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Style, Perspicuity, and Precision.

intend to convey. Style may be pure, that is, it may be strictly English, without Scotticisms or Gallicisms, or ungrammatical 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 “præcidere,” to cut off; and signifies retrenching all superfluities, and pruning the expression in such manner, as to exhibit neither more nor less than the ideas intended to be conveyed.

Words, employed to express ideas, may be faulty in three respects. These 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 from a desire of

Style, Perspicuity, and Precision.

multiplying words, he praise his courage and for. titude ; at the moment he joins these words together, our idea begins to waver. He intends to express one quality more strongly ; but he is in fact expressing two. Courage resists danger; fortitude supports pain. The occasion of exerting these qualities are different; and, being led to think of both together, when only one of them should engage attention, our view is rendered unsteady, and our conception of the object indistinct.

The great source of a loose style, the opposite of precision, is the injudicious use of words called synonymous. Scarcely in any language are there two words that convey precisely the same idea; and a person, perfectly acquainted with the

; propriety of the language, will always be able to observe something by which they are distinguished. In our language many instances may be given of difference in meaning among words, reputed synonymous; and as the subject is important, we shall point out a few of them.

Surprised, astonished, amazed, confounded. We are surprised at what is new or unexpected; we are astonished at what is vast or great; we are amazed at what is incomprehensible; we are confounded by what is shocking or terrible.

Pride, vanity. Pride makes us esteem ourselves; vanity makes us desire the esteem of others.

Haughtiness, disdain. Haughtiness is founded on a high opinion of ourselves; disdain on a low opinion of others.

To weary, to fatigue. Continuance of the same thing wearies us; labour fatigues us. A

Structure of Sentences.

man is wearied by standing; he is fatigued by walking

To abhor, to detest. To abhor imports simply strong dislike; to detest imports likewise strong disapprobation. We abhor being in debt; we detest treachery,

To invent, to discover. We invent things which are new ; we discover what is hidden. Galilæo invented the telescope ; Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood.

Entire, complete. A thing is entire, when it wants none of its parts; complete, when it wants none of the appendages which belong to it. A man may occupy an entire house; thought he have not one complete apartment.

Enough, sufficient. Enough relates to the quantity which we wish to have of a thing. Sufficient relates to the use that is to be made of it. Hence enough commonly signifies a greater quantity than sufficient does. The covetous man never has enough; though he has what is sufficient for nature.

These are a few among many instances of words in our language, which by careless writers are apt to be mistaken for synonymous. The more the distinction in the meaning of such words is regarded, the more accurately and forcibly shall we speak and write.


A. PROPER construction of sentences is of such importance in every species of composition, that we


Structure of Sentences.

cannot be too strict or minute in our attention to it. For, whatever be the subject, if the sentences be constructed in a clumsy, perplexed, or feeble manner, the work cannot be read with pleasure, or even with profit. But by attention to the rules which relate to this part of style, we acquire the habit of expressing ourselves with perspicuity and elegance ; and, if a disorder happen to arise in some of our sentences, we immediately see where it lies, and are able to rectify it.

The properties most essential to a perfect sentence are the four following. 1. Clearness. 2. Unity. 3. Strength. 4. Harmony.

Ambiguity is opposed to clearness, and arises from two causes ; either from a wrong choice of words, or a wrong collocation of them. Of the choice of words, as far as regards perspicuity, we have already spoken. Of the collocation of them we are now to treat. From the nature of our language, a capital rule in the arrangement of our sentences is, that words or members most nearly related, should be placed as near to each other as possible, that their mutual relation may clearly appear. This rule is frequently neglected even by good writers. A few instances will shew both its importance and application.

In the position of adverbs, which are used to qualify the signification of something which either precedes or follows them, a good deal of nicety is to be observed. 66 By greatness," says Addison, “I do not only mean the bulk of any single object, but the largeness of a whole view." Here the place of the adverb only makes it limit the verb mean. 66 I do not only mean." tion may then be asked, What does he more than

The ques

Structure of Sentences.


mean? Had it been placed after bulk, still it would have been wrong, for it might then be asked, What is meant beside the bulk? Is it the colour, or any other property? Its proper place is after the word object : By greatness I do not mean the bulk of any single object only;" for then, when it is asked, What does he mean more than the bulk of a single object? the answer comes out precisely, as the author intends, “ the largeness of a whole view." 6. Theism,” says Lord Shaftsbury, “ can only be opposed to polytheism or atheism."

It may be asked, then, Is theism capable of nothing else, except being opposed to polytheism or atheism? This is what the words literally mean through the improper collocation of only. He ought to have said, “ Theism can be opposed only to polytheism or atheism.” Inaccuracies of this kind occasion little ambiguity in common discourse, because the tone and emphasis, used by the speaker, generally make the meaning perspicuous. But in writing, where a person speaks to the eye, he ought to be more accurate; and so to connect adverbs with the words they qualify, that his meaning cannot be mistaken on the first inspection.

When a circumstance is interposed in the middle of a sentence, it sometimes requires attention to place it in such manner as to divest it of all ambiguity. For instance, “ Are these designs," says Lord Bolingbroke, “ which any man, who is born a Briton, in any circumstances, in any situation, ought to be ashamed or afraid to avow ?” Here we are in doubt whether the phrases, “ in any circumstances, in any situation," be connected with “ a man born in Britain ;” or with that


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