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must be employed in the cause of truth, and when managed ever so dexterously, they cannot do equal execution. A still greater disadvantage the patron of the cause of injustice or of vice must grapple with. For though he may find real motives to urge in defence of his plea, as wealth perhaps, or ease, or pleasure, he hath to encounter or elude the moral sentiments which of all motives whatever take the strongest hold of the heart. And if he find himself under a necessity of attempting to prove that virtue and right are on his side, he hath his way to grope through a labyrinth of sophistry and nonsense.
But are there not some subjects, and even some kinds of composition, which, from their very nature, demand a dash of obscurity ? Doth not decency often require this ? Doth not delicacy require this? And is not this even essential to the allegoric style, and to the enigmatic ? As to the manner which decency sometimes requires, it will be found on examination to stand opposed more properly to vivacity than to perspicuity of style, and will therefore fall to be considered afterwards.
I SHALL now, therefore, examine, in the first place, in what respect delicacy may be said to demand ob
The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.
scurity. Thus much indeed is evident, that delicacy often requires that certain sentiments be rather insinuated than expressed; in other words, that they be not directly spoken, but that suilicient ground be given to infer them from what is spoken. Such sentiments are, though improperly, considered as obscurely expressed, for this special reason, that it is not by the first operation of the intellect, an apprehension of the meaning of what is said, but by a second operation, a reflection on what is implied or presupposed, that they are discovered; in which double operation of the mind, there is a faint resemblance to what happens in the case of real obscurity. But in the case of
. which I am treating, it is the thought more than the expression that serves for a veil to the sentiment suggested. If therefore in such instances there may be said to be obscurity, it is an obscurity which is totally distinct from obscurity of language.
That this matter may be better understood, we must carefully distinguish between the thought expressed, and the thought hinted. The latter may be affirmed to be obscure, because it is not expressed, but hinted; whereas the former, with which alone perspicuity of style is concerned, must always be expressed with clearness, otherwise the sentiment will never be considered as either beautiful or delicate *. I shall illustrate this by examples.
* This will serve to explain what Bouhours, a celebrated French critic, and a great advocate for perspicuity, hath advanced on this
No subject requires to be treated more delicately than praise, especially when it is given to a person present. Flattery is so nauseous to a liberal spirit, that even when praise is merited, it is disagreeable at least to unconcerned hearers, if it appear in a garb which adulation commonly assumes. For this reason, an encomium or compliment never succeeds so well as when it is indirect. It then appears to escape the speaker unawares, at a time that he seems to have no intention to commend. Of this kind the following story will serve as an example: “ A gentleman “ who had an employment bestowed on him, without so much as being known to his benefactor, waited upon the great man who was so generous, and was beginning to say, he was infinitely obliged-Not at all, says the patron, turning from him to an
other: Had I known a more deserving man in Eng"land, he should not have had it *.” Here the ap
* parent intention of the minister was only to excuse the person on whom the favour had been conferred, the trouble of making an acknowledgment, by assuring him that it had not been given him from personal attachment or partiality. But whilst he appears intending only to say this, he says what implies the
subject, “ Souvenez-vous que rien n'est plus opposé à la veritable " delicatesse que d'exprimer trop les choses, et que le grand art “ consiste à ne pas tout dire sur certain sujets; à glisser dessus plû. tot que d'y appuyer; en un mot, à en laisser penser aux autres que l'on n'en dit." Maniere de bien
&c. * Tatler, No. 17.
The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.
greatest praise, and, as it were, accidentally betrays the high opinion he entertained of the other's merit. If he had said directly, “ You are the most deserving “ man that I know in England,” the answer, though implying no more than what he did say, would have been not only indelicate, but intolerable. On so slight a turn in the expression it frequently depends, whether the same sentiment shall appear delicate or gross, complimental or affronting.
SOMETIMES praise is very successfully and very delicately conveyed, under an appearance of chagrin. This constitutes the merit of that celebrated thought of Boileau : “ To imagine in such a warlike age,
which “ abounds in Achileses, that we can write verses as
easily as they take towns * !" The poet seems only venting his complaints against the unreasonable expectations of some persons, and at the same time discovers, as by chance, the highest admiration of his monarch and the heroes who served him, by suggesting the incredible rapidity of the success with which their arms were crowned.
SOMETIMES also commendation will be couched with great delicacy under an air of reproach. An example of this I shall give from the paper lately quoted :
My Lord, said the Duke of B-m, after his li
* Et dans ce tems guerrier et fecond en Achilles
Croit que l'on fait les vers, comme l'on prend les villes.
“bertine way, to the Earl of 0---y, you will cer
tainly be damn'd. How, my Lord, said the Earl, " with some warmth. Nay, replied the Duke, there's no help for it, for it is positively said, Cursed is be of whom all men speak well t.” A still stronger
A example in this way we have from the Drapier, who, speaking to Lord Molesworth of the seditious expressions of which he had himself been accused, says, “ I “ have witnesses ready to depose, that your Lordship “ hath said and writ fifty times worse, and what is " still an aggravation, with infinitely more wit and “ learning, and stronger arguments : So that as poli“ tics run, I do not know a person of more exception“able principles than yourself: And if ever I shall “ be discovered, I think you will be bound in honour " to pay my fine and support me in prison, or else I may chance to inform against you by way
I SHALL produce one other instance from the same hand, of an indirect, but successful manner of praising, by seeming to invert the course of the obligation, and to represent the person obliging as the person obliged. Swift, in a letter to the Archbishop of Dublin, speaking of Mr Harley, then Lord High Treasurer, afterwards Earl of Oxford, by whose means the Irish clergy had obtained from the queen, the grant of the first fruits and tenths, says, “ I told him, that
+ Tatler, No. 17.
Drapier's Let. 5.