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The extens ve usefulness of perspicuity.
thought necessary, by one with whom victory 'hath more charms than truth; and sophistry, as was hinted above, always implies obscurity ; for that a sophism should be mistaken for an argument, can be imputed only to this, that it is not rightly understood,
As from wliat hath been said, we may learn to distinguish the few cases wherein a violation of the laws of perspicuity may be pertinent to the purpose of the orator, I shall next enquire what kind of violation is in such cases best fitted for answering his design. It is evident it cannot be the first, which for distinction's sake was denominated by the general name Obscurity. When a hearer not only doth not understand, but is himself sensible that he doth not understand what is spoken, it can produce no effect on him, but weariness, suspicion, and disgust, which must be prejudicial to the intention. Although it is not always necessary, that every thing advanced by the speaker should convey information to the hearer, it is necessary that he should believe himself informed by what is said, ere he can be convinced or persuaded by it. For the like reason, it is not the second kind of transgression, or any discoverable ambiguity in what is spoken, that is adapted to the end of speaking. This fault, if discovered, though not of so bad consequence as the former, tends to distract the attention of the hearer, and thereby to weaken the impression which the words would otherwise have made. It remains, that it is only the third and last kind above
When is obscurity apposite, and what kinds ?
discussed, when what is said, though in itself unintelligible, a hearer may be led to imagine that he understands. When ambiguities can artfully be made to elude discovery, and to conduce to this deception, they may be used with success*. Now, though nothing would seem to be easier than this kind of style, when an author falls into it naturally ; that is, when he deceives himself as well as his reader; nothing is more difficult when attempted of design. It is besides requisite, if this manner must be continued for any time, that it be artfully blended with some glimpses of meaning; else, to persons of discernment, the charm will at last be dissolved, and the nothingness of what hath been spoken will be detected; nay, even the attention of the unsuspecting multitude, when not relieved by any thing that is level to their comprehension, will infallibly flag. The invocation in the Dunciad admirably suits the orator who is unhappily reduced to the necessity of taking shelter in the unintelligible.
Of darkness visible so much be lent,
There is but one subject in nature (if what is unintelligible can be called a subject) on which the appetite of nonsense is utterly insatiable. The intelligent read
* That they are often successful this way, hath been justly remarked by Aristotle, Των δ' ονομάτων, το μεν σοφιση ομωνυμιαι χρησιμοί,
ταυλας γαο κακείγει. Ρητ. ν.
The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.
er needs not be informed that I mean what is commonly termed mystical theology; a subject whose supposed sublimity serves with its votaries to apologise for its darkness. That here indeed there may be found readers who can, not only with patience but with avidity, not only through pages but through volumes, lose themselves in wandering over a maze of words unenlightened by a single ray of sense, the translation of the works of Jacob Behmen, and our modern Hutchinsonian performances, are lamentable proofs. But this case is particular.
After all, we are not to imagine, that the sophistical and unmeaning, when it may in some sense be said to be proper, or even necessary, arè, in respect of the ascendant gained over the mind of the hearer, ever capable of rivaling conclusive arguments perspicuously expressed. The effect of the former is at most only to confound the judgment, and by the confusion it produceth, to silence contradiction; the effect of the latter is, fully to convince the understanding. The impression made by the first can no more be compared in distinctness and vivacity to that effected by the second, than the dreams of a person asleep to his perceptions when awake. Hence we may perceive an eminent disadvantage, which the advocate for error, when compelled to recur to words without meaning, must labour under. The weapons he is obliged to use are of such a nature, that there is much greater difficulty in managing them, than in managing those that
must be employed in the cause of truth, and when managed ever so dexterously, they cannot do equal execution. A still greater disadvantage the patron of the cause of injustice or of vice must grapple with. For though he may find real motives to urge in defence of his plea, as wealth perhaps, or ease, or pleasure, he hath to encounter or elude the moral sentiments which of all motives whatever take the strongest hold of the heart. And if he find himself under a necessity of attempting to prove that virtue and right are on his side, he hath his way to grope through a labyrinth of sophistry and nonsense.
So much for the legitimate use of the unintelligible
SECT. II....Objections answered.
But are there not some subjects, and even some kinds of composition, which, from their very nature, demand a dash of obscurity ? Doth not decency often require this ? Doth not delicacy require this? And is not this even essential to the allegoric style, and to the enigmatic ? As to the manner which decency sometimes requires, it will be found on examination to stand opposed more properly to vivacity than to perspicuity of style, and will therefore fall to be considered afterwards.
I SHALL now, therefore, examine, in the first place, in what respect delicacy may be said to demand ob
The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.
scurity. Thus much indeed is evident, that delicacy often requires that certain sentiments be rather insinuated than expressed ; in other words, that they be not directly spoken, but that suflicient ground be given to infer them from what is spoken. Such sentiments are, though improperly, considered as obscurely expressed, for this special reason, that it is not by the first operation of the intellect, an apprehension of the meaning of what is said, but by a second operation, a reflection on what is implied or presupposed, that they are discovered ; in which double operation of the mind, there is a faint resemblance to what happens in the case of real obscurity. But in the case of which I am treating, it is the thought more than the expression that serves for a veil to the sentiment suggested. If therefore in such instances there may be said to be obscurity, it is an obscurity which is totally distinct from obscurity of language.
That this matter may be better understood, we must carefully distinguish between the thought expressed, and the thought hinted. The latter may be affirmed to be obscure, because it is not expressed, but hinted; whereas the former, with which alone perspicuity of style is concerned, must always be expressed with clearness, otherwise the sentiment will never be considered as either beautiful or delicate * I shall illustrate this by examples.
* This will serve to explain what Bochours, a celebrated French critic, and a great advocate for perspicuity, hath advanced on this