W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 14 of 43)
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This is like some of the preceding paragraphs; the writer
really does not know what she thinks about the subject. For
example, it is very difficult to see how "blow-outs, derail-
ments," etc, on the railroad can be overcome by " methodical
habits," on the part of the commuter. The last sentence is
characteristic of much youthful writing; after saying that the
thing is very disagreeable or the person particularly horrid for
a variety of reasons, the writer may quite likely add as a closing
sentence, — possibly in deference to the tradition that summary
sentences are good, — " He is, on the whole, one of the most
charming men of my acquaintance."

9. WeVe all heard the notes peculiar to certain birds and
marveled at their distinctness; — the wail of the sorrowful whip-
poor-will and the insistent cry of the Katy-did, Katy-did n't. But
did you ever hear of a bird who sang all the latest airs? There


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148 English Composition and Style

was one in the country last summer who used to sing at my
window every morning. He had the most varied repertoire of
popular music that you could imagine. Almost before I had
opened my eyes, I 'd hear the strain of " Has Anybody Here Seen
Kelly ? " piped in absolute clearness. Then " Come Around Some
Rainy Afternoon" was whistled with complete perfection. (I
thought some one was serenading me until I discovered my mis-
take.) Things are indeed coming to a pretty pass when even the
birds of the air have to copy the fashions of the day!

This is far-fetched. In his desire to get an idea the writer
probably did not follow the facts of his experience.

10. There is such a difference between a professor who is
merely a scholar and one who is both scholar and teacher. The
consideration of this question is daily forced upon every under-
graduate. It would be impossible to overestimate the importance
to the student of being under an instructor of the latter type, and
the immense disadvantage resulting from one who is unable to
teach, to really inculcate into youthful minds a desire to pursue
his subject and to learn all that is possible about it. Such a one
has a vast number of facts to retail which no doubt he has spent
years in accumulating, but he never seems to be able to present
them to his class in any but a mere text-book fashion — often
lecturing perhaps in even the same phrases that have been as-
signed for study. Naturally, such a rehash is very trying for a
thinking student. The mentall stimulus that is gained from an
instructor who does not confine himself to the bare fact — history
for instance — but is continually by his questions and little in-
cidental bits of information opening up new fields of thought and
inquiry, who makes even the desultory student wish to go as
deeply as possible into the subject, is something that it is not
always our privilege to enjoy.

This, which is more solid than the preceding examples, suf-
fers somewhat from confusion of various subjects. There
are certainly two subjects here, the difference between the two
alleged types, and the bearing of this difference on the student.
These would be more dearly discussed if kept apart. Specif?
ically, the third sentence, or the first half of it, belongs some-


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Paragraph Sense and Style 149

where else, and other changes in order could profitably be

n. Teddy bears are no longer in style. French poodles, too,
are a thing of the past. The newest fad is the bisque doll, ob-
tainable at moderate prices ranging from ninety to one hundred
and twenty-five dollars, if bought without clothing. Dressed up
in the same garments as its owner it only costs about fifty or
seventy-five dollars more. Can anything be more senseless or
more preposterous than this?

How long, oh, ye dames of Fashion; how long, oh, ye daughters
of Idleness, will ye persist in this tomfoolery of yours, in this
reckless squandering of money which can be devoted to do many
and such infinitely worthier purposes?

Cast aside your bisque dollies. Take unto yourselves your live
dollies, your little children. Watch their radiant Httle faces.
Listen to their thousand and one queries, as previously unnoticed
objects appear before their eyes; and regard the delight with
which they drink in all the knowledge which you perchance im-
part to them. After you have done this, tell me who is a better
companion for walking, driving, or anything else; a lifeless,
speechless, sightless, stiff, bisque doll, or a vivacious, talkative,
observant, active, little child?

These paragraphs have unity, but the style is a little noisy;
it " beateth the air." Possibly that is the only thing to do if
one is not to take an account of the facts, — perhaps the writer
saw one or two women with bisque dolls ; perhaps the admirers
of bisque dolls have no children.

12. A good deal is being said lately about woman's responsi-
bility for man's decreasing exhibition of chivalry, as exemplified
by the matter of surrendering nice, comfortable seats in the sub-
way. But although it may be true that women have come to
neglect their good manners in these little matters which count
for so much, still that fact cannot excuse an absence of com-
passion and human sympathy for a suffering fellow-mortal. A
little incident which occurred in the subway yesterday exemplifies,
I think, the fact that it is generally a woman who is quicker
to step up and offer help where help is needed. There were only


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150 English Composition and Style

a few people standing in the car, but among these was a middle-
aged laboring man whose eyes were completely bandaged over.
The contortions of his mouth and hands showed that he was
suffering intensely. The men and women seated about him eyed
the man with varying expressions, some with actual disgust, some
with horror, some with curiosity, some with pity, — but none of
them offered a seat. Finally a kindly-faced woman from the other
end of the car, noticing how things were, got up, and coming
up to the suffering man, she unobtrusively led him back to her
seat His relief and gratitude were so evident that the men who
witnessed this kind act looked rather shamefaced at their own

This is orderly and careful, but it goes somewhat too far back
to get the proper footing for the incident. The third sentence
needs revision from the sensible point of view: one instance
may, of course, " exemplify " a matter already demonstrated,
but hardly can prove a matter afresh, especially when, as in
the fact of the other women keeping their seats, contrary ex-
amples are also given. The style is evidently more interesting
than the previous examples of work of the same generalizing
sort cited before. But for that reason the essential trouble
is more difficult to detect

13. Nothing more had been heard of the affair [the Dreyfus
affair] for two years, when in October, 1897, a man named
Scheuer-Kestner, becoming convinced of Dreyfus's innocence, re-
solved to help him. Colonel Picquart, late chief of the Infor-
mation Bureau, becoming aware of the real culprit, was threat-
ened with death. He told it to his friend Leblois, who in turn
communicated it to Kestner. The latter, as he was very rich
and was vice-president of the Senate, at once alarmed the con-
spirators. He knew Esterhazy was the real culprit Through
the startling similarity of Esterhazy's writing to that of the
" Bordereau," a brother of Dreyfus also discovered the real cul-
prit. Esterhazy's antecedents were bad. As an officer of the
French army, he had signalized each year by swindling. His
position as commandant made it easy for him to get information.
He needed money, and German money was as good as any.


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Paragraph Sense and Style 151

This IS confused in two ways: it happens to introduce all the
proper names, except that of Dreyfus, for the first time, with-
out adequate explanation of them, and it is very crude in style.
What, for example, did Picquart tell to his friend Leblois, or
was Scheuer-Kestner a conspirator, as the word "alarmed*'
seems to imply in such a connection (= warned) ? " He had
signalized each year by swindling" is an odd phrase. The
material can be well treated, i. e., clearly and intelligibly
treated, only in several paragraphs.

14. A girl and a young man sat in a Madison Avenue car, in
the seat nearest the conductor. In strange contrast to the man's
tall hat and evening clothes, the girl's dress was plain and tailory;
her whole appearance, expression and air was unfeminine. She
was talking to her companion earnestly about woman's suffrage.
He, however, was listening apathetically, bored and blase.

Suddenly the conductor peered in the door and said, " What-cher
think of the election?"

"How are you motormen and conductors going?" came the
man's counter-question, as he turned from his companion, his face
lighting up with interest.

" Why, we 're goin' for Hearst Who ever heard of Bannard ?
Wouldn't know him if I passed him on the street My father
knew Hearst."

"Now when you consider the out-lying districts," began the
other man, and they talked steadily for ten minutes.

Meanwhile the plainly dressed suffragette stared before her
wistfully; the two men were on common meeting-ground; she did
not even wish to join them. Suddenly she realized that she did
not want to talk politics with any one, for the sake of politics,
but with one man, for the sake of the man.

This, like certain of the foregoing, is, so to speak, a public
conveyance theme, but it is well done. It is well paragraphed
for the effect and is clear and brisk in style. Possibly the girl
was not a suffragist and she may not have been thinking of
the man, but the theme is evidently specific and particular,
in which respect it greatly differs from the preceding street car


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152 English Composition and Style

15. Last year one of the fundamental questions that we dis-
cussed in ethics was, " Shall I give my money to a beggar? " It
seemed very easy to answer it negatively and find all sorts of
excellent reasons why it would be morally wrong, because it would
dwarf the personality of the beggar, because it would not be
the best for his development, and because promiscuous giving
fostered a weak sentimentalism in the giver. I believed in all
these arguments implicitly at the time and feel sure even now
that they were perfectly sound and true, but a few days ago
they all seemed to crumble away and be just so much idle spec-
ulation. A woman accosted me and asked for money. Imme-
diately my theories rose before me, but there was something dif-
ferent about her from the ordinary type of beggar that one meets.
There was a drawn look about her face that told of real suffering
and the little child she carried in her arms was blue with cold
and hunger. She didn't try to pour out a long tale of woe, she
just looked — and that was enough. It might not have been
morally the thing to do, but it did seem so cruel and inhuman
not to help her a little. After I had passed her, with a blessing
ringing in my ears, I couldn't help wondering if she were like
all the rest and if the pathetic look and the miserable specimen
of humanity in her arms were her stock in trade. Perhaps they
were, and perhaps not.

Here is a long introduction, which, however, is apposite to the
matter; it supplies setting and contrast. The conclusion is
properly vague. The ideas are also in good order.

16. He was taking his only child to college. He had never
known a college except by sight or hearsay, but he had made
up his mind that she should have the chance that he had vainly
longed for all his life. For weeks every one on both sides of the
family had. tried to warn him of the dangers of this step, its
effects on her character, her health, and her chances of marriage.
Now as he walked beside her along the brightly lighted city street,
carrying her suit-case that felt as if it were filled with lead in-
stead of books, a heavier burden weighed on his mind. He stole
a look at her now and then. He was far from sure that he was
doing right in bringing his little slip of a girl to this great city
and to the college world, about which he really knew so little.


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Paragraph Sense and Style 153

At the last minute he was beginning to doubt his own judgment;
perhaps he had been stubborn rather than firm. The little slip
of a girl understood, bit her lips, and walked sturdily on.

We have to accept the writer's word for the fact that " he was
taking his only child to college." The description therefore
properly carries out the information which the writer gives us
and the paragraph is therefore a sensible one.

17. I breathed a sigh of relief as I rang the door-bell. After
an hour's wearing ride in the subway, I was there at last The
maid who answered my ring said that Miss Hall was in and led
the way to the sitting-room. A tall white-haired man and a
pretty young girl rose to meet me as I came in. " Must be
Hazel's father and cousin," I thought as they offered me a chair.
I sat down to wait until my friend appeared. I was rather pro-
voked because I had expected to find her alone and was too tired
and even cross to meet strangers. With a desperate effort, how-
ever, I managed to muster up something like a smile when the
old man made some polite remark about the October weather.
Yes, I agreed that it was unusually warm, though I had frowned
at the chill wind more than once in my walk from the subway. I
began to be vexed with Hazel. Why didn't she hurry? The
old gentleman kept on trying to soothe me with the weather
and then with politics. Finally I said, "Wasn't Hazel expecting
me at four?" "Hazel?" he asked and looked puzzled. "Hazel
Hall," I repeated. " Is n't this the Hall apartment ? " Light began
to dawn on him, while I grew strangely dizzy. "Oh," he re-
plied, " it 's that new elevator boy again. I thought you were
one of my daughter's pupils. We're the McCalls."

This begins briskly without giving too much previous informa-
tion ; note the compactness of the opening sentences. Thence
it goes on in excellent time order and in a lively manner. It
is a good paragraph.

18. " It 's an outrage ! " The man in the seat ahead of me
whacked his knee with the paper he had been reading. "An
outrage, I tell you ! " he reiterated, glaring at his neighbor. His
companion put down his newspaper hastily and turned an alarmed
face toward his friend. He cast one glance at the notice in his


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154 English Composition and Style

neighbor's hand and then smiled. "Oh," he drawled, "that is
all, is it? Taxes, eh?" "All!" exploded the irate little gen-
tleman. "Just look at this, will you? Every one of 'em up I"
He pointed a shaking finger at the items on the tax bill. " Sewer,

gis, water — all jumped and I don't have one of 'em I And see ! "
is voice took on a tragic note. " Here I get soaked for school
taxes and I 'm not even married ! "

Here the sense for incident is excellent The paragraph be-
gins at once and ends with the point. It might, but not nec-
essarily, be broken for the dialogue.

19. Manhattanville is one of the few patches of Old New York
that still remains intact Its dusty, musty streets wind about in
a mystifying manner. If you follow one of them long enough
you are more than likely to emerge upon the spot you started
from. The roadways are paved with cobble-stones — not the com-
paratively modern, oblong blocks — but little, round uneven cob-
bles, over which wagons rattle with a frightful din. The streets
are lined with little, three-story, brick houses, whose " front stoops "
are railed, and not more than three or four steps high. Man-
hattanvillCj like Manhattan, has its "sections." The elite dwell
in neat and trim houses, whose windows, of small, square panes,
are brightly polished. Tidy Nottingham curtains are looped back
from either side of the windows, and in the sunlight between
the curtains, geraniums flourish, and merrily singing canaries
hop about in their brass cages. In the less prosperous quarters
the houses are tumble-down and shabby. Railings are broken;
ash-cans stand unemptied. There are numerous stables. In front
of them the sidewalks are piled high with bales of hay. The
surrounding atmosphere is laden with the pungent odor of moist
straw. In the mornings the streets of Manhattanville are so quiet
that one can hear the stamping of horses in the stables. But
after school hours children flood the streets. They play among
the straw, beating up the dust In the long, light, summer evenings
they play hop-scotch, and tag, and prisoners' base. And their
Jtired fathers watch them from the little stoops, as they sit there
smoking; and the tired mothers also watch them as they put in
a few last stitches by the waning light


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Paragraph Sense and Style 155

This paragraph moves in an orderly way through its details,
which are all of a descriptive sort. The descriptive language
is more ambitious and interesting than that of the preceding
themes quoted.

20. Gardner Wilson's wife was a hard worker. She accepted
cheerfully any extra burden that was laid upon her, and her at-
titude towards her duties was something like pride at the nervous
strain she underwent in fulfilling them. If a neighbor came in to
bid her "good-day" and found her elbow-deep in a bowl of
dough, Mrs. Wilson would probably point with satisfaction at a
heaping basket of mending; at the yard full of drying wash wait-
ing for the iron, and at the pieces of new calico ready for her
scissors, and would say proudly, ** Do you see that, and that, and
that I 'm a busy woman, Mrs. Bolton ; I 'm afraid I have n't time
to sit and talk to you just now, but you are welcome to come in
and sit yourself. I don't see how I 'm to get through as it is."
And as a matter of fact she never quite did *' get through." She
was continually in a blissful state of having far more to do than
she had time for. If she had had any executive ability, or the
power of getting work out of others she could have had many
free moments; but even when her husband and children were
sitting idle and perfectly willing to do her bidding, it was easier
for her to leave her pots on the range and go herself to collect
the wash in the yard, than to direct them to do it for her. Her
mind was incapable of seeing more than one step ahead, and of
ever taking in two things at once. The immediately necessary
was done thoroughly and conscientiously and she acted promptly
in situations in which others would have lost their heads. She
could bind a bleeding artery, stop a conflagration or a leak in the
house with extraordinary quickness and fortitude; but when it
came to prevention and foresight she was totally lacking. This
characteristic, when considering her efficiency in the bringing up
of her children, was not very fortunate. She punished their im-
mediate faults, those that took, so to speak, concrete visible form,
and praised their immediate virtues; but saw neither their shy,
half-formed, beginnings of good intentions and ability which
should have been encouraged, nor the subtle omissions, the to-
tally unseeded portions of their characters. She thought of them


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X56 Euglish Composition and Style

not as the men and women of the future, but as children, good
children to be sure, but still and forever children. She taught
them to be obedient, but not self-reliant; to be contented with
her decisions and choice, but not to make good decisions of their
own. Towards her husband she was an unselfish, obedient, help-
ful child herself. She didn't understand him, but she believed
in him, trusted him and nearly worshiped him.

This moves well through a pretty large mass of observations
and illustrative details. No one sentence is the topic or the
summary; the paragraph merely recites a number of things
in an orderly way, but evidently the order could be much
changed. Like the former theme, it shows the value of being
specific if paragraphs are to be orderly and interesting. Doubt-
less the paragraph could be broken, and each part might, or
might not, be expanded ; but this depends on the facts at one's

The matter may be further illustrated by the comparison of
some first themes with the revisions thereof. Two examples
will suffice :

21. About a year ago I started to read a serial story in a
magazine. It was so interesting that I looked forward every
month to the day when the magazine appeared. I would read
it through eagerly and when I came to the end I would lay it
aside regretfully and longingly — curious to know what was com-
ing next. The month before the last issue I went away and did
not return for two months. The sight of a magazine stand re-
called to my mind the fact that I had missed the last issue. I
tried to get it, but in vain. The magazine stands did not have
it, and none of my friends had purchased it. I wrote to the pub-
lishers but I never heard from them. So there I was. I had read
one of the most interesting stories in my experience almost all the
way through and could not find out the most interesting thing
of all, how it ended. I am now waiting to see if it will come out
eventually in book form. At any rate I never read serial stories
any more.

21 a. I never read serial stories now. Do you want to know
why? About a year ago I started reading a serial in a magazine.


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Paragraph Sense and Style 157

Every month I would experience a feeling of anger and resent-
ment against the writer as I laid it down. Why could n't he have
stopped it at the end of some dreary piece of description instead
of leaving me almost wild with curiosity in the middle of an
animated conversation? Oh, yes, I know the psychological rea-
son for it ; I know people would n*t be so eager for the next in-
stalment if the author didn't break off at some intensely inter-
esting spot. But still he should think of the tempers he fosters
and the dispositions he ruins. But to go on with my own par-
ticular case. I read every instalment eagerly until there was
only one more. That month I went away and didn't return for
two months. I confess I had forgotten all about the story until
I saw a magazine stand. Then I began to try to get last month's
number. But in vain. The magazine stands did n't have it ; none
of my friends had bought it. I wrote to the publishing company
but never heard from them. So there I was, never to know how
the story came out. What good was what I read to me then as
long as I did n't know how it ended? So that is why I never read
serial stories any more.

The first writing is pretty brisk, though the succession of
declarative sentences is a bit monotonous and the penultimate
sentence pretty flat. The last sentence is extraneous; it was
very likely introduced because the writer felt the flatness of
the preceding sentence and wished to end with more vigor.
The revision sticks better to a definite subject, here the reason
for not reading magazine serials ; the theme begins with idea
and ends with it. The style is much more varied both in sen-
tence structure and in wording. The revision has humor, a
quality in which the original was wholly lacking. A doctrinaire
critic might object to the digression in the second quarter of
the theme, but as a matter of fact that is what gives the para-
graph humor and helps to keep it interesting.

22. Elizabeth held out two little packages for me to feel.

"This is your present You can't guess what it is. And this
is for you and Mary together. I wrapped them up." It was
evidently a great relief to her to tell so much about the presents;

I felt them carefully with a look of blankness and mystifica-


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158 English Composition and Style

tion on my face although I knew that the first was undoubtedly
a handkerchief and the second a match-holder.

Somewhat later I went into the next room and told my mother
that I thought I had lost almost all my handkerchiefs. A few
minutes afterwards I said that I was tired of having my matches
scattered all over my floor. The remarks were not lost upon the
children. Elizabeth and James hugged each other joyfully, while I
heard Elizabeth say in a loud whisper, " She 's going to get what
she wants but she does n't know it"

22a. After much trouble the children had decided to buy me
a handkerchief and a match-holder for Christmas. They did not

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 14 of 43)