Page images

effecting an end, and the agent who employs it; but with, expresses a more close and immediate connection ; by, a more remote one. We kill a man with a sword; he dies by violence. The criminal is bound with ropes by the executioner. The proper distinction in the use of these particles, is elegantly marked in a passage of Dr. Robertson's History of Scotland. When one of the old Scottish kings was making an inquiry into the tenure by which his nobles held their lands, they started up, and drew their swords : " By these," said they, “ we acquired

our lands, and with these we will defend them." By these we acquired our lands;" signifies the more remote means of acquisition by force and martial deed; and, “ with these we will defend them;" signifies the immediate direct instrument, the sword, which they would employ in their defence.

These are instances of words in our Language, which, by careless writers, are apt to be employed as perfectly synonymous, and yet are not so. Their significations approach, but are not precisely the

The more the distinction in the meaning of such words is weighed, and attended to, the more clearly and forcibly shall we speak or write. *


* In French, there is a very useful treatise on the subject, the Abbé Girard's Synonymes Françoises, in which he has made a large collection of such apparent Synonymes in the Language, and shewn, with much accuracy, the difference in their signification. It is to be wished, that some such work were undertaken for our tongue, and executed with equal taste and judgment. Nothing would contribute more to precise and elegant writing. In the mean time, this French Treatise may be perused with considerable profit. It will accustom persons to weigh, with attention, the force of words; and will suggest several distinctions betwixt

From all that has been said on this head, it will now appear, that, in order to write or speak with Precision, two things are especially requisite; one, that an author's own ideas be clear and distinct; and the other, that we have an exact and full comprehension of the force of those words which he employs. Natural genius is here required; labour and attention still more. Dean Swift is one of the authors in our Language, most distinguished for Precision of Style. In his writings we seldom or never find vague expressions, and synonymous words, carelessly thrown together. His meaning is always clear, and strongly marked.

I had occasion to observe before, that, though all subjects of writing or discourse demand Perspicuity, yet all do not require the same degree of that exact Precision, which I have endeavoured to explain. It is, indeed, in every sort of writing, a great beauty to have, at least, some measure of precision, in distinction from that loose profusion of words which imprints no clear idea on the reader's mind. But we must, at the same time, be on our guard, lest too great a study of Precision, especially in subjects where it is not strictly requisite, betray us into a dry and barren Style ; lest, from the desire of pruning too closely, we retrench all copiousness and ornament. Some degree of this failing may, perhaps, be remarked in Dean Swift's serious works. Attentive only to exhibit his ideas clear and exact, resting wholly on his sense and distinctness, he appears to reject, dis

synonymous terms in our own language, analogous to those which he has pointed out in the French; and accordingly, several of the instances above given were suggested by the work of this author.

dainfully, all embellishment; which on some occasions may be thought to render his manner somewhat hard and dry. To unite Copiousness and Precision, to be flowing and graceful, and at the same time, correct and exact in the choice of every word, is, no doubt, one of the highest and most difficult attainments in writing. Some kinds of composition may require more of Copiousness and Ornament; others, more of Precision and Accuracy; nay, in the same composition, the different parts of it may demand a proper variation of manner. But we must study never to sacrifice, totally, any one of these qualities to the other; and by a proper management, both of them

may be made fully consistent, if our own ideas be precise, and our knowledge and stock of words be, at the same time, extensive.



Having begun to treat of Style, in the last Lecture, I considered its fundamental quality, Perspicuity. What I have said of this relates chiefly to the choice of Words. From Words I proceed to Sentences ; and as, in all writing and discourse, the proper composition and structure of sentences is of the highest importance, I shall treat of this fully. Though Per

spicuity be the general head under which I, at present, consider Language, I shall not confine myself to this quality alone, in Sentences, but shall inquire also, what is requisite for their Grace and Beauty: that I may bring together, under one view, all that seems' necessary to be attended to, in the construction and arrangement of words in a Sentence.

It is not easy to give an exact definition of a Sentence, or Period, farther, than as it always implies some one complete proposition or enunciation of thought. Aristotle's definition is, in the main, a good one: “ Λεξις εχασα αρχην και τελευτην καθ' αυτην,

και μεγεθος ευσυνοπτον: A form of Speech which “ hath a beginning and an end within itself, and iš “ of such a length as to be easily comprehended at “ once.” This, however, admits of a great latitude. For a Sentence, or Period, consists always of component parts which are called its members; and as these members may be either few or many, and may be connected in several different ways, the same thought, or mental proposition, may often be either brought into one Sentence, or split into two or three, without the material breach of any rule.

The first variety that occurs in the consideration of Sentences, is, the distinction of long and short

The precise length of Sentences, as to the number of words, or the number of members, which may enter into them, cannot be ascertained by any definite measure. At the same time, it is obvious, there may be an extreme on either side. Sentences, immoderately long, and consisting of too many members, always transgress some one or other of the rules which I shall mention soon, as necessary to be

[ocr errors]


observed in every good Sentence. In discourses that are to be spoken, regard must be had to the easiness of pronunciation, which is not consistent with too long periods. In compositions where pronunciation has no place, still, however, by using long periods too frequently, an author overloads the reader's ear, and fatigues his attention. For long Periods require, evidently, more attention than short ones, in order to perceive clearly the connection of the several parts, and to take in the whole at one view. At the same time there may be an excess in too many short Sentences also; by which the sense is split and broken, the connection of thought weak. ened, and the memory burdened, by presenting to it a long succession of minute objects.

With regard to the length and construction of Sentences, the French critics make a very just distinction of Style, into Style Periodique, and Style Coupé. The Style Periodique is, where the Sentences are composed of several members linked together, and hanging upon one another, so that the sense of the whole is not brought out till the close. This is the most pompous, musical, and oratorical manner of composing; as in the following Sentences of Sir William Temple: “ If you look about you, and consider the “ lives of others, as well as your own;


think 6 how few are born with honour, and how many die “ without name or children ; how little beauty we “ see, and how few friends we hear of; how many

diseases, and how much poverty there is in the “world; you will fall down upon your knees, and, “ instead of repining at one affliction, will admire " so many blessings which you have received from * the hand of God." (Letter to Lady Essex.)

« EelmineJätka »