Page images



Style is defined by Dr. Blair, to be “the peculiarmanner in which a writer expresses his thoughts by, words. It is a picture of the ideas in the mind, and of the order in which they exist there.Buffon has more boldly and happily said, “ Style is the man himself." Let two individuals write on the same subject. We see in their productions their peculiar modes of thinkingthe extent of their knowledge-their tastes and their feelings. The portrait executed by the most skilful painter, does not more fully represent the countenance, than the productions of tủe pen exhibit the characteristics of the mind.

Consistently with this account of what is meant by style, the attention has been directed to thought as the foundation of good writing--to the nature and objects of literary taste, and to skill in the use of language. From what has been said on these different heads, it may easily be inferred, that there are some qualities of style, which are common in a greater or less degree to all good writers. But it must be obvious, that if style depends on the intellectual habits and acquirements on the taste, and on skill in the use of language, each of which is possessed by different individuals in different degrees, there will be different modes of writing, which will characterize different individuals. Besides, there will be diversities in style arising from the subject and occasion. I purpose therefore in this chapter, to con

sider in three different sections, 1. The qualities of style common in some degree to all good writers ; 2.. The different modes of writing which characterize different individuals ; 3. The kinds of style suited to some of the most common classes of writing. To this will be added some general directions for improvement in style..

Section 1. On the qualities of a good style. CORRECTNESS as a quality of style, implies the use of words that are purely English in their true and proper sense, and the construction of phrases and sentences according to the rules of Grammar. Thus it is opposed to the Barbarism, or the use of foreign words ; the Impropriety, or the use of words in a wrong sense ; and the Solecism, or grammatical blunder. Enough has been said in the section on Verbal Criticism, to guard the writer against the two former of these ; to prevent the latter, is the appropriate object of Syntax, and does not come within the limits of Rhetoric.

Attention to this quality of style, should be urged upon all those who would become good writers. It is equally necessary in all kinds of writing, and though it is not regarded as a high excellence, the absence of it is ever thought disgraceful. Incorrectness in the use of words and in the construction of sentences, like inaccuracies of pronunciation, is considered as evidence of careless intellectual habits and an unfinished education... There is also something of the nature of incivility,when & writer asks us for our attention, and addresses us in a language we cannot understand. Hence it is, that the faults which are opposed to correctness, are pardoned with least willingness, and furnish-occasions to critics for raillery at the expense of guilty writers.

The different feelings with which wa. regard an in

stance of incorrectness in conversation and in writing,are worth our attention. If in the ardour of conversation a word is improperly used,or a sentence wrongly constructed, we are ready to ascribe the incorrectness to the impetuosity and hurry of the thoughts, or to the rapidity of the expression, and we overlook it. Not so in writing. Here is time for reflection, for the due arrangement of the thoughts and the right modelling of the expression, and though one or two instances of incorectness may be forgiven, yet if they are of frequent occurrence, their effect on our opinion of the writer is unfavorable,

It is unnecessary to repeat here what was said at the close of the section on Verbal Criticism, on the importance of familiarity with authors of reputation, that we may attain propriety in the use of words. But it is not amiss to urge the necessity of a critical knowledge of the rules and principles of syntax.

These rules, it is true, like those which direct in the choice of words, derive their authority from good usage, and the principles which they enjoin, may be learnt from the study of good models in writing ; still they are valuable, since they direct the attention to those cases where there is most danger of errour, and give us the results to which those have been led who have carefully studied the subject. Let then an intimate knowledge of the principles and rules of syntax, be considered essential towards forming a good style.

PERSPICUITY is the next quality of a good style to be considered. It implies that the expressions used, be such as to convey, and clearly convey, the true meaning of the writer. Thus defined, it is opposed to ambiguity and obscurities of every kind, from whatever source they may arise,

In every system of Rhetoric, Perspicuity is dwelt up

on as an essential quality of good style. The argument by which its observance is enforced, is simple and unanswerable. We write to communicate to others our thoughts ; and if we do not make ourselves understood, we fail of our object in writing. Neither is it enough, that by study, a meaning may be made out of the expressions that we use. The meaning of a passage should be so obvious, as not only to prevent mistake, but to become evident at the first glance -so evident, that we cannot help discerning it. On this point Quinctilian has happily observed, "Oratio in animum audientis, sicut sol in oculos, etiamsi in eum non intendatur, occurrat."* Perspicuity is a word of similar import with transparency, which is applied to air, to glass and to water, or to any substance, through which as a medium we are wont to look at objects.

Now it is well known , that if there be any defect in the medium through which we look, so that we do but imperfectly discern the object of our survey, we are liable to be den ceived in our estimation of it, our attention is also taken off from the object itself, and we are led to notice the want of perfect transparency-to account for it, and to judge of its effect on our view of the object before us. But on the other hand, if the medium be perfectly transparent, our undivided attention is directed to the object itself; and while we see it distinctly and judge of it correctly, we think not of the medium through which it is viewed. This illustration admits of close application to style.

But the question may be asked; do not instances somea

*The meaning of a discourse should strike the mind, as the light of the sun does the eyes, though they are not in. tently fixed upon it.

times occur, in which a degree of obscurity is desirable> Are there not some delicate turns, or bold forms of expression, which lose nothing of their pertinency from the degree of obscurity which characterizes them? and may Itt a regard for delicacy, or even decency, sometimes prevent a distinct enunciation of a thought ? To these inquires it must be answered in the aflirmative. Still such instances are but of rare occurrence, and upon ex‘amination of them it will be generally seen, that the thought intended to be conveyed, is rather left to be inferred from what is said, than obscurely expressed in the words themselves. The expression itself perspicuously conveys what it was designed to convey..

The following instance of a delicate turn of expres ion, happily illustrates this remark. Fontenelle in his address to Dubois, who was guardianto Louis xv. ia. his minority, says to him, “ You will freely communicate to our young monarch that knowledge, which will fit him one day to govern for himself. You will strive with all your efforts to make yourself useless." This last phrase may be considered obscure. Fontenelle designed to say, “You will labour to impart so much knowledge to your ward, that your services will no long: er be needed by him.” But this is rather an inference from what is said, than what is conveyed in the words themselves. There is no obscurity as to the meaning of the expression itself. It is a singular fact, that a critic in remarking on this passage, asserted that no doubt Fontenelle said, or designed to say, useful instead of useless, and that the present reading is probably a typographical error. From such critics may we be delivered!

But another inquiry on this subject has arisen, May not a writer be too perspicuous, and not leave enough to

« EelmineJätka »