Obrázky na stránke

5. As-men in slumbers seem with steady pace,

One to pursue, and one to lead the chace,
Their sinking limbs the fancied course forsake,

Nor this can fly, nor that can overtake. 6. Yonder comes the powerful king of day

Rejoicing in the east. 7. That orbed maiden, with white fire laden,

Whom mortals call the moon. 8. The tenants of the grave to-day are mute. 9. Man proposes, God disposes.


On Figures of Speech.

My dear Boy,

We will now resume the subject I have already alluded to, viz., Figures of Speech. In my last letter, when speaking about figures of thought, I said that they affect the turn of the whole sentence, being independent of the terms employed in it; figures of words, on the other hand, affect only the word, and do not decide the turn a sentence may take. I employ a figure of the latter kind when I say, the rage of the sea, because I attribute to an inanimate object a feeling belonging to animated beings only; intoxicated with success, because correctly speaking liquors only intoxicate; to live by one's labour, because it is not labour itself that supports subsistence, but the commodities acquired by the price of one's labour ; a fleet of a hundred sail, because a fleet is composed of ships, not of sails, which are only a part of a ship; to drink a bottle, because it is not the bottle that is drunk, but the liquor contained in the bottle. It is the game when I say of a courageous man, he is a lion ; or


of a tyrant, he is a Nero. All the figures we have just quoted as examples, except perhaps the last, are so natural, so bound up as it were with the language, that it is absolutely necessary to analyse them before discovering that they are figures. Such as these, then, may be employed constantly, without fear of departing from simplicity; for if all figures of this kind were to be suppressed, two-thirds of a language would at one blow be taken away. But side by side with the legitimate and even necessary employment of certain figures is found the abuse of them. In general, far - fetched figures should be avoided, or at least used sparingly; and such especially must be rejected as, not being necessary to language, have become trite by the exaggerated use made of them; such as, the river or pathway of life, a deluge of tears, an ocean of ills, the vessel of the state, the reins of power, the hydra of heresy, the banquet of life, the laurels or palms of victory, the trumpet of renown, the temple of glory. All these figures have had their day, but that day is already somewhat distant, and it is not easy now to give them an air of novelty. They are no longer found, except in the compositions of utterly inexperienced writers, who, for want of knowing the value of things and words, mistake for ornaments expressions that only excite ridicule.

Aim then, my dear boy, from the very outset at being simple without being trivial, and natural without being frivolous. There must be no laboured work, no affectation, no pompous writing ; never use any fine words, nor indulge in grand sentences. These cautions are especially applicable whenever sentiment is concerned ; it is better then to allow an honest heart to appear, than to risk exposing oneself to suspicion by making parade of a pretentious style. Take your expressions as they present themselves ; if they are clear and natural, and if they say what you wish them to say, keep them ; if they are obscure and trivial, sacrifice them and replace


them with better, but never put your brains to the rack to find expressions not so good as those that first presented themselves. Simplicity is always pleasing; the contrary, never.


I am,


1. What is the difference between figures of thought

and fignres of words ? 2. Illustrate what is meant by figures of words. 3. What would be the effect on language of doing away

with all figures ? 4. What figures should be avoided ? 5. Why should these be avoided ? 6. What writing especially requires freedom from affec

tation or pomp?



PROPRIETY. My dear Boy,

We come now to speak of the last of the qualities enumerated as essential to a good style, viz., Propriety; which, as it is of the utmost importance, so it is the least capable of being prescribed by rules. There are two sorts of propriety,-propriety in relation to the subject treated of, and propriety in relation to the writer.

All subjects cannot be treated in the same manner : gravity is necessary for a serious subject, sprightliness for a gay subject, emotion and warmth for one that is touching. You would not describe a death-bed scene as you would a pleasure party ; nor would you describe a fête as you would a funeral.

Again, as regards the writer: the tone a father may assume in writing to his son is not suitable for a son writing to his father; we do not speak to a superior as to an equal, nor to our benefactor as to one under obligation to us. Some persons would be pleased with a little jocularity, others again would be offended at it.

I do not know that I need say more on this point; for, after all, the appreciation and observance of all these shades depend first of all on the disposition, then on tact and good taste.

Having touched on all the general qualities essential to a good style, I will now think of finding you appropriate exercises that you may have scope to practise the precepts I have given you. Before doing so, however, I will in my next letter give you some general directions as to the studies you should pursue, and the spirit wherewith you should enter upon them, in order that you may eventually become a good writer.

I am, &c. QUESTIONS ON LETTER X. 1. What is the subject of this letter ? 2. How many sorts of propriety are there? 3. Why must a change of style accompany a change of

subject ? 4. Illustrate what is meant by saying that there is a

propriety in relation to the writer.

EXERCISE. A father wishes his son to meet him at a railway station at a certain hour : Write a letter requesting him to do so.

A son wishes his father to meet him at the station: Write a letter requesting him to do so.

(Further Exercises on the subject of this letter will be found in the Subjects for Letters.')




I shall commence this letter, which is to contain general remarks concerning the studies you should pursue in the attainment of a good style, by reminding you of what I said in Letter III., that before entering on the work of composition, & certain degree of reflection is required. Now the habit of reflection is with young people a difficult attainment; in order to acquire it a course of positive studies is absolutely necessary; for by these their minds are not only stocked with solid knowledge, the food for reflection, but they acquire the power of concentration of ideas, without which all real progress is impossible. When you have gained a certain number of ideas on any subject, the testing of them by means of the Exercises of Composition is of paramount importance. These have for their aim the formation of your mind ; they teach you how to arrange your ideas, to estimate the value of your acquisitions, and, best of all, they invariably show you how much more there is to learn. By steady perseverance you will eventually be enabled to criticise your own performances, and will soon find that a work well conceived and badly written has little value; and that, on the other hand, one well written and badly conceived is equally valueless. You will see that a wise disposition of the subject, and purity of style, are two qualities equally necessary to attain the end you propose when undertaking either to write or speak; and by serious studies only can these qualities be obtained. And now, as to what these studies should be.

First of all, and at the head of all, I place the study of Grammar; for without a perfect knowledge of its rules it is impossible to speak or write correctly. Before

« PredošláPokračovať »