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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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striking or pleasing manner in which the sentiments are in-
troduced and expressed. In considering the nature of gram-
mar, and the arrangement and structure of sentences, we have
only, as it has been expressed, examined what njay be called
the bones, muscles, and nerves of a conipo!>itioii ; but now,
to carry on the figure, we come to the covering of this body,
to describe its external lineaments, its colour, its complexion,
and graceful attitude.

Whatever contributes to adorn a discourse, must either give



134 BELLES LETTRES.

life and beauty to sentiment, or harmony to the diction. By
ornament of thoughts, is meant that manner of introducing
and presenting them to the mind, which will give them the
most favourable appearance. This, therefore, comprehends
all the pleasures which may be said to be perceived by the
mind ; whereas, in treating of the ornaments of diction, lan-
guage may be considered as affecting the ear only. Whatever
it be, in the sentiment or ideas, that causes a discourse to be
read with pleasure, must either be interesting, by exciting the
passions, or must awaken those more delicate sensations,
which are usually denominated the pleasures of the imagi-
nation. An exquisite feeling of the latter, may be said to
constitute a fine taste, but no person can be a complete judge
of the merit of a composition, unless he perfectly understand
the subject of it, so as both clearly to distinguish the charac-
ter of the design, and also to judge how far the execution is
adapted to the undertaking.

Taste has been defined, " The power of receiving pleasure
from the beauties of nature and art." It cannot, therefore,
be resolvable into any operation of the mere rational faculties,
because it is not by the discovery of the understanding, or by a
deduction of argument, that the mind receives pleasure from a
beautiful prospect or a fine poem : these often afford the same
sort of pleasure to the philosopher and the peasant, the child
and the man. The faculty, therefore, by which we relish
such beauties, appears more nearly allied to the feeling of
sense, than to the process of the understanding; but there
is no doubt it may be improved in its operations by reason.

Judgment is universally admitted to be altogether acquired,
and that Taste, too, or the capacity of perceiving the plea-
sures of the imagination, may be acquired to a great degree,
is evident, from the actual acquirement of a variety of similar
tastes, even late in life. Instances of this kind may be given
in tastes for flowers, for gardening, and for architecture,
which are hardly ever possessed at very early periods. It is
scarcely possible, that any person who never attempted to



TASTE. 135

sketch out an object himself, should have a high relish for the
beauties of painting ; but let him be instructed in the art of
drawing and designing ; let him be employed in viewing and
examining a great variety of pictures, let him associate with
painters and connoisseurs in the fine arts, and he would, no
doubt, not only acquire judgment in the productions of that
art, and be able to distinguish a fine design and execution,
but that he would have a relish for it ; that what he approved,
he would admire, and that the view of it would affect him
with sensible pleasure. The same may be said of music,
poetry and the other branches of the fine arts.

It may also be assumed, that all the principles of taste in
works of genius, the sources from whence these pleasures are
derived, are within the reach of all persons, and that there is
hardly an individual who passes much of his time in cultivated
society, where the fine arts flourish, without acquiring, in a
greater or less degree, a taste for some or other of them. ^^

The inequality of Taste among men, similarly situated, is
owing, without doubt, to the different frame of their natures ;
to more delicate organs and finer internal powers, with which
some are endowed beyond others. But since all emotions,
excited by works of genius, consist of such ideas and sensa-
tions, as are capable of being associated with the perception
of such works, nothing can be requisite to the acquisition of
Taste, but exposing the mind to a situation in which those
associated ideas will be frequently presented to it. Taste then
may be considered as an improvable faculty, which is still
farther evident, if we reflect on that immense superiority which
education and improvement give to civilized, above barbarous
nations, in refinement of Taste. " The difference is so
great," says Dr. Blair, " that there is perhaps no one parti-
cular, in which these two classes of men are so far removed
from each other, as in respect of the powers and pleasures of
Taste : and assuredly for this difference, no other general
cause can be assigned, but culture and education."

Exercise, indeed, is the chief source of improvement in all



136 BELLES LETTRES.

our faculties. This holds both in our bodily and mental
powers, and even in our external senses. How acute do the
senses of those persons become, whose occupation leads them
to nice exertions! Touch, for instance, becomes infinitely
more exquisite in men whose employment requires them to
examine the polish of bodies, than it is in others. Those who
accustom themselves to microscopical observations, acquire a
vast accuracy of sight in discerning the minutest objects.
Practice in attending to different flavours and tastes in teas,
spirituous liquors, &c. increases the power of distinguishing
them, and of tracing their component parts. '' Placing inter-
nal taste, therefore, on the footing of a simple sense, it cannot
be doubted, that frequent exercise and curious attention to its
proper objects, must greatly heighten its power. Of this we
have clear proof in that part of Taste which is called an ear
for Music. At first, only the simplest and plainest composi-
tions are relished ; use and practice extend our pleasure ; teach
us to relish finer melody, and by degrees enable us to enter
into the intricate and compounded pleasures of harmony. So
an eye for the beauties of painting is never all at once acquired ;
it is gradually formed by being conversant with pictures, and
studying the works of the best masters. In the same manner,
with respect to the beauty of composition and discourse, at-
tention to the most approved models, study of the best authors,
comparisons of lower and higher degrees of the same beauties,
operate towards the refinement of Taste. When a person is
only beginning his acquaintance with works of genius, the sen-
timents which attend them is obscure and confused. He can,
perhaps, only tell whether he is or is not pleased, without as-
signing reasons for his decision. But allow him experience in
works of this kind, and his Taste becomes by degrees more
exact and enlightened. He now not only understands the cha-
racter of the whole, but perceives the beauties and defects of
each part, and is able to describe the qualities that afford
pleasure or dissatisfaction. " The mist is dissipated which
eemed formerly to hang over the object ; and he can at length



TASTE. 137

pronounce firmly, and without hesitation, concerning it. Thus
in matters of Taste, as mere sensibihty, exercise opens a great
source of improvement." But if Taste be founded on sensi
biHty, Reason and good sense have a most extensive influence
on the operations and decisions of Taste ; so that it may be
considered as a power compounded of natural sensibility and
improved understanduig. It may be farther observed, that
from the frequent exercise of Taste, and from the application
of good sense and reason to the objects of Taste, it, as a
power of the mind, receives its improvement, in its perfect
state, it is unquestionably the result both of nature and of
art. It supposes our natural sense of beauty to be refined by
frequent attention to the most beautiful objects, and at the
same time to be guided and improved by the light of the un-
derstanding.

Dr. Blair assumes, that not only a sound head, but a good
heart, is requisite to just Taste. The characters of Taste,
he says, when brought to its most improved state, are reduci-
ble to Delicacy and Correctness. The former respects prin-
cipally the perfection of that natural sensibility on which Taste
is founded ; and it implies those finer organs or powers which
enable us to discover beauties that lie hidden from a vulgar
eye. The latter respects the improvement which that faculty
receives through its connexion with the understanding. " A
man of correct Taste is one who is never imposed upon by
counterfeit beauties; who carries always in his mind that
standard of good sense, which he employs in judging of every
thing. He estimates with propriety the comparative merit of
the several beauties which he meets with in any work of genius;
refers them to their proper classes, assigns the principles, as
far as they can be traced, whence their power of pleasing
flows, and is pleased himself precisely in that degree in which
he ought, and no more."

" Attempts," says Dr. Aikin, " have been often made
in the walks both of literature and the fine arts, to esta-
blish such a criterion^ and to reduce to precise rules^ the de-



138 BELLES LETTRES.

terminations of what is called taste ; but the wide differences
still subsisting among those who lay claim to this quality,
sufficiently prove the ill success of these efforts." Ilie diver-
sities of original conformation, and early associations, must
ever prevent mankind from feeling exactly alike, with respect
to the objects presented to them. Hence the difference of
opinion respecting the authors who have chiefly excelled in
the style of their writings. Our object is not so much the
comparison of the w orks of others, as to lay down such gene-
ral rules, as may assist young persons, as well in judging of
the merits of the compositions of their countrymen, as to ena-
ble them also to excel in the same career.

The most obvious purpose of w riting, is to communicate
with force and precision the ideas of the writer to the reader.
To write ^ well then, a person must study to acquire a clear
idea of the subject on which he writes. For, unless he per-
fectly understand it, he can never expect to make another
comprehend it. He is to reflect upon all parts of the subject,
and when he has attained a clear view of it, the words will
come of course. But it must be admitted, that this supposes
in the writer, a perfect knowledge of the value and import of
all the words which he uses, as well singly, as in combination.
It supposes him master of the art of combining clauses and
sentences, according to the rules already laid down, and also in
such a way as to exhibit the dependence of ideas one upon
another, and the train or succession in which the process of
argumentation consists. It requires him to have, at his call, a
sufficient store of expressions, and yet to be possessed of judg-
ment suflicient to prevent him from running into prolixity.
He should know how and zehen he can dwell upon an idea
with advantage, and when to stop. To attain this, he must ha-
bituate himself to composition, for no rules, however excellent
or well attended to, w ill form a correct and fluent writer with-
out that sort of exercise which induces habit. For this pur-
pose, it is not necessary to compose much, but to write J're-
quentfi/, and with great care. Fast writing is apt to produce



TASTE. 139

a faulty style, not easily cured, but to compose frequently, and
to subject the composition to strict and rigid revisions, will do
more to the attainment of perfection than any rules which can
be suggested.

Many of the qualities of good writing, depend on the pow-
ers of conception in the mind whence the ideas proceed, and
to know how we have succeeded, we must frequently compare
what we have written, with what we intended to write, and in-
quire what effect it is likely to produce on the minds of
others, by reflecting upon the impression which such sort of
writing, would, under different circumstances, have excited in
ourselves.

In some cases there is not the smallest difficulty in pro-
nouncing concerning the success of our efforts. The enunci-
ation of a truth, and the statement of a plain argument, are
complete with respect to conception and expression, when all
that is wanted, and no more, is communicated to the reader, in
its most precise and intelligible form. Clear notions, in sub-
jects of this kind, readily clothe themselves in proper lan-
guage ; and he must be a very fastidious, and unreasonable
person, who, while he receives the whole instruction he seeks
for, should express a want of any thing more perfect. De-
monstrations in mathematics and natural philosophy are of
this kind, and in these, if the writer be methodical, clear, and
as concise as the nature of the subject will admit of, he has
done all that can be required of him.

The narration of a matter of fact is not quite so simple :
circumstances strike different persons so differently, that
scarcely any two will be found to agree in their account of the
same transaction. There seems to be a propensity in man to
alter and exaggerate, besides, if the transaction be at all com-
plicate, or combine a variety of particulars, the selection of
incidents must vary in different people who give, an account of
it. Some dwell upon circumstances important, which to
others are wholly neglected as frivolous, or at least uninterest-
ing. Some, in recording a fact, assign to each actor his own



140 BELLES LETTRES.

peculiar language, others relate the whole in their own words.
" In general," says the author already quoted, " he is the
most perfect narrator, who puts his reader most completely in
the state of the spectator ; who transports him to the very
spot, marks out to him all the personages by their characteris-
tic features, and fills the scene with manners and action.
For success in such an attempt, nothing is so necessary as an
imagination capable of receiving and retaining strong impres-
sions." Where this exists, and the subject to be described be
an interesting one, no artifice of language is wanted to pro
duce a complete tfftct. The history of Joseph and his bre-
thren in the book of Genesis, is written without the least art or
effort, yet a more affecting one is not to be met with, and
every attempt to embellish it by art and ornament has failed
to produce an equal degree of interest. All that seems requi-
site in this kind of writing is, that the narrator should abstain
from affected phraseology, unseasonable digressions, and im-
pertinent remarks and observations.

The next in order of simplicity, is argumentative discourse.
In this, great precision in the use of words, and a clear ar-
rangement of the members of a sentence, are absolutely neces-
sary. To these must be added closeness of method, strength
and conciseness of expression, but free from obscurity, and
grace and amenity of language : by these, the effect of convic-
tion may be promoted by leading on the reader pleasantly
through a subject which may, perhaps, be naturally dry and
unalluring. Cicero and Hume have been cited as examples
of this union of the agreeable, with discussions purely philo-
sophical ; and, if the manner of Cicero, in his argumentative
works, be compared with that of his popular pieces and his
orations, a good idea may be formed of the progress, from an
address to the reason alone, to au attempt to persuade by ad-
dressing the affections.

Tlie perfection of historical composition demands a still
greater assemblage of literary qualifications. The historian
must be able to give a lucid arrangement and skilful develppe-



TASTE. 141

inent of facts, often involved and perplexed with contradic-
tions. He should have sagacity to trace the connexion of
causes and effects, and penetration to detect the motives and
true characters of men, however disguised by artifice ; to these
should be added a philosophical spirit, and freedom from pre-
judice, which entitle him to assume the office of an instructor.
If he be possessed of these requisites, the historian may be al-
lowed considerable latitude in his style, and may enrich his
language with every figure that can give it force or beauty.

Of the nature of figurat've language we shall shortly treat,
but it may be observed here, that a writer of real taste will
never be anxious to embellish his composiiisjiis in this way :
he .will never study to find out comparisons or metaphors for
the mere purpose of adorning his discourse. Figurati\e lan-
guage, when good, and properly applied, comes spontaneously
from a lively imagination, or from a mind well stored by the
perusal of the best authors. To profit as much as possible in
reading works of taste, we should mark every thing peculiar
in their manners, so as to know how, afterwards, either to
adopt or avoid it. i\t the same time, every thing like a servile
imitation of others mu!t be carefully avoided.

We must adapt the si) le to the subject ; for nothing can be
more ridiculous than to clothe grave subjects in a gaudy dress ;
or to attempt embellishing dry reasoning, which must convince
only by strength of argimient.

After all, more attention must be paid to our thoughts or
conceptions than to our words : these should be consonant to
nature, clearly conceived, agreeably diversified, regularly con-
nected, and adapted to some good end.

Conformity to nature is essential to good writing, without
which, whatever other excellence it may possess, it cannot ob-
tain the approbation of good sense. An author may rise
above the usual appearances of nature, by combining things
which are not commonly associated, but he must not admit
any thing that contradicts common sense and experience.
The conception must be perfect and distinct : this is the basis



142 BELLES LETTRES.

of perspicuity. He who does not himself clearly understand
his own meaniug, can have no right to expect that his reader
\vilJ. We must accustom ourselves to separateour ideas from
one another before we attempt to clothe them in language.
Variety of conception must be added to perspicuity. " It is
this which raises a writer of true genius above one of moderate
abilities. The field of nature lies open to all men, but it is
only the man whose powers are vigorous and commanding,
that can combine ideas with the diversity which is necessary
to produce a strong impression upon the imagination. To
discern, not only the obvious properties of things, but their
more hidden qualities and relations ; to perceive resemblances
which are not commonly perceived ; to combine images,* or
sentiments which are not commonly combined ; to exhibit, ia
description, persons and things with all the interesting varieties
of form or action, of which they are capable, are offices of
genius : and it is only in the degree in which these marks of
genius appear in any literal^ production, that it can be pro-
nounced excellent."

In every good composition, there must be unity of design ;
some leading object, to which ever}' part should have a rela-
tion. Whatever has no tendency to illustrate the subject,
weakens the general effect; and to every other excellence
must be added tliat of utility. This is the chief end of every
literary effort, but it must be taken in an enlarged and liberal
view ; and it must be remembered, that whatever is calculated
to afford innocent and rational amusement, as well as that
fhich tends to enlighten the understanding, and improve the
heart and morals, may be pronounced useful.

Next to the thoughts themselves, is the arrangement in
which they are to be disposed. This requires the exercise of
much attention and accurate judgment. The first conceptions
which accidental association may raise in the mind, are not
likely to proceed spontaneously in that order which is most
natural, and best adapted to form a regular piece. It will,
therefore, frequently be an author's inquiry, as he advances in



TASTE. 143

the progress of his work, whether the method and plan that
he has adopted, are the best suited to attain the end he has in
view, and whether all the sentiments contained in it are not
only just, but pertinent, and in their proper place.

With regard to expression, the first quality is purity, which
consists in such words, and such a grammatical construction
of sentences, as are agreeable to the analogy of the language,
and to the general usage of accurate writers. The second
kind of excellence is perspicuity, which, as we have seen,
requires precision in the use of terms, and accuracy in the
structure of sentences : it requires not only that what is written
may be understood, but that it cannot possibly be misunder-
stood. An author's style, is the manner in which he writes,
in the same way as a painter's style, is the manner in which he
pamts ; in both, conception and expression are equally con-
cerned. No one can write well, who has not learned to
think well, to arrange his thoughts methodically, and to
express them with propriety. SeeAikin's Letters to his Son;
and *'An Essay on Reading Works of Taste," prefixed to En-
field's Speaker.






I,



J 't/ ,



%'^<^



CHAP. IX.



ON FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE.



Figures, tbe most simple form of speech Divided into classes ^The tropes
of the ancients Comparisons Similies Metaphors.

A STRONG and vivid imagination is not, either in speak-
ing or writing, satisfied with bringing before the hearer's or
reader's mind, all the circumstances immediately connected
with the principal subject, and placing them in a striking pint
of view : it borrows colours and forms from other objects, to
embellish and adorn the picture : this is done by means of
figurative language. It is called figurative, because the author's
meaning is expressed, not by direct phraseology, but under the
image of something else. The assertion, that " A good man
enjoys satisfaction and hope in the midst of affliction," is an
observation expressed in the simplest manner possible; but
when it is said, " That, to the upright there ariseth light in
darkness," the same idea is expressed in figurative language ;
that is, light is put in the place of satisfaction and hope, and
darkness is used to suggest the idea of adversity. The Psalm-
ist also, in his description of the virtuous character, makes
use of highly figurative language : " He shall be like a tree
planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in
his season ; his leaf also shall not wither."



FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE. 145

Tliough figures imply a deviation from what may be reck-
oned the most simple form of speech, yet they are so far from
being unconnnon, that on very many occasions they are the
most natural, and the most common method of uttering our
sentiments. It is impossible to compose a discourse of any
length without using them very frequently : they occur even iu
didactic subjects. The origin of figures has, by some, been
referred to the poverty of language ; but by others, either to the
sport of fancy, or to the expression of passion or enthusiasm.
At any rate, and upon any theory, figures must be regarded as
an important part of that language which nature seems to dicr
tate to man. They are not the result of long study ; nor the
invention of schools : the most illiterate speak in figures, as
often as the most learned. Imagery, especially from natural
objects, is employed by the rudest and most savage nations,
not from necessity, but as a matter gf choice. Specimens of
this kind abound in the speeches of the Indian chiefs in
North America, and among the earliest productions of the
Arabians. The oldest writings with which we are acquainted,
namely, those of the Hebrew Scriptures, are full of figures ;
these are derived from those objects with which, from the
time and situation of the country and nation they were most
familiar.

Figures have been described to be language that is prompted
either by the imagination or passions. They are divided into
two great classes, viz. figures of words and figures of thoughts.
The former are called tropes, a Greek term that signifies
the turning of a word from its q^igiual meaning, and they
consist in a word's being employed to signify something that is
different from its original and primitive meaning ; so that if
the word be changed, the figure is destroyed : thus in the pas-
sage already quoted, " Light ariseth to the upright in dark-
ness," the trope consisteth in the words Light and Dark'
ness being substituted, the one for satisfaction and hope, and



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 12 of 44)