« EelmineJätka »
The two subordinate propositions ending with the semicolon and colon respectively, almost wholly determine the meaning of the principal proposition with which it concludes; and the effect would be lost if they were placed last instead of first.
The general pr ciple of right arrangement in sentences, which we have traced in its application to the leading divisions of them, equally determines the proper order of their minor divisions. In every sentence of any complexity the complement to the subject contains several clauses, and that to the predicate several others; and these may be arranged in greater or less conformity to the law of easy apprehension. Of course, with these, as with the larger members, the succession should be from the less specific to the more specific,- from the abstract to the concrete.
Now, however, we must notice a further condition to be fulfilled in the proper construction of a sentence; but still a condition dictated by the same general principle with the other; the condition, namely, that the words and expressions most nearly related in thought shall be brought the closest together. Evidently the sin. gle words, the minor clauses, and the leading divisions of every proposition severally qualify each other. The longer the time that elapses between the mention of any qualifying member and the member qualified, the longer must the mind be exerted in carrying forward the qualifying member ready for use. And the more numerous the qualifications to be simultaneously remembered and rightly applied, the greater will be the mental power expended, and the smaller the effect produced. Hence, other things equal, force will be gained by so arranging the members of a sentence that these suspensions shall at any moment be the fewest in number, and shall also be of the shortest duration. The following is an instance of defective combination:
“A modern newspaper statement, though probably true, would be laughed at if quoted in a book as testimony; but the letter of a court gossip is thought good historical evidence if writ. ten some centuries ago."
A rearrangement of this, in accordance with the principle indicated above, will be found to increase the effect. Thus:
“Though probably true, a modern newspaper statement quoted in a book as testimony would be laughed at; but the letter of a court gossip, if written some centuries ago, is thought good historical evidence.”
By making this change, some of the suspensions are avoided and others shortened, while there is less liability to produce premature conceptions. quoted below from «Paradise Lost » affords a fine instance of a sentence well ar. ranged, alike in the priority of the subordinate members, in the avoidance of long and numerous suspensions, and in the correspondence between the order of the clauses and the sequence of the phenomena described, which, by the way, is a further prerequisite to easy comprehension, and, therefore, to effect:
« As when a prowling wolf,
The habitual use of sentences in which all or most of the descriptive and limiting elements precede those described and limited, gives rise to what is called the inverted style; a title which is, however, by no means confined to this structure, but is often used where the order of the words is simply unusual. A more appropriate title would be the direct style, as contrasted with the other or indirect style; the peculiarity of the one being that it conveys each thought into the mind, step by step, with little liability to error; and of the other that it gets the right thought conceived by a series of approximations.
The superiority of the direct over the indirect form of sentence, implied by the several conclusions that have been drawn, must not, however, be affirmed without reservation. Though, up to a certain point, it is well for the qualifying clauses of a period to precede those qualified; yet, as carrying forward each qualifying clause costs some mental effort, it follows that when the number of them and the time they are carried become great, we reach a limit beyond which more is lost than is gained. Other things equal, the arrangement should be such that no concrete image shall be suggested until the materials out of which it is to be made have been presented. And yet, as lately pointed out, other things equal, the fewer the materials to be held at once, and the shorter the distance they have to be borne, the better. Hence in some cases it becomes a question whether most mental effort will be entailed by the many and long suspensions, or by the correction of successive misconceptions.
This question may sometimes be decided by considering the capacity of the persons addressed.
A greater grasp of mind is required for the ready comprehension of thoughts expressed in the direct manner, where the sentences are anywise intricate. To recollect a number of preliminaries stated in elucidation of a coming idea, and to apply them all to the formation of it when suggested, demands a good memory and considerable power of concentration. To one possessing these, the direct method will mostly seem the best; while to one deficient in them it will seem the worst. Just as it may cost a strong man less effort to carry a hundred-weight from place to place at once, than by a stone at a time; so, to an active mind it may be easier to bear along all the qualifications of an idea, and at once rightly form it when named, than to first imperfectly conceive such idea and then carry back to it, one by one, the details and limitations afterwards mentioned. While conversely, as for a boy, the only possible mode of transferring a hundred-weight is that of taking it in portions; so, for a weak mind, the only possible mode of forming a compound conception may be that of building it up by carrying separately its several parts.
That the indirect method — the method of conveying the meaning by a series of approximations — is best fitted for the uncultivated, may, indeed, be inferred from their habitual use of it. The form of expression adopted by the savage, as in, «Water, give me,” is the simplest type of the approximate arrangement. In pleonasms, which are comparatively prevalent among the uneducated, the same essential structure is seen; as, for instance, in, «The men, they were there. » Again, the old possessive case, « The king, his crown, » conforms to the like order of thought. Moreover, the fact that the indirect mode is called the natural one, implies that it is the one spontaneously employed by the common people; that is, the one easiest for undisciplined minds.
There are many cases, however, in which neither the direct nor the indirect structure is the best, but where an intermediate structure is preferable to both. When the number of circumstances and qualifications to be included in the sentence is great, the most judicious course is neither to enumerate them all before introducing the idea to which they belong, nor to put this idea first and let it
be remodeled to agree with the particulars afterwards mentioned, but to do a little of each. Take a case. It is desirable to avoid so extremely indirect an arrangement as the following:
“We came to our journey's end, at last, with no small difficulty after much fatigue, through deep roads, and bad weather. »
Yet to transform this into an entirely indirect sentence would not produce a satisfactory effect; as witness:
«At last, with no small difficulty, after much fatigue, through deep roads, and bad weather, we came to our journey's end."
Dr. Whately, from whom we quote the first of these two arrangements, proposes this construction:
« At last, after much fatigue, through deep roads and bad weather, we came, with no small difficulty, to our journey's end.»
Here it will be observed that by introducing the words « we came » a little earlier in the sentence, the labor of carrying forward so many particulars is dimin. ished, and the subsequent qualification with no small difficulty » entails an addi. tion to the thought that is very easily made. But a further improvement may be produced by introducing the words «we came » still earlier; especially if at the same time the qualifications be rearranged in conformity with the principle already explained, that the more abstract elements of the thought should come before the more concrete. Observe the better effect obtained by making these two changes:
“At last, with no small difficulty, and after much fatigue, we came, through deep roads and bad weather, to our journey's end."
This reads with comparative smoothness; that is, with less hindrance from suspensions and reconstructions of thought, — with less mental effort.
Before dismissing this branch of our subject, it should be further remarked that even when addressing the most vigorous intellects, the direct style is unfit for communicating ideas of a complex or abstract character. So long as the mind has not much to do, it may be well able to grasp all the preparatory clauses of a sentence, and to use them effectively; but if some subtlety in the argument absorb the attention; if every faculty be strained in endeavoring to catch the speaker's or writer's drift, it may happen that the mind, unable to carry on both processes at once, will break down, and allow the elements of the thought to lapse into confusion.
THE EFFECT OF FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE EXPLAINED
*URNING now to consider figures of speech, we may equally discern the same T of the
use of them, we shall find the same fundamental requirement-economy of attention. It is, indeed, chiefy because they so well subserve this requirement, that figures of speech are employed. To bring the mind more easily to the desired conception, is in many cases solely, and in all cases mainly, their object.
Let us begin with the figure called Synechdoche. The advantage sometimes gained by putting a part for the whole is due to the more convenient, or more accurate, presentation of the idea. If, instead of saying “a fleet of ten ships, say a fleet of ten sail,” the picture of a group of vessels at sea is more readily suggested; and is so because the sails constitute the most conspicuous parts of ves
sels so circumstanced, whereas the word ships would very likely remind us of vessels in dock. Again, to say “All hands to the pumps, ” is better than to say, « All men to the pumps, as it suggests the men in the special attitude intended, and so saves effort. Bringing "gray hairs with sorrow to the grave," is another expression, the effect of which has the same cause.
The occasional increase of force produced by Metonomy may be similarly accounted for. «The low morality of the bar," is a phrase both more brief and significant than the literal one it stands for. A belief in the ultimate supremacy of intelligence over brute force, is conveyed in a more concrete and, therefore, more realizable form, if we substitute the pen and the sword for the two abstract terms. To say, «Beware of drinking !» is less effective than to say, “Beware of the bottle ! » and is so, clearly, because it calls up a less specific image.
The Simile is in many cases used chiefly with a view to ornament, but whenever it increases the force of a passage, it does so by being an economy. Here is an instance:
« The illusion that great men and great events came oftener in early times than now is partly due to historical perspective. As in a range of equidistant columns the furthest off look the closest; so, the conspicuous objects of the past seem more thickly clustered the more remote they are.)
To construct by a process of literal explanation the thought thus conveyed would take many sentences, and the first elements of the picture would become faint while the imagination was busy in adding the others. But by the help of a comparison all effort is saved,- the picture is instantly realized and its full effect produced.
Of the position of the simile,* it needs only to remark that what has been said respecting the order of the adjective and substantive, predicate and subject, principal and subordinate propositions, etc., is applicable here. As whatever qualifies should precede whatever is qualified, force will generally be gained by placing the simile before the object to which it is applied. That this arrangement is the best, may be seen in the following passage from the « Lady of the Lake;
«As wreath of snow, on mountain breast,
Slides from the rock that gave it rest,
Inverting these couplets will be found to diminish the effect considerably. There are cases, however, even where the simile is a simple one, in which it may with advantage be placed last, as in these lines from Alexander Smith's “Life Drama):
a I see the future stretch
All dark and barren as a rainy sea.”
The reason for this seems to be that so abstract an idea as that attaching to the word “future » does not present itself to the mind in any definite form, and hence the subsequent arrival at the simile entails no reconstruction of the thought.
Such, however, are not the only cases in which this order is the most forcible. As the advantage of putting the simile before the object depends on its being car
* Properly, the term " simile is applicable only to the entire figure, inclusive of the two things compared and the comparison drawn between them. But as there exists no name for the illustrative member of the figure, there seems no alternative but to employ « simile to express this also. This context will, in each case, show in which sense the word is used.
ried forward in the mind to assist in forming an image of the object, it must happen that if, from length or complexity, it cannot be so carried forward, the advantage is not gained. The annexed sonnet, by Coleridge, is defective from this
« As when a child, on some long Winter's night,
Here, from the lapse of time and accumulation of circumstances, the first part of the comparison is forgotten before its application is reached, and requires rereading. Had the main idea been first mentioned, less effort would have been required to retain it and to modify the conception of it into harmony with the comparison, than to remember the comparison and refer back to its successive features for help in forming the final image.
The superiority of the Metaphor to the simile is ascribed by Dr. Whately to the fact that (all men are more gratified at catching the resemblance for themselves than in having it pointed out to them.” But after what has been said, the great economy it achieves will seem the more probable cause. Lear's exclamation,
and the loss would result partly from the position of the simile and partly from the extra number of words required. When the comparison is an involved one, the greater force of the metaphor, consequent on its greater brevity, becomes much more conspicuous. If, drawing an analogy between mental and physical phenomena, we say,
"As, in passing through the crystal, beams of white light are decomposed into the colors of the rainbow; so, in traversing the soul of the poet, the colorless rays of truth are transformed into brightly tinted poetry.”
It is clear that in receiving the double set of words expressing the two halves of the comparison, and in carrying the one half to the other, considerable attention is absorbed. Most of this is saved, however, by putting the comparison in a metaphorical form, thus;
«The white light of truth, in traversing the many sided transparent soul of the poet, is refracted into iris-hued poetry.”
How much is conveyed in a few words by the help of the metaphor, and how vivid the effect consequently produced, may be abundantly exemplified. From « A Life Drama» may be quoted the phrase,