Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

that he closed his Introductory Chapter, he defined his duty as an author, to consist in recounting the facts as they arose, or in his simple and forcible language, in telling the story of those times. A conversation which passed on the subject of the literature of the age of James the Second, proves his rigid adherence to these ideas, and

perhaps the substance of it may serve to illustrate and explain them. In speaking of the writers of that period, he lamented that he had not devised a method of interweaving any account of them or their works, much less any criticism on their style, into his History. On my suggesting the example of Hume and Voltaire, who had discussed such topicks at some length, either at the end of each reign, or in a separate Chapter, he observed, with much commendation of their execution of it, that such a contrivance might be a good mode of writing critical essays, but that it was, in his opinion, incompatible with the nature of his undertaking, which, if it ceased to be a narrative, ceased to be a history.

Such restraints undoubtedly operated as taxes upon his ingenuity, and added to that labour

which the observance of his general laws of composition rendered sufficiently great. On the rules of writing he had reflected much, and deeply. His own habits naturally led him to compare them with those of publick speaking, and the different, and even opposite principles upon which excellence is to be attained in these two great arts, were no unusual topicks of his conversation. The difference did not, in his judgment, consist so much in language or diction, as in the arrangement of thoughts, the length and construction of sentences, and, if I may borrow a phrase familiar to publick speakers, in the mode of putting an argument. A writer, to preserve his perspicuity, must keep distinct and separate those parts of a discourse, which the orator is enabled by modulation of voice, and with the aid of action, to bring at once into view, without confounding or perplexing his audience. Frequency of allusion, which in speaking produces the happiest effect, in writing renders the sense obscure, and interrupts the simplicity of the discourse. Even those sudden turns, those unforeseen flashes of wit which, struck out at the moment, dazzle and de

light a publick assembly, appear cold and inanimate, when deliberately introduced into a written composition.

A perusal of the Letter to the Electors of Westminster, will show how scrupulously Mr. Fox attended to these distinctions. That work was written in the heat of a Session of Parliament. It treated professedly of subjects upon which the writer was daily in the habit of speaking, with his usual force of argument and variety of illustration. Notwithstanding these circumstances, no political tract of any note in our language, is in form or style less oratorical, or, with the exception of one passage, more free from those peculiarities, which the practice of publick speaking seems calculated to produce. Such a strict observance of these principles must have cost him great trouble and attention. He was so apprehensive that his writings might retain some traces of that art, in the exercise of which he had employed the greater part of his life, that he frequently rejected passages, which in any other author would not have appeared liable to such an objection. He seems even to have distrusted his own judgment upon this subject; and after having taken the

greatest pains, he was never sufficiently satisfied of his own success. If we except the account of the Earl of Argyle, the Introductory Chapter is unquestionably the most correct and finished part of the present publication. He did not, however, conceive it to be entirely exempt from a defect to which he apprehended that his works must be peculiarly exposed. He says to his correspondent, “ I have at last finished my Introduction, which “ after all is more like a speech than it should be.”

Simplicity, both in expression and construction, was the quality in style which he most admired, and the beauty he chiefly endeavoured to attain. He was the most scrupulously anxious to preserve this character in his writings, because he thought that the example of some great writers had, in his own time, perverted the taste of the publick, and that their imitators had corrupted the purity of the English language. Though he frequently commended both Hume's and Blackstone's style, and always spoke of Middleton's with admiration, he once assured me, that he would admit no word into his book, for which he had not the authority of Dryden.

He was scareely less nice about phrases and

ence.

expressions. It is indeed possible, that those of his readers, who have formed their taste upon Johnson or Gibbon, or taken their notions of style from the criticism of late years, may discover, in the course of the work, some idioms which are now seldom admitted into the higher classes of composition. To speak without reserve upon a subject in which his judgment, as an author, may be called in question, it appears to me more likely, that such phrases should have been introduced upon system, than that they should have escaped his observation, and crept in through inadvert

The work is indeed, incomplete and unfinished ;but it is not with reference to any phrases, which may be supposed to be too familiar, or colloquial, that such a description has been given of it. Such was the Author's abhorrence of

any thing that savoured of pedantry or affectation, that if he was ever reduced to the alternative of an inflated or homely expression, I have no doubt but he preferred the latter. This persuasion, in addition to many other considerations, has induced me religiously to preserve, in the publication of this Work, every phrase and word of the Original Manuscript. Those wh

f

« VorigeDoorgaan »