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ment of a literary taste, may be inferred from what has been said in a preceding chapter. It is not enough that the productions of good writers are read; they must be studied as models of style. Let the student in literature imitate, in this respect, the course pursued by the artist in the acquisition of skill in his profession. The painter does not rest satisfied with a single look at a fine picture. He emphatically studies it, both as to its design and execution. Knowing that it is fitted to give pleasure, he would discover wherein its excellency consists; and thus derives from the study of it, rules which may guide him in his own efforts, and assist him in his judgment of the works of others. At the same time, from his familiarity with works of excellence, his taste becomes, in a manner, assimilated to the tastes of those who are the masters of the art. The same study is essential in literature, and hence it is, that familiarity with the best literary productions is so highly conducive to excellence, as a writer. It has been often remarked, that the best writers are almost uniformly the best classical scholars. The connexion here stated, may easily be explained. The models of fine writing, which have come down to us from former periods of the world, furnish ample opportunity for the exercise of the imagination and the improvement of the taste. To him then who aspires to become a good writer, I would recommend the study of those ancient models, with all the earnestness of Horace:
“ Nocturna versate manu, versate diurna.”
ON SKILL IN THE USE OF LANGUAGE.
VALUABLE thoughts, extensive knowledge, the ability to reason justly, and good literary taste, are essential to form the good writer, in whatever language he may compose. They are therefore rightly called the foundations of a good style. But it has been stated in the introduction, that in addition to these requisites for good writing, there must be skill in the use of language. This then is the next object of attention.
To use the English language skilfully, implies that the writer selects his words and composes
his sentences, in a manner, which accurately and clearly conveys to those, able to read this language, the thoughts existing in his own mind. With the design then of aiding the young writer in the acquisition of this skill, I shall first treat of the nature and principles of Verbal Criticism, and afterwards state the rules and cautions to be observed in the composition of sentences.
ON VERBAL CRITICISM,
Nature and Necessity of Verbal Criticism. When Cortez landed on the coast of South America, information was immediately given to the king of Mexico of his arrival, and of the appearance of his troops. The despatches, which were sent, consisted of pictures, representing the appearance of the ships, the disembarking of men, their arms and equipments, and military array. Had Montezuma with a company of his subjects, arrived at the same period of the world on the coast of England, an account of his arrival and appearance would have been sent to the king of the country; but in this case, instead of pictures, words would have been used in conveying the information; and the king of England, upon looking on the words, would have had as correct and distinct information of the arrival and appearance of Montezuma and his troops, as was obtained, in the former instance, by looking on the pictures. Hence we infer, that words answer the same purpose as pictures ; they bring up to the mind objects and thoughts which they are designed to represent.
Suppose next, that Montezuma with his troops, after leaving the coast of England had visited that of Spain. Information of his arrival and appearance would have been sent to the monarch of that country; and in sending this information, as in the case of the king of England, words would have been used. But though the words used to convey this intelligence, would in this case have been different from those before used, still they would represent the same objects, and be as readily understood. Different words then in different languages, represent the same objects. Hence we infer, that there is no natural connexion between words and the objects which they represent.
Suppose next, that the event of Montezuma's arrival on the English coast had occurred during the thirteenth century, instead of the sixteenth. In this case, an account might have been sent to the king of England in writing, as before, but the words used, would not be intelligible to those who speak and write the English language at the present day. This we infer from the fact, that some fragments, which now remain, of writings of that period in the English language, are not intel
ligible. Hence we learn, not only that different words are used to express the same thoughts in different languages, but that at different periods, different words are used in the same language, as symbols of the same object.
Now from these facts, that words are but signs—that there is no natural connexion between them and the objects which they represent; and that the words of a language are changing, some becoming obsolete, and others gaining admission,-arises the necessity of verbal criticism ; the object of which is to establish those principles, and lay down those rules, which may direct writers in the selection of right words for expressing their thoughts. If words, like pictures, were the exact representatives of objects; or the same word, in every period in the history of a language, and whenever used, had the same thought attached to it, by all who speak or write the language, there would evidently be no necessity for verbal criticism. In learning a language, we should acquire a knowledge of the correct and uniform use of each word, and we should then be in no danger of using it incorrectly. Good usage the standard of appeal in all decisions of
Verbal Criticism. Suppose that in a recent publication, I should meet with the following expression : “When the trial came on, he occupied this man as a witness.” I at once say, that the word occupy, is here incorrectly used. Should any one ask me, on what authority I make this assertion, I should answer, that the signification given to it, is different from that which it has in the writings of those, who are esteemed good authors in the English language. I should turn to several passages in the writings of Addison, Swift, Jeremy Taylor, and perhaps others of the same repute, and show him, that the common mean
ing of the word, is to possess, to hold, to keep for use, and I would then challenge him to show me the word, as used in the passage in dispute, in the writings of these authors, or of any author of good repute.
Suppose now, that my opponent should say, that he had found the word occupy, used in the sense to make use of, in the writings of Sir Thomas More, who wrote at the close of the fifteenth, or near the commencement of the sixteenth century; and at the same time acknowledge, that he could not find it thus used in any writer since that period; I should tell him in reply, that this is no authority for its being used, in this sense, at the present time. If, for three centuries, the word has ceased to be thus used by English writers, it is not now a part of the English language. It has become obsolete, and to English readers, it is no longer the sign, or symbol, with which the idea to make use of is connected.
Suppose, next, that my opponent should assert, that he has found the word thus used in some newspaper, and that he considers the editor of that newspaper a good writer. I should answer him, that it is not enough, that one individual esteems the editor of the newspaper, in which the word in question is found, a good writer, He must be generally reputed such; and even if he were so reputed, it is not enough that one good writer has thus used the word in dispute. This will not make the word thus used a part of the English language, nor cause it to be generally understood in this sense.
Suppose once more, that my opponent should assert, that the word occupy is thus used in his own neighbourhood, acknowledging at the same time, that he had not heard it so used in other parts of the country. I should answer him again, that this local use of it does not make it a part of the English language. It may be a part of the language of the town where he resides, but it would not be right to use it in this signification, in a work in