« AnteriorContinuar »
bushel. What can be more simple and yet more expres. sive. Some persons fancy they are talking very learnedly when they are saying, " at the rate of six per cent. per annum;" but how much more harmonious, and easily understood, would it be to say, " at the rate of six cents on a hundred, for a year."
158. When several nouns follow the general article, it must agree with them according to what was said in pa. ragraph 35. “A hawk, pheasant, eagle, horse and elephant." “ Here a does not agree with eagle and elephant ; and therefore the article must be repeated before each of the nouns; thus : “a hawk; a pheasant, an eagle, a horse, and an elephant.”
MY YOUNG FRIEND,
159. Supposing that you understand all that was said in Letter V, concerning the etymology of nouns, I will now proceed to give you some information relating to the syntax of this part of speech. Nouns are governed by verbs and prepositions; that is to say, nouns are caused to be in one of the three cases, by the influence of these two sorts of words. This matter, however, I will postpone to speak of, till I come to the syntax of verbs.
160. The possessive case is the only one that is denoted by a change in its ending. And this being the fact, I deem it unnecessary to speak of the other two in this place; and even with regard to this one, what was said in paragraph 51, is so easily understood, and the whole case is so simple, and so little likely to be wrongly employed, that I will have very little to say in this Letter.
161. Mr. Cobbett says, " that when the noun, which is in the possessive case, is expressed by a circumlocution, that is to say, by many words in lieu of one, the sign of the possessive case is joined to the last word; as, “ John,
the old farmer's, wife." " Oliver, the spy's, evidence.” This is an awkward mode of expression, even if it would admit of only one meaning ; but it will admit of two: “ John, the old farmer's, wife,” has more the appearance of meaning, "the old farmer's wife, John,” than any thing else. “John, the old farmer's wife;" that is, “ John, (who was) the old farmer's wife." The only thing that can prevent a person from giving the sentence this meaning, is, that John is a man's name; and therefore a woman cannot be meant. But change the name of the individual. Give a name that both sexes have, and it is almost impossible to take from the sentence, the meaning that Mr. Cobbett attaches. I will take the names, Francis and Frances; these being pronounced more alike than any two which men and women individually have. ci Francis, the old farmer's, wife.” Now would not any body, hearing me utter this sentence, suppose I meant, “the old farmer's wife, Frances ?" Undoubtedly he would. Again : “ Oliver, the spy's evidence,” that is, “. Oliver, (who was) the spy's evidence ;" or, “Oliver the evidence of the spy;" an evi. dence brought forward to prove something in favor of the spy. This is the meaning that nearly every person would give the sentence. Nobody would suppose that Oliver was himself the spy; and that what was intended to be told, was that he, as such, had given evidence. The only correct way to write sentences of this kind, is, “the wife of Francis, the old farmer ;" the evidence of Oliver, the spy."
162. We sometimes substitute a hyphen for the sign of the possessive case; as, "government-measures are some. times injurious.” That is, “ government's measures, or the measures of the government, are sometimes injurious." When two words are joined as these are, they are known by the name of a compound noun.
There are a great many compound words in our language; or rather a great many words in our language can be made compound. I will give you a few instances : state-debt, steamboat-racing, ship-stores, parlour-floor ; that is, state's debt, steamboat's racing, ship's stores, parlour's floor.
163. With regard to this compounding of words, Mr. Cobbelt says, “it is an advantage peculiar to our language. It enables us to say much in few words, which always gives strength to language, and after clearness, strength is the most valuable quality that writing or speaking can possess. · The Yorkshire-men flew to arms. If we could not compound our words, we must say, "the men of the shire of York flew to arms."" The remarks of this writer previous to the example which he gives, are certainly true and very judicious; but the assertion that if we could not compound our words, we would have to say, 'The men of the shire of York flew to arms,' is very far from true. Could we not say, “the men of Yorkshire flew to arms ?"
164. Writers are seldom careful enough in the use of the possessive case. In order that the errors of others may be a warning to you, I will here give an example of the wrong use of words when placed in connection with this case. It will be part of the celebrated speech of Logan, a Mingo Indian Chief. This speech is held up to Europe and the world, by Mr. Jefferson, as the most finished specimen of eloquence, that has ever been produced by man.
When a stigma is cast upon our country by the Abbe Raynal, M. de Buffon and others, who declare that man degenerates in America; that there is something in our soil, or in our climate, that will not permit genius to grow; that here man degenerates, not only mentally, but physically and morally—this speech is pointed to by Mr. Jefferson, as suf. ficient to disprove the national slander, and to elevate us far above our traducers; and when, too, these persons, having become affected with the mania that it is the most wonderful production of modern times, deny that it was ever written by an Indian; and assert that it is a for gery; that Mr. Jefferson forged it, he with enrapture de. clares, that it is no slight compliment to him, for them to suppose that he could conceive such a production; that his greatest ambition in authorship, would be but to equal this speech. Here it is, in part:
165. “ I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat ; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not.”
Now, who gives, and who receives ; who clothes, and who is clothed? If we go according to the sense which we suppose the author intended to convey, we will conclude that Logan gives, and the white man receives; that Logan clothes, and the white man is clothed. But if we go according to the sense of the words used, the white man gives, and Logan receives; the white man clothes, and Logan is clothed. “Logan's cabin, and he gave him not meat.” Logan, you see, is in the possessive case; and a noun in the possessive case, cannot have a pronoun in the nominaive case, like he, coming in to supply its place. Cabin is the noun for which the pronoun stands; and here, then, we have cabin called a he. " Logan's cabin he gave him (whom ?) not meat; if ever he (that is, the cabin) came cold and naked, and he (the cabin) clothed him (the cabin or the white man, which ever you like,) not."
166. This is no pervertion; it is the grammatical mean. ing of the words. We are prevented from seeing errors of this kind, by our imagination becoming interested in the general substance of the narration, without any regard to the wording
167. I would like to give the whole of this speech at once; but as the noticing of all the errors which it contains, would oblige me to speak of pronouns and verbs as well as of nouns, and as you do not understand as much of the two former parts of speech, as I hope you will when you have read the following Letters, I consider it best now, to give only the part in which the noun is incorrectly used. By dividing the speech into so many parts, with such a space between each, I know that I will greatly lessen the force of the criticisms I may make; but still, rather than perplex you by remarks which you are not sufficiently ad. vanced to understand, I shall adopt this plan.
MY YOUNG FRIEND,
168. Do you recollect all that was said in Letter VI? I hope you do. Perhaps you recollect a great part of it; but still you had better read again the entire Letter; for you will presently have need of all the knowledge of this part of your study that you can obtain.
169. In the extract from the speech of Logan, you per• ceive what confusion there is amongst the pronouns. These words are of constant use; and consequently to know how to employ them properly, is of the utmost importance. You must not write sentences in which the pronouns can be made to relate to, or stand for, any other nouns, than the ones which you intended they should. You see the mischief that want of attention to this matter has occasioned in the speech of Logan. An in. discriminate use of he and him has made the part already quoted, and which for your benefit I will again quote, almost unintelligible : “I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he (right) entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he (who?) gave him (whom?) not meat; if ever he (who?) came cold and naked, and he (who?) cloth. ed him (whom?) not.” Whenever we meet with a sentence like this, our judgment is the only guide, whereby we can determine what the writer wishes to say. If we merely follow the wording, we will never arrive at the meaning. In the above sentence, our judgment tells us that the second he is intended to stand for Logan; the first him for the white man; the third he again for the white man; the fourth he again for Logan; and the second him again for the white man. Of course, we do not obtain this meaning without stopping our reading to reflect upon what we have read; and consequently we make but little progress in perusing the productions of one who writes in this style. There may, moreover, be instances similar to the above, in which it will be impossible to come at the meaning that the author intended to convey, no matter how much judgment