Page images
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

The genius of an author consists in designing well and pointing well. -LA BRUYÈRE.

The elements which enter into the composition of the highest bodies are subtle and inconsiderable. The rudiments of every art and science exhibit, at first, to a learner, the appearance of littleness and insignificancy; and it is by attending to such reflections as to a superficial observer would appear minute and hypercritical, that language must be improved and eloquence perfected.LORD CAMPBELL.

ITH the best arrangement of recorded words there

W is need of additional facilities for the effective communication of thought. Particularly is this true in English, where the relations of constituent parts are not determined by inflection, but almost wholly by position. Observe the otherwise inevitable obscurity of sentences.


oterdistrictswherethehumaneedictsweredisregarded whichthe prayers of thedominicanfriarstotheireverlastinghonorbeitspokenhad wrungfr omthespanishsovereignsandwhichthelegislationofthatmost wisevirtuo usandheroicinquisitorparadoxicalasthewordsmayseempedrodelagasca


To make the sense more intelligible, spaces are introduced, the size of the letters is varied, and certain marks are inserted, indicating the syntax, and corresponding more or less closely to the pauses made in speaking. Thus:

A sad and hideous sight it was; yet one too common even then in those remoter districts, where the humane edicts were disregarded, which the prayers of Dominican friars (to their everlasting honor be it spoken) had wrung from the Spanish sovereigns; and which the legislation of that most wise, virtuous and heroic inquisitor (para

doxical as the words may seein), Pedro de la Gasca, had carried into effect in Peru.-Kingsley.

It is hence obvious that capitals, commas, semicolons, etc., are valuable auxiliaries, enabling the writer to distinguish or emphasize terms especially prominent or significant, and to include in a period its incidents and adjuncts, which else would form a multitude of short and distinct propositions, rendering the style very disjointed.

The all-important principle to be grasped is, that these mechanical devices, whether they consist in capitalizing a word or indenting a paragraph, are primarily guides to the construction and meaning. Thus to denote their special office (that is, for the sake of perspicuity), the interjection, O, and the pronoun, I, are written as capital letters. Lectures' and 'art' are common nouns, and 'lectures on art' may be a common phrase; but if the combination be used to designate an individual object, it becomes a proper noun, and this preeminent use of it calls for a peculiar form; as, Taine's Lectures on Art, Taine's Lectures on Art, or Taine's 'Lectures on Art.' Similarly, while in the body of a letter we write friend, father, brother, sister, in the complimentary address both conspicuity and importance require Friend, Father, Brother, Sister. There is a distinction between middle age and the Middle Age; between a revolution in politics. and the Revolution of 1776; between the reformation of Gough and the Reformation of Luther; between He is bold, and Charles the Bold. Referring to created things, pronouns are begun with small letters-except in initial positions; but, referring to the Creator, with capitals, yet only when necessary to make the reference clear:

And I will trust that he who heeds

The life that hides in mead and wold,
Who hangs yon alder's crimson beads,

And stains these mosses green and gold,

Will still, as he hath done, incline

His gracious ear to me and mine.- Whittier.

Behind the dim unknown

Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

Again, one use of 'too' is represented thus:


Thilke same kidde (as I can well devise)
Was too very foolish and unwise.-Spenser.


They will, too, interest not merely children but grown-up people. Westminster Review.

[ocr errors]

Taken adverbially, however' will be written:

Illusions, however innocent, are deadly as the canker-worm.— Froude.


We prefer him, however, as he is interpreted to us by the engraver.-Spectator.

Note the difference between, 'What can the devil speak true?' and,

What, can the devil speak true?-Shakespeare.

Or between, 'There is nothing more wonderful than a book,' and,

Except a living man, there is nothing more wonderful than a book!-Kingsley.

Though both are declarative in form, the second reveals. more of the force of conviction than the first. Even where the form is exclamatory, the exclamation-point may or may not be hoisted as a signal, according to the degree of energy or emotion thrown into the utterance or sought to be conveyed:

When we coveted a cheap luxury (and O! how much ado I had to get you to consent in those times!) we were used to have a debate two or three days before.-Lamb.

How pretty

Her blushing was, and how she blushed again.-Tennyson.

A parenthetical expression-one that serves merely for illustration-will, in general, be discriminated from a restrictive expression-one vitally connected with the element modified:

(1) Man, who is born of woman, is of few days and full of trouble.-Job.

(2) It [reading] calls for no bodily exertion, of which he has had enough or too much. It relieves his home of its dulness and sameness, which . . . is what drives him out to the ale-houses.—Sir John Herschel.

(3) Let the half-witted say what they will of delusions, no thorough reader ever ceased to believe in his books, whatever doubts they might have taught him by the way.-Leigh Hunt.

(4) A book is a sure friend, always ready at your first leisure.— Emerson.

(5) The moment any book, even the greatest, takes the place to us of insight and inward seeing of the truth, that moment it becomes an injury.-Ibid.

In all the foregoing the italicized portions are explicative. In (1) the relative clause is simply illustrative, pointing out some circumstance connected with the antecedent yet leaving that antecedent with its full extent of meaning,all men. Each of the clauses in (2) could be omitted without changing the essence of the assertion to which it pertains. The leading thought of (3) is true in just the same sense, whether the clauses be retained or omitted. In (4) the final phrase only unfolds what is implied in 'sure.' 'Even the greatest' adds nothing essential — it is contained in 'any.' Contrast with these the following:

(1) That man lives twice that lives the first life well.-Herrick.

(2) I know that all words which are signs of complex ideas, furnish matter of mistake and cavil.-Bolingbroke.

(3) They [books] are pleasures too palpable and too habitual for him to deny.-Hunt.

(4) Whoever expresses to us a just thought makes ridiculous the pains of the critic who should tell him where such a word has been said before.-Emerson.

(5) The highest morality of a great work of art depends upon the power with which the essential beauty and ugliness of virtue and vice are exhibited by an impartial observer.-Leslie Stephen.

Here, all modifying elements are determinative. Not every man lives twice, but only such as live the first life well. A comma between the antecedent and relative of (2) would pervert the author's meaning, for it would then appear, not that some words furnish matter of cavil, but that all do so. Not all pleasures are affirmed of books, but a certain class. In (4) and (5) every clause, every phrase, is essential to the meaning of the whole. No marks are admissible, for every modifier is closely connected, logically and positionally, with the element modified. Compare, however, the following:

(1) Of all our senses, sight is the most perfect and the most delightful.-Bain.

(2) Thought is the most volatile of all things.-Emerson.

(3) I hate a style, as I do a garden, that is wholly flat and regular.-Shenstone.

(4) He [Carlyle] wants altogether the plastic imagination, the shaping faculty, which would have made him a poet in the highest sense.-Lowell.

(1) and (2) are constructed alike. In both, the adjuncts. are restrictive, but the transposed order in (1) makes the comma necessary. In (3) an explanatory clause is thrust in between 'style' and 'that.' The latter introduces an important limitation of the former; but omit either comma, and the meaning is wholly changed. There being in (4) a comma after 'imagination,' the common dependence of 'which' (though restrictive) upon the two antecedents is best shown by a point after 'faculty.'

It is thus seen not only that judgment determines the

« PreviousContinue »