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FRED N. SCOTT, Ph.D.
JOSEPH V. DENNEY, A.B.
PROFESSOR OF RHETORIC IN OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY.
THIRD EDITION, REVISED AND ENLARGED
Norwood Press :
Boston, Mass., U.S.A.
THE principles embodied in this work were developed and put in practice by its authors at the University of Michigan several years ago. When the nature of the classroom work and its results became known, there were many inquiries from teachers in preparatory schools and colleges in regard to the methods employed. In response to these inquiries a small pamphlet (now out of print) was published and circulated. The present work, while in a limited sense a revision of that pamphlet, is virtually another book. In the earlier work the aim was to suggest a useful exercise in writing English. This book goes farther. Its aim is to make the paragraph the basis of a method of composition, to present all the important facts of rhetoric in their application to the paragraph. Since the point of view which is assumed is in some respects novel, a few words of explanation will not be out of place.
Learning to write well in one's own language means in large part learning to give unity and coherence to one's ideas. It means learning to construct units of discourse which have order and symmetry and coherence of parts. It means learning theoretically how such units are made, and practically how to put them together; and further, if they turn out badly the first time, how to take them apart and put them together again in another and better order. The making and re-making of such units is in general terms the task of all who produce written discourse.
The task of the teacher of those who produce written discourse, it follows, is in great part setting students to construct such units, explaining the principles upon which the units are made, arousing a sense that they are units and not mere heaps or nebulous masses, and (hoc opus, hic labor est) correcting departures from unity, order, and coherence when such departures occur.
Work of this kind on the part of writer or of teacher presupposes a unit of discourse. Of these units there are three, — the sentence, the paragraph, and the essay or whole composition. Which of these three is best adapted, psychologically and pedagogically, to the end proposed ? The sentence may be rejected at the outset as at once too simple and too fragmentary. Practice in the composing of disconnected sentences is not of much service to students of composition. This remark applies to the lower as well as to the higher grades. Moreover, as Professor Barrett Wendell has pointed out (English Composition, p. 117), the sentence is properly a subject of revision, not of prevision, - good sentences are produced by criticising them after they are written rather than by planning them beforehand. Putting the sentence aside, then, what shall be said of the paragraph and the essay ? Of the two the essay is theoretically the more proper unit of discourse. But is it always so in practice? Is it not true that for students at a certain stage of their progress the essay is too complex and too cumbersome to be appreciated as a whole? Aristotle long ago laid down the psychological principle which should govern the selection of a structural unit: “As for the limit fixt by the nature of the case, the greatest consistent with simultaneous comprehension is always the best.” If students who have written essays for years have with all their labor developed but a feeble sense for structural unity, may the reason not lie in the fact that the unit of discourse employed has been so large and so complex that it could not be grasped with a single effort of the mind ?
1 A series of experiments conducted by Miss H. M. Scott, Principal of the Detroit Training School for Teachers (Report of the Detroit Normal Training School for 1893), show that children even in the lowest grades comprehend a paragraph-group, or sequence of sentences, more readily than sentences taken separately. They learn to read more easily and rapidly by the 'paragraph method' than by the sentence method.
If there is a measure of truth in what has here been urged, it would appear that for certain periods in the student's development the paragraph, as an example of structural unity, offers peculiar advantages. The nature of these advantages has already been suggested. They are, in brief, as follows: The paragraph, being in its method practically identical with the essay, exemplifies identical principles of structure. It exemplifies these principles in small and convenient compass so that they are easily appreciable by the beginner. Further, while the writing of the paragraph exercises the student in the same elements of structure which would be brought to his attention were he drilled in the writing of essays, he can write more paragraphs than he can write essays in the same length of time; hence the character of the work may be made for him more varied, progressive, and interesting. If the paragraph thus suits the needs of the student, it has even greater advantages from the point of view of the teacher. The bugbear of the teacher of Rhetoric is the correcting of essays. When the compositions are long and crude and errors abound, the burden sometimes becomes almost intolerable. In many cases it is a necessary burden and must be borne with patience, but this is not always so. Since the student within the limits of the paragraph makes the same errors which he commits in the writing of longer compositions, in the greater part of the course the written work may profitably be shortened from essays to paragraphs. Paragraph-writing has the further advantage that, if necessary,