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It is not meant to be affirmed upon this occasion that the English language is not capable of great improvement, or that there are not many barbarisins and improprieties still prevalent among us.

A long and degrading catalogue of absurdities might be collected from the dialect of our present parliamentary orators; and those phrases, which are admitted into the most polished societies, and used upon the most folemn occasions, are too apt to infinuate themselves into publications otherwise elegant. The bench, and the bar, with the exception of one or two individuals, have obstinately resisted all meliorations of expression, as well as of institution ; and the folecisms of the ancient Britons, running naked in their woods, might almost be conceived to have taken refuge in this fanctuary. The doctrine of the present Essay will be sufficiently established, if it be allowed, that the more elegant compositions of the present day, are so far beautiful, correct and exemplary in their fructure, as decisively to throw into shade in this respect every preceding era of our literature.

There are two obvious uses attending on the discussion here attempted.

First, to call off our attention from falfe models, To teach us to consider and analyse

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the style of our ancestors, rather as marking the anomalies, the feebleness and laxness we are to avoid, than as a standard of imaginary purity. The discerning reader has probably remarked in the course of our specimens, how much the best authors are apt to be misled, by propofing to themselves injudicious models, and seeking rather to go back to what we were, than to go for ward to higher and nobler improvements.

The second use attending on this discussion, may be in a considerable degree admitted, even by those who reject the conclufion intended to be established. This is perhaps the first time in English philology, that the style of different writers and different ages, has been attempted to be placed in juxtaposition, and made the subject of accurate comparison. The more the reader accustoms himself to this comparison, the more subtle and delicate will be the ideas of style that he will acquire.

There is no art, the subject of human diligence and industry, more subtle and difficult of acquisition, than that of writing an excellent style. Two things are especially necessary, a flowing eloquence of language, and an exquisite propriety of diction.

It is almost impossible that we should write a good style in a language to which we are not 5

natives,

natives. To write a good style requires so much minute observation, and is a quality produced by so vast a multitude of flight and evanescent impressions, that it cannot be expected to fall to the lot of a foreigner.

Before we can be masters of this qualification, we must have an accurate notion of the meaning of words, the delicate shades of meaning by which they are diversified, and the various ideas and associations they are calculated to excite: and we must have an extensive acquaintance with their history. Our words must in general be considered, as having been expressions of the perceptions of our external senses,, before they were expressions of abstraction; and it is incumbent upon us, as much as possible, to bear in our minds the pictures to which they were originally annexed, that we may judge how far they are decorous in themselves, or congruous with each other. We must not suffer them merely to ring upon our ears, and then be repeated by us, like children, without any direct investigation of their force. Nay, after we have become acquainted with this, we have still much to learn. Many words and phrases, neutral or even elegant in themselves, have been debased by an application to trivial or ignoble objects. On this account, a phrafe will sometimes im

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prefs a foreigner with dignified sensations, which to a native shall appear altogether ludicrous and contemptiblc. In this respect we are very imperfect judges of the writings of the ancients, as we have scarcely any acquaintance with their familiar conversation.

When our choice of words is determined, we have next to combine our words into phrases, and our phrases into periods. Here the idiom of the language in which we write must be accurately understood, and for the most part rigidly adhered to. It is probably of little consequence whether the idiom of the English language, for instance, be Gallic or Teutonic, whether it come from the East or the Wcft. But it must have an idiom; it must be, to a considerable degrec, unii form and consentaneous to itself. Those Gallic modes of speaking, which have been introduced by our best writers, ought not probably to be rejected, merely because they are Gallic. Even new and unauthorised forms of expression may be introduced into a living language, provided it be done spariogly, provided they be decisively beautiful or expressive, and provided they do not fo depart from the genius of the language into which they are introduced, as to stand out from the substance with which they are meant to coalesce. Let us dare to enrich the language in

which we write, by design; but let us not debauch it by inadvertence.

He that would write a good style must have a clear understanding and a comprehensive mind. He must have that ductility of thought that shall enable him to put himself in the place of his reader, and not suffer him to take it for granted, because he understands himself, that every one who comes to him for information will understand him. He must view his phrases on all sides, and be aware of all the senses of which they are susceptible. He muft fo choose his words, and so limit his expressions, as to produce an unallayed perspicuity. There is no fault in writing so great as ambiguity and obscurity.

He must have an car for the harmony of language. This has been found by experience to be by no means the same thing as a musical ear. The most exquisite musician may want it; and he that has no delight in concords of inarticu, late found, may posless it in a sovereign degree. When he has formed to himself this species of taste he must employ the fort of music it recommends, with a frugal hand. He must not pall his readers with a satiety of sweetness. What is most necessary, is that he should avoid the too frequent recurrence of what is broken, abrupt

and

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