Page images

« rectness and propriety of Speech, was then, and “ I think has ever since continued, the worst school “ in England for that accomplishment, and so will “ remain, till better care be taken in the education " of our nobility, that they may set out into the 66 world with some foundation of literature, in order " to qualify them for patterns of politeness.”. How many different facts, reasonings, and observations, are here presented to the mind at once! and yet so linked together by the Author, that they all make parts of a Sentence, which admits of no greater division in pointing, than a semicolon between any

of its members! Having mentioned pointing, I shall here take notice, that it is in vain to propose, by arbitrary punctuation, to amend the defects of a Sentence, to correct its ambiguity, or to prevent its confusion. For commas, colons, and points, do not make the proper divisions of thought; but only serve to mark those which arise from the tenor of the Author's expression, and, therefore, they are proper or not, just according as they correspond to the natural division of the sense. When they are inserted in wrong places, they deserve, and will meet with, no regard.

I proceed to a third rule, for preserving the Unity of Sentences ; which is, to keep clear of all parentheses in the middle of them. On some occasions, they may have a spirited appearance; as prompted by a certain vivacity of thought, which can glance happily. aside, as it is going along. But, for the most part their effect is extremely bad : being a sort of wheels within wheels; sentences in the midst of sentences; the perplexed method of disposing of some thought, which a writer wants art to introduce in its proper place. It were needless to give many instances, as they occur so often among incorrect writers. I shall produce one from Lord Bolingbroke, the rapidity of whose genius and manner of writing, betrays him frequently into inaccuracies of this sort. It is in the introduction to his Idea of a Patriot King, where he writes thus : “ It seems to me, that, in « order to maintain the system of the world, at a cer“ tain point, far below that of ideal perfection, (for “ we are made capable of conceiving what we are “ incapable of attaining,) but, however, sufficient “ upon the whole, to constitute a state easy and

happy, or at the worst, tolerable ; I say, it seems “ to me, that the Author of nature has thought fit “ to mingle, from time to time, among the societies 6 of men, a few, and but a few, of those on whom “ he is graciously pleased to bestow a larger portion “ of the Ethereal Spirit, than is given in the ordi

nary course of his government, to the sons of men.”. A very bad sentence this; into which, by the help of a parenthesis, and other interjected circumstances, His Lordship had contrived to thrust so many things, that he is forced to begin the contruction again with the phrase I say, which, whenever it occurs, may be always assumed as a sure mark of a clumsy ill-constructed · Sentence; excusable in speaking, where the greatest accuracy is not expected, but in polished writing unpardonable.

I shall add only one rule more for the Unity of a Sentence, which is to bring it always to a full and perfect close. Every thing that is one, should have a beginning, a' middle, and an end. I need not take notice, that an unfinished Sentence is no Sen. tence at all, according to any grammatical rule. but very often we meet with Sentences, that are, so

to speak, more than finished. When we have arrived at what we expected was to be the conclusion, when we are come to the word on which the mind is naturally led, by what went before, to rest ; unexpectedly, some circumstance pops out, which ought to have been omitted, or to have been disposed of elsewhere; but which is left lagging behind, like a tail adjected to the Sentence; somewhat that, as Mr. Pope describes the Alexandrine line,

“ Like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along." All these adjections to the proper close, disfigure a Sentence extremely. They give it a lame ungraceful air, and in particular, they break its Unity. Dean Swift, for instance, in his Letter to a Young Clergyman, speaking of Cicero's writings, expresses himself thus: “ With these writings young divines are “ more conversant, than with those of Demosthenes, “ who, by many degrees, excelled the other; at “ least, as an orator." Here the natural close of the Sentence is at these words, “ excelled the other." These words conclude the proposition; we look for no more ; and the circumstance added, “at least, as “ an orator,” comes in with a very halting pace. How much more compact would the Sentence have been, if turned thus: “ With these writings young ", divines are more conversant, than with those of

Demosthenes, who, by many degrees, as an orator “ at least, excelled the other.” In the following Sentence, from Sir William Temple, the adjection of the Sentence is altogether foreign to it. Speaking of Burnet's Theory of the Earth, and Fontenelle's Plurality of Worlds, “ The first,” says he, “could “ not end his learned treatise without a panegyric of

“ modern learning in comparison of the ancient; “ and the other falls so grossly into the censure of “ the old poetry, and preference of the new, that I « could not read either of these strains without some « indignation ; which no quality among men is so • apt to raise in me as self-sufficiency.” The word « indignation” concluded the Sentence; the last member, “ which no quality among men is so apt to “ raise in me as self-sufficiency,” is a proposition altogether new, added after the proper close.



Having treated of Perspicuity and Unity, as necessary to be studied in the Structure of Sentences, I proceed to the third quality of a correct sentence, which I term Strength. By this I mean, such a disposition of the several words and members, as shall bring out the sense to the best advantage; as shall render the impression which the period is designed to make, most full and complete; and give every word, and every member, their due weight and force. The two former qualities of Perspicuity and Unity, are, no doubt, absolutely necessary to the production of this effect; but more is still requisite. For a Sentence may be clear enough, it may also be

[ocr errors]


compact enough in all its parts, or have the requisite unity; and yet, by some unfavourable circumstance in the structure, it may fail in that strength or liveliness of impression which a more happy arrangement would have produced.

The first rule which I shall give, for promoting the Strength of a Sentence, is to divest it of all redundant words. These may, sometimes, be consistent with a considerable degree both of Clearness and Unity; but they are always enfeebling. They make the Sentence move along tardyand encumbered;

Est brevitate opus, ut currat sen tentia, neu se

Impediat verbis, lassas onerantibus aures. It is a general maxim, that any words which do not add some importance to the meaning of a Sentence, always spoil it. They cannot be superfluous, without being hurtful.

“ Obstat,” says Quinctilian, “ quicquid non adjuvat.” All that can be easily supplied in the mind, is better left out in the expression. Thus: “Content with deserving a triumph, he refused “ the honour of it,” is better language than to say,

Being content with deserving a triumph, he refused “ the honour of it.” I consider it, therefore, as one of the most useful exercises of correction, upon reviewing what we have written or composed, to contract that round-about method of expression, and to lop off those useless excrescences which are com, monly found in a first draught. Here a severe eye should be employed; and we shall always find our Sentences acquire more vigour and energy when thuş retrenched; provided always, that we run not into


* “ Concise your diction, let your sense be clear,

“ Nor with a weight of words, fatigue the ear." FRANCIS

« EelmineJätka »