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HINTS ON COMPOSITION.
1. Composition is the art of putting sentences together.
(i) Any one can make a sentence; but every one cannot make a sentence that is both clear and neat. We all speak and write sentences every day ; but these sentences may be neat or they may be clumsythey may be pleasant to read, or they may be dull and heavy.
(ii) Sir Arthur Helps says: "A sentence should be powerful in its substantives, choice and discreet in its adjectives, nicely correct in its verbs ; not a word that could be added, nor one which the most fastid. ious would venture to suppress ; in order, lucid ; in sequence, logical ; in method, perspicuous.”
2. The manner in which we put our sentences together is called style. That style may be good or bad; feeble or vigorous; clear or obscure. The whole purpose of style, and of studying style, is to enable us to present our thoughts to others in a clear, forcible, and yet graceful way.
“Style is but the order and the movement that we put into our thoughts. If we bind them together closely, compactly, the style becomes firm, nervous, concise. If they are left to follow each other negligently, the style will be diffuse, slipshod, and insipid.”—BUFFON.
3. Good composition is the result of three things : (i) clear thinking; (ii) reading the best and most vigorous writers; and (iii) frequent practice in writing, along with careful polishing of what we have written.
(i) We ought to read diligently in the best poets, historians, and essayists,—to read over and over again what strikes us as finely or nobly or powerfully expressed,—to get by heart the most striking passages in a good author. This kind of study will give us a large stock of appropriate words and striking phrases ; and we shall never be at a loss for the right words to express our own sense.
Ben Jonson says : For a man to write well, there are required three necessaries : let him read the best authors ; observe the best speakers ; and have much exercise of his own style.”
(ii) “My mother forced me, by steady daily toil, to learn long chapters of the Bible by heart; as well as to read it every syllable through, aloud, hard names and all, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, about once a-year: and to that discipline,-patient, accurate, and esolute,- I owe, not only a knowledge of the book, but much of my general power of taking pains, and the best part of my taste in literature.”—John RUSKIN.
(iii) But, though much reading of the best books and a great deal of practice in composition are the only means to attain a good and vigorous style, there are certain directions—both general and special—which may be of use to the young student, when he is beginning.
4. We must know the subject fully about which we are going to write.
(i) If we are going to tell a story, we must know all the circumstances ; the train of events that led up to the result; the relations of the persons in the story to each other; what they said ; and the outcome of the whole at the close. These considerations guide us to
Practical Rule I.—Draw up on a piece of paper a short skeleton of what you are going to write about.
(i) Archbishop Whately says: “The more briefly this is done, so that it does but exhibit clearly the heads of the composition, the better; because it is important that the whole of it be placed before the eye and mind in a small compass, and be taken in, as it were, at a glance; and it should be written, therefore, not in sentences, but like a table of contents. Such an outline should not be allowed to fetter the writer, if, in the course of the actual composition, he find any reason for deviating from his original plan,-it should serve merely as a track to mark out a path for him, not as a groove to confine him."
(ii) Cobbett says : “Sit down to write what you have thought, and not to think what you shall write." 5. Our sentences must be written in good English.
Good English is simply the English of the best writers; and we can only learn what it is by reading the books of these writers. Good writers