Stratton D. Brooks.

Composition-Rhetoric online

. (page 5 of 32)
Online LibraryStratton D. BrooksComposition-Rhetoric → online text (page 5 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


understand the relation in thought that each sentence bears to the others.
Notice the two sentences: "Guns are dangerous. Boys should not use them."
Though the last sentence is independent, it gets its meaning from the
first.

In the following selection consider each sentence apart from the others.
Notice that the meaning of the whole becomes intelligible only when the
sentences are considered in their relations to each other.


Once upon a time, a notion was started, that if all the people in the
world would shout at once, it might be heard in the moon. So the
projectors agreed it should be done in just ten years. Some thousand
shiploads of chronometers were distributed to the selectmen and other
great folks of all the different nations. For a year beforehand, nothing
else was talked about but the awful noise that was to be made on the great
occasion. When the time came, everybody had his ears so wide open, to hear
the universal ejaculation of Boo, - the word agreed upon, - that nobody
spoke except a deaf man in one of the Fiji Islands, and a woman in Pekin,
so that the world was never so still since the creation. - Holmes.


Gutenberg did a great deal of his work in secret, for he thought it was
much better that his neighbors should know nothing of what he was doing.
So he looked for a workshop where no one would be likely to find him. He
was now living in Strasburg, and there was in that city a ruined old
building where, long before his time, a number of monks had lived. There
was one room in the building which needed only a little repairing to make
it fit to be used. So he got the right to repair the room and use it as
his workshop.


In all good writing we find a similar dependence in thought. Each sentence
takes a meaning because of its relation to some other. The personal
pronouns and pronominal adjectives, adverbial phrases indicating time or
place, conjunctions, and such expressions as _certainly, however, on the
other hand_, etc., are used to indicate more or less directly a relation
in thought between the phrase or sentence in which they occur and some
preceding one. If the reader cannot readily determine to what they refer,
the meaning becomes obscure or ambiguous. The pronominal adjectives and
the personal pronouns are especially likely to be used in such a way as to
cause ambiguity. Care must be taken to use them so as to keep the meaning
clear, and your own good sense will help you in this more than rules.
Notice in your reading how frequently expressions similar to those
mentioned above are used.


+Theme XVII.+ - _Write a theme suggested by one of the following
subjects:_ -

1. The last quarter.
2. An excursion with the physical geography class.
3. What I saw while riding to town.
4. The broken bicycle.
5. An hour in the study hall.
6. Seen from my study window.

(Are your sentences so arranged that the relation in thought is clear? Are
the personal pronouns and pronominal adjectives used so as to avoid
ambiguity? Does your story relate real events or imaginary ones? If
imaginary events are related, have you made them seem probable?)


+37. Getting the Main Thought.+ - In many cases the relation in thought is
not directly indicated, and we are left to determine it from the context,
just as we decide upon the meaning of a word because of what precedes or
follows it. In this case the meaning of a particular sentence may be made
clear if we have in mind the main topic under discussion. Many pupils fail
in recitations because they do not distinguish that which is more
important from that which is less so. If a dozen pages of history are
assigned, they cannot master the lesson because it is too long to be
memorized, and they are not able to select the three or four things of
importance with which it is really concerned. Thirty or forty minor
details are jumbled together without any clear knowledge of the relations
that they bear either to one another or to the main thoughts of the
lesson.

In the following selection but three things are discussed. Determine what
they are, but not what is said about them.


In all the ages the extent and value of flood plains have been increased
by artificial means. Dikes or levees are built to regulate the spread and
flow of the water and to protect the land from destructive floods. Dams
and reservoirs are constructed for the storage of water, which is led by a
system of canals and ditches to irrigate large tracts of land which would
be otherwise worthless. By means of irrigation, the farmer has control of
his water supply and is able to get larger returns than are possible where
he depends upon the irregular and uncertain rainfall. It is estimated that
in the arid regions of western United States there are 150,000 square
miles of land which may be made available for agriculture by irrigation.
Perhaps in the future the valley of the lower Colorado may become as
productive as that of the Nile.

Streams are the easiest routes of travel and commerce. A river usually
furnishes from its mouth well up toward its source a smooth, graded
highway, upon which a cargo may be transported with much less effort than
overland. If obstructions occur in the form of rapids or falls, boat and
cargo are carried around them. It is often easy to pass by a short portage
or "carry" from one stream system across the divide to another. In regions
which are not very level the easiest grades in every direction are found
along the streams, and the main routes of land travel follow the stream
valleys. In traversing a mountainous region, a railroad follows the
windings of some river up to the crest of the divide, which it crosses
through a pass, or often by a tunnel, and descends the valley of some
stream on the other side.

Man is largely indebted to streams for the variety and beauty of scenery.
Running water itself is attractive to young and old. A landscape without
water lacks its chief charm. A child instinctively finds its way to the
brook, and the man seeks beside the river the pleasure and recreation
which no other place affords. Streams have carved the surface of the land
into an endless variety of beautiful forms, and a land where stream
valleys are few or shallow is monotonous and tiresome. The most common as
well as the most celebrated beauty of scenery in the world, from the tiny
meanders of a meadow brook to the unequaled grandeur of the Colorado
canyons, is largely due to the presence and action of streams.

- Dryer: _Lessons in Physical Geography_.


In the above selection we find that each group of sentences is related to
some main topic. A more extended observation of good writing will give the
same result. Men naturally think in sentence groups. A group of sentences
related to each other and to the central idea is called a +paragraph.+


+38. Topic Statement.+ - In the three paragraphs of the selection on page
67, notice that the first sentence in each tells what the paragraph is
about. In a well-written paragraph it is possible to select the phrase or
sentence that states the main thought. If such a sentence does not occur
in the paragraph itself, one can be framed that will express clearly and
concisely the chief idea of the paragraph. This brief, comprehensive
summary of the contents of a paragraph is called the topic statement.

In order to master the thought of what we read we must be able to select
or to make the successive topic statements, and in order to express our
own thoughts clearly we must write our paragraphs so that our readers may
easily grasp the topic statement of each.

When expressed in the paragraph, the topic statement may be a part of a
sentence, a whole sentence, or it may extend through two sentences. It is
usual to place the topic statement first, but it may be preceded by one or
more introductory sentences, or even withheld until the end of the
paragraph. For emphasis it may be repeated, though usually in a slightly
different form.


EXERCISES


Determine the topic statements of the following paragraphs. If one is not
expressed, make one.


1. No less valuable is the mental stimulus of play. The child is
trained by it to quick perception, rapid judgment, prompt decision. His
imagination cunningly suggests a thousand things to be done, and then
trains the will and every power of body and mind in the effort to do them.
The sports of childhood are admirably adapted to quicken the senses and
sharpen the wits. Nature has effective ways in her school of securing the
exercise which is needed to develop every mental and every bodily power.
She fills the activity brimful of enjoyment, and then gives her children
freedom, assured that they will be their own best teachers.

- Bradley


2. Our Common Law comes from England, and originated there in custom. It
is often called the unwritten law, because unwritten in origin, though
there are now many books describing it. Its principles originated as
habits of the people, five hundred, eight hundred, years ago, perhaps some
of them back in the time when the half-savage Saxons landed on the shores
of England. When the time came that the government, through its courts,
punished the breach of a custom, from that time the custom was a law. And
so the English people acquired these laws, one after another, just as they
were acquiring at the same time the habits of making roads, using forks at
table, manufacturing, meeting in Parliament, using firearms, and all the
other habits of civilization. When the colonists came to America, they
brought the English Common Law with them, not in a book, but in their
minds, a part of their life, like their religion.

- Clark: _The Government_.


3. Accuracy is always to be striven for but it can never be attained. This
fact is only fully realized by scientific workers. The banker can be
accurate because he only counts or weighs masses of metal which he assumes
to be exactly equal. The Master of the Mint knows that two coins are never
exactly equal in weight, although he strives by improving machinery and
processes to make the differences as small as possible. When the utmost
care is taken, the finest balances which have been constructed can weigh 1
lb. of a metal with an uncertainty less than the hundredth part of a
grain. In other words, the weight is not accurate, but the inaccuracy is
very small. No person is so stupid as not to feel sure that the height of
a man he sees is between 3 ft. and 9 ft.; some are able by the eye to
estimate the height as between 5 ft. 6 in. and 5 ft. 8 in.; measurement
may show it to be between 5 ft. 6 in. and 5 ft. 7 in., but to go closer
than that requires many precautions. Training in observation and the use
of delicate instruments thus narrow the limits of approximation. Similarly
with regard to space and time, there are instruments with which one
millionth of an inch, or of a second, can be measured, but even this
approximation, although far closer than is ever practically necessary, is
not accuracy. In the statement of measurements there is no meaning in more
than six significant figures, and only the most careful observations can
be trusted so far. The height of Mount Everest is given as 29,002 feet;
but here the fifth figure is meaningless, the height of that mountain not
being known so accurately that two feet more or less would be detected.
Similarly, the radius of the earth is sometimes given as 3963.295833
miles, whereas no observation can get nearer the truth than 3963.30 miles.

- Mill: _The Realm of Nature_. (Copyright, 1892, by Charles Scribner's
Sons.)


4. The chief cause which made the fusion of the different elements of
society so imperfect was the extreme difficulty which our ancestors found
in passing from place to place. Of all the inventions, the alphabet and
the printing press alone excepted, those inventions which abridge distance
have done most for the civilization of our species. Every improvement of
the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually as
well as materially, and not only facilitates the interchange of the
various productions of nature and art, but tends to remove national and
provincial prejudices, and to bind together all the branches of the great
human family. In the seventeenth century the inhabitants of London were
for almost every practical purpose farther from Reading than they are now
from Edinburgh, and farther from Edinburgh than they are now from Vienna.

- Macaulay: _History of England_.


5. He touched New England at every point. He was born a frontiersman. He
was bred a farmer. He was a fisherman in the mountain brooks and off the
shore. He never forgot his origin, and he never was ashamed of it. Amid
all the care and honor of his great place here he was homesick for the
company of his old neighbors and friends. Whether he stood in Washington,
the unchallenged prince and chief in the Senate, or in foreign lands, the
kingliest man of his time in the presence of kings, his heart was in New
England. When the spring came, he heard far off the fife bird and the
bobolink calling him to his New Hampshire mountains, or of the
waves on the shore at Marshfield alluring him with a sweeter than siren's
voice to his home by the summer sea.

- George F. Hoar: _Daniel Webster_.


6. Nor must I forget the suddenly changing seasons of the northern clime.
There is no long and lingering spring, unfolding leaf and blossom one by
one; no long and lingering autumn, pompous with many-colored leaves and
the glow of Indian summer. But winter and summer are wonderful, and pass
into each other. The quail has hardly ceased piping in the corn when
winter, from the folds of trailing clouds, sows broadcast over the land
snow, icicles, and rattling hail. The days wane apace. Erelong the sun
hardly rises above the horizon, or does not rise at all. The moon and the
stars shine through the day; only at noon they are pale and wan, and in
the southern sky a red, fiery glow, as of a sunset, burns along the
horizon and then goes out. And pleasantly under the silver moon, and under
the silent, solemn stars, ring the steel shoes of the skaters on the
frozen sea, and voices, and the sound of bells.

- Longfellow: _Rural Life in Sweden_.

7. Extreme _busyness_, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a
symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a
catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort
of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of
living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these
fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how
they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they
cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take
pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless
Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is
no good speaking to such folk: they _cannot_ be idle, their nature is not
generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are
not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold mill. When they do not
require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to
drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait
an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance, with their eyes
open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no
one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralyzed or alienated; and
yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good
eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to
school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they
have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the
time they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man's soul were not
too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life
of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless
attention, a mind vacant of all material amusement, and not one thought to
rub against another while they wait for the train. Before he was breeched,
he might have clambered on the boxes; when he was twenty, he would have
stared at the girls; but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuffbox is
empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright on a bench, with lamentable
eyes. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life.

- Robert Louis Stevenson. (Copyright, by Charles Scribner's Sons.)


_B._ Examine the themes which you have written. Does each paragraph have a
topic statement? Have you introduced sentences which do not bear upon this
topic statement? Are the paragraphs real ones treating of a single topic,
or are they merely groups of sentences written together without any close
connection in thought?


+Theme XVIII.+ - _State two or three advantages of public high schools over
private boarding schools. Use each as a topic statement and develop it
into a short paragraph._

(Add to each topic statement such sentences as will prove to a pupil of
your own age that the topic statement states a real advantage. Include in
each paragraph only that which bears upon the topic statement. Consider
the definition of a paragraph on page 68. Does this definition apply to
your paragraphs?)


+39. Reproduction of the Thought of a Paragraph.+ - Our ability to
reproduce the thought of what we read will depend largely upon our ability
to select the topic statements. In preparing a lesson for recitation it is
evident that we must first determine definitely the topic statement of
each paragraph. These may bear upon one general subject or upon different
subjects. The three paragraphs on page 67 are all concerned with one
subject, the uses of rivers. A pupil preparing to recite them would have
in mind, when he went to class, an outline about as follows: -


General subject: The uses of rivers.
First topic statement: The fertility of flood plains is improved by
irrigation.
Second topic statement: Streams are the easiest routes of travel and
commerce.
Third topic statement: Man is indebted to streams for beauty of scenery.


While such a clear statement is the first step toward a proper
understanding of the lesson, it is not enough. In order to understand
thoroughly a topic statement, we need explanation or illustration. The
idea is not really our own until we have thought about it in its relations
to other knowledge already in our possession. In order to know whether you
understand the topic statements, the teacher will ask you to discuss them.
This may be done by telling what the writer said about them, or by giving
thoughts and illustrations of your own, but best of all, by doing both. It
is necessary, then, to know in what way the writer develops each topic
statement.

Read the following paragraph: -


The most productive lands in the world are flood plains. At every period
of high water, a stream brings down mantle rock from the higher grounds,
and deposits it as a layer of fine sediment over its flood plain. A soil
thus frequently enriched and renewed is literally inexhaustible. In a
rough, hilly, or mountainous country the finest farms and the densest
population are found on the "bottom lands" along the streams. The flood
plain most famous in history is that of the river Nile in Egypt. For a
distance of 1500 miles above its mouth this river flows through a rainless
desert, and has no tributary. The heavy spring rains which fall upon the
highlands about its sources produce in summer a rise of the water, which
overflows the valley on either side. Thus the lower Nile valley became one
of the earliest centers of civilization, and has supported a dense
population for 7000 years. The conditions in Mesopotamia, along the Tigris
and Euphrates rivers, are similar to those along the lower Nile, and in
ancient times this region was the seat of a civilization perhaps older
than that of Egypt. The flood plains of the Ganges in India, and the Hoang
in China, are the most extensive in the world, and in modern times the
most populous. The alluvial valley of the Mississippi is extremely
productive of corn, cotton, and sugar cane.

- Dryer: _Lessons in Physical Geography_.


Notice that the first sentence gives the topic statement, flood plains are
productive. The second and third sentences tell why this is so, and the
rest of the paragraph is given up to illustrations.

In preparing this paragraph for recitation the pupil should have in mind
an outline about as follows: -

Topic statement: Flood plains are the most productive lands in the world.

1. Reasons.
2. Examples: (_a_) Bottom lands.
(_b_) Nile.
(_c_) Tigris and Euphrates.
(_d_) Ganges.
(_e_) Hoang.
(_f_) Mississippi.

In order to make such an outline, the relative importance of the ideas in
the paragraph must be mastered. A recitation that omitted the topic
statement or the reasons would be defective, while one that omitted one or
more of the examples might be perfect, especially if the pupil could
furnish other examples from his own knowledge. The illustration about
bottom lands is a general one, and should suggest specific cases that
could be included in the recitation. The details in regard to the Nile
might be included if they happened to be recalled at the time of the
recitation, but even the omission of all mention of the Nile might not
materially detract from the value of the recitation. The effort to
remember minor details hinders real thought-getting power.

It is better not to write this outline. The use of notes or written
outlines at the time of the recitation soon establishes a habit of
dependence that renders real scholarship an impossibility. With such an
analysis of the thought clearly in mind, the pupil need not attempt to
remember the language of the writer.


EXERCISES


_A._ Complete the partial outline given for the paragraph below. Which of
the illustrations might be omitted from a recitation? For which can you
furnish different illustrations?


Mountain ranges have great influence upon climate, political geography,
and commerce. Many of them form climatic boundaries. The Cordilleras of
western America and the Scandinavian mountains arrest the warm, moist,
western winds which rise along those great rock barriers to cooler
altitudes, where their water vapor is condensed and falls as rain, so that
the country on the windward side of the mountains is wet and that on the
leeward side is dry. Mountain chains stretching east and west across
central Asia protect the southern part of the continent from frigid arctic
winds. The large winter tourist traffic of the Riviera is due to the
mountains that shield this favored French-Italian coast from the north and
northeast continental winds, giving it a considerably warmer winter's
temperature than that of Rome, two and a half degrees farther south. As
North America has no mountain barriers across the pathway of polar winds,
they sweep southward even to the Gulf of Mexico and have twice destroyed
Florida's orange groves within a decade. Mountain ranges are conspicuous
in political geography because they are the natural boundary between many
nations and languages, as the Pyrenees between France and Spain, the Alps
between Austria and Italy, and the Himalayas between Tibet and India.
Mountains sometimes guard nations from attack by the isolation they give,
and therefore promote national unity. Thus the Swiss are among the few
peoples in Europe who have maintained the integrity of their state.
Commercially, mountains are of great importance as a source of water,
which they store in snow, glaciers, and lakes. Snow and ice, melting
slowly on the mountains, are an unfailing source of supply for perennial
rivers, and thus promote navigation. Mountains are the largest source of
water-power, which is more valuable than ever now that electricity is
employed to transmit it to convenient centers for use in the industries. A
large part of the mining machinery in the United States is run by water
power. Switzerland, which has no coal, turns the wheels of its mills with
water. Mountains supply most of the metals and minerals, and are therefore
the scene of the largest mining industry. They are also among the greatest
sources of forest wealth. Though the slopes are not favorable for
agriculture they afford good pasturage, and the débris of the rocks washed
into the valleys and plains by mountain torrents supplies good soil. Thus
the Appalachians have been worn down to a comparatively low level, and the



Online LibraryStratton D. BrooksComposition-Rhetoric → online text (page 5 of 32)