W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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212 English Composition and Style

to finish up in the first division. Of course we have n't seen them
in action against the Detroits, the Chicagos and the Clevelands,
but if they can go along at the gait they maintained day before
yesterday against the Mack men, they will do.

Stallings seems to have done something that Farrell always
wanted done — he has framed up a really high-grade pitching
staff. He has two young gems in Jim Vaughn and Russell Ford ;
either of whom can work twice a week and win with anything
like an even break in the way of support and luck. There are no
old timers on the roster, but the youngsters certainly look good.

It seems strange that the Yankee manager has asked waivers
on Jack Kleinow. The red-headed Milwaukee boy has been with
the team half a decade, and he has caught many a swell game,
to say nothing of his timely hitting and all around good work.
Sweeney may be all right, and any young catcher may be all right,
but when a man of Kleinow's youth can boast of the experience
Jack has had, he ought to be the backstop star of the organization,
unless it be that discipline enters into the argument. There are
very few better catchers than Jack Kleinow.

This is an example of the technical pretentious style of word-
ing. There are evidently many ways of being pretentious
and oracular ; this goes with " rooters " and " fans." In this
respect the passage differs from the "smart filly" passage,
which was merely narrative. The word tone runs through
the passage.

i6. While visiting a friend recently in New Rochelle, I took
advantage of the occasion and with her took a walk through the
city and out into the country. One scene stands vividly before
me. I stood on a rock with my arms full of wild flowers while
my friends gathered more from a field of blooming wild asters
and goldenrod. Looking a little beyond and below this scene of
flowerland, I saw a lake mirroring the foliage of the woods around

This is also pretentious in the most commonplace kind of way.
Nothing of importance happens, yet we are told that the scene
as well as the writer " stands out vividly." Phrases like " I
took advantage of the occasion and with her took a walk,"


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Words 213

etc., and " A lake mirroring the foliage of the woods around *
it," are of the kind that one writes with one's eyes shut.

17. Mrs. B. is one of the few persons I know who has a dis-
tinct and individual personality. There is something about her
which impresses one ; an intangible, indescribable something which
attracts and interests one, and might be called atmosphere. When
one g6es to see her sh^ does not sit with folded hands, but al-
ways seems to be busy with a bit of what our grandmothers call
"pick-up-work." Her hands are large, very white, well-shaped
and firm. They never seem to do useless, nervous things. They
are capable, purposeful hands. In appearance, she is rather stout,
not tall, but with a majesty of bearing that g^ves an impression
of height. Her keen, black eyes are small and piercing. Her
dark hair, slightly gray, is combed back from her low forehead
in simple pompadour fashion. Her mouth is rather large, with
thin, very red lips ; and a Roman nose gives character to her face,
whose cheeks are like "roses in the snow." For although Mrs.
B. is fifty, her skin is as pink and white as a baby's. A phre-
nologist would say that her large ears indicated a generous dis-
position; that a head narrower between the temples than at the
jaw indicated low mentality, or at least, no high degree of in-
tellectuality; but the phrenologist would be wrong, for Mrs. B.
is highly intelligent, and, so far as an outsider can judge, not
particularly generous.

This IS an ampler example of commonplaceness of phrase-
ology covering very thin ideas. The last clause after " for "
redeems the ending, disfigured by pretentiousness of the
pseudo-scientific sort. There are many stale phrases, which
the student should point out.

18. When we stepped on board the at Naples we found

ourselves on a spacious deck beneath a wide, dark blue canopy.
Six dining tables awaited us at one end, and at the other, lounges
and easy chairs, wicker divans, and tables with guide books and
translations of the classic authors, inviting us to rest and rejoice
in our inheritance. On the deck below were staterooms of can-
vas, allowing free passage to the air, and bath-rooms with running
water and obedient showers. In short, our craft allowed us to


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214 English Composition and Style

live in the open air, to fare sumptuously every day, and to wan-
der, at our own sweet will, from one classic shrine to another,
freer than far-famed royal Odysseus.

Before we could find seats at the tables, the yacht was steam-
ing away for the Blue Grotto, and that evening we saw the sun
flame home to his rest from the crest of Capri. Within thirty
hours, we had seen the three still active giants of the world of
fable, Vesuvius, Stromboli and ^tna, and passed safely between
Scylla and Charybdis, — a fearsome strait even under a summer
sun, and viewed from the deck of a powerful ship three times
the size of the Argo.

There were thirty-four of us. Ah! such a goodly company!
Shall we ever see the like again? Such helpful companionship!
Such stories and songs; such wit and laughter! The cruise was
a Canterbury Pilgrimage on shipboard, our yacht was the Wayside
Inn afloat.

Two hours before sunset the lay off JEgina. Put ashore

on this neglected mountain island, we followed the rocky bed of
a wet-weather torrent, amid stunted pines and starved shrubs of
classic pedigree, to the crest where still lives the brave little
conqueror of three millenniums of years. She is maimed and
scarred, — this temple queen, — and worn with her long vigil, but
there she sits with head erect, her fine old face flushed morning
and evening beneath the lingering kisses of Apollo, We explored
every nook and comer of this august shrine and saw with our
own eyes the foundations of its first temple, foundations laid
before the dawn of history, when pebbles had they for bricks
and clay had they for mortar. Then we sat together on the west-
ern terrace and saw the sun sink into the sea of glass mingled
with fire and the' heaps of flaming cloud burn down to red ashes
and the dark of the soft night rise out of the eastern sea. We
stayed until £gina grew pale beneath the cold glances of Diana.
Then we went down thoughtfully by twos and threes, to the whis-
pering ledges of the sea wall, took launch to the and steamed

away, feasting, into the purple west

This leaves little to be desired in point of fluency, feasting
and flaming suns, but much in point of sense and restraint.
There is no word or phrase or idea in it that has not been


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Words 215

used many times before. It is the commonplace public-lecture
style. Incidentally, it is not quite clear whether the sun
" flamed home to his rest from the crest of Capri " or whether
the travelers saw "him" do it from the aforesaid crest, or
whether the writer means to imply that the Argo passed
through the Straits of Messina. A student will note other
interesting points.

19. Mrs. then very feelingly alluded to the deep loss the

club had sustained in the death of its beloved member, Miss ,

and said that the first half of the afternoon was to be devoted
to exercises in her memory. The first of these exercises was a

song by Miss . Following this came a beautiful memorial

from the able pen of the club's corresponding secretary, Miss ,

which was read by her. It was as follows:


Since we last gathered here, the death angel in his swift flight
above the busy multitudes of men, has descended with sudden
touch and brooding wing, and beckoned away from our midst one
of our most cherished members. So like a lightning flash from
the clear blue ether was the outstretching of the shadowy finger,
and so quick the enfolding of the form to bear it out of our
sight, that we gaze about us in utter disbelief that the face and
form we knew and loved is not here with us yet. Without a
warning, without a shadow of suspicion to prepare us for the
blow, the summons called her, and she obeyed without turning
to bid farewell to the life behind. The beckoning hand called
her from highest usefulness, from tasks unfinished, from fresh
service in her loved career, and the stern decree left no chance
for remonstrance, and no time for pleading that the time be ex-
tended till the tasks were done. So swift, so unerring, so fatal
the stroke herself scarce knew when she ceased to be with us here,
and grew conscious she was there.

It would be difficult to find a passage more replete in trite
phraseology than the foregoing; the ingenuity of the writer
of " In Memoriam," is indeed unfailing and marvelous ; she
has an " able pen." The writer of the introductory matter


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2l6 English Composition and Style

is not bad in the same way. No writer of taste would express
himself thus, but such things often succeed with certain audi-

It will be a relief to turn to some better passages, to writers
who have a real sense of words.

B. Passages which do their work in an adequate or in an
extraordinary way.

It is evident that the following are but a few from many
thousands: others, in a variety of styles and substances, will
be seen by referring to pages 1 16-139 where numbers 2, 3,
4, s, 6, 8, 10, II, 12, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25,
and 27 might be called entirely competent, and numbers i,
7> 9> I3i 16, 17, and 26 brilliant, though there is much room
for variety of opinion.

I. It was now the beginning of August, and the plague grew
very violent and terrible in the place where I lived, and Dr. Heath
coming to visit me, and finding that I ventured so often out into
the streets, earnestly persuaded me to lock myself up and my
family, and not to suffer any of us to go out of doors; to keep
all our windows fast, shutters and curtains close, and never to
open them; but first to make a very strong smoke in the room
where the window or door was to be opened, with rosin and pitch,
brimstone or gunpowder, and the like; and we did this for some
time; but as I had not laid in a store of provision for such a
retreat, it was impossible that we could keep within doors en-
tirely. However, I attempted, though it was so very late, to do
something towards it; and first, as I had convenience both for
brewing and baking, I went and bought two sacks of meal, and
for several weeks, having an oven, we baked all our own bread;
also I bought malt, and brewed as much beer as all the casks I
had would hold, and which seemed enough to serve my house
for five or six weeks; also I laid in a quantity of salt butter and
Cheshire cheese; but I had no flesh-meat. — Defoe: A Journal
of the Plague Year.

This, like most of Defoe's writing, is usually simple and spe-
cific; it gives us a number of details in every-day language.


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Words 217

Another writer, and, on another occasion, Defoe would have
given us different details, or might not have given us any de-
tails at all, and hence his vocabulary would have been different.
This does its work of telling us what Defoe probably wished
to tell us. Perhaps the real objection to the passages in the
preceding section is that any sensible person would wish the
writers had said nothing at all or had said different things.

2. Miss Watson she kept pecking at me, and it got tiresome
and lonesome. By and by they fetched the niggers in and had
prayers, and then everybody went off to bed. I went up to my
room with a piece of candle and put it on the table. Then I
set down in a chair by the window and tried to think of some-
thing cheerful, but it war n't no use. I felt so lonesome I most
wished I was dead. The stars was shining, and the leaves rus-
tled in the woods ever so mournful; and I heard an owl, away
off, who — whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whip-
powill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die;
and the wind was trying to whisper something to me, and I
couldn't make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers
run over me. Then away out in the woods I heard that kind
of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about some-
thing that's on its mind and can't make itself understood, and so
can't rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every
night grieving. I got so downhearted and scared, I did wish I
had some company. Pretty soon a spider went crawling up my
shoulder, and I flipped it off and it lit in the candle; and before
I could budge, it was all shriveled up. I didn't need anybody to
tell me that that was an awful bad sign and would fetch me some
bad luck, so I was scared and most shook the clothes off me.

" Mark Twain " : Huckleberry Finn.

This is specific, like the Defoe passage, and is very local in
character. It does what it wants to do in a wholly competent
way with what is called dramatic truth.

3. We grown people can tell ourselves a story, give and take
strokes until the bucklers ring, ride far and fast, marry, fall, and
die; all the while sitting quietly by the fire or lying prone in
bed. This is exactly what a child cannot do, or does not do, at


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2i8 English Composition and Style

least, when he can find an3rthing else. He works all with lay
figures and stage properties. When his story comes to the fight-
ing, he must rise, get something by way of a sword and have a
set-to with a piece of furniture, until he is out of breath. When
he comes to ride with the king's pardon, he must bestride a chair,
which he will so hurry and belabor and on which he will so
furiously demean himself, that the messenger will arrive, if not
bloody with spurring, at least fiery red with haste. If his ro-
mance involves an accident upon a cliff, he must clamber in per-
son about the chest of drawers and fall bodily upon the carpet,
before his imagination is satisfied. — Stevenson: Child's Play.

This not very extraordinary dissent from the commonplace
spying that children are " so imaginative," is distinguished for
the brilliancy of the manner, which is pictorial and illustrative
to a high degree. Like many of Stevenson's generalizations it
is probably true in many cases, both for children and for adults,
and equally untrue in other cases. Stevenson, however, makes
the passage very interesting, rather as a matter of phraseology
and picturesque situation than as indisputable fact.

4. Two men of very different kinds have thoroughly impressed
the journalists of our time, Macaulay and Mr. Mill. Mr. Carlyle
we do not add to them; he is, as the Germans call Jean Paul,
der Einzige, And he is a poet, while the other two are in their
degrees serious and argumentative writers, dealing in different
ways with the great topics that constitute the matter and business
of daily discussion. They are both of them practical enough to
interest men handling real affairs, and yet they are general and
theoretical enough to supply such men with the large and ready
commonplaces which are so useful to a profession that has to
produce literary graces and philosophical decorations at an hour's
notice. It might perhaps be said of these two distinguished men
that our public writers owe most of their virtues to the one, and
most of their vices to the other. If Mill taught some of them
to reason, Macaulay tempted more of them to declaim; if Mill
set an example of patience, tolerance, and a fair examination of
hostile opinions, Macaulay did much to encourage oracular arro-
gance, and a rather too thrasonical complacency; if Mill sowed
ideas of the great economic, political, and moral bearings of the


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Words 219

forces of society, Macaulay trained a taste for superficial par-
ticularities, trivial circumstantialities of local color, and all the
paraphernalia of the pseudo-picturesque. — Morley: Macaulay, in
Critical Miscellanies, Vol. I.

This vocabulary is best described as full and brilliant; the
author from natural fullness of mind, makes his general no-
tions as definite as possible : Mill and Macaulay, for example,
do not deal simply with great topics, but " deal in different
ways with the great topics that constitute the matter and busi-
ness of daily discussion." The copiousness of the style is well
illustrated in the last sentence, where many readers should
resort to a dictionary to see just what Morley means and how
apt the phrases are.

5. The leaves decay, the leaves decay and fall;
The vapors weep their burden to the ground;
Man comes and tills the soil and lies beneath;
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality consumes.

Tennyson: Tithonus.

This passage is pretty general in wording; it names few specific
acts or objects, and it also frequently disguises the actuality
in the metaphor, as "Weep their burden to the ground."
The vocabulary is directed, and directed with great skill and
evenness, to conveying the general note of decay, sadness, and

6. The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep.
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand,


Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;


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220 English Composition and Style

A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears.
Than the two hearts beating each to each.

Browning: Meeting at Night.

This is usually cited as an example of great specificness of
wording and imagery, and at is so, but more in the last four
lines than in the earlier verses. Indeed, " the gray sea," " the
long black land," " the yellow half-moon," " the startled little
waves," " fiery ringlets," " pushing prow," are happy as de-
scriptive adjectives and metaphors of a suggestive kind than as
very specific descriptions. They go together well.

7. My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.

Shakspere: Romeo and Juliet.

About all that one can say of this exquisite modulation is
that the language is very simple, and, in its figures of speech,
certainly not unfamiliar. They are, however, chosen and bal-
anced with great skill, and come out into a climax in the word
" infinite."

8. What daring God torments my body thus.
And seeks to conquer mighty Tamburlaine?
Shall sickness prove me now to be a man.
That have been termed the terror of the world?
See where my slave, the ugly monster Death
Shaking and quivering, pale and wan for fear.
Stands aiming at me with his murderous dart;
Who flies away at every glance I give
And when I look away comes stealing on.
Look where he goes ! But see, he comes again.

Marlowe: Tamburlaine.

This is epithetical in a large way : " daring God," " mighty
Tamburlaine," " terror of the world," " ugly monster death,"
" murderous dart," etc., are illustrations of these adjectives


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Words 221

chosen for the general characterization rather than the partic-
ular occasion. The style that tries to convey general impres-
sions and proceeds by an accumulation of stock images,
attempting to create a sense of whatever sort, is a well-known
type. The last citation under the preceding head (p. 215) tried
to do this* but without originality or freshness.

9. Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:

He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring's honey'd cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves

His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness — to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.

He has his Winter, too, of pale misfeature.
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

Keats: The Human Seasons,

" Lusty spring," " fancy clear," " easy span," and several other
phrases are of the epithetical character, also, but much differ-
ent in quality from those of Marlowe; probably it would be
more correct to say that they convey different ideas from those
conveyed by Marlowe's epithets. However, the passage is
extraordinarily epithetical, and the adjectives go to make a
complete and harmonious composition.

10. The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside;
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile;
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpey

and weak.
And went where he sat on a log, and led him in and assured



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222 English Composition and Style

And brought water, and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and
bruis'd feet,

And gave him a room that entered from my own, and gave
him some coarse, clean clothes.

And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awk-

And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and
ankles ;

He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and
passed north;

(I had him sit next me at table — my fire-lock leaned in the

Whitman: Walt Whitman or Song of Myself,

Tested by conventional standards, the style of the foregoing is
not good; it lacks evenness of tone in words. It is a list of
particular happenings, as the "putting plasters on the galls
of his neck and ankles" or "crackling the twigs of the
woodpile," and on the other hand of very general phrases, as
" I heard his motions " or " led him in and assured him."
Most of the verbs are general, but there are many curious
mixtures of general and specific terms, as "And remember
perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness." Gen-
erally speaking, the passage might be called grotesque in
wording, however humane in sentiment.

II. Thus piteously Love closed what he begat:
The union of this ever-diverse pair !
These two were rapid falcons in a snare.
Condemned to do the flitting of the bat.
Lovers beneath the singing sky of May,
But they fed not on the advancing hours:
They wandered once; clear as the dew on flowers:
Their hearts held cravings for the buried day.
Then each to each applied that fatal knife,
Deep questioning, which probes to endless dole.
Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul
When hot for certainties in this our life ! —
In tragic hints see what here forevermore


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Words 223

Moves dark as yonder midnight ocean's force.
Thundering like ramping hosts of warrior horse.
To throw that faint thin line upon the shore!

Meredith: Modern Love,

This passage, like the following, is resplendent with metaphors
which have to be studied and analyzed before the meaning can
be ascertained. Some of them, like "rapid falcons," "dew
on flowers," and " fatal knife," are, when isolated, rather trite,
but in their juxtaposition with preceding and following figures,
they become original and lively.

12. If *t be so,
For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind;

For them the gracious Duncan have I murder'd;

Put rancors in the vessel of my peace

Only for them; and mine eternal jewel

Given to the common enemy of man,

To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!

Rather than so, come, fate, into the list.

And champion me to the utterance!

Shakspere : Macbeth.

13. When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide.
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest He returning chide, —
Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?
I fondly ask: — But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies; God doth not need

Either man's work, or His own gifts: who best

Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best: His state

Is kingly; thousands at His bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest: —
They also serve who only stand and wait.

Milton : On His Blindness.

This celebrated sonnet, a model of dignity and restraint, is
much more compact, much less accumulative than the two


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224 English Composition and Style

passages before. It is what Bagehot would call much more
"pure" and " classic."

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 19 of 43)