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the most perfect of all the modern dialects which have arisen out of the ruins of the ancient. Our language, though unequal to the Italian in flexibility, is not destitute of a considerable degree of this quality. Whoever considers the diversity of style in some of our best writers, will discover in our tongue such a circle of expression, such a power of accommodation to the various tastes of men, as redounds much to its honour.
Our language has been thought to be very deficient in harmony of sound; yet the melody of its versification, its power of supporting poetical numbers, without the assistance of rhyme, is a sufficient proof, that it is far from being unharmonious. Even the hissing sound, of which it has been accused, obtains less frequently, than has been suspected. For in many words, and in the final syllables especially, the letters has the sound of z, which is one of the sounds on which the ear rests with pleasure; as in has, these, loves, hears, &c.
It must however be admitted, that smoothness is not the distinguishing property of the English tongue. Strength and expressiveness, rather than grace and melody, constitute its character. It possesses also the property of being the most simple of all the European dialects in its form and construction. It is free from the intricacy of cases, declensions, modes, and tenses. Its words are subject to fewer variations from their original form, than those of any other language. Its nouns have no distinction of gender, except what is made by na
ture; and but one variation in case. Its adjectives ad. mit no change, except what expresses the degree of comparison. Its verbs, instead of the varieties of an cient conjugation, admit only four or five changes in termination. A few prepositions and auxiliary verbs effect all the purposes of significancy; while the princi pal words for the most part preserve their form unalter ed. Hence our language acquires a simplicity and facility, which are the cause of its being frequently written and spoken with inaccuracy. We imagine that a competent skill in it may be acquired without any study; and that in a syntax so narrow and limited ast ours, there is nothing which requires attention. But the fundamental rules of syntax are common to the English and to the ancient tongues; and regard to them is absolutely requisite for writing or speaking with propriety.
Whatever be the advantages or defects of our lan guage, it certainly deserves, in the highest degree, our study and attention. The Greeks and Romans in the meridian of their glory, bestowed the highest cultivation on their respective languages. The French and Italians have employed much study upon theirs; and their example is worthy of imitation. For, whatever knowledge may be gained by the study of other languages, it can never be communicated with advantage, unless by those who can write and speak their own language with propriety. Let the matter of an author be ever
so good and useful, his compositions will always suffer in the public esteem, if his expression be deficient in purity or propriety. At the same time, the attainment of a correct and elegant style is, an object which demands application and labour. If any one suppose. he can catch it merely by the ear, or acquire it by a perusal of some of our good authors, he will be much disappointed. The many grammatical errors, the many impure expressions, which are found in authors who are far from being contemptible, demonstrate that a careful study of our language is previously requisite for writing it with propriety, purity, and elegance.
STYLE is the peculiar manner in which a man expresses his thoughts by words. It is a picture of the ideas in his mind, and of the order in which they there exist,
The qualities of a good style may be ranged under two heads, perspicuity and ornament. It will readily be admitted, that perspicuity is the fundamental quality of a good style. Without this, the brightest ornaments only glimmer through the dark, and perplex instead of pleasing the reader. If we be forced to fol
low a writer with much care; to pause, and to read over his sentences a second time, in order to understand them folly, he will not please us long. Men are too indolent to relish so much labour. Though they may pretend to admire an author's depth, after they have discovered his meaning, they will seldom be inclined to look a second time into his book. sila
Perspicuity requires attention first to single words and phrases, and then to the construction of sentences. When considered with respect to words and phrases, it requires these three qualities, purity, propriety, and precision.
Purity and propriety of language are often used indiscriminately for each other; and indeed they are very nearly allied. A distinction, however, obtains between them. Purity is the use of such words and constructions as belong to the idiom of a particular language, in opposition to words and phrases which are imported from other languages, or which are obsolete, or newly coined, or employed without proper authority. Propriety is the choice of such words as the best and most established usage has appropriated to those ideas which we intend to express by them. It implies a correct and happy application of them, in opposition to vulgar or low expressions, and to words and phrases less significant of the ideas we intend to convey. Style may be pure, that is, it may be strict
ly English without Scotticisms or Gallicisms, or un
grammatical expressions of any kind, and yet be deficient in propriety. The words may be illy selected; not adapted to the subject, nor fully expressive of the author's meaning. He took them indeed from the general mass of English words; but his choice was made without skill. But style cannot be proper without being pure; it is the union of purity and propriety, which renders it graceful and perspicuous.
The exact meaning of precision may be learnt from the etymology of the word. It is derived from “pre"cidere," to cut off; and signifies retrenching all su perfluities, and pruning the expression in such manner, as to exhibit peither more nor less than the ideas intended to be conveyed..
Words, employed to express ideas, may be faulty in three respects. They may either not express the ideas which the author means, but some others which are only related'; or they may express those ideas, but not completely; or they may express them together with something more than he intends. Precision is opposed to these three faults; but particularly to the last, into which feeble writers are very apt to fall. They employ a multitude of words to make themselves understood, as they think, more distinctly; but they only confound the reader. The image, as they place it before you, is always seen double. When an author tells us of his hero's courage in the day of battle; the expression is precise, and we understand it fully. But if