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Watching where shepherds pen their flocks at eve
The habitual use of sentences in which all or most of the descriptive and limiting elements precede those de scribed 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.
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
MUST VARY WITH THE MIND ADDRESSED.
it becomes a question whether most mental effort will be entailed by the many and long suspensions, or by the correction of successive misconceptions.
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.
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.
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 remodelled 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 journey's end, at last, with no small difficulty, after much fatigue, through deep roads, and bad weather.”
Yet to transform this into an entirely indirect 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 journey's end.
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 journey's 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 ABSTRACT SHOULD PRECEDE THE CONCRETE.
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 journey's end.
This reads with comparative smoothness; that is— with less hindrance from suspensions and reconstructions of thought-with less mental effort.
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 speaker's or writer's 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.
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 object.
Let us begin with the figure called Synechdoche. 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, 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.
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.
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 is 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.
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