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2. By greatness I do not only mean the bulk of any single object, but the largeness of the whole view.
3. Not only England, but all Europe was alarmed. : 4. Instead of looking contemptuously down on the crooked in mind and body, we should look up thankfully to God, who hath made us better.
5. If thou art blessed naturally with a good memory, continually exercise it.
6. Dissertations on the prophecies which have remarkably been fulfilled.
LETTER VI.-SERIES II.
On the Subjunctive Mood. My dear Boy,
As it is not my intention to write a Grammar of the English Language, I shall close my letters on Syntax by offering you a few remarks on the use of the Subjunctive Mood. Strictly speaking, the only verb that has a subjunctive is the verb “to be;' for what in other verbs is called the subjunctive is the simple verb used elliptically; i.e., having some sign of condition omitted, as, if he live,' i.e., if he should live;' this may
be seen by comparing this verb with others; thus : Ind.
If I be.
If I were.
If I love.
If I loved.
If I give.
If I gave.
Here we see the forms for the two moods in the verb to be' are distinct, in the other verbs they are identical;
this being the case, it is not to be wondered at that the tendency of modern usage is to ignore the subjunctive completely. As uncertainty in the employment of words is, to say the least, very unsatisfactory to those learning & language, it is almost to be wished that we had a kind of literary parliament, as the French have in their Academy, capable of deciding what usage we should follow in the cultivation of style. It is commonly taught that when doubt is intended to be expressed, the subjunctive should be used. Now we may be in doubt about a present circumstance, or a past circumstance, or a future circumstance, thus :
1. If he is at the meeting, he is speaking. 2. If he was at the meeting, he spoke.
3. If he be at the meeting to-morrow, he will speak. If the first two of the examples just cited are correctly expressed, and I think their correctness may be easily established, then we see that doubt has really nothing to do with the matter; for the doubt is equal in all three cases, and yet in two out of the three the indicative is used to express it; or rather, I should say,
the conjunction 'if' conveys to the mind of the hearer or reader that the verb immediately following, though used in the indicative form, is to be taken in a dubitative sense, and it is the sense after all that we are mostly concerned with. Since, then, doubt concerning a present and a past circumstance may be expressed by the indicative, why may not doubt concerning a future be equally expressed by it? Why may we not write, as we almost universally say, "If he is in London to-morrow, he will call on you.'?
With regard to sentence No. 3, the only objection against using the form, 'If he is at the meeting to
• morrow, he will speak,' appears to be that the hearer might momentarily suppose the speaker to be alluding to a present circumstance; the misconception, however,
would be but for a moment, for the adverb 'to-morrow' immediately shows that a reference is made to the future. And indeed in ordinary conversation, I think it would be used ninety-nine times out of every
hundred. When the principal clause precedes the suppositional, the 'is' I think is almost universally used. Thus, · He will speak if he is at the meeting to-morrow. No one would contend, I imagine, that in sentence No. 2 ‘was' should be were;' for the sentence, 'If he were at the meeting,' so far from implying doubt, simply states my conviction that he is not there, and has no allusion whatever in its ordinary acceptation to past time. The two following sentences from Greenlaw's True Doctrine of the Latin Subjunctive,' show that whatever degree of uncertainty attaches to the use of the Latin subjunctive, the use of the English subjunctive is scarcely less defined : “ If my search has failed, I have at least the satisfaction of knowing that I am not single in my
failure." Though it be perfectly conceivable that the Latins may have framed a mood to express potentiality,” &c. Here doubt is expressed by the indicative, and certainty by the subjunctive. If writers would be more accurate in the employment of the word “if,' not using it as a synonyme foras,' since, and though, much of the difficulty concerning it would be removed. In conversation, the tone of the voice, an emphasis, even a look, is sufficient to indicate the sense we wish to be given to 'if;' such however is not the case in writing, and it should be the aim of all writers of the English language to guard its simplicity, by letting each term express, as much as possible, the idea it is adapted for. Did we in writing employ the word “if' so as invariably to express a condition or a doubt, and not, as is now the practice, to : express a certainty, then the need of the so-called subjunctive would in a great measure be done away
with. Language,” says Dr. Campbell, “is partly a species of fashion, in which by the general but tacit consent of
the people of a particular state or country, certain sounds come to be appropriated to certain things as their signs." It must surely, then, be of vast importance that the same sound shall not at one time express one thing and at another its direct opposite, as is the case with the word ‘if.' In my next letter I shall treat of the second quality of style, viz., Precision.
I am, &c.
QUESTIONS ON LETTER VI.
1. What is the only verb that strictly speaking has a
subjunctive mood ? 2. Illustrate this. 3. What is the ordinary teaching concerning the use of
the subjunctive ? 4. Show that this rule is not commonly followed. 5. Give instances to prove that if, when expressing
doubt, is followed by the indicative. 6. When is •if,' even when alluding to a future event,
followed by the indicative ? 7. What is the meaning of, "If he were at the meeting
he would be in the chair'? 8. For what other words is ‘if' improperly used ? 9. What would appear to be the proper use of .if'? 10. What says Dr. Campbell about language ?
1. There might be some foundation for it, was she the Queen Regent.
2. Though he were divinely inspired, and spoke therefore as the oracles of God, with supreme authority; though he were endowed with supernatural powers, and could therefore have confirmed the truth of what he asserted by miracles ; yet, in compliance with the way in which human nature and reasonable creatures are usually wrought upon, he reasoned.
LETTER VIL-SERIES II.
ON THE SECOND ESSENTIAL QUALITY OF STYLE :
My dear Boy,
You will remember I told you in a former letter that the second essential quality of style was Precision ; and I think I may say, that of all qualities I have enumerated this is the most difficult to acquire; at all events it is the one requiring the longest practice. It consists in expressing one's thoughts in as few words as possible, without useless circumlocution. To be precise we must avoid periphrasis, which weakens the expression by diluting it, if I may so speak, and always produces a certain obscurity. By periphrasis is meant the turn made use of to express what we do not wish to say in direct terms. Thus we make use of a periphrasis when to designate the devil,' we say, 'the enemy of mankind.' This mode of expression may, however, be used without offending against the rules of precision, when it is desirable to soften down an idea that, if presented without such precaution, might have the effect of shocking the reader. We should, for example, rarely if ever say, Make your arrangements in case you are killed ;' it is better to soften this idea and say, 'in case you meet with an acci. dent,' or some other appropriate turn. After all, this is a matter to be decided by good taste and a sense of propriety; but, as a rule, periphrasis employed as an ornament of style is seldom admissible except in poetry.