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STYLE. PERSPICUITY AND PRECISION.
STYLE is the peculiar manner in which we express our conceptions by means of language. It is a picture of the ideas which rise in our minds, and of the order in which they are produced.
The qualities of a good style, may be ranked under two heads, perspicuity and ornament.
PERSPICUITY, which is considered the fundamental quality of a good style, claims attention, first, to single words and phrases; and, secondly, to the construction of sentences. When considered with respect to words and phrases, it requires these three qualities, purity, propriety, and precision.
Purity of language consists in the use of such words and such constructions as belong to the language which we speak, in opposition to words and phrases belonging to other languages, or which are obsolete or new-coined, or employed without proper authority.
Propriety is the choice of those words which the best usage has appropriated to the ideas which we intend to express by them. It implies their correct and judicious application, in opposition to low expressions, and to words and phrases which would be less significant of the ideas which we wish to convey. It is the union of purity and propriety, which renders style graceful and perspicuous.
Precision, from præcidere, to cut off, signifies retrenching all superfluities, and pruning the expression in such a manner as to exhibit neither more nor less than an exact copy of the ideas intended to be conveyed.
STRUCTURE OF SENTENCES.
A proper construction of sentences is of so great importance in every species of composition, that we cannot be too strict or minute in our attention to it.
Elegance of style requires us generally to avoid many short or long sentences in succession; a monotonous correspondence of one meraber, to another; and the commencing of a piece, section, or paragraph, with a long
The qualities most essential to a perfect sentence, are Unity Clearness, Strength, and Harmony.
UNITY is an indispensable property of a correct sentence. A sentence implies an arrangement of words in which only one proposition is expressed. It may, indeed, consist of parts; but these parts ought to be so closely bound together, as to make on the mind the impression, not of many objects, but of only In order to preserve this unity, the following rules may be
1. In the course of the sentence, the seene should be changed as little as possi.
ble. In every sentence there is some leading or governing word, which, if possible, ought to be continued so from the beginning to the end of it. The following sentence is not constructed according to this rule: "After we came to anchor, they put me on shore, where I was saluted by all my friends, who received ine with the greatest kindness." In this sentence, though the objects are sufficiently connected, yet, by shifting so frequently the place and the person, the vessel, the shore, we, they, I, and who, they appear in so disunited a view, that the mind is led to wander for the sense. The sentence is restored to its proper unity by constructing it thus: "Having come to anchor, I was put on shore, where I was saluted by all my friends, who received me with the greatest kindness."
2. Never crowd into one sentence things which have so little connexion, that they would bear to be divided into two or more sentences. The violation of this rule produces so unfavourable an effect, that it is safer to err rather by too many short sentences, than by one that is overloaded and confused.
3. Avoid all unnecessary parentheses.
CLEARNESS. Ambiguity, which is opposed to clearness, may arise from a bad choice, or a bad arrangement of words.
A leading rule in the arrangement of sentences, is, that those words or members most nearly related, should be placed in the senrence as near to each other as possible, so as thereby to make their mutual relation clearly appear. This rule ought to be observed,
1. In the position of adverbs. "By greatness," says Mr. Addison, “I do not only mean the bulk of any single object, but the largeness of a whole view." The improper situation of the adverb only, in this sentence, renders it a limitation of the verb mean, whereas the author intended to have it qualify the phrase, a single object; thus, "By greatness, I do not mean the bulk of any single object only, but the largeness of a whole view."
2. In the position of phrases and members. "Are these designs which any man who is born a Briton, in any circumstances, in any situation, ought to be ashamed or afraid to avow?" Corrected: "Are these designs which any man who is born a Briton; ought to be ashamed or afraid, in any circumstances, in any situation, to avow?"
3. In the position of pronouns. The reference of a pronoun to its noun, should always be so clear that we cannot possibly mistake it: otherwise the noun ought to be repeated. "It is folly to pretend to arm ourselves against the accidents of life, by heaping up treasures, which nothing can protect us against but the good providence of our Heavenly Father." Which, in this sentence, grammatically refers to treasures; and this would convert the whole period into nonsense. The sentence should have been thus constructed, It is folly to pretend, by heaping up treasures, to arm ourselves against the accidents of life, against which nothing can protect us but the good providence of our Heavenly Father."
STRENGTH. By the strength of a sentence is meant such an arrangement of its several words and members, as exhibits the sense to the best advantage, and gives every word and member its due weight and force.
1. The first rule for promoting the strength of a sentence, is, to take from it all redundant words and members. Whatever can be easily supplied in the mind, should generally be omitted; thus, "Content with derserving a triumph, he refused the honour of it," is better than to say, "Being content with deserving a triumph," &c. "They returned back again to the same city from whence they came forth." If we expunge from this short sentence five words which are mere expletives, it will be much more neat and forcible; thus, They returned to the city whence they came." But we should be
cautious of pruning so closely as to give a hardness and dryness to the style. Some leaves must be left to shelter and adorn the fruit.
2. Particular attention to the use of copulaiives, relatives, and all the particles employed for transition and connexion, is required. In compositions of an elevated character, the relative should generally be inserted. An injudicious repetition of and enfeebles style; but when enumerating objects which we wish to have appear as distinct from each other as possible, it may be repeated with peculiar advantage; thus, "Such a man may fall a victim to power; but truth, and reason, and liberty, would fall with him.”
3. Dispose of the capital word or words in that part of the sentence in which they will make the most striking impression.
4. Cause the members of a sentence to go on rising in their importance one above another. In a sentence of two members, the longer should generally be the concluding one.
5. Avoid concluding a sentence with an adverb, a preposition, or any inconsiderable word, unless it be emphatical.
6. Where two things are compared or contrasted with each other, a resemblanee in the language and construction should be observed.
FIGURES OF SPEECH.
Figures of Speech may be described as that language which is prompted either by the imagination, or by the passions. They generally imply some departure from simplicity of expression; and exhibit ideas in a manner more vivid and impressive, than could be done by plain language. Figures have been commonly divided into two great classes; Figures of Words, and Fig ures of Thought.
Figures of Words are called Tropes, and consist in a word's being employed to signify something that is different from its original meaning; so that by altering the word, we destroy the figure.
When we say of a person, that he has a fine taste in wines, the word taste is used in its common, literal sense; but when we say, he has a fine taste for painting, poetry, or musick, we use the word figuratively. "A good man enjoys comfort in the midst of adversity," is simple language; but when it is said, "To the upright there ariseth light in darkness," the same sentiment is expressed in a figurative style, light is put in the place of comfort, and darkness is used to suggest the idea of adversity.
The following are the most important figures:
1. A METAPHOR is founded on the resemblance which one object bears to another; or, it is a comparison in an abridged
When I say of some great minister, "That he upholds the state like a pillar which supports the weight of a whole edifice," I fairly make a compar ison; but when I say of such a minister, "That he is the pilla of state," the word pillar becomes a metaphor. In the latter construction, the comparison between the minister and a pillar, is made in the mine but it is ex# pressed without any of the words that denote comparison.
Metaphors abound in all writings. In the scriptures they may be found in vast variety. Thus, our blessed Lord is called a vine, a lamb, a lion, &c.; and men, according to their different dispositions, are styled wolves, sheep, dogs, serpents, vipers, &c.
Washington Irving, in speaking of the degraded state of the American Aborigines who linger on the borders of the white settlements," employs the following beautiful metaphor: "The proud pillar of their independence has been shaken down, and the whole moral fabrick lies in ruins."
2. AN ALLEGORY may be regarded as a metaphor continued; or, it is several metaphors so connected together in sense, as frequently to form a kind of parable or fable. It differs from a single metaphor, in the same manner that a cluster on the vine differs from a single grape.
The following is a fine example of an allegory, taken from the 60th psalm. wherein the people of Israel are represented under the image of a vine. "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it; and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it; and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs into the sea, and her branches into the river."
3. A SIMILE or COMPARISON is when the resemblance between two objects, whether real or imaginary, is expressed in form.
Thus, we use a simile, when we say, "The actions of princes are like those great rivers, the course of which every one beholds, but their springs have been seen by few." "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people." "The musick of Caryl was like the memory of joys that are past, pleasant and mournful to the soul." "Our Indians are like those wild plants which thrive best in the shade, but which wither when exposed to the influence of the sun."
"The Assyrian came down, like the wolf on the fold,
4. A METONYMY is where the cause is put for the effect, or the effect for the cause; the container for the thing contained; or the sign for the thing signified.
When we say, "They read Milton," the cause is put for the effect, meaning "Milton's works." Gray hairs should be respected;" here the effect is put for the cause; meaning by "gray hairs," old age, which produces gray hairs. In the phrase, "The kettle boils," the container is substituted for the thing contained. "He addressed the chair;" that is, the persen in
5. A SYNECDOCHE OR COMPREHENSION.
When the whole is
put for a part, or a part for the whole; a genus for a species, or a species for a genus; in general, when any thing less, or any thing more, is put for the precise object meant, the figure is called a Synecdoche.
Thus, "A fleet of twenty sail, instead of, ships." "The horse is a noble animal;" "The dog is a faithful creature:" here an individual nut for the species. We sometimes use the "head" for the person, and th for the sea. In like manner, an attribute may be put for a # vject; sa, "Youth" for the young, the "deep" for the sea.
6. PERSONIFICATION OF PROSOPOPEIA is that figure by which we attribute life and action to inanimate objects. When we say, "the ground thirsts for rain," or, "the earth smiles with plenty ;" when we speak of "ambition's being restless," or, a disease's being deceitful" such expressions show the facility, with which the mind can accommodate the properties of living creatures to things that are inanimate.
The following are fine examples of this figure:
"Cheer'd with the grateful smell, old Ocean smiles ;"
"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose."
7. AN APOSTROPHE is an address to some person, either absent or dead, as if he were present and listening to us. The address is frequently made to a personified object; as, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory ?"
"Weep on the rocks of roaring winds, O maid of Inistore; bend thy fair head over the waves, thou fairer than the ghost of the hills, when it moves in a sun-beam at noon over the silence of Morven."
8. ANTITHESIS. Comparison is founded on the resemblance, antithesis, on the contrast or opposition, of two objects.
Example. "If you wish to enrich a person, study not to increase his stores, but to diminish his desires."
9. HYPERBOLE or EXAGGERATION consists in magnifying an object beyond its natural bounds. "As swift as the wind; as white as the snow; as slow as a snail ;" and the like, are extravagant hyperboles.
"I saw their chief, tall as a rock of ice; his spear, the blasted fir; hu shield, the rising moon; he sat on the shore, like a cloud of mist on the hills."
10. VISION is produced, when, in relating something that is past, we use the present tense, and describe it as actually pass ing before our eyes.
11. INTERROGATION. The literal use of an interrogation, is to ask a question; but when men are strongly moved, whatever they would affirm or deny with great earnestness, they naturally put in the form of a question..
Thus Balaam expressed himself to Balak: "The Lord is not man, that he should lie, nor the son of man, that he should repent. Hath he said it? and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken it? and shall he not make it good?" "Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him ?"
12. EXCLAMATIONs are the effect of strong emotions, such as surprise, admiration, joy, grief, and the like.
"O that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of way-faring men!" "O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest!"