William Shepherd.

Systematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 44)
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and simplicity which are beauties of a higher order. " But,"
says our author, " whether we practise inversion or not, and
in whatever part of the sentence we dispose of the capital
words, it is always a point of great moment, that these capital
words shall stand clear and disentangled from any other words
that would clog them. Thus, when there are any circum-
stances of time, place, or other limitations, which the principal
object of our sentence requires to have connected with it, we
must take special care to dispose of them so as not to cloud
that principal object, nor to bury it under a load of circum-
stances. This will be made clearer by an example. Observe
the arrangement of the following sentence, in Lord Shaftes-
bury's Advice to an Author. He is speaking of modern poets
as compared with the ancient : " If, )js?hile they profess only
to please, they secretly advise, and give instruction, they may,
now, perhaps, as well as formerly, be esteemed, with justice,
the best and most honourable among authors." This is a well
constructed sentence. It contains a great many circumstances
and adverbs, necessary to qualify the meaning ; only, secretly,
as well, perhaps, now, with Justice, formerly ; yet these are
placed with so much art, as neither to embarrass nor weaken
the sentence ; while that which is the capital object in it, viz.
" Poets being justly esteemed the best and most honourable


among authors," comes out in the conchision clear and de-
tached, and possesses its proper place.

4. The next rule to be attended to in the construction of
sentences is, to make the members of them go on rising and
growing in their importance one above another. This is called
a climax, such as that of Cicero, addressed to Catiline :
'' Nihil agis, nihil moliris, nihil cogitas, quod ego non audiam,
quod ctiam non videam, planeque sentiaui."

Tlie following is an instance taken from Lord Bolingbroke :
" This decency, this grace, this propriety of manners to cha-
racter, is so essential to princes in particular, that, whenever
it is neglected, their virtues lose a great degree of lustre, and
their detects acquire much aggravation." Quiutiliau directs,
that a weaker expression should never follow one of more
strength, as if, after sacrilege, we were to introduce simple

A climax has been defined, a figure, in which ihe word or
expression that ends the first member of a period begins the
second, and so on ; so that every member will make a distinct
sentence, taking its rise from the preceding, (ill the period be
finished, as in the following gradation of Tillotson : " After
we have practised good actions awhile, they become easy ;
and when they are easy, we begin to take pleasure in them ;
and when they please us, we do them frequently ; and by the
frequency of acts, a thing grows into a habit ; and confirmed
habit is second nature ; and so far as any thing is natural, so
far it is necessary, and we can hardly do otherwise ; nay, we
do it many times, when we do not think of it !"

.5, The fifth rule for the strength of sentences is, to avoid
concluding them with an adverb, preposition, or any other in-
considerable word. Agreeably to this rule, we should avoid
concluding with any of those particles which mark the cases
of nouns. For, besides the want of dignity n\ hich arises from
those monosyllables being placed at the close, the mind cannot
avoid restii^ a little upon the word that concludes the sen-


tence ; and as these prepositions have no import of their own,
but merely serve to point out the relation of other words, it is
disagreeable thus to be left pausing on a word, which of itself
cannot produce any idea, or present any picture to the fancy.

The pronoun it ought not to close a sentence ; and nothing
can be well worse, than to allow this same word it to conclude
two successive periods ; yet we find examples of the kind
occur, occasionally, in our first-rate writers. Thus Mr. Burke:
" In like manner, if a person in broad day-light were falling
asleep, to introduce a sudden darkness, would prevent his sleep
for that time, though silence and darkness in themselves, and
not suddenly introduced, are very favourable to it. This I
knew only by conjecture on the analogy of the senses, when I
first digested these observations; but 1 have since expe-
rienced it."

6. In the members of a sentence, where two objects are
either compared or contrasted, some resemblance in the lan-
guage and construction should be preserved. We are disap-
pointed when it is otherwise ; and the comparison, or contrast,
appears more imperfect.

" The wise man is happy, when he gains his own approba-
tion ; the fool, when he recommends himself to the applause
of those about him." Spectator. The sentence would read
much better, " The wise man is happy, w hen he gains his own
approbation ; the fool, when he gains that of others."

After all," says Dr. Blair, " The fundamental rule of the
construction of sentences, and into which all others might
be resolved, undoubtedly is,, to communicate in the clearest
and most natural order, the ideas which we mean to transfuse
into the minds of others. Every arrangement that does most
justice to the sense, and expresses it to most advantage, strikes
us as beautiful. To this point have tended all the rules I have
given. And, indeed, did men always think clearly, and were
they, at the same time, fully masters of the language in which
they write, there would be occasion for few rules. Their sen-
tences would then, of course, acquire all those properties of


Precision, Unity, and Strength, which I have recommended.
For we may rest assured, that whenever we express ourselves
ill, there is, besides the mismanagement of language, for the
most part, some mistake in our manner of conceiving the sub-
ject. Embarrassed, obscure, and feeble sentences are gene-
rally, if not always, the result of embarrassed, obscure, and
feeble thought.. Thought and language act and re-act upon
each other mutually. Logic and rhetoric have here, as in
many other cases, a strict connexion ; and he that is learning
to arrange his sentences with accuracy and order, is learning,
at tlie same time, to think with accuracy and order."




The Harmony of a sentence depends on the choice and arrangement of the
words Ancient languages more susceptible of music than the modern
The current of sound to be adapted to the tenor of the discourse
Sounds may be employed to represent otljer sounds Motion The pas-
sions of the mind.

A LTHOUGH sound is a quality of much less importance
than sense, yet it must not be entirely neglected by those
who would draw attention to themselves, either as speakers
or writers ; inasmuch as there is always a connexion between
the idea which is conveyed, and the sound by which it is con-
veyed. It was a maxim of Quintilian, that nothing could
enter the affections which stumbles at the threshold, by offend-
ing the ear. Music, naturally, has a great power over men, ia
facilitating certain emotions, so that there are hardly any dis-
positions that persons, conversant with the human mind, wish
to excite in others, but that they can find certain sounds tend-
ing to produce or promote them. Language may, in a less
or greater degree, be rendered capable of this power of music,
a circumstance that cannot fail to heighten our idea of it
as a very wonderful invention. It is not only capable of
simply interpreting our ideas to others, but of exciting
in them those ideas, enforced by corresponding soimds;


and to the pleasure of communicating thought, it can add the
new and separate pleasure of melody.

The musical caileuce of a sentence will depend upon the
choice of words; and the arrangement of them. Those
words will be most agreeable to the ear, which are composed
of smooth and liquid sounds, and in which there is a proper
interniixture of vowels and consonants, without too many
harsh consonants clashing with each other, or too many open
vowels in succession, to cause a disagreeable aperture of the
mouth. Whatever sounds are difficult in pronunciation, are
in the same proportion, harsh and painful to the ear. Vowels
add softness ; consonants, strength to the sound of words : the
melody of language requires a just proportion of each, and
will be rendered either grating or effeminate by an excess.
Long words are commonly more agreeable to the ear than
monosyllables ; and among words of any length, those are
most musical, which do not run wholly either upon long or
short syllables, but are composed of an intermixture of both.

With respect to the harmony which results from a proper
arrangement of the words and members of a sentence, it may
be observed, that, however well chosen the words them-
selves may be, yet if they be ill-disposed, the music of the
sentence is utterly destroyed. In the harmonious arrangement
of hb periods, no writer, ancient or modern, can be compared
with Cicero. Instances in proof of this might be selected
firom almost every page of his works. " In English," says Dr.
Blair, " we may take as an instance of a musical sentence,
&e following from Milton, in his Treatise on Educatiou:
' We shall conduct you to a hill-side, laborious, indeed, at the
first ascent ; but else, so smooth, so green, so full of goodly
prospects, and melodious sounds on every side, that the harp
of Orpheus was not more charming.' Every tiling in this
sentence conspires to produce the harmony. The words are
happily chosen ; full of liquids and soft sounds : laborious,
smooth, green, goodly, melodious, charming : and these words
80 artfully arranged, that, were we to alter the collocation of


any oue of them, we should presently be sensible of the me-
lody suflfering. For, let us observe how finely the members
of the period swell one above another. * So smooth, so green,
so full of goodly prospects, and melodious sounds on every
side,' till the ear, prepared by this gradual rise, is conducted
to that full close on which it rests with pleasure ; * that the
harp of Orpheus was not more charming/ "

The structure of periods being susceptible of a very sensible
melody, the next inquiry is, how the melodious structure is
formed, what are the principles of it, and by what laws it is
regulated. In this, we cannot, owing to the nature of our
language, and other circumstances, follow the ancients. They,
in treating upon the structure of sentences, always make the
music of them the principal object. The other qualities of
precision, unity, and strength, which we consider as of chief
importance, they touch on but slightly. Dionysius of Hali-
carnassus, in his treatise on the " Composition of words in a
sentence," refers only to their musical effect. He makes the
excellency of a sentence to consist hi the sweetness of single
sounds : in the composition of sounds, that is, the numbers
or feet : in change or variety of sound ;^ and in sound suited
to sense.

Among the moderns, the subject of the musical structure of
discourse has been less studied, and for the following reasons
can be less subjected to rule.

1. The ancient languages were more susceptible than ours
of the powers of melody. The quantities of their syllables
were more fixed and determined, their words were longer,
and more sonorous ; their method of varying the terminations
of nouns and verbs, freed them from that multiplicity of little
auxiliary words, which we are obliged to employ ; and what
is of still more importance, the inversions which their lan-
guages allowed, gave them the power of placing their words
in whatever order was most suited to a musical arrangement.

2. The Greeks and Romans were much more musical na-
tions than we are, which is a reason of their paying more at-


teiition to that construction of sentences, which might best
suit their pronunciation. And

3. The musical arrangement of sentences did produce a
greater effect in public speaking among them, than it would
among us. But though this musical arrangement cannot be
reduced into a system, yet it is a quality that ought not to be
neglected in composition. There are two things on which
the music of a sentence chiefly depends. These are, the pro-
per distribution of the several members of it, and the close or
cadence of the whole.

In the distribution of the several members of a sentence, it
^ is of importance to observe, that, whatever is easy and agree-
able to the organs of speech, always sounds grateful to the
far. While a period is going on, the termination of each of
its members forms a rest or pause in the pronouncing, and
these pauses should be so distributed, as to make the breath-
ing easy, and at the same time should fall at such distances as
to bear a certain musical proportion to each other : but the
rests should not be too numerous, or placed at intervals too
measured and regular, lest the style savour of affectation.

The following sentence, from Sir William Temple, has
been given by writers on the subject, to exemplify this rule ;
he is speaking of man in an ironical style, " But, God be
thanked, his pride is greater than his ignorance ; and what he
wants in knowledge, he supplies by sufficiency. When he has
looked about him, as far as he can, he concludes, there is no
more to be seen ; when he is at the end of his line, he is at
the bottom of the ocean ; when he has shot his best, he is
sure none ever did, or ever can, shoot better, or beyond it.
His own reason he holds to be the certain measure of truth ;
and his own knowledge, of what is possible in nature." Here
every thing is, at once, easy to the breath, and grateful to
the ear ; and it is this sort of flowing measure which renders
the style of Sir William Temple always agreeable.

The close or cadence of the whole sentence demands the
greatest care, because on this the mind pauses and rests. Here,



every hearer and reader expects to be gratified : here, his ap-
plause breaks forth. The rule to be observed is, that when
we aim at dignity or elevation, the sound should be made to
grow to the last ; the longest member of the period, and the
fullest and most sonorous words, should be reserved to the
conclusion. The following sentence from Mr. Addison is
constructed upon this rule:

'* It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, con-
verses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues
the longest in action, without being tired or satiated with its
proper enjoyments." " Every reader," says Dr. Blair, " must
be sensible of a beauty here, both in the proper division of
the members and the pauses, and the manner in which the
sentence is rounded, and conducted to a full and harmonious

The same- holds in melody, that takes place with respect to
significancy, a falling off is always unpleasant, and offends
the ear. Hence particles, pronouns, and little words are un-
gracious to the ear, and it is probable, that the sense and the
sound have, in this respect a mutual influence on each other.
That which hurts the ear, seems to mar the strength of the
meaning. In general, a musical close, in our language, re-
quires either the last syllable, or the last but one, to
be a long syllable. But it should be observed, that sen-
tences so constructed as to make the sound always swell
and grow towards the end, give the discourse a tone of decla-
mation, which soon becomes unpleasant to the ear. The
measures should be frequently varied, and short sentences
should be intermixed with long and swelling ones, to render
discourse agreeable and impressive.

Thougb the music of sentences demands a very considerable
degree of attention, yet it must be kept within bounds : there
must be no affectation of harmony, especially if the love of it
betray a person to sacrifice perspicuity, precision, or strength
of sentiment to sound. All unmeaning words, introduced


merely to round a period, or complete the melody, are con-
siderable blemishes in writing.

It now remains to treat of the sound as adapted to the
sense: which admits of two distinct considerations :

1. The current of sound may be adapted to the tenor of a
discourse, in every language that admits of poetry ; and the
characteristic is found in every author, whose fancy enables
him to impress images strongly on his own mind, and whose
choice of language readily supplies him with just representa-
tions. On many occasions, we produce the music which we
imagine ourselves to hear. In common life, it is not easy to
deliver a pleasing message, in an unpleasing manner, and we
readily associate beauty and deformity with those whom we
have reason to love or hate. Hence no one tenor, supposing
it to produce no bad effect from satiety, will answer to all
sorts of compositions ; nor even to all parts of the same com-
position. The same language cannot be used in writing a
panegyric and an invective. In the common translation of
tlie Bible, there is a multitude of instances, in which the lan-
guage has been happily adapted to the subject. The very first
verses in the book of Genesis, have been quoted as a good
illustration of the rule :

" In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth ;
and the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was
upon the face of the deep ; and the spirit of God moved upon
the face of the waters."

2. Besides the general correspondence of the current of
sound with the current of thought, there may be a more par-
ticular expression attempted of certain objects, by means of
resembling sounds. Tlie accomplishment of this is not often
possible in prose compositions ; but in poetry, where the in-
versions and liberties of style, give a greater command of
sound, it is naturally looked for.

The sounds of words may be employed for representing
three classes of objects, viz. other souuds ; motion j and the
passions of the mind.


In tlie common structure of language, the names of many
particular sounds are so formed, as to carry some affinity to
the sound which they signify : thus, as we have already observed,
we speak of the whistling and roaring of the wind : of the
hissing of serpents : of the buzz and hum of insects : of the
rustling of trees and thickets : of the crash attending upon
the fall of buildings. The following passages from Milton
may be given as examples of this kind of beauty; they are
descriptive of the sound made, in the one, by the opening
of the gates of Hell; in the other, by the opening of those of

Heaven :

On a sudden, open fly

With impetuous recoil, and jarring sound,

Th' infernal doors ; and on their hinges grate

Harsh tiiunder. Paradm Lost, Book I.

Heaven opened wide

Her ever din^g gates, harmonious sound !

On golden hinges turning. Book II.

The motion of an arrow, and the sound of a bow, are ex-
cellently described by Pope in the following lines :

The impetuous arrow whizzes on the wing.

-The string let fly,

Twanged short and sharp, like the shrill swallow's cry.

To these, another example may be added from the same
author :

Loud sounds the axe, redoubling strokes on strokes,
On all sides round the forest hurls her oaks
Headlong. Deep echoing, groan the thickets brown,
Then rustling, a ackling, craving, thunder down.

2. Another class of objects, which the sound of words is
often employed to imitate, is motion, as it is swift or slow,
violent or gentle, equable or interrupied, easy or accompanied
with effort.

Long syllables naturally give the impression of slow motion :
but swift motion is imitated by a succession of short syllables.



Tiie desft-iptiou of a sudden calm on tlie seas, in Dyer's
Fleece, can scarcely be exceeded :

-with easy course

The vessels glide ; tmless their speed be stopped
By dead calms, that oft lie on these smooth seas,
When every zephyr sleeps ; then the shrouds drop ;
'1 he downy feather, on the cordage hung,
Moves not ; the flat sea sliines like yellow gold
Fus'd in the fire ; or like the marble floor
Of some old temple wide,

A line composed of monosyllables, by the frequency of its
pauses, makes an impression similar to what is made by la-
borious interrupted mption. The following are examples :

First march tlie heavy males, secnrcly slow :

O'er hills, o'er dales, o'er crags, o'er rocks they go. Pope.

With many a weary step, and many a groan,

Up the high hill, he heaves a huge round stone. Broome.

Slow and prolonged motion is well expressed by an Alex-
andrine verse :

A needless Alexandrine ends the song.

That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along. Pope.

From the same author, we select an example of forcible and
prolonged motion :

The waves behind impel the waves before,
Wide-rolling, foaming high, and tumbling on the shore.

S. In the third set of objects, the sounds of words are capa-
.ble of representing the passions and emotions of the mind .
. ^Jjus we have sorrow and complarat finely expressed in the^ -^^
pathetic soliloquy of Cardinal Wolsey on his fall :

Farewell ! a long farewell ! to all my greatness !
Tltis is the state of man ! to day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope ; to morrow, blossoms,
. , And bears his blDkhiHi; honours thick upon him ;


The tbird day comes a frost, a killiug frost 1
And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a ripening, nips his root,
And then he falls, as I do.

Another fine example of this kind is in the part of Andro-
mache, in the Distressed Mother :

I'll go, and, in the anguish of my heart,

Weep o'er my child. If he must die, my life

Is wrapt in his^ I shall not long survive.

Fear expresses itself in a low, hesitating, and abject sound.

The speech of Lady Macbeth, while her husband is about to

murder Duncan, and his groans, exhibit her affrighted even

with the sound of her own voice :

Alas ! I am afraid they have awak'd
And 'tis not done ; th* attempt, and not the deed
Confounds us Hark ! I laid the daggers ready,
He could not miss them. Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done it.

Melancholy and gloomy subjects naturally express them-
selves in slow measures and long words :

In those deep solitudes and awful cells, *

Where heavenly pensive Contemplation dwells,

And ever musing Melancholy reigns. Pope.

Courage assumes a different tone :

Here satiate all your fury :
Let Fortune empty her whole quiver on me,
I have a soul that, like an ample shield,
Can take in all, and verge enough for more.

Pleasure is displayed in a luxurious, mild, tender, and joyous
modulation ; as in the following lines :

Lavinia! O there's music in the name.
That, soft 'ning me to infant tenderness.
Makes my heart spring like the first leaps of life.

From these instances, and a great number of others, equally
striking, might have been produced, we have shewn, that in

K 2


good writing, an attention must be paid to the harmony of
sentences ; or, as it is described by the poet :

Tis not enough, no barshneBs pves offence

The sound innst8eem an echo to the sense.

Soft is the strain when Zepliyr gently blows,

And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows ;

But, when lond surges lash the sounding shore,

Tlie hoarse ronzh verse should like the torrent roar.

When Ajax st lives some rork's vast w4ght to throw.

The line too labours, and the words move slow ;

Not sn, when swift Camilla scours the plain,

Flies o'er tb' unbending corn, and skims along the main.





Ornamental writing Taste, origin of How improved Characters of
Qualities necessary to a good writer, illustrated with respect to narration
in argumentative discourse, and in historical composition more at*
tention to be paid to thoughts than words.

Another part of the Belles Lettres comprehends
whatever is ornamental in a discourse or composition. The
bare materials, and even the disposition of them in a dis-
course, are adapted to do little more than make an impression
upon those persons, who, of themselves, either from a regard
to the nature of the subject, or from its importance, will give
their attention to it, but when the composition is ornamented,
it is then calculated to attract and engage the attention, by the
grace and harmony of the style, the turn of thought, or the

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 44)