W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

. (page 31 of 43)
Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 31 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

follows :

Edward Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,

chapter 17.
E. A. Poe : Landor's Cottage.
J. D. Whitney: The Yosemite Guide Book.
R. L. Stevenson : Travels with a Donkey.
John La Farge : An Artist's Letters from Japan.
Thomas Carlyle: Heroes and Hero Worship. Lecture 3, "The
Hero as Poet"


by Google

348 English Composition and Style

bon's description of Byzantium, Poe's of Landor's Cottage, Whit-
ney's of the Yosemite Valley, Stevenson's of a night among the
pines, La Farge's of the harbor of Ydcohama, Carlyle's portrait
of Dante, Scott's of the lists at Ashby, Carlyle's of Coleridge,
Balzac's of the Maison Vauquier, Hardy's of Egdon Heath and
the farm scenes, Hawthorne's account of Hepzibah Pyncheon and
her shop, Hudson's of the plains of Patagonia, De Quincey's of his
opium dreams.

3. Comment on the style of the following descriptive passage
and where possible suggest improvements. In like manner criti-
cize descriptive passages occurring on pages 159-172.

The building stands on a small headland jutting out into the bay.
On the sloping banks of the headland, around the foot of the build-
ingt are granite terraces. The building itself is a square structure of
granite. The base is of plain blocks with ornamentations along the
top and bottom. Above the base are fluted columns, rising slender
and majestic, and whose capitals are the handsomest part of the
building. The cornice is very heavily ornamented with carving.
The building is approached by a few very broad steps, which lead
up to a door in the base, while the granite terraces, separated by
green sward, make a very beautiful and majestic approach.

4. Point out noticeable stylistic methods in the descriptions
cited on pages 1 16-139. Show in each case what the purpose of
the description is, and the kind of words used in it.

5. Describe an object with which you are familiar. Substitute
for this object any somewhat similar object and note whether the
written description is equally applicable to the latter.

6. Describe the city in which you live, the arrangement and
aspect of the college which you attend, a building that seems to
you to be attractive, a characteristic bit of life with which you
are familiar, a pleasant landscape, and in all instances try to make
the descriptions clear and interesting. When possible, from the

Sir Walter Scott: Ivanhoe, chapter 7.

Thomas Carlyle : The Life of John Sterling.

Honor6 de Balzac: Le Pire Goriot,

Thomas Hardy : The Return of the Native, chaps, i, 2, and 3.

Ibid. Tess of the D'Urbervilles, book 3.

Nathaniel Hawthorne : The House of Seven Gables, chap. 2.

W. H. Hudson: Idle Days in Patagonia, chap. 13.

Thomas De Quincey : Confessions of an English Opium Eater.


by Google

Description 349

facts given in the description — as of a college campus — draw
a plan, and compare this with an actual survey or published map.
7. Write descriptions of these subjects from different points
of view, as different people or any one person in different frames
of mind would see them.


by Google ^



Exposition may best be understood as explanation, but it
is, on the whole, such explanation as aims to give information
rather than to arouse the emotions or affect the will. Evi-
dently, a good deal of writing which has to do with facts of
past time, as historical narrative or biography, exists for the
sake of the information that it conveys, and a good deal of
matter of a technically descriptive sort answers the same pur-
pose. For practical ends, indeed, there is no need of pursuing
the distinctions between exposition, on the one hand, and nar-
ration and description, on the other, into some of the regions
that have been suggested; for of certain pieces of work it
may truthfully be said that no human being can determine
whether they are really narration, description, exposition, or
argumentation, or that, even if he could make such distinctions,
the result would be a matter more of importance than of in-
genuity. Exposition is explanation that is mainly directed to
the understanding and the intellect.

Such interest as exposition may possess is, therefore, likely
to come almost wholly from the facts that are presented. This
interest is apt, moreover, to be confined to facts previously
unknown to the person to whom the exposition is addressed ;
for, being in search of information, we are unlikely to call for
what we know already. As narration, for the most part, deals
with the unusual, so exposition might be said to explain the
unknown. We may be moved to explore the unknown, — the
recipe in the cook-book, the rules for tennis, suitable ways of
going to Europe, — because we stand in need of the informa-
tion, or we may be stimulated thereto by a general desire for



by Google

Exposition 351

information, knowledge, and enlightenment. Such unknown
matters it is the object of exposition to make dear to the

In actual writing, therefore, we find exposition dealing with
the explanation of thousands on thousands of things, — the
process of making shoes, bread, gunpowder ; the proper meth-
ods of playing baseball, of swimming, of writing, of photogra-
phy ; the composition of steel, paint, wood-fiber ; the structure
of the hiunan body, and proper care of it, its nutrition, its
exercise, its growth and decay; the organization of vegetable
matter, of American universities, of trusts, of railway strikes ;
the reasons for the sudden change in the temperature, for the
Peasants' revolt, for the decay of chivalry, for cannibalism ; the
theory of life, of literary criticism, of the " double-standard *'
of naval power; conceptions of man's place in nature, of the
order of events, of the hereafter, of the universe. Informa-
tion on many of these subjects may be scanty or ill-substan-
tiated, but in all instances we are after information when we
read about any of these matters, and we want the information
because it will be of immediate or future or general usefulness.

Since exposition presents the unknown to the reader, the
indispensable thing about exposition should be the truth of the
facts to be conveyed. With this truthfulness, however, we are
not here particularly concerned ; here we have to do with a
matter of secondary but of very great importance, the clear-
ness and thoroughness with which the information may be
presented. That is the rhetorical aspect of exposition. Now
information is best conveyed when systematically conveyed, in
as clear a manner as possible. The actual writing of explana-
tion is, therefore, aside from the truth of the facts, a matter
(i) of plan and (2) of those aids to clearness which may be
further considered as method and style. These may be taken
up in order.

Plan in exposition: i. ClassiAcation. It is possible to
treat exposition under several different heads, each describing
a more or less well-marked general type, as the explanation of


by Google

352 English Composition and Style

terms, the explanation of processes, the explanation of defini-
tions, etc., but a simpler and more comprehensive way will be
to regard good classification of the phenomena to be explained
as the essential thing in all good exposition, whether of few
or of many facts. A classification is simply an arrangement
of the contemplated facts into groups, in accordance with
some principle of division. The logical requirements of clas-
sification are as follows :

1. That the resulting groups shall embrace all the facts.

2. That the divisions shall be made from one point of
view, until all the facts are exhausted.

3. That the divisions shall be mutually exclusive.

Thus the following classification is bad in all three require-
ments: Pipes may be classified (i) pipes of wood, (2) pipes
of clay and (3) as pipes smoked by Germans. Obviously the
resulting groups do not embrace all the facts; for there are
metal pipes also. The classification is not from one point of
view, since the first two divisions take into account the mate-
rial of the pipes, the last the nationality of the smoker. Log-
ically, two classifications are mixed ; one should go through all
the facts from the point of view of the material, or from that
of various nations of smokers, but not from both in one oper-
ation. Lastly, the divisions are not mutually exclusive, since
Germans may evidently smoke wooden pipes or clay pipes in-

The following classifications made by college freshmen of
the poems in the first book of Palgrave's Golden Treasury,
illustrate faulty classification, from the logical point of view:

1. ''Themes of love, war, and chivalry."

2. " Songs and lyrics, ditties and sonnets."

3. " Pastoral and lyric poetry, odes and sonnets."

4. " Sonnets, songs, dirges, odes, madrigals."

5. " Lyrics and sonnets."

6. " Poems of nature, poems of reflection, or meditation,
love poems, melancholy poems."

7. " Love poems, nature poems, poems of life and soul."


by Google

Exposition 353

8. " Some of these poems are sonnets, some pastoral
poems, others are written about abstract subjects, still others
are written with a mournful or happy theme as their central

These instances illustrate the exceeding great difficulty of
rigidly logical classification. Indeed, any one, however skil-
ful, would be hard pressed to get a really good classification
of the poems in question. The truth is that logical, strictly
logical, classification is rarely possible in dealing with actual
products of the universe or the human intelligence. Shades
of difference in fact make impossible any minute classification
to which exception may not be taken. Even in scientific
work this impossibility is recognized. Is a thing a variety or
a species? Shall this object go into this class, or do its varia-
tions warrant its being in a separate class? The matter is
obviously of very little interest to the poems, the birds and the
flowers, but the general process is vastly important for the
satisfaction of the human intellect.

What actually happens in exposition is that, so far as may
be., the logical requirements of classification are carried out.
In good scientific work these are probably more exactly ob-
served than in human affairs, but that is because scientific
work demands more exactness and completeness in the state-
ment of the facts than is ordinarily possible or desirable in a
good deal of expository work. This point is noteworthy, —
that in any exposition you classify as fully as is necessary for
the occasion, from the point of view demanded by the circum-
stances and the audience; scientific work, or work of an
encyclopedic nature, being more interested in the complete
presentation of the facts, probably applies more exactly and
thoroughly what must be applied in any good exposition.

The point may be illustrated by certain examples, for this
shifting classification is of great importance in the structure of
exposition. A cook-book, for example, that very familiar
form of almost pure exposition, aims to tell how certain
processes, like the making of bread, are performed. Merely



by Google

354 English Composition and Style

enough is told for the purpose in hand, the transformation of
a certain quantity of flour and other ingredients into neat and
more or less airy loaves. Much of the essential knowledge
is assumed, as that the reader will know what a bread-pan is,
what flour, yeast, butter, and other ingredients are, and so
forth. But even with knowledge of these matters assumed,
the process will have to describe various successive acts, as
weighing the ingredients, mixing them, setting the dough, bak-
ing, etc. That is to say, there is an implied classification of
the phencHnena of making bread, based on the succession of
events, not on the nature of the materials or on an encyclopedic
manifesto of the matter. But it might happen that the
processes would differ with different kinds of flour, or with
different aerating agents. Hence the account of the process
would have to be repeated at such points as called for diflfer-
ent methods. The different kinds of flour would furnish a
main classification, the stages of the process a sub-classifica-
tion, the use of aerating agents a possible sub-sub-classifica-
tion. Or the division might first be made by the process, then
by the material, then by the agent ; or by the agent, the process,
and the material. In all events only such information as to
flour, yeast, ovens, etc., would be given as would enable the
reader to take in one of the various processes.

In the foregoing instance the purpose is fixed and practical ;
that determines the material and the arrangement. Supposing
the body of material to be more complicated, and the purpose
a more variable one. Evidently, classification might be pur-
sued in a variety of ways. Supposing that we are asked to
write on a number of games, to give certain information about
them, how shall we go to work? The games are, say, base-
ball, golf, tennis, croquet, football, billiards, polo, lacrosse,
hockey, and ping-pong, ten altogether. What shall one begin
with? All are evidently of physical rather than intellectual
interest, in which way they differ from chess, checkers, whist,
etc. Shall we arrange them in order of their popularity?
That would be possible if our title were, say " Popular games,"


by Google

Exposition 355

and in this case we should evidently confine our statement
to the facts and causes of popularity. But it is evident that
some of them are played in one season, some in another ; shall
we arrange them thus? If so, shall we begin with the spring
games or the fall games ? Again some are usually played out-
of-doors and some indoors. Would it be well to group them
thus? If so, what shall we begin with? Again some are
played almost exclusively by amateurs. Will this fact enable
us to make a satisfactory sliding scale? Probably football
is the most dangerous; shall we classify them according to
relative danger and begin with football? Perhaps the method
of scoring points might furnish a clue. Evidently, frcxn this
point of view, football, polo, lacrosse, hockey, go together,
since the end of the game in each case is to propel an object
between goal posts more times than your opponent ; whereas,
in tennis and ping-pong, which would go together, the case
is different. Other methods which need not be elaborated
here, prevail in the remaining games.

Without pursuing the illustration into detail, the fore-
going instance indicates what is true of all explanation, —
that, whereas, in complete and scientific work, classification
would be based on what is fundamental (in this instance, say on
the method of scoring), in more ordinary occasions the division
or the grouping would take into account the immediate pur-
poses. If the object were to tell a person what diversion he
might find at different seasons of the year among games calling
for physical dexterity, a division based on the seasons, the in-
door and outdoor possibilities of the various games would be i
propos. If, again, the information was asked for by a parent
wishing to know what games his son might safely play, a classi-
fication based on the comparative danger of the different games
might be more to the point. Again, the classification might
contemplate the pleasure of a spectator, and into the ensuing
arrangement a good deal of critical judgment might enter.
A strenuous person might prefer to classify the games accord-
ing to their alleged heroism-breeding qualities. In like man-


by Google

356 English Composition and Style

ner, diflfferent objects and different points of view would de-
termine the classification, which would, in all cases, be as
complete as necessary for the purpose in hand. The gist of
the matter is that, though there may be one best theoretical
way of making the classes, in practice these classes would be
varied to meet the occasion.

The same general principles hold good of the subdivisions
which would naturally be employed. Theoretically, a good
account of any one of the games would deal with all possible
general phenomena, — the number and functions of the players,
the instruments of each game, the operation, the rules, and
the penalties, and all material necessary to a complete under-
standing of die process. Such explanations are usually found
in books of sports. But for any immediate purpose the sub-
divisions might be quite different ; accessibility, expensiveness,
the relative deadliness of various implements might figure out
of scientific proportion, were the inquiry on which the exposi-
tion was based at all limited and localized.

It may be a matter of convenience to add that, roughly
speaking, the classification which variously groups the games
according to certain resemblances, is what, in logic, is called
the division of the subject. The act or process of treating
any one game or group of similar games according to the hn-
plements, etc., is called the partition. Thus, in a plainer in-
stance, the term man may be divided into various strains, or
stocks, or races, or nationalities, or types, or characters, recog-
nized as forming the genus homo. As a matter of partition,
the term man consists of various organs and members; or it
is an organism performing various functions ; or it is a being
with diverse traits of character, — according as the point of
view from which the information comes selects one set of
details rather than another. Those which are capable of most
exact statement are scientific in character, those of individual
interest are more likely to be literary in value. The terms
division and partition are, in ordinary exposition, not very


by Google

Exposition 357

important to remember; but since they are frequently used,
reference may be made to them.

The matter thus far treated may be made clearer by im-
agining the existence, — in books, in the mind of man, in daily
habits, in customs, in all kinds of acts, — of a vast and diverse
store of information, of which no two people know the same
amotmt in the same way. Constant exchanges of this infor-
mation go on between people; to the person seeking it it is
essentially unknown, in part or as a whole, and, for various
reasons, practical and scientific, he wishes to acquire more
information. Consequently, in any given case, he gets as
much as is suitable for his purposes or, if of a scholarly type
of mind, he gets all that he can on subjects that interest him.
This information cannot be conveyed whole ; it must go piece-
meal, and this piecemeal method is classification. The classi-
fication may be bad for various reasons, but, if it is practically
good or scientifically good, it will be unified, that is to say,
it will make known definitely what it is about.

This is all that there is to exposition as a theory. When-
ever you are giving information, whether by explaining terms,
describing processes, defining ideas, expounding theories, giv-
ing directions, uttering judgments, or what not, you do not try
to break the whole bundle of fagots at once, but you undo
it and break the sticks one at a time. Certain practical con-
siderations, however, make the further pursuit of the subject
of plan in exposition necessary at this point.

Order in exposition. Granted the proper and suitable divi-
sions or partitions of a subject, in what order shall they be
arranged? Our former study of general composition prob-
ably suggests that the material may be arranged in a variety
of ways. The examples from such admirable expounders as
Burke and Mr. Bryce failed to show any great inevitableness
in the sequence of topics. Certain suggestions may be made.

I. Since exposition deals with the unknown, under limita-
tions of time and place, it should theoretically follow that the


by Google

358 English Composition and Style

more familiar should precede the strange. The exposition
would proceed from the known, through the less known, to the
unknown. Such is the method pursued by Huxley in his
famous lecture On A Piece of Chalk, already referred to
(p. 71) ; Berkeley, in Siris, stirs up some of the then familiar
tar water with a stick, comments on the best method of mix-
ing it, discourses on its qualities, and finally emerges in some
general remarks on the universe ; Matthew Arnold, after nar-
rating some of the casual and obvious phenomena of the Celtic
revival, casts them aside to explain what the true, and here-
tofore unapprehended, value of Celtic literature really is.

2. The present account of order in exposition began with
the account of the preceding method simply because that
seemed to be perhaps the most general and characteristic order,
when. any order of breaking the sticks, save the haphazard
one, is chosen. The order here employed for treating the
topic of order in exposition dealt with what is possibly the
most general, characteristic, and natural order. A convenient
order in all explanations is not infrequently a general state-
ment, or a statement of the general idea at stake, followed
by details and illustrations, or of the general statement fol-
lowed by exceptions, particulars, and other matters of detail.
Newman is at pains in a passage already quoted (p. 243), to
explain formally what he means by a university before illus-
trating his idea. In like manner Mill (p. 71), tells us what
he means in general something about civil liberty and later
proceeds to tell what he means in detail. From what is most
common and characteristic, to what is least common, from
general conception to detail, from idea to illustration, from
general to particular, from statement to amplification,
from fundamental images or conceptions to details, — all these
formulas illustrate a possible general arrangement of matter
in exposition.

3. With exposition of processes, it is evidently most nat-
ural to follow an order of time. One thing is antecedent to
another; you cannot bake bread till you have mixed the in-


by Google

Exposition 359

gredients, you cannot mix the ingredients with happy results
till you have taken the appropriate amount of each. Shoes,
gunpowder, battleships, railway time-tables, are made in cer-
tain ways, and to get the best order, all that one has to do is
to recount the various stages as they appear. So, too, with
any exposition that moves over a series of events in time;
causes would naturally come before effects, but, for dramatic
purposes or for reasons of special emphasis, it is not infre-
quent to explain a situation and then revert to the antecedent
causes. The various stages of a struggle, as that between
labor and capital, or that between pitcher and batsman, may be
the best of ways to explain the history of labor legislation or
the growth of socialism, or the development of the national

4. A good deal of exposition is nothing more or less than
the explanation of words, terms and definitions. Where sev-
eral terms are concerned, as in definitions, the natural way is
to take them up seriatim, with emphasis on the more impor-
tant. Where one word or term is in need of explanation, the
original meaning may come first and the others in proper
order, or the commonest precede the less common, or the pres-
ent use the obsolescent meaning, and, in special cases, particu-
lar emphasis may be laid on odd uses of the term.

These illustrations and methods by no means exhaust the
possible arrangement in expository writing. That some order
should exist in every exposition is very important; that is
merely another way of saying that the exposition should have
coherence. As in almost all affairs, the simplest and most
direct way is the best. Whenever possible, a writer should
always take advantage of natural progressions in time, from
the known to the unknown, from cause to eflfect, from general
to particular, from principle to illustration; for such methods
are likely to be easier for writer and reader alike.

Method in exposition ; emphasis. In addition to what has
already been said about the plan of exposition as a means of
fostering unity and clearness, there exist certain devices for


by Google

360 English Composition and Style

heightening the emphasis, that is, of raising its clearness to the
maximum degree.

1. Of these the most evident and useful is a formal parti-
tion of the subject at the outset. That is to say, much by way

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 31 of 43)