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Directions for a Proper Style.
Having explained the different characters of style, we shall conclude our observations with a few directions for attaining a good style in general.
The first direction is, study clear ideas of the subject on which you are to write or speak. What we conceive clearly and feel strongly, we naturally express with clearness and strength. We should therefore think closely on the subject, till we have attained a full and distinct view of the matter which we are to clothe in words; till we become warm and interested in it; then, and then only, shall we find expression begin to flow.
Secondly, to the acquisition of a good style, frequency of composing is indispensably necessary. But it is not every kind of composing that will improve style. By a careless and hasty habit of writing, a bad style will be acquired; more trouble will afterwards be necessary to unlearn faults, than to become acquainted with the rudiments of composition. In the beginning therefore we ought to write slowly and with much care. Facility and speed are the fruit of practice. We must be cautious, however, not to retard the course of thought, nor cool the ardour of imagination, by pausing too long on every word. On certain occasions a glow of coinposition must be kept up, if we hope to express ourselves happily, though at the expence of some inaccuracies. A more severe examination must be the work of correction. What we have written should be laid by some time, till the ardour of composition be past; till partiality for our expressions be weakened, and the expressions themselves be forgotten; and then, reviewing our work with a cool
Directions for forming a Proper Style.
and critical eye, as if it were the performance of another, we shall discover many imperfections which at first escaped us.
Thirdly, acquaintance with the style of the best authors is peculiarly requisite. Hence a just taste will be formed, and a copious fund of words supplied on every subject. No exercise perhaps will be found more useful for acquiring a proper style, than translating some passage from an eminent author into our own words. Thus to take, for instance, a page of one of Addison's Spectators, and read it attentively two or three times, till we are in full possession of the thoughts it contains; then to lay aside the book; to endeavour to write out the passage from memory as well as we can; and then to compare what we have written with the style of the author. Such an exercise will shew us our defects; will teach us to correct them; and from the variety of expressions which it will exhibit, will conduct us to that which is most beautiful.
Fourthly, caution must be used against servile imitation of any author whatever. Desire of imitating, hampers genius, and generally produces stiffness of expression. They who follow an author closely, commonly copy his faults as well as his beauties. No one will ever become a good writer or speaker, who has not some confidence in his own genius. We ought carefully to avoid using any author's peculiar phrases, and of transcribing passages from him. Such a habit will be fatal to all genuine composition. It is much better to have something of our own, though of moderate beauty, than to shine in borrowed or
Directions for forming a Proper Style.
naments, wbich will at last betray the poverty of our genius.
Fifthly, always adapt your style to the subject, and likewise to the capacity of your hearers, if you are to speak in public. To attempt a poetical style when it should be our business only to reason, is in the highest degree awkward and absurd. To speak with elaborate pomp of words before those who cannot comprehend them, is equal ly ridiculous. When we are to write or speak, we should previously fix in our minds a clear idea of the end aimed at; keep this steadily in view, and adapt our style to it.
Lastly, let no attention to style engross us so much as to prevent a higher degree of attention to the thoughts. This rule is more necessary, since the present taste of the age is directed more to style than to thought. It is much more easy to dress up trifling and common thoughts with some beanty of expression, than to afford a fund of vig. orous, ingenious, and useful sentiments. The latter requires genius; the former may be attained by industry. Hence the crowd of writers who are rich in style, but poor in sentiment. Custom obliges us to be attentive to the ornaments of style if we wish our labours to be read and admired. But he is a contemptible writer, who looks not: bevond the dress of language; who lays not the chief stress upon his matter, and employs not such ornaments of style to recommend it, as are manlyn, pot foppish.
Critical Examination of Mr. Addison's Style.
CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF MR. ADDISON'S STYLE
IN NO. 411 OF THE SPECTATOR.
Having fully insisted on the subject of language, we shall now commence a critical analysis of the style of some good author. This will suggest obo servations, which we have not hitherto had occasion to make, and will shew in a practical light the use of those which have been made,
Mr. Addison, though one of the most beautiful writers in our language, is not the most correct; a circumstance which makes his composition a proper subject of criticism. We proceed therefore to examine No. 411, the first of his celebrated essays on the pleasures of the imagination, in the sixth volume of the Spectator. It begins thus :
“Our sight is the most perfect, and most delightful of all our senses.”
This sentence is clear, precise and simple. The author in a few plain words lays down the proposition which he is going to illustrate. A first sentence should seldom be long, and never intricate.
He might have said, our sight is the most perfect and the most delightful. But in omitting to repeat the particle the, he has been more judicious; for, as between perfect and delightful there is no contrast, such a repetition is unnecessary. He proceeds:
" It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues the longest in action, without being tired or satiated with its proper enjoyments,
Critical Examination of Mr. Addison's Style. This sentence is remarkably harmonious, and well constructed. It is entirely perspicuous. It is loaded with no unnecessary words. That quality of a good sentence, which we termed its unity, is here perfectly preserved. The members of it also grow, and rise above each other in sound, till it is conducted to one of the most harmonious closes which our language admits. It is moreover figurative without being too much so for the subject. There is no fault in it whatever, except this, the epithet large, which he applies to variety, is more commonly applied to extent than to number. It is plain, however, that he employed it to avoid the repetition of the word great, which occurs iininediately afterwards.
6. The sense of feeling can, indeed, gives us a notion of extension, shape, and all other ideas that enter at the eye, except colors; but at the same tine, it is very much strained and confined in its operations to the number, bulk and distance of its particular objects." But is not every sense con- . fined as much as the sense of feeling, to the number, bulk and distance of its own objects? The turn of expression is also very inaccurate, requiring the two words with regard, to be inserted after the word operations, in order to make the sense clear and intelligible. The epithet particular seems to be used instead of peculiar ; but these words, though often confounded, are of a very different import. Particular is opposed to general; peculiar stands opposed to what is possessed in common with others.
“ Our sight seems designed to supply all these defects, and inay be cor ered as a more delicate and diffusive kind of touch that spreads itself