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The Philosophy of Style by Herbert Spencer

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Produced by P. Peterson


By Herbert Spencer



i. The Principle of Economy.

1. Commenting on the seeming incongruity between his fathers
argumentative powers and his ignorance of formal logic, Tristram
Shandy says:--"It was a matter of just wonder with my worthy tutor,
and two or three fellows of that learned society, that a man who
knew not so much as the names of his tools, should be able to work
after that fashion with them." Sternes intended implication that
a knowledge of the principles of reasoning neither makes, nor is
essential to, a good reasoner, is doubtless true. Thus, too, is it
with grammar. As Dr. Latham, condemning the usual school-drill in
Lindley Murray, rightly remarks: "Gross vulgarity is a fault to be
prevented; but the proper prevention is to be got from habit--not
rules." Similarly, there can be little question that good composition
is far less dependent upon acquaintance with its laws, than upon
practice and natural aptitude. A clear head, a quick imagination,
and a sensitive ear, will go far towards making all rhetorical precepts
needless. He who daily hears and reads well-framed sentences, will
naturally more or less tend to use similar ones. And where there
exists any mental idiosyncrasy--where there is a deficient verbal
memory, or an inadequate sense of logical dependence, or but little
perception of order, or a lack of constructive ingenuity; no amount
of instruction will remedy the defect. Nevertheless, some practical
result may be expected from a familiarity with the principles of
style. The endeavour to conform to laws may tell, though slowly.
And if in no other way, yet, as facilitating revision, a knowledge
of the thing to be achieved--a clear idea of what constitutes a
beauty, and what a blemish--cannot fail to be of service.

2. No general theory of expression seems yet to have
been enunciated. The maxims contained in works on composition and
rhetoric, are presented in an unorganized form. Standing as isolated
dogmas--as empirical generalizations, they are neither so clearly
apprehended, nor so much respected, as they would be were they
deduced from some simple first principle. We are told that "brevity
is the soul of wit." We hear styles condemned as verbose or involved.
Blair says that every needless part of a sentence "interrupts the
description and clogs the image;" and again, that "long sentences
fatigue the readers attention." It is remarked by Lord Kaimes,
that "to give the utmost force to a period, it ought, if possible,
to be closed with that word which makes the greatest figure." That
parentheses should be avoided and that Saxon words should be used
in preference to those of Latin origin, are established precepts.
But, however influential the truths thus dogmatically embodied,
they would be much more influential if reduced to something like
scientific ordination. In this, as in other cases, conviction will
be greatly strengthened when we understand the why. And we may be
sure that a comprehension of the general principle from which the
rules of composition result, will not only bring them home to us
with greater force, but will discover to us other rules of like

3. On seeking for some clue to the law underlying these current
maxims, we may see shadowed forth in many of them, the importance
of economizing the readers or hearers attention, To so present
ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental
effort, is the desideratum towards which most of the rules above
quoted point. When we condemn writing that is wordy, or confused,
or intricate--when we praise this style as easy, and blame that as
fatiguing, we consciously or unconsciously assume this desideratum
as our standard of judgment. Regarding language as an apparatus
of symbols for the conveyance of thought, we may say that, as in a
mechanical apparatus, the more simple and the better arranged its
parts, the greater will be the effect produced. In either case,
whatever force is absorbed by the machine is deducted from the
result. A reader or listener has at each moment but a limited amount
of mental power available. To recognize and interpret the symbols
presented to him, requires part of this power; to arrange and combine
the images suggested requires a further part; and only that part
which remains can be used for realizing the thought conveyed. Hence,
the more time and attention it takes to receive and understand each
sentence, the less time and attention can be given to the contained
idea; and the less vividly will that idea be conceived.

4. How truly language must be regarded as a hindrance to thought,
though the necessary instrument of it, we shall clearly perceive
on remembering the comparative force with which simple ideas are
communicated by signs. To say, "Leave the room," is less expressive
than to point to the door. Placing a finger on the lips is more
forcible than whispering, "Do not speak." A beck of the hand is
better than, "Come here." No phrase can convey the idea of surprise
so vividly as opening the eyes and raising the eyebrows. A shrug of
the shoulders would lose much by translation into words. Again, it
may be remarked that when oral language is employed, the strongest
effects are produced by interjections, which condense entire
sentences into syllables. And in other cases, where custom allows
us to express thoughts by single words, as in _Beware, Heigho,
Fudge,_ much force would be lost by expanding them into specific
propositions. Hence, carrying out the metaphor that language is the
vehicle of thought, there seems reason to think that in all cases
the friction and inertia of the vehicle deduct from its efficiency;
and that in composition, the chief, if not the sole thing to be done,
is, to reduce this friction and inertia to the smallest possible
amount. Let us then inquire whether economy of the recipients
attention is not the secret of effect, alike in the right choice
and collocation of words, in the best arrangement of clauses in
a sentence, in the proper order of its principal and subordinate
propositions, in the judicious use of simile, metaphor, and other
figures of speech, and even in the rhythmical sequence of syllables.

ii. Economy in the Use of Words.

5. The greater forcibleness of Saxon English, or rather non-Latin
English, first claims our attention. The several special reasons
assignable for this may all be reduced to the general reason--economy.
The most important of them is early association. A childs vocabulary
is almost wholly Saxon. He says, _I have,_ not _I possess_---_I
wish,_ not I _desire;_ he does not _reflect,_ he _thinks;_ he does
not beg for _amusement,_ but for _play_; he calls things _nice_
or _nasty,_ not _pleasant_ or _disagreeable._ The synonyms which
he learns in after years, never become so closely, so organically
connected with the ideas signified, as do these original words
used in childhood; and hence the association remains less strong.
But in what does a strong association between a word and an idea
differ from a weak one? Simply in the greater ease and rapidity
of the suggestive action. It can be in nothing else. Both of two
words, if they be strictly synonymous, eventually call up the same
image. The expression--It is _acid,_ must in the end give rise to
the same thought as--It is sour; but because the term _acid_ was
learnt later in life, and has not been so often followed by the
thought symbolized, it does not so readily arouse that thought as
the term sour. If we remember how slowly and with what labour the
appropriate ideas follow unfamiliar words in another language, and
how increasing familiarity with such words brings greater rapidity
and ease of comprehension; and if we consider that the same process
must have gone on with the words of our mother tongue from childhood
upwards, we shall clearly see that the earliest learnt and oftenest
used words, will, other things equal, call up images with less loss
of time and energy than their later learnt synonyms.

6. The further superiority possessed by Saxon English in its
comparative brevity, obviously comes under the same generalization.
If it be an advantage to express an idea in the smallest number of
words, then will it be an advantage to express it in the smallest
number of syllables. If circuitous phrases and needless expletives
distract the attention and diminish the strength of the impression
produced, then do surplus articulations do so. A certain effort,
though commonly an inappreciable one, must be required to recognize
every vowel and consonant. If, as all know, it is tiresome to listen
to an indistinct speaker, or read a badly-written manuscript; and
if, as we cannot doubt, the fatigue is a cumulative result of the
attention needed to catch successive syllables; it follows that
attention is in such cases absorbed by each syllable. And if this
be true when the syllables are difficult of recognition, it will
also be true, though in a less degree, when the recognition of
them is easy. Hence, the shortness of Saxon words becomes a reason
for their greater force. One qualification, however, must not
be overlooked. A word which in itself embodies the most important
part of the idea to be conveyed, especially when that idea is an
emotional one, may often with advantage be a polysyllabic word. Thus
it seems more forcible to say, "It is _magnificent,_" than "It is
_grand._" The word _vast_ is not so powerful a one as _stupendous._
Calling a thing _nasty_ is not so effective as calling it _disgusting._

7. There seem to be several causes for this exceptional superiority
of certain long words. We may ascribe it partly to the fact that a
voluminous, mouth-filling epithet is, by its very size, suggestive
of largeness or strength; witness the immense pomposity of
sesquipedalian verbiage: and when great power or intensity has to
be suggested, this association of ideas aids the effect. A further
cause may be that a word of several syllables admits of more emphatic
articulation; and as emphatic articulation is a sign of emotion,
the unusual impressiveness of the thing named is implied by it. Yet
another cause is that a long word (of which the latter syllables
are generally inferred as soon as the first are spoken) allows
the hearers consciousness a longer time to dwell upon the quality
predicated; and where, as in the above cases, it is to this predicated
quality that the entire attention is called, an advantage results
from keeping it before the mind for an appreciable time. The
reasons which we have given for preferring short words evidently
do not hold here. So that to make our generalization quite correct
we must say, that while in certain sentences expressing strong feeling,
the word which more especially implies that feeling may often with
advantage be a many-syllabled or Latin one; in the immense majority
of cases, each word serving but as a step to the idea embodied
by the whole sentence, should, if possible, be a one-syllabled or
Saxon one.

8. Once more, that frequent cause of strength in Saxon and
other primitive words-their imitative character may be similarly
resolved into the more general cause. Both those directly imitative,
as _splash, bang, whiz, roar,_ &c., and those analogically imitative,
as _rough, smooth, keen, blunt, thin,_ hard, crag,_ &c., have a
greater or less likeness to the things symbolized; and by making
on the senses impressions allied to the ideas to be called up, they
save part of the effort needed to call up such ideas, and leave
more attention for the ideas themselves.

9. The economy of the recipients mental energy, into which
are thus resolvable the several causes of the strength of Saxon
English, may equally be traced in the superiority of specific over
generic words. That concrete terms produce more vivid impressions
than abstract ones, and should, when possible, be used instead, is
a thorough maxim of composition. As Dr. Campbell says, "The more
general the terms are, the picture is the fainter; the more special
they are, tis the brighter." We should avoid such a sentence as:--"In
proportion as the manners, customs, and amusements of a nation are
cruel and barbarous, the regulations of their penal code will be
severe." And in place of it we should write:--"In proportion as men
delight in battles, bull-fights, and combats of gladiators, will
they punish by hanging, burning, and the rack."

10. This superiority of specific expressions is clearly due to
a saving of the effort required to translate words into thoughts.
As we do not think in generals but in particulars--as, whenever any
class of things is referred to, we represent it to ourselves by
calling to mind individual members of it; it follows that when an
abstract word is used, the bearer or reader has to choose from his
stock of images, one or more, by which he may figure to himself the
genus mentioned. In doing this, some delay must arise some force
be expended; and if, by employing a specific term, an appropriate
image can be at once suggested, an economy is achieved, and a more
vivid impression produced.

ii The Principle of Economy applied to Sentences.

11. Turning now from the choice of words to their sequence, we
shall find the same general principle hold good. We have _a priori_
reasons for believing that in every sentence there is some one
order of words more effective than any other; and that this order
is the one which presents the elements of the proposition in the
succession in which they may be most readily put together. As in
a narrative, the events should be stated in such sequence that the
mind may not have to go backwards and forwards in order to rightly
connect them; as in a group of sentences, the arrangement should
be such, that each of them may be understood as it comes, without
waiting for subsequent ones; so in every sentence, the sequence of
words should be that which suggests the constituents of the thought
in the order most convenient for the building up that thought. Duly
to enforce this truth, and to prepare the way for applications of
it, we must briefly inquire into the mental act by which the meaning
of a series of words is apprehended.

12. We cannot more simply do this than by considering the
proper collocation of the substantive and adjective. Is it better
to place the adjective before the substantive, or the substantive
before the adjective? Ought we to say with the French--un _cheval
noir;_ or to say as we do--a black horse? Probably, most persons of
culture would decide that one order is as good as the other. Alive
to the bias produced by habit, they would ascribe to that the
preference they feel for our own form of expression. They would
expect those educated in the use of the opposite form to have an
equal preference for that. And thus they would conclude that neither
of these instinctive judgments is of any worth. There is, however, a
philosophical ground for deciding in favour of the English custom.
If "a horse black" be the arrangement, immediately on the utterance
of the word "horse," there arises, or tends to arise, in the mind,
a picture answering to that word; and as there has, been nothing
to indicate what _kind_ of horse, any image of a horse suggests
itself. Very likely, however, the image will be that of a brown
horse, brown horses being the most familiar. The result is that
when the word "black" is added, a check is given to the process
of thought. Either the picture of a brown horse already present to
the imagination has to be suppressed, and the picture of a black one
summoned in its place; or else, if the picture of a brown horse be
yet unformed, the tendency to form it has to be stopped. Whichever
is the case, a certain amount of hindrance results. But if, on the
other hand, "a black horse" be the expression used, no such mistake
can be made. The word "black," indicating an abstract quality, arouses
no definite idea. It simply prepares the mind for conceiving some
object of that colour; and the attention is kept suspended until
that object is known. If, then, by the precedence of the adjective,
the idea is conveyed without liability to error. whereas the
precedence of the substantive is apt to produce a misconception,
it follows that the one gives the mind less trouble than the other,
and is therefore more forcible.

13. Possibly it will be objected that the adjective and
substantive come so close together, that practically they may be
considered as uttered at the same moment; and that on hearing the
phrase, "a horse black," there is not time to imagine a wrongly-coloured
horse before the word "black" follows to prevent it. It must be
owned that it is not easy to decide by introspection whether this
is so or not. But there are facts collaterally implying that it
is not. Our ability to anticipate the words yet unspoken is one
of them If the ideas of the hearer kept considerably behind the,
expressions of the speaker, as the objection assumes, he could hardly
foresee the end of a sentence by the time it was half delivered:
yet this constantly happens. Were the supposition true, the mind,
instead of anticipating, would be continually falling more and
more in arrear. If the meanings of words are not realized as fast
as the words are uttered, then the loss of time over each word must
entail such an accumulation of delays as to leave a hearer entirely
behind. But whether the force of these replies be or be not admitted,
it will scarcely be denied that the right formation of a picture
will be facilitated by presenting its elements in the order in which
they are wanted; even though the mind should do nothing until it
has received them all.

14. What is here said respecting the succession of the adjective
and substantive is obviously applicable, by change of terms, to
the adverb and verb. And without further explanation, it will be
manifest, that in the use of prepositions and other particles, most
languages spontaneously conform with more or less completeness to
this law.

15. On applying a like analysis to the larger divisions of
a sentence, we find not only that the same principle holds good,
but that the advantage of respecting it becomes marked. In the
arrangement of predicate and subject, for example, we are at once
shown that as the predicate determines the aspect under which the
subject is to be conceived, it should be placed first; and the
striking effect produced by so placing it becomes comprehensible.
Take the often-quoted contrast between "Great is Diana of the
Ephesians," and "Diana of the Ephesians is great." When the first
arrangement is used, the utterance of the word "great" arouses those
vague associations of an impressive nature with which it has been
habitually connected; the imagination is prepared to clothe with
high attributes whatever follows; and when the words, "Diana of the
Ephesians," are heard, all the appropriate imagery which can, on
the instant, be summoned, is used in the formation of the picture:
the mind being thus led directly, and without error, to the intended
impression. When, on the contrary, the reverse order is followed,
the idea, "Diana of the Ephesians" is conceived with no special
reference to greatness; and when the words "is great" are added,
the conception has to be remodeled: whence arises a loss of mental
energy and a corresponding diminution of effect. The following verse
from Coleridges Ancient Mariner, though somewhat irregular in
structure, well illustrates the same truth:

"Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony."

16. Of course the principle equally applies when the predicate
is a verb or a participle. And as effect is gained by placing
first all words indicating the quality, conduct or condition of the
subject, it follows that the copula also should have precedence.
It is true that the general habit of our language resists this
arrangement of predicate, copula and subject; but we may readily
find instances of the additional force gained by conforming to it.
Thus, in the line from Julius Caesar

"Then burst his mighty heart,"

priority is given to a word embodying both predicate and copula.
In a passage contained in The Battle of Flodden Field, the like
order is systematically employed with great effect:

"The Border slogan rent the sky!
_A Home! a Gordon!_ was the cry;
_Loud were _the clanging blows:
_Advanced--forced back---now low, now high,
_The pennon sunk and rose;
_As bends_ the barks mast in the gale
When _rent are_ rigging, shrouds and sail,
It wavered mid the foes."

17. Pursuing the principle yet further, it is obvious that for
producing the greatest effect, not only should the main divisions
of a sentence observe this sequence, but the subdivisions of these
should be similarly arranged. In nearly all cases, the predicate is
accompanied by some limit or qualification, called its complement.
Commonly, also, the circumstances of the subject, which form its
complement, have to be specified. And as these qualifications and
circumstances must determine the mode in which the acts and things
they belong to are conceived, precedence should be given to them.
Lord Kaimes notices the fact that this order is preferable; though
without giving the reason. He says:--"When a circumstance is placed
at the beginning of the period, or near the beginning, the transition
from it to the principal subject is agreeable: it is like ascending
or going upward." A sentence arranged in illustration of this will
be desirable. Here is one:--"Whatever it may be in theory, it is
clear that in practice the French idea of liberty is--the right of
every man to be master of the rest."

18. In this case, were the first two clauses, up to the word
"I practice "inclusive, which qualify the subject, to be placed at
the end instead of the beginning, much of the force would be lost;
as thus:--"The French idea of liberty is--the right of every man to
be master of the rest; in practice at least, if not in theory."

19. Similarly with respect to the conditions under which any
fact is predicated. Observe in the following example the effect of
putting them last:--"How immense would be the stimulus to progress,
were the honour now given to wealth and title given exclusively to
high achievements and intrinsic worth!"

20. And then observe the superior effect of putting them first:--"Were
the honour now given to wealth and title given exclusively to high
achievements and intrinsic worth, how immense would be the stimulus
to progress!"

21. The effect of giving priority to the complement of the
predicate, as well as the predicate itself, is finely displayed in
the opening of Hyperion:

"_Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon and eves one star
Sat_ gray-haired Saturn, quiet as a stone."

Here it will be observed, not only that the predicate "sat"
precedes the subject "Saturn," and that the three lines in italics,
constituting the complement of the predicate, come before it; but
that in the structure of that complement also, the same order is
followed: each line being so arranged that the qualifying words
are placed before the words suggesting concrete images.

22. The right succession of the principal and subordinate
propositions in a sentence manifestly depends on the same law.
Regard for economy of the recipients attention, which, as we find,
determines the best order for the subject, copula, predicate and
their complements, dictates that the subordinate proposition shall
precede the principal one when the sentence includes two. Containing,
as the subordinate proposition does, some qualifying or explanatory
idea, its priority prevents misconception of the principal
one; and therefore saves the mental effort needed to correct such
misconception. This will be seen in the annexed example: "The
secrecy once maintained in respect to the parliamentary debates, is
still thought needful in diplomacy; and in virtue of this secret
diplomacy, England may any day be unawares betrayed by its ministers
into a war costing a, hundred thousand lives, and hundreds of
millions of treasure: yet the English pique themselves on being
a self-governed people." The two subordinate propositions, ending
with the semicolon and colon respectively, almost wholly determine
the meaning of the principal proposition with which it concludes;
and the effect would be lost were they placed last instead of first.

23. The general principle of right arrangement in sentences,
which we have traced in its application to the leading divisions of
them, equally determines the proper order of their minor divisions.
In every sentence of any complexity the complement to the subject
contains several clauses, and that to the predicate several others;
and these may be arranged in greater or less conformity to the
law of easy apprehension. Of course with these, as with the larger
members, the succession should be from the less specific to the
more specific--from the abstract to the concrete.

24. Now, however, we must notice a further condition to be
fulfilled in the proper construction of a sentence; but still a
condition dictated by the same general principle with the other:
the condition, namely, that the words and expressions most nearly
related in thought shall be brought the closest together. Evidently
the single words, the minor clauses, and the leading divisions of
every proposition, severally qualify each other. The longer the time
that elapses between the mention of any qualifying member and the
member qualified, the longer must the mind be exerted in carrying
forward the qualifying member ready for use. And the more numerous
the qualifications to be simultaneously remembered and rightly
applied, the greater will be the mental power expended, and the
smaller the effect produced. Hence, other things equal, force will
be gained by so arranging the members of a sentence that these
suspensions shall at any moment be the fewest in number; and shall
also be of the shortest duration. The following is an instance of
defective combination:--"A modern newspaper-statement, though probably
true, would be laughed at if quoted in a book as testimony; but
the letter of a court gossip is thought good historical evidence,
if written some centuries ago." A rearrangement of this, in accordance
with the principle indicated above, will be found to increase the
effect. Thus:--"Though probably true, a modern newspaper-statement
quoted in a book as testimony, would be laughed at; but the letter
of a court gossip, if written some centuries ago, is thought good
historical evidence."

25. By making this change, some of the suspensions are avoided
and others shortened; while there is less liability to produce
premature conceptions. The passage quoted below from Paradise Lost
affords a fine instance of a sentence well arranged; alike in the
priority of the subordinate members, in the avoidance of long and
numerous suspensions, and in the correspondence between the order
of the clauses and the sequence of the phenomena described, which,
by the way, is a further prerequisite to easy comprehension, and
therefore to effect.

"As when a prowling wolf,
Whom hunger drives to seek new haunt for prey,
Watching where shepherds pen their flocks at eye,
In hurdled cotes amid the field secure,
Leaps oer the fence with ease into the fold;
Or as a thief, bent to unhoard the cash
Of some rich burgher, whose substantial doors,
Cross-barrd, and bolted fast, fear no assault,
In at the window climbs, or oer the tiles;
So clomb this first grand thief into Gods fold;
So since into his church lewd hirelings climb."

26. The habitual use of sentences in which all or most of
the descriptive and limiting elements precede those described and
limited, gives rise to what is called the inverted style: a title
which is, however, by no means confined to this structure, but is
often used where the order of the words is simply unusual. A more
appropriate title would be the _direct style,_ as contrasted with
the other, or _indirect style_: the peculiarity of the one being,
that it conveys each thought into the mind step by step with little
liability to error; and of the other, that it gets the right thought
conceived by a series of approximations.

27. The superiority of the direct over the indirect form of
sentence, implied by the several conclusions that have been drawn,
must not, however, be affirmed without reservation. Though, up to
a certain point, it is well for the qualifying clauses of a period
to precede those qualified; yet, as carrying forward each qualifying
clause costs some mental effort, it follows that when the number of
them and the time they are carried become great, we reach a limit
beyond which more is lost than is gained. Other things equal,
the arrangement should be such that no concrete image shall be
suggested until the materials out of which it is to be made have
been presented. And yet, as lately pointed out, other things equal,
the fewer the materials to be held at once, and the shorter the
distance they have to be borne, the better. Hence in some cases it
becomes a question whether most mental effort will be entailed by
the many and long suspensions, or by the correction of successive

28. This question may sometimes be decided by considering
the capacity of the persons addressed. A greater grasp of mind
is required for the ready comprehension of thoughts expressed in
the direct manner, where the sentences are anywise intricate. To
recollect a number of preliminaries stated in elucidation of a coming
idea, and to apply them all to the formation of it when suggested,
demands a good memory and considerable power of concentration.
To one possessing these, the direct method will mostly seem the
best; while to one deficient in them it will seem the worst. Just
as it may cost a strong man less effort to carry a hundred-weight
from place to place at once, than by a stone at a time; so, to an
active mind it may be easier to bear along all the qualifications
of an idea and at once rightly form it when named, than to first
imperfectly conceive such idea and then carry back to it, one
by one, the details and limitations afterwards mentioned. While
conversely, as for a boy, the only possible mode of transferring
a hundred-weight, is that of taking it in portions; so, for a weak
mind, the only possible mode of forming a compound conception may
be that of building it up by carrying separately its several parts.

29. That the indirect method--the method of conveying
the meaning by a series of approximations--is best fitted for the
uncultivated, may indeed be inferred from their habitual use of
it. The form of expression adopted by the savage, as in "Water,
give me," is the simplest type of the approximate arrangement. In
pleonasms, which are comparatively prevalent among the uneducated,
the same essential structure is seen; as, for instance, in--"The
men, they were there." Again, the old possessive case --"The king,
his crown," conforms to the like order of thought. Moreover, the
fact that the indirect mode is called the natural one, implies that
it is the one spontaneously employed by the common people: that
is--the one easiest for undisciplined minds.

30. There are many cases, however, in which neither the direct
nor the indirect structure is the best; but where an intermediate
structure is preferable to both. When the number of circumstances and
qualifications to be included in the sentence is great, the most
judicious course is neither to enumerate them all before introducing
the idea to which they belong, nor to put this idea first and let
it be remodeled to agree with the particulars afterwards mentioned;
but to do a little of each. Take a case. It is desirable to avoid
so extremely indirect an arrangement as the following:--"We came
to our journeys end, at last, with no small difficulty after much
fatigue, through deep roads, and bad weather." Yet to transform this
into an entirely direct sentence would not produce a satisfactory
effect; as witness:--"At last, with no small difficulty, after
much fatigue, through deep roads, and bad weather, we came to our
journeys end."

31. Dr. Whately, from whom we quote the first of these two
arrangements, proposes this construction:--"At last, after much
fatigue, through deep roads and bad weather, we came, with no
small difficulty, to our journeys end." Here it will be observed
that by introducing the words "we came" a little earlier in
the sentence, the labour of carrying forward so many particulars
is diminished, and the subsequent qualification "with no small
difficulty" entails an addition to the thought that is very easily
made. But a further improvement may be produced by introducing
the words "we came" still earlier; especially if at the same time
the qualifications be rearranged in conformity with the principle
already explained, that the more abstract elements of the thought
should come before the more concrete. Observe the better effect
obtained by making these two changes:--"At last, with no small
difficulty, and after much fatigue, we came, through deep roads
and bad weather, to our journeys end." This reads with comparative
smoothness; that is, with less hindrance from suspensions and
reconstructions of thought--with less mental effort.

32. Before dismissing this branch of our subject, it should
be further remarked, that even when addressing the most vigorous
intellects, the direct style is unfit for communicating ideas of
a complex or abstract character. So long as the mind has not much
to do, it may be well able to grasp all the preparatory clauses
of a sentence, and to use them effectively; but if some subtlety
in the argument absorb the attention--if every faculty be strained
in endeavouring to catch the speakers or writers drift, it may
happen that the mind, unable to carry on both processes at once,
will break down, and allow the elements of the thought to lapse
into confusion.

iv. The Principle of Economy applied to Figures.

33. Turning now to consider figures of speech, we may equally
discern the same general law of effect. Underlying all the rules
given for the choice and right use of them, we shall find the same
fundamental requirement--economy of attention. It is indeed chiefly
because they so well subserve this requirement, that figures of
speech are employed. To bring the mind more easily to the desired
conception, is in many cases solely, and in all cases mainly, their

34. Let us begin with the figure called Synecdoche. The advantage
sometimes gained by putting a part for the whole, is due to the
more convenient, or more accurate, presentation of the idea. If,
instead of saying "a fleet of ten ships," we say "a fleet of ten
_sail_," the picture of a group of vessels at sea is more readily
suggested; and is so because the sails constitute the most conspicuous
parts of vessels so circumstanced: whereas the word _ships_ would
very likely remind us of vessels in dock. Again, to say, "_All hands_
to the pumps," is better than to say, "All _men_ to the pumps," as
it suggests the men in the special attitude intended, and so saves
effort. Bringing "gray _hairs_ with sorrow to the grave," is
another expression, the effect of which has the same cause.

35. The occasional increase of force produced by Metonymy may
be similarly accounted for. "The low morality of _the bar,_" _is_
a phrase both more brief and significant than the literal one it
stands for. A belief in the ultimate supremacy of intelligence over
brute force, is conveyed in a more concrete, and therefore more
realizable form, if we substitute _the pen_ and _the sword_ for the
two abstract terms. To say, "Beware of drinking!" is less effective
than to say, "Beware of _the bottle!_" and is so, clearly because
it calls up a less specific image.

36. The Simile is in many cases used chiefly with a view to
ornament, but whenever it increases the _force_ of a passage, it
does so by being an economy. Here in an instance: "The illusion
that great men and great events came oftener in early times than
now, is partly due to historical perspective. As in a range of
equidistant columns, the furthest off look the closest; so, the
conspicuous objects of the past seem more thickly clustered the
more remote they are."

37. To construct by a process of literal explanation, the thought
thus conveyed would take many sentences, and the first elements
of the picture would become faint while the imagination was busy
in adding the others. But by the help of a comparison all effort
is saved; the picture is instantly realized, and its full effect

38. Of the position of the Simile, it needs only to remark,
that what has been said respecting the order of the adjective
and substantive, predicate and subject, principal and subordinate
propositions, &c., is applicable here. As whatever qualifies should
precede whatever is qualified, force will generally be gained by
placing the simile before the object to which it is applied. That
this arrangement is the best, may be seen in the following passage
from the Lady of the Lake;

"As wreath of snow, on mountain breast,
Slides from the rock that gave it rest,
Poor Ellen glided from her stay,
And at the monarchs feet she lay."

Inverting these couplets will be found to diminish the effect
considerably. There are cases, however, even where the simile is
a simple one, in which it may with advantage be placed last, as in
these lines from Alexander Smiths Life Drama:

"I see the future stretch
All dark and barren as a rainy sea."

The reason for this seems to be, that so abstract an idea as that
attaching to the word "future," does not present itself to the
mind in any definite form, and hence the subsequent arrival at the
simile entails no reconstruction of the thought.

39. Such, however, are not the only cases in which this order
is the most forcible. As the advantage of putting the simile
before the object depends on its being carried forward in the mind
to assist in forming an image of the object, it must happen that
if, from length or complexity, it cannot be so carried forward,
the advantage is not gained. The annexed sonnet, by Coleridge, is
defective from this cause:

"As when a child, on some long winters night,
Affrighted, clinging to its grandams knees,
With eager wondring and perturbd delight
Listens strange tales of fearful dark decrees,
Mutterd to wretch by necromantic spell;
Or of those hags who at the witching time
Of murky midnight, ride the air sublime,
And mingle foul embrace with fiends of hell;
Cold horror drinks its blood! Anon the tear
More gentle starts, to hear the beldame tell
Of pretty babes, that lovd each other dear,
Murderd by cruel uncles mandate fell:
Evn such the shivring joys thy tones impart,
Evn so, thou, Siddons, meltest my sad heart."

40. Here, from the lapse of time and accumulation of circumstances,
the first part of the comparison is forgotten before its application
is reached, and requires re-reading. Had the main idea been first
mentioned, less effort would have been required to retain it, and
to modify the conception of it into harmony with the comparison,
than to remember the comparison, and refer back to its successive
features for help in forming the final image.

41. The superiority of the Metaphor to the Simile is ascribed
by Dr. Whately to the fact that "all men are more gratified at
catching the resemblance for themselves, than in having it pointed
out to them." But after what has been said, the great economy it
achieves will seem the more probable cause. Lears exclamation--

"Ingratitude! thou marble-hearted fiend,"

would lose part of its effect were it changed into--

"Ingratitude! thou fiend with heart like marble;"

and the loss would result partly from the position of the simile and
partly from the extra number of words required. When the comparison
is an involved one, the greater force of the metaphor, consequent
on its greater brevity, becomes much more conspicuous. If, drawing
an analogy between mental and physical phenomena, we say, "As, in
passing through the crystal, beams of white light are decomposed
into the colours of the rainbow; so, in traversing the soul of the
poet, the colourless rays of truth are transformed into brightly
tinted poetry"; it is clear that in receiving the double set of
words expressing the two halves of the comparison, and in carrying
the one half to the other, considerable attention is absorbed.
Most of this is saved, however, by putting the comparison in a
metaphorical form, thus: "The white light of truth, in traversing
the many sided transparent soul of. the poet, is refracted into
iris-hued poetry."

42. How much is conveyed in a few words by the help of
the Metaphor, and how vivid the effect consequently produced, may
be abundantly exemplified. From A Life Drama may be quoted the

"I speard him with a jest,"

as a fine instance among the many which that poem contains. A
passage in the Prometheus Unbound, of Shelley, displays the power
of the metaphor to great advantage:

"Methought among the lawns together
We wandered, underneath the young gray dawn,
And multitudes of dense white fleecy clouds
Were wandering, in thick flocks along the mountains
_Shepherded_ by the slow unwilling wind."

This last expression is remarkable for the distinctness with which
it realizes the features of the scene: bringing the mind, as it
were, by a bound to the desired conception.

43. But a limit is put to the advantageous use of the Metaphor,
by the condition that it must be sufficiently simple to be understood
from a hint. Evidently, if there be any obscurity in the meaning
or application of it, no economy of attention will be gained; but
rather the reverse. Hence, when the comparison is complex, it is
usual to have recourse to the Simile. There is, however, a species
of figure, sometimes classed under Allegory, but which might, perhaps,
be better called Compound Metaphor, that enables us to retain the
brevity of the metaphorical form even where the analogy is intricate.
This is done by indicating the application of the figure at the
outset, and then leaving the mind to continue the parallel. Emerson
has employed it with great effect in the first of his I Lectures
on the Times:--"The main interest which any aspects of the Times
can have for us is the great spirit which gazes through them, the
light which they can shed on the wonderful questions, What are we,
and Whither we tend? We do not wish to be deceived. Here we drift,
like white sail across the wild ocean, now bright on the wave, now
darkling in the trough of the sea; but from what port did we sail?
Who knows? Or to what port are we bound? Who knows? There is no
one to tell us but such poor weather-tossed mariners as ourselves,
whom we speak as we pass, or who have hoisted some signal, or
floated to us some letter in a bottle from far. But what know they
more than we ? They also found themselves on this wondrous sea. No;
from the older sailors nothing. Over all their speaking trumpets
the gray sea and the loud winds answer, Not in us; not in Time."

44. The division of the Simile from the Metaphor is by no means
a definite one. Between the one extreme in which the two elements
of the comparison are detailed at full length and the analogy
pointed out, and the other extreme in which the comparison is
implied instead of stated, come intermediate forms, in which the
comparison is partly stated and partly implied. For instance:--"Astonished
at the performances of the English plow, the Hindoos paint it, set
it up, and worship it; thus turning a tool into an idol: linguists
do the same with language." There is an evident advantage in leaving
the reader or hearer to complete the figure. And generally these
intermediate forms are good in proportion as they do this; provided
the mode of completing it be obvious.

45. Passing over much that may be said of like purport upon
Hyperbole, Personification, Apostrophe, &c., let us close our
remarks upon construction by a typical example. The general principle
which has been enunciated is, that other things equal, the force
of all verbal forms and arrangements is great, in proportion as
the time and mental effort they demand from the recipient is small.
The corollaries from this general principle have been severally
illustrated; and it has been shown that the relative goodness of
any two modes of expressing an idea, may be determined by observing
which requires the shortest process of thought for its comprehension.
But though conformity in particular points has been exemplified,
no cases of complete conformity have yet been quoted. It is indeed
difficult to find them; for the English idiom does not commonly
permit the order which theory dictates. A few, however, occur in
Ossian. Here is one:--"As autumns dark storms pour from two echoing
hills, so towards each other approached the heroes. As two dark
streams from high rocks meet and mix, and roar on the plain: loud,
rough, and dark in battle meet Lochlin and Inisfail. . .As the
troubled noise of the ocean when roll the waves on high; as the
last peal of the thunder of heaven; such is noise of the battle."

46. Except in the position of the verb in the first two similes,
the theoretically best arrangement is fully carried out in each of
these sentences. The simile comes before the qualified image, the
adjectives before the substantives, the predicate and copula before
the subject, and their respective complements before them. That the
passage is open to the charge of being bombastic proves nothing;
or rather, proves our case. For what is bombast but a force of
expression too great for the magnitude of the ideas embodied? All
that may rightly be inferred is, that only in very rare cases,
and then only to produce a climax, should all the conditions of
effective expression be fulfilled.

v. Suggestion as a Means of Economy.

47. Passing on to a more complex application of the doctrine
with which we set out, it must now be remarked, that not only in
the structure of sentences, and the use of figures of speech, may
economy of the recipients mental energy be assigned as the cause
of force; but that in the choice and arrangement of the minor
images, out of which some large thought is to be built up, we may
trace the same condition to effect. To select from the sentiment,
scene, or event described those typical elements which carry many
others along with them; and so, by saying a few things but suggesting

many, to abridge the description; is the secret of producing a
vivid impression. An extract from Tennysons Mariana will well
illustrate this:

"All day within the dreamy house,
The door upon the hinges creaked,
The blue fly sung i the pane; the mouse
Behind the mouldering wainscot shrieked,
Or from the crevice peered about."

48. The several circumstances here specified bring with them
many appropriate associations. Our attention is rarely drawn by
the buzzing of a fly in the window, save when everything is still.
While the inmates are moving about the house, mice usually keep
silence; and it is only when extreme quietness reigns that they peep
from their retreats. Hence each of the facts mentioned, presupposing
numerous others, calls up these with more or less distinctness; and
revives the feeling of dull solitude with which they are connected
in our experience. Were all these facts detailed instead of suggested,
the attention would be so frittered away that little impression of
dreariness would be produced. Similarly in other cases. Whatever
the nature of the thought to be conveyed, this skilful selection
of a few particulars which imply the rest, is the key to success.
In the choice of component ideas, as in the choice of expressions,
the aim must be to convey the greatest quantity of thoughts with
the smallest quantity of words.

49. The same principle may in some cases be advantageously
carried yet further, by indirectly suggesting some entirely distinct
thought in addition to the one expressed. Thus, if we say, "The
head of a good classic is as full of ancient myths, as that of
a servant-girl of ghost stories"; it is manifest that besides the
fact asserted, there is an implied opinion respecting the small value
of classical knowledge: and as this implied opinion is recognized
much sooner than it can be put into words, there is gain in omitting
it. In other cases, again, great effect is produced by an overt
omission; provided the nature of the idea left out is obvious.
A good instance of this occurs in Heroes and Heroworship. After
describing the way in which Burns was sacrificed to the idle
curiosity of Lion-hunters--people who came not out of sympathy, but
merely to see him--people who sought a little amusement, and who
got their amusement while "the Heros life went for it!" Carlyle
suggests a parallel thus: "Richter says, in the Island of Sumatra
there is a kind of Light-chafers, large Fire-flies, which people
stick upon spits, and illuminate the ways with at night. Persons
of condition can thus travel with a pleasant radiance, which they
much admire. Great honour to the Fire-flies! But--!--"

vi. The Effect of Poetry explained.

50. Before inquiring whether the law of effect, thus far traced,
explains the superiority of poetry to prose, it will be needful to
notice some supplementary causes of force in expression, that have
not yet been mentioned. These are not, properly speaking, additional
causes; but rather secondary ones, originating from those already
specified reflex results of them. In the first place, then, we may
remark that mental excitement spontaneously prompts the use of those
forms of speech which have been pointed out as the most effective.
"Out with him!" "Away with him!" are the natural utterances of angry
citizens at a disturbed meeting. A voyager, describing a terrible
storm he had witnessed, would rise to some such climax as--"Crack
went the ropes and down came the mast." Astonishment may be heard
expressed in the phrase --"Never was there such a sight!" All of
which sentences are, it will be observed, constructed after the
direct type. Again, every one knows that excited persons are given
to figures of speech. The vituperation of the vulgar abounds with
them: often, indeed, consists of little else. "Beast," "brute,"
"gallows rogue," "cut-throat villain," these, and other like metaphors
and metaphorical epithets, at once call to mind a street quarrel.
Further, it may be noticed that extreme brevity is another
characteristic of passionate language. The sentences are generally
incomplete; the particles are omitted; and frequently important
words are left to be gathered from the context. Great admiration
does not vent itself in a precise proposition, as--"It is beautiful";
but in the simple exclamation--"Beautiful!" He who, when reading a
lawyers letter, should say, "Vile rascal!" would be thought angry;
while, "He is a vile rascal!" would imply comparative coolness.
Thus we see that alike in the order of the words, in the frequent
use of figures, and in extreme conciseness, the natural utterances
of excitement conform to the theoretical conditions of forcible

51. Hence, then, the higher forms of speech acquire a secondary
strength from association. Having, in actual life, habitually heard
them in connection with vivid mental impressions, and having been
accustomed to meet with them in the most powerful writing, they
come to have in themselves a species of force. The emotions that
have from time to time been produced by the strong thoughts wrapped
up in these forms, are partially aroused by the forms themselves.
They create a certain degree of animation; they induce a preparatory
sympathy, and when the striking ideas looked for are reached, they
are the more vividly realized.

52. The continuous use of these modes of expression that are
alike forcible in themselves and forcible from their associations,
produces the peculiarly impressive species of composition which we
call poetry. Poetry, we shall find, habitually adopts those symbols
of thought, and those methods of using them, which instinct and
analysis agree in choosing as most effective, and becomes poetry
by virtue of doing this. On turning back to the various specimens
that have been quoted, it will be seen that the direct or inverted
form of sentence predominates in them; and that to a degree quite
inadmissible in prose. And not only in the frequency, but in what
is termed the violence of the inversions, will this distinction be
remarked. In the abundant use of figures, again, we may recognize
the same truth. Metaphors, similes, hyperboles, and personifications,
are the poets colours, which he has liberty to employ almost without
limit. We characterize as "poetical" the prose which uses these
appliances of language with any frequency, and condemn it as "over
florid" or "affected" long before they occur with the profusion
allowed in verse. Further, let it be remarked that in brevity--the
other requisite of forcible expression which theory points out,
and emotion spontaneously fulfils--poetical phraseology similarly
differs from ordinary phraseology. Imperfect periods are frequent;
elisions are perpetual; and many of the minor words, which would
be deemed essential in prose, are dispensed with.

53. Thus poetry, regarded as a vehicle of thought, is especially
impressive partly because it obeys all the laws of effective speech,
and partly because in so doing it imitates the natural utterances
of excitement. While the matter embodied is idealized emotion,
the vehicle is the idealized language of emotion. As the musical
composer catches the cadences in which our feelings of joy and
sympathy, grief and despair, vent themselves, and out of these
germs evolves melodies suggesting higher phases of these feelings;
I so, the poet develops from the typical expressions in which men
utter passion and sentiment, those choice forms of verbal combination
in which concentrated passion and sentiment may be fitly presented.

54. There is one peculiarity of poetry conducing much
to its effect--the peculiarity which is indeed usually thought its
characteristic one--still remaining to be considered: we mean its
rhythmical structure. This, improbable though it seems, will be
found to come under the same generalization with the others. Like
each of them, it is an idealization of the natural language of
strong emotion, which is known to be more or less metrical if the
emotion be not too violent; and like each of them it is an economy
of the readers or hearers attention. In the peculiar tone and
manner we adopt in uttering versified language, may be discerned its
relationship to the feelings; and the pleasure which its measured
movement gives us, is ascribable to the comparative ease with which
words metrically arranged can be recognized.

55. This last position will scarcely be at once admitted; but
a little explanation will show its reasonableness. For if, as we
have seen, there is an expenditure of mental energy in the mere act
of listening to verbal articulations, or in that silent repetition
of them which goes on in reading--if the perceptive faculties must
be in active exercise to identify every syllable -then, any mode
of so combining words as to present a regular recurrence of certain
traits which the mind can anticipate, will diminish that strain
upon the attention required by the total irregularity of prose.
Just as the body, in receiving a series of varying concussions,
must keep the muscles ready to meet the most violent of them, as
not knowing when such may come; so, the mind in receiving unarranged
articulations, must keep its perceptives active enough to recognize
the least easily caught sounds. And as, if the concussions recur
in a definite order, the body may husband its forces by adjusting
the resistance needful for each concussion; so, if the syllables
be rhythmically arranged, the mind may economize its energies by
anticipating the attention required for each syllable.

56. Far-fetched though this idea will perhaps be thought, a
little introspection will countenance it. That we do take advantage
of metrical language to adjust our perceptive faculties to the force
of the expected articulations, is clear from the fact that we are
balked by halting versification. Much as at the bottom of a flight
of stairs, a step more or less than we counted upon gives us a shock;
so, too, does a misplaced accent or a supernumerary syllable. In
the one case, we _know_ that there is an erroneous preadjustment;
and we can scarcely doubt that there is one in the other. But if
we habitually preadjust our perceptions to the measured movement
of verse, the physical analogy above given renders it probable
that by so doing we economize attention; and hence that metrical
language is more effective than prose, because it enables us to do

57. Were there space, it might be worthwhile to inquire whether
the pleasure we take in rhyme, and also that which we take in
euphony, axe not partly ascribable to the same general cause.



i. The Law of Mental Exhaustion and Repair.

58. A few paragraphs only, can be devoted to a second division
of our subject that here presents itself. To pursue in detail the
laws of effect, as applying to the larger features of composition,
would carry us beyond our limits. But we may briefly indicate a
further aspect of the general principle hitherto traced out, and
hint a few of its wider applications.

59. Thus far, then, we have considered only those causes of
force in language which depend upon economy of the mental _energies:_
we have now to glance at those which depend upon economy of the
mental _sensibilities._ Questionable though this division may be
as a psychological one, it will yet serve roughly to indicate the
remaining field of investigation. It will suggest that besides
considering the extent to which any faculty or group of faculties
is tasked in receiving a form of words and realizing its contained
idea, we have to consider the state in which this faculty or group
of faculties is left; and how the reception of subsequent sentences
and images will be influenced by that state. Without going at length
into so wide a topic as the exercise of faculties and its reactive
effects, it will be sufficient here to call to mind that every
faculty (when in a state of normal activity) is most capable at
the outset; and that the change in its condition, which ends in
what we term exhaustion, begins simultaneously with its exercise.
This generalization, with which we are all familiar in our bodily
experiences, and which our daily language recognizes as true of
the mind as a whole, is equally true of each mental power, from
the simplest of the senses to the most complex of the sentiments.
If we hold a flower to the nose for long, we become insensible to
its scent. We say of a very brilliant flash of lightning that it
blinds us; which means that our eyes have for a time lost their
ability to appreciate light. After eating a quantity of honey, we
are apt to think our tea is without sugar. The phrase "a deafening
roar," implies that men find a very loud sound temporarily
incapacitates them for hearing faint ones. To a hand which has
for some time carried a heavy body, small bodies afterwards lifted
seem to have lost their weight. Now, the truth at once recognized
in these, its extreme manifestations, may be traced throughout.
It may be shown that alike in the reflective faculties, in the
imagination, in the perceptions of the beautiful, the ludicrous,
the sublime, in the sentiments, the instincts, in all the mental
powers, however we may classify them-action exhausts; and that in
proportion as the action is violent, the subsequent prostration is

60. Equally, throughout the whole nature, may be traced the law
that exercised faculties are ever tending to resume their original
state. Not only after continued rest, do they regain their full
power not only do brief cessations partially reinvigorate them; but
even while they are in action, the resulting exhaustion is ever
being neutralized. The two processes of waste and repair go on
together. Hence with faculties habitually exercised--as the senses
of all persons, or the muscles of any one who is strong--it happens
that, during moderate activity, the repair is so nearly equal to
the waste, that the diminution of power is scarcely appreciable;
and it is only when the activity has been long continued, or has
been very violent, that the repair becomes so far in arrear of
the waste as to produce a perceptible prostration. In all cases,
however, when, by the action of a faculty, waste has been incurred,
_some_ lapse of time must take place before full efficiency can be
reacquired; and this time must be long in proportion as the waste
has been great.

ii Explanation of Climax, Antithesis, and Anticlimax.

61. Keeping in mind these general truths, we shall be in
a condition to understand certain causes of effect in composition
now to be considered. Every perception received, and every conception
realized, entailing some amount of waste--or, as Liebig would say,
some change of matter in the brain; and the efficiency of the
faculties subject to this waste being thereby temporarily, though
often but momentarily, diminished; the resulting partial inability
must affect the acts of perception and conception that immediately
succeed. And hence we may expect that the vividness with which
images are realized will, in many cases, depend on the order of
their presentation: even when one order is as convenient to the
understanding as the other.

62. There are sundry facts which alike illustrate this, and are
explained by it. Climax is one of them. The marked effect obtained
by placing last the most striking of any series of images, and the
weakness--often the ludicrous weakness--produced by reversing this
arrangement, depends on the general law indicated. As immediately
after looking at the sun we cannot perceive the light of a fire,
while by looking at the fire first and the sun afterwards we
can perceive both; so, after receiving a brilliant, or weighty,
or terrible thought, we cannot appreciate a less brilliant, less
weighty, or less terrible one, while, by reversing the order, we
can appreciate each. In Antithesis, again, we may recognize the
same general truth. The opposition of two thoughts that are the
reverse of each other in some prominent trait, insures an impressive
effect; and does this by giving a momentary relaxation to the
faculties addressed. If, after a series of images of an ordinary
character, appealing in a moderate degree to the sentiment of
reverence, or approbation, or beauty, the mind has presented to it
a very insignificant, a very unworthy, or a very ugly image; the
faculty of reverence, or approbation, or beauty, as the case may
be, having for the time nothing to do, tends to resume its full
power; and will immediately afterwards appreciate a vast, admirable,
or beautiful image better than it would otherwise do. Conversely,
where the idea of absurdity due to extreme insignificance is to be
produced, it maybe greatly intensified by placing it after something
highly impressive: especially if the form of phrase implies that
something still more impressive is coming. A good illustration of
the effect gained by thus presenting a petty idea to a consciousness
that has not yet recovered from the shock of an exciting one, occurs
in a sketch by Balzac. His hero writes to a mistress who has cooled
towards him the following letter:

"Madame, Votre conduite mtonne autant quelle mafflige Non contente
de me dchirer le coeur par vos ddains vous avez lindlicatesse
de me retenir une brosse dents, que mes moyens ne me permettent
pas de remplacer, mes proprits etant greves dhypothques

"Adieu, trop, belle et trop ingrate ainie! Puissions nous nous
revoir dans un monde meilleur!

"Charles Edouard"

63. Thus we see that the phenomena of Climax, Antithesis, and
Anticlimax, alike result from this general principle. Improbable
as these momentary variations in susceptibility may seem, we cannot
doubt their occurrence when we contemplate the analogous variations
in the susceptibility of the senses. Referring once more to phenomena
of vision, every one knows that a patch of black on a white ground
looks blacker, and a patch of white on a black ground looks whiter,
than elsewhere. As the blackness and the whiteness must really be
the same, the only assignable cause for this is a difference in
their actions upon us, dependent upon the different states of our
faculties. It is simply a visual antithesis.

iii. Need of Variety.

64. But this extension of the general principle of economy--this
further condition to effective composition, that the sensitiveness
of the faculties must be continuously husbanded--includes much
more than has been yet hinted. It implies not only that certain
arrangements and certain juxtapositions of connected ideas are best;
but that some modes of dividing and presenting a subject will be
more striking than others; and that, too, irrespective of its logical
cohesion. It shows why we must progress from the less interesting
to the more interesting; and why not only the composition as a
whole, but each of its successive portions, should tend towards a
climax. At the same time, it forbids long continuity of the same
kind of thought, or repeated production of like effects. It warns
us against the error committed both by Pope in his poems and by Bacon
in his essays--the error, namely, of constantly employing forcible
forms of expression: and it points out that as the easiest posture
by and by becomes fatiguing, and is with pleasure exchanged for one
less easy, so, the most perfectly-constructed sentences will soon
weary, and relief will be given by using those of an inferior kind.

65. Further, we may infer from it not only that we should
avoid generally combining our words in one manner, however good,
or working out our figures and illustrations in one way, however
telling; but that we should avoid anything like uniform adherence,
even to the wider conditions of effect. We should not make every
section of our subject progress in interest; we should not always
rise to a climax. As we saw that, in single sentences, it is but
rarely allowable to fulfill all the conditions to strength; so,
in the larger sections of a composition we must not often conform
entirely to the law indicated. We must subordinate the component
effect to the total effect.

66. In deciding how practically to carry out the principles of
artistic composition, we may derive help by bearing in mind a fact
already pointed out--the fitness of certain verbal arrangements for
certain kinds of thought. That constant variety in the mode of
presenting ideas which the theory demands, will in a great degree
result from a skilful adaptation of the form to the matter. We saw
how the direct or inverted sentence is spontaneously used by excited
people; and how their language is also characterized by figures
of speech and by extreme brevity. Hence these may with advantage
predominate in emotional passages; and may increase as the emotion
rises. On the other hand, for complex ideas, the indirect sentence
seems the best vehicle. In conversation, the excitement produced by
the near approach to a desired conclusion, will often show itself
in a series of short, sharp sentences; while, in impressing a view
already enunciated, we generally make our periods voluminous by
piling thought upon thought. These natural modes of procedure may
serve as guides in writing. Keen observation and skilful analysis
would, in like manner, detect further peculiarities of expression
produced by other attitudes of mind; and by paying due attention
to all such traits, a writer possessed of sufficient versatility
might make some approach to a completely-organized work.

iv. The Ideal Writer.

67. This species of composition which the law of effect points
out as the perfect one, is the one which high genius tends naturally
to produce. As we found that the kinds of sentences which are
theoretically best, are those generally employed by superior minds,
and by inferior minds when excitement has raised them; so, we shall
find that the ideal form for a poem, essay, or fiction, is that
which the ideal writer would evolve spontaneously. One in whom
the powers of expression fully responded to the state of feeling,
would unconsciously use that variety in the mode of presenting his
thoughts, which Art demands. This constant employment of one species
of phraseology, which all have now to strive against, implies an
undeveloped faculty of language. To have a specific style is to be
poor in speech. If we remember that, in the far past, men had only
nouns and verbs to convey their ideas with, and that from then to
now the growth has been towards a greater number of implements of
thought, and consequently towards a greater complexity and variety
in their combinations; we may infer that we are now, in our use
of sentences, much what the primitive man was in his use of words;
and that a continuance of the process that has hitherto gone on,
must produce increasing heterogeneity in our modes of expression. As
now, in a fine nature, the play of the features, the tones of the
voice and its cadences, vary in harmony with every thought uttered;
so, in one possessed of a fully developed power of speech, the
mould in which each combination of words is cast will similarly
vary with, and be appropriate to the sentiment.

68. That a perfectly endowed man must unconsciously write in
all styles, we may infer from considering how styles originate.
Why is Johnson pompous, Goldsmith simple? Why is one author abrupt,
another rhythmical, another concise? Evidently in each case the
habitual mode of utterance must depend upon the habitual balance
of the nature. The predominant feelings have by use trained the
intellect to represent them. But while long, though unconscious,
discipline has made it do this efficiently, it remains from lack of
practice, incapable of doing the same for the less active feelings;
and when these are excited, the usual verbal forms undergo but
slight modifications. Let the powers of speech be fully developed,
however--let the ability of the intellect to utter the emotions be
complete; and this fixity of style will disappear. The perfect
writer will express himself as Junius, when in the Junius frame of
mind; when he feels as Lamb felt, will use a like familiar speech;
and will fall into the ruggedness of Carlyle when in a Carlylean
mood. Now he will be rhythmical and now irregular; here his language
will be plain and there ornate; sometimes his sentences will be
balanced and at other times unsymmetrical; for a while there will
be considerable sameness, and then again great variety. His mode
of expression naturally responding to his state of feeling, there
will flow from his pen a composition changing to the same degree
that the aspects of his subject change. He will thus without effort
conform to what we have seen to be the laws of effect. And while
his work presents to the reader that variety needful to prevent
continuous exertion of the same faculties, it will also answer to
the description of all highly organized products, both of man and
of nature: it will be not a series of like parts simply placed in
juxtaposition, but one whole made up of unlike parts that
are mutually dependent.

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