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A few prepositions and auxiliary verbs effect all the purposes of significancy; while the principal words for the most part preserve their form unaltered. Hence our language acquires a simplicity and facility, which are the cause of its being frequently written and spoken with inaccuracy. We imagine that a competent skill in it may be acquired without any study; and that in a syntax so narrow and limited as ours, there is nothing which requires attention. But the fundamental rules of syntax are common to the English and to the ancient tongues; and regard to them is absolutely requisite for writing or speaking with propriety.
Whatever be the advantages or defects of our language, it certainly deserves, in the highest degree, our study and attention. The Greeks and Romans in the meridian of their glory, bestowed the highest cultivation on their respective languages. The French and Italians have employed much study upon theirs; and their example is worthy of imitation. For, whatever knowledge may be gained by the study of other languages, it can never be communicated with advantage, unless by those, who can write and speak their own language with propriety. Let the matter of an author be ever so good and useful, his composition will always suffer in the public esteem if his expression be deficient in purity or propriety. At the same time, the attainment of a correct and elegant style is an object which demands application and labour. If any one suppose he can catch it merely by the ear, or acquire it by a hasty perusal of some of our good authors, he will be much disappointed. The many gram
matical errors, the many impure expressions, which are found in authors who are far from being contemptible, demonstrate that a careful study of our language is previously requisite for writing it with propriety, purity, and elegance.
STYLE, PERSPICUITY, AND PRECISION. Style is the peculiar manner in which a man expresses his thoughts by words. It is a picture of the ideas in his mind, and of the order in which they there exist.
The qualities of a good style may be ranged under two beads, perspicuity, and ornament. It will readily be admitted, that perspicuity is the fundamental quality of a good style. Without this the brighest ornaments only glimmer through the dark, and perplex instead of pleasing the reader. If we be forced to follow a writer with much care; to pause, and to read over his sentences a second time, in order to understand them fully, he will not please us long. Men are too indolent to relish so much labour. Though they may pretend to admire an author's depth, after they have discovered bis meaning, they will seldom be inclined to look a second time into his book.
Perspicuity requires attention, first to single, words and phrases, and then to the construction of sentences. When considered with respect to words and phrases, it requires these three qualities, purity, propriety and precision.
Purity and propriety of language are often used indiscriminately for each other; and indeed they are very nearly allied. A distinction how
ever, obtains between them. Purity is the use of such words and constructions as belong to the idiom of a particular language, in opposition to words and phrases, which are imported from other languages, or which are obsolete, or newly coined, or employed without proper authority. Propriety is the choice of such words, as the best and most established usage has appropriated to those ideas, which we intend to express by them. It implies a correct and bappy application of them, in opposition to vulgar or los expressions, and to words and phrases, less significant of the ideas we intend to convey. Style may be pure, that is, it may be strictly English without Scotticisms or Gallicisms, or ungrammatical expressions of any kind, and yet be deficient in propriety. The words may be illy selected; not adapt. ed to the subject, nor fully expressive of the allthor's meaning. He took them indeed from the general mass of English words; but his choice was made without skill. But style cannot be proper without being pure ; it is the union of purity and propriety, which renders it graceful and perspicuous.
The exac: meaning of precision may be learn. ed from the etymology of the word. It is derived from "præcidere,” to cut off; and signifies retrenching all supertluities, and pruning the expression in such a manner, as to exhibit neither more nor less than the ideas intended to be conveyed.
Words, employed to express ideas, may be faulty in three respects. They may either not express the ideas which the author means, but some oihers which are only related; or the
may express those ideas, but not completely; or they may express them together with something more than he intends. Precision is opposed to these three faults; but particularly to the last, into which feeble writers are very apt to fall. They employ a multitude of words, to make themselves understood, as they think, more distinctly; but they only confound the reader. The image, as they place it before you, is always seen double. When an author tells us of his hero's courage, in the day of battle; the expression is precise, and we understand it fully. But if, from a desire of multiplying words, he praise his courag; and fortitude ; at the moment he joins these words together, our idea begins to
He intends to express one quality more strongly; but he is in fact expressing two. Courage resists danger, fortitude supports pain. The occasions of exerting these qualities are different; and, being led to think of both together, when only one of them should engage attention, our view is rendered unsteady, and our conception of the object indistinct.
The great source of a loose style, the opposite of precision, is the injudicious use of words, called synonymous. Scarcely in any language are there two words that convey precisely the same idea ; and person, perfectly acquainted with the propriety of the language, will always be able to observe something, by which they are distinguished. In onr language many instances may be given of difference in meaning among words, reputed synonymous; and, as the subject is important, we shall point out a few of them.
Surprised, astonished, amazed, confounded. We
are surprised at what is new or unexpected; we are astonished at what is vast or great; we are amazed at what is incomprehensible ; we are confounded by what is shocking or terrible.
Pride, vanity. Pride makes us esteem ourselves; vanity makes us desire the esteem of others.
Haughtiness, disdain. Haughtiness is founded on a high opinion of ourselves; disdain on a low opinion of others. To
weary, to fatigue. Continuance of the same thing wearies'us; labour fatigues us. A man is wearied by standing; he is fatigued by walking.
To abhor, to detest. To abbor imports simply strong dislike; to detest impo, likewise strong disapprobation. We abñor being in debt; we detest treachery.
To invent, to discover. We invent things which are new; we discover what was hidden. Galilæo invented the telescope; Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood.
Entire, complete. A thing is entire, when it wants none of its warts; complete, when it wants none of the appendages which belong to it. A А man may occupy an entire housc; though he bave not one complete apartment.
Enough, sufficient. Enough relates to the quantity, which we wish to have of a thing. Sufficient relates to the use that is to be made of it. Hence enough commonly signifies a greater quantity than sufficient does. The covetous man never has enough ; though he has what is sufficient for nature.
These are a few among many instances of words in our language, which by careless writers are apt to be mistaken for synonymous.