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Beauty of language with respect to hgnifi
IT is well said by a noted writer * " That
« by means of speech we can divert our « forrows, mingle our mirth, impart our “ secrets, communicate our counsels, and “ make mutual compacts and agreements to « supply and assist each other.” Considering speech as contributing thus to so many good purposes, it follows, that the chusing words which have an accurate meaning, and tend to convey clear and distinct ideas, must be one of its capital beauties. This cause of beauty, is too extensive to be handled as a branch of
any other subject. To ascertain with accuracy even the proper meaning of words, not to talk of their figurative power, would require a large volume; an useful work indeed; but not to be attempted without a large stock of time, study, and reflec
Scot's Christian life.
tion. This branch therefore of the subject I must humbly decline. Nor do I propose to exhaust all the other beauties of language with respect to signification. The reader, in a work like the present, cannot fairly expect more than a light sketch of those that make the greatest figure. This is a task which I attempt the more willingly, as it appears to be connected with some principles in human nature; and the rules I shall have occasion to lay down, will, if I judge aright, be agreeable illustrations of these principles. Every subject must be of importance that tends in any measure to unfold the human heart ; for what other science is more worthy of human beings ?
The present subject is fo extensive, that, to prevent confusion, it must be divided into parts; and what follows suggests a division into two parts. In every period, two things are to be regarded, equally capital ; first, the words of which the period is composed; next, the arrangement of thefe words. The former resemble the stones that compose a building; and the latter resembles the order in which these stones are placed.
Hence the beauty of language with respect to its meaning, may not improperly be diftinguished into two kinds. The first confists in a right choice of words or materials for constructing the period; and the other consists in a due arrangement of these words or materials. I shall begin with rules that direct us to a right choice of words, and then proceed to rules that concern their arrangement.
And with respect to the former, communication of thought being the principal end of language, it is a rule, That perspicuity ought not to be sacrificed to any other beauty whatever. If it should be doubted whether perspicuity be a positive beauty, it cannot be doubted, that the want of it is the greatest defect. Nothing therefore in the structure of language ought more to be studied, than to prevent all obscurity in the expression ; for to have no meaning, is but one degree worse than to express it so as not to be understood. Want of perspicuity from a wrong arrangement, belongs to the next branch. I shall give a few examples where the obscurity arises from a wrong choice of words; and as this defect is so common in ordinary writers as to make examples from them unnecessary, I confine myself to the most celebrated authors.
Livy, speaking of a rout after a battle, Multique in ruina majore quam fuga oppressi oba truncatique. . . L. 4. $ 46. Unde tibi reditum certo fubtemine Parcæ Rupere.
Horace, epod. xii. 22. Qui perfæpe cava testudine flevit amorem, Non elaboratum ad pedem.
Horace, epod. xiv. 11.
Me fabulofæ Vulture in Appulo,
Ludo, fatigatumque fomno,
Horace, Carm. l. 3. ode 4, Puræ rivus aquæ, silvaque jugerum Paucorum, et segetis certa fides meæ, Fulgenter imperio fertilis Africæ Fallit sorte beatior.
Horace, Carm. l. 3. ode 16.
Cum fas atque nefas exiguo fine libidinum
Horace, Carm, h. 1. ode 18,
Ac fpem fronte serenat.
There is want of neatness even in an ambiguity fo flight as that is which arises from the construction merely; as where the period commences with a member which is conceived to be in the nominative case, and which afterward is found to be in the accufative. Example:
" Some emotions more “ peculiarly connected with the fine arts,
propose to handle in separate chapters *.” Better thus: “ Some emotions more pecu
liarly connected with the fine arts, are “ proposed to be handled in separate chap" ters.”
The rule next in order, because next in importance, is, That the language ought to correspond to the subject. Grand or heroic actions or sentiments require elevated language: tender sentiments ought to be ex
* Elements of criticism, vol. 1. p. 43.