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exercise the ingenuity and reflection of his readers? This question has arisen from ascribing the weariness and disgust, which are felt in reading some productions, to a wrong cause. Some writers are minute to a fault, They mention every little circumstance in a narrativestate with formality common and trivial thoughts-supply every step of an argument, and dwell upon what the ingenuity of their readers could better have supplied ; and such writers are always tedious. But our ennui and disgust in reading their works, do not arise from the perspicuity of their expressions, but from their saying what had better have been omitted. The fault is not so much in the manner of saying as in what they say. Often also is it the case, that these prolix and minute writers add to their other faults that of obscurity, and leave us to labour and search after that, which when attained does not reward our exertions. When then a writer is conplained of as too perspicuous, we may safely ascribe the fault to futility of thought, and not to excessive clearness of expression.' We never complain that glass is too transparent, and no more can style be too perspicuous.
For the attainment of perspicuity as thus explained, distinctness and order in the thoughts, united with skill in the use of language, are essentially necessary. Let a writer's view of the subject be indistinct-let him but imperfectly undersand what he would communicate to others, or let his thoughts be without method, and there will necessarily be indistinctness and confusion in his productions. This confusion of thought will betray itself in long involved sentences, made up of loose and redundant expressions, the meaning of which it is difficult to divine. It sometimes seems as if the writer, aware of the indistinctness of his thoughts, would conceal it by the use of many words, thus hoping to throw
the blame of obscurity either on his subject or on the discerning powers of his readers. Against violations of perspicuity arising from this source, the observance of what was enjoined in the first chapter of this work, will be a sufficient security. Let habits of patient, persevering and connected thinking be acquired, and it will seldom be the case, that a want of perspicuity will arise from confusion of thought. The violations of perspicuity which result from want of skill in the use of language, are either improprieties in the use of words or faults in the composition of sentences. Rules and cautions to secure the writer against these, were fully stated in the chapter on that subject.
It was stated, when treating of the illustrations and ornaments of style, that when heterogeneous objects are brought together, a confused and disproportionate image will rise to the view of the mind. Here is another source of obscurity. Such attempts at illustration and ornament are called an affectation of excellence, and tend to darken and deform those objects, around which they are designed to throw light and beauty. It is unnecessary here to give examples of faults of this kind or to repeat what was before said. The remedy for such violations of perspicuity is improvement of the taste.
Before leaving the subject of perspicuity, the student should be reminded that writers become obscure, not only from indistinctness and confusion in their conceptions, but from the reverse-familiarity with their subject. They forget that what, from having long been the object of their contemplation, is known to them in all its relations and in its parts, is often to their readers new and strange, and hence they omit those parts of a statement, which are essential to its being fully understood. From this cause also, writers are often led to
construct long and involved sentences, the full meaning of any part of which cannot be known till the reader has reached its close. (See page 137.) To prevent obscurity from this source, a revision when the ardor of composition has passed away, will be advantageous.
A good style, in addition to Correctness and Perspicuity, will be characterized by VIVACITY.
This quality of style implies, that the thoughts are exhibited with distinctness before the mind of the reader, and in a mantner which arrests and fixes his attention. It gives evidence that the writer is interested in the subject on which he treats, and springs from a desire to awaken the same interest in the minds of his readers. Viewed in this light, it is an effort on the part of the writer to supply in a written discourse, what is effected in conversation by the tones of the voice and the expression of the countenance. As it is a quality of high excellence, and conduces much to the success of the writer, the different circumstances which are conducive to its attainment, will be distinctly considered.
Vivacity is promoted by the happy choice of words. Under this head I mention,
1. The use of specific and appropriate terms in preference to those which are more general and extensive in their meaning, and of well chosen epithets.
The following passage, found in one of the Waverly Novels, affords opportunity for illustrating and establishing what is here stated.
" The moon, which was now high and twinkled with all the vivacity of a frosty, atmosphere, silvered the windings of the river, and the peaks and precipices which the mist lest visible, while her beams seemed, as it were, absorbed by the fleecy whiteness of the mist, where it lay thick and condensed ; and gave to the more light and vapoury specks, which were elsewhere visible, a sort of filmy transparency resembling the lightest veil of silver gauze.”
An inferior writer, describing the same scene might have said,
“The moon, which was now high and shone with all the brightness of a frosty atmosphere, lighted the windings of the river, and the tops and steep sides of the mountains which the mist left visible--while her beams seemed, as it were, absorbed by the whiteness of the mist, where it lay thick and condensed, and gave to the more light and vapoury little collections of mist, which were elsewhere visible, a sort of transparency resembling a veil of gauze."
In directing the attention to the diversities in the two forms of the preceding sentence, that we may discover wherein the superiority of the former consists,the use of the word twinkled for shone first occurs. Every one will allow, that the word twinkled, as here used, is more expressive than the word shone; since it not only conveys what is conveyed by the word shone, but something more. It informs us of the manner in which the moon gave forth her rays. The next instance is the use of the word vivacity for brightness. The reason of our preference of the former, is the same as in the preceding case, though not so obvious ; the word vivacity conveys to us more than the word brightness. There is a cheerfulness and animation in a wintry scene, lighted up by the rays of moonlight, which is well expressed by the word vivacity, but not brought to view in speaking of its brightness. In the same way, siltered instead of lighted, informs us of the manner in which the rays were reflected from the river. Peaks and precipices, mean the same as the tops and steep sides of the mountains, but they are preferred as terms appropriated to these objecte. Specks also has the same meaning, since the connexion
determines that specks of clouds are referred to, as the phrase little collections of vapours, but it is preferred, not only as shorter, but as exhibiting more distinctly the appearance of the clouds. It will be still further noticed, that in the second form of the passage, the epithets fleecy-applied to the whiteness of the mist--filmy, applied to transparency, and silver applied to gauze, are omitted. The effect of this omission, in each case, is to take away something, which, when expressed, added much to the distinctness of the view.
From the preceding examination of the different forms of the passage used for illustration, the following inferences may be made.
f. That specific terms and phrases, are to be preferred to those more general in their signification. By a specific word or phrase, is meant a word or phrase used in comparatively a definite and limited sense. This distinction between specific and generic terms, is fully explained in books on Logic. It is also there stated, that a specific term conveys a more full and distinct meaning to the mind, than that conveyed by a generic term ; and hence the use of such terms conduces to vivacity of expression. Of the instances mentioned, shone is the generic term and twinkled the specific. Vivacity, as expressing the appearance of a scene,is a specific term in relation to brightness. Silvered is specific in relation to lighted.
2. That when words have been appropriated to particular objects, as their signs, it is better to use such words, than to convey the same meaning in more general terms, It gives a more definite view to the mind, to speak of peaks and precipices than of the tops and steep sides of mountains, and of specks, than of little col. lections of mist.