W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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ENGLISH COMPOSITION

AND STYLE



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ENGLISH COMPOSITION
AND STYLE



A HANDBOOK FOR
COLLEGE STUDENTS



BY

WILLIAM T. BREWSTER, A.M.

FR0FBS80R OF BNGU8H IN COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY



NEW YORK
THE CENTURY CO.

1913



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X3)^^^7o



/^harvardA
university

LIBRARY



Copyright, I912, by
The Century Co.

Published June, 19M



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TO THB MEMORY OF

GEORGE RICE CARPENTER



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CONTENTS

PARTI: COMPOSITION

CHAPTBB PAOX

I What Writing Actually Is 3

II Subjects and Titles i6

III The Collection op Material; Note-taking 30

IV The Conventions of Composition 38

V Composition 53

VI Paragraphs : Compositions of Several Paragraphs and op

One Paragraph 88

VII Paragraph Sense and Paragraph Style 140

PART II : STYLE

I The Study of Style I7S

II Words 188

III Sentences 226

rV Words and Sentences: Sentence Logic 262

PARTin: DISCOURSE

I The Forms of Discourse 303

II Narration 312

III Description 339

rV Exposition 350

V Argumentation 364

PART IV: VERSIFICATION

I Versification 425

II The Structure and Style of Verse 451



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Contents

PiMSB

APPENDIX

Punctuation. Capitalization 479

A List of Common Mistakes in Grammar 486

Index 495



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PREFACE

A GENERAL discussion which, among other things, speaks
of the purpose and the method of this book, will be found in
the accompanying Introduction. Since this is intended chiefly
for teachers, it is separate from the rest of the book. The
latter is for the student, working preferably under direction,
and it contains accounts of the theory of writing and exercises
for practice. The more important parts are Chapters V-VII,
of Part I, Chapters II-IV of Part II, and Chapters II-V
of Part III, largely because they give more opportunity for
practice. But they cannot wholly be understood without the
other chapters. Several citations, notably those on pages ii6-
139, I have introduced without the usual form of reference,
deeming it best for students to come to some opinion without
knowing the authorship.

My indebtedness to the many writers of rhetorics from the
days of Aristotle to our own immediate year is manifest
Many of these are specifically mentioned in foot-notes, but
I should also like especially to name, as books that have been
most useful to me, the late Adams Sherman Hill's The Prin-
ciples of Rhetoric, Professor Barrett Wendell's English Com'
position, the late Hammond Lamont's English Composition,
Professor George P. Baker's The Principles of Argumenta-
tion, and Professor Ashley H. Thomdike's The Elements of
Rhetoric and Composition. My obligation to my present and

ix



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X Preface

former colleagues in the department of English at Columbia
University, particularly to Professor G. C D. Odell, Pro-
fessor C. S. Baldwin, and Mr. R. C. Ringwalt, should be
mentioned with especial gratitude. Whatever is good in this
book comes, however, chiefly from an association and friend-
ship of many years with the late George Rice Carpenter.

W. T. B.



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PART I
COMPOSITION



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ENGLISH COMPOSITION AND
STYLE

• CHAPTER I

WHAT WRITING ACTUALLY IS

Speaking and writing. Some differences between speak-
ing and writing should be understood in order to make clear
the process of writing, which is the subject of this book. Most
of us learn to speak, as to breathe, of necessity, and almost
everybody is likely to talk on the slightest pretext, whereas
few people write unless they have to. To become a finished
speaker is often an achievement of rare and difficult art, which
few of us take pains to acquire, and writing of any kind is,
to an untrained person, probably as laborious a process as
his early exercises in penmanship. Speaking is normally an
informal exercise; writing, on the other hand, is usually a
deliberate process. In operation, speaking may be aided by
pantomime, and the gestures and intonations that go with it
may supply lack of language, but writing has to stand on its
own feet. Speaking, though it may have been thought out,
is in point of structure, incapable of revision, except by suc-
cessive modifications and additions; it is typically loose.
Writing may be subject to much revision before the act of
publication. This matter of revision constitutes, possibly, the
chief practical difference between the two. Considered as a
result, speaking, though often very influential, is ephemeral;
whereas writing is the chief way of recording ideas. Writ-
ing, too, can carry a far greater distance than speaking. All

3



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4 English Composition and Style

this means, in general, that writing is necessary for per-
manent, prolonged, elaborate trains of thought and for the
wide dissemination of ideas. Rhetoric may evidently apply to
both speaking and writing, but, in point of practice, the
rhetoric of ordinary speaking is but the crumbs that fall from
the rich table of the rhetoric of writing. " Write as you would
speak " is by no means, therefore, a wholly true precept.

Before entering into a detailed study of composition and
style it will be well to come to some general understanding of
the relation of this study to what writiiig actually is.

Actual writing may be regarded as either (i) a process of
putting thoughts and facts on paper by means of words, sen-
tences, and other elements of style, or (2) as the results of
that process, that is, as a corpus, or body, of the writing ac-
tually in existence. These realities sometimes supply no good
examples of the theories and ideals of composition frequently
inculcated. The first aspect of writing, the process of putting
thoughts on paper, may be studied psychologically, as there
has been some tendency in recent years to do,* but since this
application of psychology to rhetoric has had, in practice, no
very substantial result, the matter need not detain us. It is
more fruitful to look for a moment at the results of the
process, that is, at the actual body of writing, in order more
clearly to understand what writing is. This body, to put the
matter briefly, consists of whatever is in manuscript or printed
form, and it comprises newspapers, novels, periodicals, per-
sonal letters, business letters, advertisements, poems, books,
sermons, addresses, college themes, and the thousand and one
forms that we recognize by the special end that they have in
view or the occasion that brings them forth. This ever-
changing, ever-increasing body of writing merely records in a
more or less permanent way what would otherwise remain

^As, for example, The Metaphor: a Study in the Psychology of
Rhetoric, by Gertrude Bucl^ AJin Arbor, Michigan, and Studies in
Literary Psychology by "Vernon Lee," in the Contemporary Review,
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What Writing Actually Is 5

unexpressed thought or, if uttered, often forgotten as soon
as spoken, or, at best, remembered as an impression or by
reason of a few telling sentences.

The occasion of writing. Though writing is commonly de-
fined as the art of expression in written language, actual
writing is better understood, and the actual process of com-
position is made clearer, if looked at largely as a matter of
occasion. What is meant will be clearer from the further
saying that occasions may be more or less formal or more
or less informal. Formal occasions are likely to have in view
a class of readers or hearers, and are best illustrated by
sermons, editorial articles, and all the productions of stated
times. Informal occasions, in their various degrees, are much
freer ; most letters are of this nature ; they are called forth in
answer to an immediate, rather than a regular, need. On
formal occasions, such as the delivery of an address or the
writing of an argument for a college English department, the
writer is, so to speak, on his good behavior, as to both senti-
ment and expression. In less formal matters he is likely to
take more liberty to say what he thinks and to write in as free
a manner as he will. In short, the student is confronted, at
the outset of the study of composition and of style, with the
fact that many methods of composition and various manners
of expression actually do exist.

Except in writing of the " promoting *' or advertising type,
on the one hand, and writing dictated by the higher kinds of
curiosity or imagination or zeal, on the other, — and in these
kinds, also, to some d^^ee, — there is likely to be a definite
external call for writing. This is best illustrated by the case
of printed publication. The vast improvements in certain me-
chanical processes — the advent of abundant and cheap paper,
of multiple presses, of linotype machines, of phonographs, tele-
graphs, and typewriters, and many other labor-saving devices —
have resulted in an enormous amount of manuscript and printed
matter. Indeed, it is probably easier to print matter than to
produce " copy " ; certainly our modern mechanical processes



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6 English Composition and Style

can publish words a great deal faster than the human mind
can produce ideas, or the imagination envisage interesting situ-
ations. This greater opportunity for expression may, it is
interesting to remark incidentally, though possibly lowering
the general excellence of what is written, tend, through vastly
increased amount, to result in more really good things than
would be possible where the means of publication are re-
stricted ; but, equally, it might tend to make everybody arti-
ficial in utterance, as if one were always talking to a crowd*
Dropping this guess, the fact remains that writing is produced
in vaster quantities than ever before, particularly in the more
ephemeral forms, the newspaper, the magazine, the advertise-
ment, and in business correspondence. Books, also, particu-
larly novels, can be published in larger quantities than formerly.
All this stimulates more writing. It illustrates also a diflfer-
ence between speaking and writing : the former is likely to be
pretty well proportioned to the number of people who wish
to talk, the output is steady; the latter depends on occasions
and processes, on opportunities, calls, and markets.

Much of this writing is produced under conditions and occa-
sions of a pretty well conventionalized sort and serves well-
recognized classes of readers. The news item, the newspaper
paragraph, the editorial article, the sermon, the novel, the
magazine story, the text-book, the business letter, even the
more flexible and varied personal letter — the decadence and
passing of which are so often bewailed — have well recognized,
though not easily defined, lengths and functions. Editorial arti-
cles of half or tihree-quarters of a column, produced every day,
willy-nilly, sermons of fifteen, twenty, twenty-five minutes,
delivered every week, 80,000-word novels, in place of the older
three-volume novel, flocking just before the summer vacations
and about Christmas time, short stories and interesting articles
of an informatory or reformatory description — good in any
case for an idle half hour — poetry, well adapted to fill space
left vacant by failure of prose to come out even, — all these
represent the more obvious occasions and limitation of actual



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What Writing Actually Is 7

writing and publication. Conformity to these limits and con-
ventions is to a pretty large degree a condition of publication,
if not of actual writing. There is a constant demand for
interesting writing, and one produces as much as is necessary
for the occasion.

The occasions that have been suggested represent well-recog-
nized public interests, and they exist on the assumption that
whatever good matter is put into any of these forms will find
fit audience. Indeed, one may go further and say that about
any matter appearing in certain of the better-known forms, if
emanating from an authorized source, — a well-known news-
paper, an established preacher, a successful novelist,— will
have some hearing irrespective of its actual merit; will have
more hearing than if arrayed in a less fashionable dress. It
is assumed that the reading public wishes to learn some oracular
opinion on politics, on the value of the good life, on the latest
discovery in physics or medicine or plant breeding, or the
administration or the iniquities of trusts, or will be perennially
enthralled by tales of love and adventure. Certain classes of
professional writers are both the cause and the effect of this
condition, and they get used to expressing themselves within
certain limits. Editorial writers are not unknown to fail when
it comes to writing books; preachers accustomed to twenty
minutes often find it difficult to say an3rthing in less time ; and
successful novelists are often indiflferent writers of tales.
Nothing about composition is more observable than the ruts
into which writers actually tend to fall; these ruts, indeed,
are not altogether bad ; expressed in a more liberal metaphor,
they mean that a writer has " struck his gait" But the really
and permanently refreshing writers are likely to be those who,
like Montaigne, speak not in some professional capacity, — that
of the lawyer, the doctor, or the oracular writer, — but like
their own intelligent selves.* The psychology of the matter is
interesting, but need not detain us.

*Cf. the opening of Montaigne's essay Of Repenting,



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8 English Composition and Style

Nothing, obviously, is meant by the foregoing remarks so
sweeping as that all writing follows formulas. Much is, in-
deed, done under definite conditions, but much is not intended
for print, and much, though intended for publication and ex-
cellent in itself, is deemed by judges in these matters imsuit-
able for publication, at the particular time or for any likely
audience. Much of the best writing, again, follows the facts
at the disposal of the author, rather than the exigency of any
set occasion. Nor, again, does the following of form and oc-
casion preclude the production of work of the highest order:
witness the splendid sermons that have observed the conven-
tional limits of discourse, the eloquent orations and powerful
novels that have been rigorously restricted,* and, if further
example be necessary, our immortal dramatists, Moliere, Shak-
spere, and others, conform, often with great closeness, to the
conventions, prevalent at the time, of one of the most exactly
limited of forms and occasions. Like novelists, great and
small, they take the prevalent, and hence the easily compre-
hended, form for the expression of their ideas; just as one
would to-day prefer to travel by rail than by stage coach.
Nothing could be more absurd in a literary way than to refuse
to employ forms because of their commonness ; for their com-
monness simply means that the public is used to them, and
that, therefore, one can think more freely of what is to go
into the envelope, a much more important matter. Forms are
in a sense the invention of critics; the writer, as a writer, is
likely to say what he has to say in some usual manner of the
time.

The process of writing. What has been said is important
in an understanding of writing, even of an informal kind. A
child has to write a letter to his father, a clerk must answer a
correspondent, a clergyman is obliged to produce a twenty-
minute discourse that will interest and stimulate his hearers and
induce them to take account of their spiritual welfare, an edi-
torial writer, though harassed by heat and burdened with desire
for sleep, has to deliver an authoritative dictum, a novelist finds



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What Writing Actually Is 9

his pleasure and income in entertaining the somewhat jaded
minds of idle people during summer sojourns. Where there is
some immediate business in hand, — when the son wants motley,
or the clerk is shi[q)ing an order of goods, or a President has
just been elected, or the Sabbath has been invaded, or a foreign
war is giving opportunity for the disporting of heroes and
heroines, — the subject is obvious enough. But when there
is no immediate and obvious business, there is difficulty. Even
the clerk may have to beat his brains for some new advertising
scheme to keep the stenographer busy, — such are the ex-
igencies of modem mechanical methods, — and every one, un-
less burning with things to say, will be vexed with the funda-
mental, universal, and momentous question, ''What shall I
write about?"

Granted a subject, the question of material obviously next
arises. This, to be sure, is usually part and parcel of the
subject ; for it would be manifestly impossible to choose a sub-
ject that did not at the same time suggest material and possi-
bilities of treatment. Actually, material comes from a great
variety of sources. With hasty and occasional writing, one is
very likely to call on his previous knowledge, prejudices, opin-
ions, training, habits of mind, his imagination, — all those
things in short, which he would employ in conversation or im-
promptu address. With longer subjects requiring greater
care in treatment, these same sources, as a matter of fact,
also enter, but special reading, research, the careful study of
situations, and other things also, supply material. In any
event, actual writing, as has been suggested in the foregoing
analysis of certain conventionalized forms, contemplates an
audience, a body of readers, a clientele. Material and arrange-
ment and style are all conditioned by the audience, by the
writer's estimate of their knowledge or their sympathies. This
conditioning is more apparent in persuasive work, in sermons
and editorials, in addresses, for example, than in scholarly
work, where one must have even more regard for his fact
than for his readers. But in any event, it is safe to say that



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10 English Composition and Style

no piece of writing proceeds without some diagnosis of the
market, the reader, the audience, or the occasion. No writer
ever tells all he knows in any article or book; some may not
know very much, but, even so, some information is kept in
cold storage for other occasions or other audiences. The ques-
tion, " For whom am I writing? " is as important as, " What
shall I write about?" and it unconsciously modifies material,
arrangement, and style.

Granted a subject and material, there follows the process of
composition. Of this, as actually practised, it is impossible
to make any general statement. Obviously, much writing that
actually appears is hastily done and receives very little delib-
eration; newspaper writing is typically of this character, and
consequently has to be done, for the most part, by trained and
ready men, with much command of current fact and opinion ;
for which reason, it may be remarked in passing, newspaper
opinion is usually wholly safe and even reactionary. Ad-
dresses and sermons are susceptible of greater polish, by reason
of greater leisure, and, of course, statements of fact in longer
articles and treatises require time for gathering and verifica-
tion and arrangement. Novels and stories are often hastily
produced, but not necessarily so ; nor is their excellence by any
means proportionate to the work expended on them. Among
great writers we find all manner of diverse practice. To limit
the discussion to prose, — setting aside writers who, like Shak-
spere, could apparently produce fine bursts of poetry with one
dip of the pen, or who, like Milton, apparently revised much,
— we find Addison sometimes revising his Spectator papers,
though newspaper articles, as many as eight times ; Swift capa-
ble of producing five or six thousand entirely lucid words at
a sitting, with little revision ; Newman revising and polishing ;
Ruskin taking " extreme pains " ; Trollope doing his 250 words
every fifteen minutes for two hours and a half, and revising,
for half an hour the next morning, what he had written the
previous day, before doing his next 2,500 words; Macaulay
filling his " blue fools-cap with dashing periods " ; Pater writing



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What Writing Actually Is ii

on every other line, then making corrections and additions,
then rewriting again on every other line with space for further
corrections and emendations and additions, and so finally pro-
ducing a tortuous maze of highly intricate and exactly worded
sentences. There are as many ways as there are men, in actual
practice.

Just as the question, " What shall I write about? " involves
some knowledge of the reader, and some knowledge of the
subject, so the process of actual composition and writing had
better — unless one is a Swift or a Shakspere, or unless one
is very much pressed for time, or, very informal — comprehend
three stages :

I. Arrangement of Ideas; Composition. Except for very
short pieces, some scheme is good. Certain writers make card
catalogues of their ideas and, shuffling these cards into what
seems to be the most lucid order, proceed to embellish them
with the graces of style. Others, equally well-known and
agreeable, never have more than a point of departure, from
which they proceed, letting the subject grow as it will, and



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