W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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military nor civil pomp was wanting. The avenues were lined
with grenadiers. The streets were kept clear by cavalry. The
peers, robed in gold and ermine, were marshaled by the heralds
under Garter King-at-arms, etc.

Strictly speaking, only the second sentence shows why "the
place was worthy of such a trial"; the following sentences
deal with the splendor of the spectacle. But in a more gen-
erous sense, the whole paragraph deals with the fitness of the
place for the scene that was enacted there. The paragraph


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Paragraphs 109

happens to be largely descriptive in method and it aims to
produce a prevailing impression of great interest, ceremony,
and dignity.

Evidently, if one examines a great number of paragraphs,
he will be put to it to find many as emphatic as that from
Macaulay. Most paragraphs begin a quieter way; the de-
scription by Ruskin of the Roman Campagna, for example, is
just as good a paragraph as Macaulay's, and it has a definite
topic sentence, but this is much quieter in tone. There are so
many ways of concealing explicit statements in the interests
of literary charm that the matter cannot be thoroughly treated ;
a student should examine the paragraphs cited in the following
pages to note some of these methods.

b. The paragraph with a summary sentence. Here a final
sentence generalizes the paragraph. These are even less com-
mon, as explicit summaries, than are paragraphs with ex-
plicit topic sentences. One may read scores of pages from
excellent writers who leave one in no doubt whatever about
their meaning, without happening on good examples. One
seldom meets them in novels or in a good deal of narrative
writing, and though more common in exposition and argumen-
tation, they are not so very common even there. The fol-
lowing is an illustration:

Charles, however, had one advantage, which, if he had used it
well, would have more than compensated for the want of stores
and money, and which, notwithstanding his mismanagement,
gave him, during some months, a superiority in the war. His
troops at first fought much better than those of the Parlia-
ment Both armies, it is true, were almost entirely composed of
men who had never seen a field of battle. Nevertheless, the dif-
ference was great. The parliamentary ranks were filled with hire-
lings whom want and idleness had induced to enlist Hampden's
regiment was regarded as one of the best; and even Hampden's
regiment was described by Cromwell as a mere rabble of tapsters
and serving-men out of place. The royal army, on the other
hand, consisted in great part of gentlemen, high spirited, ardent,
accustomed to consider dishonor as more terrible than death, ac-


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110 English Composition and Style

customed to fencing, to the use of fire arms, to bold riding, and
to manly and perilous sport, which has been well called the image
of war. Such gentlemen, mounted on their favorite horses, and
commanding little bands, composed of their younger brothers,
grooms, gamekeepers and huntsmen, were, from the very first day
on which they took the field, qualified to play their part with
credit in a skirmish. The steadiness, the prompt obedience, the
mechanical precision of movement, which are characteristic of the
regular soldier, these gallant volunteers never attained. But they
were at first opposed to enemies as undisciplined as themselves,
and far less active, athletic, and daring. For a time, therefore, the
Cavaliers were successful in almost every encounter.'

c. The paragraph with contrasting ideas. This is pretty
common and it exists in a variety of forms. The plainest
instances, again, would be from Macaulay, but for the sake of
variety it may be well to select one from another writer. The
following illustrates the method and is characteristic both of
the writer, Dr. Johnson, and the essay, that on the poet Cow-

The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their
learning was their whole endeavor; but, unluckily resolved to
show it in rime, instead of writing poetry, they only wrote verses,
and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better
than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect, that they
were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.

This is all in one sentence. Another writer, say Macaulay,
might have written it in several shorter and more emphatic
periods, or a writer abounding in limitations, like Pater, would
have made several pretty long and rather carefully phrased
sentences. In any event the contrast would have been there.
The contrast in Johnson's paragraph is between the aim of
the poets and their achievements, which is a palpable hit in
criticism. The essay on Cowley is largely made up of such
contrasts, as that between true wit (according to Johnson)
and the conception of wit possessed by the metaphysical school.

^ Macaulay : History of England, chap. i.


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Paragraphs ill

Evidently, many other bases for contrast and balance exist;
one is invited to " look here upon this picture, then on this **
in a great number of ways, from a number of points of view
and with reference to facts of all kinds.

These methods of paragraphing must be regarded as hav-
ing their value, so far as instruction is concerned, in sug-
gesting to the student different ways of stating and developing
an idea; they give him a kind of leading motive for certain
thoughts. As a matter of fact, paragraphs with neatly made
"topic" sentences and summary sentences, paragraphs con-
forming with any strictness to the "deductive" type (state-
ment first, illustration following) , or the so-called " inductive "
type (illustration or facts, followed by general conclusion),
are not nearly so common, even among first-rate writers, as
might be supposed from the insistence of certain text-books
on these types. Macaulay, as has been said, gives us the best
examples and the most numerous instances of the undoubted
use of the types, and, whereas, Macaulay's directness and clear-
ness are excellent virtues to imitate, still he is sometimes held
in contempt by reason of an alleged hardness and metallic
quality of style, which is partly due to the fact that the direct-
ness of his mind caused him to see things without qualification.

Or again, to take a very important instance, comparatively
little narrative writing can be analyzed into terms of strict
paragraph types. In most narrative, especially in fiction, but
also in histories and books of travel, the paragraphs are likely
to be a record of events following one another, with certain
transitions to mark the passage of time or the shifting of
scene. A few " meanwhiles," and other words of transition,
are about all that show the relation of paragraphs to one an-
other. What applies to bodies of " related " paragraphs ap-
plies also to " isolated " paragraphs.

The truth of the matter is that a paragraph may be made
in about any way, provided that it begin in a manner that has
to do with what follows, either directly or by contrast, pro-
vided that what follows is in a comprehensible order, and


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112 English Composition and Style

provided that there is not so much of it, — not so many sen-
tences, — that the reader is likely to be confused as to what is
really important. The best method of study, it must be re-
peated, is to examine a number of paragraphs, both good
and bad, with specific comment on each ; since, after all, para-
graphs are specific things for the expression of certain facts,
and, so long as they tell us what the facts are and how they
are related to other facts, they are likely to be good even if
the type is not easily analyzed and codified.

4. The connection of sentence's in paragraphs. Granted a
good order in the arrangement of sentences in a paragraph,
these sentences may be left with few marks of connection or
may be carefully knit by connective words. The example from
Mr. Masefield (p. 52) illustrates the paragraph that is almost
wholly without connective words, that depends very largely
on thp order of ideas. The following selection shows a pretty
liberal use of connective words and phrases. These are printed
in small capitals, since the original contained several italics,
partly designed for emphasis, partly for connective purposes,
which have been retained:

Suddenly, from thoughts like these I was awakened to a sul-
len sound, as of some motion on the distant road. It stole upon the
air for a moment ; I listened in awe ; but then it died away. Once
roused, however, I could not but observe with alarm the quickened
motion of our horses. Ten years' experience had made my eye
learned in the valuing of motion; and I saw that we were now
running thirteen miles an hour. I pretend to no presence of mind.
On the contrary, my fear is that I am miserably and shamefully
deficient in that quality as regards action. The palsy of doubt
and distraction hangs like some guilty weight of dark unfathomed
remembrances upon my energies when the signal is flying for
action. But, on the other hand, this accursed gift I have, as
regards thought, that in the first step towards the possibility of a
misfortune I see its total evolution; in the radix of the series I
see too certainly and too instantly its entire expansion; in the
first syllable of the dreadful sentence I read already the last. It
was not that I feared for ourselves. Us our bulk and impetus


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Paragraphs 113

charmed against peril in any collision. And I had ridden through
too many hundreds of perils that were frightful to approach, that
were matter of laughter to look back upon, the first face of which
was horror, the parting face a jest — for any anxiety to rest upon
our interests. The mail was not built, I felt assured, nor bespoke,
that could betray me who trusted to its protection. But any car-
riage that we could meet would be frail and light in comparison
of ourselves. And I remarked this ominous accident of our situa-
tion, — we were on the wrong side of the road. But then, it may
BE SAID, the other party, if other there was, might also be on the
wrong side; and two wrongs might make a right. That was not
likely. The same motive which had drawn us to the right-hand
side of the road — viz., the luxury of the soft beaten sand as con-
trasted with the paved center — would prove attractive to others.
The two adverse carriages would therefore, to a certainty, be
traveling on the same side ; and from this side, as not being ours
in law, the crossing over to the other would, of course, be looked
for from us. Our lamps, still lighted, would give the impression
of vigilance on our part. And every creature that met us would
rely upon us for quartering. All this, and if the separate links of
the anticipation had been a thousand times more, I saw, not dis-
cursively, or by effort, or by succession, but by one flash of horrid
simultaneous intuition.*

About the foregoing passage it is also to be noted that cer-
tain phrases are so placed as to help the coherence of the
sentences as well as to emphasize certain ideas. For example,
De Quincey's ninth and tenth sentences are better con-
nected than if he had written, " It was not that I feared for
ourselves. Our bulk and impetus charmed us against peril
in any collision." Again, the present order of the last sentence
is better, as a matter of coherence, than if the author had
written, " I saw ... all this."

A judicious use of connectives, to indicate the bearing of each
sentence in the paragraph and the arrangement of the words
and phrases in the sentences so as to give them the maximum
of imion with one another, — these are methods which it is

• De Quincey : The English Mail Coach: A Vision of Sudden Death,


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114 English Composition and Style

well to employ, especially in writing that calls for a good deal
of explicitness. In rapid narrative they would probably result
in some dragging and eddying, but in argumentative and ex-
pository work they are very useful. They are sign posts to
point out an intricate way. In the use of them there is no
uniformity in the practice of authors, and students would do
well to examine good writing from this point of view. Gen-
erally speaking, young writers use too few, or, if they affect
many connectives, may use them somewhat spuriously. The
principal connective words are " hence,*' " therefore," " the
former," "the latter," "on the one hand," "on the other
hand," "on the contrary," "for that matter," "however,"
" but," " indeed," and a great many other phrases of a stock
nature. Used skilfully, they aid; used semper, ubique, et ab
omnibus, they poison the vitality of discourse.

Principles of composition in paragraphs. The principles
of unity, coherence, and emphasis, that were spoken of with re-
gard to composition apply, with slight modifications, to para-
graphs. These terms furnish convenient catch-words for the
study of paragraphs, as of longer compositions. That a para-
graph should be clearly about something, that it should be well
arranged, that the ideas should be clearly brought out, — this
is what we have already seen, and this is but another way
of saying that paragraphs should have unity, coherence and
emphasis. What these principles mean, in application, is a
very varied matter; it depends so much on the idea, as with
composition, that the manifestation is rarely twice the same.
These principles are, therefore, merely aids in the study of
paragraphs and in the writing of them. As the place of the
paragraph, the paragraph transition, the internal arrangement,
the connection of sentences in the paragraph, were, so to speak,
points d'appui, or entering wedges, to the comprehension of
paragraphs, so unity, coherence and emphasis are useful in
calling the student's attention to the content and structure of
a paragraph and they will help him compass the criticism of
his own work. The one thing for the student to be on his


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Paragraphs 115

guard against is the taking of these terms in any exact sense ;
for in many paragraphs of no uncertain excellence it is
sometimes difficult to see the application of these principles.


1. Explain in a few words the purpose of paragraphing, and
show by what methods that have come under your own observation
the purpose may be realized.

2. Explain unity, emphasis, and coherence as applied to para-
graphs, and find paragraphs illustrating these principles.

3. Find good examples of topic sentences, summary sentences,
and balanced structure in paragraphs in your ordinary reading.

4. Examine paragraphs from Bacon, Addison, Defoe, Swift,
Lamb, Burke, De Quincey, Franklin, Scott, Thackeray, Dickens,
George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, Newman, Carlyle, Stevenson, and
other well-known writers, noting the arrangement of paragraphs
in respect to each other, the transitions, the internal structure and
the connectives, and make any comparisons between any of these
authors that impress you. Try to determine which of these writers
makes the best paragraphs, and state your reasons.

5. Arrange the following topics and sentences into a composi-
tion of several paragraphs :

1. The customary confusion between shall and will is a good
example of what are called in rhetoric solecisms.

2. The inhabitants of 26Xot were held in contempt by the Athe-
nians as linguistically degenerate.

3. Solecisms are of various sorts and of varying d^rees of

4. Xo\oiKlj;€Uf meant in Greek to talk like an inhabitant of 26Xot.

5. IVill in the first person, singular or plural, implies volition on
the part of the speaker.

6. A solecism is to a sentence about what a barbarism is to a word.

7. Shall is the proper form to use unless courtesy requires will.

8. 26Xoticof, one who speaks like an inhabitant of 26Xot, gave

9. Z^XotKorMf, meaning the improper use of language, came from


10. The misuse of zvill and shall is one of the most common of


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ii6 English Composition and Style

11. The Athenians used the term c6\oucos in contempt.

12. We use the term solecism in a more restricted sense than did
the Athenians.

13. The S^Xot lived in Cilicia.

14. The normal forms of the future auxiliary not impljring voli-
tion on the part of the speaker are / shall, you will, he will,
we shall, you tvill, they will,

15. Strictly speaking, solecisms do not make sense, but they rarely
lead to real confusion of thought.

Use such connective words as may be necessary, and subordinate
whole sentences to phrases or expand one sentence to several if
necessary. (A teacher will be able to devise various exercises in
the rearrangement of material : the topics of, say, an Addison essay
may be extracted by the teacher and rearranged by the student.
This is the way, in general, that Franklin tells us he learned to

6. Jot down on separate slips of paper ideas on any subject
that you may think of, — paragraphs, reciprocity, the American
navy, ambition, etc., — and when you have a goodly number sort
them into groups and write paragraphs from them. Try to give
the assortment a definite introduction, that is, link it to some
interest of your own or of your hypothetical reader.

7. The following passages are inserted for the convenience of
the student. They are, on the whole, good paragraphs, though
a doctrinaire might object to some, but a totally different set from
authors who know what they are talking about and have some
reputation as writers would do as well; the student should make
additions of his own. Where the paragraphs are connected the
student should note the contents of each paragraph, its relation in
substance and wording to its neighbors, the arrangement of sen-
tences and the connections between them. Where the paragraphs
are given without context, these same points of interest apply,
but a student will be obliged to guess from the wording what the
function of the paragraph may have been and where it stood in
the essay or novel.

I. The moment you abate anything from the full rights of
men, each to govern himself, and suffer any artificial positive
limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organi-
zation of government becomes a consideration of convenience.
This it is which makes the constitution of a State, and the due


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Paragraphs 117

distribution of its powers, a matter of the most delicate and com-
plicated skill. It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and
human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct
the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of
civil institutions. The State is to have recruits to its strength,
and remedies to its distempers. What is the use of discussing a
man's abstract right to food or medicine? The question is upon
the method of procuring and administering them. In that de-
liberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer
and the physician, rather than the professor of metaphysics.

2. It was the 28th of July. The sun had just set; the evening
sermon in the cathedral was over, and the heart-broken congrega-
tion had separated, when the sentinels on the tower saw the sails
of three vessels coming up the Foyle. Soon there was a stir in
the Irish camp. The besiegers were on the alert for miles along
both shores. The ships were in extreme peril, for the river was
low, and the only navigable channel very near to the left bank,
where the headquarters of the enemy had been fixed, and where
the batteries were most numerous. Leake performed his duty with
a skill and spirit worthy of his noble profession, exposed his
frigate to cover the merchantmen, and used his guns with great
eflFect. . . . Meantime the tide was rising fast. The Mountjoy
began to move, and soon passed safe through the broken stakes
and floating spars. But her brave master was no more. A shot
from one of the batteries had struck him, and he died by the most
enviaWe of all deaths, in sight of the city which was his birth-
place, which was his home, and which had just been saved by his
courage and self-devotion from the most frightful form of de-

3. WraggI If we are to talk of ideal perfection, of the best
in the whole world, has any one reflected what a touch of gross-
ness in our race, what an original shortcoming in the more deli-
cate spiritual perceptions is shown by the natural growth amongst
us of such hideous names — Higginbottom, Stiggins, Bugg! In
Ionia and Attica they were luckier in this respect than "the best
race in the world"; by the Ilissus there was no Wragg, poor

4. The crows we have always with us, but it is not every day
or every season that one sees an eagle. Hence I must preserve
the memory of one I saw the last day I went bee-hunting. As
I was laboring up the side of a mountain at the head of a valley,
the noble bird sprang from the top of a dry tree above me and
came sailing directly over my head. I saw him bend his eye down
upon me, and I could hear the low hum of his plumage, as if the


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ii8 English Composition and Style

web of every quill in his great wings vibrated in his strong, levd
flight I watched him as long as my eye could hold him. When
he was fairly clear of the mountain he began' that sweeping
spiral movement in which he climbs the sky. Up and up he went
without once breaking his majestic poise till he appeared to sight
some far-off alien geography, when he bent his course thitherward,
and gradually vanished in the blue depths. The eagle is a bird
of large ideas, he embraces long distances; the continent is his
home. I never look upon one without emotion; I follow him with
my eye as long as I can. I think of Canada, of the Great Lakes,
of the Rocky Mountains, of the wild and sounding seacoast. The
waters are his, and the woods and the inaccessible cliffs. He
pierces behind the veil of the storm, and his joy is height and
depth and vast spaces.

5. So the fortnight slipped away, varied by nothing but the
variation of the tide, which altered Mr. Peggotty's times of ^oing
out and coming in, and altered Ham*s engagements also. When
the latter was unemployed, he sometimes walked with us to show
us the boats and ships, and once or twice he took us for a row.
I don't know why one slight set of impressions should be more
particularly associated with a place than another, though I be-
lieve thi« obtains with most people, in reference especially to the
associations of their childhood. I never hear the name, or read
the name, of Yarmouth, but I am reminded of a certain Sunday
morning on the beach, the bells ringing for church, little Em'ly
leaning on my shoulder, Ham lazily dropping stones into the
water, and the sun, away at sea, just breaking through the heavy
mist, and showing us the ships, like their own shadows.

6. As I thus lay ... a faint noise stole towards me through
the pines. I thought at first it was the crowing of cocks or the
barking of dogs at some very distant farm ; but steadily and grad-
ually it took articulate shape in my ears, until I became aware
that a passenger was going by upon the high-road in the valley,
and singing loudly as he went. There was more of good-will than
grace in his performance; but he trolled with ample lungs; and
the sound of his voice took hold upon the hillside and set the air
shaking in the leafy glens.

When I awoke again many of the stars had disappeared; only
the stronger companions of the night still burned visibly over-
head ; and away towards the east I saw a faint haze of light upon
the horizon, such as had been the Milky Way when I was last
awake. Day was at hand.

7. But, outside the ramparts, no more popr. A sputter, per-


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haps, southward, along the Savoy road; but in all the champaign
round, no mean rows of cubic lodgings with Doric porches; no
squalid fields of mud and thistles; no deserts of abandoned brick-
field and insolvent kitchen garden. On the instant, outside Geneva
gates, perfectly smooth, clean, trim-hedged or prim-walled country
roads; the main broad one intent on far-away things, its signal-
posts inscribed '* Route de Paris " ; branching from it, right and
left, a labyrinth of equally well-kept ways for fine carriage wheels,
between lie gentlemen's houses with their farms; each having its
own fifteen to twenty to fifty acres of mostly meadow, rich-

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 10 of 43)