« PreviousContinue »
A SENTENCE is the expression of some one complete thought; though it is not, of necessity, confined to one proposition.
Sentences are simple or complex. A simple sentence contains one member; as, “ So saying, they approached the gate.” Complex sentences contain two members; as, 66 Straws swim on the surface; but pearls lie at the bottom.”
The members themselves are sometimes complex, and may be divided into clauses; as, “ The man is arrived, and has brought his son with him ; but the magistrate is engaged, and their evidence cannot be now received.”
The members are not always separate; one is sometimes inserted in another; as, “When Henry VIII., who was then nineteen years old, ascended the English throne, the nation received him with universal acclamation." Here, who was then nineteen years old' is inserted in the proposition, When Henry VIII. ascended,' &c.
There are degrees of simplicity in sentences. “The master spoke" is as simple a sentence as could be written. “ This morning the master spoke severely to the scholars” is also a simple sentence, as it contains but one verb; but it is less simple than the former, as it specifies several circumstances. The simpler the sentence, the less variety of arrangement will it admit of; but even in the simplest, some variety may be introduced.
In English, the order of the simplest sentence generally runs thus : 1. The subject; 2. The verb; 3. The object (when the verb is transitive); or the predicate (when the verb is intransitive). But even this order is sometimes inverted for the sake of vivacity; as, “ Great was his astonishment." “Rapid was his fall," &c. It is a question whether any order of words in a sentence should be called natural, for practice differs in this respect in different languages; so that the order which is considered natural in one language is unnatural in another.
Another example of a deviation from the general rule of order is occasionally found in the case of a transitive verb preceded by the objective noun, and followed by a subject; as, “Silver and gold have I none,” &c.
In some few cases, viz., of a command, a question, and a supposition, the verb precedes the subject; as, “Come not hither" (ye' understood). “Were they present?” “Had I thought so," &c.
Very frequently, to give a particular emphasis, an adverb, or a preposition belonging to a compound
verb, begins the sentence; as, “On they came.” “ Down fell the tree,” &c.
In negations the negative adverb is generally joined to the verb; as, “I never beheld such a spectacle." But, to give vivacity to the expression, the adverb is sometimes placed at the beginning of the sentence; as, “ Never did I behold such a spectacle.” “ Not every man has power to see,” &c.
When a sentence begins with (1.) a conjunction; (2.) a call to attention; or (3.) an expletive, the emphatic terms will be as effective in the second part as in the beginning of the sentence; as : 1. “But these things we must consider on some future occasion.” 2. “ Ladies and gentlemen, the kindness you have shown me I can never sufficiently appreciate ;" and 3. “ There appears to be a wide difference between these statements."
Conjunctions are said to be unfavourable to vivacity; and certainly nothing is more wearisome or unenlivening than a frequent repetition of them. The figure of speech called by the ancient Greeks asyjndeton, has a wonderful effect in promoting vivacity of expression. By this figure, all connectives are superseded by the evident and close connection of the propositions themselves. Cæsar's well-known letter, "I came; I saw ; I conquered,” is an example. If he had written, “I came, and I saw, and I conquered, all the animation and force of the expression would have been lost.
On the other hand, when it is desired that the attention dwell on several objects successively, then repetition of the conjunction becomes not only effective, but in some cases a positive beauty. By the figure termed polysyndeton, connectives coupling single words are continually repeated. Of this the following is a striking example: “While the earth remaineth, seed-time, and harvest, and cold, and heat, and summer, and winter, and day, and night, shall not cease.” 1
ON COMPLEX SENTENCES.
A celebrated writer on rhetoric divides complex sentences into periods, and, what he calls, loose sentences. A period is a complex sentence, in which the sense is suspended till the whole is brought to a close. The word "period " properly signifies a circuit, and it is applied to such sentences, because we must complete the circuit of the meaning, that is, read them quite through, before we can arrive at their full signification. The following is an example of the period : “Perhaps the reason why common critics are inclined to prefer a judicious and methodical genius to a great and fruitful one, is, because they find it easier for them to pursue their observations through a uniform and bounded work of art, than to comprehend the vast and various extent of nature.” The proper test of a period is, that if you stop at the end of any clause, the preceding words
' A beautiful example of this figure may be found in Milton's “ Paradise Lost,” book iii. 1. 41, where the poet is bewailing his loss of sight :
“ But not to me returns
will not form determined sense. This is evidently the case with the example above quoted. It is plain that we could not stop at the word 'one;' and when we come to the conjunction because,' we must read to the end to understand the whole meaning.
The following are examples of periods :
“As the whole earth, and the entire duration of those perishing things contained in it, is altogether inconsiderable, or, in the prophet's expressive style, less than nothing, in respect of eternity, who sees not that every reasonable man ought to so frame his actions as that they may most effectually contribute to promote his eternal interest?"
“ Since it is a truth evident by the light of nature, that there is a sovereign, omniscient Spirit, who alone can make us for ever happy, or for ever miserable, it plainly follows that a conformity to His will, and not any prospect of temporal advantage, is the sole rule whereby every man who acts up to the principles of reason must govern and square his actions."
“ As the sunbeams, united in a burning-glass to a point, have greater force than when they are darted from a plain superficies, so the virtues and actions of one man, drawn together in a single story, strike upon our minds a stronger and more lively impression than the scattered relation of many men and many actions."
“ If we consider to what perfection we know the courses, periods, order, distances, and proportions of the several great bodies of the universe, at least such as fall within our view, we shall have cause to admire the sagacity and industry of the mathematicians, and the power of numbers and geometry well applied."