« EelmineJätka »
BY MR. S. DRAPER,
It would doubtless prove instructive were we to inquire into the origin of Penmanship, and to trace its progress from the Egyptians and Mexicans, who chronicled their important events by pictures and hierul; phical characters. We would willingly institute such an inquiry : but on the present occasion we have to treat upon writing not as a mechanical art, but as a mental habit or exercise.
When we reflect that this Society numbers upwards of sixty members, and that only fourteen of us cultivate original composition,-I feel that I need not make any apology for bringing the subject before you this evening. I would in the first place inquire how it is that so many of you do not make a first attempt, and bring here an original paper? Is it from timidity? or because you do not think the habit conducive to mental improvement? Or is it not rather from feelings of hopelessness and insuffisiency? Experience and observation constrain me to conclude that the latter is the prevailing hindrance. If it be, let me with all earnestness say, that you are labouring under a delusion: that the * still small voice” which is constantly persuading you of incompetency, is a great cheat. Remember, your minds are of an improveable nature. And I am not more certain of my own existence, than I am that there is nothing in the constitution of your intellects, which will preclude you from writing down with advantage to yourselves, the thoughts, ideas, and impressions which are erer and anon revolving in that little world of yours—the mind. The most illiterate youth in this class, has some thoughts worthy of being harvested. You have never written; therefore you are like untried quarries, and uncultivated lands-you know not what you contain, nor what you are able to produce. Perhaps you have never read those lines of Martin Tupper's—“The commonest mind is full of thoughts, some worthy of the rarest; and could it see them fairly writ, would wonder at its wealth."
I am particularly anxious to see you use your pens, not because the habit of writing will enable you to produce something worth sending to press, but I commend it to your attention primarily for your own improvement; and should any of you be induced through my advice to adopt the habit, I feel quite certain that you will not regret the step, though you may never become the author of a single article, tract, or pamphlet.
Let us look at one or two of its advantages.
1. Writing engenders studious habits. It exercises the faculties of mind; earth, air, sea, and sky, are found to furnish food for thought and contemplation, and suggest to an active and inquiring mind countless subjects for consideration. Such a one does not neglect to study the doings of past ages; nor does he disregard the important movements of the present day. He is a thoughtful and reflective reader; he does not resemble many of the present generation, who peruse book after book, simply for temporary pleasure, but reads for lasting profit; hence he does not, like the swallow, just skim the surface of water, but dives down into its depths, bringing up each time some fresh treasure as the reward of his search and toil. Thus he not only obtains much valuable information, but many new ideas are suggested; and these being placed upon
paper, assume a definite form, and may be regarded bv him as sterling and imperishable property.
2. Writing tends to self-acquaintance. In more Stases than one, many persons are more familiar with
thers than they are with themselves. “Kuow thyml" is excellent advice; but the great majority of
71ankind act as though they never heard of it, or if they have, totally disregard its teaching. The mirror, and the photograph, may convey to the eye the exact Sorm of every feature, and yet the individual may be profoundly ignorant of himself; for these things (annot place in his hands a transcript of the inward Jan. The pen must be the instrument whereby to obtain anything like a correct portrait of the inore valuable part of his nature; for, after all, “the mind's the standard of the man."
Thus we might go on to an indefinite length, and shew how writing improves the memory, systematises the thoughts, corrects the judgment, regulates the ivelings, and controls the passions. But we must abstain, and at once throw out a few hints to those who do occasionally write. Let me entreat of you not to be discouraged when you find that your productions are not equal to your expectations. I know that many are frequently dissatisfied with their papers; and this dissatisfaction operates diversely on different dispositions : some it incites to greater effort and assiduity; but others it greatly retards, or entirely prevents from making another attempt. These unfortunates have our deep sympathy: let us now tender unto them our feeble assistance. I observe, then, that it is more than probable that the nunsuccessful essays were on unsuitable subjects, and that those papers which have given the greatest satisfaction, were upon themes more interesting, and better understood. It is well for the traveller to know something of the road he is about to journey on. And so the writer who wishes either to please himself, or edify others, must be familiar with his subject. It is dangerous for those who cannot swim to dive into strange waters: and it is unwise for the young writer to take up subjects and questions with which he is but partially acquainted. If there is a young man present who has been dispirited by his first or second performance, with all earnestness I say— Try again. Think of Bruce and the spider; of Demosthenes and the pebbles; and learn, if you have not yet done so, the rewards of perseverance and determination. Bear in mind that completeness is of gradual growth; the man was once a childthe oak was once an acorn. And all the great ones of earth, who are discovering new truths, in science, and sending forth fresh beauties in literature, had once to go through the first rudiments of education like you, to learn their ABC. Sit then no longer in the valley of despair, or on the stool of discontent, musing on past failures and defects, but be up and doing. Remember, “the glory of young men is their strength;"—not merely strength of body, but strength of mind and strength of purpose. Climb now the hill of progression, and ere long you will be seen ascending the mountain side, whose topmost point is perfection.
We purpose now to offer a few remarks on style. By style we mean the peculiar manner in which a person expresses his conceptions by means of language. We use the term “peculiar," because no two persons either think or write exactly alike; and therefore every writer is in some measure the author of a new style. Think of this,-for it may prevent carelessness in writing. It is not sufficient to possess lofty thoughts, and grand ideas; for these may exist in the mind in such a state of confusion, that were they to be heedlessly and hastily placed upon paper, they would in all probability astonish the writer and confound the reader. I observe, then, that to be the author of a successful style, you must study. It is no easy matter to write down your thoughts so that they shall be both pleasing and understandable to those who read them. “A word fitly spoken,” says Solomon, “is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." And, believe me, a paragraph fitly written, will be worth all the toil you can bestow upon it. I would guard you against trusting to your innate abilities, for in this matter natural talent will not of itself enable you to write anything very satisfactorily. I aluit that some do accomplish many things more quickly and more effe atually than others; but if we lok at the most successful orators, or the world's "first-class" authors, we shall find that close appliration to study, indomitable perseverance, and confaut practice, have made them to stand out as bright and avble examples of what men in earnest can do for themselves and for others. Take for example the
Teatest of the Grecian orators: will you find that Decosthenes trusted to nature ? No-far from it. History, for our encouragement and information, D is known the fact that few men ever trusted less to what we term “genius.” From early life, he cultivated his mind by reading the productions of great men. He shut himself up in a cave, that he might stily without interruption. He cultivated his voice 03 the sea-shore, and improved the action of his bly in his own room; and so anxious was this martilaus man to adopt a good style of writing, that he truk Thucydides for his model, writing out his histary eight times with his own hand. “Go thou and (in etlect) do likewise." Do not depend too much upon your natural abilities; cultivate whatever Natun: hath bestowed; but be particularly solicitous to inu prove those qualities of mind which seem most to Tuaire attention: for however much nature may have doge, depend upon it that art and application can do much more.
I cannot lay down or call your attention to any existing rules which will enable you to write freely and accurately. But I can with some assurance