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General Characters of Style.
that it requires no illustration. Every one knows that treatises of philosophy should not be composed in the same style with orations. It is equally apparent, that different parts of the same composition require a variation in the style. Yet amid this variety, we still expect to find in the compositions of any one man some degree of uniformity in manner; we expect to find some prevailing character of style impressed on all his writings, which will mark his particular genius and turn of mind. The orations in Livy differ considerably in style, as they ought to do, from the rest of his history. The same may be observed in those of Tacitus. Yet in the orations of both these historians, the distinguished manner of each may be clearly traced ; the splendid fulness of the one, and the sententious brevity of the other. Whereever this is real genius, it prompts to one kind of style rather than to another. Where this is wanting ; where there is no marked nor peculiar character in the compositions of an author; we are apt to conclude, and not without cause, that he is a vulgar and trivial author, who writes from imitation, and not from the impulse of genius.
One of the first and most obvious distinctions in style arises from an author's expanding his thoughts more or less. This distinction forms what are termed the diffuse or concise styles. A concise writer compresses his ideas into the few. est words; he employs none but the most expressive; he lops off all those which are not a material addition to the sense. Whatever ornament he admits is adopted for the sake of force, rather than of grace. The same thought is never
Diffuse and Concise.
repeated. The utmost precision is studied in his sentences ; and they are generally designed to suggest more to the reader's imagination than tlicy express.
A diffuse writer unfolds his ideas fully. He places it in a variety of lights, and gives the reader every possible assistance for understanding it completely. He is not very anxious to express it at first in its full strength, because he intends repeating the impression ; and what he wants in strength, he endeavours to supply by copiousness. His periods naturally flow into some length, and having room for ornament of every kind, he gives it free admittance.
Each of these styles has its peculiar advantages; and each becomes faulty, when carried to the extreme. Of conciseness, carried as far as propriety will allow, perhaps in some cases far, ther, Tacitus the historian, and Montesquieu in s l'Esprit de Loix" are remarkable examples. or a beautiful and magnificent diffuseness, Cicero is undoubtedly the noblest instance which can be given. Addison also and Sir William Temple may be ranked in the same class.
La doierinining when to adopt the concise, and when the diffuse manner, we must be guided by the nature of the composition. Discourses that are to be spoken, require a more diffuse style than books which are to be read. In written compositions a proper degree of conciseness has great advantages. It is more lively; keeps up attention ; makes a strong impression on the mind; and gratifies the reader by supplying more
1 exercise to his thoughts. Description, when we wish to have it vivid and animated, should be
Nervous and Feeble.
concise. Any redundant words or circumstances encumber the fancy, and render the object we present to it, confused and indistinct. The strength and vivacity of description, whether in prose or poetry, depend much more upon a happy choice of one or two important circumstances, than upon the multiplication of them. When we desire to strike the fancy, or to move the heart, we should be concise ; when to inform the understanding, which is more deliberate in its motions, and wants the assistance of a guide, it is better to be full. Historical narration may be beautiful either in a concise or diffuse manner, according to the author's genius. Livy and Herodotus are diffuse ; Thucydides and Sallust are concise; yet they are all agreeable.
The nervous and the feeble are generally considered as characters of style of the same import with the concise and the diffuse. Indeed they frequently coincide; yet this does not always hold; since there are instances of writers, who, in the midst of a full and ample style, have maintained a considerable degree of strength. Livy is an instance of the truth of this observation. The foundation of a nervous or weak style is laid in an author's manner of thinking:
If he conceive an object strongly, he will express it with energy; but if he have an indistinct view of his subject, it will clearly appear in his style. Un meaning words and loose epithets will escape him; his expressions will be vague and general; his arrangements indistinct; and our conception of his meaning will be faint and confused.-But a nervous writer, be his style concise or extended, gives us always a strong idea of his meaning.
Nervous and Feeble.
His mind being full of his subject, bis words are always expressive ; every phrase and every figure renders the picture which he would set before us, more striking and complete.
It must, however, be observed, that too great study of strength is apt to betray writers into a harsh manner, Harshness proceeds from uncommon words, from forced inversions in the construction of a sentence, and from neglect of smoothness and ease. This is reckoned the fault of some of our earliest classics; such as Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Bacon, Hooker, Herrington, Cudworth, and other writers of considerable reputation in the days of Queen Elizabeth, James I. and Charles I. These writers had nerves and strength in a high degree; and are to this day distinguished by this quality in style. But the language in their hands was very different from what is now, and was indeed entirely formed upon the idiom and construction of the Latin in the arrangement of sentences. sent form of our language has in some degree sacriliced the study of strength to that of ease and perspicuity. Our arrangement is less forcible, but more plain and natural; and this is now considered as the genius of our tongue.
Hitherto style has been considered under those characters which regard its expressiveness of an author's meaning. We shall now consider it with respect to the degree of ornament employed to embellish it. Here the style of different authors seems to rise in the following gradation; a dry, a plain, a neat, an elegant, a flowery mannere
The preDry, Plain, Neat and Elegant.
A dry manner excludes every kind of ornament. Content with being understood, it aims not to please either the fancy or the ear. This is tolerable only in pure didactic writing; and even there, to make us bear it, great solidity of matter and entire perspicuity of language are required.
A plain style rises one degree above a dry one. A writer of this character employs very little ornament of any kind, and rests almost entirely upon his sense. But though he does not engage us by the arts of composition, he avoids disgusting us like a dry and a harsh writer. Beside perspicuity, he observes propriety, purity and precision in bis language, which form no inconsiderable degree of beauty. Liveliness and force are also compatible with a plain style; and therefore such an author, if his sentiments be good, may be suf ficiently agreeable. The difference between a dry and a plain writer is this ; the former is incapable of ornament; the latter goes not in pursuit of it. Of those who have employed the plain style, Dean Swift is an eminent example.
A neat style is next in order; and here we are advanced into the region of ornament; but not of the most sparkling kind. A writer of this character shows by his
attention to the choice of words, and to their graceful collocation, that he does not despise the beauty of language. His sentences are always free from the incumbrance of superfluous words; of a moderate length; inclining rather to brevity, than a swelling structure ; and closing with propriety. There is variety in his cadence; but no appearance of studied harmony. His figures, if he use any, are short and accurate,