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summary of evangelical Christianity extant, but exhibits in
a plain and [an] unaffected style the richness of the English “ language in its own native wealth.” But no writer exhibits a richer and more copious vein of sound and pure English diction, and more originality and freshness of language than Dryden: his language, like his thoughts, is truly English. The style of Chaucer is well designated in Spencer's (who is himself one of the great masters of English style) emphatic expression, “ the
well of English undefiled.” Admirable, however, as those authors are as models of pure and perspicuous expression, it is to the inimitable Shakspeare, with his true English style and his happy and unequalled choice of words and idioms, which are always so natural, so expressive, so what they ought to be, as, to use his own vivid and beautiful language, to make “ the seated heart knock at the ribs,” that the student should devote his most ardent and untired attention.
THE MECHANISM OR STRUCTURE OF SENTENCES.
The fundamental property of language and composition, namely, the proper choice and application of words, having been treated of in the preceding pages, the natural construction of language leads to the consideration of the mechanism or structure of sentences.
A sentence is either simple or compound. A simple sentence is composed of only one part or member, as, man is mortal; a compound sentence is composed of two or more parts or members, as, man is mortal, and unavoidably subject to death and disease, to sorrow and disappointment.
Besides the property of being simple or compound, sentences may also be either long or short. A short sentence is lively and familiar; a long sentence makes an impression grave and solemn. On their judicious and tasteful application and interspersion the beauty and effect of language and composition chiefly depend. By too uniform a recurrence of short sentences, as the sense of the subject under discussion is divided and broken, and the connection of thought weakened, the memory of the reader or hearer is burdened, and his attention distracted. By too constant a succession of long sentences, the ear is overloaded, and the attention fatigued. It is by the due blending of long and short sentences together, that the ear is gratified and the mind entertained ; a train of sentences, whether long or short, following one another in uninterrupted succession, produces irksomeness, and dissipates the attention.
Vigorous expressions and short sentences are best adapted to make a forcible impression on the mind; a smooth flowing style formed of long periods, to persuade and conciliate.
According as the structure of sentences partakes of a long or a short character, the French critics have assigned the technical distinctions of style periodique and style coupé-the periodic and the sententious styles. In the periodic or connective style, a sentence is composed of several members linked together, and depending on one another, so that the sense is suspended or not completed till the sentence is closed. In the broken or sententious style, the sense is expressed in short independent sentences, each complete within itself. Of all literary productions in the English language, those of Lord Bolingbroke and Dr. Johnson are the most periodic, and the Letters of Junius and Ferguson’s Essay on the History of Civil Society are the most distinguished for the broken or sententious, the short or the epigrammatic, style.
The following sentence, extracted from Dr. Johnson's Rasselas, however lax and objectionable its morality may be, is a good illustration of the periodic method of constructing sentences.
“ When I see and reckon the various forms of connubial infelicity, the unexpected causes of lasting discord, the diversities of temper, the oppositions of opinion, the rude collisions of contrary desire where both are urged by violent impulses, the obstinate contests of disagreeable virtues, where both are supported by consciousness of good intention, I am sometimes disposed to think with the severer casuists of most nations, that marriage is rather permitted than‘ap. proved, and [that] none, but by the instigation of a passion too much indulged, entangle themselves with indissoluble compact."
In the broken or sententious style, the sense is, as has just been observed, expressed in short independent sentences, each complete within itself; as in the following passage from Anderson's Life of Smollett.
“ Man he surveyed with the most accurate observation. His understanding, acute and vigorous, was well fitted for diving into the human mind. His humour, lively and versatile, could paint justly and agreeably what he saw. He possessed a rapid and clear perception, with an animated and [a] graceful style."
But the more particular properties essential to the structure of a perfect sentence are, 1. Perspicuity or Clearness; 2. Unity; 3. Strength and Vivacity; and 4. Harmony and Musical Cadence. Each of these properties will be the subject of the following pages.
PERSPICUITY OR CLEARNESS IN THE STRUCTURE OF
In the structure and arrangement of sentences, perspicuity or clearness of expression is as necessary, in order to exhibit the just relation of the different parts of a sentence, and render its meaning full and distinct, as in the choice and use of phrases. As Aristotle has well observed, “ whatever may be “ the subject, if the sentences are composed in a perplexed, “ clumsy, or feeble manner, they will fail in the same propor“ tion in effecting the purpose for which language is employed
as they are deficient in force, vigour, and animation. A “ fertile source of error in composition, and one which occa“ sions much doubtful and ambiguous meaning, is slovenliness " in the construction of sentences.”
This rule of correct composition is violated by an ambiguous collocation of the members of sentences, either in the position of adverbs or of the relative pronouns who, which, whose, &c., or in the repetition of the personal and possessive pronouns they, them, their, and similar particles which express the connection of the parts of speech with one another; or in the separation of words or members of a sentence, connected by juxtaposition; or of words, or members of a sentence, connected in expressing a thought or sentiment; or in the equivocal reference of nouns, pronouns, or particular clauses; or in the interposition of a clause or circumstance between two capital members of a sentence; or in the use of long sentences and intricate phraseology; or the inversions and involutions of sentences or the clauses of sentences.
As a leading rule for the structure and arrangement of sentences, and the preservation of perspicuity, (the first and greatest beauty of composition,) it may be predicated, that the words and members bearing the nearest relation to one another should be placed as near to each other as possible, so as to make their mutual relation clearly appear. In other words, this rule may be thus stated. All the qualifying expressions, whether belonging to the subject, the verb, or the object, (or in the language of logicians, the subject, the predicate, and the copula,) both in the principal and the subordinate propositions of a sentence, should be placed as near as possible to the qualified word. This mode of arrangement, which is both natural and logical, is technically called the order of the understanding, from the perspicuity with which it enables the mind to comprehend the sense of the sentence.
The words employed should also be such as may render the meaning easily understood, and should accord with the usage and sense which the most correct writers and speakers have appropriated to the ideas intended to be expressed.
Among the causes of want of perspicuity or precision of expression, the primary and principal is want of distinctness and order in the thoughts and ideas of the writer or speaker. On this account, a clear and precise notion should be formed in the mind, of the sense and meaning of the ideas to which we wish to give expression, before we attempt to embody them in language. Energetic condensation of thought is the great and moving lever of condensation of style. No author, ancient or modern, claims more careful attention for this great and rare perfection of style than Shakspeare. While furnishing in his ever interesting fable lessons of profound meditation to frail and fallible human nature, his words contain a volume of thought, and justify the profound and just remark of Schlegel, that he lays open, in a single word, a whole series of preceding conditions.
The second quality of a correct and well-constructed sentence, simple or compound, is its unity of meaning and expression ; that is, it should contain but one principal idea, or