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ON THOUGHT AS THE FOUNDATION OF GOOD WRITING.
Plan of the work. When we read the production of one who is justly accounted a good writer, we are conscious that our attention is engaged; that we are pleased; and, if the subject is one which can interest the feelings, that we are moved. If from being conscious of these effects we are led to search for their causes, we find, that our attention is engaged by the valuable thoughts and just reasonings that are exhibited; that we are pleased by what gives exercise to ourimagination, -by happy turns of expression, by well introduced and well supported illustrations; and that we are moved, because the writer, whose productions we are reading, is moved; and our feelings of sympathy cause us to be borne along on the same current, by which he is carried forward. But we now ask, what
may hence be inferred in relation to the writer? Do we not discover, that his mind has been stored with knowledge? that his reasoning powers have been strengthened and subjected to salutary discipline !--that his imagination is active and well regulated, and his heart alive to emotion ? and is it not from his possessing these resources these intellectual and moral habits, that he has been able to engage our attention, to please and to move us, and consequently has acquired the reputation of a good writer?
Now if this view be just, we may infer, that the foundation of good writing is laid in the acquisition of the stores of knowledge,-in the cultivation of the reasoning powers,- in the exercise and proper regulation of the imagination, and in the sensibilities of the heart.
But let us now suppose, that two writers, who possess those qualities, which I have called the foundation of good writing, in equal degrees, should write on the same subject. There might still be important differences between them. One might use words with correctness and skill, selecting always the best term; the writings of the other might shew improprieties and want of skill. The sentences of the one might be smooth in their flow, perspicuous in their meaning, gratefully diversified in their length, and well suited to the thought that is conveyed; those of the other might be rough, obscure, ambiguous, and tiresome from their uniformity; and while we are engaged and pleased in reading the production of the former writer, we soon become wearied and disgusted, with that of the latter. Here then we have a new cause in operation, and this obviously is the different degree of skill in the use of language, possessed by these two writers.
From this statement, we may learn the objects of attention to the critic, in examining a literary production. He would judge of the value of the thoughts, of the correctness of the reasoning, especially of the method observed in the discussion of the subject. He would next apply the principles of good taste, and notice what is addressed to the imagination, and judge of its fitness to excite emotions of beauty, or of grandeur, or other emotions of the same class. He might then direct his attention more immediately to the style, and examine its correctness, perspicuity, smoothness, adaptation to the subject, and the various qualities of a good style.
The course here marked out, as that of the critic in the examination of a literary production, suggests the objects, of attention and the method pursued in the following work. In the first part, a writer is regarded as address-, ing himself to the understanding of his readers ; and the importance of being able to think well, as including the, nuinber and value of our thoughts and the proper ar-,
rangement of them, is considered. The writer is then regarded as addressing himself more immediately to the imagination, with the design of interesting or pleasing his readers. Here the nature of taste, which directs in what is addressed to the imagination, is explained, the proper objects of its attention in a literary work pointed out, and some instructions given which may aid in its cultivation. Skill in the use of language is next made the object of attention, so far as this is necessary for the accurate and perspicuous conveyance of the thoughts. In the remaining part of the work, the qualities of a good style are enumerated, and the different circumstances on which they depend, are mentioned. Through the whole work, the inductive method is adopted as far as practicable. Examples are given, and rules and principles are inferred from these examples. At the close of the work exercises also are found, the analysis of which may call forth the skill of the learner, and make him familiar with the rules which are stated.
It will at once occur, that in each of the particulars mentioned, Rhetoric is connected, in a greater or less degree, with other departments of instruction. The Grammarian gives us rules for the attainment of correctness in the use of language; and Logic informs us of the different modes of conducting an argument. The intellectual philosopher also explains to us the phenomena of mind, particularly of those emotions with which taste is connected. This connexion has been borne in mind, and hence it is, that on some parts, comparatively little is said, and that of a general nature. Other parts, which are thought to belong more appropriately to Rhetoric, are more fully treated.
Extensive Knowledge essential to the good writer.
well. To think well, implies extensive knowledge and well disciplined intellectual powers. To think well on any particular subject, implies that we have a full knowledge of that particular subject, and are able to understand its relations to other subjects, and to reason upon it.
In saying that extensive knowledge is essential to the good writer, the word knowledge is meant to include both an acquaintance with the events and the opinions of the day, and with what is taught in the schools. That this knowledge is necessary to the good writer, may be inferred from the intimate connexion between the different objects of our thoughts. It is impossible for a writer to state and explain his opinions on one subject, without showing a knowledge of many others. And if, in the communication of his opinions, he endeavours to illusstrate and recommend them by the ornaments of style, the extent of his knowledge will be shown by his illustrations and allusions. Were it necessary to establish this position, it might be done by analysing a passage of some able writer, and by showing, even from the words that he uses, the knowledge which its composition implies.
He then who would become a good writer, must possess a rich fund of thoughts. The store house of the mind must be well filled ; and he must have that command over his treasures, which will enable him to bring forward, whenever the occasion may require, what has here been accumulated for future use. To make these acquisitions, is not the work of a month, nor of a year. He who would gain much knowledge, must acquire habits of diligence and attention. He must be always and everywhere a learner. Especially must he seek after a knowledge of facts, and distinct views of received opinions on important subjects. He will be mindful, that the extent of his knowledge will depend more on his manner of reading, than on the amount read, and on his attention
to the facts which fall under his observation, than on the number of these facts.
Discipline of the mind essential to the good writer.
In saying that the discipline of the mind is essential to the good writer, particular reference is had to the reasoning powers. In other words, the good writer must have sound sense. He must be able to examine subjects, and pursue a connected train of thought with power and correctness. That this is essential, may be inferred from the rank, which is held by the understanding among the different faculties of the mind. A man may have invention, memory, and imagination, but if he cannot reason accurately and with power, he will not interest and inform his readers, and thus acquire the reputation of a good writer. It is also well known, that many of the faults of style arise from indistinctness in the thoughts, and an inability to discern their relations to each other. Both these causes of defects in writing are removed by the discipline of the mind.
The improvement of the reasoning powers, is the appropriate object of the study of the sciences. The ability to reason justly and ably must be acquired by practice. There may be physical strength of mind as of body, but the strength of the giant will not avail him in rearing a stately edifice, unless his strength be combined with skill; and neither can the giant mind rear its structure without the guidance of skill, acquired both by instruction and practice. And how can this skill be better acquired, than by the study of those sciences, which require patient and careful research for hidden principles, or furnish instances of close and long continued trains of argumentation? Hence the fondness for metaphysical and moral investigations, and for the exact sciences, which is ever felt by those who excel as sound reasoners.
And the student, who in the course of his education is called to