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May there not be an excess of perspicuity ?
even in this case, though we may justly say, that the genius of the performance renders obscurity to a certain degree excuseable, 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.
R H E T O R I C:
THE DISCRIMINATING PROPERTIES OF ELOCUTION.
Of Vivacity as depending on the Choice of Words.
AVING 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 awake 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 me
Book I. Chap. I.
Of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.
rit 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 style on which its vivacity depends, the choice of words, their number, and their arrange
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 regarded 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.
SECT. I....Proper terms.
I BEGIN with proper terms, and observe that the quality of chief importance in these for producing the
end proposed, is their specialty. 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 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 hardly be mistaken. Nor is there another alteration made upon the sentence, but that the terms are rendered more comprehensive or generical. To this alone, therefore, the difference of the effect must be ascribed. To sink is, as it were,
* Exod. xv. IO.