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of which had deprived so many hungry sinners of their daily sustenance;' but no one said potato.'” 1
One of Homer's simplest lines is translated by F. W. Newman as follows:
“ Thus they reciprocally held betwixt themselves discourses."2 “Instead of stabbing," writes Lowell, “ he [Dryden] 'with steel invades the life.' The consequence was that by and by we have Dr. Johnson's poet, Savage, telling us,
' In front, a parlor meets my entering view,
Opposed a room to sweet refection due;' ., and Mr. Bruce, in a Danish war-song, calling on the vikings to assume their oars.'” 8
Wordsworth, disdaining to call a sore throat by its name, says:
“The winds of March, smiting insidiously,
Viewless obstruction.” 4
“ Such is the clamour of rooks, daws, and kites,
Th'explosion of the levelld tube excites.” 5 Dr. Grainger, unwilling to say “ rats” or “mice,” says, according to Boswell 6:
“ Nor with less waste the whiskered vermin race,
A countless clan, despoiled the lowland cane." Other examples of weak circumlocutions are:
“the solitary sound of one o'clock had long since resounded on the ebon ear of night, and the next signal of the advance of time was close approaching.”
1 C. H. Grundy: Dull Sermons. Macmillan's Magazine, July, 1876, p. 265. Rufus Choate is said to have talked to a jury about “ that delicious esculent of the tropics, — the squash.”
2 "As oi Mèv Tolaūta tpos árañaous åyópevov. – Homer: The Iliad, v. 274. 8 Lowell : Literary Essays; Dryden. 4 Wordsworth: The Excursion, book vii. 6 Cowper: Hope. 6 James Boswell: The Life of Samuel Johnson. ? Scott: Guy Mannering, vol. ii. chap. XX.
« The Dominie, ... unable to stifle his emotions, ran away to empty the feelings of his heart at his eyes.” 1
“ But he had scarcely achieved the utterance of these words, when he received a manual compliment on the head.” 2
Clifford .. now looked up for a moment, and then, turning round and presenting the dorsal part of his body to long Ned, muttered, • Pish'l” 8
“no one, ignorant of the fact, would suppose, that the gentleman who was now seated at the hospitable board of Colonel Howard, directing, with so much discretion, the energies of his masticators to the delicacies of the feast, could read, in his careless air and smiling visage, that those foragers of nature had been so recently condemned, for four long hours, to the mortification of discussing the barren subject of his own sword-hilt.” 4
“This Shelley biography," writes Mark Twain, “ is a literary cake-walk. The ordinary forms of speech are absent from it. All the pages, all the paragraphs, walk by sedately, elegantly, not to say mincingly, in their Sunday-best, shiny and sleek, perfumed, and with boutonnières in their buttonholes; it is rare to find even a chance sentence that has forgotten to dress. If the book wishes to tell us that Mary Godwin, child of sixteen, had known aftlictions, the fact saunters forth in this nobby outfit: •Mary was herself not unlearned in the lore of pain.'”5
“ Take my advise, honrabble sir," writes Mr. Yellowplush, “ listen to a humble footmin: it's genrally best in poatry to understand puffickly what you mean yourself, and to ingspress your meaning clearly afterwoods — in the simpler words the better, praps.
You may, for instans, call a coronet a coronal (an “ancestral coronal,') if you like, as you might call a hat a 'swart sombrero,'' a glossy four-and-nine,'' a silken helm, to storm impermeable, and lightsome as the breezy gossamer;' but, in the long run, it's as well to call it a hat. It is a hat; and that name is quite as poetticle as another. I think it's Playto, or els
1 Scott: Guy Mannering, vol. ii. chap. xxvi.
5 Mark Twain: In Defence of Harriet Shelley. North American Re view, July, 1894, p. 109.
Harrystottle, who observes that what we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Confess, now, dear Barnet, don't you long to call it a Polyanthus?"1
Sometimes a circumlocution serves a useful purpose. Tennyson's designation of King Arthur's moustache as “the knightly growth that fringed his lips dignifies it; Addison's designation of a fan as * that little modish machine”3 suggests its deliberate use as a weapon in the warfare of polite society ; Swift's parenthetical allusion to Defoe (“the fellow that was pilloried, I have forgot his name" 4) is a skilful attack on an enemy; Cicero's assertion, not that Milo's servants killed Clodius, bụt that they “did that which every one would have wished his servants to do in a similar case,” 5 is an argu
" ment; and Landor might plead several reasons for his manner of saying that some critics resemble monkeys:
“ There is hardly a young author who does not make his first attempt in some review ; showing his teeth, hanging by his tail, pleased and pleasing by the volubility of his chatter, and doing his best to get a penny for his exhibitor and a nut for his own pouch, by the facetiousness of the tricks he performs upon our heads and shoulders.” 6
Another form of verbosity is prolixity, — the mention of things not worth mentioning. A writer
Prolixity. who is trying to convince his readers of what he believes to be the truth will succeed but ill if he forces them to follow every step of a long logical process.
Thackeray: The Memoirs of Mr. C. J. Yellowplush; Epistles to the Literati, Mr. Yellowplush to Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer.
? Tennyson: Morte d'Arthur.
5 Fecerunt id servi Milonis . . . quod suos quisque servos in tali re facere voluisset. - Cicero: Oratio pro Milone, x.
6 Landor: Conversations, Third Series ; Southey and Porson.
A story-teller who gives the same prominence to the subordinate or incidental as to the essential parts of his narrative, exhausts his readers long before they reach the end of the story. An historical writer who pays no attention to perspective is a mere chronicler of events.
The second of the following sentences tells a person of average intelligence all that is said in the first :
“On receiving this message, he arose from his chair, put on his coat and hat, took his umbrella, went downstairs, walked to the railway station, bought a ticket for Plymouth, and started in the eleven o'clock train."
“On receiving this message, he started for Plymouth by the eleven o'clock train." 1
It might be difficult to find in a reputable author a sentence (short enough to quote) so painfully prolix as that given above; but 'every one who has read aloud a novel by Dickens not to speak of inferior writers — knows what prolixity is.
As a man sees more for himself in a moment than he can learn from pages of description, so an expression that A suggestive suggests a scene or a thought is not less clear
than a statement in detail, and is far more forcible. One well-arranged sentence may say more than a paragraph, one well-chosen word more than a sentence. Even a dash may be eloquent:
“ If you should transfer the amount of your reading day by day from the newspaper to the standard authors –
But who dare speak of such a thing ?” ?
1 Quintilian has illustrated this point in a similar way: “solet enim quaedam esse partium brevitas, quae longam tamen efficit summam. ‘in portum veni, navem prospexi, quanti veheret interrogavi, de pretio convenit, conscendi, sublatae sunt ancorae, solvimus oram, profecti sumus.' nihil horum dici celerius potest, sed sufficit dicere: ‘e portu navigavi.'et, quotiens exitus rei satis ostendit priora, debemus hoc esse contenti, quo reliqua intelliguntur.” — Inst. Orator. iv. ii. xli. See also J. Q. Adams: Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory, lect. xviii.
2 Emerson: Society and Solitude; Books.
“ 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-fies! But - !”1
“ Generations of monkeys had been scared into good behaviour by the stories their elders told them of Kaa, the night-thief, who could slip along the branches as quietly as moss grows, and steal away the strongest monkey that ever lived; of old Kaa, who could make himself look so like a dead branch or a rotten stump that the wisest were deceived till the branch caught them, and then
By a suggestive style is meant a style that is suggestive to the person addressed. The assertion that “ the fox looked out from the windows "3 of Balclutha would not represent desolation to one who knew nothing about foxes. Byron's “Niobe of Nations” would tell nothing about Rome to one who had never heard the story of Niobe. The word “Athens
much more to one man than could be learned by another from an epitome of Grecian History.
The success of a suggestive style depends upon the skilful selection of those particulars which bring the whole to mind inevitably and at once. A circumstance which, though trivial in itself, stands for other circumstances more important, may tell more than could be told by
pages of detail.
“ In his [Burke's] illustrations no less than in the body of his work, few things are more remarkable than his exquisite instinct of selection, an instinct which seems almost confined to the French and the English mind. It is the polar opposite of what is now sometimes called, by a false application of a mathematical
1 Carlyle : Heroes and Hero-worship; The Hero as Man of Letters. 2 Rudyard Kipling : The Jungle Book; Kaa's Hunting.
3 Quoted from Ossian by Matthew Arnold in his essay “On the Study of Celtic Literature.”