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study of good authors, to cultivate your taste, you may mend your style by a process of pruning, after the following fashion. Having finished your composition, or a section of it, lay it aside, and do not look at it again for a week, during which interval other labours will have engaged your thoughts. You will then be in a condition to revise it with an approach to critical impartiality, and so you will begin to learn the wholesome art of blotting. Go through it slowly, pen in hand, weighing every word, and asking yourself, “ What did I intend to say? How can I say it in the briefest and plainest English ?" Compare with the answer you return the form in which you had tried to express the same meaning in the writing before you, and at each word further ask yourself, “ Does this word precisely convey my thought! Is it the aptest word? Is it a necessary word ? Would my meaning be fully expressed without it?" If it is not the best, change it for a better. If it is superfluous, ruthlessly strike it out. The work will be painful at first; you will sacrifice with a sigh so many flourishes of fancy, so many figures of speech, of whose birth you were proud. Nay, at the beginning, and for a long time afterwards, your courage will fail you, and many a cherished phrase will be spared by your relenting pen. But be persistent, and you will triumph at last. Be not content with one act of expurgation. Read the manuscript again, and, seeing how much it is improved, you will be inclined to blot a little more. Lay it aside for a month, and then read again, and blot again as before. Nay, for the third time let it rest in your desk for six months, and then repeat the process. You will be amazed to find how differently you look at it now. The heat of composition having passed away, you are surprised that you could have so written, mistaking that magniloquence for eloquence, that rhapsody for poetry, those many words for much thought, those heaped-up epithets for powerful description.
SIMPLICITY is the crowning achievement of judgment and good taste in their maturity. It is of very slow growth in the greatest minds ; by the multitude it is never acquired. The gradual progress towards it can be curiously traced in the works of the great masters of English composition, wheresoever the injudicious zeal of admirers has given to the world the juvenile writings which their own better taste had suffered to pass into oblivion. Lord Macaulay was an instance of this. Compare his latest with his earliest compositions, as collected in the posthumous volume of “Remains," and the growth of improvement will be manifest. Yet, upon the first proposition of it, nothing could appear to be more obvious to remember, and easy to act upon,
than the rule, Say what you want to say in the fewest words that will express your meaning clearly; and let those words be the plainest, the most common (not vulgar), and the most intelligible to the greatest number of persons.” It is certain that a beginner will adopt the very reverse of this. He will say what he has to say in the greatest number of words he can devise, and those words will be the most artificial and uncommon his memory can recal.
As he advances, he will learn to drop these long phrases and big words; he will gradually contract his language to the limit of his thoughts, and he will discover, after long experience, that he was never so feeble as when he flattered himself that he was most forcible.
I have dwelt upon this subject with repetitions that may be deemed almost wearisome, because affectations and conceits are the besetting sin of modern composition, and the vice is growing and spreading. The literature of our periodicals teems with it; the magazines are infected by it almost as much as the newspapers, which have been always famous for it. Instead of an endeavour to write plainly, the express purpose of the writers in the periodicals is to write as obscurely as possible ; they make it a rule never to call anything by its proper name, never to say anything directly in plain English, never to express their true meaning, they delight to say something quite different in appearance from that which they purpose to say, requiring the reader to translate it, if he can, and, if he cannot, leaving him in a state of bewilderment, or wholly uninformed. Worse models
could not find than those presented to you by the newspapers and periodicals; yet are you so beset by them that it is extremely difficult not to catch the infection. Reading day by day compositions teeming with bad taste, and especially where the cockney style floods you with its conceits and affectations, you unconsciously fall into the same vile habit, and incessant vigilance is required to restore you to sound, vigorous, manly, and wholesome English. I cannot recommend
to you a better plan for counteracting the inevitable mischief than the daily reading of portions of some of our best writers of English. A page or two of Dryden, Swift or Cobbett, will operate as an antidote against the poison you cannot help absorbing in your necessary intercourse with the passing literature of the day. You will soon learn to appreciate the power and beauty of those simple sentences, compared with the forcible feebleness of some, and the spasmodic efforts and mountebank contortions of others, that meet your eye when you turn over the
of magazine or newspaper. I do not say
you will at once become reconciled to plain English, after being accustomed to the tinsel and tin trumpets of modern writers; but you will gradually come to like it more and more; you will return to it with greater zest year by year; and having thoroughly learned to love it, you will strive to follow the example of the authors who have written it.
And this practice of daily commune more or less with one of the great masters of the English tongue should never be abandoned. So long as you have occasion to write or speak, let it be held by you almost as a duty. And here I would suggest that you should read them aloud ; for there is no doubt that the words, entering at once by the
eye and the ear, are more sharply impressed upon the mind than when perused silently. Moreover, when reading aloud you read more slowly; the full meaning of each word must be understood, that you may give the right expression to it, and the ear catches the general structure of the sentences more perfectly.
Nor will this occupy much time. There is no need to devote to it more than a few minutes every day. Two or three pages
thus read daily will suffice to preserve the purity of your taste.