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The second sense, is simplicity of thought in opposition to refinement. Simple thoughts are those which flow naturally, which are easily suggested by the subject or occasion, and which, when once suggested, are universally understood. Refinement in writing means a less obvious and natural turn of thought, which, when carried too far, approaches to intricacy, and is unpleasing, by the appearance of being far sought. Thus we should say, that Mr. Parnell is a poet of much greater simplicity, in his turn of thought, than Mr. Cowley.
A third sense of simplicity—that in which it regards style, is opposed to too much ornament or pomp of language. Thus we say, Mr. Locke is a simple, Mr. Hervey a florid, writer.
There is a fourth sense of simplicity, which also respects style : but it regards not so much the degree of ornament employed as the easy and natural manner in which language is expressive of our thoughts. In this sense, simplicity is compatible with the highest ornament. Homer, for example, has this simplicity in the greatest perfection ; and yet no writer possesses more ornament and beauty. This simplicity, which is now the object of our consideration, stands opposed not to ornament, but to affectation of ornament; and is a superior excellency in composition.
A writer who has attained simplicity has no marks of art in his expression ; it appears the very language of nature. We see not the writer and his labour, but the man in his own natural character. He may possess richness of expression ; he may be full of figures and of fancy; but these flow from him without difficulty; and he seems to write in this manner, not be
cause he has studied it, but because it is the mode of expression most familiar and easy to him. With this character of style, a certain degree of negligence is not inconsistent, nor even ungraceful; for too accurate an attention to words is foreign to it. Simplicity of style possesses this considerable advantage, that, like simplicity of manners, it shows us a man's sentiments and turn of mind laid open without disguise. A more studied and artificial mode of writing, however beautiful, has always this disadvantage, that it exhibits an author in form, like a man at court, where the splendour of dress, and the ceremonial of behavior, conceal those peculiarities which distinguish one individual from another. But reading an author of simplicity is like conversing with a person of rank at home, and with ease, where we see his natural manners and his real character.
With regard to simplicity, in general, we may observe, that the ancient original writers are always the most eminent for it. This proceeds from a very obvious cause, that they wrote from the dictates of natural genius, and were not formed upon the labours and writings of others.
Of affectation in style, which is opposed to simplicity, we have a remarkable instance in our language. Lord Shaftesbury, though an author of considerable merit, can express nothing with simplicity. He seems to have considered it as vulgar, and beneath the dig. nity of a man of fashion, to speak like other men. Hence he is perpetually in buskins, replete wtih circumlocutions and artificial elegance. In every sentence the marks of labour are visible,-no appearance of that ease which expresses a sentiment coming natural and warm from the heart. He abounds with figures and ornament of every kind,-is sometimes happy in them ; but his fondness for them is too conspicuous; and having once seized some metaphor or allusion that pleased him, he knows not how to part with it. He possessed delicacy and refinement of taste to a degree that may be called excessive and sickly ; but he had little warmth of passion; and the coldness of his character suggested that artificial and stately manner which appears in his writings. No author is more dangerous to the tribe of imitators than Shaftesbury, who, amidst several very considerable blemishes, has, at the same time, many dazzling and imposing beauties.
It is very possible, however, for an author to write with simplicity, and yet to be destitute of beauty. He may be free from affectation, and not have merit. The beautiful simplicity supposes an author in possession of real genius, and capable of writing with solidity, purity, and brilliancy of imagination. In this case, the simplicity of his manner is the crowning ornament: it gives lustre to every other beauty ; it is the dress of nature, without which all beauties are but imperfect. But if the mere absence of affectation were sufficient to constitute the beauty of style, weak and dull writers might often have pretensions to it. A distinction, therefore, must be made, between that simplicity which accompanies true genius, and which is entirely compatible with every proper ornament of style, and that which is the effect only of carelessness and inattention.
Another character of style, different from those which have been already mentioned, is the vehement.
This always supposes strength, and is not, in any respect incompatible with simplicity. It is distinguished by a peculiar ardour; it is the language of a man whose imagination and passions are glowing and impetuous. With a negligence of lesser graces, he pours himself forth with the rapidity and plenitude of a torrent. The vehement belongs to the higher kinds of oratory; and is rather expected from a man who is speaking, than from one who is writing in his closet. Demosthenes is the most full and perfect example of this species of style.
Having determined and explained the different characters of style, we shall conclude our observations with a few directions for the attainment of excellence in writing.
The first direction proper to be observed is, to study clear ideas on the subject concerning which we are to write or to speak. What we conceive clearly and feel strongly we shall naturally express with clearness and with strength. We should, therefore, think closely on the subject, till we have attained a full and distinct view of the matter which we are to clothe in words,—till we become warm and interested in it: then, and then only, shall we find a proper expression begin to flow.
In the second place, to the acquisition of a good style, the frequency of composing is indispensably requisite. But it is not every kind of composing which will improve style. By a careless and hasty habit of writing, a bad style will be acquired ; more trouble will afterwards be necessary to unlearn faults, and correct negligence, than to endeavour, from a state of entire ignorance, to become acquainted with the first rudiments of composition.
In the beginning, therefore, we ought to write with deliberation and with care. Facility and speed are the fruit of practice and experience. We must be cautious, however, not to retard the course of thought, nor cool the ardour of imagination, by pausing too long on every word we employ. On certain occasions, there is a glow of composition which must be kept up, if we expeet to express ourselves happily, though at the expense of some inaccuracies. A more severe examination must be the work of correction. What we have written should be laid by for some time, till the ardour of composition be subsided, till the partiality for our expressions be weakened, and the expressions themselves be forgotten: and then examining our work with a cool and critical eye, as if it were the performance of another, we shall discover many imperfections which at first escaped our notice.
In the third place, an acquaintance with the style of the best authors is peculiarly requisite. Hence a just taste will be formed, and a copious fund be supplied, of words on every subject. No exercise, perhaps, will be found more useful for acquiring a proper style, than to translate some passage from an elegant author into our own words. Thus, to take, for instance, a page of one of Mr. Addison's Spectators, and read it attentively two or three times, till we are in full possession of the thoughts it contains ; then to lay aside the book, to endeavour to write out the passage from memory, as well as we can,--and then to compare what we have written with the style of the author. Such an exercise will, by comparison, show us our own defects; will teach us to correct them; and,