Page images
PDF
EPUB

XI.

E E C T. by a proper mixture of long and short Periods,

the ear is gratified, and a certain sprightliness is joined with majesty in our Style.

" Non “ semper,” says.Cicero (describing, very expressively, these two different kinds of Styles, of which I have been speaking), “non semper " utendum eft perpetuitate, & quasi conver“ fione verborum ; fed fæpe carpenda mem66 bris minutioribus oratio eft *.”

This variety is of so great consequence, that it must be studied, not only in the succession of long and short Sentences, but in the structure of our Sentences also. A train of Sentences, constructed in the same manner, and with the same number of members, whether long or short, should never be allowed to succeed one another. However musical each of thein may be, it has a better effect to introduce even a discord, than to cloy the ear with the repetition of similar sounds: For, nothing is so tiresome as perpetual uniformity. In this article of the construction and distribution of his Sentences, Lord Shaftsbury has shown great art. In the last Lecture, I observed, that he is often guilty of sacrificing precision of style to pomp of expression; and that there runs through his whole manner, a stiffness and affectation, which render him L E C T.

*" It is not proper always to employ a continued train, “s and a sort of regular compass of phrases; but style ought to be often broken down into smaller members.”

ftiffness

XI. very unfit to be considered as a general model. But, as his ear was fine, and as he was extremely attentive to every thing that is elegant, he has studied the proper intermixture of long and short Sentences, with variety and harmony in their structure, more than any other English author: and for this part of composition he deserves attention.

From these general observations, let us now descend to a more particular consideration of the qualities that are required to make a Sentence perfect. So much depends upon the proper construction of Sentences, that, in every sort of composition, we cannot be too strict in our attentions to it. For, be the subject what it will, if the Sentences be constructed in a clumsy, perplexed, or feeble manner, it is impossible that a work, composed of such Sentences, can be read with pleasure, or even with profit. Whereas, by giving attention to the rules which relate to this

part of style, we acquire the habit of expressing ourselves with perspicuity and elegance; and if a disorder chance to arise in fome of our Sentences, we immediately see where it lies, and are able to rectify it *.

THE

* On the Structure of Sentences, the Antients appear to have bestowed a great deal of attention and care.

The Treatise of Demetrius Phalereus, reg Egunverzs, abounds

S4

with

LE C T.

XI.

The properties most essential to a perfect Sentence, seem to me, the four following: 1. Clearness and Precision. 2. Unity. 3. Strength. 4. Harmony. Each of these I shall illustrate separately, and at some length.

The first is, Clearness and Precision. The least failure here, the least degree of ambiguity, which leaves the mind in any sort of suspense as to the meaning, ought to be avoided with the greatest care ; nor is it so easy a matter to keep always clear of this, as one might, at first, imagine. Ambiguity arifes from two causes : either from a wrong choice of words, or a wrong collocation of them. Of the choice of words, as far as regards Perspicuity, I treated fully in the last Lecture. Of the collocation of them, I am now to treat. The first thing to be studied here, is, to observe exactly the rules of grammar, as far as these can guide us.

But as the grammar of our Language is not extensive, there

with observations

upon

the choice and collocation of words carried to such a degree of nicety, as would frequently seem to us minute. The Treatise of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, FER ourbosws ovopatwv, is more mafterly; but is chiefly con fined to the musical structure of Periods: a subject, for which the Greek Language afforded much more assistance to their writers, than our Tongue admits. On the arrangement of words, in English Sentences, the xviith chapter of Lord Kaims's Elements of Criticism ought to be consulted ; and also, the 2d Volume of Dr. Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric,

may

XI.

may often be an ambiguous collocation of L EĆ T. words, where there is no transgression of any grammatical rule. The relations which the words, or members of a period, bear to one another, cannot be pointed out in English, as in the Greek or Latin, by means of termination ; it is ascertained only by the position in which they stand. Hence a capital rule in the arrangement of Sentences is, that the words or members most nearly related, should be placed in the Sentence, as near to each other as possible ; so as to make their mutual relation clearly appear. This is a rule not always observed, even by good writers, as strictly as it ought to be. It will be necessary to produce some instances, which will both show the importance of this rule, and make the application of it understood.

[ocr errors]

Ву

[ocr errors]

First, In the position of adverbs, which are used to qualify the signification of something which either precedes or follows them, there is often a good deal of nicety. •

greatness,” says Mr. Addison, in the Spectator, No. 412. “ I do not only mean the bulk “ of any single object, but the largeness of a so whole view.” Here the place of the adverb only, 'renders it a limitation of the following word, mean. " I do not only mean,” The question may then be put, What does he more than mean? Had he placed it after Luik,

still

any single

LECT. ftill it would have been wrong.

« I do not mean the bulk only of any single object.” For we might then ask, What does he mean more than the bulk? Is it the colour? or any other property? Its proper place, undoubt, edly, is, afrer the word object.

By great“ ness, I do not inean the bulk of « object only;" for then, when we put the question, What more does he mean than the bulk of a single object ? the answer comes out exactly as the author intends, and gives it; The largeness of a whole os view."--" Theism,” says Lord Shaftsbury, " can only be opposed to polytheism, or athe“ ism.” Does he mean that theism is capable of nothing else, except being opposed to polytheism or atheism ? This is what his wards literally import, through the wrong colloca, tion of only. He should have said, “ Theism " can be opposed only to polytheifm or athe“ ilm.”-- In like manner, Dean Swift (Project for the Advancement of Religion), “ The “ Romans understood liberty, at least, as well " as we.” These words are capable of two diiferent senses, according as the emphasis, in reading them, is laid upon liberty, or upon at leaft. In the first case, they will signify, that whatever other things we may understand better than the Romans, liberty, at least, was one thing which they understood as well as we. In the fecond case, they will import, that liberty

was

« PreviousContinue »