so that they may be come fit for the builder's use. As a people, we read too much and think too little. No wonder, then, that our popular current literature partakes so largely of that character which requires little thought in the perusal. How many of our readers have so thoroughly acquired the art of good reading that they can take up a book in which some subject in ethics is treated in a logical manner and with the language of dry reasoning unassisted by narrative or parable, and read it along understandingly with pleasure, without frequently pausing and looking back, to bring up, as it were, the train of thought which they have outstripped in their reading ?
This defect of rapid, superficial reading can be remedied only by much careful pains-taking, and often painful labor. Hence the importance of right instruction when beginning to acquire the art. Commencing with sentences easily comprehended by the scholar, he should be compelled to master every thought expressed by them, and every shade of thought of which they may be rendered capable by changing the emphasis from one word to another. This is a work of patience on the part of the teacher, but nowhere does the motto," make haste slowly,” apply more forcibly than here. If the teacher is faithful in this, he will spare himself much of the vexation incident to the effort to carry a scholar who is a poor reader, through any of the more advanced studies, with even comparative success.
To be a good reader requires a thoughtful mind, a ready perception, a wide and almost intuitive grasp of compre.