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using them so as to heighten and complete the object which he presents to us. He supplies by one what was wanting in the other, to the strength, or to the finishing, of the image which he means to exhibit. But, for this purpose, must be attentive to the choice of his words, and not employ them carelessly, merely for the sake of filling up a period, or of rounding or diversifying his language, as if their signification were exactly the same, while in truth it is not. To unite copiousness and precision, to be full and easy, and at the same time correct and exact in the choice of every word, is no doubt one of the highest and most difficult attainments in writing,
Of PERSPICUITY and ACCURACY of EXPRESSION, with re.
spect to the CONSTRUCTION of SENTENCES. SENTENCES, in general, should neither be very long, nor very short: long ones require close attention to make is clearly perceive the connexion of the several parts; and short ones are apt to break the sense, and weaken the convexion of thought. Yet occasionally they may both be used with force and propriety ; as may be seen in the following sentences.
“ If you look about you, and consider the lives of others as well as your own; if you think how few are born with honour, and how many die without name or children; how little beauty we see, and how few friends we hear of; how much poverty, and how many diseases there are in the world; you will fall down upon your knees, and instead of repining at one afliction, will admire so many blessings whichi
have received from the Divine hand." This is a sentence composed of several members linked together, and hanging upon one another, so that the sense of the whole is not brought out till the close. The following is an example of one in which the sense is formed into short, independent propositions, each complete within itself, " I confess, it was want of consideration that made me an author. I wrote
because it amused me. I corrected, because it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write. I published, because I was told I might please such as it was a credit to please.”
A train of sentences, constructed in the same manner, and with the same number of members, should never be allowed to succeed one another. A long succession of either long or short sentences should also be avoided; for the ear tires of either of them when too long continued. Whereas, by a proper mixture of long and short periods, and of periods variously constructed, not only the ear is gratified; but animation and force are given to our style.
We now proceed to consider the things most essential to an accurate and a perfect sentence. They appear to be the four following: 1. CLEARNESS. 2. UNITY. 3. STRENGTH. 4. A JUDICIOUS USE OF THE FIGURES OF SPEECH.
Of the CleARNESS of u SENTENCE.
Exercises, p. 180. Key, p. 15%, PURITY, propriety, and precision, in words and phrases separately considered, have already been explained, and shown to be necessary to perspicuous and accurate writing. The just relation of sentences, and the parts of sentences, to one another, and the due arrangement of the whole, are the subjects which remain to be discussed.
THE FIRST requisite of a perfect sentence is Clearness.
Whatever leaves the mind in any sort of suspense as to the meaning, ought to be avoided. Obscurity arises from two causes; either from a wrong choice of words, or a wrong arrangement of them. The choice of words and phrases, as far as regards perspicuity, has been already considered. 4. The disposition of them comes now under consideration.
The first thing to be studied here, is grammatical propriety. But as the grammar of our language is comparatively not extensive, there may be an obscure order of words, where there is no transgression of any grammatical rule.
The relations of words, or members of a period, are, with us, ascertained only by the position in which they stand.
Hence a capital rule in the arrangement of sentences is, that the words or members, most clearly related, should be placed in the sentence as near to each other as possible, so as to make their mutual relation clearly appear. It will be proper to produce some instances, in order to show the importance of this rule.
1. In the position of adverbs. « The Romans understood liberty, at least, as well as we.” These words are capable of two different senses, according as the emphasis, in reading them, is laid upon liberty, or upon at least. The words should have been thus arranged: “The Romans understood liberty as well, at least, as we.”
“ Theism can only be opposed to polytheism, or atheism.” 'Is it meant that theism is capable of nothing else besides being opposed to polytheism, or atheism? This is what the words literally import, through the wrong placing of the adverb only. It should have been, “Theism can be opposed only to polytheism or atheism,”
“ By the pleasures of the imagination, I mean only such pleasures as arise originally from sight.” When it is said, * I mean only such pleasures,” it may be remarked, that the adverb only is not properly placed. It is not intended here to qualify the word mean, but such pleasures ; and therefore should have been placed in as close connexion as possible with the word which it limits or qualifies. The style becomes more clear and neat, when the words are arianged thus: “By the pleasures of the imagination, I mean such pleasures only as arise from sight."
In the following sentence, the word more is not in its proper place.
“ There is not perhaps, any real beauty or deformity more in one piece of matter than another.” The phrase ought to have stood thus: “Beauty or deformity in one piece of matter more than in another.”
2. In the position of circumstances, and of particular members.
An author, in his dissertation on parties, thus expresses himself: " Are these designs which any man, who is born a Briton, in any circumstances, in any situation, ought to be ashamed or afraid to avow?” Here we are left at a loss, whether these words, “ in any circumstances, in any situation,” are connected with “a man born in Britain, in any circumstances or situation," or with that man's “ avowing his designs in any circumstances or situation into which he may be brought.” As it is probable that the latter was intended, the arrangement ought to have been conducted thus: “ Are these designs which any man, who is born a Briton, ought to be ashamed or afraid, in any situation, in any circumstances, to avow?"
The following is another instance of a wrong arrangement of circumstances, “ A great stone that I happened to find, after a long search, by the sea shore, served me for an anchor.” One would think that search was confined to the sea shore; but as the meaning is, that the great stone was found by the sea shore, the period ought to have run thus :
“ A great stone, that, after a long search, I happened to find by the sea shore, served me for an anchor.”
It is a rule, too, never to crowed many circumstances together, but rather to intersperse them in different parts of the sentence, joined with the principal words on which they depend. For instance: “What I had the opportunity of mentioning to my friend, sometime ago, in conversation, was not a new thought.” These two circumstances, “ some time ago,” and “ in conversation,” which are here put together, would have had a better effect disjoined, thus : “ What I had the opportunity, sometime ago, of mentioning to my friend, in conversation, was not a new thought.”
Here follows an example of the wrong arrangement of a member of a sentence. 66 The minister of state who grows less by his elevation, like a little statue placed on a mighty pedestal, will always have his jealousy strong about him.” Here, so far as can be gathered from the arrangement, it is doubtful whether the object introduced by way of simile,
.229011691) relates to what goes before, or to what follows. The ambiguity is removed by the following order. « The minister of state who, like a little statue placed on a mighty pedestal, grows less by his elevation, will always,” &c.
• agar Words expressing things connected in the thought, ought to be placed as near together as possible, even when their separation would convey no'ambiguity. This will be seen in the following passages from Addison. “For the English are naturally fanciful, and very often disposed, by that gloomi." ness and melancholy of temper, which are so frequent in our nation, to many wild notions and extravagancies, to which others are not so liable.” Here the verb or assertion is, by a pretty long circumstance, separated from the subject to which it refers. This might have been easily prevented, by placing the circumstance before the verb, thus: “ For the English are naturally fanciful, and by that gloominess and melancholy of temper which are so frequent in our nation, are often disposed to many wild notions, &c.
“For as no mortal author, in the ordinary fate and vicissitude of things, knows to what use his works may, some time or other, be applied,” &c. Better thus :“For as, in the ordinary fate and vicissitude of things, no mortal author knows to what use, some time or other, his works may be applied,” &c.
From these examples, the following observations will occur: that a circumstance ought never to be placed between two capital members of a period; but either between the parts of the member to which it belongs, or in such a manner as will confine it to its proper member, When the sense admits it, the sooner a circumstance is introduced, geneTally speaking, the better, that the more important and significant words may possess the last place, quite disencumbered. The following sentence is, in this respect, faulty, “The emperor was so intent on the establishment of his absolute power in Hungary, that he exposed the empire doubly to desolation and ruin for the sake of it." Better thus : “ That, for the sake of it, he exposed the empire doubly to desolation and ruin."