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manner of telling a story, with Sallust for his entering into those internal principles of action which arise from the characters and manners of the persons he describes, or with Tacitus for his displaying those outward motives of safety and interest, which give birth to the whole series of transactions which be relates.
He may likewise consider, how differently he is affected by the same thought, which presents itself in a great writer, from what he is when he finds it delivered by a person of an ordinary genius. For there is as much difference in apprehending a thought clothed in Cicero's language, and that of a common author, as in seeing an object by the light of a taper, or by the light of the sun.
It is very difficult to lay down rules for the acquirement of such a taste as that I am here speaking of. The faculty must ir some degree be born with us, and it very often happens, that those who have other qualities in perfection, are wholly void of this. One of the most eminent mathematicians of the
has assured me, that the greatest pleasure he took in reading Virgil, was in examining Æneas his voyage by the map; as I question not but many a modern compiler of history, would be delighted with little more in that divine author, than in the bare matters of fact.
But notwithstanding this faculty must in some measure be born with us, there are several methods for cultivating and improving it, and without which it will be very uncertain, and of little use to the person that possesses it. The most natural method for this purpose is, to be conversant among the writings of the most polite authors. A man who has any relish for fine writing, either discovers new beauties, or receives stronger im.
á Acquirement. We now say acquisition, and not acquirement. It is a good general rule, to avoid all substantives ending in ment or ess.H.
b A man who has any relish for fine writing This mystery of fiiro
pressions from th: masterly strokes of a great author every time he peruses him : besides that he naturally wears himself into the same manner of speaking and thinking.
writing (inore talked of than understood) consists chiefly in three things. 1. In a choice of fit terms. 2. In such a construction of them, as agrees to the grammar of the language, in which we write. And 3. In a pleasing order and arrangement of them. By the first of these qualities, a style becomes, what we call, elegant : by the second, exact : and, by the third, harmonious. Each of these qualities may be possessed, by itself; but they must concur, to form a finished style.
Mr. Addison was the first, and is still, perhaps, the only, English writer, in whom these three requisites are found together, in, almost, an equal degree of perfection. It is, indeed, one purpose of these cursory notes, to shew, that, in some few instances, he has transgressed, or rather, neglected the strict rules of grammar ;- which yet, in general, he observes with more care than any other of our writers. But, in the choice of his terms, (which is the most essential point of all) and in the numbers of his style, he is almost faultless, or rather, admirable.
It will not be easy for the reader to comprehend the merit of Mr. Addison's prose, in these three respects, if he has not been conversant in the best rhetorical writings of the ancients; and especially in those parts of Cicero's and Quinctilian's works, which treat of what they call composition But, because the harmony of his style is exquisite, and this praise is peculiar to himself, it inay be worth while to consider, in what it chiefly. consists.
1. This secret charm of numbers is effected by a certain arrangement of words, in the same sentence : that is, by putting such words together, as read easily, and are pronounced without effort; while, at the same time, they are so tempered by different sounds and measures, as to affect the ear with a sense of variety, as well as sweetness. As, to take the first sentence in the following essay: "Our sight is the most perfect and most delightful of all our senses.' If you alter it thus :-"Our sight is the perfectest and most delightful of all our senses. Though the change be only of one word, the difference is very sensible; perfectest, being a word of difficult pronunciation, and rendered still harsher by the subsequent word most, which echoes to the termination est.
Or, again, read thus--"Our sight is the most perfect and most pleasing of all our senses.”_Here, the predominance of the vowel e, and the alliteralion of the two adjectives, perfect and pleasing, with the repetition of the superlative sign “most,” occasions too great a sdineness or similarity of sound in the constituent parts of this sentence.
Lastly, read thus :— Our sight is the most compleat and most delightful sense we have.”-But then you hurt the measure or quantity, which, in our language, is determined by the accent: as will appear froni observing of what feet either sentence consists.
“Our sīght-is thě most-complēte-ănd most-dělight-fúl sēnse-wě hāve." Here, except the second foot, which is an anapæst, the rest are all of one kind, i. e. iambics. Read now with Mr. Addison—“Our sight-is thč mostpērfěct-ắnd most dělight-fůl of all-oúr sēnsés." —And you see how the rhythm is varied by the intermixture of other feet, besides that the short redundant syllable, sčs, gives to the close, a slight and negligent air, whicb has a better effect, in this place, than the proper iambic foot.
Conversation with men of a po.ite genius is another method of improving our natural taste. It is impossible for a man of the greatest parts to consider any thing in its whole extent, and
2. A sentence may be of a considerable length : and then the rhythm arises from such a composition, as breaks the whole into different parts ; and consults at the same time, the melodious flow of each. As in the second period of the same paper.--" It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues the longest in action without being tired or satiated with its proper enjoyments.”
A single sentence should rarely consist of more than three members, and the rhythm is most complete, when these rise upon, and exceed, each other in length and fulness of sound, till the whole is rounded by a free and measured close. In this view, the rhythm of the sentence here quoted, might be improved by shortening the first member, or lengthening the second, as thus:-"it fills the mind with the most ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance," &c. Or thus" it fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, has the advantage of conversing with its objects at the greatest distance," &c.
These alterations are suggested only to explain my meaning, and not to intimate, that there is any fault in the sentence, as it now stands. It is not necessary; nay it would be wrong, to tune every period into the completest harmony: I would only signify to the reader, what that arrangement of a complicated period is, in which the harmony is most complete. We have numberless instances in Mr. Addison's writings.; as in the next of his papers on the imagination—"the eye has room to range abroad, to expatiate at large on the immensity of its views, and to lose itself amidst the variety of objects that offer themselves to its observation."
The instance, here given, is liable to no objection. But there is dan. ger, no doubt, lest this attention to rhythm should betray the writer, insensibly, into some degree of languor and redundancy in his expression. And it cannot be denied, that Mr. Addison himself has, sometimes, fallen into this trap. But the general rule holds, nevertheless; and care is only to be taken, that in aiming at a beauty of one kind, we do not overlook another of equal, or, as in this case, of greater importance.
What has been said, may enable the reader to collect the rule in shorter sentences, or in sentences otherwise constructed.
3. The rhythm of several sentences, combined together into one paragraph, is produced, in like manner, by providing that the several sentences shall differ from each other in the number of component parts, or in the extent of them, if the number be the same, or in the run and construction of the parts, where they are of the like extent. The same care musi, also, be taken, to close the paragraph, as the complex sentence, with a gracious and flowing termination. Consider the whole first paragraph of the paper we have now before us, and you will not find two sentences corresponding to each other in all respects. Each is varied from the rest; and the conclusion fills the ear, as well as completes the sense. Something like the same attention must be harl
, in disposing the several paragraphs of the same paper, as in arranging the several periods of the same paragraph.
But, "perbum sapienti.' The charm of Mr. Addison's prose consista
in all its variety c lights. Every man, besides those general observations which are to be made upon an author, forms several reflections that are peculiar to his own manner of thinking; so that conversation will naturally furnish us with hints which we did not attend to, and make us enjoy other men's parts and reflections as well as our own. This is the best reason I can give for the observation which several have made, that men of great genius in the same way of writing seldom rise up singly, but at certain periods of time appear together, and in a body; as they did at Rome in the reign of Augustus, and in Greece about the age of Socrates
I cannot think that Corneille, Racine, Moliere, Boileau, la Fontaine, Bruyere, Bossu, or the Daciers, would have written so well as they have done, had they not been friends and contemporaries.
It is likewise necessary for a man who would form to himself à finished taste of good writing, to be well versed in the works of the best critics both ancient and modern. I must confess that I could wish there were authors of this kind, who, beside the mechanical rules which a man of very little taste may discourse upon, would enter into the very spirit and soul of fine writing, and shew us the several sources of that pleasure which rises in the mind upon the perusal of a noble work.
very much in the dexterous application of these rules, or rather, in consulting his ear, which led him instinctively to the practice, from which these rules are drawn.
If it be asked, whether the harmony of his prose be capable of improvement, I think we may say in general, that with regard to this way of writing, in short essays to which Mr. Addison's style is adapted, and for which it was formed, it is not. There is, with the utmost melody, all the variety of composition (which answers to what we call the pause, in good poetry) which the nature of these writings demands. In works of another length and texture, the harmony would be improved in various ways; and even by the very transgression of these rules.
Every kind of writing has a style of its own, and a good ear formed vu the several principles of numerous composition, will easily direct how, and in what manner, to suit the rhythm to the subject, and the occasion. There is no doubt that, what is exquisite in one mode of writing, would be finical in another. It is enough to say, that the rhythm of these essays, calledo Spectators, is wonderfully pleasing, and perhaps, perfect in its kind. ----EI.
Thus although io poetry it be absolutely necessary that the unities of time, place, and action, with other points of the same nature, should be thorough ly explained and understood ; there is still something more essential to the art, something that elevates and astonishes the fancy, and gives a greatness of mind to the reader, which few of the eritics besides Longinus have considered.
Our general taste in England is for epigram, turns of wit, and forced conceits, which have no manner of influence, either for the bettering or enlarging the mind of him who reads them, and have been carefully avoided by the greatest writers, both among the ancients and moderns. I have endeavoured in several of my speculations to banish this Gothic taste, which has taken possession among us.
I entertained the town, for a week together, with an essay upon wit, in which I endeavoured to detect several of those false kinds which have been admired in the different ages of the world; and at the same time to shew wherein the nature of true wit consists. I afterwards gave an instance of the great force which lies in a natural simplicity of thought to affect the mind of the reader, from such vulgar pieces as have little else besides this single qualification to recommend them. I have likewise examined the works of the greatest poet which our nation or perhaps any other has produced, and particularized most of those rational and manly beauties which give a value to that divine work. I shall next Saturday enter upon an essay on the pleasures of the imagination,' which, though it shall consider that subject at large, will perhaps suggest to the reader what it is that gives a beauty to many passages of the finest writers both in prose and verse. As an undertaking of this nature is entirely
I question not but it will be received with candour. O.