W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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used. (4) A more important correction, since it aflFects the
meaning, would be the change of the ambiguous " There would


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Words and Sentences 269

be no extra charge," etc, to " This extra charge would not
apply to " or some combination of words that made the fact
clear that the tenant could have the temporary and occasional
use of the garage for nothing.

Now this simple instance may be taken as representative
of nearly all writing which aims to convey information of any
kind, and is not chiefly concerned with being interesting apart
from the facts with which it deals. Conforming, on tiie one
hand, to good use and attempting, on the other, to do no
more than give information, it is good so long as the facts
and ideas are clearly stated and so long as it respects the
ordinary assumptions of intercourse. With these restrictions,
several ways of saying a thing are about equally good, that is,
so long as the writer is at pains to make the important things
clear and to keep out unworthy diction, inept phraseology, in-
consistent and ambiguous sayings, and nonsense in general.
Granting certain facts to be conveyed, these facts do not call
for " inevitable " phrases ; the writer merely takes what seems
best to him. The quotations from Mill (p. 71), Pater (p.
72), Blackmore (p. 90), Froude (p. 95), Poe (p. 103),
and Stevenson (p. 107 and p. 235), for example, could be said
in different ways from the present without harm; indeed, it
would not be impossible to improve them, if they were al-
ready not clear enough to make such an attempt somewhat
supererogatory. As a matter of fact some of these ideas have
been elsewhere expressed, and probably with equal skill.
They are illustrations of normally good writing of various
kinds, and though we may occasionally note unusual clever-
ness or happiness of phraseology, such instances are excep-
tional. We may quarrel as we will with the facts: we may
object to the rent, to the idea that civil liberty is after all so
important a thing, to the idea that the new distinction is not
palpably more important than that between the Fancy and the
Imagination, to the excessive fear of John Ridd, to Drake's
freebooting career, to the motives of Montresors, to the idea
that Stevenson's night among the pines is charming or to his


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270 English Composition and Style

doctrine of sentences, — but the expression is usually adequate
to the idea.

Of a comparatively small number of passages, it is possible
to say much more than this. Granted the facts, — the argu-
ment or exposition to be presented, the impression that a scene
makes upon a person's mind, a very strong emotion, — and,
in certain instances, it would be very hard to improve on the
expression. This is the state of permanent literature, and
among the passages cited in this volume, — aside from the ex-
ercises, — those by Burke (p. 56), Ruskin (p. 93 and p.
98), Macaulay (p. 108), De Quincey (p. 112), and Newman
(p. 243), most nearly approach this state, best represented
by the sentences on pages 245. Granted th^ facts, it would
be hard to say the thing in a more interesting way. The
facts and expression are part and parcel of each other.

This extremely good combination of words into sentences
is something that can not well be analyzed and which offers no
opportunity for formal instruction. The phenomenon is prob-
ably best seen in poetry. The setting of the word ** alien " into
attendant circumstances could not, as we have seen (p. 186)
be improved upon. So with Keats's sonnet quoted on page
221 and many of the lines near it Most of the sonnets of
Shakspere, the famous speeches of his plays, Gray's Elegy,
and some other poems are also good examples of this prin-
ciple. Perhaps the supreme instance, in English, though that
would be a matter of opinion, is this, from the third book of
Paradise Lost:

Thus with the year
Seasons return, but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of even or mom.
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose.
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank


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Words and Sentences 271

Of nature's works to me expunged and ras'd,

And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out

So much the rather thou, Celestial light.

Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers

Irradiate; there plant eyes, all mist from thence

Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell

Of things invisible to mortal sight

Such poetry evidently comes only with the expression of
very noble ideas in language of the most appropriate and gifted
character. These constitute what Matthew Arnold called
** touchstones." 2 Not many passages have the happiness to
sustain themselves with combinations of so elevated a descrip-
tion ; with most writing, be it repeated, so many combinations
of words into sentences are possible that, if they persist, it is
because of the value of the ideas, — their weight, their use-
fulness, their interest, — with which they deal.

The foregoing discussion of what may be called sentence
logic, or the sense for sentences, comes down to this. There
are lliree kinds or grades of combinations of words into sen-
tences, (i) In the first the combination is so bad that the
result has to be ostracized, or, which is a better thing, excised
from one's writing. It may be bad because of improper
usage, as when we employ barbarisms; or by reason of bad
grammar; or from ambiguity, vagueness, diffuseness, lack of
unity, and other sins against the light; or through failure to
follow common sense or to employ logic, as in the case of com-
binations that contradict each other; or in point of taste, as
when one is unnecessarily extravagant, or noisy, or unre-
served; or, perhaps worse than all, because of dullness, dry-
ness, twaddle, lade of life. (2) Of competent combinations
it may be said that, though not final, ultimate, and all-wise,
the combinations fall into none of the errors just mentioned.
The ideas are clear, likely to be interesting to some or many
people, during a shorter or longer period, and capable of more
or less change for the better or the worse. (3) The third

« On the Study of Poetry.


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272 English Composition and Style

class contains that comparatively small number of combina-
tions in which little possibility of improvement is discernible.
The combination approaches perfection in so far as it is diffi-
cult to see how to make it better.

The gist of the matter, practically, is that he who would
write well, in any field, must have enough words to express
what he has in mind, and must know the common meaning
of them, and also, it is to be hoped, something of their power
of suggestion. These words he must be able so to combine
into sentences that they will express the ideas he has in mind,
and, on occasion, make as interesting as possible what he wants
to say. He must, above all, think of ideas and facts and think
of them sensibly. If he acquires these difficult arts or de-
velops what is natural to him, he will be able to express clearly,
and often with force, that infinitesimal portion of the ideas
current in the world which belong to him to express.


X, Revise the italicized words and phrases in the following
passages, and state reasons for your revision. Do not hesitate
to change the order of the words.

1. We might suppose before the age of climbing trees, several
monkeys learning to climb for protection.

2. This man might be called handsome, being tall and well-
proportioned, with a fine head covered with dark gray hair brushed
smoothly to one side of his smooth, high forehead.

3. The white object sank for the second time when they rescued
it by means of the pole and drew it dripping wet from the water.

4. About ten little children from six to eight years old were
going to school ; trotting along with them was a chubby little three-
year-old. They all started to cross the avenue. The baby stood
on the curb, looking reproachfully at a larger reproduction of his
face and clothes that was crossing with the others,

5. Some people do not believe in the use of slang but what
words are more expressive than "getting rattled." At some time,
I am sure each one of us has been in this state.

6. Although my vacation had been on the whole an enjoyable


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Words and Sentences 273

one, there is no gainsaying the fact that toward the end it grew

7. The observation of all these rules wearied us.

8. It is hard to realize the enormity of the distance between the
earth and the sun.

9. He indulged in all the different phases of college pleasure.
la The principal feature of the day was a boat-race.

11. What transpired in the gloomy house will never be known.

12. The ideas of German children about New York City are
very peculiar.

13. With uncanny prescience, if such a lofty term may be used,
the children across the street always choose the time when mother
wants to sleep for their noisiest frolics.

14. As they crossed our bow, the gentleman in the bow and
Uncle Ben exchanged elaborate bows,

15. My brother and I were the children in the family in con-
trast to my grown-up sisters. But I felt it keenly, that while I
was just one of the children, my brother was the baby and the
only boy.

16. To amuse about a hundred little ragamuffins for an hour
every Saturday morning, with the restriction that they must be
kept quiet, is not a matter to be treated lightly.

17. Of all the factors that go to make up our present cizfilisation
the modern newspaper is perhaps the strongest,

18. Columbia College in its theory of education has taken a
decided departure from the old and now unpractical methods.

19. This is an old, old question, which has troubled humanity
since an early date in civilization,

20. The real method is to follow the laws of nature in the doc-
trine of the survival of the fittest, and eliminate from society the

21. The newspaper scatters the seeds of fresh knowledge broad-
cast among the people, and gives the universal mind food for
thought for thought that moves the world,

22. I had learned to ride the bicycle a little and could manage
to get off the wheel, but I couldn't mount it without assistance.
We, father and I, were coming home from a long ride in the
country, when we approached a steep hill. We walked up the
slope to the top, where father helped me on the wheel and I
started down the hill. I had n't gone but a little distance, when my
feet slipped from the pedals and the wheel got beyond my control.
Faster and faster I went down that hill, hanging on for dear life
to the handle-bars and hoping that I wouldn't run into anything.
Just zs I got near the bottom of the hill, a wagon turned the cor-



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274 English Composition and Style

ner. Fortunately, the driver understood the situation, for he turned
out as far as possible and gave me three-fourths of the road. I
managed to avoid hitting the wagon and a short distance from the
foot of the hill, I half jumped and half fell off my wheel. In a
few moments Father came to my rescue expecting to find me killed
but he found me very much alive but badly frightened.

23. Although not a country child by birth or breeding, never-
theless as eat ly as my eighth year I showed decided rural tendencies.
We were, at the time in question, living in a small apartment in
New York City — a location ill-adapted to agricultural pursuits.
I must, however, have been a persevering child, for in spite of
constant rebuff I persisted in my endeavor to turn our apartment
into a country farm. How often did I sprout beans in water, only
to have them shrivel up at the first suggestion of a green shoot.
I even tried raising a vegetable garden in a window-box, and
great was my pride when the family one day actually dined off
my solitary radish* To add to the realism of my farm I finally
decided to rear ducks. I suppose the picture of our shiny bath-
tub full of water upon which floated downy balls of yellow was
the lure which started my venture. At any rate, I invested in a
duck's egg one day and proudly bore it home. Wrapping the
nucleus of my duck farm in cotton I secretly slipped it under the
dining-room radiator to hatch. There it remained for the space of
two weeks, when by verdict of the family I was forced with tears
to refect my loved project. Since that time my farming instinct
has abated, and / no longer pine to raise either vegetables or live

24. At the present time there are two great topics of conversa-
tion, the Hudson-Fulton Celebration and the North Pole. All
about us we find ardent enthusiasts for either Peary or Cook.
For my part, I have not read much about the preliminary discus-
sions and accusations. Nevertheless, I am under the impression
that Peary has been making some very insinuating remarks about
his rival adventurer, in which he is probably justified. Peary has
made several trips to the polar regions and spent a great amount
of time in the land of ice and snow and intense cold. Moreover,
he has been sent on these expeditions by the Government His
maps and records have been accepted by scientists^ And, therefore,
it is no wonder that he becomes indignant when a new explorer, a
man of no great fame, and heretofore of little consequence, tries
to claim the honors of the day from him.

2. Comment on the sense of the following sentences, and re-
vise them so that they come within the reasonable limits of co-
herence and truth.


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Words and Sentences 275

1. The Commercial Advertiser, one of our oldest papers, is
doubtless the most reliable evening paper. The Evening Sun holds
a similar rank.

2. Just as a business cannot be run on college principles, so a
college cannot be run on business principles.

3. There was a gentle breeze and as we rode along we could
see the milkmaids bringing home the cows and the farmers start-
ing out to their work.

4. Reasons for the new trial of Dreyfus are bribery, demand of
the world, Zola, intellectual elite, and Protestants in France, and
a few honest men, as Scheuer-Kestner and CoL Picquart These
are too obvious to require explanation.

5. The subject of political leaders in the United States has a
very wide range. It comprises, more or less, federal, state, and
municipal politics. Of these I purpose to consider the last, un-
official leadership in municipal politics.

6. The language of Canada is French and the whole country
is in a very prosperous condition and politically governs itself.

7. The charm of David Harum is not so much in the trickery
and jocoseness of David as in his warm-heartedness and generosity.
The prevailing sentiment of the book, and one that adds not a little
to its attractiveness, is that characteristic so prevalent in American
life; namely, that one man, no matter how uneducated he may be,
is as good as another.

8. Standing behind the fountain was hard enough work for
the demonstrator, but for him to show people the right way of
using it, that was unheard of. How useful sanitary drinking foun-
tains are, if an unsanitary way of drinking from them is discovered,
and not prevented!

9. And the wailing, buzzing, whirring, clicking, piping insects
shrieked on.

10. The sea gardens, near the Island of Nassau, are quite en-
chanting, and give one a glimpse into the fairyland of Hans
Andersen's tales of Mermaids and their charmed lives down under
the sea.

11. One day, this summer, I was thinking of a horrid answer
that I might have made to one of the girls when she met us,
canoeing, and offered to bring me home in her launch. I was so
pleased with my imaginary answer that I tossed my head in the
air and spoke the words to see how they sounded. I forgot to
look where I was going and I fell over die railroad track, down
the steep path on the other side, into the lake.

12. A busy man from town rode past and seeing the dim
figures on the stoop, said to himself, ^Poor old people 1 How


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276 English Composition and Style

empty their lives must be!" and he hurried back to the city to
£11 an evening business engagement. Whose life was really empty?

13. When one gets up in the early morning and looks out upon
a wet dismal landscape and sees the hills covered with mist and
clouds she has anything but cheerful thoughts — especially if she
commutes any distance.

14. Last night I saw a very interesting play called The Melting
Pot The play was unusual in that it was worthy of consideration
even though the plot and the dramatic technique were poor. The
plot and actions of the character are painfully melodramatic, but the
theme of the play, the idea of the Melting Pot, is new and com-
mendable. This idea, this theory, however, is not brought out by
the actions of the characters but only in isolated speeches. If
Mr. Zangwill had written an essay on the subject, it would have
brought home this theory, no less convincingly than the play does.

15. To judge of the quality of the plays acted here, Mr. Richard
Mansfield has recently acted here; moreover, the theater is fre-
quently used to continue successful plays recently produced else-
where, as was the case with Miss Viola Allen.

3. Explain the differences in meaning between the following
versions of the same idea. Which seems to be best?

A. I. He is an agent for a wholesale stationer; he has been for


2. For years he has been agent for a wholesale stationer.

3. He has worked as agent for a wholesale stationer for years.

4. For years he has worked as agent for a wholesale stationer ;
he still works there.

5. He is where he was at the beginning — an agent for a
wholesale stationer.

6. He has been in the employ of a wholesale stationer for
years, and he will doubtless die there.

B. I. The body had evidently been in the water at least four

days; the most inexperienced of the people gathered about
it understood that.

2. It required no special skill to perceive that the body had
been in the water at least four days.

3. The odor indicated that the body had been in the water at
least four days.

4. No bystander, however inexperienced, could have failed to
detect from the peculiar effluence that assailed his olfactory
nerve that the corpse had suffered immersion in the aqueous
fluid for the major part of a week.


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Words and Sentences 277

5. It was easy to perceive that the body had been in the water
at least four days.

6. At least four da3rs in the water — that would inevitably
have been the verdict of any person, however inexperienced,
provided only he had sufficient sense of the decomposition
of matter.

1. Having far less than the normal amount of personal attrac-
tiveness, Dr. Johnson was nevertheless idolized by his
friend Boswell.

2. Having far less than the normal amount of personal attrac-
tiveness. Dr. Johnson's friendship was nevertheless the
greatest joy of Bos well's life.

3. Though a very homely man, Johnson was almost revered
by BoswelL

4. Boswell greatly admired Johnson and exceedingly enjoyed
his society, though he was a personally repulsive man.

5. The fi^eat joy of Bos well's life was the society of the great,
awkward, ungainly Samuel Johnson.

6. In spite of his ugliness, Johnson " hypnotized " Boswell

7. Johnson, though not exactly the glass of fashion and the
mold of form, so far as appearances were concerned, was
the observed of all observers to his fidus Achates, Boswell,
that unco' canny Scot.

8. Johnson wasn't much as to looks, but Boswell loved him

9. Boswell admired Johnson, though hideous.

1. It was the first week of college in our Freshman year when
we had become familiar with the faces of our classmates
only to a slight degree.

2. During the first week of our Freshman year we had be-
come acquainted with our classmates only to a slight degree.

3. We did n't know our classmates well during our first week
at college.

4. One does n't get to know the faces of her classmates in the
first week of college.

5. It is a common matter of observation that fresh faces are
unfamiliar; so it was during our first week of college.

6. During the first week of the Freshman year, ere yet we
have had opportunity to become bound in the filaments of
familiarity and personal acquaintance, we were strangers
from one another.

7. The thing happened during our freshman year before wc
knew each other well.


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278 English Composition and Style

£. I. The first time I was ever on a large sailboat was on a
warm summer afternoon, two months ago. I was very
much surprised by the amount of room in it
3. The first time I was ever on a sailboat, about two months
ago, I was amazed by the amount of room.

3. Two months ago I was on a sailboat for the first time. It
was large, but even so I was much astonished by the
amount of room in it

4. It quite phased me, the amount of room on the sailboat,
though it was a whopper.

5. The sailboat, though large, amazed me because of its

6. The roominess of the sailboat was much more than I had

7. I had not anticipated the size of the sailboat.

F. I. She went with me. We made fine connections and saw by

the Eighth Avenue clock that we had just six minutes in
which to make the train. That is usually enough.

2. The six minutes that we had left is usually enough to make
the train.

3. The Eighth Avenue clock showed six minutes to train-
time. We had made good connections and that should
have been enough.

4. She and I were hurrying to catch the train. At Eighth
Avenue we apparently had six minutes, ordinarily enough.
So far everjrthing had prospered.

5. She it was who accompanied me. Our connections were
excellent At Eighth Avenue the clock indicated that six
minutes remained to us. That is usually enough to catch
the train from that point

6. The six minutes that were left us at Eighth Avenue should
have been enough.

G. I. I waited in the background, and such questions and sug-

gestions as those teachers put to him !

2. While waiting in the background, I heard the teachers ask
him many questions.

3. The questions that I overheard the teachers asking him were
certainly very odd.

4. I waited in the background. Meanwhile those teachers
plied him with a singular assortment of questions.

5. While waiting in the background the teachers asked him a
great many questions.


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Words and Sentences 279

6. Question upon question was hurled at the poor fellow by
that galaxy of teachers. I could n't help overhearing them
as I waited in the background.

H. I. She tried to push it closed but there was a strong though
gentle pressure from the othtr side making it impossible
for her to do so.
3. A strong but gentle pressure kept her from shutting the

3. She could not push the door to; something on the other
side hindered her.

4. She was prevented from shutting the door by a strong
though gentle pressure exerted in the opposite direction.

5. Something opposed her when she tried to shut the door.
What could it be? She was merely aware of a strong but
gentle pressure acting against her.

6. She could n't shut it.

L I. We had taken a rather early luncheon on the train. It
consisted of a small cup of bouillon, a salad, bread, small
cakes and tea, for which we paid eighty-five cents a service.
Moreover, we were still as hungry as ever. We thought
we would get along, though, until we reached our destina-
tion in Canada.
a. Our light luncheon, though costing eighty-five cents apiece,
seemed likely to prove itself insufficient for the rest of our

3. For the sum of eighty-five cents we had managed to a
small cup of bouillon, a salad, bread, small cakes, and tea.
This had to last till we reached our destination in Canada.
But we were as hungry as ever.

4. Our luncheon had been slight, early, and expensive. Con-
sequently we were as hungry as ever. But we determined
to push through.

5. The train luncheon was costly rather than copious. It is
no wonder then that we were still ravenous. But we de-
termined never to yield until we arrived at the terminus of
our journey in the Dominion of Canada.

6. A small cup of bouillon, a salad, a bit of bread, some small
cakes and tea was all we had on that long train journey.

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 24 of 43)