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is open to the understanding of a child, and in the sublime raptures of Milton. The best examples of it are among ancient writers. This is the spell which binds us to the page of Homer, of Sophocles and Theocritus, of Xenophon and Herodotus. And a reason may easily be assigned, why naturalness of style should be found in these ancient writers. They lived, as it were, near to nature. With them all was originality. Their thoughts and expressions were their own. With most modern writers it is otherwise. It is often remarked, that in modern times there are few original ideas. We tell in different words what has often been told before, and, that we may avoid a coincidence of expression, we leave the natural, and seek after the more laboured forms of speech. Hence it is, that less of naturalness of style is found in modern writers.
The following are instances in which naturalness of style is most frequently violated :
1. When there is an evident attempt after ornament. What are called the ornaments of style should ever appear to be naturally suggested, and to be most intimately connected with the subject and occasion. They should offer themselves for our use, and not be sought after.
2. When the writer seeks after elegances of expression, or, as they are sometimes called, felicities of diction. Some with the design of being thought elegant writers, studiously avoid old, genuine English words and idioms, introducing, so far as practicable, those which have been derived from other languages. Others have what may be called a sentimental manner of expressing themselves.
Some violations of naturalness of style arise from attempts to be forcible. Under this head are included extravagances of expression, sweeping assertions, and forced illustrations.
4. Writers still further affect a fulness and flow of
expression. Because some men of powerful minds and strong feelings have expressed themselves in long flowing full sentences, many, the current of whose thoughts is neither strong nor deep, would have them flow forth in an equally full and irresistible stream.
On the modes of writing, which characterize the
productions of different individuals. It is the design of this section to treat of the different modes of writing, which characterize the productions of different authors. These, it has been stated, arise from diversities in their intellectual habits, in their tastes, and in their skill in the use of language. They are denoted by different epithets, which are applied to style ; and while the meaning of these epithets is explained, the attention should be directed by the instructor to such examples as furnish illustrations. It is sometimes said of a style, that it is IDIOMATIC
These epithets are generally found in connexion, and where the former is justly applied, the latter denotes a natural consequence.
A style which is idiomatic, will appear to have been easily written, and will be readily understood ; and this is all that is meant by ease as a quality of style. By an idiomatic style, is meant a manner of writing, in which, in addition to purity in the use of words, the phrases, forms of sentences, and arrangement of the words and clauses, are such as belong to the English language. It has already been stated, that every language has peculiarities of this kind by which it is characterized, and the style in which they abound, is said to be idiomatic.
Dr. Paley's style may be mentioned as idiomatic. The following sentence is from his writings :-“A bee amidst the flowers of spring is oue of the most cheerful objects that can be looked upon.” This expression is just what we should have used in conversation, for conveying the same thought. A writer whose style is less idiomatic, would have said, “Of the different objects, which amongst the flowers of spring arrest the attention, the bee is the most cheerful that can be looked upon.' This mode of stating the thought is more formal and stately, but less easy and idiomatic. In another place, when speaking of the fry of fish that frequent the margins of our rivers and lakes, he says, They are so happy that they do not know what to do with themselves.” Every English reader fully knows, and I may say feels, what is here expressed. It is a form of expression of daily occurrence, and its introduction shows the style of the author to be idiomatic.
It is not meant, that expressions like the last, would be proper on all occasions and subjects. We vary the forms of expression in conversation. In conversing on grave subjects, we should not use the lively and familiar forms of expression, which are suited to an hour of gaiety; and we should equally avoid the stately and involved modes of expression, which characterize a foreign language. There are idiomatic expressions in English which are suited to the grave style, as well as those which are suited to the lively. In the writings of Dr. Paley, those of either kind are to be found, when required by his subject.
There is danger, lest a writer, in seeking to be idiomatic, become careless in his style. We often use expressions in conversation, which are incorrect in construction, and obscure in their meaning, but they are understood from the accompanying look, or some attending circumstance, and the incorrectness is forgiven, because of the hurry of the moment. But when the same expressions are found in a written discourse, they are justly censured. An idiomatic style is most strictly correct in construction and perspicuous in its meaning.
It has been said, that an idiomatic style is the style of conversation. Still it must be confessed, that there is hardly any one who has not more formality in his writings, than in his familiar, oral intercourse. The distinction may be illustrated by referring to reading aloud. A good reader will, on the one hand, be far removed from artificial, or, as they are called, “ reading tones;" on the other, though his tones are natural, they will differ in some respects from the familiar tones of conversation. In the same manner, a style may be idiomatic, and rise in some degree above the most common forms of conversational intercourse.
An idiomatic style is always grateful to the reader. It requires no labour to understand a writer of this class. His forms of expression are those with which we are familiar—those which we use in the most artless, free communication of our thoughts, and we collect his meaning from a glance at the sentence.
An abuse of the idiomatic style, to which no particular epithet has as yet been applied, is sometimes found at the present day. It is in fact rather the want of style, than a well characterized manner of writing. Like the conversation of a man who is hasty in his conclusions, and whose thoughts and views are ill defined, this style is loose and rambling, utterly disregarding all smoothness and polish, and often violating the most common principles both of Rhetoric and Grammar. There is a mixing together of low cant words and phrases, with foreign, abstruse, and strangely compounded terms, and sometimes with lofty and imposing forms of expression. The figurative language especially, and all that is introduced with the design of illustration and orna. ment, wants consistency and uniformity. Odd conceits, vulgarillustrations, and undignified figurative expressions
are found in the same sentence with figures and language striking and pertinent, and sometimes chaste and beautiful. The same inequalities mark different passages and parts of the composition. One paragraph is trite and common-place both in thought and expression. The next is original, bold, startling, and impassioned.
An analysis of this mode of writing shews us that it is an unsuccessful attempt to be idiomatic and striking. It is in fact a species of literary coxcombry, and those who affect it would pass themselves off as men of superior powers and attainments. Their leading motto is, “Never think twice;" and the first thoughts and expressions which they give us, are such as might be expected. It is not necessary to state the remedies, which should be applied to the faulty style that has been described.
Opposed to the easy and idiomatic manner of writing, which has now been described, is the laboured style. This, as the epithet imports, appears to have been written with much pains on the part of the writer, and requires close attention and effort that it may be understood. The arrangement of the words and clauses is often inverted, and the whole composition of the sentence is artificial. A laboured style, when carried to excess, will be highly faulty. It will want perspicuity, smoothness, and naturalness. But it often happens that a style, which is in some degree laboured, has redeeming qualities, which recommend it, and give some degree of reputation to a writer. The style of Dugald Stewart may be mentioned as an instance of this kind. His manner of writing is evidently laboured, but there are qualities to be found in it which save it from censure.
For the correction of a laboured style, and the attainment of a more idiomatic and easy manner of writing, it is recommended; 1. To compose with greater rapidity. That form of expression, which presents itself to the mind with the thought to be communicated, will gene