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assent, &c. In the same way, “ He gave him little encouragement,” differs from “ He gave him a little encouragement."
Various other English phrases have a double meaning, and great care should be taken in using them. Such are, 'not the least ;' not the smallest ; ' .nothing less than,' &c.
The unintelligible in writing arises from the author's confusion of ideas; and here, if we can make out his meaning, it will be the result of the reader's sagacity, rather than the writer's clearness. Take the following sentence : “I have often observed that the superiority among these (coffee-house politicians) proceeds from an opinion of gallantry and fashion.” Whose opinion is here meant ? and secondly, what opinion? There is here no definite meaning, and we are left to supply the author's intention by conjecture. Here is another in which the logic is grievously at fault: “But if happiness is the satisfaction of all our faculties, the life of Paradise must have exercised them all. The senses were gratified; for God made every tree to grow that was pleasant to the eye." This evidently implies that the gratification of the senses consists in the gratification of the eye alone ; and moreover, that pleasure through the sense of sight is produced only by trees. The following sentence occurs in a recent work : “Want of mechanical power was the great desideratum.” A desideratum means something we do not possess, but which we desire to possess. The writer probably meant that mechanical power was the great desideratum surely not the want of it!
Writers are sometimes unintelligible from affectation of excellence. What meaning can be discovered in the following sentences ?—“This temper of soul keeps our understanding tight about us.” “A man is not qualified for a butt who has not a good deal of wit and vivacity in the ridiculous side of his character." “ I seldom see a noble building, or any great piece of magnificence or pomp, but I think how little is all this to fill the idea of an immortal soul.” But the following is the climax of absurdity : “If the savour of things lies cross to honesty, if the fancy be florid, and the appetite high towards the subaltern beauties and lower order of worldly symmetries and proportions, the conduct will infallibly turn this latter way." Another : “Men must acquire a very
a peculiar and strong habit of turning their eye wards, in order to explore the interior regions and recesses of the mind, the hollow caverns of deep thought, the private seats of fancy, and the wastes and wildernesses, as well as the more fruitful and cultivated tracts of this obscure climate.”.
There are two styles of writing directly opposed to each other—the concise and the diffusive. The concise writer condenses his thoughts so as to express them in the fewest possible words. He retrenches all superfluity of expression, acting on the principle that whatever does not assist, interferes with the meaning. The same thought is never repeated. The most effective and most exact terms are selected, and his whole composition is rather suggestive than fully expressive of his meaning. Embellishment is quite compatible with precision of style; but ornament, in this case, is used rather to illustrate, and add force to the thought, than to impart pleasure to the reader. With such a writer, language is viewed merely as an instrument of utility, not of luxury. The diffusive writer, on the other hand, adopts a directly contrary style. His thoughts are placed in a variety of lights. He is not anxious to express them in one sentence, but he repeats them in different terms; and though his language is not forcible or impressive, it may be not deficient in perspicuity. True, it takes the reader a longer time to understand it; but he reaches the same end, though by a more circuitous route. Such writers are fond of accumulating terms, and building up long periods, and they have a tendency to excess of ornament.
It cannot be said that either of these styles is positively good or bad ; but they are, both of them, open to serious objection, when carried to excess. An elaborate brevity is the sure way to obscurity of expression; and we are told by Quintilian that our writings should be not only clear, but that it should be impossible to mistake their meaning,-a quality which no composition could possess in which there were not sufficient words to convey the sense fairly to the reader. On the other hand, an over-diffusive style is tiresome and fatiguing. It is discouraging to be obliged to wade through a multitude of unnecessary words containing but a small amount of sense; and such a style can never command much interest or attention. However, most writers may be placed in one or the
other of these classes ; and in either of the styles there may be much merit in the composition.
But the style, whether concise or diffusive, should vary with the occasion. In general, we need not be so concise in speaking as in writing ; and in writing itself, some subjects require much more conciseness than others, and vice versâ. In narrative or description, conciseness of style is a great merit. It commands attention, interests the imagination, and is pleasing to the mind, by giving enough, and yet not too much, exercise to the faculties. In subjects where the understanding alone is addressed, a more diffusive, expository style is, perhaps, preferable. The understanding does not, in general, seize ideas so rapidly as the imagination ; and therefore, in all matters of reasoning and instruction, a less concise style is recommended.
Of these two qualities of style, conciseness is far the more important to attain; for though brevity may not be equally adapted to every subject, we should in all cases avoid redundancy of expression. We shall therefore point out to the student certain practices he should avoid when endeavouring to give vigour and closeness to his writing.
1. Tautology. This is a repetition of the sense, either in the same or in other terms. The following passage furnishes an example of this fault :
“ The dawn is overcast - the morning lours, –
And heavily in clouds brings on the day.”
Here we have the same sense in three distinct forms.
“I look upon it as my duty, so far as God hath enabled me, and as long as I keep within the bounds of truth, duty, and decency.” It could not, surely, be any man's duty to transgress the bounds of duty. “I must be forced to get home; partly by stealth, and partly by force.” To be forced by force is an unwarrantable redundancy of expression. “How many are there by whom these tidings of good news were never heard?” (that is, news of news). “Never did Atticus succeed better in gaining the universal love and esteem of all men.” Here the word "all' is superfluous, as the idea is already expressed in universal.
“ The writings of Buchanan, and especially his Scottish History,' are written with strength, perspicuity, and neatness.”
“ Some writers have confined their attention to trifling minutiæ of style.”
“ The complication of the old laws of France had given rise to a chaos of confusion."
“ The history, of necessity, became in a great degree, for the most part, a parliamentary one.”
“ It was founded mainly on the entire monopoly of the whole trade with the colonies.”
“It unfortunately happened that our reporter was engaged elsewhere when the first performance took place; and we are therefore unable to give any report of the performance; but for all that, we have heard the performance gave the greatest satisfaction.”
Another form of this fault is where sentences are lengthened by doubling or accumulating terms closely resembling each other in sense. This practice adds nothing to the sense of the expression; it only serves