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the reader's attention, and weakens the general effect. This rule must not, however, be understood to preclude, especially in long works, such incidental excursions, as, having some relation to the main subject, afford the reader an agreeable relief, without destroying the unity of the piece. Episodes of this kind may be compared to the ivy twining about the oak; which, without concealing the form, or lessening the grandeur of the main object, gratifies the eye with a sense of variety.
To complete the merit of any literary work as far as thought is concerned, it is necessary to add to every other excellence that of UTILITY. In writing, as in life, this ul timate end should never be forgotten. Whatever tends to enlighten the understanding, to enlarge the conceptions, to impress the heart with right feelings, or to afford innocent and rational amusement, may be pronounced useful. All beyond this is either trifling or pernicious. No strength of genius, or vivacity of wit, can dignify folly, or excuse immorality.
Beside these essential properties of the Thoughts, which are common to all good writing, there are others, which occur only in certain connections, according to the nature of the subject, or the genius and inclination of the writer, and which may therefore be called INCIDENTAL. From these, which are very numerous, we shall select, as a specimen, Sublimity, Beauty, and Novelty.
Those conceptions, expressed in writing, which are adapted to excite in the mind of the reader that kind of emotion, which arises from the contemplation of grand and noble objects in nature, are said to be SUBLIME. The emotion of sublimity is doubtless first produced by means of the powers of vision. Whatever is lofty, vast, or profound, while it fills the eye, expands the imagination, and dilates the heart, and thus becomes a source of pleasure.
Who that, from Alpine heights, his lab'ring eye
Nilus, or Ganges, rolling his bright wave
Through mountains, plains, through empires black with shade,
To mark the windings of a scanty rill,
That murmurs at his feet?
From the similarity between the emotions excited by greatness in objects of sight, and by certain other objects which affect the rest of the senses; and from the analogy which these bear to several other feelings excited by different causes; the term Sublimity is applied to various other subjects, as dignity of rank, extent of power, and eminence of merit. Hence those writers, who most successfully exhibit objects or characters of this kind before the imagination of their readers, are said to be sublime.
In like manner, because certain objects of sight are distinguished by characters of beauty, and are adapted to excite emotions of complacence, those writers who represent their fair forms, whether natural or moral, with the most lively colouring, are said to excel in the BEAUTIFUL.
Moreover, since there is in human nature a principle of curiosity, which leads us to contemplate unusual objects with the pleasing emotion which is called wonder, NOVELTY becomes another source of pleasure in works of taste, which affords ample scope for the display of genius, to those who are indued by nature with an imagination, which can “ body forth the forms of things unknown;" whence their pen
Turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
In reading works of taste, it is the business of criticism, to remark in what manner any of these properties of thought, or others of the incidental kind, such as Pathos, Resemblance, Contrast, Congruity, and the like, are exemplified, or violated.
After the Thoughts themselves, the next object of criticism is the METHOD in which they are disposed.
Nothing is more inconsistent with good sense and true taste, than the contempt with which some affect to treat that methodical arrangement, which Horace so happily styles lucidus ordo. Every kind of writing is certainly illuminated by an accurate disposition of it's several parts. Method is so far from being an absolute proof of stupidity, that it is no very questionable indication of strength of mind, and compass of thought. The first conceptions, which accidental association may raise in the mind, are not likely to come forth spontaneously in that order, which is most natural,
and best suited to form a regular piece. It is only by the exercise of much attention and accurate judgment, that a writer can give his work the beauty of regularity amid variety; and without this, the detached parts, however excellent, are but the members of a disjointed statue*. The reader, therefore, who wishes to form an accurate judgment concerning the merit of any literary production, will inquire, whether the author's general arrangement be such as best suits his design; whether there be no confusion in the disposition of particular parts; no redundancies or unnecessary repetitions; in fine, whether every sentiment be not only just, but pertinent, and in it's proper place.
The last, but not the least extensive field of criticism is EXPRESSION.
Here the first quality to be considered is PURITY. This consists in such a choice of words, and such a grammatical construction of sentences, as is consonant to the analogy of the language, and to the general usage of accurate writers Purity in the choice of words requires that, except in works of science, where new terms are wanted, no words be admitted but such as are established by good authority; that words be used in the sense which is commonly annexed to them; and that all heterogeneous mixtures of foreign or antiquated words be avoided. In the present state of modern languages, particularly the English, stability and uniformity are of more consequence than enlargement. It is not in the power of fashion, to justify the affectation of introducing foreign words and phrases, to express even that, which cannot be so concisely expressed in the vernacular tongue. With respect to grammatical purity, it's importance, as a source of perspicuity and elegance, is universally acknowledged: but it is too commonly taken for granted, that a competent acquaintance with grammar, especially with the grammatical structure of the English language, which is remarkable for it's simplicity, may be easily acquired. Hence so little attention is paid to grammatical accuracy by some writers, in other respects of distinguished merit, that it would not be difficult to select from their works examples of the most flagrant viola
Neque enim, quamquam fusis omnibus membris, statua sit, nisi, collocetur.-Quintil.
tions of syntax. These are faults not to be protected by authority and it is one of the most useful offices of criticism, to detect and expose them.
A second kind of excellence in expression is PERSPICUITY. The chief sources of this essential property of good writing are, beside clearness of conception, already considered, Precision in the use of Terms, and Accuracy in the structure of Sentences.
VERBAL PRECISION requires, that a writer express his exact meaning, without tautology, ambiguity, or redundance; that he be careful not to load his sentences with words which are synonimous, or nearly so; that he make use of no terms, or phrases, but such as convey a determinate meaning; and that he avoid the introduction of uncommon words, where words in ordinary use would answer his purpose as well. Perspicuity is equally injured by an excessive multiplicity of words, and by a parade of pompous and stately, language.
Grammatical arrangement is favourable to perspicuity, when it marks distinctly the relation of the several parts of a sentence, and consequently of the ideas which they represent; and when it avoids such deviations from the natural or customary order of words, as might mislead or perplex the reader. It may also contribute, in some measure, toward perspicuity, to preserve, during the course of a sentence, unity of persons and scene; avoiding, as much as possible, all abrupt transitions from one person or subject to another. But there seems to be no sufficient ground for a rule, which has of late gained some authority, that a writer, for the sake of distinctness, should confine himself to the expression of a single thought in each sentence. It would be easy to show by example, that this fashionable method of reducing sentences to one standard, whatever it may add to the neatness and elegance of style, will at least equally diminish it's richness and variety: and-which is still more important that it must often materially impair the sense, by interrupting the relation and dependance of the thoughts. A writer who thinks closely, and in a train, will frequently have occasion to express combinations of ideas, which will require sentences of considerable length. The best writers of the last period, such as Swift, Addison, and Middleton, who dis
dained to confine their conceptions within the narrow enclosure of such arbitrary rules, took all the scope, in the structure of their periods, which the extent and concatenation of their thoughts required; and thus produced many successful imitations of the best models of antiquity, in that kind of writing, which is copious without verbosity, and complex without intricacy.
Whatever mode of construction a writer's subject, or genius, may lead him to adopt, he should, however, be careful, that it be employed in a manner perfectly consistent with perspicuity. If, for the sake of strength and energy, he be disposed to lean toward conciseness, let him cautiously avoid that elliptical diction, which leaves the reader too much to supply. If, through the fertility of his invention, his language naturally becomes diffuse, let him guard against that kind of obscurity, which is the effect of involving the sense in a cloud of words. At all events, a writer should studiously avoid every mode of expression, which is unfavourable to perspicuity for what can be a greater fault, than that language, which is only useful so far as it is perspicuous, should need an interpreter*? Perspicuity requires, not only that what is written may be understood, but that it cannot possibly be misunderstood +. Every violation of this law of good writing it is the business of criticism carefully to remark.
Melody is another excellence in expression, of too much consequence to be overlooked. In every kind of writing, according to the degree of skill, with which soft and rugged, long and short, accented and unaccented sounds, whether simple or complex, are combined, the ear receives an agreeable impression, in some degree similar to that which is produced by a melodious succession of musical notes. This effect is heightened, when the divisions of distinct clauses, and the cadences at the close of entire sentences, are agreeably diversified. Melody is so intimately combined with the other graces of expression, and has so large a share in the pleasures produced by fine writing, that it deserves more attention, both among writers and critics, than the moderns have been inclined to allow it.
* Oratio vero, cujus summa virtus est perspicuitas, quam sit vitiosa, si egeat interprete !-Quintil.
↑ Non ut intelligere possit, sed ne omnino possit non intelligere.—Ib.