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OF THE QUALITIES OF STYLE STRICTLY RHETORICAL.
PURITY, of which I have treated at some length in the two preceding chapters, may justly be denominated grammatical truth. It consisteth in the conformity of the expression to the sentiment which the speaker or the writer intends to convey by it, as moral truth con, sisteth in the conformity of the sentiment intended to be conveyed to the sentiment actually entertained by the speaker or the writer; and logical truth, as was hinted above, in the conformity of the sentiment to the nature of things. The opposite to logical truth is properly error ; to moral truth, a lie; to grammatical truth, a blunder. Now the only standard by which the conformity implied in grammatic truth must be ascertained in every language, is, as hath been evinced,* reputable, national, and present use, in that language.
But it is with the expression as with the sentiment, it is not enough to the orator that both be true. A sentence may be a just exhibition, according to the rules of the language, of the thought intended to be conveyed by it, and may therefore, to a mere grammarian, be unexceptionable ; which to an orator may appear extremely faulty. It may, nevertheless, be obscure, it may be languid, it may be inelegant, it may be flat, it may be unmusical. It is not ultimately the justness either of the thought or of the expression, which is the aim of the orator ; but it is a certain effect to be produced in the hearers. This effect as he purposeth to produce in them by means of language, which he makes the instrument of conveying his sentiments into their minds, ho must take care in the first place that his style be perspicuous, that so he may be sure of being understood. If he would not only inform the understanding, but please the imagination, he must add the charms of vivacity and elegance, corresponding to the two sources from which, as was observed in the beginning of this work,t the merit of an address of this kind results. By vivacity, resemblance is attained ; by elegance, dignity of manner. For as to the dignity of the subject itself, or thing imitated, it concerns solely the thought. If he purposes to work upon the passions, his very diction, as well as his sentiments, must be animated. Thus, language and thought, like body and soul, are made to correspond, and the qualities of the one exactly to co-operate with those of the other.
But though the perfection of the body consists, as was formerly observed, I in its fitness for serving the purposes of the soul, it is at the same time capable of one peculiar excellence, as a visible object. The excellence I mean is beauty, which evidently implies more than what results from the fitness of the several organs and members for
answering their respective ends. That there is a beauty in the perceived fitness of means to their end, and instruments to their use, is uncontrovertible. All that I contend for here is, that this is not the whole of what is implied in the term beauty. The eyes of one person may be much inferior in this respect to those of another, though equally fit for all the purposes of vision. The like may be said of every other feature. Analogous to this there is an excellence of which language is susceptible as an audible object, distinct from its aptitude for conveying the sentiments of the orator with light and energy into the minds of the hearers. Now as music is to the ear what beauty is to the eye, I shall, for want of a more proper term, denominate this excellence in style its music ; though I acknowledge the word is rarely used with so great latitude.
Thus it appears, that beside purity, which is a quality entirely grammatical, the five simple and original qualities of style, considered as an object to the understanding, the imagination, the passions, and the ear, are perspicuity, vivacity, elegance, animation, and music. CHAPTER VI.
Of all the qualities above mentioned, the first and most essential is perspicuity.* Every speaker doth not propose to please the imagination, nor is every subject susceptible of those ornaments which conduce to this purpose. Much less is it the aim of every speech to agitate the passions. There are some occasions, therefore, on which vivacity, and many on which animation of style are not necessary ; nay, there are occasions on which the last especially would be improper. But whatever be the ultimate intention of the orator, to inform, to convince, to please, to move, or to persuade, still he must speak so as to be understood, or he speaks to no purpose. If he do not propose to convey certain sentiments into the minds of his hearers, by the aid of signs intelligible to them, he may as well declaim before them in an unknown tongue. This prerogative the intellect has above all the other faculties, that whether it be or be not immediately addressed by the speaker, it must be regarded by him either ultimately or subordinately ; ultimately, when the direct purpose of the discourse is information, or conviction ; subordinately, when the end is pleasure, emotion, or persuasion.
There is another difference also between perspicuity and the two last-mentioned qualities, vivacity and animation, which deserves to be remarked. In a discourse wherein either or both of these are requisite, it is not every sentence that requires, or even admits them ; but every sentence ought to be perspicuous. The effect of all the other qualities of style is lost without this. This being to the understanding what light is to the eye, ought to be diffused over the whole performance. In this respect it resembles grammatical purity, of which I have already treated, but it is not in this respect only that it resembles it. Both are best illustrated by showing the different ways wherein they may be lost. It is for these reasons that, though perspicuity be more properly a rhetorical than a grammatical quality, I thought it better to include it in this book, which treats of the foundations and essential or universal properties of elocution, than to class it with those which are purely discriminative of particular styles.
Indeed, if language were capable of absolute perfection, which it evidently is not; if words and things could be rendered exact counterparts to each other; if every different thing in nature had a different symbol by which it were expressed ; and every difference in the relations of things had a corresponding difference in the combinations of words, purity alone would secure perspicuity, or rather these two would entirely coincide. To speak grammatically would, in that
* Prima est eloquentiæ virtus perspicuitas. -- Quint.
case, convey infallibly and perspicuously the full meaning of the speaker, if he had any meaning, into the mind of every hearer who perfectly understands the language. There would not be even a possibility of mistake or doubt. But the case is widely different with all the languages that ever were, are, or will be in the world.
Grammatical purity, in every tongue, conduceth greatly to perspicuity, but it will by no means secure it. A man may in respect of it speak unexceptionably, and yet speak obscurely, or ambiguously ; and though we cannot say, that a man may speak properly, and at the same time speak unintelligibly, yet this last case falls more naturally to be considered as an offence against perspicuity, than as a violation of propriety. For when the meaning is not discovered, the particular impropriety cannot be pointed out. In the three different ways, therefore, just now mentioned, perspicuity may be violated.
Part I. — From Defect.
This is the first offence against perspicuity, and may arise from several causes. First, from some defect in the expression. There are in all languages certain elliptical expressions, which use hath established, and which therefore, very rarely occasion darkness. When they do occasion it, they ought always to be avoided. Such are, in Greek and Latin, the frequent suppression of the substantive verb, and of the possessive pronouns ; I was going to add, and of the personal pronouns also : but, on reflection, I am sensible, that, in the omission of them in the nominative, there is properly no ellipsis, as the verb, by its inflection, actually expresses them. Accordingly, in those languages, the pronoun in the nominative is never rightly introduced, unless when it is emphatical. But the idiom of most modern tongues, English and French particularly, will seldom admit such ellipsis.* In Italian and Spanish they are pretty frequent.
* The French, I imagine, have gone to the other extreme. They require in many instances a repetition of pronouns, prepositions, and articles, which, as they add nothing to the perspicuity, must render the expression languid. There are some cases in which this repetition is consequential on the very construction of their language. For example, we say properly in English, my father and mother; because the possessive pronoun having no distinction of gender, and so having but one form, is alike applicable to both: the case being different with them renders it necessary to follow a different rule, and to say mon pere et ma mere. But it is not to instances of this sort that the rule is limited. Custom with them hath extended it to innumerable cases, wherein there is no necessity from construction. With us it is enough to say, “She was robbed of her clothes and jewels.” With them the preposition and the pronoun must both be repeated, de ses habits et de ses joiau. Again, with them it is not sufficient to say,
Often indeed, the affectation of conciseness, often the rapidity of thought natural to some writers, will give rise to still more material defects in the expression. Of these I shall produce a few examples : “ He is inspired,” says an eminent writer, “ with a true sense of that function, when chosen from a regard to the interests of piety and virtue."* Sense in this passage denotes an inward feeling, or the impression which some sentiment makes upon the mind. Now a function cannot be a sentiment impressed or felt. The expression is therefore defective, aud ought to have been, — " He is inspired with a true sense of the dignity, or of the importance of that function." “You ought to contemn all the wit in the world against you." As the writer doth not intend to signify that all the wit in the world is actually exerted against the person whom he addresses, there is a defect in the expression, though perhaps it will be thought chargeable with redundancy at the same time. More plainly thus, “ You ought to contemn all the wit that can be employed against you.” “ He talks all the way up stairs to a visit.”| There is here also a faulty omission, which, if it cannot be said to obscure the sense, doth at least withhold that light whereof it is susceptible. If the word visit ever meant person or people, there would be an ambiguity in the sentence, and we should imagine this the object talked to; but as that cannot be the case, the expression is rather to be accounted lame, there being no verb in it with which the words to a visit can be construed. More explicitly thus, “ He talks all the way as he walks up stairs to make a visit.” “ Arbitrary power," says an elegant writer, “ I look upon as a greater evil than anarchy itself, as much as a savage is a happier state of life than a slave at the oar.”S Neither savage nor slave can be denominated a state of life, though the states in which they live may properly be compared. “ This courage among the adversaries of the court,” says the same writer in another piece, " was inspired into them by various incidents, for every one of which I think, the ministers, or, if that was the case, the minister alone is to answer."|| If that was the case, Pray, what is he supposing to have been the case? To the relative that, I can find no antecedent, and am left to guess that he means, if there was but one minister. “ When a man considers not only an ample fortune, but even the very necessaries of life, his pretence to food itself at the mercy of others, he cannot but look upon himself in the state of the dead, with his case thus much worse, that the last office is performed by his adversaries,
“The woman whom you know and love," but whom you know and whom you love
- que vous connoissez et que vous aimez. In like manner, the relatives in French must never be omitted. They often are in English, and when the omission occasions no obscurity, it is not accounted improper. An expression like this would in their tongue be intolerable: "You are obliged to say and do all you can.” It must be " to say and to do all that which you can" — de dire et de faire tout ce que vous savez. But though in several instances the critics of that nation have refined on their language to excess, and by needless repetitions have sometimes enervated the expression, their criticisms. when useful in assisting us to shun any obscurity or ambiguity, deserve to be adopted. * Guardian, No. 13.
† Guardian, No. 53. | Spect. No. 2.
Sentiments of a Church of England man. || Free Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs.