W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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land — a grass Aira antarctica, and a small umbelliferous plant,
Colobanthus crassiUlius var., hrevifolius — no flowering plant was
known to exist in the Antarctic regions with the exception of this
grass, which was known to be a native of the South Shetlands.

19. She [Demeter] is die preserver of the seed sown in hope,
under many epithets derived from the incidents of vegetation, as
the simple countryman names her, out of a mind full of the various
experiences of his little garden or farm.

20. We have seen such processions; and we understand how
many different senses, and how lightly, various spectators may put
on them; how little definite meaning they may have even for those
who officiate in them. Here, at least, there was the image it-
self, in that age, with its close connection between religion and
art, presumably fair.

21. The temple itself was probably thrown down by a renewal
of the volcanic disturbances; the statues however remaining, and
the ministers and worshipers still continuing to make shift for
their sacred business in the place, now doubly venerable, but with



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258 English Composition and Style

its temple unrestored, down to tiie second or third century of
the Christian era, its frequenters being now perhaps mere chance
comers, the family of the original donors having become extinct,
or having deserted it

22. A third space upon the shield depicts the incidents of peace-
ful labor — the plowshare passing through the field, of enameled
black metal behind it, and golden before; the cup of mead held
out to the plowman when he reaches the end of the furrow; the
reapers with their sheaves; the hind standing in silent pleasure
among them, intent upon his staff.

C. For better emphasis:

1. In a short time after I arrived the whole street seemed to
be a blazing furnace, tottering to headlong ruin, the fire spread-
ing under the influence of a brisk breeze.

2. In all colleges, no matter how strong the class feeling, col-
lege spirit dictates respect to the upper classmen.

3. He was standing on the drive near Grant's Tomb, a tall,
bent, old man, with straggling gray whiskers and clothes of an
ancient style.

4. As you go up Madison Avenue the Manhattan Hotel looks
like an infinitely glorified hitching-post with its bare white sides.

5. We were very much surprised to find an immense crowd
standing about that ghastly ruin, as we came into the street, there
being as many as fifty policemen to keep the people away.

6. It was a beautiful and impressive scene on the occasion of
Major General Corbin's funeral at Arlington Heights.

7. But the upper right hand comer was torn off where the
poor man had caught hold of it to save his fall.

8. It starts with the soup every night at dinner, the discus-
sion of all the latest school gossip by Little Brother and Little

9. The men tried to escape and when they found it impossible
they were loathe to give up Rosalie but by threats Mr. Roberts
got his daughter but the men escaped.

10. Also Gilbert Nepean Lady Jessica's husband, George Ne-
pean brother of Gilbert, Freddie Tatton at whose house Falkner
and Lady Jessica meet. Finally Archibald Coke and his wife
Dolly who is a cousin to the sisters Lady Rosamond Tatton and
Lady Jessica Nepean.

11. She was a tall stately blond. She was walking in front of
me crossing West Street the other day. Just as she reached the
comer of Chambers Street and West Street (I forgot to mention
that it was a very rainy day and the streets were flooded), her


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Sentences 259

foot slipped and she sHd down very ungracefully into a large
mud puddle.

12. The most important poem in the Golden Treasury is Ly-
cidas, it seems to me.

7, Substitute nouns or other parts of speech for phrases, clauses,
and sentences in the following passages. Shorten the passages in
every possible way, and especially strengthen all feeble phrasing,
i. c., unnecessary possessives, etc.

1. Swift felt moved by the misery of the Irish people to exert
himself in their behalf, an impulse which led to the writing of some
of his most effective pamphlets.

2. Many a time while dancing it occurred to me, as I glanced
at all the people about me who were waltzing, that it seemed
foolish to spin around and around on the polished floor.

3. Miss M is a rather tall willowy creature. She usually

wears a pretty blue hat in the class-room, but sometimes she takes
it off, then one sees that her hair is parted in the middle. It is
light and wavy and very becomingly arranged in puffs low at the
back of the head. She has beautiful dark eyes and ^ir com-
plexion. Her features are clear-cut, her forehead low, and eye-
brows evenly arched. She looks well in the dark blue suit which
she often wears and always presents an attractive appearance.

4. I irresistibly smiled at the child. She was such a sunny
looking individual in spite of her ragged clothing and of the heavy
baby which she was carrying as she trudged along the street She
paused to get a better grip on her small charge, and I took the
opportunity to enter into conversation with this Little Mother of
the East Side.

5. The impression which my first visit to Westminster Abbey
made upon me is an ineradicable one.

6. Helen had always wanted to see something exciting and
thrilling. She often heard her friends tell of accidents they had
seen, of people being run over by automotnles and trolley-cars, and
of all sorts of terrible things. She had even been walking with
persons who had seen such things happening, but Helen always
seemed to be looking the other way and missed them all.

7. Eleanor is one of my classmates in college and one whose
character I think I know best. We were also classmates in high
school, and while there we became warm friends, chums, in ^ct,
and our friendship has not wavered to this day. What first at-
tracted me to her was her unaffected natural manner and fun-
loving nature. She seemed to be always bubbling over with fun
and good-nature.


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26o English Composition and Style

8. A sudden weakness had cotnc over me and I asked myself,
" Could this slaughter be right in these enlightened days ? "

9. By his example Prince Henri of Orleans shows the amount
able to be accomplished by one man, takes surveys and brings
back a heap of knowledge put forth admirably in this excellent

10. There follows a series of humorous situations, in which mis-
taken identity plays an important part. Before the curtain falls,
however, explanations are given, and quarrels made up.

8. Find more agreeable phrasing for the italicized words and
phrases in the following passages. Better the wording in all re-
spects and fill out unduly short phrases.

1. Night after night, as I turn out my light any time between
eleven p. m. and one a. m., the little Welsbach lamp in a room of
the house opposite is still lit and my little old lady sits by the
desk. What can she be doing night after night?

2. The boy was trying to hold the umbrella up against the wind
so as to shield me entirely; at the same time to hold my elbow to
prevent me from slipping.

3. On my first day at Teachers' College, / was holding a con-
versation with a prominent oMcial when a little episode gave me
an insight into her character,

4. And I know it is not because she is not thinking thoughts,
that her face is so still, because she occasionally makes a remark
which proves that she has been thinking earnestly.

5. It has always seemed to me that, ii we were all born into
the languages of the world at our command, that each language
would fit itself into a definite use,

6. Knowing as we do what an important part the daily news-
paper plays in swaying and molding public opinion, it is therefore
necessary to consider some of the means by which the great in-
fluence is secured and maintained by the papers of New York City,

7. The country is a very rugged one in which no people unless
hardy, like the Boers, could live,

8. The ** Christian *' has had a tremendous success. This is
because despite its incongruity the character of Glory won the heart
of every person that read the book, and that despite his fanaticism,
no one could help admiring John and thinking of him as oppressed
and trodden under,

9. Such poems as " I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud '* and " The
Solitary Reaper " present us an example of his feelings for Nature
as it is in the fields,

10. Never shall I forget the great thrill with which I first saw


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Sentences 261

the airship, freed, glide up into space. Up, up, until it resembled
a huge banana or a peanut we watched it pass out of sight.

11. The street was unusually quiet and orderly; for Saturday is
the day of rest and devotion among the Jews. No carts clattered
along the street and no venders advertised their wares; only in
the distance one could hear the noise of the street cars. The
older women, their oiled black hair drawn tight to the back of
their neck where it ended in a knot, covered with party-colored
shawls neatly pinned over, accompanied their husbands clad in long
black coats and shiny hats and wearing extensive beards, into the

12. In short, she is a person whom to live with is to know,

13. The ease with which a crowd can be collected in New York
City is remarkable when one takes into consideration the reputation
which the metropolis has for being a hustling city,

14. / was in my room cramming — / should say studying — for
an examination when I heard shouts in the distance. They grew
louder, and I distinguished " Whoa ! " and the ring of the hoofs
of galloping horses. I hurried to the window just in time to see
two huge gray horses pulling a truck dash up the street. Men
stepped bravely out before them with intent to head them off, but
as the powerful beasts bore down upon them, little man became
terrified and retired, I looked admiringly and enviously at those

15. It is an altogether sacred character, again, that he assumes
in another precious work, of the severer period of Greek art, lately
discovered at Eleusis, and now preserved in the museum of Athens,
a singularly refined bas-relief, in which he stands, a firm and serious
youth, between Demeter and Persephone, who places her hand as
with some sacred influence, and consecrating gesture, upon him.


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Students who have read with care the foregoing dis-
cussions of the technic of words and sentences will perceive,
toward the end of each chapter, a tendency to treat words in
their combinations into sentences. This tendency is merely
an indication of the fact that, in any practical way, words and
sentences cannot be separately treated; that only when we
have words combined into sentences do we begin to have
actual conditions. In such combinations, it must be repeated,
we are trying to express ideas and feelings in themselves and
in their relationships. The real questions with regard to style
have to do only in a very minor way with categories of long
and short, Latin and Saxon, unity, coherence, or emphasis.
Matters of predication, of harmony, and the like illustrate
this point The real object of the foregoing analysis is to
call attention to phenomena; for it is ordinarily only by the
habit of such attention, aided by technical knowledge and
particularly by a knowledge of the meanings of words, that
one is able to produce good work. In any event, the feeling
to be expressed,, the idea to be conveyed, is the main thing.

The fundamental questions, therefore, to be asked with
regard to any piece of writing, and in each case to be an-
swered specifically and individually, are, not whether the writ-
ing is properly proportioned as to etymology or to the class
of sentence, but

1. Does this sentence say what I want it to say, in itself
or in its relation. to other ideas? and

2. Does it say what I wanted to say as I wish it said?



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Words and Sentences 263

These questions evidently contain the so-called qualities of
style — clearness, force, and elegance. It is also manifest that
around them revolve manifold discussions of usage and of
taste, in which matters it is the duty of text-books, dictionaries,
critics, theme-readers, and other sources of information, to
supply some guidance. The relationships of larger bodies of
ideas we have treated in Part I of this volume, and the various
points of style to which attention may be directed have been
taken up in the preceding chapters of the present part. The
combination of words into sentences may now be considered
as an actual rather than as a technical problem.

If one were disposed to look at language and style as a
matter of mathematical curiosity, it would become evident
that the number of combinations of words into sentences, even
with strict regard to the purest grammar, would be infinite,
would certainly be vastly greater than any number of ideas
that could possibly be expressed. Actual conditions, however,
do not permit any such multitude of combinations ; for actual
conditions in good writing are controlled by two very power-
ful influences, (i) the necessity which each sentence is under
of making as good sense as possible, in relation to other
sentences and to the idea to be conveyed, and (2) the neces-
sity of being as interesting as possible. He who would write
well must therefore learn first of all to deal with facts and
the ideas springing from those facts, and must make all com-
binations of words into sentences subordinate to meaning.
The principle should be obvious, but an illustration or two will
be given to make it clearer.

A college instructor, lecturing on Defoe, said in a some-
what jocose manner, moved nevertheless by the spectacle of
Defoe's amazing adroitness, that "one could imagine him, if
thrown into the air, always coming down on his feet," The
mid-year examinations, in answer to the question, "Briefly
characterize Defoe," brought forth three replies which said
that " Defoe was a man who, when thrown into the air, always
came down on his feet." These answers merely revealed the


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264 English Composition and Style

fact that three students had disregarded ideas and facts
and had been wholly absorbed in taking down words. The
sentences were admirable in unity and coherence, and the
emphasis could hardly have improved, but, unfortunately, not
taking account of the facts of Defoe's life, they were very
bad sentences.^ The style was bad simply because the writers
had (so to speak) the word habit rather than the fact habit.

Again, to take a more general instance from' a different
point of view. We are warned to avoid " stock expressions "
and to a certain point, the advice is good : writing that is full
of stock phrases is likely to be dull and wearisome, by reason
of staleness. Yet, as a matter of fact, most of our writing
is done by them, and we could not get along without them.
They are simply crystallized or ^ttori-crystallized combinations
of words into phrases and sentences, and they are as useful to
our ordinary writing as our habits are to our daily routine.
If we had to think out each phrase or each act, instead
of trusting to phrases that everybody knows or to habits that
help us to do things without thinking about them, we should
never get anywhere. Gne cannot possibly give heed to the
exact meaning of each word that he uses, and this is par-
ticularly true in talk. Only the most brilliant minds are really
fresh. The evil of stock phrases is that they may be used
in senses that shall not convey the stock meaning. Really
they are nothing but elongated words, and as such should be
subject to the principles of good usage.

Besides being limited by the facts and common sense, and
also by habits of phraseology, the form of word combinations
into sentences is affected by neighboring sentences, by condi-
tions, by occasions. Within the limits of sense and fact, I
may tell an idea in a variety of ways, so long as I keep to
one sentence. For example, the fact that a man shot a rabbit
may be expressed in many ways, as,

1 For further excellent instances of this principle, see Mark Twain's
Following the Equator, VoL II., chap. 25, in Author's National Edition.


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Words and Sentences 265

1. He shot the rabbit.

2. He killed the rabbit with his gun.

3. The charge of shot dropped the rabbit in his tracks.

4. He raised his gun, took steady aim at the rodent, pressed
the trigger, and had the satisfaction of seeing the vermin fall dead.

5. His shot penetrated the brain of the quarry.

6. The rabbit fell, pierced to the heart by a score of shot.

7. He fired at the rabbit and the shot sped straight to its mark.

8. He fired at the rabbit, bringing him down in his tracks.

9. He aimed at the rodent, pressed the trigger, and an ounce
of lead found its billet in the brain of the beast.

It would be possible to add many, many sentences to this list,
even of so simple an event, and some of them might be very
exciting, especially if the rabbit were a ferocious jack-rabbit,
an elephant, a tiger, a pirate, or a burglar. By itself the
first is the best, because the simplest. This is solely a matter
of taste and of deduction from rhetorical principle. But the
facts are also (i) that in any given case, in any real piece
of writing, any one of the other forms may be preferable, and
(2) that, as a matter of fact, no two sentences mean precisely
the same thing. For instance

1 means that he shot the rabbit.

2 means that he killed it with his gun and not with his cane or
something else; though 2 does not mean that so strongly as the
foregoing explanation of 2.

3 tells us that it was a shotgun, and that it killed the rabbit
instantly while he was in the act, if the language is accurately
used, of running or moving.

4 introduces a personal note, making the shooter a deliberate
and complacent man, probably a farmer, since the word " vermin "
is used. Had he been a sportsman " game " or " quarry " might
have been used instead.

5 specifies the cause of the rabbit's death (query :-^ was it a
rabbit?) from a more physiological point of view than the pre-
ceding. Here the shooter is clearly a sportsman.

6 speaks rather of the rabbit than the hunter, and, unless the
phraseology is somewhat figurative, evidently implies in the word


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266 English Composition and Style

" score " that the charge was close and deadly. Possibly the gun
was choke-bored.

7 personifies the shot somewhat, a thing not uncommon in some-
what "elevated" discourse.

8 is like 3 except that gunman is now the hero.

9 conveys the impression of greater momentousness than was
probably there. The phraseology would be more suitable for mili-
tary executions than for slaying rabbits. But perhaps it was not
a rabbit; it may have been a mouse, a squirrel, or a rat that
was actually hit. The passage is probably not wholly true, and
" found its billec " seems to be a little overstocked.

Now, from the large number of forms that might be used
for the expression of the foregoing idea, the one actually
chosen, besides being subject to taste, would depend much
on the preceding and the following sentences. These, in turn,
would actually depend on the writer's purpose, that is, in gen-
eral, on what he wanted to say, on the impression that he
wished to convey. Ordinarily, in so simple a matter as the
present, no theory of style, no consideration of audience, no
refinement of taste, would complicate the purpose of tellmg
the story; but, on the other hand, all these matters might
enter. Ninety-nine people out of a hundred would probably
say "he shot the rabbit," or equivalent phraseology to state
some equally simple fact. The point of the somewhat
grotesque illustration really is (i) that no two combinations
of words into sentences mean exactly th^ same thing but (2),
conversely, their meaning and their form is likely to be very
much restricted by what precedes and what follows.

Let us illustrate the actual restrictions of sense, taste,
juxtaposition of ideas, purpose, and occasion by a very simple
example. A landlord in reply to an inquiry regarding the
price of a house, with a separate garage on the premises, for
six months and for a year might reply, somewhat curtly,

Dear Sir, —

Yours of the ist received, and contents noted. Would say in
reply :


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Words and Sentences 267

From Dec i to June i, six months, $125 a month, payable in
advance monthly. With garage, $150.

From Dec i to Nov. 30, 1912, $100 a month, same terms.
Garage $20 a month extra.

Yours truly, etc

That would give the information, but would hardly meet the
occasion in a courteous way, and no writer would send such
a note if he cared to conform to good business and peaceable
principles. Many better forms suggest themselves; here is

Dear Sir, —

In reply to your letter of November 3rd, I beg leave to say
that I will rent my house, ** Oaklands," to you for the six months
beginning with December ist, next, for $125 a month, payable, as
is customary, monthly in advance. For the longer period, the
year beginning with the same date, the price would be $100 a
month. I am obliged to ask more per month for the shorter
period, because the season that you name will probably prevent
me from renting the house between June ist and October ist

This price does not include the regular use of the garage for
an automobile and a chauffeur. If you wish the use of it for
these purposes, $25 a month should be added to the above price
for the shorter period and $20 a month for the longer season.
There would be no extra charge for the use of the garage as a
storage building or the temporary accommodation of a caller.

The price in all cases would include ordinary wear and tear,
but for any damage due to negligence I should expect a tenant
to be responsible.

With thanks for your inquiry, I am

Very truly yours.

On this as an actual piece of composition several remarks may
be made. Considered as a whole, (i) the occasion is ready-
made, in that the letter merely answers specific inquiries. (2)
The preliminary thinking is almost nil, provided the writer
knows his own mind and something of the real estate market.
(3) Common courtesy binds the writer to a certain tone. (4)
The paragraphs are natural outgrowths from the information


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268 English Composition and Style

asked for: the first answers the question; each of the two
following paragraphs modifies the opening paragraph in a par-
ticular way. (5) The sentences in each paragraph do par-
ticular work: in the first paragraph, for example, the first
sentence answers the first part of the inquiry ; the second, the
query about the price for the longer period ; the third the rea-
son for the difference in price, (6) The predication is rea-
sonably concise.

So long, however, as these facts are given, there is little
necessity of the letter taking precisely this course, provided
it also keeps its tone and is not diffuse. With regard to the
sentences and words in combination, therefore, the following
observations may be made, (i) Whereas the sentences and
words could not possibly, under the conditions prescribed in
the preceding paragraph, be so prolific of variety as the rabbit
sentence, several forms are possible for each: we might, for
the present opening sentence, say, "Replying to your letter
of November 3rd, I have the honor to say that the rental
price of my house, for six months from December i, will be
$125 a month; for a year, it may be had at $100 a month.
The reason for the difference is that the shorter period
destroys the summer market, which begins on May ist. The
rent, as is usual, is payable in advance." Or again, in the
second paragraph one might prefer the phrase " the foregoing
figures" to the phrase "the above price." Many other
changes of this character could be made, within the limits laid
down in the business and tone of the letter. It will be ob-
served also (2) that most of these phrases are stock; aside
from the specific figures, the ideas come, for the most part,
by the phrase. (3) The changes in wording and in sentence
form that have been suggested, or the substitution of one stock
phrase for another, are, however, of very little importance;
for there is little chance, actually, for the letter to get away
frcmi its meaning, whatever set of words and sentences is

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 23 of 43)