W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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this also; and a thorough knowledge of "Greater New York"
will play a part in everything to which he may turn his attention
during his whole life, — a part, the value and importance of which,
can not be overestimated.

22. Across the river a thick blue mist brooded low over the
wooded hills sinking in oblivion all sights and sounds of life save
for a few scattered lights that twinkled like giant fire-flies in the
stillness. The boats that all day long went plying back and forth,
had disappeared from view; one lone dark hull remained that
rested near the shore quite unconcerned at the lively little rip-
ples that played about its sides under the twilight's last lurid
glow of softening rose and blinking gold. Low on the bank be-
neath, the deep green of the waving ailanthus grew yet deeper
as it sighed an answer to the tall poplars bending with proud pre-


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l68 English Composition and Style

eminence from the hilltop's slope. And high above, the solitary
moon looked down, with imperturbable calm, upon the lights of
man's contriving. How peaceful was the scene!

23. "A primrose by the river's brim

A yellow primrose was to him,"

What contempt and sorrow are blended in the tone reserved
by elocutionists for quoting those two lines. And although it
shows keen powers of observation and perception to be able to
see things as they really are; yet they never allow a note of
congratulation to creep in. We enjoy reading figures of speech
in which the primrose is regarded as a S3rmbol of the shortness of
life or as a part of the Deity; but if the people we have to live
with saw and spoke of the primrose in this way, we would enter-
tain some doubts concerning their sanity. We would be very
glad to congratulate them if we could say of them

" A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him."

24. " Keep off the Grass."

This sign in the literal sense is familiar to all who have lived
in a city. It is the law's protection of the green grass which is
so grateful to the eye in contrast to the monotony of brick and
stone. It is a striking evidence of the necessity of guarding the
rights of others where people are congregated in great numbers.
It is also an example of the strange contradiction of taking away
rights while protecting rights.

This principle of taking away rights and privileges in order to
protect rights and privileges is found in every phase of life,
physical, political and moral. In a physical sense an animal's
right to life is taken away that man may live. In political life
some States are denied certain privileges because they would in-
fringe on the rights of others — and the majority of moral laws
say thou shalt not

25. MacSorley's furniture shop is in Manhattanville. Manhat-
tanville is one of the few patches of Old New York that still
remain intact Its dusty, musty streets curve about at impossible
angles. If you follow one of them long enough you are more
than likely to emerge on the spot that you started from. The
streets are lined with little, three-story, brick houses, whose " front
stoops" are railed, and not more than three or four steps high.


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Paragraph Sense and Style 169

Some of the houses are very tumble-down and shabby, but others
are neat and trim. In these the windows, with their small, square
panes, are smoothly polished. Neat Nottingham curtains are
looped back from either side. Geraniums flourish, and so do
canaries. MacSorley's furniture shop is in a less prosperous
quarter. It adjoins a stable, in front of which the sidewalk is
usually piled high with bales of hay. MacSorley's always looks
as if they had just moved out Masses of shabby velvet, old
mahogany, brass pieces, have been cast into the show-windows, as
if they were refuse. Whenever I approach the shop, I say to my-
self, ** At last MacSorley has moved out." But he has not How
MacSorlcy manages to subsist, I do not know, for he does not
seem to sell anything, judging from the thick, undisturbed layer
of bran-dust that covers everything in the show-window. I have
never been inside, so I do not know whether MacSorley is man
or woman, old or young. But I always like to think of him as
a venerable, contented Irishman, maintaining the relic of a flourish-
ing business, purely for the pleasure of pottering about among the
furnishings and providing a comfortable gathering place for his
cronies after business hours.

26. We looked out over a range of low-lying hills clad with
the young green of spring. It was her home. Far and near,
all we could see was hers. Here and there a row of tall poplars
cut the soft round of the foliage, and to the left stretched brown
fields of farmland with the young shoots newly peeping through.
Below us we could hear the gurgle of the stream as it leaped
towards the woods and all around was the peace and fresh
warmth of an awakening. "Here it is good," I said; *'I feel
that it is good. No wonder you are so full of health and good
spirits. You have ever3rthing." For a moment the light died
out of her eyes, and I thought to myself, "Perhaps here is one
in whom I have been mistaken, one of God's creatures who hides
her sorrows under a calm sea that they may not cloud the sky
for her fellow-creatures, who laughs that others may not see cause
to weep with her." "Yes," she said, "the sun shines brightly
here, and, as you say, it is good, but you should see those hills
in autumn; it is as if perpetual sunset glowed upon them; and
no night follows, for winter is only a latent dawn." She spoke
with her usual cheerful voice, but my ear caught a note of sad-
ness in the ring which made me think. What did I know of
this girl, and how did I come to be sharing her roof? I knew
nothing of her, nothing whatever. At college I had seen her
often but not intimately. She was always cheerful, apparently
happy. This was the first time I had ever seen anything like


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lyo English Composition and Style

sadness in her face, and I began to class her with the very type
who have a way of grinding sand into their fellow men by their
persistent smiles in tiie face of hardship.

7fj, She is rather short, but well proportioned, giving an ap-
pearance of vigorous strength which is rather deceptive. Bru-
nettes, perhaps, do tend to look stronger than blondes; and she
is very dark. Her hair is almost black, "almost" because in
certain lights there appears a reddish-brown tinge. Her eyes are
unmistakably brown, and the long dark curling lashes which fringe
them are apt to rub against her eye-glasses. Her lips are often
slightly parted in a smile; her bright eyes laugh at her merrily;
you are disappointed not to find a dimple in her chin. To carry
out this impression of kindly good humor to a still fuller extent
she might perhaps be stouter. But she is something more than
the typical jolly person. When she is not smiling her lips meet
in a firm — though not at all stubborn — line, strongly formed
straight Her nose adds to this general tone of seriousness, and
from behind the veil of her smile her eyes gaze earnestly. As
might be expected she is known popularly more for her mirth
and jollity than for the more dignified side she shows to her

28. " No," she said, " I have n't thought much about the North
Pole affair. It's very interesting, of course. But — I don't know
why — the only thing I seem to be able to think about nowadays
is the past I 'm sort of living my childhood over, you know.

"There's one thing I recall so often. It was one night when
I was about sixteen. We were coming home from a dance and
my escort wanted me to kiss him good night But I wouldn't
He begged hard, and I wanted to give in, though I said, 'No!'
so firmly. You see I 'd been brought up that way. And I sup-
pose it's the right way.

"Still — well, you know, soon after that father died, and I
went to teaching, first in a district school, then in the d^. And
for a time we were so hard up that I taught night-school, too.
So I've always been too busy for — for things like that. Maybe
I'm not the kind they happen to, too. Anyway, I've never been
kissed at all — in that way.

"His name was Harry, I think. And he had that greenish-
brown kind of eyes."

29. She is one of the most wonderful women I have ever met
if not the most wonderful. Her appearance is. not at all pre-
possessing at first, but as one gets to know her, she becomes
almost beautiful, for her pure, true character shines forth in her
face and illuminates it She is tall and dark and straight, her


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Paragraph Sense and Style 171

features are very irregular, her mouth is too large and her teeth
stick out prominently while her nose is inclined to flatness, but
one look into her eyes, and one forgets the plainness of the rest
of her face. They are large and dark-brown, but they look at
one so kindly and in such a straightforward way, that with one
glance from their deep orbs, almost every one is held captive to
their beauty and power. As one becomes better acquainted with
her, one feels also the power and range of her brilliant mind
which is able to grasp the most seemingly uncomprehensive prob-
lems and still to judge sanely and wisely the most commonplace
things of human existence.

3a "The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist the hole.**
It is really tragic, the way some people will see the terrible side
of things. A few weeks ago an elevated train short-circuited on
the Park Row end of Brooklyn Bridge. Of course all the peo-
ple were sent off the platform and they all rushed for the trolleys.
A report went around that the trolleys were not running and
every one rushed for the Subway. The fire engines came; ambu-
lances and mounted police appeared as if by magic, and general
excitement prevailed for about fifteen minutes. A number of
people were waiting at a near-by drugstore for the worst of the
rush to go over. We were all joking about the situation which
was not really serious enough to warrant all the commotion. One
woman must have felt blue! "Oh," she said. "This will surely
last till midnight. They will have to get fire-boats to reach way
out there. The bridge may break in the middle if the fire gets
worse and there will be an awful crash ; it *s really dangerous to be
so near the end, if the supports should collapse. I expect New
York friends over to dinner and something will surely happen
to them. This sort of a crowd is a terrible place for pick-

31. Of all the characters created by Shakespeare there is none
with which he seems to have taken more pains than with that of
Jaques in "As You Like It," and it is into his mouth that he has
put some of his most beautiful passages, chief among them being
the familiar one beginning, "All the world's a stage," etc.

Jaques b a very melancholy individual and greatly prides him-
self upon that fact, saying that it is a melancholy all his own,
compounded out of many simples, extracted from many objects
and indeed the sundry contemplation of his travels in which his
frequent rumination wraps him in a most humorous sadness. He
seems to enjoy hb misery and tries to contaminate others with
his pessimistic views. He finds a fiendish sort of pleasure in
the company and nonsensical wisdom of the clown. Touchstone.


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172 English Composition and Style

He is utterly vile in character and often disgusting in his self-
centered posing but in spite of all this he holds one's interest to
the end of the play.

32. It was a cold winter day when we left Boston in the ma-
chine, but we were well wrapped up, and I, for one, enjoyed
feeling the wind in my face and the sensations of going so fast,
without effort on my part. We neared Marblehead on the look-
out for familiar places, where we had been last summer, but
everything looked bare and changed. The town which seemed
to sleep then in the sun, looked dead now with cold. We passed
down the narrow streets in silence, each anxious to catch the
first glimpse of sea. Arriving at the dock we looked sadly at
leaden water, on which there was no life, not a sail, or even
launch, to break the monotony of the gray.

We knew where our boat lay in dry dock, and with difficulty
managed to climb aboard, scaling perilous ladders, and jumping
from another boat to her. We ran about the dedc and down in
the cabin, longing to be back in the summer time. In one of the
drawers we found the chart on which we had often traced our
course and the account of a day's race we had almost won.
Recalling memories to each other we stayed till it grew dark,
when we reluctantly left our darling boat alone again.


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What Style is. In the foregoing pages the word style
has been frequently used. There it has meant the manner in
which thought is expressed rather than the structure or ar-
rangement of material. " Manner in which thought is ex-
pressed," is a vague phrase and requires further explanation.
Matter and manner are not actually separable, in this sense,
that any body of written material is also written in some man-
ner, by some particular means. You cannot write without
something to write about, without some arrangement of these
things, and without a medium of expression. This medium
is words combined into sentences. The study of style is mainly
the study of combinations of words into sentences that go
to make up the expression of ideas.

In its broadest sense the term style as commonly used
means any writing whatsoever: Professor Wendell, for ex-
ample, by the term " means simply the expression of thought
or emotion in written words; it applies equally to an epic,
a sermon, a love-letter, an invitation to an evening party," *
The same inclusiveness, from a more personal point of view,
is found in Brunetiere's definition, " Style is one's manner of
expressing oneself." * These definitions, though very general,
have the merit of being all-embracing and broadly catholic:
any piece of writing, per se, has style, is style, and one may
study style with a most open mind. But (2) the term style
is also used to mean the quality, aim, or, better, a result, or one

* Barrett Wendell: English Composition, p. 4.
*F. Bruneti^re in La grande encyclopidie, Vol. XXX.



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176 English Composition and Style

of the many results, of writing, as regards, not thought, but
expression of thought

Now various notions as to what the result of this combina-
tion of words into sentences should be have given rise to much
variety in the meaning of the term style. It is a word to
conjure with, a term of great allurement and respectability,
but it is, nevertheless, one of the most ambiguous and indefinite
words in the language. It is not necessary here to state all
these notions of the results of the combinations of words into
sentences,* but the more common ones may be briefly men-
tioned. The result aimed at may be clear and forcible expres-
sion, coming, as in Spencer's well-known thesis, from the
altruistic desire of the writer to promote " the economy of the
reader's attention,"* An important result is also held to be
the expression of individuality ; the style that, over and above
its explicit statement, conveys some personal sense of the
writer, that style achieves a fine result. " He has a style of his
own," " He knows how to swing a style," are common sayings
that illustrate this attitude toward the matter, which has found
expression in several essays on style.* Again, the combination
of words into sentences should, according to a third view, some-
how result in something that is, in its most important aspect,
neither the clear, forcible expression of thought, adapted or
not to a particular audience, nor yet the impression of a person-
ality, — but in something that is above all these — an ideal
possession, the attribute of the rare soul, the hall-mark of the
elect, — in a word Styled " He has style," some of us say, just
as we might say that he has form, sense, grace, agility, cour-
age, character, property, or any of those things that are made
up of many specific acts, things, and impressions. Only to

> For fuller treatment see my Representative Essays on the Theory
of Style,

* Herbert Spencer: The Philosophy of Style.

•John Addington Symonds: Notes on Style; William WatscMi:
The Mystery of Style,

« Ibid, and F. Harrison : On English Prose,


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The Study of Style 177

have style is rarer than to have most of these other things. A
variant of this idea is the diffusion of grace and beauty, of a
technical kind, as with Stevenson's familiar doctrine/

All these opinions and results are legitimate; these, and
many other opinions, are the result of a more or less careful
observation of the infinite possibilities of combinations of
words into sentences, in^ usually, considerable bodies of matter.
In all these instances, observation singles out certain qualities,
certain residua, so to speak, from' the great mass of common-
place combinations of words into sentences, and the residua
are variously called " economy of the reader's attention," " the
impression of personality," " style," or what not. A score of
other results will occur to any one. The truth of the matter
is that no one has given a complete account of style ; it is not
possible, and possibly not desirable, to do so.

Indeed, style is one of those large and fundamental words
such as Socrates, according to the dialogues of Plato, spent
much of his own and other people's time in getting other
people to define, without attempting to come to any conclu-
sion himself. He admitted the impossibility. We recognize
certain familiar objects — water, brooms, life, etc., — but it is
very hazardous to attempt to tell what they really are ; they
may be described by their functions, their component parts,
their attributes, their accompaniments, and in various other
ways, but the essence of water, brooms, life, etc., is not easily
resolved. So with style, courage, honesty, and a host of famil-
iar terms that stand for mental concepts or a series of specific
phenomena. Perhaps it is best not to try to define such terms
as style; for our purposes in this book it is sufficient to say
that the " study of style " is the study of the combinations of
words into sentences for the sake of expressing facts and ideas.
We shall then, without attempting any incursion into the secret
of the term, be frankly employing the term to mean the use
of words and sentences in writing.

^ On Style in Literature,


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178 English Composition and Style

For practical purposes, it is best to go back to the actual
process of writing, which, as we have seen (p. 11), consists
of planning composition, of writing, and of revision. The first
does not apply to style, as ordinarily conceived. In writing,
a sensible person keeps his eye on his material and gets it
out as well as he can; here he will inevitably manifest some
" manner of expressing himself," which may be very rapid
or delightful or forcible, or what not In revising, a writer
may alter his work considerably, may revise sentences, may
reword phrases, — all for what he regards as the betterment
of his work — to heighten an effect, to make a passage more
exact, to extrude dragging or unnecessary matter. All this he
may do for his own satisfaction, because he likes one thing
better than another or thinks that it reads more smoothly or
may think that certain expressions will not pass with the audi-
ence he has in view. We put on our store clothes when we
address certain people, and gloves, and silk hats on other
occasions. Such matters a writer has frequently to contemplate
in writing, and if his first copy has admitted some sentences
and words that will not do, he changes these in his revision,
according to the best of his judgment or with the aid of
friendly criticism.

What good style is. " According to the best of his judg-
ment " — herein lies the difficulty. No one will " write himself
down an ass " if he can help it ; the trouble comes in knowing
what it is to write well. A group of people may evolve a
theory of style and try to put it into practice, just as small girls
beginning their teens evolve theories of dress, which they at-
tempt to put into practice as far as their parents' purse permits,
or as certain youth find their ideal of style in " manly " expres-
sion, not always of a refined character. These and other in-
stances of a similar psychological nature lead to more or less
consciously expressed theories of style, such as those legitimate,
interesting, stimulating and often widely accepted theories that
we have discussed at the beginning of this chapter. Or, again,
the habits of a community or a class impose a kind of style on


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The Study of Style 179

the writer or speaker, and consequently there are local and
dialectical styles, the style of professions, of occupations, of
Cockneydom, of the prize-ring, the race-track, the baseball re-
porter, and many others more or less peculiar, local, and well-
recognized. In general, one may say that the good styles are
those that tend to become current and diffused and permanent ;
the bad those that are highly local, crudely individual, and
limited to the life of the devisers.

There is, on the whole, a fair consensus of opinion as to
what the boundaries of good style are, of the limits within
which one must write and speak. These are the chief :

I. Good style in English employs English words in the
sense that is most widely recognized at the piesent time, or,
in ancient matters, of the time of writing. Usage is therefore
(i) present and (2) national, though national usage is not, in
all particulars, the same in England as in America. English is
spoken by too many people in too many countries to make any
one English speaking country the ultimate standard of appeal.
The last word on such a matter would be something like this :
" No conscientious American writer would hesitate to use such
and such a word in this connection, and, if the same phrase is
not used in England, it may, nevertheless, be an entirely good
English expression." There are, in short, many instances of
divided usage, where the only thing to do is to take the one of
the country or the one that ccMnes easiest. Usage is also (3)
reputable, in that one should conform to the practice of that
vast body of writers and speakers, — literary, practical, scien-
tific, philosophical, — whose work makes up the body of inter-
esting, sensible, substantial English writing and speaking, whose
recorded work is the basis of our dictionaries. Evidently the
confines of reputable usage are being constantly enlarged.
The reasons for observing these limitations of standard Eng-
lish are that if one does not use English words as they are
ordinarily used, one may be misunderstood, may be regarded
as affected, ignorant, or vulgar. Above all, there is in good
style a sense for the English language. The following passage.


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l8o English Composition and Style

so excellent as to demand quotation^ states the best modem
view of the matter : •

The three attitudes toward language which we have thus far
spoken of, the anarchistic, the aristocratic, and the oligarchic,
may all be described as anti-social in character. They emphasize
the activity of the individual in opposition to, not in harmony
with, the activity of the many. They differ thus far from the
fourth and final class of the users of language, those who may
be called the social democrats. The social democrat recognizes
the right of the individual in the language, but only as that right
is conditioned by his responsibility to the other members of the
linguistic community. He avoids therefore the extreme of lib-
eralism, on the one hand, the result of which would be license,
and on the other, that extreme of conservatism which would set
up arbitrary distinctions in language. He steers a middle course
and unites himself to the great body of the normal, intelligent
speakers and writers of the language. He neither assumes the
burden of responsibility himself, nor places it upon the shoulders
of a few arbitrarily chosen judges. In matters of language he
sends his eye abroad and examines his whole linguistic surround-
ing. He observes here and there the little groups of the lawless,

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 16 of 43)