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216. “So certainly is weariness and vexation the concomitant of our undertakings.”—Johnson.
OBSERVATIONS ON STYLE.
STILE may be defined to be the particular manner, in which we express our conceptions by means of language.
The qualities of a good style are perspicuity and ornament. Perspicuity, however, is the more important quality of language. It is, indeed, the only quality indispensably necessary. No merit, either with respect to matter or ornament, can compensate for its absence. There can, in truth, be no greater fault than that language, which is useful only so far as it is perspicuous or intelligible, “should need an interpreter." “By perspicuity,” says Quintilian," care is taken, not merely that the reader may clearly understand, but that he cannot possibly misunderstand.”
To write with perspicuity, the primary requisite is to possess clear ideas. Perspicuity of expression, then, demands careful attention to two things: 1st, the choice of single words and phrases; and 2nd, the conformable arrangement of these words and phrases in periods or sentences. Perspicuity in the choice of words and phrases implies purity and propriety. Their apt arrangement is founded on the rules of syntax, and the natural association of the ideas.
To write with grammatical purity, three things are essential
1st. That all the words be of that language, which we write and speak; 2nd. That they be arranged and constructed according to the rules of syntax in that language ; and, 3rd. That the words and phrases be employed to express the precise meaning, which good usage has affixed to them.
It is a species of impropriety, producing ambiguity, to employ a word or a phrase susceptible of different interpretations, or to use the same word or phrase successively in different senses.
“He aimed at nothing less than the crown," may denote either “Nothing was less aimed at by him than the crown,” or, “Nothing inferior to the crown could satisfy him.”
“ The adjectival word.no,'” says the Rev. A. J.D. D'Orsey, “is ambiguous. “No food is more wholesome than potatoes," may mean, “It is better to starve than to eat potatoes, or, it may mean, 'There is not any kind of food superior to potatoes.'—This may be avoided by varying the phrase.”
The following passage is particularly faulty: “I know," says Lord Bolingbroke in his · Dissertation on Parties,' “ that all words, which are signs of complex ideas, furnish matter of mistake and cavil.”--As words, the antecedent has neither the article nor a demonstrative pronoun to connect it with the subsequent relative, it would seem that the clause, “which are signs of complex ideas,” was merely explicative, and that the subject words was to be understood in the utmost latitude. This could not be the writer's meaning, as it would be absurd to affirm of all words that they are signs of complex ideas. His Lordship ought, therefore, to have said either_“I know that all the words, which are signs of complex ideas,”-or “I know that all those words, which are signs," &c. Either of these ways makes the clause, beginning with the relative, serve to limit the import of the antecedent.
Inconsistent words or phrases are highly improper. “There is no sort of joy,” says Dr. Burnet, “ more grateful to the mind of man than that, which ariseth from the invention of truth.” For invention he ought to have said discovery.
“I do not remember that I ever spoke three sentences together in my whole life.” — Spectator, Instead of together, the writer should have said successively, or, in succession.
“I had like to have gotten one or two broken heads for my impertinence.”—Swift's “ Voyage to Brobdignag.”
This unavoidably suggests the question - How many heads was he possessed of ? Corrected: “I was once or twice in danger of getting my head broken” &c. “So the pure limpid stream, when foul with stains Of rushing torrents and descending rains.”
Addison's “ Cato.” A stream may, undoubtedly, be at one time limpid, and at another foul, which is all that the author meant; we cannot, however, properly call it a pure limpid stream, when it is foul with stains.
Vulgarisms are a species of impropriety, that ought to be carefully avoided. A vulgarism is generally an expression founded on some low allusion, or very familiar image ; as, higgledy-piggledy, slap-dash, bang-up, transmogrify, bamboozle, topsy turvy, pellmell, helterskelter, hurlyburly, &c., &c., &c.
These may all find a place in burlesque, but ought never to appear in any serious performance.
Technical words or phrases being the dialect of a particular class, and seldom understood by the generality of readers, should not be employed without discretion.
“The machinery of the mind works through a roughness of wheel and a stubbornness of spring with jarring and confounding attrition.” “Tack to the larboard, and stand off to sea, Veer starboard sea and land.”
Dryden's “ Æneid.” What an absurd profusion, in an epic poem too, of terms, which few but seamen understand!
Obscure and unintelligible expressions are improper: “ Yet—when that flood in its own depths was drown'd, It left behind it false and slippery ground.”
Dryden. The first of these lines is nonsensical. It informs us of a prodigy never heard of or conceived before—a drowned flood ; nay, a flood, that was so deep that, after leaving nothing else to drown, it committed felo-de-se, and drowned itself. The author's meaning, expressed in plain language, was probably no more than this : “ When the waters of the deluge had subsided.”
One great source of obscure and unintelligible
expressions is the affectation of excellence or fine writing:
“Personifications, however rich their depictions, and unconstrained their latitude—analogies, however imposing the objects of parallel, and the media of comparison-can never expose the consequences of sin to the extent of fact, or the range of demonstration.”
“Men must acquire a very peculiar and strong habit of turning their eyes inwards, in order to explore the interior regions and recesses of the mind, the hollow caverns of deep thought, the private seats of fancy, and the wastes and wildernesses, as well as the more fruitful and cultivated tracts of this ob- . scure climate.”—Characteristics. A most wonderful way of telling us that it is difficult to trace the operations of the mind!
Nearly allied to the unintelligible are the marvellous, the puerile, the learned, and the profound.
The Marvellous :-“Nature in herself is unseemly, and he, who copies her servilely, and without artifice, will always produce something poor, and of a mean taste. What is called load in colours and lights, can only proceed from a profound knowledge in the values of colours, and from an admirable industry, which makes the painted objects appear more true, if I'may say so, than the real ones. In this sense it may be asserted that in Rubens's pieces art is above nature, and nature only a copy of that great master's works."
-De Pile's “Principles of Painting.” Here is a strange subversion of most obvious and hitherto undisputed truths. Not satisfied with affirming the