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but more plain and natural: and this is now understood to be the genius of our language.
The restoration of Charles II. seems to be the æra of the formation of our present style. Lord Clarendon was one of the first who laid aside those frequent inversions which prevailed among writers of the former age.
After him, Sir William Temple polished the language still zuore. But the author, who, by the number and reputation of his works, formed it more than any one, into its present state, is Dryden. Dryden began to write at the restoration, and continued long an author botla in poetry and prose. He had made the language his study; and thougla he wrote bastily, and often incorrectly, and his style is not free from faults, yet there is a richness in his diction, a copiousness, ease, and variety in his expression, which has not been surpassed by any who have come after him. Since his tiine, considerable attention has been praid to purity and elegance of style : but it is elegance, rather than strength, that forms the distinguishing quality of most of the good Eoglish writers. Some of them compose in a more manly and nervous manner than others; but, whether it be from the genius of our language, or from whatever other cause, it appears to me, that we are far from the strength of several of the Greek and Roman authors.
Hitherto we have considered style under those characters that respect its expressiveness of an author's meaning. Let us now proceed to consider it in an another view, with respect to the degree of ornament employed to beautify it. Here, the style of different authors seems to rise, in the following gradation: a dry, a plain, a neat, an elegant, a flowery manner. Of each of these in their order:
First, a dry manner: This excludes all ornament of every kind. Content with being understood, it has not the least aim to please either the fancy or the ear. This is tolerable only in pure didactic writing; and even there, to make us bear it, great weight and solidity of matter, is requisite : and entire perspicaity of language Aristotle is the thorough example of a dry style. Never, perhaps, was there any author who adhered so rigidly to the strictness of a didactic manner, through out all his writings, and conveyed so much instruction without the least approach to ornament. With the most profound genius, and extensive views, he writes like a pure intelligence, who addresses himself solely to the understanding, without making any use of the channel of the inagination. But this is a manner which deserves not to be imitated For, although the goodness of the matter may compensate the dryness or harshness of the style, yet is that dryness a considerable defect : as it fatigues attention, and conveys our sentiments with disadvantage to the reader or hearer.
A plain 'style rises one degree above a dry one. A writer of this character employs very little ornament of any kind, and rests, almost, entirely upon his sense. But, if he is at no pains to engage us by the
* Dr. Juhnson, in his Life of Dryden, gives the following character of his prose style : His prefaces have not the formality of a settled style, in which the first half of the sentence , betrays the other. The clairses are never balanced, nor the periods modelled; every word seems to drop by chance, though it falls into its proper place Nothing is cold or languid ; the whole is airy, animated and vigorous ; what is little is gay, what is great is splendid. Though all is easy, nothing is fecble; though all seems careless, there is nothing harsh ; and though, since bis earlier works' more than a centory has passoil, they have nothing yet uncouth or obsolete.'
employment of figures, musical arrangement, or any other art of writing, he studies, however, to avoid disgusting us like a dry and a harsh writer. Besides perspicuity, he pursues propriety, purity, and precision, in his language; which forms one degree, and no inconsiderable one, of beauty. Liveliness, too, and force, may be consistent with a very plain style; and therefore, such an author, if his sentiments be good, may be abundantly agreeable. The difference between a dry and a plain writer, is, that the former is incapable of ornament, and seems not to know what it is; the latter seeks not after it. He gives us his meaning, in good language, distinct and pure; any further ornament, he gives himself no trouble about either, because he thinks it unnecessary to his subject; or, because his genius does not lead bim to delight in it; or, because it leads him to despise it.*
This last was the case with Dean Swift, who may be placed at the head of those that have employed the plain style. Few writers have discovered more capacity. He treats every subject which he handles, whether serious or ludicrous, in a masterly manner. He knew, almost beyond any man, the purity, the extent, the precision of the English language; and, therefore, to such as wish to attain a pure and correct style, he is one of the most useful models. But we must not look for much ornament and grace in his language. His haughty and morose genius, made him despise any embellishment of this kind as beneath his dignity. He slelivers his sentiments in a plain, downright, positive manner, like one who is sure he is in the right; and is very indifferent whether you be pleased or not. His sentences are commonly negligently arranged; distinctly enough as to the sense; but, without any regard to smoothness of sound; often without much regard to compactness, or elegance. If a metapbor, or any other figure, chanced to render his satire more poignant, he would, perhaps, vouchsafe to adopt it, when it came in his way; but if it tended only to embellish and illustrate, he would rather throw it aside. Hence, in his serious pieces, his style often borders upon the dry and unpleasing: in his humourous ones, the plainness of his manner gives his wit a singular edge, and sets it off to the highest advantage. There is no froth, nor affectation in it; it flows without any studied preparation; and while he hardly appears to smile himself, he makes his reader laugh heartily. To a writer of such a genius as Dean Swift, the plain style was most admirably fitted. Among our philosophical writers, Mr. Loeke comes under this class; perspicuous and pure, but almost without any ornament whatever. In works which admit, or require ever so much ornament, there are parts where the plain manner ought to predominate. But we must remember, that when this is the character which a writer affects throughout his whole composition, great weight of matter and great force of sentiment, are required, in order to keep up the reader's attention, and prevent him from becoming tired of the author.
What is called a neat style comes next in order; and here we are got into the region of ornament: but that ornament not of the highest or most sparkling kind. A writer of this character shews, that he does
On this head, of the general characters of style, particularly the plain and the simple and the characters of those English authors who are classed under them, in this, and the following lecture, several ideas have been taken from a manuscript treatise on rhetoric, part of which was shewn to me, many years ago, by the learned and ingenious agthor, Dr. Adam Smith ; and which, it is hoped, will be given by him to the public. not despise the beauty of language. It is an object of his attention. But his attention is shewn in the choice of words, and in a graceful collocation of them : rather than in any high efforts of imagination, or eloquence. His sentences are always clean, and free from the incumbrance of superfluous words; of a moderate length; rather inclining to brevity, than a swelling structure; closing with propriety; without any tails, or adjections dragging after the proper close. His cadence is varied; but not of the studied musical kind. His figures, if he uses any, are short and correct, rather than bold and glowing. Such a style as this may be attained by a writer who has no great powers of fancy or genius ; by industry merely, and careful attention to the rules of writing; and it is a style always agreeable. It imprints a character of moderate elevation on our composition, and carries a decent degree of ornament, which is not unsuitable to any subject whatever. · A familiar letter, or a law paper, on the driest subject, may be written with neatness; and a sermon, or a philosophical treatise, in a neat style, will be read with pleasure.
An elegant style is a character, expressing a higher degree of ornament than a neat one: and indeed, is the term usually applied to style, when possessing all the virtues of ornament, without any of its excesses or de fects. From what has been formerly delivered, it will easily be understood, that complete elegance implies great perspicuity and propriety; purity in the choice of words, and care and dexterity in their harmonious and happy arrangement. It implies farther, the grace and beauty of imagination spread over style, as far as the subject admits it; and all the illustration which figurative language adds, when properly employed. In a word, an elegant writer is one who pleases the fancy and the ear, while he informs the understanding ; and who gives us his ideas clothed with all the beauty of expression, but not overcharged with any of its misplaced finery. In this class, therefore, we place only the first rate writers in the language ; such as Addison, Dryden, Pope, Temple, Bolingbroke, Atterbury, and a few more : writers who differ widely from one another in many of the attributes of style, but whom we now class together, under the denomination of elegant, as, in the scale of ornament, possessing nearly the same place.
When the ornaments applied to style, are too rich and gaudy in prou; portion to the subject; when they return upon us too fast, and strike us either with a dazzling lustre, or a false brilliancy, this forms what is called a florid style; a term commonly used to signify the excess of ornament. In a young composer this is more pardonable. Perhaps it is even a promising symptom in young people, that their style should incline to the florid and luxuriant; 'Volo se efferat in adolescente fæcunditas,' says Quintilian,'' multum inde decoquent anni, multum ratio limabit aliquid velut, usu ipso deteretur; sit modo unde excidi possit quid et elxscupi. Audeat hæc ætas plura, et inveniat et inventisgaudeat; sint licet illa non satis interim sicca et severa. Facile remedium est ubertatis: sterilia nullo labore vincuntur.'* But, although the florid style
* . In youth, I wish to see laxuriancy of fancy appear. Much of it will be diminished by years; much will be corrected by ripening judgment; some of it, by the mere practice of composition, will be worn away. Lei there be vnly sufficient matter at first, that can bear some pruning and lopping off. At this time of life, let genius be bold and inventive, and pride itself in its efforts, though these should not, as yet, be Ofrect. Luxuriancy can easily be cured; but for barrenness there is no remedy.
may be allowed to youth, in their first essays, it must not receive the same indulgence from writers of maturer years. It is to be expected, that judgment as it ripens, should chasten imagination, and reject as juvenile, all such ornaments as are redundant, unsuitable to the subject, or not conducive to illustrate it. Nothing can be more contemptible than that tinsel splendour of language, which some writers perpetually affect. It were well, if this could be ascribed to the real overflowing of a rich imagination. We should then have something to amuse us, at least, if we found little to instruct us. But the worst is, that with those frothy writers, it is a luxuriancy of words, not of fancy. We see a laboured attempt tó rise to a splendour of composition, of which they have formed to themselves some loose idea; but having no strength of genius for attaining it, they endeavour to supply the defect by poetical words, by cold exclamations, by common place figures, and every thing that has the appearance of poinp and magnificence. It has escaped these writers, that sobriety in ornament, is one great secret for rendering it pleasing ; and that without a foundation of good sense and solid thought, the most florid style is but a childish imposition on the public. The public, however, are but too apt to be so imposed on : at least, the mob of readers, who are very ready to be caught, at first with whatever is dazzling and gaudy.
I cannot help thinking, that it reflects more honour on the religious turn, and good dispositions of the present age, than on the public taste, that Mr. Harvey's Meditations have had so great a currency.
The pious and benevolent heart, which is always displayed in them, and the lively fancy which, on some occasions, appears, justly merits applause : but the perpetual glitter of expression, the swoln imagery, and strained description which abound in them, are ornaments of a false kind. I would, therefore, advise students of oratory to imitate Mr. Harvey's piety rather than his style : and, in all compositions of a serious kind, io turn their attention, as Mr. Pope says, ' from sounds to things, from sancy to the heart.' Admonitions of this kind, I have already had occasion to give, and may hereafter repeat them ; as I conceive nothing more incumbent on me in this course of lectures, than to take every opportunity of cautioning my readers against the affected and frivolous use of ornament: and instead of that slight and superficial taste in writing, which I apprehend to be at present too fashionable, to introduce, as far as my endeavours can avail, a taste for more solid thought, and more manly simplicity in style.
GENERAL CHARACTERS OF STYLE...SIMPLE, AFFECTED, VEHEMENT....DIRECTIONS FOR FORMING A
PROPER STYLE. HAVING entered, in the last lecture, on the consideration of the general characters of style, I treated of the concise and diffuse, the nervous and feeble manner, I considered style also, with relation :
the different degrees of ornament employed to beautify it, in which view, the manner of different authors rises according to the following gradation; dry, plain, neat, elegant, flowery.
I am next to treat of style under another character, one of great importance in writing, and which requires to be accurately examined, that of simplicity, or a natural style, as distinguished from affectation. Simplicity, applied to writing, is a term very frequently used; but, like many other critical terms, often used loosely and without precision. This has been owing chiefly to the different meanings given to the word simplicity, which, therefore, it will be necessary here to distinguish; and to shew in what sense it is a proper attribute of style. We may remark four different acceptations in which it is taken.
The first is, simplicity of composition, as opposed to too great a "variety of parts. Horace's precept refers to this:
Denique sit quod vis simplex duntaxat et uuum.“ This is the simplicity of plan in a tragedy, as distinguished from double plots, and crowded incidents; the simplicity of the Iliad, or Æneid, in opposition to the digressions of Lucan, and the scattered tales of Ariosto; the simplicity of Grecian architecture, in opposition to the irregular variety of the Gothic. In this sense, simplicity is the same with unity.
The second sense is, simplicity of thought, as opposed to refinement. Simple thoughts are what arise naturally, what the occasion or the subject suggests unsought; and what, when once suggested, are easily apprehended by all. Refinement in writing, expresses a less natural and obvious train of thought, and which it required a peculiar turn of gepius to pursue ; within certain bounds very beautiful; but when carried too far, approaching to intricacy, and hurting us by the appearance of being recherché, or far sought. Thus, we would naturally say, that Mr. Parnell is a poet of far greater simplicity, in his turn of thought, thar Mr. Cowley; Cicero's thoughts on moral subjects are natural ; Seneca's too refined and laboured. In these two senses of simplicity, when it is opposed, either to variety of parts, or to refinement of thought, it has no proper relation to style,
There is a third sense of simplicity, in which it has respect to style; and stands opposed to too much ornament or pomp of language; as when we say, Mr. Locke is a simple, Mr. Harvey a furid writer; and it is in this sense, that the simples, the tenue' or 6 subtile genus dicendi,' is understood by Cicero and Quintilian. The simple style, in this sense, coincides with the plain or the neat style, which I before mentioned; and, therefore, requires no farther illustration.
But there is a fourth sense of simplicity, also, respecting style; but not respecting the degree of ornament employed, so much as the easy and natural manner in which our language expresses our thoughts. This is quite different from the former sense of the word just now men. tioned, in which simplicity was equivalent to plainness : whereas, in this sense, it is compatible with the highest ornament. Homer, for instance, possesses this simplicity in the greatest perfection; and yet no writer has more ornament and beauty. This simplicity, which is what we are now to consider, stands opposed, not to ornament, but to affecta
** Then learn the wand'ring humour to controul, And keep one equal tenor througla the whole.'