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is no beauty. Without perspicuity, words are not signs they are empty sounds ; speaking is beating the air, and the most fluent declaimer is but as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.
Yet there are a sort and a degree of obscurity which ought not to be considered as falling under this censure. I speak not of those sentences wherein more is meant than meets the ear, the literal meaning being intended purely to suggest a farther meaning, which the speaker had chiefly in view. I gave some examples in this way when on the subject of perspicuity, and showed that they are not to be regarded as exceptions from the rule.* But what I here principally alluded to is a species of darkness, if I may call it so, resulting from an excess of vivacity and conciseness, which, to a certain degree, in some sorts of composition, is at least pardonable. In the ode, for instance, the enthusiastic fervour of the poet naturally carries him to overlook those minutenesses in language on which perspicuity very much depends. It is to abruptness of transition, boldness of figure, laconism of expression, the congenial issue of that frame of mind in which the piece is composed, that we owe entirely the
“Thoughts that breathe and words that burn." Hence proceeds a character of the writing, which may not unhappily be expressed in the words of Milton, “dark" with excessive light.” I have compared vivacity produced by a happy conciseness to the splendour occasioned by concentring sunbeams into a little spot. Now if by means of this the light is rendered dazzling, it is no more a fit medium for viewing an object in than too weak a light would be. Though the causes be contrary, the effects are in this respect the
hath greatly enervated the second. The first he renders in such a manner as implies that Joab had killed Abner and Amasa oftener than once. repandu leur sang" (le sang d'Abner et d'Amasa) “durant la paix, comme il avoit fait durant la guerre.' A terrible man this Joab,
“And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain." The other passage he renders "Elle n'a point mangé son pain dans l'oisiveté.” The meaning is very indistinctly expressed here. Can a sluggard be said to be idle when eating? or does the most industrious disposition require that in the time of eating one should be employed in something else? Such a translation as this is too free to exhibit the style of the original, too literal to express the sense, and, therefore, is unlucky enough to hit neither. Diodati hath succeeded better in both. The last he renders literally as we do, and the first in this manner: “Spandendo in tempo di
sangue che si spande in battaglia.” This clearly enough exhibits the sense, and is sufficiently literal. The meaning of the other passage, stripped of the id. iom, and expressed in plain English, is neither more nor less than this: “She eateth not the bread which she hath not earned.” In many cases it may be difficult to say whether propriety or energy should have the pref.
I think it safer in every dubious case to secure the former. * Book ü., chap. viü., sect, ü.
same. Objects in both are seen indistinctly. But the cases to which this observation is applicable are extremely few.
Indeed, the concise manner in any form is not alike adapted to every subject. There are some subjects which it particularly suits. For example, the dignity and authority of the perceptive style receives no small lustre from brevity. In the following words of Michael to Adam, how many important lessons are couched in two lines?
•Nor love thy life, nor hate ; but what thou liv'st,
Live well; how long or short, permit to Heaven."* The aphoristic style, and the proverbial, receive likewise considerable strength froin the laconic manner. Indeed, these two styles differ from each other only as the one conveys the discoveries in science, and the other the maxims of common life. In Swift's detached thoughts we find a few specimens of this manner. “ The power of fortune is confessed by the miserable; the happy ascribe all their success to merit”—“Every man desires to live long ; but no man would be old”—“A nice man is a man of nasty ideas"-"The sluggard,” saith Solomon, “ hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it to his mouth"“The desire of the slothful killeth him, for his hands refuse to labour”I—"A fool,” says the son of Sirach,“ travaileth with a word, as a woman in labour of a child.”$. It is indeed true, that a great degree of conciseness is scarcely attainable unless the style be figurative; but it is also true, that the vivacity of the expression is not to be attributed solely to the figure, but partly to the brevity occasioned by the figure. But though the combination of the figurative with the concise is very common, it is not necessary. This will appear from some of the examples already given, wherein, though we discover a happy comprehension of a great deal of meaning in little compass, there is neither trope nor figure; nor, indeed, is there either of these in the picture that Swift gives of himself, where he says, “I am too proud to be vain,” in which simplicity, perspicuity, and vivacity are all happily united. An inferior writer, in attempting to delineate fully the same character, would have employed many sentences, and not have said near so much. Farther, the writer on politics often avails himself of a sententious conciseness, which adds no little energy to the sentiments he unfolds. Of the successful application of brevity in this way, we have an excellent model in the Spirit of Laws. It hath no bad effect, if used sparingly, even in narrative.
* Paradise Lost.
+ Proverbs, xxvi., 15. # Ibid., xxi., 25.
Eccles., xxi., 11. * The veni, vidi, vici of Cæsar derives hence its principal beauty ; I came, I saw, I conquered, is not equal. So small a circumstance as the repetition of the pronoun, without which the sentence in our language would appear maimed, takes much from its vivacity and force.
On the other hand, the kinds of writing which are
less ceptible of this ornament are the descriptive, the pathetic, the declamatory, especially the last. It is, besides, much more suitable in writing than in speaking. A reader has the command of his time; he may read fast or slow, as he finds convenient; he can peruse a sentence a second time when necessary, or lay down the book and think. But if, in haranguing to the people, you comprise a great deal in few words, the hearer must have uncommon quickness of apprehension to catch your meaning, before you have put it out of his power by engaging his attention to something else. In such orations, therefore, it is particularly unseasonable; and by consequence, it is, in all kinds of writing addressed to the people, more or less so, as they partake more or less of popular declamation.
SECTION II. THE PRINCIPAL OFFENCES AGAINST BREVITY CONSIDERED. But though this energetic brevity is not adapted alike to every subjcct, we ought on every subject to avoid its contrary, a languid redundancy of words. It is sometimes proper to be copious, but never to be verbose. I shall, therefore, now consider some of the principal faults against that quality of style of which I have been treating.
Part I. Tautology. The first I shall take notice of is the tautology, which is either a repetition of the same sense in different words, or a representation of anything as the cause, condition, or consequence of itself. Of the first, which is also the least, take the following example from Addison :
" The dawn is overcast-the morning lours;
And-heavily in clouds brings on the day.” Here the same thought is represented thrice in different words. Of the last kind I shall produce a specimen from Swift. "I look upon it as my duty, so far as God hath enabled me, and as long as I keep within the bounds of truth, of duty, and of decency.”+. It would be strange indeed that any man should think it his duty to transgress the bounds of duty. Another example from the same hand you have in the words which follow: “So it is, that I must be forced to get home, partly by stealth and partly by force. "I “How many are there,” says Bolingbroke," by whom these tidings of good news were never heard ?''S This is tidings of tidings, or news of news. " Never did Atticus succeed better
+ Letter to Lord Littleton.
Ph. Fr., 38.
in gaining the universal love and esteem of all men.”* Either of the two words in italics might have been used, but not both.
It is also considered as of the nature of tautology to lengthen a sentence by coupling words altogether or nearly synonymous, whether they be substantives or adjectives, verbs or adverbs. This fault is very common, and to be found even in our best writers. " In the Attic commonwealth,” says Doctor Swift," it was the privilege and birthright of every citizen and poet to rail aloud and in public.”+ If he had said simply, “In the Attic commonwealth it was the privilege of every citizen to rail in public,” the sentence would have lost nothing of the sense. And it is an invari. able maxim, that words which add nothing to the sense or to the clearness must diminish the force of the expression. There are certain synonymas which it is become customary with some writers regularly to link together, insomuch that a reader no sooner meets with one of them than he antici. pates the introduction of its usual attendant. It is needless to quote authorities; I shall only produce a few of those couples which are wont to be thus conjoined, and which every English' reader will recollect with ease. plain and evident, clear and obvious, worship and adoration, pleasure and satisfaction, bounds and limits, suspicion and jealousy, courage and resolution, intents and purposes. The frequent rocurrence of such phrases is not, indeed, more repugnant to vivacity than it is to dignity of style.
But is there no occasion on which synonymous words may be used properly? I answer, There are two occasions; and I do not at present recollect any other. One is, when an obscurer term, which we cannot avoid employing, on account of some connexion with what either precedes or follows, needs to be explained by one that is clearer. The other is, when the language of the passions is exhibited. Passion naturally dwells on its object : the impassioned speaker always attempts to rise in expression; but when that is impracticable, he recurs to repetition and synonymy, and thereby, in some measure, produces the same effect. The hearer, perceiving him, as it were, overpowered by his subject, and at a loss to find words
equate to the strength of his feel. ings, is by sympathy carried along with him, and enters into all his sentiments. There is in this case an expression in the very effort shown by recurring to synonymas, which supplies the deficiency in the words themselves. Bolingbroke exclaims in an invective against the times, “ But all is little, and low, and mean among us."! It must be owned that there
† Preface to the Tale of a Tub.
* Spectator, No. 467, Z. # Spirit of Patriotism.
is here a kind of amplification, or, at least, a stronger expression of indignation, than any one of these three epithets could have effected alone; yet there is no climax in the sentence, and in this metaphorical use of the words no sensi. ble difference of signification.* But everybody must perceive that this manner suits only the popular and declamatory style, and that in those compositions which admit no species of the pathetic, it can have no place.
I observe, farther, that an adjective and its substantive will sometimes include a tautology. This happens when the former expresses nothing but what is implied in the signification of the latter : “Let them,” says the craftsman, “throw as much foul dirt at me as they please.”+ Of the same stamp are the verdant green, the umbrageous shade, the sylvan forest, expressions not frequently to be met with, except, perhaps, in the writings of some of our minor poets. First aggressore, standard-pattern, subject-matter, and some few, are much com. moner, but deserve to be exploded for the same reason.
Lastly, in some single words there is so much of the ap pearance of tautology, that they ought, in prose at least, io be avoided. Such are, Most highest, worser, lesser, chiefesh extremest, for Most high, worse, less, chief, extreme. The first occurs often in the translation of the Psalms inserted in the liturgy, and has thence acquired something venerable in its appearance ;I the second, though used in Shakspeare's time, is at present obsolete. I know not why the other three have not before now shared the same fate.
Part II. Pleonasm. Another trespass against this species of vivacity is the pleonasm, which implies barely superfluity, or more than enough. Here, though the words do not, as in the tautology, repeat the sense, they add nothing to it. For instance, “They returned back again to the same city from whence they came forth," instead of “They returned to the city whence they came." The five words back, again, same, from, and forth, are mere expletives. They serve neither for ornament nor for use, and are therefore to be regarded as encumbrances. “I went home,” says the Guardian, “ full of
* In these words of Cicero concerning Catiline, “ Abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit,” there is a stronger expression of triumph than in any of them singly.
† No. 232.
* It is to this, I think, solely, that the approbation of those whose ears are accustomed to that expression in public worship is to be ascribed, and not, as Dr. Lowth supposes (Introd. Adject.], to a singular propriety from the subject to which it is applied, the Supreme Being, who is higher than the highest. For if this reason were good, we should also find a singular propriety in the phrases most wisest and most best, when applied to God, because he is as certainly wiser than the wisest, and better than the best. By the same rule, the Supremest Being would be a title much more emphab. ical than the Supreme Being.