« EelmineJätka »
Different kinds of composition. Writings are distinguished from each other, as didactic, persuasive, argumentative, descriptive and narrative. These distinctions have reference to the object, which the writer has primarily and principally in view. Didactic writing, as the name implies, is used in conveying instruction; the common text-books used in a course of education are examples. When in connexion with instruction, precepts are enjoined, and rules laid down for the observance of those who read, it is called didactic or preceptive writing. (Ex. I.) When it is designed to influence the will, the composition becomes of the persuasive kind; the proposed object is made to appear desirable, and the reader is urged to pursue it. Of this class, are sermons, and most discourses, addressed to deliberative assemblies. (Ex. II.) Another kind of composition, and one which is found -united with most others, is the argumentative. Under this head, are included the various forms of argument, the statement of proofs, the assigning of causes, and, generally, those writings, which are addressed to the reasoning faculties of the mind. (Ex. III.) Narrative and descriptive writings relate past occurrences, and place before the mind for its contemplation, various objects and scenes. (Ex. IV. and V.)
These different kinds of composition are often found united together in the same discourse.
In ancient systems of Rhetoric, they became distinct objects of attention, and appropriate directions were given for the composition of each part. It is not however designed to treat in this chapter on the management of the subject in an extended regular discourse. Nothing more is attempted, than to state and illustrate some general remarks, pertaining to this topic. The kind of composition more immediately in view, is an essay, or treatise, in part argumentative, and in part persuasive, -such as is adapted to defend and enforce the opinions of a writer on any subject he would present to the consideration of his readers.
Selection of a subject. It is a direction of Horace,
Sumite materiam vestris, qui scribitis, æqnam
Viribus. * The meaning of this maxim evidently is, that we should not attempt to write on subjects which are beyond the reach of our mental powers, and to the treatment of which, from our habits of thought, we are not fitted. Rightly to understand and discuss some subjects, requires a previous knowledge and powers of reasoning, which are not commonly possessed ; and when these essential pre-requisites do not exist, our labour must be in vain.
The injunction of Horace, as thus explained, admits of being applied to the selection of subjects for young writers. And on this point, two important directions may be given ;—they should be topics which they are capable of fully understanding, and which are interesting to them. Let a pupil be required to write on a subject which is above his comprehension, and his composition becomes either a succession of disconnected assertions, or a collection of thoughts and sentences from different authors. In either case, the exercise, though laborious perhaps, is injurious to the intellectual habits of him by whom it is performed. The subject selected should also be interesting, one within the usual range of the writer's studies and con
* Examine well, ye writers, weigh with care,
versation, and which may have an air of reality to him. Descriptions of scenes and occurrences which have come under immediate observation, are for these reasons recommended, or if the composition be of a didactic kind, the attention may be directed to subjects of an ethical nature.
The neglect of what is here recommended may lead to much vain and fruitless labour, and perhaps to fatal discouragement. Young writers not unfrequently get the impression, that they have not a genius for writing, or that in their case there are peculiar difficulties and hindrances, when the true difficulty is the wrong selection of subjects for their first attempts in composition.
Introduction. Whether a composition should have a formal introduction or not, must be determined by the good sense of the writer. In short essays, it is generally best to commence with a statement of the subject, and to enter at once on its discussion. There should at least be a proportion observed between the introduction and the rest of the performance. A huge portico before a small building, always appears out of place. When an introduction is used, it should be striking and appropriate. The opportunity may often be taken to correct some mistake, or remove some prejudice connected with the subject to be discussed,- -or a statement be made of facts, the knowledge of which is important to the right understanding of what follows,—or general remarks may be made, designed to impress the reader with a sense of the importance and interest of what is advanced. But whatever be the nature of the introduction, it should be written with great care. Before the minds of readers become engaged in the discussion of the subject, the attention is at liberty to fix itself on the skill shewn in the choice of words and the modelling of the expression.
I is also well known, that first impressions are important. A happy turn of expression, or a well timed allusion in the commencement of a performance, may effect much in arresting the attention of readers and conciliating their good will.
The following introduction to a popular Address is striking and appropriate;
“The uncounted multitude before me, and around me, proves the feeling which the occasion has excited. These thousands of happy faces, glowing with sympathy and joy, and, from the impulses of a common gratitude, turned reverently to Heaven, in this spacious temple of the firmament, proclaim that the day, the place, and the purpose of our assembling have made a deep impression on our hearts."
The speaker seems aware of the thoughts and feelings which have taken possession of every heart, and giving utterance to these thoughts and feelings, he arrests with consummate skill the attention, and conciliates the good will of those whom he addresses. The expression, too, “ in this spacious temple of the firmament," though not striking from its novelty, is yet, from the circumstances under which it was uttered, happy and truly appropriate.
On the statement of the subject. The first and leading object of attention in every composition of an argumentative kind, is to determine the precise point of inquiry--the proposition which is to be laid down and supported. Unless the writer has steadily before him some point which he would reach, he will ever be liable to go astray-to lose himself and his readers. It is not till he has determined on the definite object of inquiry, that he can know what views to present, and how long to dwell on the different topics he may
discuss. It is recommended to him, who is considering what proposition shall be laid down, and in what form it shall be stated, to ask himself the three following questions;
1. What is the fact? 2. Why is it so? 3. What consequences result from it? Suppose, as an illustration, that my thoughts have been turned towards the manifestations of wisdom, goodness and power in the works of creation around me, and I wish to lead those whom I address, to be mindful of these things. I ask myself,-1. What is the fact? In reply, it may be said that in the material world there are numerous indications of infinite wisdom and benevolence, and of almighty power. I ask, 2. How is the existence of these works to be accounted for? What is the cause? I answer, God hath created them. I ask again,-3. What should be the consequence? Again I reply, men should live mindful of God. I embody the results of my inquiries in the following proposition; Men, who live in the midst of objects which show forth the perfections of the great Creator, should live mindful of Him.
It is not always necessary, that the proposition to be supported, should be thus formally stated, though this is usually done in writings of an argumentative nature. Sometimes it is elegantly implied, or left to be inferred from the introductory remarks. When however any doubt can exist as to the object proposed, or there is any danger that the reader may mistake the design of the writer, the precise object of discussion cannot be too distinctly and formally stated. In the management of the subject, as in the expression of the thoughts, elegance should always be sacrificed to perspicuity. Half the controversies and differences of opinion among men, arise from their not distinctly understanding the questions on which they write and converse.
It is a common impression with young writers, that the wider the field of inquiry on which they enter, the more abundant and obvious will be the thoughts, which will offer themselves for their use. Hence, by selecting some general subject they hope to secure copiousness