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Proper Method of Criticising and Imitating Great Authors
STUDIES IN COMPOSITION.
THERE are many valuable treatises on English Composition. The humbler text-books point out the different parts of a sentence, teach the art of combining them, and prescribe numerous exercises to the pupil. The more advanced works, such as those by Blair, Campbell, and Whately, descant upon the higher graces of style with great clearness and fulness. Both classes of books, if studied carefully, will be of service to the student. They will make him a critic; and when he writes they will enable him to lop off the superfluities of his sentences.
But, at the same time, they aid him very little in the actual work of composition. He soon
*Even Cicero admits that his treatise on Rhetoric was of no practical use in forming an orator.
THIS text-book is intended for pupils who have mastered the ordinary rules of Grammar and Composition.
It starts from the great principle that correct thinking is the more important part of Composition; that a correct idea is the source of all true excellence in style; and that, therefore, accuracy of thought should always be studied along with accuracy of expression.
Accordingly, the chief parts of the work are devoted to Observation and Reading, the two great sources of our knowledge; and a course of Exercises is prescribed which trains the student, in the first place, to draw correct ideas from what he observes and reads; and, in the second place, to express these ideas with the greatest effect.
But, in treating a subject, the pupil is often at a loss where to begin, in what order to take up the details, and where to end; and after his essay is completed he feels that he has failed to express his ideas fully, and that his style sadly wants both elegance and graphic force. Therefore two chapters are introduced, the one on Method and the other on Style, the former preceding those on
Observation and Reading, and the latter coming after them.
When the pupils are advanced, it is a mistake to make them plod through mere routine work without illustrating the nature and utility of what they do. They have become rational beings, and they ought to know the reason of every one of their tasks. Accordingly, in this book their attention is very much called to the theory of Composition and Literature. In the different chapters they learn the laws of literary method, the natural and simple way of describing any object of observation, the mode of extracting the substance of our reading without adopting the words or even many of the details, and the great movements by which an author attains excellence in style. This information they are expected to master thoroughly.
The efficiency of this system has been thoroughly tested. It has been taught for several years to students of both sexes with very satisfactory results. The pupils, it has been found, take a lively interest both in what they see during their everyday life and in what they read; they acquire the habit of forming distinct and connected opinions about people, things, and books; and when writing, even although it is only a letter, they can convey a clear and forcible idea of a subject.
EDINBURGH, September 1871.