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many instances might be given of a difference in meaning among words reputed synonymous; and, as the subject is of importance, I shall now point out some of these. The instances which I am to give, may themselves be of use; and they will serve 10 shew the necessity of attending, with care and strictness, to the exact import of words, if ever we would write with propriety or precision.
Austerity, severity, rigour. Austerity, relates to the manner of living; severity, of thinking ; rigour, of punishing. To austerity, is opposed effeminacy; to severity, relaxation; to rigour, clemency. A hermit, is austere in his life ; a casuist severe in his application of religion or law; a judge, rigorous in his sentences.
Custom, habit. Custom, respects the action ; habit, the actor. By custom, we mean the frequent repetition of the same act; by habit, the effect which that repetition produces on the mind or body. By the custom of walking often in the streets, one acquires a habit of idleness.
Surprised, astonished, amazed, confounded. I am surprised, with what is new or unexpected; I am astonished, at what is vast or great; I am amazed, with what is incomprehensible; I am confounded, by what shocking or terrible.
Desist, renounce, quit, leave off. Each of these words imply some pursuit or object relinquished; but from different motives. We desist, from the difficulty of accomplishing. We renounce, on account of the disagreeableness of the object, or pursuit. We quit, for the sake of some other thing which interests us more; and we leave off because we weary of the design. A polatician desists from his designs, when he finds they are impracticable; he renounces the court, because he has been affronted by it; he quits ambition for study or retirement; and leaves off his attendance on the great, as he becomes old and weary of it.
Pride, vanity. Pride, makes us esteem ourselves; vanity, makes us desire the esteem of others. It is just to say, as Dean Swift has done, that a man is too proud to be vain.
Haughtiness, disdain. Haughtiness, is founded on the high opinion we entertain of ourselves ; disdain, on the low opinion we have of others.
To distinguish, to separate. We distinguish, what we want not to confound with another thing; we separate, what we want to remove from it. Objects are distinguished from one another, by their qualities. They are separated, by the distance of time or place.
To weary, to fatigue. The continuance of the same thing wearies us; labour fatigues us. I am weary with standing; I am fatigued with walking. A suiter wearies us by his perseverance; fatigues us by his importunity.
To abhor, to detest. To abhor, imports, simply, strong dislike; to de. test, imports also strong disapprobation. One abhors being in debt; he detests treachery.
To invent, to discover. We invent things that are new; we discover what was before hidden. Galileo invented the telescope; Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood.
Only, alone. Only, imports that there is no other of the same kind; alone, imports being accompanied by no other. An only child, is one who has neither brother nor sister ; a child alove, is one who is left by itself. There is a difference, therefore, in precise language, betwixt these two phrases, 'virtue only makes us happy;' and, virtue alone makes us bappy. Virtue only makes us happy, imports, that nothing else can do
it. Virtue alone makes us happy, imports, that virtue, by itself, or unaccompanied with other advantages, is sufficient to do it.
Entire, complete. A thing is entire, by wanting none of its parts; complete, by wanting none of the appendages that belong to it. A man may have an entire house to himself; and yet not have one complete apartment.
Tranquillity, peace, calm. Tranquillity, respects a situation free from trouble, considered in itself; peace, the same situation with respect to any causes that might interrupt it; calm, with regard to a disturbed situation going before, or following it. A good man enjoys tranquillity in himself; peace, with others; and calm, after the storm.
A difficulty, an obstacle. A difficulty, embarrasses; an obstacle, stops us. We remove the one; we surmount the other. Generally, the first, expresses somewhat arising from the nature and circumstances of the affair; the second, somewhat arising from a foreign cause. Philip found difficulty in managing the Athenians from the nature of their dispositions ; but the eloquence of Demosthenes was the greatest obstacle to his designs.
Wisdom, prudence. Wisdom, leads us to speak and act what is most proper. Prudence, prevents our speaking or acting improperly. A wise man, employs the most proper means for success; a prúdent man, the safest means for not being brought into danger.
Enough, sufficient. Enough, relates to the quantity which one wishes to have of any thing. Sufficient, relates to the use that is to be made of it. Hence, enough, generally imports a greater quantity than sufficient does. The covetous man never has enough; although he has what is sufficient for nature.
To avow, to acknowledge, to confess. Each of these words imports the affirmation of a fact, but in very different circumstances. To avow, supposes the person to glory in it; to acknowledge, supposes a small degree of faultiness, which the acknowledgment compensates; to confess, supposes a higher degree of crime. A patriot avows his opposition to a bad minister, and is applauded; a gentleman acknowledges his mistake, and is forgiven; a prisoner confesses the crime he is accused of, and is pun. ished.
To remark, to observe. We remark in the way of attention, in order to remember; we observe, in the way of examination, in order to judge. A traveller remarks the most striking objects he sees; a general observes all the motions of his enemy.
Equivocal, ambiguous. An equivocal expression, is, one which has one sense open, and designed to be understood; another sense concealed and understood only by the person who uses it. An ambiguous expression is, one which has apparently two senses, and leaves us at a loss which of them to give it. An equivocal expression is used with an intention to deceive; an ambiguous one, when it is used with design, is, with an intention not to give full information. An honest man will never employ an equivocal expression; a confused man may often utter ambiguous ones, without any design. I shall only give one instance more.
With, by. Both these particles express the connexion between some instrument, or means of affecting an end, and the agent who employs it ; but with, expresses a more close and immediate connexion ; by, a more remote one. We kill a man with a sword; he dies by violence. The Criminal is bound with ropes by the executioner. The proper distinction
in the use of these particles, is elegantly marked in a passage of Dr. Robertson's History of Scotland. When one of the old Scottish kings was making an inquiry into the tenure by which his nobles held their lands, they started up, and drew their swords ; ' By these,' said they, 'we acquired our lands, and with these we will defend them." • By these we acquired our lands ;' signifies the more remote means facquisition by force and martial deeds; and, with these we will defend them ;' signifies the immediate direct instrument, the sword which they would employ in their defence.
These are instances of words, in our language, which, by careless writers, are apt to be employed as perfectly synonymous, and yet are not so. Their significations approach, but are not precisely the same
The more the distinction in the meaning of such words is weighed, and attended to, the more clearly and forcibly shall we speak or write. *
From all that has been said on this head, it will now appear, that, in or. der to write or speak with precision, two things are especially, requisite : one that an author's own ideas be clear and distinct; and the other, that we have an exact and full comprehension of the force of those words which he employs. Natural genius is liere required'; labour and attention still more. Dean Swift is one of the authors, in our language, most distinguished for precision of style. In his writings, we seldom or never find vague expressions, and synonymous words carelessly thrown together. His meaning is always clear, and strongly marked.
i had occasion to observe before, that though all subjects of writing or discourse demand perspicuity, yet all do not require the same degree of that exact precision which I have endeavoured to explain. It is, indeed, in every sort of writing, a great beauty to have, at least, some measure of precision, in distinction from that loose profusion of words which imprints no clear idea on the reader's mind. But we must, at the same time, be on our guard, lest too great a study of precision, especially in subjects where it is not strictly requisite, betray us into a dry and barren style: lest, from the desire of pruning too closely, we retrench all copiousness and ornament. Some degree of this failing may, perhaps, be remarked in Dean Swift's serious works. Attentive only to exhibit his ideas clear and exact, resting wholly on his sense and distinctness, he appears to reject, disdainfully, all embellishment, which, on some occasions, may be thought to render his manner somewhat hard and dry.
To unite copiouspess and precision, to be flowing and graceful, and at the same time correct and exact in the choice of every word, is, no doubt, one of the highest and most difficult attainments in writing. Some kinds of composition may require more of copiousness and ornament; others, more of precision and accuracy nay, in the same composition, the different parts of it may demand a proper variation of manner. But we must study never to
* In French there is a very useful treatise on this subject, the Abbe Girard's Synon* ymes Francoises, in which be has made a large collection of such apparent synonymes in the language, and shewn, with much accuracy the difference in their signification. It is much to be wished, that some such work were undertaken for our tongue, and executed with equal taste and judgment. Nothing would contribute more to precise and elegant writing. In the mean time, this French Treatise may be perused with considerable profit. It will accustom persons to weigh, with attention, the force of words; and will suggest several distinctions betwixt synonymous terms in our own language, analogous to those which he has pointed out in the French; and, accordingly, several of the instances above given, were suggested by the work of this author.
sacrifice, totally, any one of these qualities to the other, and by a proper management, both of them may be made fully consistent, if our own ideas be precise, and our knowledge and stock of words be, at the same time, extensive.
STRUCTURE OF SENTENCES.
HAVING begun to treat of style, in the last lecture I considered its fundamental quality, perspicuity. What I have said of this, relates chiefly to the choice of words. From words I proceed to sentences; and as, in all writing and discourse, the proper composition and structure of sentences is of the highest importance, I shall treat of this fully. Though perspicuity be the general head under which I, at present, consider language, I shall not confine myself to this quality alone, in sentences, but shall inquire also, what is requisite for their grace and beauty : that I may bring together, under one view, all that seems necessary to be attended to in the construction and arrangement of words in a sentence.
It is not easy to give an exact defiuition of a sentence, or period, farther, than as it always implies some one complete proposition or enunciation of thought. Aristotle's definition is, in the main, a good one: “ Aɛğus ex800 αρχην και τελευτην καθ' αυτην, και μεγεθος ευσυνοπσον: A form of speech which hath a beginning and an end within itself, and is of such a length as to be easily comprehended at once.” This, however, admits of great latitude. For a sentence, or period, consists always of component parts, which are called its members; and as these members may be either few or many, and may be connected in several different ways, the same thought, or men. tal proposition, may often be either brought into one sentence, or split into two or three, without the material breach of any rule.
The first variety that occurs in the consideration of sentences, is the distinction of long and short ones. The precise length of sentences, as to the number of words, or the number of members, which may enter into them, cannot be ascertained by any definite measure. Only, it is obvious, there may be an extreme on either side. Sentences, immoderately long, and consisting of too many members, always transgress some one or other of the rules which I shall mention soon, as necessary to be observed in every good sentence. In discourses that are to be spoken, regard must be had to the easiness of pronunciation, which is not consistent with too long periods. In compositions where pronunciation has no place, still, however, by using long periods too frequently, an author overloads the reader's ear, and fatigues his attention. For long periods require, evidently, more attention than short ones, in order to perceive clearly the connexion of the several parts, and to take in the whole at one view. At the same time, there may be an excess in too many short sentences also; by which the sense is split and broken, the connexion of thought weakened, and the memory, burdened by presenting to it a long succession of minute objects.
With regard to the length and construction of sentence, the French mean more than the bulk? Is it the colour ? Or any other property ? Its proper place, undoubtedly, is, after the word object. By greatness, I do not mean the bulk of any single object only ;' for then, when we put the question, What more does he mean than the bulk of a single object ? The answer comes out exactly as the author intends, and gives it; - The largeness of a whole view."' Theism,' says Lord Shaftesbury, can only be opposed to polytheism, or atheism.' Does he mean that theism is capable of nothing else, except being opposed to polytheism or atheism ? This is what his words literally
import, through the wrong collocation of only. He should have said, ' Theism can be opposed only to polytheism or atheism. In like manner, Dean Swist, (Project for the advancement of Religion,) The Romans understood liberty, at least, as well as we.' These words are capable of two different senses, according as the emphasis, in reading them, is laid upon liberty, or upon at least. In the first case, they will signify, that whatever other things we may understand better than the Romans, liberty, at least, was one thing, which they understood as well as we. In the second case, they will import, that liberty was understood, at least as well by them as by us; meaning that by them it was better understood. If this last, as I make no doubt, was Dean Swift's own meaning, the ambiguity would have been avoided, and the sense rendered independent of the manner of pronouncing, by arranging the words thus : The Romans understood liberty as well, at least, as we.' The fact is, with respect to such adverbs, as only, wholly, at least, and the rest of that tribe, that in common discourse, the tone and emphasis we use in pronouncing them, generally serves to show their reference, and to make the meaning clear; and hence we acquire a habit of throwing them in loosely in the course of a period. But, in writing, where a man speaks to the eye, and not to the ear, he ought to be more accurate; and so to connect those adverbs with the words which they qualify, as to put his meaning out of doubt, upon the first inspection.
Secondly, when a circumstance is interposed in the middle of a senteoce, it sometimes requires attention how to place it, so as to divest it of all ambiguity. For instance;' Are these designs,' says Lord Bolingbroke, Disser. on Parties, Dedicat. Are these designs, which any man, who is born a Briton, in any circumstances, in any situation, ought to be ashamed or afraid to avow i' Here we are left at a loss, whether these words, in any circumstances, in any situation,' are connected with, a man born in Britain, in any circumstances, or situation, or with that man's 6 avowing his designs, in any circumstances, or situation into which he may be brought?" If the latter, as seems most probable, was intended to be the meaning, the arrangement ought to have been conducted thus;
Are these designs which any man who is born a Briton, ought to be ashamed or afraid, in any circumstances, in any situation, to avow?' But
Thirdly, still more attention is required to the proper disposition of the relative pronouns, who, which, what, whose, and of all those particles which express the connexion of the parts of speech with one another. As all reasoning depends upon this connexion, we cannot be too accurate and precise here. A small error may overcloud the meaning of the whole sentence; and even where the meaning is intelligible, yet, where these relative particles are out of their proper place, we always find something awkward and disjointed in the structure of the sentence. Thus, in the Spectator, (No. 34.) · This kind of wit,' says Mr. Addison,' was very much in vogue among our countrymen, about an age or two ago,