Page images
PDF
EPUB

of matter, and thus to find an easier task. Experience, however, shews that the reverse is true—that as the field of inquiry is narrowed, questions arise more exciting to the mind, and thoughts are suggested of greater value and interest to the readers. Suppose, as an illustration, that a writer proposes to himself to write an essay on literature. Amidst the numerous topics which might be treated upon under this term, what unity of subject could be expected ? How common-place and uninteresting would be the thoughts advanced ! But let some distinct inquiry be proposed, or some assertion be made and supported, of which the extract among the Exercises, entitled a “Defence of literary studies in men of business,” is an instance, and there is an afflux of interesting thoughts presented in a distinct and connected manner.

On the plan or divisions. Having before his mind the precise object of inquiry, and having stated also, either in a formal manner, or by implication, the proposition to be supported, the writer now turns his attention to the formation of his plan; in other words he determines in what order and connexion his thoughts shall be presented. Thus are formed the divisions of a composition, which will correspond in their nature to the leading design and character of the performance. In argumentative discussions, the heads are distinct propositions or arguments, designed to support and establish the leading proposition. In persuasive writings, they are the different considerations, which the writer would place before his readers, to influence their minds, and induce them to adopt the opinions and pursue the course, which he recommends. In didactic writings, they are the different points of instruction. In narrative and descriptive writings, they are the different events and

scenes, which are successively brought before the mind.

It is obvious, that no particular rules of general application, can be given to aid the writer in forming his plan. It must vary with the subject and occasion. Here then is room for the exercise of ingenuity; and the habits of consecutive thinking, mentioned in a former section of this chapter, are the best preparation for this part of his work. But though no specific rules can be given, there are a few general directions, which will now be stated. It will be seen, that they apply principally to those writings, which are of an argumentative nature, and which alone admit of an extended plan.

1. Every division should have a direct and obvious bearing on the leading purpose of the writer.

2. The different divisions should be distinct, one not including another.

3. The divisions should to a great degree exhaust the subject, and taken together should present a whole.

Let us suppose, in illustration of these rules, that it is proposed to write an essay on Filial Duties. The writer designs to shew, as the object of the essay, that children should render to their parents obedience and love. His division is as follows; Children should render obedience and love to their parents.

1. Because they are under obligation to their parents for benefits received from them.

2. Because in this way they secure their own happi

[ocr errors]

ness.

3. Because God has commanded them to honour their parents.

In this division there is a manifest reference to the object of the writer. The different heads are also distinct from each other, and taken together give a sufficiently full view of the subject. It is in accordance then with the preceding directions.

Let us now suppose that the following division had been made;

Children should render obedience and love to their parents.

1. Because they are under obligations to them for benefits received from them.

2. Because their parents furnish them with food and clothing.

3. Because in this way they secure their own happi

ness.

4. Because there is a satisfaction and peace of conscience in the discharge of filial duties.

This division is faulty, since the different parts are not distinct from each other. The second head is included under the first, and the fourth under the third.

A third division might be made as follows; Children should render obedience and love to their parents.

1. Because they should do what is right. 2. Because in this way they secure their own happi

ness.

3. Because God has commanded them to honour their parents.

It may be said of the first part of this division, that it has no particular reference to the object of the writer. It is a truth of general application, and may with equal propriety be assigned in enforcing any other duty as well as that of filial obedience. It is also implied in the other heads, since children do what is right, when, in obedience to God's command, they seek to secure their own happiness.

The question may arise, Is it of importance distinctly to state the plan which is pursued ? Should there be formal divisions of a discourse ? To this I answer, that in the treatment of intricate subjects, where there are many divisions, and where it is of importance that the order and connexion of each part should be carefully observed, to state the divisions is the better course. But it is far from being always essential. Though we never should

write without forming a distinct plan for our own use, yet it may often be best to let others gather this plan from reading our productions. A plan is a species of scaffolding to aid us in erecting the building. When the edifice is finished, we may let the scaffolding fall.

Arrangement. In the discussion of a subject, which is of an argumentative nature, the direction is generally given, that the arguments should rise in importance. In this way the attention, excited by novelty at first, may continue to be held, and a full and strong conviction be left on the mind at the conclusion of the reasoning. This may be observed as a general rule, but the more obvious occurrence of an argument or some other cause, will often require the skilful writer to depart from it.

Another rule of more importance is, that arguments from cause to effect, or those which account for what is asserted in the leading proposition, supposing it to be true, should precede those of a stronger or more convincing kind, such as arguments from testimony or induction. Even this rule, however, is not without its exceptions.

An inquiry of some importance pertaining to arrangement, is, whether the proposition to be supported, should in all cases precede the proof, or whether the proof should precede the formal announcement of the proposition. Men usually assert their opinions, and then assign the reasons on which they are founded, and this, without doubt, is the best arrangement, unless special reasons exist for adopting some other. If what is asserted is likely, either from its being novel, or uncommon, or from its being opposed to the views of the reader, to prejudice him, and to prevent his due consideration of the arguments brought forward, it is better to depart from

the general rule, and to defer the formal statement of the conclusion to the close.

Another inquiry relates to the proper place for introducing the refutation of objections. On this point, the general rule is that objections should be considered near the commencement of a composition. In this way, the prejudices of opposers may be eradicated, and their minds left free to give full attention and due weight to the arguments advanced. It is, however, often necessary to bring forward some views of the subject, preparatory to the examination of objections; in these instances, their refutation is found in the midst, or deferred to the close of the composition.

Transitions.

Transitions from one part of a composition to another, are also important objects of attention. The most general direction is that transitions be natural and easy. By this it is meant, that they should be in agreement with the common modes of associating the thoughts. In argumentative writings, where the different parts are connected by a common reference to some particular point, which they are designed to establish, this common relationship will be sufficient to prevent the transition from one argument to another from appearing unnatural and abrupt. Still, as has been intimated, there may be skill shown in the arrangement of the arguments, and one may appear to arise happily from another. But in writings which are not argumentative, much skill is often displayed in the transitions. With the design of exhibiting some happy instances of transitions, and thus showing what is meant by their being natural and easy, I shall notice those in Goldsmith's Traveller, to which these epithets are often applied. His description of Italy closes with the mention of its inhabitants, feeble and de

« EelmineJätka »