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5. From which vice does society most suffer, luxury
or avarice? 6. Which has been of the most service to mankind,
printing or steam? 7. A comparison between the writings of Shakspere
and Milton. 8. On the comparative characters of the ancient
Greeks and Romans. 9. Which faculty is of the greater importance to
cultivate, the reason or the imagination ? 10. A comparison between the characters of Charles
V. and Philip II. 11. A comparison between the characters of Oliver
Cromwell and Napoleon Bonaparte. 12. On the different effects produced by the study of
art and of science. 13. A comparison between the characters of Isabella
of Spain and Elizabeth of England. 14. Which is the more agreeable study, poetry or
rhetoric ? 15. On the comparative merits of Homer and Virgil. 16. On the poetry of Dryden and Pope. 17. On the difference between fancy and imagination. 18. Which is the more useful profession, the church
or the law ? 19. Which is of the greater importance as a study,
art or science ? 20. Which produces the more important effects, the
encouragement of agriculture or of manufactures ?
IF, as is universally admitted, no two persons are exactly alike in outward appearance, it is unreasonable to expect that any two minds should be so similar as to be undistinguishable from each other. Hence it follows that expression of thought must vary with varieties of mind, and, therefore, that every writer must have his own manner of expression.
The word “style” is derived from the Latin stylus, an instrument used by the ancient Romans for the purpose of writing. By a figure of speech, the name at first given to the pen was transferred to the peculiar mode of the writer, and the word is now generally used in the latter sense. The natural style of a writer is always closely connected with his manner of thinking, and hence, no better criterion of his intellect can be found than his written expression. Now, as styles differ with the nature of different minds, we must expect to meet with a great variety. Some are stiff, formal, and harsh; others powerful, pleasing, neat, harmonious, &c. But, as every power is capable of
cultivation, it is quite possible to improve in this particular, so as to change a formal and pompous into an easy, flowing style ; and it is obvious that in effecting this change, not only the outward expression, but the mind itself, whence the expression flows, will be materially improved by the operation.
In cultivating style, we should never lose sight of the great aim and purpose of all writing, — to make ourselves understood. To this end everything must be sacrificed ; and the least reflection will convince us that whatever graces or beauties we may imagine our compositions to possess, they must be useless if the writing itself is unintelligible. Clearness of expression is, then, the grand point; and when this clearness is once acquired, it will be time enough to think of embellishment. First must come the useful, then the ornamental, — first the sense, then the sound, and therefore it is to this indispensable quality, PERSPICUITY, we must, before all things, endeavour to attain.
The first essential to the attainment of a clear style is, that we have a definite understanding of our own meaning before we attempt to express it in written words : the thought should be well defined in the head before it is put on paper. But thought is of so subtile a nature, and our conceptions are sometimes so indistinct, that it may be frequently no easy matter to follow this rule. It is therefore recommended that the learner, though properly anxious, be not over solicitous on this subject. To write down something is better than to wait too long for the clear understanding of the thought. When the expression is on the paper, it may then be corrected, or improved, and
thus brought into the form of the writer's original intention, With practice will come facility, and the practice, if careful and continual, is the very best discipline for the mind. For be it observed, that the effect of this practice is to give clearness to the thought, and thereby directly to strengthen and expand the intellect,—an advantage which every sensible person will surely admit to be well worth the trouble of gaining.
This being premised, we have now to consider the qualities necessary to perspicuity of style. These are 1. Purity; 2. Propriety; and 3. Precision.
Language, to be pure, must be free, Ist, from all foreign words ; 2nd, from antiquated terms; 3rd, from new-coined words not in good use ; 4th, from grammatical errors; and 5th, from foreign idioms.
1. An example of the ridiculous jargon caused by an affectation of foreign terms, may be seen in the following extract from one of Lady Morgan's contributions to the “ New Monthly Magazine” :
“I was chez moi, inhaling the odeur musquée of my scented boudoir, when the Prince de Z. entered. He found me in my demi-toilette, blasée sur tout, and pensively engaged in solitary conjugation of the verb s'ennuyer; and though he had never been one of my habitués, or by any means des nôtres, I was not disinclined, at this moment of délassement, to glide with him into the crocchio ristretto of familiar chat."
This absurd affectation will only excite ridicule in those who understand these foreign terms, and disgust in those who do not.
There is a limit, however, in this as in all things. Many very good English words have been imported from France, some even of a comparatively recent date, which we should be hardly justified in rejecting ; such as ennui, espionnage, surveillance, bonhomie, naïveté, &c. The only grounds on which we admit such innovations are, that we have no English words to express exactly the ideas which these words convey. Indeed, such words succeed in holding a place in our language only when they are really necessary ; otherwise they maintain but an ephemeral existence, and quickly become obsolete.
2. Another important point connected with this subject is the revival of antiquated words. However great may be the admiration we entertain for the times of classical antiquity, or of mediæval manners, &c., we must take care not to let this feeling affect our language. Obsolete words should not be again brought into use, for the simple reason that they are no longer wanted ; and though such words would, no doubt, be understood by scholars or antiquaries, they would convey no definite sense to the generality of readers. No one would now think of using the terms kerns and gallow-glasses for light and heavy-armed infantry, nor would any one employ anon for 'immediately,' or dowle for "feather,' or kybe for chilblain,' &c.; for