Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

tions of syntax. These are faults not to be protected by authority and it is one of the most useful offices of criticism, to detect and expose them.

"A second kind of excellence in expression is PersprCỦITY. The chief sources of this essential property of good writing are, beside clearness of conception, already considered, Precision in the use of Terins, and Accuracy in the struc-'! ture of Sentences.

VERBÁL PRECISION requires, that a writer express his exact meaning, without tautology, ambiguity, or 'redund dance; that he be careful not to load his sentences with words which are synonimous, or nearly so; that he make use of no terms, or' phrases, but such as convey a determinate meaning; and that he avoid the introduction of uncommon words, where words in ordinary use would answer bis purpose as well. Perspicuity is equally injured by an excessive multiplicity of words, and by a parade of pompous and stately language.

Grammatical arrangement is favourable to perspicuity, when it marks distinctly the relation of the several parts of a sentence, and consequently of the ideas which they repre sent; and when it avoids such deviations from the natural or customary order of words, as might 'mislead or perplex the reader. It may also contribuite, in some measure, toward perspicuity, to preserve, during the course of a sentence, unity of persons and scene; avoiding, as much as possible, all abrupt transitions from one person or subject to another. But there seems to be no sufficient ground for a rule, which has of late gained some authority, that a writer, for the sake of distinctness, should confine himself to the expression of a single thought in each sentence. It would be easy to show by example, that this fashionable method of reducing sentences to one standard, whatever it may add to the neatness and elegance of style, will at least equally diminish it's richness and variety: 'and—which is still more important--that it must often materially impair the sense, hy interrupting the relation and dependance of the thoughts. A writer who thinks closely, and in a train, will frequently have occasion to express combinations of ideas, which will require sentences of considerable length. The best writers of the last period, such as Swift, Addison, and Middleton, who dis

[ocr errors]

1

1

dained to confine their conceptions within the narrow, en-; closure of such arbitrary rules, took all the scope, in the structure of their periods, which the extent and concatenation of their thoughts required; and thus produced many successful imitations of the best models of antiquity, in that kipd of writing, which is copious without verbosity, and complex without intricacy.

Whatever mode of construction a writer's subject, or genius, may lead him to adopt, he should, however, be careful, that it be employed in a manner perfectly consistent with perspicuity. If, for the sake of strength and energy, he be, disposed to lean toward conciseness, let him cautiously avoid that elliptical diction, which leaves the reader too much to supply. If, through the fertility of his invention, his language naturally becomes diffuse, let him guard against that kind of obscurity, which is the effect of involving the sense in a cloud of words. At all events, a writer should studiously avoid every mode of expression, which is unfavourable to perspicuity : for what can be a greater fault, than that language, which is only useful so far as it is perspicuous, should need an interpreter*? Perspicuity requires, not only that what is written may be understood, but that it cannot possibly be misunderstood t. Every violation of this law of good writing it is the business of criticism carefully to remark.

Melody is another excellence in expression, of too much consequence to be overlooked. In every kind of writing, according to the degree of skill, with which soft and rugged, long and short, accented and unaccented sounds, whellier simple or complex, are combined, the ear receives an agreeable impression, in some degree similar to that which is pro- ; duced by a melodious succession of musical notes. „This effect is heightened, when the divisions of distinct clauses, and the cadences at the close of entire sentences, are agreeably diversified. Melody is so intimately combined with the other graces of expression, and has so large a share in the pleasures produced by fine writing, that it deserves more attention, both among writers and critics, than the moderns have been inclined to allow it.

* Oratio vero, cnjus summia virtus est perspicuitas, quam sit vitiosa, si egeat interprete Quintil.

+ Non ut intelligere possit, sed ne omnino possit non intelligere.- 1b.

Elegance, which is commonly considered as another property of expression, as far as it is distinct from the general result of the properties already enumerated, arises chiefly from a careful exclusion of those terms and phrases, which general opinion and taste have pronounced vulgar; and from such a regulated variety in the structure of sentences and periods, as prevents every appearance of negligence. Such words or phrases as are excluded from the conversation or writing of people of good breeding and polite education, and such slovenly modes of expression as would imply a want of respect for the reader, can have no place in elegant works of taste. That kind of elegance which arises from metaphors, and other figures, though commonly considered as belonging to language, is, in fact, not so much the result of the writer's manner of expression, as of his turn of thinking. The same remark may be applied to several other properties of good writing, such as Simplicity, Vivacity, Strength, Dignity. These and other terms, made use of to express the excellencies of Style, are, in reality, characters of good writing which depend upon the thought as well as the diction. When, on the contrary, it is said, that a writer's style is vulgar, feeble, obscure, dry, or florid, the faults, which these epithets are intended to express, arise from certain defects in the writer's powers or habits of thinking, which have an unfavourable influence upon his language. An author's style is the manner in which he writes, as a painter's style is the manner in which he paints: in both conception and expression are equally concerned. No one is able to write in a good style, who has not learned to think well, to arrange his thoughts methodically, and to express them with propriety. These and other properties of Thought, Disposition, and Language, in writing—concerning which, as well as upon the peculiar characters of the several kinds of literary composition, many writers have treated at large"—while they afford ample scope for the display of Genius, also furnish an extensive field for the exercise of Criticism.

* See Lord Kames's Elements of Criticism; Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric; Blair's Lectures on the Belles Lettres; and Critical Essays in the Spectator, Rambler, &c.

The clear result of the preceding remarks is, that young persons should be early introduced to an acquaintance with Polite Literature, in order to exercise their imagination, and form their taste. Selections from the best writers may at first be of use, in directing their attention to such passages, as are most likely to make a strong impression upon the fancy, and best worth being committed to memory. But it should be recollected, that such selections are intended to excite, not to satisfy, juvenile curiosity. Great care should be taken to introduce young people, before the first impression is vanished, to an intimate acquaintance with the Original Authors, and to give them a relish for the regular perusal and study of their works.

The value of a taste for this kind of reading is much greater than is commonly perceived. In solitude, the elegant entertainment which it affords is an effectual security against the intrusion of idleness and spleen. In society, it provides innumerable topics of conversation, which afford ample scope for the display of judgment and taste, and which might, without much diminution of social enjoyment, supply the place of certain fashionable amusements. By furnishing the mind with elevated conceptions, and refined sentiments, it renders it superior to gross and vulgar pleasures. In fine, while science enriches the understanding, the study of polite literature cultivates the taste, and improves the heart; and both unite, to form the Accomplished and Happy Man.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »