Page images
PDF
EPUB

Of perspicuity.

and time, must be determined by the things to which they relate. To use them, therefore, with reference to different things, is in effect to employ the same word in different senses; which, when it occurs in the same sentence, or in sentences closely connected, is rarely found entirely compatible with perspicuity. Of this I shall give some examples. “ One may have “ an air which proceeds from a just sufficiency and

knowledge of the matter before him, which may “ naturally produce some motions of his head and

body, wbich might become the bench better than “ the bar *.” The pronoun which is here thrice used in three several senses; and it must require reflection to discover, that the first denotes an air, the second sufficiency and knowledge, and the third motions of the bead and body. Such is the use of the pronouns those and who in the following sentence of the same writer : “ The sharks, who prey upon the inadvertency of

young heirs, are more pardonable than those, wbo

trespass upon the good opinion of those, who treat " with them upon the foot of choice and respect t." The same fault here renders a very short sentence at once obscure, inelegant, and unmusical. The like use of the pronoun they in the following sentence, almost occasions an ambiguity : “ They were persons of “ such moderate intellects, even before they'were im

paired by their passion [.”—The use made of the pronoun it in the example subjoined, is liable to the

[ocr errors]

* Guardian, No. 13.

+ Ib. No. 73.

I Spect. No. 30.

Sect. I. The obscurity.... Part 111. From an uncertain reference in pronouns, &c.

same exception : " If it were spoken with never so great skill in the actor, the manner of uttering that sentence could have nothing in it, which could “strike any but people of the greatest humanity, nay, “ people elegant and skilful in observations upon it *.” To the preceding examples I shall add one, wherein the adverb when, by being used in the same manner, occasions some obscurity : “ He is inspired with a true sense of that function, when chosen from a regard " to the interests of piety and virtue, and a scorn of “ whatever men call great in a transitory being, when " it comes in competition with what is unchangeable " and eternal t."

PART IV. From an uncertain reference in pronouns and rela

tives.

A CAUSE of obscurity also arising from the use of pronouns and relatives, is when it doth not appear at first to what they refer. Of this fault I shall give the three following instances : “ There are other exam“ ples,” says Bolingbroke, “ of the same kind, which

cannot be brought without the utmost horror, because in them it is supposed impiously, against prin

ciples as self-evident as any of those necessary truths, “ which are such of all knowledge, that the supreme

Being commands by one law, what he forbids by

* Spect. No. 502.

+ Guardian, No. 13:

Of perspicuity.

1

“ another *.” It is not so clear as it ought to be, what is the antecedent to such. Another from the same author, “ The laws of Nature are truly what my “ Lord Bacon styles his aphorisms, laws of laws. Ci“ vil laws are always imperfect, and often false de“ ductions from them, or applications of them; nay,

they stand in many instances in direct opposition to " them .” It is not quite obvious, on the first reading, that the pronoun them in this passage doth always refer to the laws of Nature, and they to civil laws. “ When a man considers the state of his own “ mind, about which every member of the Christian “ world is supposed at this time to be employed, he “ will find that the best defence against vice, is pre

serving the worthiest part of his own spirit pure “ from any great offence against it .” It must be owned that the darkness of this sentence is not to be imputed solely to the pronoun,

PART V.

From too artificial a structure of the

sentence.

ANOTHER cause of obscurity is when the structure of the sentence is too much complicated, or too artificial; or when the sense is too long suspended by parentheses. Some critics have been so strongly persuaded of the bad effect of parentheses on perspicuity, as to think they ought to be discarded altogether.

[ocr errors]

Bolingb. Phil. Fr. 30. † Phil. Fr. 9. Guardian, No. 19.

Sect. I.

The obscurity....Part VI. From technical terms.

If the pa

But this, I imagine, is also an extreme. renthesis be short, and if it be introduced in a proper place, it will not in the least hurt the clearness, and may add both to the vivacity and to the energy of the sentence. Others again, have carried their dislike to the parenthesis only so far as to lay aside the hooks by which it is commonly distinguished, and to use commas in their place. But this is not avoiding the fault, if it be a fault, it is only endeavouring to commit it so as to escape discovery, and may therefore be more justly denominated a corruption in writing than an improvement. Punctuation, it will readily be acknowledged, is of considerable assistance to the reading and pronunciation. No part of a sentence requires to be distinguished by the manner of pronouncing it, more than a parenthesis; and consequently, no part of a sentence ought to be more distinctly marked in the pointing.

PART VI. From technical terms.

ANOTHER source of darkness in composing, is the in judicious introduction of technical words and phrases, as in the following passage :

Tack to the larboard, and stand off to sea,
Veer starboard sea and land

* Dryden's Æneid.

Of perspicuity.

What an absurd profusion, in an epic poem too, of terms which scarce any but seamen understand! In strict propriety, technical words should not be considered as belonging to the language; because not in current use, nor understood by the generality even of readers. They are but the peculiar dialect of a particular class. When those of that class only are addressed, as in treatises on the principles of their art, it is admitted, that the use of such terms may be not only convenient, but even necessary. It is allowable also in ridicule, if used sparingly, as in comedy and romance.

PART VII....From long Sentences.

The last cause of obscurity I shall take notice of, is very long sentences. This rarely fails to be conjoined with some of the other faults before mentioned. The two subsequent quotations from two eminent writers, will serve sufficiently to exemplify more than one of them. The first is from Bolingbroke's Philosophy : “ If we are sò, contrary to all appearances

(for they denote plainly one single system, all the parts of which are so intimately connected, and de

pendent one on another, that the whole begins, pro“ceeds, and ends together) this union of a body and

a soul must be magical indeed, as Doctor Cudworth “ calls it, so magical, that the hypothesis serves to no “ purpose in philosophy, whatever it may do in theo

logy; and is still less comprehensible, than the hy

« EelmineJätka »