Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ neglected; to say no worse.” This last phrase, to say no worse, occasions a sad falling off at the end; so much the more unhappy, as the rest of the Period is conducted after the manner of a climax, which we expect to find growing to the last.

The proper disposition of such circumstances in a Sentence is often attended with considerable trouble, in order to adjust them so, as shall consist equally with the perspicuity and the grace of the Period. Though necessary parts, they are, however, like unshapely stones in a building, which try the skill of an artist, where to place them with the least offence. "Jungantur,” says Quinctilian, “quo con“ gruunt maximè; sicut in structurâ saxorum rudium, “ etiam ipsa enormitas invenit cui applicari, et in quo “ possit insistere.”.

The close is always an unsuitable place for them. When the sense admits it, the sooner they are dispatched, generally speaking, the better; that the more important and significant words may possess the last place, quite disencumbered. It is a rule too, never to crowd too many circumstances together, but rather to intersperse them in different parts of the Sentence, joined with the capital words on which they depend; provided that care be taken, as I before directed, not to clog those capital words with them. For instance, when Dean Swift says, “ What I had “ the honour of mentioning to Your Lordship, some o time ago, in conversation, was not a new thought.” (Letter to the Earl of Oxford.) These two circumstances, some time ago, and in conversation, which are here put together, would have had a better effect disjoined thus : “What I had the honour, sometime ago, “ of mentioning to Your Lordship in conversation.” And in the following Sentence of Lord Bolingbroke's (Remarks on the History of England): “A monarchy, “ limited like ours, may be placed, for aught I know, “ as it has been often represented, just in the middle “ point, from whence a deviation leads, on the one “ hand, to tyranny, and on the other to anarchy." The arrangement would have been happier thus: “ A monarchy, limited like ours, may, for aught I “ know, be placed, as it has often been represented, “just in the middle point,” &c.

* Let them be inserted wherever the happiest place for them can be found ; as, in a structure composed of rough stones, there " are always places where the most irregular and unshapely may find

some adjacent one to which it can be joined, and some basis on 6 which it may rest."

I shall give only one rule more, relating to the strength of a Sentence; which is, that in the members of a Sentence where two things are compared or contrasted to each other; where either a resemblance or an opposition is intended to be expressed; some resemblance, in the language and construction, should be preserved. For when the things themselves correspond to each other, we naturally expect to find the words corresponding too. We are disappointed when it is otherwise ; and the comparison, or contrast, appears more imperfect. Thus, when Lord Bolingbroke

says, “ The laughers will be for those who have “ most wit; the serious part of mankind for those 66 who have most reason on their side.” (Dissert. on Parties, Pref.) The opposition would have been more complete, if he had said ; “ The laughers will be for " those who have most wit; the serious for those “ who have most reason on their side.” The following

[ocr errors]

passage from Mr. Pope's Preface to his Homer, fully exemplifies the rule I am now giving : “ Homer was “ the greater genius; Virgil the better artist : in the “ one, we most admire the man; in the other, the " work. Homer hurries us with a commanding

impetuosity; Virgil leads us with an attractive

majesty. - Homer scatters with a generous profusion ; “ Virgil bestows with a careful magnificence. Homer, “ like the Nile, pours out his riches with a sudden “ overflow; Virgil, like a river in its banks, with a a constant stream.- And when we look upon their

machines, Homer seems like his own Jupiter in his

terrors, shaking Olympus, scattering the lightnings, “ and firing the heavens ; Virgil, like the same Power “ in his benevolence, counselling with the gods,

laying plans for empires, and ordering his whole “ creation." Periods thus constructed, when introduced with propriety, and not returning too often, have a sensible beauty. But we must beware of carrying our attention to this beauty too far. It ought only to be occasionally studied, when comparison or opposition of objects naturally leads to it. If such a construction as this be aimed at in all our Sentences, it leads to a disagreeable uniformity ; produces a regularly returning clink in the period, which tires the ear; and plainly discovers affectation. Among the ancients, the style of Isocrates is faulty in this respect; and, on that account, by some of their best critics, particularly by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, he is severely censured.

This finishes what I had to say concerning Sentences, considered, with respect to their meaning, under the three heads of Perspicuity, Unity, and Strength. It is a subject on which I have insisted

fully, for two reasons : First, because it is a subject, which, by its nature, can be rendered more didactic, and subjected more to precise rule, than many other subjects of criticism ; and next, because it appears to me of considerable importance and use.

For, though many of those attentions, which I have been recommending, may appear minute, yet their effect, upon Writing and Style, is much greater than might, at first, be imagined. A sentiment which is expressed in a Period, clearly, neatly, and happily arranged, makes always a stronger impression on the mind than one that is feeble or embarrassed. Every one feels this upon a comparison ; and if the effect be sensible in one Sentence, how much more in a whole discourse, or composition, that is made up of such Sentences.

The fundamental rule of the construction of Sentences, and into which all others might be resolved, undoubtedly is, to communicate, in the clearest and most natural order, the ideas which we mean to transfuse into the minds of others. Every arrangement that does most justice to the sense, and expresses it to most advantage, strikes us as beautiful. To this point have tended all the rules I have given. And, indeed, did, men always think clearly, and were they, at the same time, fully masters of the Language in which they write, there would be occasion for few rules. Their Sentences would then, of course, acquire all those properties of Precision, Unity, and Strength, which I have recommendeda For we may rest assured, that, whenever we express ourselves ill, there is, besides the mismanagement of Language, for the most part, some mistake in our manner of conceiving the subject. Embarrassed, obscure, and feeble Sentences, are generally, if not always, the result of embarrassed, obscure, and feeble thought. Thought and Language act and re-act upon each other mutually. Logic and Rhetoric have here, as in many other cases, a strict connection; and he that is learning, to arrange his Sentences with accuracy and order, is learning at the same time, to think with accuracy and order ; an observation which alone will justify all the care and attention we have bestowed on this subject.

LECTURE XIII.

STRUCTURE OF SENTENCES.- HARMONY.

HITHERTO we have considered Sentences, with respect to their meaning, under the heads of Perspicuity, Unity, and Strength. We are now to consider them, with respect to their sound, their harmony, or agreeableness to the ear; which was the last quality belonging to them that I proposed to treat of.

Sound is a quality much inferior to sense ; yet such as must not be disregarded. For, as long as sounds are the vehicle of conveyance for our ideas, there will be always a very considerable connection between the idea which is conveyed, and the nature

« EelmineJätka »