« AnteriorContinuar »
hazardous attempt. Of this circumstance Cicero and Quintilian seem to have been sufficiently aware, In treating of the general character of a writer's style, they conteut themselves with referring to the body of his works, in confirmation of their sentence. To such exemplifications as occur in the following treatise, they have never had recourse.
Without pretending to question the propriety of their method, it may be presumed that to the class of readers for whose perusal these Elements of English Composition are cliefly intended, a different mode of proce® dure may, peraps, be attended with some advantage. It is of importance for the student to be in some measure acquainted with the style of every author of eminence. The variety of examples exhibited in the course of the work will, at least in his view, be
foand acceptable. Should they fail in their primary - design, they may thus be rendered subservient to another purpose. grozi To illustrate the progressive improvement of English il composition, I have subjoined- a variety of quotations s from eminent authors. They are arranged nearly according to the priority of publication in the works
from which they are selected. This selection com-: mences where that of Dr. Johnson closes. It includes the most distinguished writers of our own times, expocept those who still live to enjoy the reputation which
tieir talents have secured.,
observations on epistolary composition, To be able sto maintain a friendly correspondence with propriety and elegance is assuredly a very desirable accom
plishment. This branch of composition ought therefore to be assiduously cultivated, especially by every younger student.
It may, perhaps, be alleged that in my critical strictures I have often betrayed too much severity of censure, and that in general I have been too solicitous to expose the faults of eminent writers. But let it be remembered, that in a work of this kind it was necessary to expose defeats, as well as to extol beauties. Those errors which have received the sanction of great names are always dangerous ; as they frequently become the object of absurd imitation.
* Je sais," says Condillac on a like occasion," qu'on trouvera mes critiques bien sévères ; et que la plupart des passages que je blâme ne manqueront pas de défenseurs. L'art d’écrire est un champ de disputes, parce qu'au lieu d'en chercher les principes dans le caractère des pensées, nous les prenons dans notre goût ; c'est-à-dire, dans nos habitudes de sentir, de voir, et de juger ; habitudes qui varient fuivant le tem
pérament des personnes, leur condition, et leur age." He Towards living merit I am unconscious of having been guilty of the slightest instance of disrespect of I have occasionally taken the liberty of pointing out a few trivial errors, this circumstance can afford no reasonable cause of offence. In exhibiting examples of the faults, as well as of the beauties, of composition, I have invariably had recourse to such works as seemed in some respect entitled to praise. If I have not
treated living authors with all the delicacy and ten *derness recommended by St. Réal, I have at least refrained from every wanton attack.
In the following pages the reader need not expect to discover any originality of observation : I desire to be regarded in no other light than that of a mere come piler. Concerning every critical subject which has fallen under my review, I have endeavoured to collect the most rational opinions of writers distinguished for their learning and judgment. For any valuable instruction which this compilation may exhibit, the reader is principally indebted to Dr. Blair's Lectures Rheloric, Dr. Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric, Lord Kames's Elements of Criticism, Bishop Lowth's Introduction to English Grammar, and Mr. Melmoth's Letters of Filzosborne. To other occasional sources of information I have been careful to make the proper references; but when I availed myself of the treasures amassed by these excellent writers, I forbore to quote their names ; " not that I might appropriate their Labours, or usurp their honours, but that I might spare a perpetual repetition by one general acknowledgment.”
friss L. DIE LIBRARY
INTRODUCTION. CHVERSITY ............
CHAPTER I. THE great and important object of language is; to express
the various wants and affections of those by whom it is spoken. In the earlier stages of civil society, man is contented with such comforts as ure easily procured, and the operations of the human mind are circumscribed within narrow limits. His vocabus lary is consequently scanty, though, at the same time, it
may be fully adequate to every purpose to which is is applied. But as luxury and refinement advance in their gradual progress, the language of the community becomes more copious and elegant: it not only oversteps its ancient boundaries, but hastens to lay aside its ancient rudeness and barbarism. Material improvements, however, cannot be introduced by any sudden
sertion; they must be the result of that experience which a length of time only can bestow.
Before the elegancies of literature can lay claim to any considerable share of attention, a spirit of general improvement must have begun to pervade the state. Accordingly, we find that vigour and originality of thought have always preceded beauty and accuracy of expression. In the first efforts of untutored genius the harmony of periods is little regarded : such words as most readily occur to the recollection of the writer, are almost indiscriminately adopted; and these are generally arranged without much attention to elegance or propriety
Thus, if we take a retrospective view of English literature at no very remote period, we shall often find the
beauty of the thought obscured by the meanness of the expression. Its pages are frequently deformed with uncouthness and vulgarity. Nor is it altogether untainted with these faults in its present state.
Propriety and beauty of style seem often to have been considered beneath the attention both of an author and a reader. The ancients, however, regarded this subject in a different point of view : to be skilled in their native tongue, was esteemed among the number of the politest accomplishments. Julius Cæsar, who was not only a great warrior, but also a man of fashion, was desirous of adding this accomplishment to his other shining qualities : and we are informed that he studied the language of his own country with much application, as we are sure he possessed it in the highest degree of purity and elegance. The literary world cannot sufficiently regret that the treatise which he wrote upon this subject, has perished along with many other valuable works of the same age. But although we are deprived of the benefit of his observations, we are happily in the possession of an illustrious instance of their effects; and his own Commentaries will ever remain as the brightest exemplar, not only of true generalship, but also of fine writing. He published them, indeed, only as materials for the use of those who might be disposed to enlarge upon that remarkable period of the Roman history : yet the purity and gracefulness of his style are such, that no judicious writer afterwards dared to attempt the same subject. Cicero frequently mentions it as a very high encomium, that the clebrated Roman : orator's possessed the elegance of their native language. He introduces Brutus, declaring that he should prefer,