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Our language has been thought to be very defective in harmony of sound ; yet the melody of its versification, its power of supporting poetical numbers, without the assistance of rhyme, is a sufficient proof, that it is far from being unharmonious. Even the hissing sound, of which it has been accused, obtains less frequently, than has been suspected. For in many words, and in the final syllables especially, the letter 8 has the sound of z, which is one of the sounds on which ihe ear rests with pleasure ; as in has, these, loues, hears, &c.
It must however be admitted, that smoothness is not the distinguishing property of the English tongue. Strength and expressiveness, rather than grace and mel. ody, constitute its character. It possesses also the property of being the most simple of all the European dialects in its form and construction. It is free from the intricacy of cases, declensions, modes and tenses. Its words arc subject to fewer variations from their original form, than those of any other language.
Its nouns have no distinction of gender, except what is made by nature ; and but one variation in case. Its adjectives admit no change, except what expresses the degree of comparison. Its verbs, instead of the varieties of ancient conjugation, admit only four or five changes in termination. A few prepositions and auxiliary verbs effect all the purposes of significancy ; while the principal words for the most part preserve their form unaltered. Hence our language acquires a' simplicity and faciliiy, which are the cause of its being frequently written and spoken with inaccuracy. We imagine that a competent skill in it may be acquired without any study ; and that in a syntax so narrow and limited as ours, there is nothing which requires attention. But the fundamental rules of syntax are common to the English and to the ancient tongues ; and regard to them is absolutely requisite for writing or speaking with propriety.
Whatever be the advantages or defects of our language, it certainly deserves, in the highest degree our study and attention. The Greeks and Romans in the
meridian of their glory, bestowed the highest cultiration on their respective languages. The French and Jialians have employed much study upon theirs ; and their example is worthy of imitation. For, whatever knowledge may be gained by the study of other languages, it can never be cominupicated with advantage, unless by those who can write and speak their own language with proprieiy. Let the matter of an author be ever En good and useful, his composition will always kuller in the public esicem, if his expression be defi. cicat in purity or proprieiy. At the same time, the attainment of a correct and elegant style is an object which demands application and labour. If any one suppose he can catch it merely by the ear, or acquire it by a perusal of some of our good authors, he will be much disappointed. The many grammatical errors, the many impure expressions, which are found in autbors who are far from being contemptible, demonstrate that a careful study of our language is previously requisite for writing it. with propriety, purity, and elegance.
STYLE; PERSPICUITY, AND PRÈCISION.
STYLE is the peculiar manner in which a man expresses his thoughts by words. It is a picture of the ideas in his mind, and of the order in which they there exist.
The qualities of a good style may be ranged under two heads, perspicuity and ornament. It will readily be admitted, that perspicuity is the fundamental quality of a good style. Without this, the brightest ornaments only glimmer through the dark, and perplex, instead of pleasing the reader. If we be forced to follow a writer with much care; to pause, and to read over his sentences a second time, in order to understand them fully, he will not please us long. Men are too indolent to relish so much labour. Though they may pretend
to admire an author's depth, after they have discovered his meaning, they will seldom be inclined to look a second time into his book.
Perspicuity requires attention first to single words and phrases, and then to the construction of sentences, When considered with respect to words and phrases, it requires these three qualities, purity, propriety, and precision.
Purity and propriety of language are often used indiscriminately for each other; and indeed they are very nearly allied. A distinction, however, obtains between them. Purity is the use of such words and constructions as belong to the idiom of a particular language, in opposition to words and phrases which are imported from other languages, or which are obsolete or newly coined, or employed without proper authority. Propriety is the choice of such words as the best and most established asage has appropriated to those ideas which we intend to express by them. It implies a correct and happy application of them, in ope position to vulgar or low expressions, and to words and phrases less significant of the ideas we intend to convey. Style may be pure, that is, it may be strictly English, without Scotticism or Gallicisms, or ungramInatical expressions of any kind, and yet be deficient in propriety. The words may be illy selected ; not adapted to the subject, nor fully expressive of the author's meaning. He took them indeed from the gen. eral mass of English words ; but his choice was made without skill. But style cannot be proper without being pure ; it is the union of purity and propriety, which renders it graceful and perspicuous.
The exact meaning of precision may be learnt from the etymology of the word. It is derived from precidere, to cut off," and signifies retrenching all superfluities, and pruning the expression in such a manner, as to exhibit neither more nor less than the ideas in. tended to be conveyed.
Words, employed to express ideas, may be faulty in three respects. They may either not express the ideas which the author means, but some others whick are only related ; or they may express those ideas, but not completely; or they may express them together with something more than he intends. Precision is opposed to these three faults; but particularly to the last, into which feeble writers are very apt to fall. They employ a multitude of words to make themselves understood, as they think, more distinctly ; but they only confound the reader. The image, as they place it before you, is always scen double. When an author tells us of his hero's courage in the day of battle; the expression is precise, and we understand it fully. But if from a desire of multiplying words, he praise his courage and fortitule ; at the moment he joins these words together our ideas begin to waver. He intends to express one quality more strongly; but he is in fact expressing two. Courage resists danger; fortitude supports pain. The occasions of exerting these qualities are different; and being led to think of both together, when only one of them should engage atten. tion, our view is rendered unsteady, and our conception of the object indistinct.
The great source of a loose style, the opposite of precision, is the injudicious use of words called synonymous. Scarcely in any language are there two words that convey precisely the same idea ; and a person perfectly acquainted with the propriety of the language, will always be able to observe something by which they are distinguished. In our language many instances may be given of difference in meaning among words, reputed synonymous; and as the subject is important, we shall point out a few of them.
Surprised, astonished, amazed, confounded. We are šurprised at what is new or unexpected ; we are amazed at what is incomprehensible ; we are astonished at what is vast or great ; we are confounded by what is shocking or terrible.
Pride, vanity. Pride makes us esteem ourselves ; vanity makes us desire the esteem of others.
Haughtiness, disdain. Haughtiness is founded on a high opinion of ourselves į disdain on a low opinion of others.
To weary, to fatigue. Continuance of the same thing wearies us ; labour fatigues us. A man is wearied by standing; he is fatigued by walking,
To abhor, 10 detest. To abhor imports simply strong dislike ; to detest imports likewise strong disapprobation. We abkor being in debt; we detest treachery.
To invent, to discover. We invent things which are new ; we discover what is hidden. Galilæo invented the telescope ; Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood.
Entire, complete. A thing is entire when it wants none of its parts ; complete, when it wants none of the appendages which belong to it. A man may occupy an entire house ; though he have not one complete apartment.
Enough, sufficient. Enough relates to the quantity which we wish to have of a thing ; sufficient relates 10 the use that is to be made of it. Hence enough commonly signifies a greater quantity than sufficient does. The covetous man never has enough; though he has what is sufficient for nature.
These are a few among many instances of words in our language, which by careless writers are apt to be mistaken for synonymous. The more the distinction in the meaning of such words is regarded, the more accurately and forcibly shall we speak and write.
STRUCTURE OF SENTENCES.
A PROPER construction of sentences is of such im. portance in every species of composition, that we can. not be too strict or minute in our attention to it. For, 'whatever be the subject, if the sentences be constructed in a clumsy, perplexed, or feeble manner; the work cannot be read with pleasure, nor even with profit. But by attention to the rules which relate to this part of style, we acquire the habit of expressing ourselves wich perspicuity and elegance ; and, if a disor