Imágenes de páginas

application of which much of the elegance and precision of language depends, though generally considered as synonymous, have very distinct acceptations. Their distinction is, that when the meaning is conditional, shall is the proper auxiliary; but when certain and determinate, will is the requisite auxiliary. We denote the contingent actions of others by will, their compulsory ones by shall; but we express our own voluntary actions by will, our contingent ones by shall. The conditionals should and would follow similar rules of construction.

Surprised, astonished, amazed, confounded.I am surprised at what is new and unexpected ; astonished at what is vast or great; amazed at what is incomprehensible; confounded by what is shocking or terrible.

Tranquillity, peace, calm.—Tranquillity is where a situation is free from trouble, considered in itself; peace, the same condition with respect to any causes that might interrupt it; calm with respect to a disturbed condition or succeeding it. A good man enjoys tranquillity in himself; peace with others; and calm after the storm.

Weary, fatigue.—The continuance of the same thing wearies us; labour fatigues us. A man is weary with standing, he is fatigued with walking.

Wisdom, prudence.-Wisdom leads us to speak and act with propriety. A wise man employs the most proper means of success; a prudent man the safest means from being brought into danger.

With, by.The distinction in the use of these particles is forcibly applied in a passage of Dr. Robertson's History of Scotland. When one of the Scottish kings was making an inquiry into the tenure by which the nobles held their lands, they started up, and drawing their ords, said: “ By these we acquired our lands, and with these we will defend them.” The distinction is also well exemplified by the expressions, with devoting the instrument, by the cause: He was killed by a stone which fell from the building : He was killed with a stone which was thrown by the workmen.

Having given exemplifications of the violations of purity, propriety, and precision in the use and application of words, and stated the rules for avoiding the commission of offences against those branches of composition, it may not be uninteresting to close this division of the subject with a few citations of the faulty composition of some of our best and most admired writers, in respect of the three great offences of precision,-tautology, pleonasm, and verbosity.

“ It was,” says Dean Swift, speaking of the Athenians, the privilege and birthright of every citizen and poet to rail “ aloud and in public,” which is a sentence filled with superfluous words; for “ birthright and privilege” are synonymous and convertible terms. The word “ poet” is included under the generic appellation citizen ; and “ railing aloud and in “ public” are identical expressions. The sentence, to be precise, should be: “ At Athens, it was the privilege of every “ citizen to rail in public,” a form of construction which not only imparts to the sentence more vivacity, but also a greater degree of force and strength than the Dean's superfete and cumbersome phraseology has admitted. Mr. Addison's “

pure limpid stream, when foul with stains “ of rushing torrents and descending rains,” is too glaring an instance of absurdity and impropriety of expression to need exposition. When the same author, speaking of beauty, says,

very first discovery strikes the mind with inward “ joy, and spreads a cheerfulness and delight through all its

« The

“ faculties,” the sentence is pleonastic, as the sentiment contained in the last member is clearly a repetition of that comprised in the first clause.

When Goldsmith, in his beautiful story of the Vicar of Wakefield, says, “ I was ever of opinion that the honest man “ who married, and brought up a large family, did more “ service than he who continued single, and only talked of “ population;" the words employed would lead us to

suppose that the vicar, by using the verb in the past tense, entertained the opinion here expressed only at some distant time, and not at the time when he was writing; though he certainly meant to say, that he not only was but still is of that opinion, and therefore the verb should have been in the perfect tense—I have ever been of opinion, &c. The next clause is, that “ the honest

man who married, and brought up, &c.did more service.” But the worthy vicar did not mean that the honest man who married in former times did more service than one who married at the time when he was writing; and therefore the language, to be precise, should have been, “ The honest man who marries and

brings up a large family, does more service," &c. Nor are these the only defects imputable to the sentence. As nobody is mentioned to whom the service has been done, the word state, public, or community is wanting to render the sense complete.

These selections have been made from three of the most classical writers in the language, for the purpose of putting the student of composition on his guard against imitation of the faults with which their works abound, and which are likely to be overlooked on account of the indiscriminate praise that is generally bestowed on their writings. Dr. Blair, in his tenth lecture, says that Dean Swift“ may be considered as a standard


“ of the strictest purity and propriety in the choice of words, “ and one of the authors in our language most distinguished

for precision of style;” and in Lecture XVIII. he adds in his faulty method of expression, “ he knew, almost beyond

any man, the purity, the extent, the precision of the English “ language, and therefore to such as wish to attain a pure and “ correct style, he is one of the most useful models.” It is true that Swift's writings are distinguished for their observance of the native and idiornatic form and character of the English language, and his scrupulous rejection of foreign words and phrases; but he is often not only coarse and homely in his expression, but also very deficient in grammatical precision and construction. His solecisms and inaccuracies in that respect should caution students against the popular and extravagant opinion respecting the merits of that valuable and often original and vigorous writer.

It has been said of Addison that he is a standard of style and a model of English prose, and that he who wishes to attain

and correct style “ should give his days and nights” to the study of the writings of that author. But it should be recollected that this praise applies chiefly to his observance of the idiomatic character of the English language, and to the truth and beauty of his imagery; (h) for he is very deficient in grammatical correctness and strength and variety of expression. Frequently his collocation of sentences is neither harmonious, nor is his application of words happy. His writings also abound with colloquial phrases, or the language of ordinary conversation.

As a model of correct composition, Goldsmith is to be preferred to Addison. His diction is more pure, correct, and elegant, and is distinguished for greater harmony of compass and cadence. Nor does he offend so often in the use of colloquial phrases and obsolete combinations of words and

a pure


sentences. The lucid arrangement of his sentences, and the ease and simplicity of his style, have seldom been equalled, never excelled. When intending to convey a plain and simple idea or a natural emotion, he is, perhaps, unrivalled; and his turns on words are peculiarly felicitous, and have a most delightful effect. Thus, amongst instances innumerable,

“ His lot though small,
He sees that little lot, the lot of all.”
“ And turned, and looked, and turned to look again."

The authors who are most distinguished in the English language for purity, propriety, and precision of expression, as also for idiomatic style and the rejection of foreign words and idioms, are Swift, Locke, Hobbes, Ascham, Chaucer, Spencer, Bacon, Raleigh, Cowley, Algernon Sidney, Barrow, Baxter, Bunyan, Dryden, Arbuthnot, Addison, Robertson, Paley, and the great and philosophic poet of nature, Shakspeare. Their minds were too patriotic to suppose that their native tongue could be improved by the admixture of “ straunge wordes” and foreign phraseology. Few English writers are more remarkable for the use of the idiomatic peculiarities of the English language than Arbuthnot, and no one, as I have just observed, exhibits a stricter observance of its native form and character than Swift. To Locke the English language is emphatically indebted for precision and perspicuity of style. His language is, however, often diffusive, the same thought being frequently presented under a variety of aspects. The writings of Baxter and Bunyan are also distinguished for purity and propriety of diction, and contain many passages of great originality and poetical beauty of language. The Pilgrim's Progress, the great classic author of the lower ranks of society, is not only “ the best

« AnteriorContinuar »