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ment to his fancy. In what we read and what we hear, we always seek for something in one respect or other new, which we did not know, or, at least, attend to before. The less we find of this, the sooner we are tired. Such a trifling minuteness, therefore, in narration, description, or argument, as an ordinary apprehension would render superfluous, is apt quickly to disgust us. The reason is, not because anything is said too perspicuously, but because many things are said which ought not to be said at all. Nay, if those very things had been expressed obscurely (and the most obvious things may be expressed obscurely), the fault would have been much greater, because it would have required a good deal of attention to discover what, after we had discovered it, we should perceive not to be of sufficient value for requiting our pains. To an author of this kind we should be apt to apply the character which Bassanio in the play gives of Gratiano's conversation : “ He speaks an infinite deal of nothing. His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff; you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them they are not worth the search."* It is therefore futility in the thought, and not perspicuity in the language, which is the fault of such performances. There is as little hazard that a piece shall be, faulty in this respect, as that a mirror shall be too faithful in reflecting the images of objects, or that the glasses of a telescope shall be too transparent.

At the same time, it is not to be dissembled that, with inattentive readers, a pretty numerous class, darkness frequently passes for depth. To be perspicuous, on the contrary, and to be superficial, are regarded by them as synonymous. But it is not surely to their absurd notions that our language ought to be adapted.

It is proper, however, before I dismiss this subject, to observe, that every kind of style doth not admit an equal degree of perspicuity. In the ode, for instance, it is difficult, sometimes perhaps impossible, to reconcile the utmost perspicuity with that force and vivacity which the species of composition requires. But even in this case, though we may justly say that the genius of the performance renders obscurity to a certain degree excusable, nothing can ever constitute it an excellence. Nay, it may still be affirmed with truth, that the more a writer can reconcile this quality of perspicuity with that which is the distinguishing excellence of the species of composition, his success will be the greater.

* Shakspeare's Merchant of Venice,




CHAPTER I. OF VIVACITY AS DEPENDING ON THE CHOICE OF WORDS. Having discussed the subject of perspicuity, by which the discourse is fitted to inform the understanding, I come now to those qualities of style by which it is adapted to please the imagination, and, consequently, to awaken and fix the attention. These I have already denominated vivacity and elegance, which correspond to the two sources whence, as was observed in the beginning of this inquiry,* the merit of an address to the fancy immediately results. By vivacity of expression, resemblance is attained, as far as language can contribute to the attainment; by elegance, dignity of manner.

I begin with vivacity, whose nature (though perhaps the word is rarely used in a signification so extensive)

will be best understood by considering the several principles from which it arises. There are three things in a style on which its vivacity depends, the choice of words, their number, and their arrangement.

The first thing, then, that comes to be examined is the words chosen. Words are either proper terms or rhetorical tropes; and whether the one or the other, they may be re. garded not only as signs, but as sounds; and, consequently, as capable, in certain cases, of bearing in some degree a natural resemblance or affinity to the things signified. These three articles, therefore, proper terms, rhetorical tropes, and the relation which the sound may be made to bear to the sense, I shall, on the first topic, the choice of words, consider severally, as far as concerns the subject of vivacity.



I BEGIN with proper terms, and observe that the quality of shief importance in these for producing the end proposed is their speciality. Nothing can contribute more to enliven the expression than that all the words employed be as particular and determinate in their signification as will suit with the nature and the scope of the discourse. The more general the

* Book i., chap. i.

terms are, the picture is the fainter; the more special they are, it is the brighter. The same sentiments may be expressed with equal justness, and even perspicuity, in the former way as in the latter; but as the colouring will in that case be more languid, it cannot give equal pleasure to the fancy, and, by consequence, will not contribute so much either to fix the attention or to impress the memory. I shall illustrate this doctrine by some examples.

In the song of Moses, occasioned by the miraculous, passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, the inspired poet, speaking of the Egyptians, says, "They sank as lead in the mighty waters."*

Make but a small alteration on the expression, and say, “ They fell as metal' in the mighty waters,” and the difference in the effect will be quite astonishing. Yet the sentiment will be equally just, and in either way the meaning of the author can be mistaken. Nor is there another alteration made upon the sentence but that the terms are ren. dered more comprehensive or generical. To this alone, therefore, the difference of the effect must be ascribed. To sink is, as it were, the species, as it implies only “falling or moving downward in a liquid element;" to fall answers to the genus ;t in like manner, lead is the species, melal is the genus.

Consider,” says our Lord, “the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If, then, God so clothe the grass which to-day is in the field and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you ?”Ị Let us here adopt a little of the tasteless manner of modern paraphrasts, by the substitution of more general terms, one of their many expedients of infrigidating, and let us observe the effect produced by this change.

“ Consider the flowers how they gradually increase in their size ; they do no manner of work, and yet I declare to you that no king whatever, in his most splendid habit, is dressed up like them. If, then, God in his providence doth so adorn the vegetable productions which continue but a little time on the land, and are afterward put into the fire, how much more will he provide clothing for you?” How spiritless is the same sentiment rendered by these small variations! The very partic

* Exod., XV., 10.

+ I am sensible that genus and species are not usually, and perhaps cannot be so properly, applied to verbs; yet there is in the reference which the meanings of two verbs sometimes bear to each other what nearly resembles this relation. It is only when to fall means to move downward, as a brick from a chimney-top or a pear from the tree, that it may be denominated a genus in respect of the verb to sink. Sometimes, indeed, the former denotes merely a sudden change of posture from erect to prostrate, as when a man who stands upon the ground is said to fall, though he remain still on the ground. In this way we speak of the fall of tower, of a house, or of a wall.

| Luke, xii., 27 and 28.

ularizing of to-day and to-morrow is infinitely more expressive of transitoriness than any description wherein the terms are general that can be substituted in its room.

Yet to a cold annotator, a man of mere intellection without fancy, the latter exhibition of the sentiment would appear the more emphatical of the two. Nor would he want some show of reason for this preference. As a specimen, therefore, of a certain mode of criticising, not rarely to be met with, in which there is I know not what semblance of judgment without one particle of taste, I shall suppose a critic of this stamp entering on the comparison of the preceding quotation and the paraphrase. “In the one,” he would argue, “the beauty of only one sort of flowers is exalted above the effects of human industry, in the other the beauty of the whole kind. In the former, one individual monarch is said not to have equalled them in splendour, in the latter it is affirmed that no monarch whatever can equal them.” However specious this way of reasoning may be, we are certain that it is not solid, because it doth not correspond with the principles of our nature. Indeed, what was explained above* in regard to abstraction, and the particularity of our ideas, properly so called, may serve, in a great measure, to account for the effect which speciality hath upon the imagination. Philosophy, which, strictly considered, addresseth only the understanding, and is conversant about abstract truth, abounds in general terms, because these alone are adequate to the subject treated. On the contrary, when the address is made by eloquence to the fancy, which requires a lively exhibition of the object presented to it, those terms must be culled that are as particular as possible, because it is solely by these that the object can be depicted. And even the most rigid philosopher, if he choose that his disquisitions be not only understood, but relished (and without being relished they are understood to little purpose), will not disdain sometimes to apply to the imagination of his disciples, mixing the pleasant with the useful. This is one way of sacrificing to the Graces,

But I proceed to give examples in such of the different parts of speech as are most susceptible of this beauty. The first shall be in the verbs.

“It seem'd as there the British Neptune stood,

With all his hosts of waters at command;
Beneath them to submit th' officious flood;

And with his trident shoved them off the sand.”+
The words submit and shoved are particularly expressive of
the action here ascribed to Neptune. The former of these
verbs, submit, may indeed be called a Latinism in the signifi-
cation it hath in this passage. But such idioms, though im.
* Book ii., chap. vii., sect. i.

† Dryden's Year of Wonders.


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proper in prose, are sometimes not ungraceful in the poetic dialect. If, in the last line, instead of shoved, the poet had used the verb raised, which, though not equivalent, would have conveyed much the same meaning, the expression had been fainter.* The next example shall be in adjectives and participles.

The kiss snatch'd hasty from the sidelong maid,

On purpose guardless." Here both the words sidelong and snatch'd are very significant, and contribute much to the vivacity of the expression. Taken or ta’en, substituted for the latter, would be much weaker. It may be remarked, that it is principally in those parts of speech which regard life and action that this species of energy takes place.

I shall give one in nouns from Milton, who says concerning Satan, when he had gotten into the garden of Eden,

“Thence up he flew, and on the tree of life

Sat like a cormorant."; If for cormorant he had said bird of prey, which would have equally suited both the meaning and the measure, the image would still have been good, but weaker than it is by this specification.

In adjectives the same author hath given an excellent example, in describing the attitude in which Satan was discov. ered by Ithuriel and his company, when that malign spirit was employed in infusing pernicious thoughts into the mind of our first mother.

“ Him there they found Squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve.”g No word in the language could have so happily expressed the posture as that which the poet hath chosen.

It will be easy, from the same principles, to illustrate a remark of the Stagyrite on the epithet rosy-fingered, which Homer hath given to the morning. This, says

the critic, is better than if he had said purple-fingered, and far better than if he had said red-fingered. Aristotle hath observed the effect solely in respect of beauty, but the remark holds equally true of these epithets in respect of vivacity. This, in a great measure, may be deduced from what hath been said already. Of all the above adjectives, the last is the most vague and general, and therefore the worst; the second is better, because more special, purple being one species comprehended under red; the first is the best, because the most particular,

* In this instance Dryden hath even improved on the original he imitated, which is not often the case either of translators or of imitators. Virgil says simply, “Levat ipse tridenti."

+ Thomson's Winter. ♡ Paradise Lost, b. iv.

Ø Ibid. | Arist., Rhet., I. iii. : Διαφερει δ' ειπειν, οιον ροδοδακτυλος ηως μαλλον η φοινικοδακτυλος, η ετι φαυλοτερον ερυθροδακτυλος.”

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