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distinguish, without seeing the colour of it, the particular sort which was offered him; and not only so, but any two sorts of them that were mixt together in an equal proportion; nay, he has carried the experiment so far, as upon tasting the composition of three different sorts, to name the parcels from whence the three several ingredients were taken. A man of a fine taste in writing will discern, after the same manner, not only the general beauties and imperfections of an author, but discover the several ways of thinking and expressing himself, which diversify him from all other authors, with the several foreign infusions of thought and language, and the particular authors from whom they were borrowed.
After having thus far explained what is generally meant by a fine taste in writing, and shewn the propriety of the metaphor which is used on this occasion, I think I may define it to be that faculty of the soul, which discerns the beauties of an author with pleasure and the imperfections with dislike.' If a man would know whether he is possessed of this faculty, I would have him read over the celebrated works of antiquity, which have stood the test of so many different ages and countries; or those works among the moderns, which have the sanction of the politer part of our contemporaries. If upon the perusal of such writings he does not find himself delighted in an extraordinary manner, or if, upon reading the admired passages in such authors, he finds a coldness and indifference in his thoughts, he ought to conclude, not (as is too usual among tasteless readers) that the author wants those perfections which have been admired in him, but that he himself wants the faculty of discovering them.
He should in the second place, be very careful to observe, whether he tastes the distinguishing perfections, or, if I may be allowed to call them so, the specific qualities of the author whom he peruses ; whether he is particularly pleased with Livy for his manner of telling a story, with Sallust for his entering into those internal principles of action which arise from the characters and manners of the persons he describes, or with Tacitus for his displaying those outward motives of safety and interest, which give birth to the whole series of transactions which he relates.
He may likewise consider, how differently he is affected by the same thought, which presents itself in a great writer, from what he is when he finds it delivered by a person of an ordinary genius. For there is as much difference in apprehending a thought clothed in Cicero's language, and that of a common author, as in seeing an object by the light of a taper, or by the light of the sun.
It is very difficult to lay down rules for the acquirement of such a taste as that I am here speaking of. The faculty must in some degree be born with us, and it very often happens, that those who have other qualities in perfection, are wholly void of this. One of the most eminent mathematicians of the age has assured me, that the greatest pleasure he took in reading Virgil, was in examining Æneas his voyage by the map; as I question not but many a modern compiler of history, would be delighted with little more in that divine author, than in the bare matters of fact.
But notwithstanding this faculty must in some measure be born with us, there are several methods for cultivating and improving it, and without which it will be very uncertain, and of little use to the person that possesses it. The most natural method for this purpose is, to be conversant among the writings of the most polite authors. A man who has any relish for fine writing, either discovers new beauties, or receives stronger im
* Acquirement. We now say acquisition, and not acquirement. It is a good general rule, to avoid all substantives ending in ment or e88.-H.
b A man who has any relish for fine writing. This mystery of fine
pressions from the masterly strokes of a great author every time he peruses him : besides that he naturally wears himself into the same manner of speaking and thinking.
writing (inore talked of than understood) consists chiefly in three things. 1. In a choice of fit terms. 2. In such a construction of them, as agrees to the grammar of the language, in which we write. And 3. In a pleasing order and arrangement of them. By the first of these qualities, a style becomes, what we call, elegant: by the second, exact : and, by the third, harmonious. Each of these qnalities may be possessed, by itself; but they must concur, to form a finished style.
Mr. Addison was the first, and is still, perhaps, the only, English writer, in whom these three requisites are found together, in, almost, an equal degree of perfection. It is, indeed, one purpose of these cursory notes, to shew, that, in some few instances, he has transgressed, or rather, neglected the strict rules of grammar; which yet, in general, he observes with more care than any other of our writers. But, in the choice of his terms, (which is the most essential point of all) and in the numbers of his style, he is almost faultless, or rather, admirable.
It will not be easy for the reader to comprehend the merit of Mr. Addison's prose, in these three respects, if he has not been conversant in the best rhetorical writings of the ancients; and especially in those parts of Cicero's and Quinctilian's works, which treat of what they call composition But, because the harmony of his style is exquisite, and this praise is peculiar to himself, it may be worth while to consider, in what it chiefly consists.
1. This secret charm of numbers is effected by a certain arrangement of words, in the same sentence : that is, by putting such words together, as read easily, and are pronounced without effort; while, at the same time, they are so tempered by different sounds and measures, as to affect the ear with a sense of variety, as well as sweetness. As, to take the first sentence in the following essay: "Our sight is the most perfect and most delightful of all our senses.” If you alter it thus :-“ Our sight is the perfectest and most delightful of all our senses." Though the change be only of one word, the difference is very sensible; perfectest, being a word of difficult pronunciation, and rendered still harsher by the subsequent word most, which echoes to the termination est.
Or, again, read thus—“Our sight is the most perfect and most pleasing of all our senses."—Here, the predominance of the vowel e, and the alliteration of the two adjectives, perfect and pleasing, with the repetition of the superlative sign “most,” occasions too great a sameness or similarity of sound in the constituent parts of this sentence.
Lastly, read thus:-"Our sight is the most compleat and most delightful sense we have."—But then you hurt the measure or quantity, which, in our language, is determined by the accent: as will appear from observing of what feet either sentence consists.
“Our sight-is thở möst-complète-ånd most-dělight-fül sēnse-wě häve." Here, except the second foot, which is an anapæst, the rest are all of one kind, i. e. iambics. Read now with Mr. Addison-"Qúr sight-is thở möst. përfěct-ånd most délight-fül of all-oúr sénsēs."-And you see how the rhythm is varied by the intermixture of other feet, besides that the short redundant syllable, sčs, gives to the close, a slight and negligent air, which has a better effect, in this place, than the proper iambic foot.
Conversation with men of a polite genius is another method of improving our natural taste. It is impossible for a man of the greatest parts to consider any thing in its whole extent, and
2. A sentence may be of a considerable length: and then the rhythm arises from such a composition, as breaks the whole into different parts; and consults at the same time, the melodious flow of each. As in the second period of the same paper.—" It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues the longest in action without being tired or satiated with its proper enjoyments.”
A single sentence should rarely consist of more than three members, and the rhythm is most complete, when these rise upon, and exceed, each other in length and fulness of sound, till the whole is rounded by a free and measured close. In this view, the rhythm of the sentence here quoted, might be improved by shortening the first member, or lengthening the second, as thus:-"it fills the mind with the most ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance," &c. Or thus-"it fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, has the advantage of conversing with its objects at the greatest distance," &c.
These alterations are suggested only to explain my meaning, and not to intimate, that there is any fault in the sentence, as it now stands. It is not necessary; nay it would be wrong, to tune every period into the completest harmony: I would only signify to the reader, what that arrangement of a complicated period is, in which the harmony is most complete. We have numberless instances in Mr. Addison's writings; as in the next of his papers on the imagination—“the eye has room to range abroad, to expatiate at large on the immensity of its views, and to lose itself amidst the variety of objects that offer themselves to its observation."
The instance, here given, is liable to no objection. But there is danger, no doubt, lest this attention to rhythm should betray the writer, insensibly, into some degree of languor and redundancy in his expression. And it cannot be denied, that Mr. Addison himself has, sometimes, fallen into this trap. But the general rule holds, nevertheless; and care is only to be taken, that in aiming at a beauty of one kind, we do not overlook another of equal, or, as in this case, of greater importance.
What bas been said, may enable the reader to collect the rule in shorter sentences, or in sentences otherwise constructed.
3. The rhythm of several sentences, combined together into one paragraph, is produced, in like manner, by providing that the several sentences shall differ from each other in the number of component parts, or in the extent of them, if the number be the same, or in the run and construction of the parts, where they are of the like extent. The same care must, also, be taken, to close the paragraph, as the complex sentence, with a gracious and flowing termination. Consider the whole first paragraph of the paper we have now before us, and you will not find two sentences corresponding to each other in all respects. Each is varied from the rest; and the conclusion fills the ear, as well as completes the sense.
Something like the same attention must be had, in disposing the sevoral paragraphs of the same paper, as in arranging the several periods of the same paragraph.
But, “verbum sapienti.” The charm of Mr. Addison's prose consists
in all its variety of lights. Every man, besides those general observations which are to be made upon an author, forms several reflections that are peculiar to his own manner of thinking ; so that conversation will naturally furnish us with hints which we did not attend to, and make us enjoy other men's parts and reflections as well as our own. This is the best reason I can give for the observation which several have made, that men of great genius in the same way of writing seldom rise up singly, but at certain periods of time appear together, and in a body; as they did at Rome in the reign of Augustus, and in Greece about the age of Socrates. I cannot think that Corneille, Racine, Moliere, Boileau, la Fontaine, Bruyere, Bossu, or the Daciers, would have written so well as they have done, had they not been friends and contemporaries.
It is likewise necessary for a man who would form to himself a finished taste of good writing, to be well versed in the works of the best critics both ancient and modern. I must confess that I could wish there were authors of this kind, who, beside the me- . chanical rules which a man of very little taste may discourse upon, would enter into the very spirit and soul of fine writing, and shew us the several sources of that pleasure which rises in the
very much in the dexterous application of these rules, or rather, in consulting his ear, which led him instinctively to the practice, from which these rules are drawn.
If it be asked, whether the harmony of his prose be capable of improvement, I think we may say in general, that with regard to this way of writing, in short essays to which År. Addison's style is adapted, and for which it was formed, it is not. There is, with the utmost melody, all the variety of composition (which answers to what we call the pause, in good poetry) which the nature of these writings demands. In works of another length and texture, the harmony would be improved in various ways; and even by the very transgression of these rules.
Every kind of writing has a style of its own; and a good ear formed on the several principles of numerous composition, will easily direct how, and in what manner, to suit the rhythm to the subject, and the occasion. There is no doubt that, what is exquisite in one mode of writing, would be finical in another. It is enough to say, that the rhythm of these essays, calleche Spectators, is wonderfully pleasing, and perhaps, perfect in its kind.-H.