W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

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mobile. Look on this globe of earth, you will find it to be a very
complete and fashionable dress. What is that which some call
land but a fine coat lined with green? or the sea, but a waist-
coat of water-tabby? Proceed to the particular works of the
creation, you will find how curious journeyman Nature has been
to trim up the vegetable beaux; observe how sparkish a periwig
adorns the head of a beech, what a fine doublet of white satin is
worn by the birch. To conclude from all, what is man himself
but a microcoat, or rather a complete suit of clothes with all its
trimmings?

10. From Thackeray's Pendennis:

Those who have only seen Miss Fotheringay in later days, since
her marriage and introduction into London life, have little idea
how beautiful a creature she was at the time when our friend Pen
first set eyes on her. She was of the tallest of women, and at her



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Words and Sentences 299

then age of six-and-twenty she was, though she vows she was only
nineteen — in the prime and fullness of her beauty. Her forehead
was vast, and her black hair waved over it with a natural ripple,
and was confined in shining and voluminous braids at the back of a
neck such as you see on the shoulders of the Louvre Venus — that
delight of gods and men. Her eyes, when she hfted them up to
gaze on you, and ere she dropped their purple, deep-fringed lids,
shone with tenderness and mystery unfathomable. Love and
Genius seemed to look out from them and then retire coyly, as if
ashamed to have been seen at the lattice. Who could have had
such a commanding brow but a woman of high intellect She
never laughed (indeed, her teeth were not good), but a smile of
endless tenderness and sweetness played round her beautiful lips,
and in the dimples of her cheeks and her lovely chin. Her nose
defied description in those days. Her ears were like two little <
pearl shells, which the ear-rings she wore (though the handsomest
properties in the theater) only insulted. She was dressed in long,
flowing robes of black, which she managed and swept to and fro
with wonderful grace, and out of the folds of which you only saw
her sandals occasionally — they were of rather a large size; but
Pen thought them as ravishing as the slippers of Cinderella. But
it was her hand and arm that this magnificent creature most ex-
celled in, and somehow you could never see her but through
them. They surrounded her. When she folded them over her
bosom in resignation; when she dropped them in mute agony, or
raised them in superb command, when in spprtive gaiety her
hands fluttered and waved before her like — what shall we say? —
like the snowy doves before the chariot of Venus — it was with
these arms and hands that she beckoned, repelled, entreated,
embraced her admirers — no single one, for she was armed with
her own virtue, and with her father's valor, whose sword would
have leapt from its scabbard at any insult offered to his child —
but the whole house; which rose to her, as the phrase was, as she
courtesied and bowed, and charmed it

Thus she stood for a minute — complete and beautiful — as Pen
stared at her. **I say. Pen, isn't she a stunner?" asked Mr.
Foker.

" Hush ! " Pen said. " She 's speaking."



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PART III
DISCOURSE



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CHAPTER I

THE FORMS OF DISCOURSE

A MORE detailed study of composition is now proper. We
have, in general, seen what is meant by composition, have
some insight into the various sources of material, and the man-
ner of collecting it, and have studied structure and style in
various aspects. These subjects will now be treated as matters
of special application. For that purpose some arrangement or
classification of writing, or of discourse in general, is necessary.
Here we shall consider only written discourse, though spoken
discourse, less formally, may follow the same classifications.

Classification of writing. Many ways have been devised
for the classification of the actual phenomena or the prospec-
tive phenomena of writing. Several may be named.

1. The most exact is that which divides all writing into
prose and verse, that is, into writing that is not metrical and
writing that is metrical. Even here the line is not precisely
drawn; certain pieces, as those cited on page 241, being either
bad prose or bad verse according to judgment. This division
has little application to our present rhetorical study, where the
view has been taken (page 240), that prose should be un-
mistakably prose.

2. Still more inexact is the line between prose and poetry,
for the reason that this distinction takes account of material,
or kind of thought, as well as of form. Many actual pieces of
writing, as Pope's Rape of the Lock, are sometimes placed in
the neutral ground.

3. Another pair of Hegelian-like engenderers of their op-
posites is science and literature. Writing in the former de-
nomination has in view the presentation of fact; writing of

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304 English Composition and Style

the literature class presents personality,* or " a writer's sense
of fact."* This distinction need not trouble us, since it is
sufficient to try to express what we wish to say, to tell what
we see as well as we can, — and let succeeding critics determine
the category to which our writing belongs, A sub-classifica-
tion separates permanent from ephemeral literature, a distinc-
tion with which an author is not ordinarily concerned, since the
question of permanence is an historical one and is not within
the volition of the writer. Certain forms of literature, how-
ever, more ardently woo the muse of permanence than do
others.

4. Somewhat like the foregoing division is that into the
literature of thought and the literature of feeling.* This
adopts the bifurcation of mental life, conmion in psychology,
into the intellectual and the emotional side. It has less value
in the process of writing than in reading and criticism.

5. Somewhat more practical, as a help to composition,
would be the three divisions of (i) writing that aims to inter-
est, like novels, plays, etc., (2) writing that aims to convey
information, as news items, history books, science books, etc.,
and (3) writing that aims to convince, persuade, and establish
lines of truth or of conduct, as any argumentative writing, or
homily, or scientific controversy, or even problem novels and
moral plays. This division is more practical than the preced-
ing dichotomies, in that it may help a writer to localize his
purpose in terms of amusement, information, or persuasion
and confine his facts accordingly, whereas, the preceding divi-
sions took account of occasions and audiences only to the
slightest degree.

6. There is also of literature the division into various
genres or forms, depending on the kind of thought and the
manner of presentation. Several of these, — the epic, the
lyric, the novel, the essay, the drama, — have been much

1 Newman : Literature in The Idea of a University,

« Pater: Style,

« J. H. Gardiner : The Forms of Prose Literature, Introduction.



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The Forms of Discourse 305

studied, though with no final success in the complete isola-
tion and definition of any form. The different classes belong
to that large group of things more easily recognized than de-
fined, but such distinctions as have been made between forms,
as well as the popular recognition of such distinctions, is of
much value in composition. In regarding any body of mate-
rial to be composed as literature, we recognize the necessity
of some conformity to a genre, and we also take advantage
of certain methods that have long been associated with the
form that we have chosen. Hence a writer of any skill will
use one form, say the novel, the essay, or the sonnet, for one
body of material or for one occasion, and another form at
another time.

7. The foregoing division is but the more scientific as-
pect, — certainly the more literary aspect, — of the popular
view of material and occasion. Popularly, we are less in-
clined to recognize lyrics, epics, dramas, etc., than songs, poems,
novels, verses, stories, plays, farces, vaudeville, minstrel
" shows," editorial articles, news items, book reviews, inter-
views, sermons, presidential messages, " identical " notes, re-
ports, after-dinner speeches, joint debates, epistolary corre-
spondence, encyclopedias, guide-books, and other of the
numerous progeny of discourse fitted to familiar occasions.
The very number of these classes precludes the possibility of
their being used as a subject for discipline. A more important
reason against asking students to write according to these
categories is that most of them are special and practical ; there
is no object in practising presidential messages, for example,
unless one has some immediate prospect of becoming president
of something. Such training would be too much like that
kind of physical training which aims to develop extreme
athletic specialty at the expense of general, harmonious, and
healthful bodily culture. For these reasons, no better plan of
treating the subject has been found than the customary divi-
sion of writing into four fundamental and logical classes, and
hence



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3o6 English Composition and Style

8. We have, lastly, the division of writing, — according to
the material and the purpose of presentation, — into narration,
description, exposition, and argumentation. The classification
is learned, not popular, and hence may be briefly explained be-
fore the special consideration of each class in the following
chapters.*

We have seen in Part I, Chapter III, that all writ-
ing deals with things or with ideas about things, i.e., with
comparisons between, and generalizations concerning, them,
with the causes and eflfects of phenomena, with theories
and laws and notions about the objects in the universe.
Whether the things and ideas are true or false, matters of fact
or the effect of imagination, is not at present important. The
main point is that objects, whether actual or imaginary, may
be treated (i) as they look or appear, — that is as they affect
the percipient, — or (2) as they act. The first way of treat-
ing objects is known as description, the second as narration.
Ideas, theories, laws, generalizations, or whatever we happen
to be calling them, do not look like anything at all as objects
of sensation, nor, equally, do they act as tangible objects.
Explanation of such matters or of the relation of objects is
called exposition; comparison between ideas and other like
ideas or different ideas, for the sak€ of establishing new facts,
or comparison between different objects for the purpose of de-
termining some new idea about them is called argumentation.

To illustrate: Description would tell how a particular
horse, say Salvator, looks; narration would be likely to tell
some story about him, as how he broke the world's record;
exposition would deal, typically, with the term horse, or run-
ning horse, illustrating the affair by reference to Salvator and
other running horses, or it might deal with a thousand other
ideas connected with the term horse, — as the development of
running horses, the vitality of horses, the structure of horses, —
all evidently not tangible objects; argumentation would com-

^The best account of these fonns and the distinctions among them
is in the late Hammond Lamont's English Composition, Chap. i.



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The Forms of Discourse 307

pare Salvator with other horses, or show that horses are
superior to mules, or that horses are descended thus and thus
rather than so and so as was formerly supposed, or try to
persuade us that we should attach so and so to otu* stud, or, in
the words of the PsaUnist, that " a horse is a vain thing for
safety, neither shall he deliver any one by his great strength."
Of, say, football, description would try to recount the aspect
of a particular game, the crowds, the color, the cheering;
narration would tell how the particular game was played;
exposition might explain the playing of the game or its history ;
argumentation might demonstrate that the game is brutal,
fundamentally so, that it is capable of infinite reform, that it
is the most popular of non-professional sports, that Yale is the
great football college, that a boy must not play football under
any circumstances. Descriptively, alcohol is a colorless liquid,
of peculiar smell and pungent taste, very cooling to the touch.
That is true of any bottle of alcohol that one may take up,
and it is true of the substance known as alcohol; here the
descriptive and expository points of view seem to coincide.
Description, however, would contemplate the particular mani-
festation of alcohol; exposition the general characteristics,
and in addition to those named would properly deal with the
chemical composition of the liquid, its effect on animal tissue,
its manufacture, its cost, its distribution, its uses, its dangers.
Strictly speaking, it would be difficult to tell a story about
alcohol, but how it was discovered, how so and so first dis-
tilled it, how " Father Noah squeezed the grape " and imbibed
more of the juice thereof than was good for him, how many
of his descendants have done likewise, — all these are matters
about alcohol that might be treated in a narrative way. Argu-
ments about alcohol in certain of its disguises are so numer-
ous that their nature does not need to be illustrated. In gen-
eral, we may say that all objects, that is, all things that are
designated grammatically as nouns, are subjects for treatment
in any or all of these four ways. But such nouns as stand
for general ideas can be subject, strictly, to narrative and



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3o8 English Composition and Style

descriptive methods only by means of particidar instances.
Conversely, when one is arguing or expoimding, particular and
tangible matters are likely to be illustrations of something that
is true aside from the particular object of illustration. Thus
the piece, " How James learned to write/' may be narrative,
if James is the important thing; exposition, if James is merely
an illustration of the more important term how to write.

On what has been said one or two observations may nat-
urally be made. First, in actual writing, these modes do not
exist in a pure state. Actually, there is no pure description,
no pure narration, — unless it is the present participle of the
verb, — no pure exposition, no pure argumentation. " On the
whole " is about all that can be said of most writing, and " on
the whole" is often very doubtful as between many pieces
of exposition and argumentation. Darwin called his Origin
of Species an argument, but it could just as well be called an
exposition; certain chapters predominate in argument, others
are clearly expository. Actually, description is mingled with
narrative, with exposition, with argument ; narration is of vast
help in exposition and argument; certain tales, like Balzac's
Le CurS de Village, and George Eliot's Middlemarch, have a
highly expository strain. Oliver Twist, Uncle Tom's Cabin,
and hosts of novels are argumentative and persuasive in pur-
pose, though narrative in form. Novels and stories are on
the whole narrative and descriptive ; essays may be narrative,
descriptive, expository, or persuasive; sermons are likely to
be expository and persuasive; guide-books to be descriptive
and expository; cook-books are almost wholly expository;
books of travel are sure to be partly narrative, but tiiey may
also be descriptive, expository, and argumentative. The actual
state of writing recognizes no rigid theoretical distinctions.
The latter are the result of analysis, and are proposed for
convenience.

Since one may treat any term whatsoever by any one of
these four methods, and since also, a dozen different descrip-
tions, stories, explanations, and arguments, can be written



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The Forms of Discourse 309

about and around each term, it is evident that the number of
narratives, descriptions, expositions, and arguments is infinite.
Practically, however, most terms are not worth writing about,
have, on any given occasion, very little human interest. The
point of this remark is that, though it is well to adopt this
analytical division for the purposes of illustration and train-
ing, practice should be so far as possible under actual human
conditions, upon subjects of real human interest. Careful
compositions may be made in response to an inquiry regarding
the amount of green cheese in the moon, and stories may
be written concerning the adventures of old hats, old canteens,
and such trash; but little good is likely to come of these at-
tempts. Things that actually interest the student, as some-
thing to explain, to determine, to describe, to weave into a
train of events, — these are much more valuable.

Criticism is sometimes spoken of as a fifth form of composi-
tion, but criticism is evidently merely a form of exposition
when it presents opinions and facts, or of argumentation, if
its purpose is to persuade the reader, — as with the criticism
of Mr. J. M. Robertson,* — of the justice of the critic's opin-
ions. In any case it may make a very free use of narrative.
Again, persuasion is sometimes spoken of as separate from
argumentation, which is consequently limited to logical proc-
esses and the general field of intellectual conviction. This
may be a very convenient view to accept ; if it clarifies matters,
one should hold it But with at least equal truth persuasion
may be regarded as being a possible element in all forms of
discourse, though more palpable and typical in certain forms
of argumentation than elsewhere. For all discourse may be
thought of as literal, matter-of-fact, intellectual, or as sug-
gestive, imaginative, emotional, and each of these two classes
will have its examples in the four kinds of writing of which
we are now speaking. Thus we may have description that
merely enumerates facts, but we may also have description

* See Essays Toward a Critical Method, New Essays Toward a Crit-
ical Method, and Modern Humanists,



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310 English Composition and Style

that aims to wrap the reader in a penetrating and pervasive
and persuasive atmosphere. Novels and stories and histories
may do nothing more than picture life, but they may also
arouse our indignation and our sympathy. A simple presenta-
tion of facts, apparently without ulterior purpose, is some-
times a more effective and persuasive way of arousing interest
in human affairs than much urging and pleading. Persua-
sion describes rather a frame of mind than a manner of com-
position.

The distinctions among these four forms of writing are not
particularly important nor, as has been said, do they always
shape themselves according to actuality. But they are very
convenient for the detailed study of composition, since they
are, on the one hand, inclusive, and, on the other, less vague
than the dichotomies heretofore treated and more general than
the various special forms known to popular usage. There is
probably no real reason why five, or six, or seven, or more,
inclusive modes of discourse might not be devised which would
work as well as the four now commonly accepted as the best
way of approach to the specific problems of composition and
style.

Method of this book. We shall, therefore, first take up
narration, then description, exposition, and argumentation.
Each of these kinds of writing it will be convenient to treat
(i) as to purpose, aim, and actual function, (2) with regard
to the material and the facts commonly appearing in it, (3) as
to structure or treatment of material, and (4) in point of
style. No complete account of any of these forms can possibly
be given, either as a matter of literary theory or as a body of
actual production.

EXERCISES

1. Define and illustrate the various members of the differfent
classifications mentioned in the preceding chapter. Explain the
point of view from which each of these classifications is made.

2. Make divisions of writing from still other points of view.



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The Forms of Discourse 311

if possible; illustrate the divisions, and test each by reference to
actual pieces of writing.^

3. Draw the following distinctions and illustrate them:

Between narration and description.
Between narration and exposition.
Between narration and argumentation.
Between description and exposition.
Between description and argumentation.
Between exposition and argumentation.

4. In several pieces of writing, such as may be found in any
volume of selections, — either general selections or passages from
a particular author, — point out examples of the four modes of
writing. What would be the popular designation, — i. e., story,
sermon, essay, etc., — of each of these pieces? Is the tendency of
each piece toward narration, description, exposition or argumenta-
tion ?

5. Is the tendency of each of these pieces to be merely a
presentation of facts or to be persuasive?

•Compare J. R. Taylor, Composition in Narration, p. 3: "There
are really only two kinds of writing: artistic, which is narration, and
scientific, which is argument; the other two of the usual four arc
functions of these, exposition standing to argumentation as description
stands to narration."



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CHAPTER II

NARRATION

Narration is a very important, an exceedingly diversified,
and in certain aspects, a difficult and complex form of dis-
course. Many books and essays have been written on the
subject. In general, the form may be understood as that
kind of discourse that recounts the real or imaginary events
or happenings of past time. Such events or happenings must
not be confused with processes, — the subject for exposition, —
for the latter deal with a general method of procedure ap-
plicable to the present and the future as to the past ; whereas,
narration recounts specific things that have happened, which
will probably never happen again in the same way. These
events and happenings may be of any description ; they may be
the history of states, the lives of individuals, incidents, and
crises in the psychic life of persons, — anything, in short, that
may be regarded or imagined as having taken place, as a
specific act or series of acts in past time or in time represented
as past.

Forms of narrative. Narration deals with fact and fiction,
and is commonly divided into these two kinds. Between them
the line, however, is difficult to draw. Narrative, presumably
of fact, is not always free from the suspicion of invention or
exaggeration, and, more conspicuously, much of our fiction is
either founded on fact or makes very large transcriptions from
the realm of actual happenings. These kinds of narrative are
evidently, as has been said, continually commingled, in varying
degrees, with other forms of discourse, — description, exposi-
tion, and argumentation. Of fact narration familiar forms
are history, books of travel, biography, journals, autobiogra-

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Narration 313

phy, news items, accounts of current events, and many others;
of fiction, the liveliest forms to-day are the novel and the
shoft story.

Of each of these kinds of narrative, there are many species
and varieties, or, to speak more truthfully, many individuals ;
since literary classifications at best but exhibit tendencies.
Autobiography, for example, may present merely an account of
the external events, so to speak, in the life of the author, as
in Grant's Memoirs, and this may be done very impersonally,
as in that equally lucid book, Caesar's Commentaries on the
Gallic War. On the other hand, there are autobiographies of
the inner life, — of a controversial sort, in support of a special
thesis, as Newman's Apologia; or, as with Mill's Autobiogra-
phy, animated by the desire to tell of one's own education as
something very remarkable and of interest and value to man-
kind; or, as in Gibbon's Memoirs, the account of a literary
and intellectual career with one great central achievement.
And as these autobiographies contain different kinds of inter-
est and are written with different objects in view, so also they
are different in style and quality.

Novels furnish an even better illustration, for the reason
they have been subjected to a good deal of systematic



Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 27 of 43)