Page images

dull chronicle and a rhetorical declamation: three times did I compose the first chapter, and twice the second and third, before I was tolerably satisfied with their effect.' Prescott, at the age of twenty-five, resumed the study of rhetoric with assiduous perseverance. Having written several chapters of Ferdinand and Isabella, he said: "Two or three faults of style occur to me in looking over some former compositions. Too many adjectives; too many couplets of substantives as well as adjectives, and perhaps of verbs; too set; sentences too much in the same mould; too formal periphrasis instead of familiar; sentences balanced by ands, buts, and semicolons; too many precise, emphatic pronouns, as these, those, which, etc., instead of the particles the, a, etc.' Says the terse and vigorous Webster: 'My style was not formed without great care, and earnest study of the best authors. I have labored hard upon it, for I early felt the importance of expression to thought. I have re-written sentence after sentence, and pondered long upon each alteration.' 'It shall not less but more strenuously be inculcated,' says Carlyle, 'that, in the way of writing, no great thing was ever, or ever will be, done with ease, but with difficulty.' Plato wrote the beginning of his Republic many times in a great variety of ways, finally reaching a style so perfect that it seems artless. The ancients thought it worthy to be called divine.

Read thoroughly the standard English and American authors. As the young painter or sculptor, not content with text-books and lectures, spends months or years in the galleries of Florence and Rome, in order to learn how the great masters of form and color wrought their miracles of art, so the student of style should devote himself to the masterpieces of literature, in order to enrich his vocabulary, to acquire in some degree the secret of their power, to detect his own deficiencies, to elevate and

refine his taste. 'Evil communications corrupt good manners.' One's words, like his manners, depend largely on the company kept, and are learned largely by unconscious imitation. Choose the best, whether of newspapers or of books. To write well,' says Dryden, 'one must have frequent habitudes with the best company.' Quintilian advised his pupils, also, to practice what is called paraphrase with reference to prose, and metaphrase with reference to poetry. They consist alike in translating passages from good authors into other words in the same tongue. Franklin added the converse of paraphrase. He laid aside his version of Addison, for example, until he had forgotten the phraseology of the original, and then turned it back, with as close conformity to Addison's style as he was able to command. Even better, perhaps, is the practice of translating from one language into another. The learner is thus guarded against becoming a servile copyist. He paints a similar picture, but with different pigments.

Bear in mind the principles and maxims set forth and illustrated in preceding chapters, with special reference to the choice, number, and arrangement of words.

Remember, also, that splendid phrases and swelling sentences can form no substitute for knowledge and reflection. Dr. Whately's advice is excellent: 'Let an author study the best models — mark their beauties of style, and dwell upon them, that he may insensibly catch the habit of expressing himself with Elegance; and when he has completed any composition, he may revise it, and cautiously alter any passage that is awkward and harsh, as well as those that are feeble and obscure: but let him never, while writing, think of any beauties of style; but content himself with such as may occur spontaneously. He should carefully study Perspicuity as he goes along; he may also, though more cautiously, aim in like manner

at Energy; but if he is endeavoring after Elegance, he will hardly fail to betray that endeavor; and in proportion as he does this, he will be so far from giving pleasure, to good judges, that he will offend more than by the rudest. simplicity.' If you would be accurate, be true; if clear, write with sympathy and a desire to be intelligible; if powerful, be earnest; if pleasant, cultivate a sense of rhythm and order. 'Struggle unweariedly,' says Carlyle, 'to acquire what is possible for every God-created man, a free, open, humble soul: speak not at all, in any wise, till you have somewhat to speak.'

'Altogether,' says Goethe, 'the style of a writer is a faithful representative of his mind; therefore, if any man wish to write a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts; and if he would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.'



Examine well, ye writers, weigh with care

What suits your genius, what your strength will bear.-HORACE. Never read till you have thought yourself empty; never write till you have read yourself full.-RICHTER.

Invention, though it can be cultivated, cannot be reduced to rule; there is no science which will enable a man to bethink himself of that which will suit his purpose. But when he has thought of something, science will tell him whether that which he has thought of will suit his purpose or not.-J. S. MILL.


HE word invention is derived from the Latin invenire, to come in, to enter. By the natural progress of language from the literal to the metaphorical, it came in process of time to signify discovery. Rhetorically, it consists in the faculty of finding whatsoever is proper to be said, and of devising suitable forms for the purpose of discourse. Absolutely, it is the whole talent, presenting itself at every point in the art. The invention of the ideas, or of the matter, however, is invention in the highest sense of the term.

Choice of Subject.-The subject may be furnished, and invention will then be taxed only in treating it; as in courts of law, in legislative debates, in prize essays, in many academical exercises: or it may be left to your choice; as in pulpit eloquence, in occasional addresses, and in most kinds of composition. If the latter, let it be level to the capacity of your audience. Let it be chosen with reference to the occasion and your design, whether to instruct, to convince, to persuade, to please, or all of these. Find one that is appropriate to your age and

attainments, one to which you have felt or will feel attracted. The attempt to discuss a subject not fairly within your power must issue in vagary, frigidity, and failure. A wise distrust is better than an overweening confidence or a false pride. To do anything excellently, you should do it from conviction. Unless you are yourself interested, you cannot expect to interest others. The words that are 'half battles' are never spoken but in sincerity. Nothing is more easily detected, or more repellent, than a lukewarm earnestness or a counterfeit enthusiasm. Remember, too, that the humblest subject may be lifted into the region of literature. Cowper produced a great poem on 'The Sofa,' and called it The Task. A stolen lock of hair inspired Pope's brilliant mock-heroic poem, The Rape of the Lock. A London linen-draper, Izaak Walton, won an honorable place among British authors by a treatise on Angling, written, perhaps, to teach the angler's lowly craft, yet in such sweet and serious diction, with such infusion of rational loyalty to things human and Divine, of simple, child-like love for the beauties of earth and sky, that his little book on fishing has outlived many a more ambitious work.

Determination of Subject.-Having chosen your subject, contemplate it from a particular point of view, and neglect all that is irrelevant. If you decide, for example, to limit your attention to the religious aspects of Wealth, ignore its economical and its social aspects. If you are to write on Youth, restrict yourself to one of the many possible conceptions of it,-Hopefulness of Youth, or Youth is the Time for Education, or Pleasures of Youth, or How should Youth be Spent? The general subject (or title) adopted by an essayist might be Dreams, but with this, in any single article, essay, chapter, or section, he would combine some limitary notion; as, Dreams and Realities; Dreams and Sleep; Dreams and their

« PreviousContinue »