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style chiefly by public speaking; and it thought and style ; but no one has ever is in them also that the kindred faults attended to the subject analytically with. of synonyms strung together and of re- out becoming aware that the distinction dundant expletives are most commonly is not ultimate—that what is called seen. Perhaps, indeed, the choicest style resolves itself, after all, into manspecimens of continuous slip-shod in the ner of thinking; nay, perhaps (though language are furnished by the writings to show this would take some time) into of celebrated orators. How dilute the the successive particles of the matter tincture, what bagginess of phraseology thought. If a writer is said to be fond round what slender shanks of meaning, of epithets, it is because he has a habit what absence of trained muscle, how of always thinking a quality very proseldom the nail is hit on the head! It minently along with an object; if his is not every day that a Burke presents style is said to be figurative, it is because himself, whose every sentence is charged he thinks by means of comparisons; if with an exact thought proportioned to his syntax abounds in inversions, it is it, whether he stands on the floor and because he thinks the cart before he speaks, or takes his pen in hand. And thinks the horse. And so, by extension, then, not only in the writings of men all the forms of slip-shod in expression rendered diffuse by much speaking are, in reality, forms of slip-shod in after a low standard, but in the tide of thought. If the syntax halts, it is becurrent writing besides, who shall take cause the thread of the thought has account of the daily abundance of that snapped, or become entangled. If the more startling form of slip-shod which phraseology of a writer is diffuse ; if his rhetoricians call Confusion of Metaphor? language does not lie close round his Lord Castlereagh's famous “I will not real meaning, but widens out in flat now enter upon the fundamental feature expanses, with here and there a tremor upon which this question hinges," is as as the meaning rises to take breath; if nothing compared with much that passes in every sentence we recognise shreds daily under our eyes in the pages of and tags of common social verbiage-in popular books and periodicals—tissues such a case it is because the mind of the of words in which shreds from nature's writer is not doing its duty, is not confour quarters are jumbled together as in secutively active, maintains no continued heraldry ; in which the writer begins hold of its object, hardly knows its own with a lion, but finds it in the next drift. In like manner, mixed or incoclause to be a waterspout; in which ice- herent metaphor arises from incoherent bergs swim in seas of lava, comets col- conception, inability to see vividly what lect taxes, pigs sing, peacocks wear is professedly looked at. All forms of silks, and teapots climb trees.
slip-shod, in short, are to be referred to Pshaw ! technicalities all! the mere deficiency of precision in the conduct of minutiæ of the grammarian and the thought. Of every writer it ought to be critic of expression! Nothing of the required at least that he pass every jot kind, good reader! Words are made and tittle of what he sets down through up of letters, sentences of words, all that his mind, to receive the guarantee of is written or spoken of sentences suc- having been really there, and that he ceeding each other or interflowing; and arrange and connect his thoughts in a at no time, from Homer's till this, has workmanlike manner. Anything short anything passed as good literature which of this is—allowance being made for cirhas not satisfied men as tolerably tight cumstances which may prevent a conand close-grained in these particulars, scientious man from always doing his or become classic and permanent best—an insult to the public. Accordwhich has not, in respect of them, ingly, in all good literature, not exstood the test of the microscope. cepting the subtlest and most exuberant We distinguish, indeed, usefully enough, poetry, one perceives a strict logic linkbetween matter and expression, between ing thought with thought. The velocity
with which the mind can perform this service of giving adequate arrangement to its thoughts, differs much in different cases. With some writers it is done almost unconsciously—as if by the operation of a logical instinct so power ful that whatever teems up in their minds is marshalled and made exact as it comes, and there is perfection in the swiftest expression. So it was with the all-fluent Shakespeare, whose inventions, boundless and multitudinous, were yet ruled by a logic so resistless, that they came exquisite at once to the pen's point, and in studying whose intellectual gait we are reminded of the description of the Athenians in Euripides—“those sons of Erectheus always “moving with graceful step through a “ glittering violet ether, where the nine “Pierian muses are said to have brought “up yellow-haired Harmony as their com“mon child.” With others of our great writers it has been notably different, rejection of first thoughts and expressions, the slow choice of a fit per-centage, and the concatenation of these with labour and care.
Prevalent as slip-shod is, it is not so prevalent as it was. There is more careful writing, in proportion, now than there was thirty, seventy, or a hundred years ago. This may be seen on comparing specimens of our present literature with corresponding specimens from the older newspapers and periodicals. The precept and the example of Wordsworth and those who helped him to initiate that era of our literature which dates from the French Revolution, have gradually introduced, among other things, habits of mechanical carefulness, both in prose and in verse. Among poets, Scott and Byron --safe in their greatness otherwisewere the most conspicuous sinners against the Wordsworthian ordinances in this respect after they had been promulgated. If one were willing to risk being stoned for speaking truth, one might call these two poets the last of the great slip-shods. The great slipshods, be it observed ; and, if there were the prospect that, by keeping silence
about slip-shod, we should see any other such massive figure heaving in among us in his slippers, who is there that would object to his company on account of them, or that would not gladly assist to fell a score of the delicates with polished boot-tips in order to make room for him? At the least, it may be said that there are many passages in the poems of Scott and Byron which fall far short of the standard of carefulness already fixed when they wrote. Subsequent writers, with nothing of their genius, have been much more careful. There is, however, one form of the slip-shod in verse which, probably because it has not been recognised as slipshod, still holds ground among us. It consists in that particular relic of the « poetic diction" of the last century which allows merely mechanical inversions of syntax for the sake of metre and rhyme. For example, in a poem recently published, understood to be the work of a celebrated writer, and altogether as finished a specimen of metrical rhetoric and ringing epigram as has appeared for many a day, there occur such passages as these :“ Harley's gilt coach the equal pair
attends." “What earlier school this grand come
dian rear'd ? His first essays no crowds less courtly
cheer'd. From learned closets came a saun
tering sage, Yawn'd, smiled, and spoke, and took by storm the age.”
“ All their lore Illumes one end for which strives
all their will; Before their age they march in
vincible.” “ That talk which art as eloquence
admits Must be the talk of thinkers and
of wits.” “Let Bright responsible for Eng
land be, And straight in Bright a Chatham
we should see."
“ All most brave In his mix d nature seem'd to life
to start, When English honour roused his
That such instances of syntax inverted to the mechanical order of the verse should occur in such a quarter, proves that they are still considered legitimate But I believe—and this notwithstand ing that ample precedent may be shown, not only from poets of the last century, but from all preceding poets—that they are not legitimate. Verse does not cancel any of the conditions of good prose, but only superadds new and more exquisite conditions ; and that is the best verse where the words follow each other punctually in the most exact prose order, and yet the exquisite difference by which verse does distinguish itself from prose is fully felt. As, within prose itself, there are natural inversions according as the thought moves on from the calm and straightforward to the complex and impassioned -as what would be in one mood * Diana of the Ephesians is great," becomes in another, “ Great is Diana of the Ephesians ”-80, it may be, there is a farther amount of inversion proper within verse as such. Any such amount of inversion, however, must be able to plead itself natural—that is, belonging inevitably to what is new in the movement of the thought under the law of verse; which plea would not extend to cases like those specified, where versifiers, that they may keep their metre or hit a rhyme, tug words arbitrarily out of their prose connexion. If it should be asked how, under so hard a restriction, a poet could write verse at all, the answer is, “That is his difficulty.” But that this canon of taste in verse is not so oppressive as it looks, and that it will more and more come to be recognised and obeyed, seems augured in the fact that the greatest British poet of our time has himself intuitively attended to it, and furnished an almost continuous example of it in his poetry. Repeat any even of Tennyson's lyrics,
where, from the nature of the case, obedience to the canon would seem most difficult-his “ Tears, idle tears," or “ The splendour falls," — and see if, under all that peculiarity which makes the effect of these pieces, if of any in our language, something more than the effect of prose, every word does not fall into its place, like fitted jasper, exactly in the prose order. So ! and what do you say to Mr. Tennyson's last volume, with its repetition of the phrase “ The Table Round" ? Why, I say that, when difficulty mounts to impossibility, then even the gods relent, even Rhadamanthus yields. Here it is as if the British nation had passed a special enactment to this effect :-"Whereas “Mr. Tennyson has written a set of “ poems on the Round Table of Arthur " and his Knights, and whereas he has “ represented to us that the phrase “ • The Round Table,' specifying the “central object about which these poems "revolve, is a phrase which no force “ of art can work pleasingly into Iambic " verse, we, the British nation, con"sidering the peculiarity of the case, “and the public benefits likely to “ accrue from a steady contemplation of " the said object, do enact and decree “ that we will in this instance depart “ from our usual practice of thinking “the species first and then the genus, “and will, in accordance with the “ practice of other times and nations, “say · The Table Round' instead of « The Round Table' as heretofore." But this is altogether a special enactment.
2. There is the vice of the Trite. Here, at length, we get out of the region of mere verbal forms, and gaze abroad over the wide field of our literature, with a view everywhere to its component substance. We are overrun with the Trite. There is Trite to the right hand, and Trite to the left ; Trito before and Trite behind ; the view is of vast leagues of the Trite, inclosing little cases of true literature, as far as the eye can reach. And what is the Trite? It is a minor variety of what is known as Cant. By Cant is meant the repetition,
without real belief, of sentiments which Translated into positive language, the it is thought creditable to profess. As protest against the Trite might take the the name implies, there is a certain form of a principle, formally avowed, we solemnity, as of upturned eyes and a believe, by more than one writer, and touch of song in the voice, required certainly implied in the practice of all for true Cant. Since Johnson's time the chiefs of our literature—to wit, that there has been no lack of denunciation no man ought to consider himself enof this vice. But the Trite, as less titled to write upon a subject by the immoral, or as not immoral at all, has mere intention to write carefully, unless with the exception, as far as we recollect, he has also something new to advance. of one onslaught by Swift-escaped We are aware, of course, of the objection equal denunciation. For by the Trite against such a principle arising from the is meant only matter which may be true fact that the society of every country is enough, but which has been so fami- divided, in respect of intelligence and liarised already that it can benefit neither culture, into strata, widening as they man nor beast to hear or read it descend—from the limited number of any more. “Man is a microcosm," may highly-educated spirits at the top who have been a very respectable bit of catch the first rays of all new thought, speech once; and, if there is yet any poor down to the multitude nearest the creature on the earth to whom it would ground, to whom even Newton's apple be news, by all means let it be brought would be new, and among whom the to his door. But does such a creature aphorism “ Things find their level” exist among those who are addressed by would create a sensation. It is admitted anything calling itself literature ? And at once that there must, in every comso with a thousand other such sayings munity, be literary provision for this and references—“Extremes meet, sir;" state of things—a popular literature, or “You mustn't argue against the use of rather a descending series of literatures, a thing from the abuse of it ;" “The consisting of solutions more or less exception proves the rule ;” Talleyrand's 'strong of old knowledge and of common remark about the use of speech; Newton sentiments, in order that these may gathering pebbles on the sea-shore ; and, percolate the whole social mass. Everyworst of all, Newton's apple. The next thing must be learnt some time ; and writer or lecturer that brings forward our infants are not to be defrauded in Newton's apple, unless with very par- their nurseries, nor our boys and girls ticular accompaniments, ought to be in their school-time, of the legends and made to swallow it, pips and all, that little facts with which they must begin there may be an end of it. Let the as we did, and which have been the reader think how much of our current outfit of the British mind from time writing is but a repeated solution of immemorial. But, even as respects such phrases and allusions, and let him popular and juvenile literature, the rule extend his view from such short speci- still holds that, to justify increase, there mens of the Trite, to facts, doctrines, must be novelty--novelty in relation to modes of thought, and tissues of fiction, the constituencies addressed ; novelty, characterised by the same quality, and if not of matter, at least of method. yet occupying reams of our literature Else why not keep to the old popular year after year, and he will understand and elementary books—which, indeed, the nature of the grievance. What we might often be good policy? If one aver is that there are numberless writers could positively decide which, out of who are not at all slip-shod, who are competing hundreds, was the best existcorrect and careful, who may even be ing Latin school-grammar, what a gain said to write well, but respecting whom, to the national Latinity it would be, if, if we consider the substance of what they without infraction of our supreme prinwrite, the report must be that they are ciple of liberty, as applied even to gramdrowning us with a deluge of the Trite. mars, we could get back to the old
English plan, have Latin taught from account of in true literature; and the that one grammar in all the schools of peculiarity of the case is that the rate of the land, and concentrate all future the growth, the amount of fresh sprouttalent taking a grammatical direction on age that shall appear, depends largely on its gradual improvement ? Returning, the intensity of resolution exerted. But, however, to current literature, more ex should the associations with the word pressly so-called to the works of his “novelty” be incurably bad, the exprestory, the treatises, the poems, the novels, sion of the principle may be varied. It the pamphlets, the essays, &c. that cir- may be asserted, for example, that, uniculate from our better libraries, and lie versally, the proper material for current on the tables of the educated—we might literature, the proper element in which show reason for our rule even here. the writer must work, is the material or Allowing for the necessity even here of element of the hitherto uncommunicated. iteration, of dilution, of varied and long- Adapting this universal expression to continued administration, ere new truths literature as broken down into its main or modes of thought can be fairly worked departments, we may say that the proper into the minds of those who read, new element for all new writing of the hisfacts rightly apprehended, or new fancies torical order is the hitherto unobserved made effective, should we not have to or unrecollected, for all new writing of report a huge over-proportion of the the scientific or didactic order the merest wish-wash? What a reform hitherto unexplained, for all new poetry here, if there were some perception of the hitherto unimagined, for all new the principle that correct writing is not writing for purposes of moral and social enough, unless one has something fresh stimulation the hitherto unadvised. to impart. What! a premium on the There may, of course, be mixture of the love of paradox ; a licence to the passion ingredients. for effect; more of straining after no. Among the forms of the Trite with velty ? Alas ! the kind of novelty of which we are at present troubled is the which we speak is not reached by the repetition everywhere of certain obserkind of straining that is meant, but by vations and bits of expression, admirable a process very different-not by talking in themselves, but now hackneyed till right and left, and writhing one's neck the pith is out of them. By way of like a pelican, on the chance of hitting example, take that kind of imagined something odd ahead ; but by accuracy visual effect which consists in seeing an of silent watch, by passive quietude to object defined against the sky. How many impressions, by search where this trick of the picturesque has of late others have left off fatigued, by open-air been run upon in poems and novels rumination and hour-long nightly re- trees "against the blue sky,” mountains verie, by the repression again and again “ against the blue sky,” everything of paying platitudes as they rise to the whatever “ against the blue sky,” till lips, in order that, by rolling within the the very chimney-pots are ashamed of mind, they may unite into something the background, and beg you wouldn't better, and that, where now all is a dif- mention it! And so we have young fused cloud of vapoury conceit, there ladies seated pensively at their windows may come at last the clearing flash and “ looking out into the Infinite," or the tinkle of the golden drop. Think, “out into the Night.” Similarly there think, think-is the advice required at are expressions of speculative import present by scores of hopeful writers about man's destiny and work in the injuring themselves by luxury in com- world, so strong in real meaning that monplace. The freshly-evolved thought those who promulgated them did the of the world, the wealth of new bud and world good service, but parroted now blossom which the mind of humanity is till persons who feel their import most ever putting forth—this, and not the hear them with disgust. For the very dead wood, is what ought to be taken test that a truth has fallen upon a mind