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train himself to be able to use language as a skillful swordsman uses his rapier, adapting it to every emergency, master of it always ; he must learn to be dexterous, adroit, and full of resources.

Exactly to impart an idea or an impression to another human being is manifestly impossible. The character of the mind of the receiver necessarily affects and modifies whatever comes to it. The thing which we say to our closest friend strikes him in a way somehow and somewhat different from that which we intend. A poem by John Boyle O'Reilly expresses this so fully that I take leave to quote it:


The faithful helm commands the keel,

From port to port fair breezes blow;
But the ship must sail the convex sea,

Nor may she straighter go.

So, man to man; in fair accord,

On thought and will, the winds may wait;
But the world will bend the passing word,

Though its shortest course be straight.

From soul to soul the shortest line

At best will bended be;
The ship that holds the straightest course

Still sails the convex sea.

I do not quote this merely as a matter of sentiment, but because it phrases one of the most insistent and practical difficulties with which every writer must contend. The study of literary art, and indeed of all art, is in one sense an effort at

approximation. Perfect expression can never be reached, and the thing after which a writer strives is to approach more and more closely toward that complete transmission of meaning which is forever unattainable while the barriers of human individuality stand between mind and mind.

We recognize this fact as soon as we reflect. Bob, thinking of Betty, remarks to Jack that he does admire a pretty girl; and Jack, fondly recalling the features of Jane, receives the idea with all the variations which belong to an altogether different idea of feminine loveliness. Tom, Dick, and Harry, returning from the races, declare to one another that it has been a jolly day. Each accepts the statements of his companions according to his individual experiences, and no one has imparted precisely the thought which was in his own mind. We praise a picture, a piece of music, a sunset, and the friend to whom we speak listens with a temperament and cultivation so different from our own that our words inevitably mean one thing to us and another to him. The ear which hears has always its share in the impression produced as surely as has the tongue that speaks.

The result might be much the same whether the words in these cases were spoken or written ; but there is another element which makes an immense difference between oral and written communication. The speaker adds to his words a language of emphasis, of inflection, of facial expression, of gesture, of mien. He modifies what he says by what he looks; his bearing has as important a share in the

work of conveying impressions as have his words. Two actors taking the same text will give characters so different as hardly to seem to have anything in common.

A speaker may so contradict and override his speech that his hearer believes not the tongue that speaks, but the personality and manner which declare the contrary. You remember how Emerson puts this : “ What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”

Now the writer is confronted by the necessity of making himself intelligible without the many aids by which the speaker may help out or modify his oral communication. The novelist, it is true, may avail himself of the simple device of describing the manner in which his characters speak. He tells us that this was said with a sly look of coquetry, while that was uttered in a voice of utter misery, and the other thundered forth in tones of overmastering determination. My washing came home in London last summer wrapped in a newspaper containing an installment of a blood-curdling tale which began thus: “Eleanore shot at Reginald from under her pellucid brows a lingering look of lurid hate." All this, however, is at its best ineffective and unsatisfactory, even when heroines have pellucid brows and the author is master of the art of alliteration. Some things are within the province of language and some are not.

Words may describe form, color, sound, and motion, but they can reproduce none of them. What they can do is to call up in the mind of the reader

something which he has seen; or aid him to construct from material in his memory some new image. If one read a description of a landscape, for instance, he unconsciously selects bits of nature which he remembers and arranges them as nearly as may be after the pattern which the author gives. On the first page of “Westward Ho!” there is a description of the little white town of Bideford, which slopes upward from its broad tide-river paved with yellow sands, and many-arched old bridge where salmon wait for autumn floods, toward the pleasant upland on the west. Above the town hills close in, cushioned with deep oak woods, through which juts here and there a crag of fern-fringed slate; below they lower, and open more and more in softly-rounded knolls, and fertile squares of red and green, till they sink into the wide expanse of hazy flats, rich salt marshes and rolling sand-hills, where Torridge joins her sister Tor, and both together flow quietly toward the broad surges of the bar, and the everlasting thunder of the long Atlantic swell.

The reader constructs the picture as he goes on ; but unless he has actually seen the little white town of Bideford” the picture in his mind is likely to bear no very close resemblance to the reality. The broad tide-river which his fancy sees is some stream of his boyhood's home, and far enough from North Devon ; the many-arched old bridge may be one which he knows or which comes to his

memory from a picture, — perhaps from a photograph that a friend has brought from abroad of some hoary stone structure spanning a French river or a stream of Italy. The hills and the fern-clad cliffs are re

called in the same way, their outlines identical with the curves of some spot in the Catskills, in Wales, in Brittany, or wherever the reader is most familiar or has been most impressed. It is evident that the most carefully elaborate verbal description could not enable the artist to reproduce a scene; and herein is manifest the limitation of words in this direction.

The inadequacy of words becomes the more evident when it comes to matters intellectual. Who has not, even in conversation, experienced that baffled and hopeless feeling which comes from not being able to make another understand ? Who does not know the sensation of being shut in as by walls of stone, so that it is impossible to reach the comprehension of the one addressed ? Yet the speaker has a hundred advantages over the writer. He has at command all the resources of gesture, of look, accent, tone, mien. No man has written much and written earnestly without experiencing moments of complete despair in regard to being able to convey to his readers that which it is in his

heart to say

How far it is possible to overcome the obstacles which hinder communication is the study of the literary - as of every -- artist.

artist. We human beings are prisoned in the solitary confinement of the body, and must needs devise means of sharing our thoughts, as political convicts in the Russian prisons strive to communicate by rapping on the walls. Every device by which intelligence may

be carried more safely and surely is an addition to the

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