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enable the reader to form an accurate image.)

+127. Selection of Essential Details.+ - After deciding upon a point of
view and such general characteristics as are essential to the forming of a
correct outline of the object to be described, we must next give our
attention to the selection of the details. If our description has been
properly begun, this general outline will not be changed, but each
succeeding phrase or sentence will add to the clearness and distinctness
of the picture. Our first impression of a house may include windows, but
the mention of them later will bring them out clearly on our mental
picture much as the details appear when one is developing a negative in

If the peculiarities of an object are such as to effect its general form,
they need to be stated in the opening sentence; but when the peculiar or
distinguishing characteristic does not affect the form, it may be
introduced later. If we say, "On the corner across the street from the
post office there is a large, two-story, red brick store," the reader can
form at once a general picture of such a store. Only those things which
give a general outline have been included. As yet nothing has been
mentioned to distinguish the store from any other similar one. If some
following sentence should be, "Though not wider, it yet presents a more
imposing appearance than its neighbors, because the door is placed at one
side, thus making room for a single wide display window instead of two
stuffy, narrow ones," a detail has been added which, though not changing
the general outline, makes the picture clearer and at the same time
emphasizes the distinguishing feature of this particular store.


1. Observe your neighbor's barn. What would you select as its
characteristic feature?

2. Take a rapid glance at some stranger whom you meet. What did you notice
most vividly?

3. In what respect does the Methodist church in your city differ from the
other church buildings?

4. Does your pet dog differ from others of the same breed in appearance?
In actions?

+Theme LV.+ - _Write a descriptive paragraph, using one of the following
subjects:_ -

1. A mountain view.
2. An omnibus.
3. A fort.
4. A lighthouse.
5. A Dutch windmill.
6. A bend in the river.
7. A peculiar structure.
8. The picture on this page.

(Underscore the sentence that pictures the details most essential to the
description. Consider the unity of your paragraph. Section 81.)


+128. Selection and Subordination of Minor Details.+ - In many descriptions
the minor details are wholly omitted, and in all descriptions many that
might have been included have been omitted. A proper number of such
details adds interest and clearness to the images; too many but serve to
render the whole obscure. If properly selected and effectively presented,
minor details add much to the beauty or usefulness of a description, but
if strung together in short sentences, the effect may be both tiresome and
confusing. A mere catalogue of facts is not a good description. They must
be arranged so that those which are the more important shall have the
greater prominence, while those of less importance shall be properly

Often minor details may be stated in a word or phrase inserted in the
sentence which gives the general view. Notice the italicized portion of
the following: "Opposite the church, _and partly screened by the scraggly
evergreens of a broad, unkempt lawn_, there is a large, octagonal, brick
house, with a conservatory on the left." This arrangement adds to the
general view and gives a better result than would be obtained by
describing the lawn in a separate sentence. Often a single adjective adds
some element to a description more effectively than can be done with a
whole sentence. Notice how much is added by the use of _scraggly_ and


Make a careful study of the following selections with reference to the way
in which the minor details are presented. Can any of them be improved by
re-arranging them?

1. At night, as I look from my windows over Kassim Pasha, I never tire of
that dull, soft coloring, green and brown, in which the brown of roofs and
walls is hardly more than a shading of the green of the trees. There is
the lonely curve of the hollow, with its small, square, flat houses of
wood; and above, a sharp line of blue-black cypresses on the spine of the
hill; then the long desert plain, with its sandy road, shutting in the
horizon. Mists thicken over the valley, and wipe out its colors before the
lights begin to glimmer out of it. Below, under my windows, are the
cypresses of the Little Field of the Dead, vast, motionless, different
every night. Last night each stood clear, tall, apart; to-night they
huddle together in the mist, and seem to shudder. The sunset was brief,
and the water has grown dull, like slate. Stamboul fades to a level mass
of smoky purple, out of which a few minarets rise black against a gray sky
with bands of orange fire. Last night, after a golden sunset, a fog of
rusty iron came down, and hung poised over the jagged level of the hill.
The whole mass of Stamboul was like black smoke; the water dim gray, a
little flushed, and then like pure light, lucid, transparent, every ship
and every boat sharply outlined in black on its surface; the boats seemed
to crawl like flies on a lighted pane.

- Arthur Symons: _Constantinople: An Impression_ ("Harper's").

2. The boy was advancing up the road, carrying a half-filled pail of milk.
He was a child of perhaps ten years, exceedingly frail and thin, with a
drawn, waxen face, and sick, colorless lips and ears. On his head he wore
a thick plush cap, and coarse, heavy shoes upon his feet. A faded coat,
too long in the arms, drooped from his shoulders, and long, loose overalls
of gray jeans broke and wrinkled about his slender ankles.

- George Kibbe Turner: _Across the State_ ("McClure's").

3. They met few people abroad, even on passing from the retired
neighborhood of the House of the Seven Gables into what was ordinarily the
more thronged and busier portion of the town. Glistening sidewalks, with
little pools of rain, here and there, along their unequal surface;
umbrellas displayed ostentatiously in the shop windows, as if the life of
trade had concentered itself in that one article; wet leaves of the
horse-chestnut or elm trees, torn off untimely by the blast, and scattered
along the public way; an unsightly accumulation of mud in the middle of
the street, which perversely grew the more unclean for its long and
laborious washing; - these were the more definable points of a very somber
picture. In the way of movement, and human life, there was the hasty
rattle of a cab or coach, its driver protected by a water-proof cap over
his head and shoulders; the forlorn figure of an old man, who seemed to
have crept out of some subterranean sewer, and was stooping along the
kennel, and poking the wet rubbish with a stick, in quest of rusty nails;
a merchant or two, at the door of the post office, together with an
editor, and a miscellaneous politician, awaiting a dilatory mail; a few
visages of retired sea captains at the window of an insurance office,
looking out vacantly at the vacant street, blaspheming at the weather, and
fretting at the dearth as well of public news as local gossip. What a
treasure trove to these venerable quidnuncs, could they have guessed the
secret which Hepzibah and Clifford were carrying along with them!

- Hawthorne: _The House of the Seven Gables_.

+Theme LVI.+ - _Write a description of one of the following:_ -

1. A steamboat.
2. An orchard.
3. A colonial mansion.
4. A wharf.
5. A stone quarry.
6. A shop.

(Consider what you have written with reference to the point of view,
fundamental image, and essential details. After these have been arranged
to suit you, notice the way in which the minor details have been
introduced. Have you given undue prominence to any? Can a single adjective
or phrase be substituted for a whole sentence? Think of the image which
your words will produce in the mind of the reader. Consider your theme
with reference to unity. Section 81.)

+129. Arrangement of Details.+ - The quality of a description depends as
much upon the arrangement of the material as upon the selection. Under
paragraph development we have discussed the necessity of arranging the
details with reference to their natural position in space (see Sections 47
and 86). Such an arrangement is the most desirable one and should be
departed from only with good reason. Such departures may, however, be
made, as shown in the following selection: -

A pretty picture the lad made as he lay there dreaming over his earthly
possessions - a pretty picture in the shade of the great elm, that sultry
morning of August, three quarters of a century ago. The presence of the
crutch showed there was something sad about it; and so there was; for if
you had glanced at the little bare brown foot, set toes upward on the
curbstone, you would have discovered that the fellow to it was missing -
cut off about two inches above the ankle. And if this had caused you to
throw a look of sympathy at his face, something yet sadder must long
have held your attention. Set jauntily on the back of his head was a
weather-beaten dark blue cloth cap, the patent leather frontlet of which
was gone; and beneath the ragged edge of this there fell down over his
forehead and temples and ears a tangled mass of soft yellow hair, slightly
curling. His eyes were large and of a blue to match the depths of a calm
sky above the treetops: the long lashes which curtained them were brown;
his lips were red, his nose delicate and fine, and his cheek tanned to the
color of ripe peaches. It was a singularly winning face, intelligent,
frank, not describable. On it now rested a smile, half joyous, half sad,
as though his mind was full of bright hopes, the realization of which was
far away. From the neck fell the wide collar of a white cotton shirt,
clean but frayed at the elbows, and open and buttonless down to his bosom.
Over this he wore an old-fashioned satin waistcoat of a man, also frayed
and buttonless. His dress was completed by a pair of baggy tow breeches,
held up by a single tow suspender fastened to big brown horn buttons.

- James Lane Allen: _Flute and Violin_.
(Copyright, 1892, Harper and Brothers.)

The details are not stated with reference to their natural position in
space, but they are given in the probable order of observation. If we were
to look upon such a boy, the crutch would attract our attention and would
lead us to look at once for the reason why a crutch was needed. The writer
skillfully uses the sympathy thus aroused as a means of transition to the
face. In the remainder of the description the natural position in space is
closely followed.

+Theme LVII.+-_Write a description of one of the following:_ -

1. The bayou.
2. Looking down the mountain.
3. Looking up the mountain.
4. The floorwalker.
5. An old-fashioned rig.
6. A house said to be haunted.
7. The deacon.

(Consider the arrangement of details with reference to their position in
space. Consider your paragraphs with reference to coherence and emphasis.
Sections 82 and 83.)

+130. Effectiveness in Description.+ - Every part of a description should
aid in rendering it effective, and this effectiveness is as much
the purpose of the principles previously discussed as it is of those
which follow. This paragraph is inserted here to separate more or less
definitely those things which can be done under direction from those which
cannot be determined by rule. Up to this point emphasis has been laid upon
the clear presentation of a mental image as the object of description.
But the clear presentation of mental images is not all there is to
description. A point of view, a fundamental image, a judicious selection
of essential and minor details and the relating of them with reference to
their natural position in space, may set forth an image clearly and yet
fail to be satisfactory as a description.

For the practical affairs of life it may be sufficient to limit ourselves
to clear images set forth barely and sparely, but there is a pleasure
and a profit in using the subtler arts of language, in placing a word
here or a phrase there that shall give a touch of beauty or a flash of
suggestiveness and so save our descriptions from the commonplace. It is to
these less easily demonstrated methods of giving strength and beauty that
we wish now to turn our attention.

+131. Word Selection.+ - The effectiveness of our description will depend
largely upon our right choice of words. If our range of vocabulary is
limited, the possibility of effective description is correspondingly
limited. Only when our working vocabulary contains many words may we hope
to choose with ease the one most suitable for the effective expression of
the idea we wish to convey. To prepare a list of words that may apply and
then attempt to write a theme that shall make use of them is a mechanical
process of little value. The idea we wish to express should call up the
word that exactly expresses it. If our ideas are not clear or our
vocabulary is limited, we may be satisfied with the trite and commonplace;
but if our experience has been broad or our reading extended, we may have
at command the word which, because it is just the right one, gives
individuality and force to our phrasing. Every one is familiar with dogs,
and has in his vocabulary many words which he applies to them, but a
reading of one or two good dog stories, such as _Bob, Son of Battle_, or
_The Call of the Wild_, will show how wide is the range of such words and
how much the description is enhanced by their careful use.


Consider the following selections with reference to the choice of words
which add to the effectiveness of the descriptions: -

1. She was a little, brown, thin, almost skinny woman with big, rolling,
violet-blue eyes and the sweetest manners in the world.

2. The sounds and the straits and the sea with its plump, sleepy islands
lay north and east and south.

3. The mists of the Cuchullins are not fat, dull, and still, like lowland
and inland mists, but haggard, and streaming from the black peaks, and
full of gusty lines. We saw them first from the top of Beimna-Caillach, a
red, round-headed mountain hard by Bradford, in the isle of Skye.

Shortly after noon the rain came up from the sea and drew long delicate
gray lines against the cliffs. It came up licking and lisping over the
surface of Cornisk, and drove us to the lee of rocks and the shelter of
our ponchos, to watch the mists drifting, to listen to the swell and lull
of the wind and the patter of the cold rain. There were glimpses now and
then of the inner Cuchullins, a fragment of ragged sky line, the sudden
jab of a black pinnacle through the mist, the open mouth of a gorge
steaming with mist.

We climbed the great ridge, at length, of rock and wet heath that
separates Cornisk from Glen Sligachan, slowly through the fitful rain and
driving cloud, and saw Sgurr-nan-Gillian, sharp, black, and pitiless, the
northernmost peak and sentinel of the Cuchullins. The yellow trail could
be seen twisting along the flat, empty glen. Seven miles away was a white
spot, the Sligachan Hotel.

I think it must be the dreariest glen in Scotland. The trail twists in a
futile manner, and, after all, is mainly bog holes and rolling rocks. The
Red Hills are on the right, rusty, reddish, of the color of dried blood,
and gashed with sliding bowlders. Their heads seem beaten down, a Helot
population, and the Cuchullins stand back like an army of iron conquerors.
The Red Hills will be a vanished race one day, and the Cuchullins remain.

Arthur Colton: _The Mists o' Skye_ ("Harper's").

+132. Additional Aids to Effectiveness.+ - Comparison and figures of speech
not only aid in making our picture clear and vivid, but they may add
a spice and flavor to our language, which counts for much in the
effectiveness and beauty of our description. Notice the following
descriptions: -

He was a mongoose, rather like a little cat in his fur and his tail, but
quite like a weasel in his head and his habits. His eyes and the end of
his restless nose were pink; he could scratch himself anywhere he pleased,
with any leg, front or back, that he chose to use; he could fluff up his
tail till it looked like a bottle brush, and his war cry as he scuttled
through the long grass was Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tikk.

- Kipling: _Jungle Book_.

Ichabod was a suitable figure for such a steed. He rode with short
stirrups, which brought his knees nearly up to the pommel of his saddle;
his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers' legs; he carried his whip
perpendicularly in his hand, like a scepter, and, as his horse jogged on,
the motion of his arms was not unlike the flapping of a pair of wings. A
small wool hat rested on the top of his nose, for so his scanty strip of
forehead might be called; and the skirts of his black coat fluttered out
almost to the horse's tail. Such was the appearance of Ichabod and his
steed, as they shambled out of the gate of Hans Van Ripper, and it was
altogether such an apparition as is seldom to be met with in broad

- Irving: _Legend of Sleepy Hollow_.

+Theme LVIII.+ - _Write a description of one of the following:_ -

1. My cat.
2. The pony at the farm.
3. The glen.
4. The prairie.
5. The milldam.
6. The motorman.
7. The picture on this page.


(Consider the effectiveness of your description. Can you improve your
choice of words? Have you used comparisons or figures, and if so, do they
improve your description? Consider your theme with reference to euphony.
Section 16.)

+133. Classes of Objects Frequently Described.+ - There is no limit to the
things that we may wish to describe, but there are certain general classes
of objects that are described more frequently than others. We have greater
occasion to describe men or places than we have to describe pictures or
trees. A person may be an accurate observer having a large vocabulary
applicable to one class of objects, and thus be able to describe objects
of that class clearly and effectively; though at the same time, on account
of limited experience and small vocabulary, he cannot well describe
objects belonging to some other class. The ability to observe accurately
the classes of objects named below, and to appreciate descriptions of such
objects when made by others, is a desirable acquisition. Every effort
should be made to master as many as possible of the words applicable to
each class of objects. A slight investigation will show how great is the
number of such words with which we are unfamiliar.

1. _Descriptions of buildings or portions of buildings._

In most buildings the basement story is heaviest, and each succeeding
story increases in lightness; in the Ducal palace this is reversed, making
it unique amongst buildings. The outer walls rest upon the pillars of open
colonnades, which have a more stumpy appearance than was intended, owing
to the raising of the pavement in the piazza. They had, however, no base,
but were supported by a continuous stylobate. The chief decorations of the
palace were employed upon the capitals of these thirty-six pillars, and it
was felt that the peculiar prominence and importance given to its angles
rendered it necessary that they should be enriched and softened by
sculpture, which is interesting and often most beautiful. The throned
figure of Venice above bears a scroll inscribed: _Fortis, justa, trono
furias, mare sub pede, pono_. (Strong and just, I put the furies beneath
my throne, and the sea beneath my foot.) One of the corners of the palace
joined the irregular buildings connected with St. Mark's, and is not
generally seen. There remained, therefore, only three angles to be
decorated. The first main sculpture may be called the "Fig-tree angle,"
and its subject is the "Fall of Man." The second is "the Vine angle," and
represents the "Drunkenness of Noah." The third sculpture is "the Judgment
angle," and portrays the "Judgment of Solomon."

- Hare: _Venice_.

+Theme LIX.+ - _Write a description of the exterior of some building._

+Theme LX.+ - _Write a description of some room._

+Theme LXI.+ - _Write a description of some portion of a building, such as
an entrance, spire, window, or stairway._

(Consider each description with reference to -
_a._ Point of view.
_b._ Fundamental image.
_c._ Selection of essential details.
_d._ Selection and subordination of minor details.
_e._ Arrangement of details with reference to their natural positions in
_f._ Effective choice of words and comparisons.)

2. _Natural features: valleys, rivers, mountains, etc._

Beyond the great prairies and in the shadow of the Rockies lie
the Foothills. For nine hundred miles the prairies spread themselves
out in vast level reaches, and then begin to climb over softly
rounded mounds that ever grow higher and sharper, till here and
there, they break into jagged points and at last rest upon the great
bases of the mighty mountains. These rounded hills that join the
prairies to the mountains form the Foothill Country. They extend
for about a hundred miles only, but no other hundred miles of the
great West are so full of interest and romance. The natural features
of the country combine the beauties of prairie and of mountain
scenery. There are valleys so wide that the farther side melts into
the horizon, and uplands so vast as to suggest the unbroken prairie.
Nearer the mountains the valleys dip deep and ever deeper till they
narrow into canyons through which mountain torrents pour their
blue-gray waters from glaciers that lie glistening between the white
peaks far away.

- Connor: _The Sky Pilot_.

Long lines of cliff breaking have left a chasm;
And in the chasm are foam and yellow sands;
Beyond, red roofs about a narrow wharf
In cluster; then a molder'd church; and higher
A long street climbs to one tall tower'd mill;
And high in heaven behind it a gray down
With Danish barrows, and a hazelwood,
By autumn nutters haunted, flourishes
Green in a cuplike hollow of the down.

- Tennyson: _Enoch Arden_.

+Theme LXII.+ - _Write a description of some valley, mountain, field,
woods, or prairie._

+Theme LXIII.+ - _Write a description of some stream, pond, lake, dam, or

(Consider especially your choice of words.)

3. _Sounds or the use of sounds._

And the noise of Niagara? Alarming things have been said about it, but
they are not true. It is a great and mighty noise, but it is not, as
Hennepin thought, an "outrageous noise." It is not a roar. It does not
drown the voice or stun the ear. Even at the actual foot of the falls it
is not oppressive. It is much less rough than the sound of heavy surf -
steadier, more homogeneous, less metallic, very deep and strong, yet
mellow and soft; soft, I mean, in its quality. As to the noise of the
rapids, there is none more musical. It is neither rumbling nor sharp. It
is clear, plangent, silvery. It is so like the voice of a steep brook -
much magnified, but not made coarser or more harsh - that, after we have
known it, each liquid call from a forest hillside will seem, like the odor
of grapevines, a greeting from Niagara. It is an inspiriting, an
exhilarating sound, like freshness, coolness, vitality itself made
audible. And yet it is a lulling sound. When we have looked out upon the
American rapids for many days, it is hard to remember contented life amid
motionless surroundings; and so, when we have slept beside them for many
nights, it is hard to think of happy sleep in an empty silence.

- Mrs. Van Rensselaer: _Niagara_ ("Century").

Yell'd on the view the opening pack;
Rock, glen, and cavern, paid them back;
To many a mingled sound at once
The awaken'd mountain gave response.
A hundred dogs bay'd deep and strong,
Clatter'd a hundred steeds along,
Their peal the merry horns rung out,
A hundred voices join'd the shout;
With hark, and whoop, and wild halloo,
No rest Benvoirlich's echoes knew.
Far from the tumult fled the roe,
Close in her covert cower'd the doe;
The falcon, from her cairn on high,
Cast on the rout a wondering eye,
Till far beyond her piercing ken
The hurricane had swept the glen.
Faint, and more faint, its failing din
Return'd from cavern, cliff, and linn,

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