ページの画像
PDF
ePub

kind, and may, nevertheless, be deficient in propriety. The words may be ill chofen; not adapted to the subject, nor fully exprentive of the author's fense. He has taken all his words and phrases from the general mass of English language; but he has made his selection among there words unhappily. Whereas, style cannot be proper without being allo pure ; and wliere both purity and propriety meet, belides making style perspicuous, tiey alío render it graceful. There is no standard, either of purity or of propriety, but the practice of the best writers and speakers in the country

When I mentioned obfolete or new-coined words as incongruous with purity of ítyle, it will be easily understood, that some exceptions are to be made. On certain occasions, they may have grace. Poetry admits of greater latitude than profe, with respect to coining, or, at least, new-compounding words ; yet, even here, this liberty should be used with a (paring hand. In prose, such innovations are more hazardous, and have a worse effect. They are apt to give style an affected and conceited air ; and should never be ventured upon, except by such, whose eftablished reputation gives them fome degree of dictatorial power over language.

The introduction of foreign and learned words, unless where neceility requires them, should always be avoided. Barren languages may need such ailtances ; but ours is not one of these, Dean Swift, one of our moit correct writers, valued himself much on using no words but such as were of native growth: and his language may, indeed, be con? dered as a standard of the strictest purity and propriety, in the choice of words. At present, we feem to be departing from this itandard. A multitude of Latin words have, of late, been poured in upon us. On fome occasions, they give an appearmce of elevation and dignity to style. But often

Vol. I.

also, they render it stiff and forced : and, in general, a plain native style, as it is more intelligible to all readers, fo, by a proper management, of words, it may be made equally strong and expressive with this Latinised English.

Let us now consider the import of precision in language, which, as it is the highest part of the quality denoted by perfpicuity, merits a full explication ; and the more, because distinct ideas are, perhaps, not commonly formed about it.

The exact import of precision may be drawn from the etymology of the word. It comes from

precidere,” to cut off : it imports retrenching all fuperfluities, and pruning the expression so, as to exhibit neither more nor less than an exact copy of his idea who uses it. I observed before, that it is often difficult to separate the qualities of style from the qualities of thought ; and it is found so in this instance. For, in order to write with precision, though this be properly a quality of style, one must possess a very considerable degree of distinctness and accuracy in his manner of thinking.

The words, which a man uses to express his ideas, may be faulty in three respects : they may either not express that idea which the author intends, but fome other which only resembles, or is akin to it; or, they may express that idea, but not quite fully and completely ; or, they may express it, together with something more than he intends. Precision stands opposed to all these three faults ; but chiefly to the last. In an author's writing with propriety, his being free from the two former faults seems implied. The words which he uses are proper ; that is, they express that idea which he intends, and they express it fully ; but to be precise, signifies, that they express that idea, and no more. There is nothing in his words which introduces any foreign idea, any superfluous unseasonable accessory, so as to mix it confusedly with the principal object, and thereby to render our conception of that object loose and indiftinct. This requires a writer to have, himself, a very clear apprehenfion of the object he means to present to us ; to have laid fast hold of it in his mind ; and never to waver in any one view he takes of it : a perfection to which, indeed, few writers attain.

The use and importance of precision, may be deduced from the nature of the human inind. It never can view, clearly and distinctly, above one object at a time. If it must look at two or three together, especially objects among which there is resemblance or connexion, it finds it felf confused and embarrassed. It cannot clearly perceive in what they agree, and in what they differ. Thus, were any object, suppose fome animal, to be presented to me, of whose structure I wanted to form a dif tinct notion, I would desire all its trappings to be taken off, I would require it to be brought before me by itself, and to stand alone, that there might be nothing to distract my attention. The same is the cafe with words. If, when you would inform me of your meaning, you also tell me more than what conveys it ; if you join foreign circumstances to the principal object ; if by unnecessarily varying the expression, you shift the point of view, and make me fee sometimes the object itself, and sometimes another thing that is connected with it ; you thereby oblige me to look on several objects at once, and I lose fight of the principal. You load the animal, you are fhowing me, with so many trappings and collars, and bring so many of the fame species before me, somewhat resembling, and yet somewhat differing, that I fee none of them clearly.

This forms what is called a loose style ; and is the proper opposite to precision. It generally arifes from using a fuperfuity of words. Feeble writers employ a multitude of words to make themselves understood, as they think, more distinctly, and they only confound the reader. They are senfible of not having caught the precise expreilion, to convey what they would fignify; they do not, indeed, cons ceive their own meaning very precisely themselves; and, therefore, Leip it out, as they can, by this and the other word, which may, as they suppose, fupply the defect, and bring you somewhat nearer to their idea : they are always going about it, and about it, but never just hit the thing. The image, as they set it before you, is always feen double ; and no double image is distinct. When an author tells me of his hero's courage in the day of battle, the expression is precise, and I understand it fully. But if, from the desire of multiplying words, he will needs praise his courage and fortitude ; at the moment he joins these words together, my idea bes gins to waver. He means to express one quality more strongly; but he is, in truth, exprefsing two. Courage refifts danger ; fortitude - fupports paina The occasion of exerting each of these qualities is different ; and being led to think of both togee ther, when only one of them should be in my view, my view is rendered unsteady, and my conception of the object indistinct.

From what I have said, it appears that an author may,

in a qualified fenfe, be perfpicuous, while yet he is far from being precise. He uses proper words, and proper arrangement ; he gives you the idea as clear as he conceives it himself ; and so far he is perspicuous : but the ideas are not very clear in his own mind ; they are loose and general ; and, therefore, cannot be expressed with precision. All fubjects do not equally require precifion. It is fur

cient, on many occasions, that we have a gener ral yiew of the meaning. The subject, perhaps, is of the known and familiar kind; and we are in po hazard of mistaking the fense of the author, though every word which he uses be not precise and exact.

Few authors, for instance, in the Englifh lans guage, are more clear and perfpicuous, on the whole, than archbishop Tillotson, and fir William Tema ple ; yet neither of them are remarkable for precie hon. They are loose and diffuse; and accustomed to express their meaning by several words, which show you fully whereabouts itf lies, rather than to fingle out those expreflions, which would convey elearly the idea they have in view, and no more, Neither, indeed, is precision the prevailing cha: racter of mř. Addison's style ; although he is not fo deficient in this refpect as the other two authors.

Lord Shafteibury's faults, in point of precifion, are much greater than mr. Addison's ; and the more unpardonable, because he is a professed phi. lofopbical writer ; who, as such, ought, above all things, to have studied precision. His ftyle has both great beauties and great faults ; and, on the whole, is by no means a safe model for imitation. Lord Shaftesbury was well acquainted with the power of words; those which he employs are genesally proper and well founding ; he has great var riety of them, and his arrangement, as shall be afterwards shown, is commonly beautiful. His defect, in precision, is not owing so inuch to indiftinct or confused ideas, as to perpetual affectation. Ho is fond, to excess, of the pomp and parade of language; he is never fatisfied with expresfing any thing clearly and simply ; he must always give it the dress of state and majesty. Hence perpetual circumlocutions, and many words and phrases employed to defcwibe fomewhat, that would have

« 前へ次へ »