W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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duty, and cared not for the consequence ; only for several days dear
Annie seemed frightened, rather than grateful. But the oddest
result of it was that Eliza, who had so despised me, and made very
rude verses about me, now came trying to sit on my knee, and
kiss me, and give me the best of the pan« However, I would not
allow it, because I hate sudden changes.

Another thing also astonished me — namely, a beautiful letter
from Marwood de Whichehalse himself (sent by a groom soon
afterwards), in which he apologized to me, as if I had been his
equal, for his rudeness to my sister, which was not intended in
the least, but came of their common alarm at the moment, and
his desire to comfort her. Also he begged permission to come
and see me, as an old schoolfellow, and set everything straight
between us, as should be among honest Blundellites.

All this was so different to my idea of fighting out a quarrel,
when once it is upon a man, that I knew not what to make of it,
but bowed to higher breeding. Only one thing I resolved upon,
that come when he would, he should not see Annie. And to do
my sister justice, she had no desire to see him.

However, I am too easy, there is no doubt of that, being very
quick to forgive a man, and very slow to suspect, unless he hath
once lied to me. Moreover, as to Annie, it had always seemed to
me (much against my wishes) that some shrewd love of a waiting
sort was between her and Tom Faggus: and though Tom had
made his fortune now, and everybody respected him, he was not
yet to be compared, in that point of respectability, with those people
who hanged the robbers, when fortune turned against them.

So young Squire Marwood came again, as though I had never
smitten him, and spoke of it in as light a way, as if we were still at
school together. It was not in my nature, at all, to keep any
anger against him; and I knew what a condescension it was for
him to visit us. And it is a very grievous thing, which touches


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Paragraphs 137

small landowners, to see an ancient family day by day decaying:
and when we heard that Ley Barton itself, and all the Manor of
Lynton, were mider a heavy mortgage debt to John Lovering of
Weare-Gifford, there was not much, in our little way, that we
would not gladly do or suffer, for the benefit of Dc Whichehalse.

Meanwhile the work of the farm was toward, and every day
gave us more ado to dispose of what itself was doing. For after
the long dry skeltering wind of March and part of April, there
had been a fortnight of soft wet; and when the sun came forth
again, hill and valley, wood and meadow, could not make enough
of him. Many a spring have I seen since then, but never yet
two springs alike, and never one so beautiful. Or was it that my
love came forth and touched the world with beauty?

The spring was in our valley now; creeping first for shelter
shyly in the pause of the blustering wind. There the lambs came
bleating to her, and the orchis lifted up, and the thin dead leaves
of clover lay, for the new ones to spring through. Then the
stiffest things that sleep, the stubby oak, and the stunted beech,
dropped their brown defiance to her, and prepared for a soft reply.
While her over-eager children (who had started forth to meet her,
through the frost and shower of sleet), catkin'd hazel, gold gloved
withy, youthful elder, and old woodbine, with all the tribe of good
hedge climbers (who must hasten, while haste they may) — was
there one of them, that did not claim the merit of coming first ?

There she stayed, and held her revel, as soon as the fear of frost
was gone; all the air was a fount of freshness, and the earth of
gladness, and the laughing waters prattled of the kindness of the

But all this made it much harder for us, plying the hoe and har-
row, to keep the fields with room upon them for the corn to
tiller. The winter wheat was well enough, being sturdy and strong
sided; but the spring wheat, and the barley, and oats were over-
run by ill weeds growing faster. Therefore, as the old saying is,-r

"Farmer, that thy wife may thrive.
Let not burr and burdock wive ;
And if thou wouldst keep thy son.
See that bine and gith have none."

So we were compelled to go down the field and up it, striking in
and out with care where the green blades hung together, so that
each had space to move in, and to spread its roots abroad. And
I do assure you now, though you may not believe me, it was
harder work to keep John Fry, Bill Dadds, and Jem Slocomb
all in a line, and all moving nimbly to the tune of my own tool.


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138 English Composition and Style

than it was to set out in the morning alone, and hoe half an acre
by dinner time. For, instead of keeping the good ash moving,
they would forever be finding something to look at, or to speak
of, or at any rate» to stop with; blaming the shape of their tools
perhaps, or talking about other people's affairs; or what was
most irksome of all to me, taking advantage as married men,
and whispering jokes of no excellence, about my having, or
having not, or being ashamed of a sweetheart. 'And this went
80 far at last, that I was forced to take two of them, and knodc
their heads together; after which they worked with a better wilL

When we met together in the evening round the kitchen chim-
ney place, after the men had had their supper, and their
heavy boots were gone, my mother, and Eliza, would do their
very utmost to learn what I was thinking of. Not that we kept
any fire now, after the crock was emptied; but that we loved to
see the ashes cooling, and to be together. At these times,
Annie would never ask me any crafty questions (as Eliza did),
but would sit with her hair untwined, and one hand underneath
her chin, sometimes looking softly at me, as much as to say that
she knew it all, and I was no worse off than she. But, strange
to say, my mother dreamed not, even for an instant, that it was
possible for Annie to be thinking of such a thing. Sh^ was so
very good and quiet, and careful of the linen, and clever about
the cookery, and fowls, and bacon curing, that people used to
laugh, and say she would never look at a bachelor, until her
mother ordered her. But I (perhaps from my own condition,
and the sense of what it was) felt no certainty about this, and
even had another opinion, as was said before.

Often I was much inclined to speak to her about it, and put
her on her guard against the approaches of Tom Faggus; but
I could not find how to begin, and feared to make a breach be-
tween us; knowing that if her mind was set^ no words of mine
would alter it; although they needs must grieve her deeply.
Moreover, I felt that, in this case, a certain homely Devonshire
proverb would come home to me; that one, I mean, which
records that the crock was calling the kettle smutty. Not, of
course, that I compared my innocent maid to a highwayman;
but that Annie might think her worse, and would be too apt to
do so, if indeed she loved Tom Faggus. And our cousin Tom,
by this time, was living a quiet' and godly life; having retired
almost from the trade (except when he needed excitement, or
came across public officers), and having won the esteem of all
whose purses were in his power.

Perhaps it is needless for me to say, that all this time, while
my month was running — or rather crawling, for never month


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Paragraphs 139

went so slow as that with me — neither weed» nor seed, nor
cattle, nor my own mother's anxiety, nor any care for my sister,
kept me from looking once every day, and even twice on a
Sunday, for any sign of Lorna. For my heart was ever weary;
in the budding valleys, and by the crystal waters, looking at the
lambs in fold, or the heifers on the hill, laboring in trickled
furrows, or among the beaded blades; halting fresh to see the
sun lift over the golden vapored ridge; or doffing hat, from
sweat of brow, to watch him sink in the low gray sea; be it as it
would, of day, of work, or night, or slumber, it was a weary
heart I bore, and fear was on the brink of it.

All the beauty of the spring went for happy men to think of;
all the increase of the year was for other eyes to mark. Not a
sign of any sunrise for me, from my fount of life; not a breath
to stir the dead leaves fallen on my heart's Spring.


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Summary of the preceding chapter. We have seen that
paragraphs, — like the longer sections, chapters, parts, and
books, — are convenient divisions into which compositions may
fall. Their function is to make reading easier, and they are
hence capable of many refinements and actually do exist in
great number and variety. For handiness in the study of
them, certain points are of special interest and merit special
attention, certain types may be recognized, either in some
actual practice or as an ideal that has been held of good par-
agraphing, and good paragraphs may also be said to conform
to certain general principles, — unity, coherence, and emphasis.
Good paragraphs, however, are good, in each case, for specific
reasons depending on the idea to be conveyed, and therefore
a student should become acquainted with good paragraphs of
many kinds and in each case should note specific points. It
is not sufficient in the criticism of paragraphs^ or of longer
divisions of composition, to say that they possess unity, em-
phasis, and coherence, but the precise application of these
principles should be pointed out. Indeed there are many
other excellent things besides unity, coherence, and emphasis
which a paragraph should possess ; in a finished and agreeable
piece of work, attention might properly be given to proportion,
to variety, to symmetry, and a great many other matters re-
quiring judgment and taste. These matters, too, are points
for specific illustration inasmuch as they manifest themselves
differently in different paragraphs.

Paragraph development* The real reason for paragraph-
ing, aside from merely breaking up a longer piece of writing,



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Paragraph Sense and Style 141

is to give opportunity for the devetopment of the ideas or the
details of a subject in a special way, and of developing these
things in as interesting or as clear a manner as possible. The
paragraph that fails to carry on a subject, whether it be a
** related " paragraph or an " isolated " paragraph, is bad.
And again, if it fails to carry on the subject in an interesting
and evidently necessary way it is likely to be a superfluous,
and hence a bad, paragraph. Paragraphs may, like longer
units of composition, devebp a subject in a variety of ways, —
of which the most evident are these: (i) further explanation
of what was meant by the preceding matter, (2) illustration
of the preceding matter, (3) objection to the preceding matter,
(4) anticipation of new matter, (5) actual new matter impor-
tant to the subject. It is plain that the progression of dis-
course would require these things, but they are particularly
apposite to paragraphing, since paragraphs furnish them with
a special opportunity, as it were. S<Mne of these things are
done by isolated paragraphs, which devetop a single idea by
contrasts, by illustration, by statement and explanation, —
merely, in all cases, carrying on some noticm in the mind of the
writer. They also apply to narrative and all discourse moving
in order of time, as well as to exposition and argumentation.
If in some way a paragraph fails to carry on its subject, in
some one or more of a variety of ways, it is a bad paragraph ;
it clogs discourse and had better be stricken out. And the
more interesting the way in which the discourse may be carried
on, the better. Now it is obvious that paragraphs of perfect
unity, coherence, and emphasis, or with admirable topic and
summary sentences, might fail to carry on discourse; they
might make side eddies or stagnant pools in something that
should move. Digressions are wholly proper things provided
they move and get back to the main discourse, for these do not
stop a subject dead ; they may indeed be very necessary or may
be skilful stimulators of curiosity. Or again, the movement,
though direct, may be slow, but movement there should be.
The ability to use such material as will make a discourse



142 English Composition and Style

move we may call the paragraph sense or the sense for para«
graphs ; the ability to make it interesting, aside from the inter-
est of the subject we may call paragraph style.

These terms need further explanation and some illustration.
Sense for paragraphs is not radically different from sense for
compositions of any kind. They should all move, be self-
contained, be sensible to the subject with which they are deal-
ing, should not talk nonsense. But the matter can be better
seen in paragraphs, because of their shortness, and it needs spe-
cial attention in paragraphs by reason of the modem recogni-
tion of their value. Furthermore, the matter should be dwelt
on because, if a paragraph, like any longer piece of composi-
tion, fails to carry on the subject in some way, fails to give the
writer a definite easement, fails, in short, to drive at some-
thing, it is not a good paragraph. One may think in a ran-
dom, desultory way, or one may think in paragraphs, — or
do a variety of other things, — and this thinking in paragraphs
is the sense for paragraphing which almost all good writers
possess, which many labor to cultivate. The sense for para-
graphs depends greatly on common-sense and logic. It avoids
nonsense, shuns vagueness, abhors fatuity, abominates plati-
tudes, for the reason that these things paralyze movement or
cause tediousness.

Style in paragraphs is like style elsewhere; it is what gives
discourse vitality. Only style is not seen in single words, and
rarely in sentences, except in epigram. Paragraphs are about
the shortest forms of composition in which it is possible to get
style working or to illustrate it. Style is made, to be sure,
by words and sentences, as will be seen later, but rarely, except
in juxtaposition, over a considerable body of matter. A care
for style in paragraphs is also a care for development and
movement. There is, as we have seen (p. 64), a stylistic
method of composition, and this is illustrated also in para-

Illustrations. The following examples of paragraph writ-
ing are wholly from student's themes. Some are pretty bad,


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Paragraph Sense and Style 143

others offer little occasion for adverse criticism. Specific
comment will be added in accordance with principles pre-
viously enunciated.

1. The people are simply great Unconsciously, you can clas-
sify almost every individual according to some type. The fussy
grumpy person is easily recognized. The calm, placid person
comes next. And so on down through the list of characteristics.

This is too vague and onnmonplace to be worth saying and
hence is a bad paragraph. One might remark on the unborn
promise of " simply great," the valuelessness of " unconscious
classification/' the fatuous lack of order in " comes next," and
the vagueness of the entire last sentence. It would be as
well to say, "The people are simply great, etc." The para-
graph wholly lacks development except of the more vaguely
mechanical sort. The subject of personal t3rpes, always a
difficult one, can here be made interesting only by considerably
more thought and observation, considerably more explanation
of such phrases as " simply great," and a vocabulary that
really characterizes.

2. I have always found that you can read a person's character
quite well by observing the kind of shoes she wears. In the first
place, her inclinations toward neatness or slovenliness are shown
by the repair in which she keeps her shoes, and again her natural
bent is shown by the kind of shoes she selects. There is the
strong-minded, provident girl who always buys strong lace boots
which are sure to last all winter. There is the frivolous, im-
provident one who appears in French heels and paper soles even
in the worst kind of weather. There is the student of hygiene
who is likely to use "heels of new rubber" to assist her in
walking and there are a horde of commonplace mortals who wear
plain, ordinary, commonplace shoes with nothing to distinguish
one from the other. And even these have their little character-
istics, a way of tying the bow on her half-sleeve, which shows that
she is in the habit of rising late and has little time to spend
for trifies. There are numerous other inclinations which to a
diligent observer will reveal many small characteristics.


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144 English Composition and Style

This, of the same dangerous type as the preceding, is less
fatuous for the reason that it goes more into detail and is
hence more interesting. But there are too many other rea-
sons, — money, practice of parents, etc., — to make the first
sentence sound. And again, since any one could guess these
matters with his eyes shut, or, in like manner, infer character
from any kind of circtmistance, the closing remarks about
the " diligent observer " are rather remote. The repetition of
" there is '* constitutes a stylistic annoyance, as do also the
succession of sentences with relative clauses.

3. I think that one of the most pathetic sights is to see an
old woman on the streets trying to earn her living by selling
various things. The other day I stopped at a fruit stand to
buy some fruit. An old, old woman had charge of it It was
a cold day and she was poorly dressed. Her face was wrinkled
and^ bespoke the hard life she had had to lead, although when
I gave her the money she gave me a sweet smile which touched
my heart but when I saw her hands I was more touched than
before for they were hard and rough and had scars on them.
I think it is most admirable the way these poor old people
struggle for existence and seem to never give up.

Here the writer was ambitious and conscientious, but instead
of trying to make an incident interesting as an incident, felt
obliged to snuggle it between generalizations which could as
well be illustrated by a thousand other instances.

4. Before I came to school this morning I took a long walk
along Riverside Drive and everywhere there were nurse girls
who had charge of children. The way that some of the children
were treated was frightful. One nurse, in particular, showed
what a mean disposition she had by her looks. The baby with
her was as sweet a child as I have ever seen. All at once the
child tripped on a piece of wood and fell down. The nurse
grabbed up the child, who was by that time crying, and set her
down with all force on a bench with the words, "Now I hope
you will be good, you little demon,'' and then she walked off a
short distance, leaving the poor child crying harder. I am sure


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Paragraph Sense and Style 145

if some mothers could see the way their children are treated
they would be careful in the selection of their nurses.

This hangs fire too long before getting to the incident.
The writer seems unable to get under way until about the
middle of the theme. The writer could develop the first
sentence in one thousand ways, the second in about a thousand
more, the third in some scores. The idea is an entirely proper
one, although not new. An interesting possibility is a some-
what more careful study of the ways of the particular nurse.
A substitution of such material for the last sentence would
make the paragraph much more interesting. The present par-
agraph can be shown to possess unity, emphasis and coherence
and to have a stmimary sentence, but somehow it is not a good
paragraph in any except a purely technical way. It lacks

5. Harold was to take his sister Julia to a dance that evening,
and consequently Julia dressed before dinner so that she might
be ready on time. Dinner was always served at seven-thirty in
the Robinson household, and, since the meal was never begun
until every one was present, punctuality was with the Robinsons
the eleventh commandment On that eventful night, however,
seven-thirty passed, seven-forty-five came around, and still there
was no Harold. Suddenly the telephone bell rang.

" Is Harold Robinson at home ? "

" No," answered Mr. Robinson, senior.

"Well, there's some one down here who wants to see him or
any member of his family at once. Can you come down? Do
you belong to the family?"

Mr. Robinson, senior, tried to ascertain the nature of the un-
known person's business, but since he could discover nothing over
the 'phone he asked the person speaking to him for the address
and left the house at once, much to the consternation of his wife
and daughter. Of course he suspected that something was wrong,
but little did he expect to see his son lying dead, as the result
of a subway accident Only the thought of the strength he would
need to sustain his wife and daughter when they heard the news
kept him from collapsing on the spot.


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146 English Composition and Style

This is all start. The beginning goes down to the last para*
graph, and what follows, suitable for a long story, is the real
subject. It has no development whatever. Furthermore, it is
doubtful art to kill people in this offhand way without giving
more plausible occasions. The tragedy is rather abrupt.

6. There is a great question in my mind as to the benefits
derived from such an expenditure of public money as was re-
cently made for the Hudson-Fulton celebration. Millions of dol-
lars were spent, and nearly every day the newspapers contain
earnest appeals for fundis to maintain the hospitals. The direc-
tors of the Cancer Hospital say that they cannot obtain money
enough for running expenses. The distribution of sterilized milk
for babies has been discontinued owing to a lack of funds. It
seems a great pity that we should not have spent at least a part
of such large sums more wisely.

This IS critical paragraph of which the point remains un-
thought out. It is orderly, but lacks firmness. The point is
really a practical one, and in showing some practical scheme
for sequestrating or diverting a special fund lies a possible
source of interest.

7. It was a rough field of coarse, stubby grass, surrounded by
a wooden rail fence against which the cows were leaning, shaded
by the gnarled old apple trees. At one end of the field was a
small sort of shallow pond made by the rain filling up a good-
sized depression in the ground. A large brown cow was standing
in this cool, refreshing spot, gazing with its big mild eyes at the
small boy opposite. He was a picturesque figure as he stood on
the edge of that muddy pool. He wore a funny litde tight red
cap set on one side of his head, and his brown curly hair stuck
out all around. A gray sweater, and a very dilapidated pair of
short trousers completed his costume, for he was barefoot, and
stood with his small toes pressed in the mud around the edge
of the pond. He had a little turn-up nose and red cheeks, and
his big blue eyes wore a look of childish eagerness and confidence
as he threw his fishing line into the water, and watched the hook
slowly sink to the muddy, grassy bottom.


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Paragraph Sense and Style 147

This is more subtle. It is a neat picture, very charming in its
way, but it lacks good paragraph sense in that we are allowed
to take too much interest in the cow, which, incidentally, seems
to be the "picturesque figure" in spite of the sex of "he."
A few stylistic changes would better the description and make
of it a good paragraph, of more or less interest.

8. Commuting is not the most enjoyable thing in the world.
In fact there are several decidedly disagreeable features about it
The travel down to the city day after day, while at first rather
difficult, soon becomes a habit To be sure it is a strain on the
nervous system yet is not unbearable. The hardest thing about
commuting is "catching trains." Time and again the clock is
slow, x>ne oversleeps, or a thousand and one things have to be
done at the last moment, and consequently the commuter finds
herself running for the train, or arrives at the station to see it
just disappearing around the bend. Then, too, there are often de-
lays on the road, a blow-out, or occasionally the excitement of a
derailment to tax the energy. Many of these trials however, can
be alleviated by methodical habits, and commuting made pleas-

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 13 of 43)