W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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waving always (in my time for being there) with grass and
flowers, like a kaleidoscope. Stately plane trees, aspen and walnut,
— sometimes in avenue, — casting breezy, never gloomy shade
round the dwelling-house. A dwelling-house indeed, all the year
round; no traveling from it to fairer lands possible; no shutting
up for seasons in town; hay-time and fruit-time, school-time and
play, for generation after generation, within the cheerful white
domicile with its green shutters and shingle roof, — pinnacled per-
haps, humorously, at the corners, glittering on the edges with
silvery tin. "Kept up" the whole place, and all the neighbors*
places, not ostentatiously, but perfectly : enough gardeners to mow,
enough vintagers to press, enough nurses to nurse; no foxes to
hunt, no birds to shoot; but every household felicity possible to
prudence and honor, felt and fulfilled from infancy to age.

8. Having thus taken my resolution to march on boldly in the
cause of virtue and good sense, and to annoy their adversaries in
whatever degree or rank of men they may be found, I shall be
deaf for the future to all the remonstrances that shall be made to
me on this account. If Punch grows extravagant, I shall repri-
mand him freely ; if the stage becomes a nursery of folly and im-
pertinence, I shall not be afraid to animadvert upon it. In short,
if I meet with anything in city, court, or country, that shocks
modesty or good manners, I shall use my utmost endeavors to
make an example of it. I must, however, entreat every particular
person, who does me the honor to read, this paper, never to think
himself, or any of his friends or enemies, aimed at in what is
said; for I promise him never to draw a faulty character which
does not fit at least a thousand people, or to publish a single paper
that is not written in the spirit of benevolence, and with a love to
mankind.

9. There were many good talkers on the ship; and I believe
good talking of a certain sort is a common accomplishment among
working men. Where books are comparatively scarce, a greater
amount of information will be given and received by word of



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120 English Composition and Style

mouth; and this tends to produce good talkers, and, what is no
less needful for conversation, good listeners. They could all tell
a story with effect I am sometimes tempted to think that the
less literary class show always better in narration; they have so
much more patience with detail, are so much less hurried to reach
the points, and preserve so much juster a proportion among the
facts. At the same time their talk is dry; they pursue a topic
ploddingly, have not an agile fancy, do not throw sudden lights
from unexpected quarters, and when the talk is over they often
leave the matter where it was. They mark time instead of march-
ing. They think only to argue, not to reach new conclusions, and
use their reason rather as a weapon of offense than as a tool for
self-improvement. Hence the talk of the cleverest was tmprofitable
in result, because there was no give and take; they would grant
you as little as possible for premise, and begin to dispute under an
oath to conquer or to die.

10. I allow all this, and much more; such certainly is our
popular education, and its effects are remarkable. Nevertheless,
after all, even in this age, whenever men are really serious about
getting what, in the language of trade, is called "a good article,"
when they aim at something precise, something refined, something
really luminous, something really large, something choice, they
go to another market; they avail themselves, in some shape or
other, of the rival method, the ancient method, of oral instruction,
of present conHnunication between man and man, of teachers in-
stead of learning, of the personal influence of a master, and the
humble initiation of a disciple, and, in consequence, of great
centers of pilgrimage and throng, which such a method of edu-
cation necessarily involves. This, I think, will be found to hold
good in all those departments or aspects of society which possess
an interest sufficient to bind men together, or to constitute what
is called "a world." It holds in the political world, and in the
high world, and in the religious world; and it holds also in the
literary and scientific world.

11. And yet people speak in this working age, when they speak
from their hearts, as if houses and lands, and food and raiment,
were alone useful, and as if sight, thought, and admiration were
all profitless, so that men insolently call themselves utilitarians,
who would turn, if they had their way, themselves and their race
into vegetables; men who think, as far as such can be said to
think, that the meat is more than the life, and the raiment than
the body, who look to the earth as a stable, and to its fruit as
fodder; vinedressers and husbandmen, who love the com they
grind, and the grapes they crush, better than the gardens of the



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angels upon the slopes of Eden; hewers of wood and drawers
of water, who think that it is to give them wood to hew, and
water to draw, that the pine forests cover the mountains like
the shadow of God, and the great rivers move like His eternity.
And so comes upon us that woe of the preacher, that though
God "hath made everything beautiful in his time, also he hath
set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the
work that God maketh from the beginning to the end."

12. Homer is rapid in his movement, Homer is plain in his
words and style. Homer is simple in his ideas. Homer is noble
in his manner. Cowper renders him ill because he is slow in his
movement, and elaborate in his style; Pope renders him ill be-
cause he is artificial both in his style and in his words ; Chapman
renders him ill because he is fantastic in his ideas; Mr. Newman
renders him ill because he is odd in his words and ignoble in his
manner. All four translators diverge from their original at other
points besides those named; but it is at the points thus named that
their divergence is greatest. For instanre, Cowper's diction is
not as Homer's diction, nor his nobleness as Homer's nobleness;
but it is in movement and grammatical style that he is most un-
like Homer. Pope's rapidity is not of the same sort as Homer's
rapidity, nor are his plainness of ideas and his nobleness as
Homer's plainness of ideas and nobleness ; but it is in the artificial
character of his style and diction that he is most unlike Homer.
Chapman's movement, words, style, and manner, are often far
enough from resembling Homer's movement, words, style, and
manner; but it is the fantasticality of his ideas which puts him
farthest from resembling Homer. Mr. Newman's movement,
grammatical style, and ideas, are a thousand times in strong con-
trast with Homer's; still it is by the oddness of his diction and
ignobleness of his manner that he contrasts with Homer the most
violently.

13. For instance, the polished manners and high-bred bearing
which are so difficult of attainment, and so strictly personal when
attained, — which are so much admired in society, from society
are acquired. All that goes to constitute a gentleman, — the car-
riage, gait, address, gestures, voice; the ease, the self-possession,
the courtesy, the power of conversing, the talent of not offend-
ing; the lofty principle, the delicacy of thought, the happiness
of expression, the taste and propriety, the generosity and for-
bearance, the candor and consideration, the openness of hand;
— these qualities, some of them come by nature, some of them
may be found in any rank, some of them are a direct precept of
Christianity; but the full assemblage of them, bound up in the



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122 English Composition and Style

unity of an individual character, do we expect they can be learned
from books? are they not necessarily acquired, where they are
to be found, in high society? The very nature of the case leads
us to say so; you cannot fence without an antagonist, nor chal-
lenge all comers in disputation before you have supported a thesis ;
and in like manner, it stands to reason, you cannot learn to con-
verse till you have the world to converse with ; you cannot unlearn
your natural bashfulness, or awkwardness, or stiffness, or other
besetting deformity, till you serve your time in some school of
manners. Well, and is it not so in matter of fact? The metrop-
olis, the court, the great houses of the land, are the centers to
which at stated times the country comes up, as to shrines of refine-
ment and good taste; and then in due time the country goes back
again home, enriched with a portion of the social accomplishments,
which those very visits serve to call out and heighten in the gra-
cious dispensers of them. We are unable to conceive how the
"gentlemanlike'' can otherwise be maintained; and maintained in
this way it is.

14. The superiority of the direct over the indirect form of sen-
tence, implied by the several conclusions that have been drawn, must
not, however, be affirmed without reservation. Though, up to a cer-
tain point, it is well for the qualifying clauses of a period to precede
those qualified; yet, as carrying forward each qualifying clause
costs some mental effort, it follows that when the number of them
and the time they are carried become great, we reach a limit be-
yond which more is lost than is gained. Other things equal, the
arrangement should be such that no concrete image shall be sug-
gested until the materials out of which it is to be made have been
presented. And yet, as lately pointed out, other things equal, the
fewer the materials to be held at once, and the shorter the distance
they have to be borne, the better. Hence in some cases it becomes
a question whether most mental effort will be entailed by the many
and long suspensions, or by the correction of successive miscon-
ceptions.

This question may sometimes be decided by considering the ca-
pacity of the persons addressed. A greater grasp of mind is
required for the ready comprehension of thoughts expressed in
the direct manner, where the sentences are anywise intricate. To
recollect a number of preliminaries stated in elucidation of a
coming idea, and to apply th^m all to the formation of it when
suggested, demands a good memory and considerable power of
concentration. To one possessing these, the direct method will
mostly seem the best; while to one deficient in them it will seem
the worst. Just as it may cost a strong man less effort to carry a



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hundred-weigiit from place to place at once, than by a stone at a
time; so, to an active mind it may be easier to bear along all the
qualifications of an idea and at once rightly form it when named,
than to first imperfectly conceive such idea, and then carry back to
it, one by one, the details and limitations ^afterwards mentioned.
While conversely, as for a boy the only possible mode of trans-
ferring a hundred-weight, is that of taking it in portions ; so, for a
weak mind, the only possible mode of forming a compound con-
ception may be that of building it up by carrying separately its
several parts.

That the indirect method — the method of conveying the mean-
ing by a series of approximations — is best fitted for the unculti-
vated, may indeed be inferred from their habitual use of it. The
form of expression adopted by the savage, as in — ^** Water, give
me," is the simplest type of the approximate arrangement. In
pleonasms, which are comparatively prevalent among the unedu-
cated, the same essential structure is seen; as, for instance, in —
"The men, they were there." Again, the old possessive case
— ^**Thc king, his crown," conforms to the like order of thought.
Moreover, the fact that the indirect mode is called the natural one,
implies that it is the one spontaneously employed by the common
people: that is — the one easiest for undisciplined minds.

15. Did the reader ever happen to reflect on the great idea of
'publication f An idea we call it; because even in our own times,
with all the mechanic aids of steam-presses, etc., this object is most
imperfectly approached, and is destined, perhaps, for ever to re-
main an unattainable ideal, — useful (like all ideals) in the way of
regulating our aims, but also as a practicable object not reconcilable
with the limitation of human power. For it is clear that, if books
were multiplied by a thousandfold, and truths of all kinds were
carried to the very fireside of every family, — nay, placed below
the eyes of every individual, — still the purpose of any universal
publication would be defeated and utterly confounded, were it
only by the limited opportunities of readers. One condition of
publication defeats another. Even so much as a general publication
is a hopeless idea. Yet, on the other hand, publication in some
degree, and by some mode, is a sine qua non condition for the gen-
eration of literature. Without a larger S3rmpathy than that of his
own personal circle, it is evident that no writer could have a
motive for those exertions and previous preparations without which
excellence is not attainable in any art whatsoever.

Now, in our own times, it is singular, and really philosophically
curious, to remark the utter blindness of writers, readers, pub-
lishers, and all parties whatever interested in literature, as to the



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124 English Composition and Style

trivial fraction of publicity which settles upon each separate work.
The very multiplication of books has continually defeated the object
in growing progression. Readers have increased, the engines of
publication have increased; but books, increasing in a still greater
proportion, have left as the practical result an average quotient of
publicity for each book, taken apart, continually decreasing. And,
if the whole world were readers, probably the average publicity
for each separate work would reach a minimum; such would be
the concurrent increase of books. But even this view of the case
keeps out of sight the most monstrous forms of this phenomenon.
The inequality of the publication has the effect of keeping very
many books absolutely without a reader. The majority of books
are never opened; five hundred copies may be printed, or half as
many more ; of these it may happen that five are carelessly turned
over. Popular journals, again, which carry a promiscuous mis-
cellany of papers into the same number of hands, as a stage-coach
must convey all its passengers at the same rate of speed, dupe the
public with a notion that here at least all are read. Not at all.
One or two are read from the interest attached to their subjects.
Occasionally one is read a little from the ability with which it
treats a subject not otherwise attractive. The rest have a better
chance certainly than books, because they are at any rate placed
under the eye and in the hand of readers. But this is no more
than a variety of the same case. A hasty glance may be taken by
one in a hundred at the less attractive papers; but reading is out
of the question. Then, again, another delusion, by which all parties
disguise the truth, is the absurd belief that, not being read at
present, a book may, however, be revived hereafter. Believe it
not! This is possible only with regard to books that demand to
be studied, where the merit is slowly discovered. Every month,
every day indeed, produces its own novelties, with the additional
zest that they are novelties. Every future year, which will as-
suredly fail in finding time for its own books, — how should it find
time for defunct books ? No, no ; every year buries its own litera-
ture. Since Waterloo there have been added upwards of fifty thou-
sand books and pamphlets to the shelves of our native literature,
taking no account of foreign importations. Of these fifty thousand
possibly two hundred still survive ; possibly twenty will survive for
a couple of centuries ; possibly five or six thousand may have been
indifferently read; the rest not so much as opened. In this hasty
sketch of a calculation we assume a single copy to represent a
whole edition. But, in order to have the total sum of copies
numerically neglected since Waterloo, it will be requisite to mul-
tiply forty-four thousand by five hundred at the least, but prob-
ably by a higher multiplier. At the very moment of writing this



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— by way of putting into a brighter light the inconceivable blunder
as to publicity habitually committed by sensible men of the world —
let us mention what we now see before us in a public journal
Speaking with disapprobation of a just but disparaging expression
applied to the French war-mania by a London morning paper, the
writer has described it as likely to irritate the people of France.
O genius of arithmetic! The offending London journal has a
circulation of four thousand copies daily; and it is assumed that
thirty-three millions, of whom assuredly not twenty-five individuals
will ever see the English paper as a visible object, nor five ever
read the passage in question, are to be maddened by one word in a
colossal paper laid this morning on a table amongst fifty others,
and to-morrow morning pushed off that table by fifty others of
more recent date. How are such delusions possible? Simply from
the previous delusion, of ancient standing, connected with printed
characters : what is printed seems to every man invested with some
fatal character of publicity such as cannot belong to mere MS.;
whilst, in the meantime, out of every thousand printed pages, one
at the most, but at all events a very small proportion indeed, is
in any true sense more public when printed than previously as a
manuscript; and that one, even that thousandth part, perishes as
effectually in a few days to each separate reader as the words
perish in our daily conversation. Out of all that we talk, or hear
others talk, through the course of a year, how much remains on
the memory at the closing day of December? Quite as little, we
may be sure, survives from most people's reading. A book answers
its purpose by sustaining the intellectual faculties in motion through
the current act of reading, and a general deposition or settling
takes effect from the sum of what we read; even that, however,
chiefly according to the previous condition in which the book finds
us for understanding it, and referring them to heads under some
existing arrangement of our knowledge. Publication is an idle
term applied to what is not published; and nothing is published
which is not made known publicly to the understanding as well as
the eye; whereas, for the enormous majority of what is printed,
we cannot say so much as that it is made known to the eyes.

For what reason have we insisted on this unpleasant view of a
phenomenon incident to the limitation of our faculties, and ap-
parently without remedy? Upon another occasion it might have
been useful to do so, were it only to impress upon every writer
the vast importance of compression. Simply to retrench one word
from each sentence, one superfluous epithet, for example, would
probably increase the disposable time of the public by one twelfth
part; in other words, would add another month to the year, or
raise any sum of volumes read from eleven to twelve hundred.



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126 English Composition and Style

A mechanic operation would effect that change ; but, by cultivating
a closer logic and more severe habits of thinking, perhaps two
sentences out of each three might be pruned away, and the amount
of possible publication might thus be increased in a threefold
degree. A most serious duty, therefore, and a duty which is
annually growing in solemnity, appears to be connected with the
culture of an unwordy diction; much more, however, with the
culture of clear thinking, — that being the main key to good writing,
and consequently to fluent reading.

i6. Boys outgrow their shape and their strength ; their limbs have
to knit together, and their constitution needs tone. Mistaking ani-
mal spirits for vigor, and over-confident in their health, ignorant
what they can bear and how to manage themselves, they are im-
moderate and extravagant; and fall into sharp sicknesses. This is
an emblem of their minds; at first they have no principles laid
down within them as a foundation for the intellect to build upon;
they have no discriminating convictions, and no grasp of conse-
quences. And therefore they talk at random, if they talk much,
and cannot help being flippant, or what is emphatically called
"young." They are merely dazzled by phenomena, instead of per-
ceiving things as they are.

It were well if none remained boys all their lives; but what is
more common than the sight of grown men, talking on political
or moral or religious subjects, in that off-hand, idle way, which
we signify by the word unreal f " That they simply do not know
what they are talking about" is the spontaneous silent remark of
any man of sense who hears them. Hence such persons have no
difficulty in contradicting themselves in successive sentences, with-
out being conscious of it. Hence others, whose defect in intel-
lectual training is more latent, have their most unfortunate crochets,
as they are called, or hobbies, which deprive them of the influence
which their estimable qualities would otherwise secure. Hence
others can never look straight before them, never see the point, and
have no difficulties in the most difficult subjects. Others are hope-
lessly obstinate and prejudiced, and, after they have been driven
' from their opinions, return to them the next moment without even
an attempt to explain why. Others are so intemperate and intract-
able that there is no greater calamity for a good cause than that
they should get hold of it.

17. Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or
market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and faculty for idleness
implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity.
There is a sort of dead-alive hackneyed people about, who arc
scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some con-
ventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set



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them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk
or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give them-
selves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in
the exercise of their faculties for its own sake ; and unless Necessity
lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no
good speaking to such folk : they cannot be idle, their nature is not
generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma,
which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When
they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry
and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank,
to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall
into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them you would
suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with;
you would imagine they were paralyzed or alienated; and yet very
possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good
eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have
been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on
the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with
clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own
affairs. As if a man's soul were not too small to begin with, they
have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no
play; until here they are at forty, with a Ustless attention, a mind
vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub
against another, while they wait for the train. Before he was
breeched he might have clambered on the boxes; when he was
twenty, he would have stared at the girls; but now the pipe is
smoked out, the snuff-box empty, and my gentleman sits bolt up-
right upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal
to me as being Success in Life.

18. Macaulay's learning is confined to book-lore; he is not well
read in the human heart, and still less in the human spirit. His
unspirituality is complete; we never catch a glimpse of the far
land through all his brilliant narratives; never, in his numerous
portraits, comes a line of moral suggestiveness, showing an eye
for the deeper springs of character, the finer shades of motive.



Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 11 of 43)