Page images
PDF
EPUB

we have bold turns of expression ;-in the elevated and dignified, we have sublime and grand turns of

expression. In the turns of expression in the neat style, there is sprightliness and justness in the thoughts, and a vivacity and finish in the mode of conveying them. At the same time, the writer is careful to avoid every fault. The neat style, as thus explained, is ever pleasing, and to some classes of writing peculiarly well suited. But it differs essentially from the easy and idiomatic style before described, in that it gives evidence of more labour in its construction. It seems the result, to which mediocrity of talent has attained, by patient and praiseworthy exertions,

Elegance, as before stated, implies that which is choice and select. In this sense it may be applied to words, forms of sentences, and the various ornaments of style. It requires that all coarse and homely words and phrases should be avoided, even though their use might give more vivacity to the expression. The sentences also are harmonious and flowing, and while they are polished, and easily understood, they are alike removed from the stiffness and awkwardness of the laboured style, and the looseness and familiarity of the idiomatic. But it is in the imagery that the characteristic trait of the elegant style is found. Beautiful and expressive epithets and turns of expression, with embellishing comparisons, and other formal ornaments of style, often occur, and excite emotions of taste. It is manifest that all is fitted and designed to please. Writings of this class are referred to under the next head of ornamented style, where the meaning of elegance, as applied to the ornaments of style, is more fully explained.

In considering an author's manner of writing, as addressed to the imagination, or as designed to please, we say that his style is PLAIN, or that it is ORNAMENTED. The former of these epithets obviously refers to an absence of ornament, and the latter to its presence. But between an absolutely plain style and one highly ornamented, there are various degrees; and different epithets have been applied to different kinds of writing, according to the nature and amount of ornament used.

In attempting to explain the most common of these epithets, I shall direct the attention to different authors in whose writings the ornaments of style abound.

Washington Irving, whose literary productions have acquired a deserved celebrity, may be first mentioned. Most of his works are addressed to the imagination, rather with the design of pleasing, than of instructing. This kind of writing admits of much ornament, and the reader of the “Sketch Book” and of “Bracebridge Hall,” will find that his expectations of pleasure from this source, are not disappointed. But though there is a profusion of ornament in these writings, it is of that modest, chaste, unobtrusive kind, that never cloys. It neither dazzles the mind, nor fills it with admiration, but excites emotions more calm and permanent. It is either the unstudied metaphor, or the embellishing and illustrative comparison, which are always welcome, as they cast new light and beauty on the objects of our view. Sometimes also a metonymy, or a synecdoche, or a personification of the humbler kind, gives increased vivacity to the expression. In reading the works of this author, we do not seem to be passing through a region, where gorgeous palaces, artificial parks, and lakes, and shrubberies are successively meeting our attention, till we are wearied by their uniform splendour; but it is rather a land of rural elegance; and we look upon the neat villas, and the highly cultivated fields with their hawthorn hedges, while over the whole country is spread in rich profusion, those simple but graceful ornaments, with which nature knows how to deck her own fields. I should therefore call the style of Irving, in reference to its ornament, simple and elegant;-simple, as being free from all that is affected-elegant, as being choice in its selection of ornament. This is one of the most grateful forms of the ornamented style, and denotes both delicacy and refinement of taste.

As an example of an ornamented style, in which elegance is found, but not in connexion with simplicity, that of Alison may be mentioned. In his writings, as in those of Irving, there is a profusion of ornament, and it must be said, that this is less acceptable in sermons and philosophical treatises than in fictitious writings. There is also manifestly something of art in the ornaments of Alison's style. They have been put on, and are not a part of what they adorn. They are flowers that have been planted, and not those that have sprung up spontaneously. Still no one will deny that Alison excels in the figurative use of language, and that the ornamental figures of style that he introduces, are both beautiful and striking; and he justly bears the name of an elegant writer.

The style of Phillips affords an example of an ornamented style differing from those which have been mentioned. From the nature of his productions we should expect to find in them figures of the bolder kind; and many splendid passages are found, but it too often happens that it is all splendour-mere show without solidity. Many of his figures are figures of words, and nothing

If we attempt to bring up before the mind the image he presents, and to see whether it be distinct and perfect, we find that we have something glittering before us, but it is without form or comeliness. His style may be called brilliant, but specious. We are ready to apply to it the common proverb, “ It is not all gold that glitters."

Hervey, the author of “ Meditations,” is often menitoned as a florid writer. This epithet denotes a super

more.

abundance of ornament, and that not of the choicest kind. His work is a mass of metaphors and comparisons. There is evidence of an active imagination, but it wants the guidance of taste. There is also ingenuity, but it sometimes manifests itself in strange conceits and far-fetched illustrations.

From these instances we learn what is meant by the epithets simple, elegant, specious, and florid, as applied to style; and these epithets denote the most common qualities of those styles in which ornament abounds.

SECTION 3.

On modes of writing suited to different subjects

and occasions. It is the design of the preceding chapters to treat of the principles and rules of good writing. An examination of the different classes of literary productions, and of the style suited to them, may form a second part of this work. All that will now be attempted, is to give, in a short section, some practical directions, which may aid the writer in those kinds of composition which are most common. Such are Epistolary writings, Essays, Historical and Fictitious writings, Argumentative Discussions, and Orations.

EPISTOLARY WRITINGS are communications between individuals, which serve as a medium both of friendly intercourse and of transacting the business of life. They hold a middle rank between the unrestrained flow and carelessness of conversation, and the preciseness and formality of dignified composition, approaching however nearer to the former, than to the latter.

Authors sometimes assume the form of letters in their publications, when nothing more than the form is designed to be used. Such letters, though addressed to individuals, are in fact written for the public, and

dropping the addresses prefixed to them, differ in no respect from the essay or dissertation. These are not included in the class of writings I am now describing.

Letters of friendly intercourse should be written in an easy, artless style. Sprightliness of thought and vivacity of expression, are appropriate to this class of writings; but the more formal ornaments of style should be rarely introduced. At least, it may be said, that such ornaments must be managed with uncommon skiil, not to injure the simplicity that is required. In the conversation of the man of taste and intelligence, we look for a correct use and happy choice of words, and for an easy, idiomatic, and simple phraseology, avoiding alike the cant of the vulgar, the verbosity of the pedant, and the sickening refinement of the sentimentalist. The same propriety in words, the same artlessness in expression, are required in his letters, with the additional care which must always be caused by the thought-manent scripta.

The letter of business should have strictness of method and perspicuity of style. Its objects should be promptly stated, and nothing unnecessary introduced.

It is not sufficient to insist upon a simple and artless style, and to caution the writer against a stiff and laboured manner of composition. There is danger of negligence and carelessness. Some, presuming on the good nature of their friends, write their letters in a hasty, disconnected manner as to the thoughts, while their words are often incorrectly used, and their expressions are slovenly. Such may be called rattlers. They run on from one subject to another—their words and sentences but half written out, and their letter, from the beginning to its close, is a perplexing enigma. To such a letter, the lines of Cowper may be applied :

“ One had need Be very much his friend indeed, To pardon or to bear it.”

« EelmineJätka »