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OF A PROPER SELECTION OF WORDS.
ET no one accuse me here of exhorting Or
ators to render their compositions insipid, with a view of improving their style.
I am sensible, that, whatever we wish to finish with too much care, we enervate ; and, that the impetuosity of Eloquence spurns at those minute researches, which would extinguish its fervour; but, I am aware also, that we can write from present impulse, and correct afterwards, at leisure, without cooling the original ardour; and, that a proper medium is requisite to be kept between the extreme of neglecting application, which adds to the defects of taste, and the excess of labour, which deadens the transports of genius.
Boileau hath said before me, and better than I have, “Put your work twenty times upon the * frame ; polish and re-polish it continually ; * sometimes add, and often erase.'*
Vingt fois sur les mè tier
mettez votre ouvrage ;
A pains-taking Orator, who is desirous of giv.. ing the finishing stroke to his productions, is al
HORACE, who was a shrewd judge of human nature, insists upon an author's being rigorously strict in criticizing and correcting his own works.
Vir bonus et prudens versus reprehendet inertes ;
HoR. de Ar. Poet, v. 145. DR. BLAIR enforces the same attention to the work of revision and correction, in his directions for forming Style, when he observes, that there may be an extreme in too 'great and anxious a care about words. We must not re* tard the course of thought, nor cool the heat of imagina* tion, by pausing too long on every word we employ. • There is, on certain occasions, a glow of composition
which should be kept up, if we hope to express ourselves • happily, though at the expence of allowing some inadver
tancies to pass. A more severe examination of these must • be left to be the work of correction. For, if the practice of composition be useful, the laborious work of correcting is no less so; it is, indeed, absolutely necessary to our
reaping any benefit from the habit of composition. What • we have written, should be laid by for some little time, till
the ardour of composition be past, till the fondness for the • expressions we have used be worn off, and the expressions themselves be forgotten ; and then reviewing our work
with a cool and critical eye, as if it were the performance • of another, we shall discern many imperfections which at • first escaped us. Then is the season for pruning redun, • dancies ; for w: ighing the arrangement of sentences ; for • attending to the juncture and connecting particles ; and * bringing Style into a regular, correct, and supported form,
ways repaid for his trouble. If correction do not suggest to him the materials of a discourse, it, at least, points out expressions unworthy of the pulpit, which sometimes escape in the ardour of composition; and this, doubtless, is a valuable advantage in a style wherein we apprehend, justly enough, that one bad word doth oftentimes more injury, than a weak argument.
Correction suggests to the Orator appropriate expressions which render his ideas more striking, and his sentiments more impassioned. In the
same manner,' says Cicero, as clothes, at first • invented through necessity, have afterwards become ornamental to the human body, so words,
created by necessity, impart also beauty to dis• course.'
The value of well placed expressions is so striking in the art of Oratory, that the eloquence of a passage sometimes depends upon a single word. Take an example which is deserving of admiration. I select it from an excellent discourse, which the Cardinal de Rohan, Grand Almoner of France, pronounced upon presenting the body of Louis XIV. at the Abbey of St.
• This Limæ Labor, must be submitted to by all who would communicate their thoughts with proper advantage to
others; and some practice in it will soon sharpen their eye * to the most necessary objects of attention, and render it a • much more easy and practicable work than might at first . be imagined.”_BLAIR's Lectures, vol. 1. p. 404.
will have ; the more will its parts be linked together, and the ideas follow in succession.
Denique sit quodvis simplex duntaxat et unum.
Hor. de Art. Poet. v. 23. * An author, who does not thus methodise his discourse, 'is not fully master of his subject: he has but an imperfect taste, and a low genius. Order, indeed, is an excellence * we seldom meet with in the productions of the mind. A
discourse is perfect, when it has at once method, propriety, strength, and vehemence. But, in order to this, the Ora*tor must have viewed, examined, and comprehended every point, that he may range each word in its proper place. . This is what an ignorant declaimer, who is guided by his • imagination, can never discern.'-Fenelon on Eloquence, P. 180, 181.
Observe how another sensible author expresses himself.
• It is an infallible proof of the want of just integrity in every writing, from the Epopež, or heroic poem, down to the familiar epistle, or slightest essay, either in verse or prose, if every several part, or portion, fit not its proper place so exactly, that the least transposition would be im
practicable. If there be any passage in the middle, or end, which might have stood in the beginning; or any in the beginning which might have stood as well in the middle,
or end; there is properly, in such a piece, neither begin. ning, middle, nor end; it is a mere rhapsody, not a work ;
and, the more it assumes the air or appearance of a real * work, the more ridiculous it becomes."-Characteristics, vol. iii. p. 259, 260.
Bishop BURNET gives the following direction to Preach
• A text being explained, then the point upon which the sermon is to run, is to be opened ; and it will be the better heard and understood, if there be but one point in a sermon, so that one head, and only one, is well stated, and • fully set out.'-Discourse of the Pastoral Care, p. 249.
The art of forming Transitions is as difficult to be subjected to rules, as to be reduced to practice.
Dr. BLAIR expands the Bishop's idea, and at the same 6 time, gives it its proper bounds, when he says:
Unity is of great consequence in every composition ; but ' in other discourses, where the choice and direction of the subject are not left to the speaker, it may be less in his power to preserve it. In a sermon it must be always the • preacher's own fault, if he transgress it. What I mean by • unity is, that there should be some one main point to which • the whole strain of the sermon shall refer. It must not be
a bundle of different subjects strung together, but one ob‘ject must predominate throughout. This rule is founded
on what we all experience, that the mind can attend only to one capital object at a time. By dividing, you always * weaken the impression. Now this unity, without which no sermon can have much beauty, or much force, does not
require that there should be no divisions or separate heads • in the discourse, or that one single thought only should be,
again and again, turned up to the hearers in different lights. " It is not to be understood in so narrow a sense ; it admits • of some variety ; it admits of under parts and appendages,
provided always that so much union and connexion be pre• served, as to make the whole concur in some one impres.
sion upon the mind. I may employ, for instance, several • different arguments to enforce the love of God; I may ( also inquire, perhaps, into the causes of the decay of this 'virtue ; still one great object is presented to the mind: .but if, because my text says,
• He that loveth God must • love his brother also,' I therefore should mingle in one discourse arguments for the love of God, and for the love of our neighbour, I should offend unpardonably against Unity, 6 and leave a very loose and confused impression on the hearer's minds.'-BLAIR's Lectures, vol, ii. p. 108.