Page images


strains without indignation, which no quality among men is so apt to raise in me as sufficiency,—the worst composition out of the pride and ignorance of mankind.”

The proper close of this sentence is at the word indignation. What is added is foreign to the purpose, and should be retrenched.

“ All the world acknowledgeth the Æneid to be the most perfect in its kind ; and, considering the disadvantage of the language, and the severity of the Roman Muse, the poem is still more wonderful, since, without the liberty of the Grecian poets, the diction is so great and noble, so clear, so forcible and expressive, so chaste and pure, that even all the strength and compass of the Greek tongue, joined to Homer's fire, cannot give us stronger and clearer ideas than the great Virgil hath set before our eyes ; some few instances excepted, in which Homer, through the force of genius, hath excelled.”

This sentence would be considerably improved by inserting the awkward appendage, now at the end, after the conjunction that;' thus: “... the diction is so chaste and pure, that, some few instances excepted,” &c.;

“even all the strength,” &c.



A sentence is said to possess strength when its words and clauses are so arranged as to convey the author's meaning most impressively. To effect this, (1.) it should be cleared of all superfluous words. On this subject we have already made some observations under the head of " Tautology," and, therefore, one or

two more examples of redundancy will be here sufficient. “ This is so clear a proposition, that I rest the whole argument entirely upon it.” (Either whole' or entirely' should be expunged.) “Saul and his companions journeying along their way to Damascus.” (The words in italics are unnecessary.)

Adjectives. 2. One cause of this form of diffusiveness is the immoderate use of adjectives. When judiciously applied, adjectives have a powerful influence in heightening and animating the expression; but when used unsparingly, they do but overburden the sentence, without adding to its meaning, and show an affectation and a pedantic straining after effect. Such relative and general terms as 'great,''good,' &c., ought not to be used too lavishly. A great' argument would be often better a forcible' or 'striking' argument; in a great' degree, better in a 'high' degree; 'good' measure may be 'full' measure, and a 'good' hand a 'skilful' hand, &c.

The same remark is applicable to adverbs. Very' would be often better expressed by truly,' or 'really; ''beautifully' and nicely' by 'admirably' and 'neatly.' These remarks do not exhaust the subject, but it is hoped they may prove useful in drawing the learner's attention to this point. Adjectives and adverbs are the words which colour and give tone to language; they paint the picture, and characterise expression. Hence, much of the vigour and power of writing depends upon their judicious application.



[ocr errors]


effect; as,

3. One of the most difficult points in constructing sentences is the management of connectives ; for both the grace and the strength of a period will, in a great measure, depend on the skill with which its clauses are joined together. Connective particles are used in a variety of ways, and no positive rules can be laid down for their application. In this matter we must study the practice of the greatest writers. We shall here show some cases in which the connection of the clauses has been ungracefully or awkwardly managed.

When one term is governed by two different prepositions it has always a harsh as well as an enfeebling

“Socrates was invited to, and Euripides entertained at, his court.” Here we have both an ellipsis and a suspension of the sense ; so that the effect is doubly disagreeable.

The copulative conjunction and’ is often unnecessarily repeated, as in the following passage from one of Tillotson's sermons :

And then those who are of an inferior condition, that they labour and be diligent in the work of an honest calling, for this is privately good and profitable unto men and to their families; and to those who are above this necessity, and are in better capacity to maintain good works properly so called, works of piety, and charity, and justice; that they be careful to promote and advance them, according to their power and opportunity, because these things are publicly good and beneficial to mankind."

In this sentence, the conjunction and' is introduced eleven times.

The omission of relative particles, where it does not affect the perspicuity, is favourable to the strength of a sentence; as, “The faith he professed, and of which he became an apostle, was not his invention.”

The omission of the relative here makes the sentence more compact, and also avoids an unnecessary repetition. Again: “ The officers and soldiers were prepared for the part they were to act.” 6. The sole evidence we can have of the veracity of an historian consists in such collateral documents as are palpable to all, and can admit of no falsification.”

Important Words. 4. Important words should occupy a conspicuous place in a sentence. But the place to be assigned to them must depend chiefly on the construction. Though we should adopt the order most favourable to perspicuity, the most important words are in general placed at the beginning; for example:

Age, that lessens life, increases our desire of living.” “Most of the trades, professions, and ways of living among mankind take their origin either from the love of pleasure or the fear of want.” wise and virtuous man is at all times willing that his own private interest should be sacrificed to the public interest of his own particular society."

On the other hand, it is sometimes advisable to reserve the more emphatic terms for the end of a sentence, especially where the author wishes that such words should make a deep impression. In this case the sense is suspended, and the whole meaning is developed at the close of the period; for example :

6. The


Why their knowledge is more than ours, I know not what reason can be given but the uns earchable will of the Supreme Being.

It is clear that if this order were inverted, the sentence would lose much of its strength and effect. Again

“On whatever side we contemplate Homer, what principally strikes us is his wonderful invention.

But in whatever part of the sentence we place the principal idea, it is always of the highest importance that it be clearly perceived. It should stand forth prominently; and any circumstances of time, place, manner, &c., which may be necessary to add, should be so disposed as not to interfere with the leading thought of the period. This rule has been disregarded in the following sentence :

“ And that it was not peculiar to the gift of language or tongues only, to be given at the moment of its exertion, but common likewise to all the rest, will be shown probably, on some other occasion, more at large, in a particular treatise, which is already prepared by me, on that subject."

Insignificant Words. 5. We should avoid closing a sentence with comparatively insignificant words. Adverbs and prepositions, though useful as qualifiers or connectives, ought not to be placed at the close of a period, where the mind would naturally dwell on their meaning, and would thus be distracted from the more significant parts of the sentence. Sometimes, however, to mark an emphasis, or to express a strong contrast, such a disposition of words is properly adopted, as in the case

« PreviousContinue »