W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

. (page 3 of 43)
Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 3 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

by Google

24 English Composition and Style

ing given to old facts. Such matters are, however,. the busi-
ness, in university life, of the graduate faculties and are not
matters chiefly of rhetorical training. All that a student of
composition may ordinarily aim at by way of college exercises
is the gathering together of some facts, some weighing of evi-
dence, and some care in arrangement If one can compass
clear and reasonable statements of what is already known, —
though more or less scattered in bodks, magazines, pamphlets, —
one is doing good work. Evidently this class of subjects may
call for translation, summary, and such matters as have been
treated in the previous category. The special questions of
exposition and argumentation will be dealt with at greater
length in the third part of this volume.


I, Write themes on the following subjects. They should be
of whatever length is necessary for a clear exposition of the
facts, and, where necessary, criticism of opposing views and inter-
pretation on the facts may be added: —

1. The Book of Job.

2. Wagner's system of music.

3. The servant in the comedies of Moli^re.

4. The literary study of the Bible.

5. Modern novels dealing with early Christianity.

6. The world of Anthony Trollope.

7. Stories of American college life.

8. Recent critics of the American university.

9. American notes by British travelers.

10. Lincoln as politician.

11. The musical societies of New York.

12. Dutch settlements in America.

13. The position of the Free Silver party in 1896.

14. What is evolution?

15. The system of classification in botany and zoology.

16. The Brook Farm experiment.

17. Washington's strategy in the Yorktown campaign.

18. The ethics of Browning's poetry.

19. The Stuarts in fiction.

20. Pragmatism.


by Google

Subjects and Titles 25

2» Write arguments on the following subjects:

1. Has the Raines Law reduced drunkenness in New York City?

2. Is the age at which young men become established in the pro-
fessions increasing?

3. Is the medical profession overcrowded?

4. Should the State place its orphans in private families?

5. Should New York City own and operate its subways?

6. Should the policy popularly known as "equal pay for equal
work" be adopted in the public school system?

7. Should the Federal government establish a uniform divorce

8. Should the education of women for the bachelor of arts degree
assume the same form as that given to men?

9. Was Luther responsible for the Peasant's Revolt?
la Is Macaulay's estimate of Steele just?

11. Are the arguments of the Baconians sound?

12. Has the United States been justified in taking possession of the

13. Should United States senators be elected by direct popular

14. Should capital punishment be abolished ?

15. Is Mars inhabited?

16. Should the "honor system" be established in College?

17. Are Quentin Durward, The Cloister and the Hearth, and Henry
Esmond accurate pictures of the life with which they deal ?

Titles. Titles of books, articles, and other forms of writ-
ing, like the names of houses, estates, pets, and children, usu-
ally follow the acquisition of the subject But this is by no
means always the case : often a chance phrase or title suggests
a suitable situation. Such titles as The Lady of the Seven-
Forty-Seven or His One Witticism may readily occur to any
one, and may possibly suggest a subject. Again, the selec-
tion of a definite, clear title, in place of a vague affair, helps
to clarify our ideas. The processes of finding subjects and
titles are interwoven at all points, though, logically, the title is
ancillary to the subject. In any event, titles have two uses:
(i) they tell the reader what the subject is, and (2) they try
to make that subject as attractive as possible. This last func-
tion is of minor importance in exposition and argumentation


by Google

26 English Composition and Style

where accuracy is essential, but is evidently of much moment
in work designed for entertainment. Argumentative titles, in-
deed, are conventionalized in the form of a sentence or propo-
sition, which may be put in a declarative way or, as in the
preceding exercises, in the form of a question. Expository titles
are usually a phrase or a topic. In both argumentation and
exposition accuracy and definiteness are desirable, since in cer-
tain aspects, the actual treatment is nothing more than an
expansion of the terms in the title.

The same general principle, that titles should be as definite
as possible, applies also to imaginative subjects and all writing
that is done for entertainment. Such titles as " A Mountain
Climb," " A Dream," " A Runaway," or " An Adventure," are
of very little value by reason of vagueness and commonplace-
ness; they seldom arouse interest. They inevitably suggest
the idea that the writer cannot have anything to say. They
should be more definite ; and should name, if possible, the par-
ticular interest or point of the climb, the dream, the adventure,
as, say, " Midnight in the Madison Hut," or " A Siesta on
the Wengem Alp," or " Sunset from the Rigi," all of which
are comparatively particular and name some central experience.
As a matter of fact, in the pages of no current magazine will
you find such titles as " A Dream," and its companions in
vagueness, though, in a book, after it is once a-going, there
may be chapter heads of much nebulosity.

Beyond being definite, titles may be made attractive and
alluring and stimulating in many ways. Titles that set the
reader a-guessing, — as The Man Who Would he King, The
Return of the Native, The WUd Ass's Skin, The Man Who
Laughs, Much Ado about Nothing, The Winter's Tale, The
Mark of the Beast, — abound in good literature; they excite
one's curiosity and are easy to remember. Of this class are
titles that run trippingly on the tongue: alliterative titles, as
Love's Labor's Lost, Celt and Saxon, Headlong Hall, Pen,
Pencil, and Poison; lines from the poets, as A Hazard of New
Fortunes, Ships that Pass in the Night, Far from the Mad-


by Google

Subjects and Titles 27

ding Crowd, But Yet a Woman; imaginative titles, like Rus-
kin's Ethics of the Dust, Stones of Venice, Sesame and Lilies.
It need hardly be added that such titles must be used with
taste, since all methods may be so overworked as to degenerate
into absurdity and cheap alliteration.

Many titles of novels and books of entertainment are, evi-
dently, merely name titles, as Adam Bede or Rhoda Fleming.
Frequently to these is prefixed some qualifying phrase, as The
Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, or The Fortunes
of Nigel, or some descriptive phrase, as Tom Jones, the His-
tory of a Foundling. These very likely go back to the picar-
esque novel, but in any case there is choice among names.
Dickens, for example, using this form of title very commonly,
evidently tried to give it some distinction in Oliver Twist,
Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, and the like. Scott was
characteristically happy in such modified name titles as The
Antiquary, Old Mortality, and The Fair Maid of Perth, and
his change of the original Merries to Redgauntlet shows, like
The Heart of Midlothian, his sense for good names. Akin to
these personal titles are place titles, such as Treasure Island,
and action titles, like Kidnapped, and it is evident that these
slide easily into the kind of titles that we have previously con-
sidered, The Man Who Was, The Master of Ballantrae, and so
on. The purpose in all cases, aside from mere exactness, is
to make something attractive to the mind, just as advertise-
ments and posters aim to attract the eye and hence win atten-
tion for the alleged merits of a commodity or the contents of
a magazine.


I. Find appropriate titles for any of the subjects suggested
in the preceding exercises of this chapter that seem to you to need
titles other than the topic as phrased. Explain briefly how your
title describes the contents.

a. Reword any of the explanatory and argumentative titles in


by Google

28 English Composition and Style

the preceding sections in order to gain greater definiteness and
accuracy. Explain exactly what is gained by the change.

3. Which of the following titles names or suggests the most
interesting subjects? (Poems and fiction are omitted from the
actual table of contents of a current magazine, — The Atlantic
Monthly, June, 191 1.)

1. Undergraduate Scholarship.

2. The War against War.

3. The Problem of Priscilla.

4. The Order of the Garden.

5. Lee and Jackson.

6. What is Wrong with our Boys?

7. The Country Minister.
a The Portrait Incubus.

9. The Abolition of the Queue.

10. A South African Sweet-Tooth.

11. If the United States Should Go to War.

12. The Pedigree of Pegasus. (aYid, as short sketches)

13. In Praise of Journeys.

14. The Immorality of Travel.

15. Wedding Journeys by Proxy.

16. My View.

17. The Pleasures of Acquaintance.

4. To the foregoing subjects, what added interest would come
from the name of the author? In which subjects is the author's
name most necessary to lend authority and interest to the title?

5. In the following very well-known stories show to what de-
gree the title characterizes the main point of the narrative.

1. Poe's The Cask of Amontillado,

2. Hawthorne's The Ambitious Guest,

3. Hale's A Man without a Country,

4. De Maupassant's The Necklace,

5. Harte's The Outcasts of Poker Flat.

6. Stevenson's Dr, Jekyll and Mr, Hyde.

7. Kipling's The Light that Failed.
a Doyle's The Speckled Band,

6. Comment on the chapter titles in any well-known novels,
with regard to fitness in naming the subject of the chapter and
to quality. Scott's Quentin Durward, Blackmore's Lorna Doone
and George Eliot's Felix Holt illustrate different methods.


by Google

Subjects and Titles 29

7. Criticize the following titles actually employed in students'

A Trip; A Horse Experience; The Prophecy of Hallowe'en;
Two Hours on Horseback; A Schoolroom Incident; John to the
Rescue; The Silver Buckle; How a Physician cured a Case of
Lockjaw by administering Poison; The Story of Hilda; Apache
Warfare; Why Uncle John Married; A Visit to the Homedale
Glass Works ; From Long Island to New Hampshire ; The Canyons
of Illinois; A Race between Cup Defenders; My Visit to my Old
Relation ; My Trip with the Football Team ; Caught in a Driving
Rain; A Short Canoe Trip; Users of the One Talent; Queen
Louisa's Tomb; A Crazy Craze; Thoughts of a College Novice;
Something at ihe Window; My Experience with a Sailboat; A
(K) night without a Home; On a Fishing Steamer; The Wagner
Festival at Munich; A Lightning Stroke; The Towers of Silence;
A Day on the Mississii^i River; Canvassing; More Inhuman than
a Dog; A Mistaken Pursuit; Sunset and Nightfall upon a Mt
Top ; A Mistaken Kindness ; The Revival of the " Magic Flute " at
the Metropolitan Opera House ; High School and College Entrance
Requirements; Two Views of the Sea from Tennyson; At the
Ferry ; My Reading of '* The Man without a Country " ; The Snob —
A Zoological Study; The Englishman in the United States; The
Last Night of the Military Show; The Renaissance Period in
Browning's Poems; Work among the Poor done by Young Girls;
The Topeka Daily Capital; The Portrait of a Lady; Hawthorne,
the Optimist; The Value of Experience; The Hoodoo of Style;
Some Comments on "The Doctrine of Interest"


by Google



Sources of material for writing. Just as most of our
wealth comes ultimately from the soil and its products, so most
of our material for writing comes from the earth and the things
that are upon it Man's observation of the details, or his con-
ception of the sum total, of the world and its relationships is,
according to his reactions and his temperament, the spring of
all his literary effort. Broadly speaking, all material consists
of facts about the universe or combinations of facts, often of
a very abstruse kind; or notions about the facts, that is, of
ideas. Facts are usually determined by observation, aided by
whatever intellectual processes may be brought to bear ; ideas
usually spring from a very active and often inaccurate agent
commonly called imagination, of the real nature of which very
little is known. It is often thought to be the peculiar property
of literary people, but, as a matter of fact, is just as important
in science, in business, in politics, and philanthropy, and is as
active there.

Like Moliere, the sensible writer " takes his good " where he
finds it,— with due regard, of course, to the copyright law and
to the modern courtesy, also, of giving credit to other writers
and authorities. Now, there are four sources of material, all
of which may, but need not necessarily, enter into any piece of
writing. It is, of course, impossible to draw hard and fast
lines or in most cases to say which is the cart and which is
the horse, but two sources for writing as it actually goes on
might be called primary, and two secondary. The primary
are observation and imagination ; they are evidently the sound-
ing-lines which the human mind has always been dropping into



by Google

The Collection of Material 31

the dq)ths of nature's sea. The secondary record the results
of these observations; they are the charts and log-books of
the voyage. In plainer terms, these secondary sources consist
of floating information, whether of the common run or in the
mind of a particular person, and of the recorded information
and ideas in published form. That is to say, what you take
in with your senses, what you imagine, what you are told, and
what you read, are in general the only sources of material for

This matter has to be spoken of, because the view is so often
held that libraries are the sources of material and that one must
go to them to get something to write about. The truth is that
libraries are the repositories of recorded knowledge, and, like
all repositories, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, are
somewhat behind the actual state of knowledge and thought;
for a library, like each particular book, records something that
is changing or is actually passed away. Still the records of
books and libraries are probably the most useful of the com-
monly held sources of material that we have; for though in
observation and certainly in imaginative work, one may not
need them at all, they are absolutely indispensable in any
work making the slightest claims to scholarship.

How to get at materiaL Following the preceding analysis
of the sources of material, we may say, regarding what have
been called the primary sources of material, that it is almost
impossible to give any valuable counsel, because the subject
is a very large one and for the reason, also, that includes
the saying that poets are bom and not made. Nothing can
take the place of natural endowment. An)rthing that trains
one's observation in any field of knowledge is good, any ex-
ercise of the mind in discrimination is helpful, and the sitting
down to hard thinking on a topic, — resolving what it is, what
it is not, whence it arose, whither it leads, the analysis of its
meaning, its practical applications, why one should think about
it at all, how it divides and subdivides itself, — these are all
aids to intellectual digestion and to the finding of material.


by Google

32 English Composition and Style

Applying the same methods to imaginative work, — revolving
a scene before one's mind till it takes on more definite
form, mulling over the why and wherefore of some event,
trying to envisage, in a new relation, people and things that
one is familiar with are all aids to what is known as invention.
"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost" is
the counsel of a great realistic novelist,^ and it goes far. As
we progress we shall see various ways of stimulating inven-
tion in special topics of composition; for as a matter of fact
invention and composition, with many writers, go hand in

Information one gathers where it is to be found, — that
is, one goes (i) to one's own knowledge, previously gained,

(2) to men who have the facts and the suggestions, and

(3) to publications. How to get at the second is not al-
ways clear, and, as to the first, many of us unfortunately
know many things too vaguely or hold our opinions with too
prejudiced a grasp to profit much by them in actual composi-
tion. The third demands a special word. Owing to the
enormous number of books and articles already published and
continually being published, a special science of bibliography
has arisen.. This, in brief, aims simply at getting at the vast
body of information scattered in books and periodicals with
the least expenditure of effort on the part of the reader. No
royal road to bibliography, however, has yet been made.
Hence we find general encyclopedias and special encyclopedias
with articles on all subjects of knowledge and references to
the chief authorities on these subjects, indexes and lists of
references in any book pretending to scholarly dignity, card
catalogues in all well-regulated libraries, arranged both by
subject and title, special indexes of periodical literature, such
as Poole's Index and the Cumulative Index, and also, perhaps
above all, staffs of well-trained and obliging librarians who
are ready to give information and assistance. Special bibli-

1 Henry James : The Art of Fiction.


by Google

The Collection of Material 33

Qgraphies arise in connection with every subject, and, indeed,
in some subjects, bibliography is so important that it con-
sumes the major part of one's eflforts. No writer who would
tap the accumulated information on any subject can neglect
the aid of bibliography. This is perhaps the most obvious
way of getting material, and references will from time to time
be made to special subjects.

Note-Taking. The chief object of taking notes is to aid
one's memory; and since nearly all memories are defective, it
is well to take notes on all important matters. Note-taking
is usually thought of as an especial adjunct to college courses
and learned reading, and that type, indeed, is the one that
chiefly concerns us. But it is manifest that note-taking may
apply to all the sources of material that have been enumerated
above. For example, Emerson took notes on his intuitions
and inspirations about various things, and when he had a
good many he conjoined several, more or less alike, into a lec-
ture on Self 'Reliance, or The American Scholar, or The Over-
Sotd, or what not. Many people have many inspirations and
flashes of ideas of this kind, but they do not always put them
down, or if the notions stray into print, they are likely to be
much inferior to Emerson's. Stevenson, again, tells us how
he was accustomed to keeping a note-book in which he re-
corded impressions and descriptions of what he saw or " com-
memorated some halting stanzas."* Sketches of ideas for
poems, of situations in stories, and a thousand and one such
things are made the subject of note-taking by authors ; Haw-
thorne's note-book as published in the complete editions of his
works, is an example of this note-taking, not so much from
books as from one's own brain.

Another very important use of note-taking contemplates in-
tellectual sharpness, that basis of good scholarship and of much
good writing. This has been made lustrous by Gibbon's
practice : •

^A College Magagine in Memories and Portraits,
• Memoirs,


by Google

34 English Composition and Style

As I am now entering on a more ample field of society and study,
I can only hope to avoid a vain and prolix garrulity by overlooking
the vulgar crowd of my acquaintance, and confining myself to
such intimate friends among books and men as are best entitled to
my notice by their own merit and reputation, or by the deep
impression which they have left on my mind. Yet I will embrace
this occasion of recommending to the young student a practice
which about this time I adopted myself. After glancing my eye
over the design and order of a new book, I suspended the perusal
till I had finished the task of self-examination ; till I had revolved,
in a solitary walk, all that I knew or believed, or had thought on
the subject of the whole work, or of some particular chapter. I
was then qualified to discern how much the author added to my
original stock, and if I was sometimes satisfied by the agreement
I was sometimes warned by the opposition of our ideas.

Nearly all note-taking by college students is on the lectures
or the reading connected with their college courses. Certain
kinds of English themes call for a good deal of reading and
note-taking, but students should also be encouraged to make
notes of what they see and hear or of scenes and situations
that occur to them.

The essence of note-taking. Much note-taking is as-
suredly a weariness to the flesh and the ruin of handwriting.
Quite as many students take too many notes as too few jot-
tings, and the result of the one excess is intellectual under-
brush, of the other, vague ideas and bad examinations. There
IS much art in good note-taking. Whether of reading or of
lecturing, the good note-taker merely follows any good in-
tellectual process: (i) he distinguishes fact from opinion;
(2) he distinguishes between detail or illustration and idea
or principle; (3) he gets the gist of the idea; and (4) he
puts things in proper proportion* As a mechanical aid in ac-
quiring the habit of doing such things well, the practice, among
beginners, of rewriting notes is very important. The exer-
cises in the first part of the preceding chapter are essentially
exercises in note-taking and the rewriting of notes, but they
are called summary.


by Google

The Collection of Material 35

System in note-taking. Whether one uses a separate book
for each course or subject; whether one prefers a large and
learned looking book that will afterwards grace one's shelves,
or a small flexible aflfair that can be slipped into one's pocket
or reticule ; whether one likes separate leaves or solid books ;
ruled paper or unruled paper ; red, white, gre^n or blue lines,
double lines ; square or round holes ; chains, earrings, or pins,
for binders, — all this is a matter largely of personal pref-
erence, — though some instructors, in courses where note-
books have to be examined, rightly insist on uniformity and
adaptation to the kind of material with which a course deals.
For the individual some system is probably good, provided it
be not engrossing; for the object of all systems of note-taking
is to enable the student to find the material as quickly as pos-
sible. Some form of card or envelope system is probably
a good one to follow.

It must be borne in mind that the notes that a student takes
of lectures in a college course, though following the same
intellectual process, are practically different from almost all
other kinds of notes. Notes on college courses aim to re-
produce that course, as a matter of mental training or as a
body of new fact to be incorporated into one's mind. Other
notes are likely to serve some immediately practical purpose,
the ordering of a bill of goods, the making of cake, or, in the
world of writing, what is going to be 4 propos of a subject.
In the world of published writing there are a few summaries
and digests of longer books and articles for the convenience
of readers, and these may involve seriatim note-taking, but
usually, in actual writing, one assorts from various bodies of
notes what is essential to his purpose. Therefore, whereas a
sq)arate book may be a good tWng for each coUege course
where one subject of knowledge is sequestrated from other
knowledge (and, alas, tends so to remain in the minds of
many students), in the actual world, on the other hand, where
information comes from many sources and knowledge doubles
on its tracks, the isolated note, or jotting, or clipping, to be


by Google

36 English Composition and Style

retained in a folder or envelope, or engrossed or mounted on
a separate card, all properly labelled and indexed, is the pref-
erable method. Any college course that compels the student
to get material from various sources and to coordinate it for
himself is evidently valuable in actual training.

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 3 of 43)