« AnteriorContinuar »
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 Shaftsbury; who amid several very considerable blemishes, has many dazzling and imposing beauties.
It is very possible, however, for an author to write with simplicity, and yet without beauty. He may be free from affectation, and not have merit. Beautiful simplicity supposes an author to possess real genius, and to write with solidity, purity, and brilliancy of imagination. In this case, the simplicity of his manner' is the crowning ornament; it heightens every other beauty ; it is the dress of nature, without which all beauties are imperfect. But, if mere absence of affectation were suíficient to constitute beauty of style, weak and dull writers might often lay claia to it. A distinction therefore must be made between that simplicity which accompanies true genius and is entirely compatible with every proper ornament of style; and that which is the effect of carelessness.
Another character of style, different from those already mentioned is vehemence. This always implies strength ; and is not in any respect incompatible with simplicity. It is distinguished by peculiar ardour; it is the language of a man, whose imagination and passions are glowing and impetuous; who, neglecting inferior graces, pours himself forth with the rapidity and fulness of a torrent. This 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 kind of style.
Having explained the different characiers of style, we shall conclude our observations with a few directions for attaining a good style in general.
The first direction is, study clear ideas of the subject, on which you are to write or speak. What we conceive clearly and feel strongly, we naturally express with clearness and 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 expression begin to flow.
Secondly, to the acquisition of a good style, frequency of composing is indispensably necessary. But it is not every kind of composing that 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, than to become acquainted with the rudiments of composition. In the beginning therefore we ought to write slowly and with much care.
Facility and speed are the fruit of practice. 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. On certain occasions a glow of composition must be kept up, if we hope 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 some time, till the ardour of composition be past; till partiality for our expressions be weakened, and the expressions themselves be forgotten; and then, reviewing 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 us.
Thirdly, acquaintance with the style of the best authors is peculiarly requisite. Hence a just taste will be formed, and a copious fund of words supplied on every subject. No exercise perhaps will be found more useful for acquiring a proper style, than translating some passages from an eminent author into our own words. Thus to take, for instance, a page of one of 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 shew us our defects; will teach us to correct them; and from the variety of expression which it will exhibit, will conduct us to that which is most beautiful.
Fourthly, caution must be used against servile imitation of any author whatever. Desire of imitating bampers genios, and generally produces stiffness of expression. They, who follow an author closely, commonly copy his faults as well as his beauties. No one will ever become a good writer or speaker, who has not some confidence in his own genius. We ought carefully to avoid using any author's peculiar phrases, and of transcribing passages from him. Such a habit will be fatal to all genuine composition. It is much better to have something of our own, though of moderate beauty, than to shine in borrowed ornaments, which will at last betray the poverty of our genius,
Fifthly, always adapt your style to the subject, and likewise to the capacity of your hearers, if you are to speak in public. To attempt a poetical style, when it should be our business only to reason, is in the highest degree awkward and absurd. To speak with elaborate pomp of words before those who cannot comprebend them, is equally ridiculous. When we are to write or speak, we should previously fix in our minds a clear idea of the end aimed at; keep this steadily in view, and adapt our style to it.
Lastly, let not attention to style engross us so much, as to prevent a higher degree of attention to the thoughts. This rule is more necessary, since the present taste of the age is directed more to style than to thought.
It is much more easy to dress up trilling and common thoughts with some beauty of expression, than to afford a fund of vigorous, ingenious, and useful sentiments. The latter requires genius ; the former may be attained by industry. Hence the crowd of writers who are rich in style, but poor in sentiment. Custom obliges us to be attentive to the ornaments of style, if we wish our labours to be read and admired. But he is a contemptible writer, who looks not beyond the dress of language; who lays not the chief stress upon his matter, and employs not such ornaments of style to recommend it, as are manly, not foppish.
CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF MR. ADDISON'S
STYLE IN NO. 411 OF THE SPECTATOR. Having fully insisted on the subject of language, 'we shall now commence a critical analysis of the
style of some good author. This will suggest observations, which we have not hitherto had occasion to make, and will show in a practical hight the use of those which have been made.
Mr. Addison, though one of the most beautiful writers in our language, is not the most correct; a circumstance which makes his composition a proper subject of criticism. We proceed therefore to examine No. 411, the first of his celebrated essays on the pleasures of the imagination, in the sixth volume of the Spectator. It begins thus:
“ Our sight is the most perfect, and most delightful of all our senses."
This sentence is clear, precise, and simple. The author in a few plain words lays down the proposition, which he is going to illustrate. A first sentence should seldom be long, and never intricate.
He might have said, our sight is the most perfect, and the most delightful. But in omitting to repeat the particle the, he has been more judicious; for, as between perfect and delightful there is no contrast, such a repetition is unnecessary. He proceeds:
" It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues the longest in action, without being tiredorsatiated with its proper enjoyments."
This sentence is remarkably harmonious, and well constructed. It is entirely perspicuous. It is loaded with no unncecessary words. That quality of a good sentence, which we termed its unity, is here perfectly preserved. The members of it also grow, and rise above each other in sound, till it is conducted to one of the most harmonious clases which our language admits. It is