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are much beteer understood by men of common education than others. Indeed a difference of this nature is observed in the writings of the same individual, if his early productions be compared with those written at a later period in life, when by intercourse with the world, he has become more familiar with the language and modes of thinking of those around him. Some quaint, but judicious remarks on the selection of words, are found in the extract from the Rhetoric of Thomas Wilson in the “ HISTORICAL DISSERTATION” at the close of this work, to which the student is referred.
It is obvious to all, that distinctness and order in the thoughts, are essential to perspicuity. Let a writer's view of the subject be indistinct-let him but imperfectly understand 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, attention to 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 want of perspicuity will seldom arise from confusion of thought.
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 mind. Here is another source of obscurity. Such attempts at illustration and ornament are çalled 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 has been already stated. The remedy for such violations of perspicuity is the 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-from familiarity with their subject. They forget that a subject, which has long been the object of their contemplations, and is knowu to them in all its relations and in all its parts, is often new and strange to their readers, and hence they omit those parts of a statement, which are essential to its being fully understood. From the same 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 pp. 127-8.) To prevent obscurity from this source, a revision of the subject, when the ardour of composition has passed away, will be advantageous.
A good style, in addition to Correctness and Perspi. cuity, 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 manner which arrests and fixes his attention. It gives evidence that the writer is interested in the subject on which he treats, and it 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 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 favourable to its at. tainment, 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 Waverley 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 left 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 filny transparency resembling the lightest veil of silvery 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, 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 imparts what is conveyed by the word shone, but something more. It informs us of the manner in which the moon gave
forth 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
light, which is well expressed by the word vivacity, but not brought to view in speaking of its brightness. In the same way, silvered 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 objects. The word specks also has the same meaning as the phrase little collections of vapours, since the connexion determines that specks of clouds are referred to, but it is preferred, not only as shorter, but as exhibiting the appearance of the clouds more distinctly. 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 silvery applied to gauze, are omitted. The effect of this omission, in each case, is to take away something, which, when expressed, adds 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 drawn :
1. That specific terms and phrases, are preferable to those which are 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 terns, is fully explained in books on Logic. It is there stated, that a specific term imparts 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, and specks, than of the tops and steep sides of mountains, and little collections of mist.
3. That the use of well chosen epithets contributes much to vivacity of style. So much depends on the successful use of this class of words, that I shall bring forward several examples, illustrating the different ways, in which they produce the effect here ascribed to them.
Epithets increase the distinctness of the view :
1. By directing the attention to some striking and characteristic quality of the object, with which they are connected. EXAMPLE :-" The wheeling plover ceased
Her plaint.” In this example, the epithet wheeling, directs our attention to that kind of motion, which is characteristic of the species of bird which is mentioned. By thus bringing before our minds a characteristic property of an object, the distinctness of our conception of that obe ject is aided.
2. By directing the attention to those qualities of objects, which are most obvious in the view taken of them.
EXAMPLE:-“ Happiness is found in the arm-chair of dozing age, as well as either in the sprightliness of the dance, or the animation of the chase."
In this example, the epithet dozing brings before the mind that characteristic of age, which the writer designed should be prominent, when speaking of the happiness found at this period of life. In this way, it increases the distinctness of the reader's view, and leads him more fully to feel the force of what is asserted.
3. By leading the mind to trace out illustrative comparisons.