Abbildungen der Seite

Often, indeed, the affectation of conciseness, often the rapidity of thought natural to some writers, will give rise to still more material defects in the expression. Of these I shall produce a few examples : “ He is inspired,” says an eminent writer, “ with a true sense of that function, when chosen from a regard to the interests of piety and virtue."'* Sense in this passage denotes an inward feeling, or the impression which some sentiment makes upon the mind. Now a function cannot be a sentiment impressed or felt. The expression is therefore defective, and ought to have been, “He is inspired with a true sense of the dignity or of the importance of that function." “You ought to contemn all the wit in the world against you.”+ As the writer doth not intend to signify that all the wit in the world is actually exerted against the person whom he addresses, there is a defect in the expression, though perhaps it will be thought chargeable with redundancy at the same time. More plainly thus: “You ought to contemn all the wit that can be employed against you.

“ He talks all the way up stairs to a visit.”! There is here also a faulty omission, which, if it cannot be said to obscure the sense, doth at least withhold that light whereof it is susceptible. If the word visit ever meant person or people, there would be an ambiguity in the sentence, and we should imagine this the object talked to; but as that cannot be the case, the expression is rather to be accounted lame, there being no verb in it with which the words to a visit can be construed. More explicitly thus : “He talks all the way as he walks up stairs to make a visit.” “ Arbitrary power,” says an elegant writer, “I look upon as a greater evil than anarchy itself, as much as a savage is a happier state of life than a slave at the oar.” Neither savage nor slave can be denominated a state of life, though the states in which they live may properly be com

the case being different with them, renders it necessary to follow a different rule, and to say mon pere et ma mere. But it is not to instances of this sort that the rule is limited. Custom with them hath extended it to innumerable cases wherein there is no necessity from construction. With us it is enough to say, “She was robbed of her clothes and jewels." With them the preposition and the pronoun must both be repeated de ses habits et de ses joiaux. Again, with them it is not sufficient to say, “ The woman whom you know and love,” but whom you know and whom you love-que vous connoissez et que vous aimez. In like manner, the relatives in French must never be omitted. They often are in English, and when the omission occasions no obscurity, it is not accounted improper. An expression like this would in their tongue be intolerable: “You are obliged to say and do all you can.” It must be “ to say and to do all that which you can"-de dire et de faire tout ce que vous savez. But though in several instances the critics of that nation have refined on their language to excess, and by needless repetitions have sometimes enervated the expression, their criticisms, when useful in assisting us to shun any obscurity or ambiguity, deserve to be adopted.

* Guardian, No. 13. + Guardian, No. 53. † Spect., No. 2.

Sentiments of a Church of England Man.



pared. “ This courage among the adversaries of the court," says the same writer in another piece, was inspired into them by various incidents, for every one of which I think the ministers, or, if that was the case, the minister alone, is to

If that was the case–Pray, what is he supposing to have been the case ? To the relative that I can find no antecedent, and am left to guess that he means if there was but one minister. 66 When a man considers not only an ample fortune, but even the very necessaries of life, his pretence tu food itself at the mercy of others, he cannot but look upon himself in the state of the dead, with his case thus much worse, that the last office is performed by his adversaries instead of his friends.”+ There is a double ellipsis in this sentence. You must first supply as being before the words at the

mercy, and insert as before in the state of the dead. “I beg of you,” says Steele, “never let the glory of our nation, who made France tremble, and yet has the gentleness to be unable to bear opposition from the meanest of his own country. men, be calumniated in so impudent a manner as in the insinuation that he affected a perpetual dictatorship."! At first reading, one is at a loss to find an antecedent to the pronouns who, his, and he. On reflection, one discovers that the phrase the glory of our nation is figurative, and denotes a certain illustrious personage. The trope is rather too adventurous, without some softening clause, to suit the idiom of our tongue. The sense would have appeared immediately had he said, “ Never let the man, who may justly be styled the glory of our nation"

The instances now given will suffice to specify the obscurities in style which arise from deficiency. The same evil may also be occasioned by excess. But as this almost invariably offends against vivacity, and only sometimes produceth darkness, there will be a more proper occasion of considering it afterward. Another cause of obscurity is a bad choice of words. When it is this alone which renders the sentence obscure, there is always ground for the charge of impropriety, which hath been discussed already.

Part II. From Bad Arrangement. Another source of obscurity is a bad arrangement of the words. In this case the construction is not sufficiently clear. One often, on first hearing the sentence, imagines, from the turn of it, that it ought to be construed one way, and, on reflection, finds that he must construe it another way. Of this, which is a blemish too common even in the style of our best writers, I shall produce a few examples: “It contained,"

* Free Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs. † Spectator, No. 456, T.

I Guardian, No. 53.

says Swift,

a warrant for conducting me and my retinue to Traldragdubb, or Trildrogdrib, for it is pronounced both ways, as near as I can remember, by a party of ten horse."* 'The words by a party of ten horse must be construed with the participle conducting, but they are placed so far from this word, and so near the verb pronounced, that at first they suggest a meaning perfectly ludicrous. “I had several men died in my ship of calentures.”+ The preposition of must be construed with the verb died, and not, as the first appearance would suggest, with the noun ship immediately preceding. More clearly thus: “I had several men in my ship who died of caleniures.". I shall remark, by-the-way, that though the relatives who and which may, agreeably to the English idiom, be sometimes omitted in the oblique cases, to omit them in the nominative, as in the passage last quoted, almost always gives a maimed appearance to the expression. “I perceived it had been scoured with half an eye."I The situation of the last phrase, which is, besides, a very bad one, is liable to the same exception. “I have hopes that when Will confronts him, and all the ladies in whose behalf he engages him cast kind looks and wishes of success at their champion, he will have some shame." It is impossible not to imagine, on hearing the first part of the sentence, that Will is to confront all the ladies, though afterward we find it necessary to construe this clause with the following verb. This confusion is removed at once by repeating the adverb when, thus: “I have hopes that when Will confronts him, and when all the ladies cast kind looks—” The subsequent sentence is liable to the same exception: “He advanced against the fierce ancient, imitating his address, his pace, and career, as well as the vigour of his horse, and his own skill would allow.”ll The clause as well as the vigour of his horse appears at first to belong to the former part of the sentence, and is afterward found to belong to the latter. In all the above instances of bad arrangement, there is what may be justly termed a constructive ambiguity; that is, the words are so disposed in point of order as would render them really ambiguous, if, in that construction which the expression first suggests, any meaning were exhibited. As this is not the case, the faulty order of the words cannot properly be considered as rendering the sentence ambiguous, but obscure.

It may indeed be argued, that in these and the like examples, the least reflection in the reader will quickly remove the obscurity. But why is there any obscurity to be removed? Or why does the writer require more attention from the reader, or the speaker from the hearer, than is absoluteiy

* Voyage to Laputa. 1 Guardian, No. 10.

† Voyage to the Honyhnhnms. Spectator, No. 20. || Battle of the Brooks.



necessary ? It ought to be remembered, that whatever application we must give to the words is, in fact, so much deducted from what we owe to the sentiments. Besides, the effort that is exerted in a very close attention to the language always weakens the effect which the thoughts were intended to produce in the mind. By perspicuity," as Quintilian justly observes, “care is taken, not that the hearer may understand if he will, but that he must understand, whether he will or not." Perspicuity originally and properly implies transparency, such as may be ascribed to air, glass, water, or any other medium through which material objects are viewed. From this original and proper sense it hath been metaphorically applied to language, this being, as it were, the medium through which we perceive the notions and sentiments of a speaker. Now, in corporeal things, if the medium through which we look at any object be perfectly transparent, our whole attention is fixed on the object; we are scarcely sensible that there is a medium which intervenes, and can hardly be said to perceive it. But if there be any flaw in the medium, if we see through it but dimly, if the object be imperfectly represented, or if we know it to be misrepresented, our attention is immediately taken off the object to the medium. We are then desirous to discover the cause, either of the dim and confused representation, or of the misrepresentation of things which it exhibits, that so the defect in vision may be supplied by judgment. The case of language is precisely similar. A discourse, then, excels in perspicuity when the subject engrosses the attention of the hearer, and the diction is so little minded by him that he can scarcely be said to be conscious that it is through this medium he sees into the speaker's thoughts. On the contrary, the least obscurity, ambiguity, or confusion in the style, instantly removes the attention from the sentiment to the expression, and the hearer endeavours, by the aid of reflection, to correct the imperfections of the speaker's language.

So much for obviating the objections which are frequently raised against such remarks as I have already made, and shall probably hereafter make on the subject of language. The elements which enter into the composition of the hugest bodies are subtile and inconsiderable. The rudiments of every art and science exhibit, at first, to a learner, the appearance of littleness and insignificancy; and it is by attending to such reflections as to a superficial observer would appear minute and hypercritical, that language must be improved and eloquence perfected.

* “Non ut intelligere possit, sed ne omnino possit non intelligere curandum."--Instit., lib. viii., cap. ii.

+ The maxim Natura se potissimum prodit in minimis is not confined to physiology.

I return to the causes of obscurity, and shall only farther observe concerning the effect of bad arrangement, that it generally obscures the sense even when it doth not, as in the preceding instances, suggest a wrong construction. Of this the following will suffice for an example : “ The young man did not want natural talents; but the father of him was a coxcomb, who affected being a fine gentleman so unmercifully, that he could not endure in his sight, or the frequent mention of one who was his son, growing into manhood, and thrusting him out of the gay world."* It is not easy to disentangle the construction of this sentence. One is at a loss, at first, to find any accusative to the active verb endure; on farther examination, it is discovered to have two, the word mention and the word one, which is here closely combined with the preposition of, and makes the regimen of the noun mention. I might observe, also, the vile application of the word unmercifully. This, together with the irregularity of the reference and the intricacy of the whole, renders the passage under consideration one of those which may, with equal justice, be ranked under solecism, impropriety, obscurity, or inelegance.

mind Part III. From using the same Word in different Senses.

Another source of obscurity is when the same word is in the same sentence used in different senses. This error is exemplified in the following quotation : "That he should be in earnest it is hard to conceive; since any reasons of doubt which he might have in this case would have been reasons of doubt in the case of other men, who may give more, but cannot give more evident, signs of thought than their fellowcreatures.”+ This errs alike against perspicuity and elegance; the word more is first an adjective, the comparative of many; in an instant it is an adverb, and the sign of the comparative degree. As the reader is not apprized of this, the sentence must appear to him, on the first glance, a flat contradiction. Perspicuously either thus, “ Who may give more numerous, but cannot give more evident signs,” or thus, “Who may give more, but cannot give clearer signs."

It is but seldom that the same pronoun can be used twice or oftener in the same sentence, in reference to different things, without darkening the expression. It is necessary to observe here, that the signification of the personal, as well as of the relative pronouns, and even of the adverbs of place and time, must be determined by the things to which they relate. To use them, therefore, with reference to different things, is in effect to employ the same word in different senses, which, when it occurs in the same sentence, or in sen

* Spect., No. 496, T.

+ Bolingb. Ph., Es. i., sect. ix.

« ZurückWeiter »