W. T. (William Tenney) Brewster.

English composition and style; a handbook for college students online

. (page 9 of 43)
Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 9 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ing effects is repeated in more categorical terms. The pas-
sage may bfc quoted entire.

And now I wish that the reader, before I bring him into St
Mark's Place, would imagine himself for a little time in a quiet
English cathedral town, and walk with me to the west front of its
cathedral. Let us go together up the more retired street, at the
end of which we can see the pinnacles of one of the towers, and
then through the low gray gateway, with its battlemented top and
small latticed window in the center, into the inner private-looking
road or close, where nothing goes in but the carts of the trades-
men who supply the bishop and the chapter, and where there are
little shaven grassplots, fenced in by neat rails, before old-fash-
ioned groups of somewhat diminutive and excessively trim houses,
with little oriel and bay windows jutting out here and there, and
deep wooden cornices and eaves painted cream color and white,
and small porches to their doors in the shape of cockle-shells, or
little, crooked, thick, indescribable, wooden gables warped a little
on one side; and so forward till we come to larger houses, also
old-fashioned, but of red brick, and with gardens behind them, and
fruit walls, which show here and there, among the nectarines, the
vestiges of an old cloister arch or shaft, and looking in front on
the cathedral square itself, laid out in rigid divisions of smooth
grass and gravel walk, yet not uncheerful, especially on the sunny
side where the canon's children are walking with their nursery-
maids. And so, taking care not to tread on the grass, we will go
along the straight walk to the west front, and there stand for a
time, looking up at its deep-pointed porches and the dark places
between their pillars, where there were statues once, and where


by Google

Paragraphs 99

the fragments, here and there, of a stately figure are still left,
which has in it the likeness of a king, perhaps indeed a king on
earth, perhaps a saintly king long ago in heaven; and so higher
and higher up to the great moldering wall of rugged sculpture
and confused arcades, shattered, and gray, and grisly with heads
of dragons and mocking fiends, worn by the rain and swirling
winds into yet unseemlier shape, and colored on their stony scales
by the deep russet-orange lichen, melancholy gold; and so, higher
still, to the bleak towers, so far above that the eye loses itself
among the bosses of their traceries, though they are rude and
strong, and only sees like a drift of eddying black points, now
closing, now scattering, and now settling suddenly into invisible
places among the bosses and flowers, the crowd of restless birds
that fill the whole square with that strange clangor of theirs, so
harsh and yet so soothing, like the cries of birds on a solitary
coast between the cliffs and sea.

Think for a little while of that scene, and the meaning of all
its small formalisms, mixed with its serene sublimity. Estimate
its secluded, continuous, drowsy felicities, and its evidence of the
sense and steady performance of such kind of duties as can be
regulated by the cathedral clock; and weigh the influence of those
dark towers on all who have passed through the lonely square at
their feet for centuries, and on all who ,have seen them rising
far away over the w6oded plain, or catching on their square masses
the last rays of the sunset, when the city at their feet was in-
dicated only by the mist at the bend of the river. And then let us
quickly recollect that we are in Venice, and land at the extremity
of the Calle Lunga San Moise, which may be considered as there
answering to the secluded street that led us to our English cathe-
dral gateway.

We find ourselves in a paved alley, some seven feet wide where
it is widest, full of people, and resonant with cries of itinerant
salesmen, — a shriek in their beginning, and dying away into a kind
of brazen ringing, all the worse for its confinement between the
high houses of the passage along which we have to make our way.
Overhead an inextricable confusion of rugged shutters, and iron
balconies and chimney flues pushed out on brackets to save room,
and arched windows with projecting sills of Istrian stone, and
gleams of green leaves here and there where a fig-tree branch
escapes over a lower wall from some inner cortile, leading the eye


by Google

ICX) English Composition and Style

up to the narrow stream of blue sky high over all. On each side
a row of shops, as densely set as may be, occupying, in fact, inter-
vals between the square stone shafts, about eight feet high which
carry the first floors: intervals of which one is narrow and serves
as a door; the other is, in the more respectable shops, wainscoted
to the height of the counter and glazed above, but in those of the
poorer tradesmen left open to the* ground, and the wares laid on
benches and tables in the open air, the light in all cases entering
at the front only, and fading away in a few feet from the threshold
into a gloom which the eye from without cannot penetrate, but
which is generally broken by a ray or two from a feeble lamp at
the back of the shop, suspended before a print of the Virgin. The
less pious shopkeeper sometimes leaves his lamp unlighted, and is
contented with a penny print ; the more religious one has his print
colored and set in a little shrine with a gilded or figured fringe,
with perhaps a faded flower or two on each side, and his lamp
burning brilliantly. Here at the fruiterer's, where the dark green
water-melons are heaped upon the counter like cannon-balls, the
Madonna has a tabernacle of fresh laurel leaves ; but the pewterer
next door has let his lamp out, and there is nothing to be seen in
his shop but the dull gleam of the studded patterns on the cop-
per pans, hanging from his roof in the darkness. Next comes a
"Vendita Frittole e Liquori," where the Virgin, enthroned in a
very humble manner beside a tallow candle on a back shelf, pre-
sides over certain ambrosial morsels of a nature too ambiguous to
be defined or enumerated. But a few steps farther on, at the
regular wine-shop of the calle, where we are offered " Vino Nos-
trani a Soldi 28.32," the Madonna is in great glory, enthroned
above ten or a dozen large red casks of three-year-old vintage, and
flanked by goodly ranks of bottles of Maraschino, and two crimson
lamps; and for the evening, when the gondoliers will come to
drink out, under her auspices, the money they have gained during
the day, she will have a whole chandelier.

A yard or two farther, we pass the hostelry of the Black Eagle,
and glancing as we pass through the square door of marble,
deeply molded in the outer wall, we see the shadows of its
pergola of vines resting on an ancient well, with a pointed shield
carved on its side; and so presently emerge on the bridge and
Campo San Mois^, whence to the entrance into St. Mark's Place,
called the Bocca di Piazza (mouth of the square), the Venetian


by Google

Paragraphs lOi

character is nearly destroyed, first by the frightful faqade of San
Moise, which we will pause at another time to examine, and then
by the modernizing of the shops as they near the piazza, and the
mingling with the lower Venetian populace of lounging groups of
English and Austrians. We will push fast through them into the
shadow of the pillars at the end of the " Bocca di Piazza," and
then we forget them all; for between those pillars there opens a
great light, and, in the midst of it, as we advance slowly, the vast
tower of St. Mark seems to lift itself visibly forth from the level
field of chequered stones; and, on each side, the countless arches
prolong themselves into ranged symmetry, as if the rugged and
irregular houses that pressed together above us in .the dark alley
had beem struck back into sudden obedience and lovely order, and
all their rude casements and broken walls had been transformed
into arches charged with goodly sculpture, and fluted shafts of
delicate stone.

And well may they fall back, for beyond those troops of ordered
arches there rises a vision out of the earth, and all the great
square seems to have opened from it in a kind of awe, that we
may see it far away — a multitude of pillars and white domes,
clustered into a long, low pyramid of colored light; a treasure-
heap, it seems, partly of gold, and partly of opal and mother-of-
pearl, hollowed beneath into five great vaulted porches, ceiled
with fair mosaic, and beset with sculpture of alabaster, clear as
amber and delicate as ivory, — sculpture fantastic and involved,
of palm leaves and lilies, and grapes and pomegranates, and birds
clinging and fluttering among the branches, all twined together
into an endless network of buds and plumes; and, in the midst
of it, the solemn forms of angels, sceptered, and robed to the feet,
and leaning to each other across the gates, their figures indistinct
among the gleaming of the golden ground through the leaves
beside them, interrupted and dim, like the morning light as it
faded back among the branches, of Eden, when first its gates were
angel-guarded long ago. And round the walls of the porches
there are set pillars of variegated stones, jasper and porphyry, and
deep green serpentine spotted with flakes of snow, and marbles
that half refuse and half yield to the sunshine, Cleopatra-like,
"their bluest veins to kiss" — the shadow, as it steals back from
them, revealing line after line of azure undulation, as a receding
tide leaves the waved sand; their capitals rich with interwoven


by Google

102 English Composition and Style

tracery, rooted knots of herbage, and drifting leaves of acanthus
and vine, and mystical signs, all beginning and ending in the
Cross; and above them, in the broad archivolts, a continuous
chain of language and of life — angels, and the signs of heaven,
and the labors of men, each in its appointed season upon the
earth; and above these, another range of glittering pinnacles,
mixed with white arches edged with scarlet flowers, — a confusion
of delight, amidst which the breasts of the Greek horses are seen
blazing in their breadth of golden strength, and the St. Mark's
Lion, lifted on a blue field covered with stars, until at last, as if in
ecstasy, the crests of the arches break into a marble foam, and
toss themselves far into the blue sky in flashes and wreaths of
sculptured spray, as if the breakers on the Lido shore had been
frost-bound before they fell, and the sea-nymphs had inlaid them
with coral and amethyst.

Between that grim cathedral of England and this, what an inter-
val! There is a type of it in the very birds that haunt them;
for, instead of the restless crowd, hoarse-voiced and sable-winged,
drifting on the bleak upper air, the St. Mark's porches are full of
doves, that nestle among the marble foliage, and mingle the soft
iridescence of their living plumes, changing at every motion, with
the tints, hardly less lovely, that have stood unchanged for seven
hundred years.

2. Paragraph transitions. Paragraphs, assumed originally
to be more or less natural breaks in a subject, may be used
so as to give a pleasing variety, to indicate the connection of
one paragraph with another, and to anticipate the contents
of the paragraph. How to get from one paragraph to another
is an important matter. It depends somewhat on the kind
of composition that happens to be in use, and the best way
of studying it is, as usual, to examine many excellent pieces.
The simplest is possibly the method employed by Mr. Bryce
in the preceding illustrations. Burke also goes from one para-
graph to another in the same way, logically, that is, for he
varies his wording considerably more than does Mr. Bryce
in the selection referred to or in the even better example from
the chapter (80) " National Characteristics as Moulding
Public Opinion " in the American Commonwealth, In the


by Google

Paragraphs 103

example from Froude (p. 95) the transitions, which are
pretty plain, are effected by a variety of matter-of-fact state-
ments, the first referring to the pleasure of the reader, the
second to the character of Drake, the third to the next event
on Drake's program, the last to the general effect on dip-
lomacy of Drake's doings. The only tail which ends the
paragraph in any particular way, — which does anything else
than stop, — is that of the second paragraph, "At length
they offered twenty-five thousand ducats, which the English
accepted and departed." It is, of course, impossible to make
any general classification of the ways in which a writer may
go from one paragraph to another. The variety is so endless
that the only counsel to offer is the oft-repeated advice to read
good paragraphs; the student should be on the lookout for
explicit statements of change of subject or point of view,
for reference to matters that have gone before, for the " mean-
whiles," " furthermores," " agains," and all such words as
imply a continuation or a change.

Indeed, the student should be on his guard against finding
transitions in all writing. Sometimes there are none, as for
example in those paragraphs which, like Ruskin's on the
Roman Campagna, can be segregated bodily. Here is an ex-
ample from a writer of very close technic. It is wholly with-
out transition; the paragraphs simply follow each other in
an order that it would be difficult to better. The second
paragraph and the first might have been united had the author
so wished:

The thousand injuries of Fortunate I had borne as I best could;
but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so
well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that
I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this
was a point definitely settled — but the very definitiveness with
which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only
punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when
retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when
the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done
the wrong.


by Google

104 English Composition and Style

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I
given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will I continued, as
was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that
my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.

He Hud a weak point — this Fortunato — although in other
regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He
prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have
the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is
adopted to suit the time and opportunity to practise imposture
upon the British and Austrian millionnaires. In painting and
gemmary Fortunato, like his countr)rmen, was a quack, but in the
matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not
differ from him materially; I was skilful in the Italian vintages
myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness
of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted
me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The
man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting party-striped dress,
and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I
was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never have
done wringing his hand.

I said to him: "My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met
How remarkably well you are looking to-day! But I have re-
ceived a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my
doubts." 1

Introductory paragraphs and concluding paragraphs are, in
a sense, paragraphs of transition, in that they serve to lead from
the surrounding atmosphere of fact and ideas to a definite
subject or bring it to a fitting close. This matter has already
been sufficiently treated, (pp. 69-76 and p. 77), but a student
would do well to note in particular the way in which an author
gets from his introduction to the paragraph in which his sub-
ject may be said really to begin. Note the wording or the
connective sentences of any of the preceding passages.

There are also to be observed many paragraphs which do
no more than pass the subject along, from principle to prin-
ciple or from principle to illustration. The second paragraph

1 Poe: The Cask of Amontillado,


by Google

Paragraphs 105

in the description of St. Mark's already quoted, illustrates
this, just as the last paragraph enforces the conclusion. Here
is a purely transition paragraph:

The principle on which I have been insisting is so obvious, and
instances in point are so ready, that I shotild think it tiresome to
proceed with the subject, except that one or two illustrations may
serve to explain my own language about it, which may not have
done justice to the doctrine which it has been intended to enforce.*

.The matter of the transition from paragraph to paragraph
depends also on the arrangement of ideas, and facts, — that
is, of sentences, — in a paragraph. This subject will now be

3. The arrangement and movement of ideas in a paragraph.
One has to say both " arrangement " and " movement," because
the former is most applicable to explanatory matter, the latter
to facts arranged in the order of time. As in all matters
connected with paragraphing and composition there is here a
very great opportunity for the exercise of discretion and per-
sonal preference. Now individual paragraphs may, at one
extreme, be loosely arranged, as is the case with most of
Emerson's paragraphs, or very closely arranged, as, say, with
Arnold, at the other extreme, and still, in all cases, be respect-
able and presentable paragraphs. As a matter of fact, there
are precious few paragraphs which could not be completely
shifted as to much of their internal structure and still be sub-
stantially as good and, in arrangement, as clear. Steven-
son's remarks, " We must not wonder, then, if perfect sentences
are rare and perfect pages rarer," • might also apply to para-
graphs. The following paragraph, which might be part of a
longer composition or be quite independent, illustrates this
truth. One may, according to his political persuasion, doubt
the logic of the conclusion, but there can be no doubt that
the paragraph is clearly arranged:

* Newman: The Rise and Progress of Universities.

' On Style in Literature. In the Contemporary Review, April, 1885.


by Google

io6 English Composition and Style

Our achievements since the close of the Spanish War, in Cuba,
in Porto Rico, and in the Philippines, have not only quickened
our moral sense and raised our repute among nations; they have
added to our commercial advantage as well. We, as a nation,
are more prosperous to-day than ever before. We have joined
ten millions of people to our domains, and our population has
grown with astonishing rapidity. Our agriculture is augmented,
our manufactures are multiplied, our commerce courses over every
sea. Only a few days ago, for example, one of our financiers
made the world wonder at the magnificence of his maritime or-
ganization; yet this fact need not cause us to forget that thou-
sands of hammers are every hour resounding in our shipyards,
piecing together the plates of our merchant and war-vessels. To
multiply examples were, however, needless. Surely the behison
of heaven rests upon the wise and patriotic policy of the party now
. so fortunately and auspiciously in control of the reins of the

Structurally, this paragraph is nothing more than an illustra-
tion, by examples of a pretty general sort, of the prosperity of
America; its unity can be seen by the ease with which the
idea can be summarized in a single sentence : " Many facts
go to show that the achievements of the party at present in
power have not only raised our moral sense but also have
greatly enhanced our commercial prosperity.*' Incidentally, it
may be remarked that if expository paragraphs can be sum-
marized in one sentence the unity is likely to be good.

It is evident, however, that the foregoing paragraph could
have been made differently and have been equally good. For
example, the summary sentence just phrased might have stood
at the head of the paragraph and the illustrations have followed.
Or again, the order of the illustrations might have been
changed with no detriment to the coherence. Or again, the
summary sentence could have stood at the end, with this simple
change, which will explain the preceding matter in the para-
graphs : " All these facts go to show that the achievements
of the party," etc. Or the state of our morals and commerce


by Google

Paragraphs 107

before the Spanish War could have been thrown into con-
trast with what they arc to-day, as for example :

Before the Spanish War, our business was lagging and yet we
were consumed with an almost national selfishness. Where are
we to-day? We are more prosperous to-day than ever before.
Our sense of morals is quickened and we have been rewarded by
an unparalleled commercial prosperity, etc.

Here follows another excellent paragraph, of a narrative
kind. It contains a statement of some of the sensations and
perceptions that the author had when he woke in the night.
He obviously had to wake or he would not have had the sen-
sations, and therefore the statement of that fact comes first.
But the paragraph would have been equally good if he had
not become aware of his thirst till later in the paragraph,
and he manifestly might have seen the Milky Way after his
eye had lighted on the munching Modestine. The paragraph
would have been equally good if arranged in many other ways.
This happens to be the way that Stevenson wrote it : *

When that hour came to me among the pines, I wakened thirsty.
My tin was standing by me half full of water. I emptied it at
a draught; and feeling broad awake after this internal cold as-
persion, sat upright to make a cigarette. The stars were clear,
colored, and jewel-like, but not frosty. A faint silvery vapor
stood for the Milky Way. All around me the black fir-points stood
upright and stock-still. By the whiteness of the pack-saddle I
could see Modestine walking round and round at the length of
her tether; I could hear her steadily munching at the sward;
but there was not another sound, save the indescribable quiet talk
of the runnel over the stones. I lay lazily smoking and studying
the color of the sky, as we call the void of space, from where it
showed a reddish gray behind the pines to where it showed a
glossy blue-black between the stars. As if to be more like a
peddler, I wear a silver ring. This I could see faintly shining as
I raised or lowered the cigarette; and at each whiff the inside
of my hand was illuminated, and became for a second the highest
light in the landscape.

* Travels with a Donkey.


by Google

lo8 English Composition and Style

In both these examples one thing is evident, there is order,
or to put the matter more truly, — though the arrangement
might in each case have been vastly different, it is evident
that nothing seems to be out of order, unless, to Democratic
ears, the concluding sentence of the first example should
seem to be so. Possibly better arrangements might be devised
but, as a matter of fact, " inevitable " paragraphs are, in litera-
ture, pretty scarce, and whereas there are many good para-
graphs, few seem to be peculiarly skilful.

Latterly, however, in the study of rhetoric certain types
of paragraph have been analyzed as excellent things to know,
and since these assuredly have their value as objects of study
we shall explain some of them, and add comments on their
value :

a. The paragraph with a topic sentence. Here an intro-
ductory sentence states the subject of the paragraph. Ma-
caulay gives us the best illustrations of this method at its
greatest brilliancy and there is no better example than the oft-
quoted paragraph from the essay on Warren Hastings :

The place was worthy of such a trial. It was the great hall
of William Rufus, the hall that had resounded with acclamations
at the inauguration of thirty kings, the hall that had witnessed
the just sentence of Bacon, and the just absolution of Somers,
the hall where the eloquence of Strafford had for a moment awed
and melted a victorious party inflamed with a just resentment, the
hall where Charles had confronted the High Court of Justice with
the placid courage which has half redeemed his fame. Neither

Online LibraryW. T. (William Tenney) BrewsterEnglish composition and style; a handbook for college students → online text (page 9 of 43)