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the Restoration, and from infecting our religion and morals, fell to corrupting our language; which last was not like to be much improved by those who at that time made up the court of King Charles II.; either such as had followed him in his banishment, or who had been altogether conversant in the dialect of these fanatic times; or young men who had been educated in the same country; so that the court, which used to be the standard of correctness and propriety of speech, was then, and I think has ever since continued the worst school in England for that accomplishment; and so will remain, till better care be taken of the education of our nobility, that they may set out into the world with some foundation of literature, in order to qualify them for patterns of politeness."
I should perhaps propose some more extensive alterations in this sentence was I to survey it throughout with a critical eye; but the obscurity, as well as the tediousness of a long period, will be removed even by so simple an alteration as the following:
"To this succeeded that licentiousness which entered with the Restoration, and in consequence of which, not merely our religion and morals, but even our language, was corrupted. Our language indeed was not likely to be improved by those who formed the court of Charles II. That court consisted either of such as had followed him into banishment, or had been altogether conversant in the dialect of those fanatic times; or else of young men who had been educated in the same country with himself.. Thus the court, which before had been the standard of correctness and propriety of speech, was then; and I think has ever since continued, the worst school in England for that accomplishment. Such indeed I fear it will remain, till better care is taken of the education of our nobility, in order that they may enter upon life with some foundation of literature, to qualify them to appear as patterns of politeness."
The 2d rule that I propose, is to be careful of the too frequent or indiscreet use of parentheses. They should always arise out of the subject, and yet be so far uncon
nected with it, that the sense inclosed within the brackets shall be complete in itself, and such as might be spared without destroying the sense of the period. A parenthesis should also be short, and not consist of many members; otherwise it will become inevitably blended with the main sense, or the latter will be even forgotten by the reader.
I have said parentheses should not be too frequent: yet in oratorical, or animated composition, they have sometimes both force and beauty. Mr. Gibbon was a great master in the use of them..... Two casually occur to my mind, and therefore are not to be regarded as his best: "The nobles were taught to seek a sure and independent revenue from their estates, instead of adorning their splendid beggary by the oppression of the people, or (what is much the same) by the favour of the
"The Christians and the Moslems enumerate (and perhaps multiply) the illustrious victims that were sacrificed to the zeal, avarice, or resentment of the old man (as he was corruptly styled) of the mountain."
3dly. When it is practicable, let the sentence close with the principal and emphatical words. The genius of the English language admits of very small transposition, and therefore we are more confined in this respect than the Greeks or Romans. Quinctilian recommends that the principal word should be placed near the end of a sentence; and the ancients generally ended their periods with a verb.
In English we cannot observe the same rule. We ought, however, to place important words where they appear to most advantage: and the most proper place seems to be the beginning or end of a sentence. Of the proper disposition of the principal words, we have a fine example from Lord Shaftsbury, comparing the modern poets with the ancients:
"And if whilst they profess only to please, they secretly advise and give instruction, they may now perhaps, as well as formerly, be esteemed with justice the best and most honourable among authors."
By putting the sentence in a different order, we shall be easily convinced how much beauty is lost by bad arrangement.
"And if whilst they profess to please only, they advise secretly and give instruction, they may justly be esteemed the best and most honourable among authors now, perhaps as well as formerly."
Here the adverbs only and secretly, being put after the verbs, and the sentence ending with a particle, makes the whole period disagreeable, but they are disposed by the author where they scarcely can be observed. We are to remember, however, that particles may conclude a sentence when they are words of importance, as in this sentence of Lord Bolingbroke concerning his friends:
"In their prosperity they shall never hear of me, in their adversity always."
Agreeably to this rule we ought to avoid such words at the end of our sentences as only mark the cases of nouns, e. g.
"Avarice is a crime which wise men are often guilty of."
And a certain author speaking of the Trinity, says, "This is a mystery, which we firmly believe the `truth of, and humbly adore the depth of."
The fault and the correction of it are both obvious; it ought to have been expressed thus:
"This is a mystery, the truth of which we firmly believe, and the depth of which we humbly adore.”
Compound verbs should seldom be used at the end of sentences; and the pronoun it is generally a very improper close.
4thly. We should endeavour to contrive that the members of our sentences shall rise upon one another, and beware of making the last sentence the echo of the former.
This kind of arrangement is called a climax, when, as we proceed, every member seems to grow in importance. Cicero particularly studied this grace of compo
sition; and there is a fine example of it in his oration for Milo:
"Si res, si vir, si tempus ullum dignum fuit, certe, hæc in illa causa, summa omnia fuerunt."
We have another example in Lord Bolingbroke's idea of a Patriot King:
"This decency, this grace, this propriety of manners and character is so essential to princes in particular, that whenever it is neglected, their virtues lose a great degree of lustre, and their defects acquire much aggravation. Nay more; by neglecting this decency and this grace, and for want of a sufficient regard to appearances, even their virtues may betray them into failings, their failings into vices, and their vices into habits unworthy of princes, and unworthy of men."
The finest instance of climax extant is, however, that of St. Paul, 2 Cor. xi. 22, &c.
"Are they Hebrews? so am I; are they Israelites? so am I; are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they the ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft."
The instance mentioned of Crassus by Cicero in his treatise "De Oratore," is also worth your attention. In examining a witness who appeared against his client.... "Perhaps, said the orator, the person spoke these words only in a passion?" The witness not making any reply, he proceeded...." Perhaps you did not rightly understand him?" The witness continuing silent, he adds...." Perhaps you did not hear it at all?"
From all that has been said you will be prepared for my 5th and last observation, which is, that the most ungraceful circumstance in composition is what I may call a kind of appendix to a sentence: something added after the natural close, and which is frequently even of a very trivial nature, or which might have been included in the body of the sentence. Dr. Blair very properly terms such sentences "more than finished," and as I have his work before me, and no better instances occur, I shall give you the two that he has quoted. In the first
of these the words succeeding the natural close, which is "indignation," might have been omitted; and in the second, you will see the appended words are better included in the body of the sentence.
Sir William Temple, speaking of Burnet's Theory of the Earth, and Fontenelle's Plurality of Worlds, ob
"The first could not end his learned treatise without a panegyric of modern learning in comparison of the ancient; and the other falls so grossly into the censure of the old poetry, and preference of the new, that I could not read either of these strains without some indignation; which no quality among men is so apt to raise in me as self sufficiency."
The other instance is from Swift's Letter to a Young Clergyman:
"With these writings young divines are more conversant than with those of Demosthenes, who by many degrees excelled the other; at least as an orator.
The proper correction of this sentence need scarcely be pointed out:
"With these writings young divines are more conversant than with those of Demostheness, who, at least as an orator, by many degrees excelled the other."
Much has been said by critical writers, but to little purpose, on the subject of long and short sentences. I have already explained why what are called long sentences are usually faulty: it is because they are perplexed by involving the matter of two or three, and this is generally the case with Clarendon's "Periods of a Mile," as they are well entitled by a judicious modern poet. Sometimes they have an appendix attached to them, and in old writers frequently conclude with a by, a with, an of, or some other insignificant word; otherwise where a sentence is clear, and strong, and well compacted, it is never the worse for being long, if kept within the bounds of moderation. Mr. Burke, who was a model of every grace and excellence of composition, was remarkable for the length of his periods; but they were at the same time full and sonorous.