Page images

allurements of style, to arrest and fix the attention of the reader.

Character-painting is often regarded as a difficult species of writing, and he who attempts it, seems to gird himself for some great effort. Hence productions of this kind are often unnatural and laboured. The sentences are short and abrupt. There are striking contrasts and strong expressions. The picture is exhibited before us in bold relief, and there is more effort that it may

be striking, than that it be just. This kind of writing requires a skilful hand, and is rarely attempted with success. It is not found even in some of the best modern biographies.

FICTITIOUS WRITINGS are extended fables, or tales, written with the professed design of combining instruction with amusement. Some are of a historical kind, and designed to acquaint us with the manners and customs of a by-gone age; others lay claim to be considered of an ethical nature; they profess to detect and expose the springs of action; they show the rewards of the virtuous and the consequences of vice; and thus they would be auxiliaries to those who seek to improve and reform men.

There are others that are mirrors of the passing age: they catch and reflect back to us the fashions as they rise.

In estimating the merits of fictitious writings, our attention is directed to three particulars,—the plot, the characters, and the moral. Each of these will now be briefly considered.

By the plot of a fictitious work, is meant a connected series of incidents and actions, leading to some important and decided result. It is essential to success, that the course of events be not too obvious and direct. At least, there must be enough of intricacy in the story, and of uncertainty as to the final result, to awaken curiosity on the part of the reader, and lead him to form conjectures as to the event. Probability is another essential trait of a well formed plot. Men must feel and act in fiction, as men in real life are wont to feel and act. 'It must be seen, that the force of circumstances is the same, and events must turn on universally recognized causes and principles of action. Unity is a third requisite of a good plot. By unity, it is meant, that every occurrence and every event mentioned, should be a part of a connected series of events having some bearing on the object of the story. But while it is essential that unity be preserved, and probability be not violated, the story must be somewhat removed from the common current of human affairs. It must be full of incident, and give room for the free workings of the imagination. We must be hurried forward from one situation to another; and unlooked for events, and frequent changes must occur. This is justly regarded as a most difficult part of fictitious writing. It is no small task to take beings, with the passions, opinions, and varieties of character, which may be found and imagined among men, and set them to work, subjecting them only to such influences, as the nature of the human mind and heart allows.

Next to the plot, the characters represented become objects of attention. And here it is requisite to success, that the characters be prominent, distinct, and well supported. As the story goes forward, and different individuals are introduced to our notice, we must see in each, those distinct traits, which, as in real life, may cause him to be remembered and readily recognized, whenever afterwards met with. And further, there must be uniformity and consistency of action. After our acquaintance has been formed with the different characters introduced, we must be able to predict how they will act under any given circumstances, in which they may be placed.

To conceive in this way and exhibit a marked, decided character, acting with uniformity and consistency, when subjected to the various influences bearing upon it in the progress of a long continued story, requires no small ingenuity and skill. It requires a thorough and intimate acquaintance with human nature; and it is to this source, that the novel writer is to look for the influences which modify and restrict his power. Under the limitations thus prescribed, he may compound the ingredients of human character at his will. He


form new and unknown characters, but not absurd and unnatural ones. It is an argument often brought in support of the utility of novels, that we thus obtain a knowledge of human nature. But unless the characters introduced are natural and well supported, no benefit of this kind will accrue ; and it is to be feared, that the mass of fictitious works are, in this respect, more injurious than beneficial, since they often present false notions of men and things, and thus lead their readers astray.

That every fictitious work should be favourable to good morals, is universally allowed. At the end of a novel, as at the completion of the plans of a good moral government, it should be seen, that virtue has its reward and that vice is punished. But it is not enough that such should be the conclusion of the tale. It should be borne in mind during its progress. In fact, the moral effect depends more on the impression made in the developement of the story, than on a formal annunciation of some sound moral principle at its close. It is believed, that if the moral tendency of many

novels were tested in this manner, they would be found to exert no favourable moral influence. There are and ever have been writers of fiction, and those too who profess themselves friends of morality and religion, who shew, in the course of their works, that they have not themselves strength of principle enough to resist temptations to amuse their readers, at the expense of what, to every upright man, is sacred.

The style of fictitious writings, since works of this class are addressed to the imagination, and are designed to please, may have both ornament and elegance. In an extended work, however, it must vary with the character of different parts. Some portions are simply narrative, requiring a plain, didactic manner. Others are descriptive, requiring more or less elevation of style. Letters, speeches, and discussions of various kinds are also occasionally introduced, as in ancient histories, and require corresponding changes in the style.

Fictitious writings, in some form, have been known in almost every age and nation. They exhibit to us the manners, and feelings, and opinions of the times when they were written, more than any other class of literary productions. Like an extended river, flowing through varieties of soil and scenery, they show us the peculiarities of the region through which they pass. English literature has its full share of fictitious writing. It has been reserved to a writer of our own age, to present it to us in a form, which, whether we regard the skill and power with which it is executed, or its value, as comhining instruction with amusement, has never been surpassed.

An ARGUMENTATIVE Discussion is the examination of a subject with the design of establishing some position that has been taken, or of maintaining some opinion that has been advanced. It requires powers of research and investigation, joined with comprehensiveness and strength of intellect. When successfully executed, it is the effort of a well disciplined mind, as it takes up a subject worthy the exertion of its powers, and by placing facts and principles in due order and connexion, presents before us a full and impressive view.

The most important directions to be observed, in this kind of writing, are:-1. That the subject of discussion be fully stated and explained. 2. That strict method be observed in the arrangement of the several parts of the discourse, and that the object of the writer be kept constantly in view. So much has been said on these topics in the first chapter of this work, that it is unnecessary here to enlarge upon them.

The style of the discussion should be dignified and manly; forcible, rather than elegant. Expressions, which from the figurative use of language are bold and striking, may be happily introduced ; and the production should abound in illustrations and interesting facts.

An ORATION may be defined a popular address on some interesting and important subject. In listening to a performance of this kind, we expect the mind to be informed, the reasoning powers to be exercised, the imagination to be excited, and the taste to be improved.

In compositions of this class, much depends on the happy selection of a subject. Many err in supposing, that an oration should have declamation rather than argument, ornament rather than sense. In opposition to this, it should always be remembered, that it is a production addressed both to the understanding and the imagination. Instead then of selecting a subject, which may afford opportunity for contesting some disputed point, it should be one which requires a statement and elucidation of interesting facts and principles—a course of calm, dignified, and persuasive reasoning. At the same time, it should allow of fine writing. There should be opportunity for description and pathos; for historical and classical allusions and illustrations, and for comprehensive and ennobling views. It should admit also unity of plan. The style of orations should be elevated and elegant; the forms of expression manly and dignified, and at the same time characterized by force and

« EelmineJätka »