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is, a clear and distinct, an emphatic and elegant utterance
without affectation. To speak well, our author admits, de-
pends more on corporal endowments, than almost any other
accomplishment, for whatever learning and judgment the
mind may have acquired, yet unless nature has formed the
organs of speech in perfection, and given a considerable de-
gree of bodily strength to the student, he will seldom become
a distinguished speaker. Art and application will, however,
assist him, and if they only enable nim to speak slowly and
distinctly, Uiey will have done him much service.

" I will not," says Dr. Knox, " close this section without
seriously advising all who are designed to fill that office which
is instituted to instruct their fellow creatures in moral and



ELOCUTION. 225

religious Irutli, to pay great attention, in their youth, to the
art of speaking. The neglect of it has brought the regularly
educated professors of religion into contempt among the lower
orders of the people ; among those who, for want of other
opportunities, stand most in need of instruction from the
pulpit."

It must be farther observed, that, in the application of the
Rules of Elocution to practice, in order to acquire a just and
graceful elocution, it will be necessary to go through a regular
course of exercises, beginning w ith such as are more easy, and
proceeding, by degrees, to those that are more difficult. For
this purpose we have divers helps, excellently adapted to the
attainment of the object sought ; among these. Dr. Enfield's
" Speaker," and " Exercises in !Elocution," take the lead.
Next in order are the " Academical Speaker," and " Rheto-
rical Grammar," by Mr. John Walker, who was a master in
this useful art. By the same author we have a small tract
entitled, " The Melody of Speaking delineated, or Elocution
taught like Music," &c.

These works will furnish the practitioner with an abundance
of all kinds of examples in reading, but, at first, he should con-
tent himself with the most simple sentences ; for unless he can
read these, and easy narrative or didactic pieces, with distinct
articulation, just emphasis, and proper modulation, it is impos-
sible that he should do justice to the sublime descriptions of
poetry, or the animated language of the passions.



VOL. I,



CHAP. XVI.



ON THE METHOD OF STUDYING THE
BELLES LETTRES.



Gregory's Letters Blair's Lectures Barrow's Lectures Lord Karnes's
Elements of Criticism Priesttey's Lectures on Oratory and Criticism
Mason's Essays, &e. &c.

In a work of limited extent, and which is to serve as a
directory to the young on man)', not to say the circle of
sciences, it cannot be expected that we should be very full on
any one subject. It is, however, presumed, that the foregoing
chapters on the Belles Lettres, may be regarded as a concise
introduction, or practical guide, to the arts of Composition
and Criticism, which are the chief desiderata in polite learn-
ing. For those, however, who have imbibed a taste for
English literature, our directions will not be deemed suffi-
ciently extensive. If they have entered into, and feel the ad-
vantages likely to be derived from the pursuit, as described in
the first chapter, which has been chiefly taken from the ma-
nuscript lectures of an elegant scholar, the late learned and
excellent Dr. Kippis, they will be anxious to enlarge their
acquaintance with a branch of knowledge, calculated at once
to excite their interest, and yield tlie most solid instruction
and improvement.

In recommending a plan of study on the Belles Lettres, we
can do little more than refer the reader to those works, from



PLAN OF STUDY, &c. 227

which we ourselves liave borrowed largely in the composition
of this department of our work. One of the first books that
we would put into the hands of a young person desirous of be-
coming acquainted with the general principles of polite literature,
is the late Dr. George Gregory's " Letters on Literature,
Taste, and Composition," which contain the result of various
observations, made by a vigorous and cuUivated mind, upon
the different subjects under discussion.

Dr. Gregory commences his volumes with a philosophical
but popular analysis of those principles of association, from
which we derive the pleasure that is excited by the study of
the fine arts. His remarks on this phenomenon of the mind,
may be considered as illustrative of Dr. Stewart's speculations
on the same point, to which we shall have occasion to refer.
The doctor then endeavours to explain this principle, con-
tinuing his inquiry, by some judicious remarks on style, and
the sources of fine composition. His letters on the Sublime,
Pathetic, and Ludicrous, will amply repay a close attention :
they are short, but full of interest and sound instruction. From
these our author carries us to a more particular detail of the
component parts of Eloquence, and an examination of the
essentials of good writing. Under this branch of his subject
he comes to the consideration of language, the perspicuity,
purity, and harmony of sentences, and the graces of good
composition. On these subjects, as well as on the different
usages and figures of speech, we have conducted the reader
to a certain distance ; he will find them treated more at large
by Dr. Gregory, and illustrated by a greater number of ex-
amples, than we had room to admit. He next advances to
a more enlarged view of composition. The several methods
of analysis and synthesis in a logical discourse, are well ex-
plained and appreciated ; the different kinds of oratory, viz.
that of the senate, the bar, and the pulpit, are neatly con-
trasted, and the rise and progress of eloquence are described
with accuracy and spirit.

Dr. Gregory begins his second volume with a comparison

1?2



1^28 BELLES LETT RES.

of the difficulties attending the perfect composition of an ^-
gumentativc or oratorical discourse, witli those which must be
encountered by the historian. The narrative style he coiv>
siders as the most dithcult of attainment. His observations
on this subject are so excellent and so practical, that we shall
trar)scribe a part of them for the benefit of those who may
not have an opportunity of perusing the work itself.

" T^et any man of letters try to compose an argumentative,
or even an oratorical discourse, and let him afterwards attempt
a narrative, and he will soon find the latter by fur the more
difficult task. It is difficult to form and pursue a lucid order
and arrangement ; it is difficult, out of the number of cir-
cumstances which will crowd upon him, to select those only
which are important and striking ; to know where to be brief
and where to be minute ; to distinguish the lights and the
shades ; to see on what he ought to enlarge, and what he
should cursorily pass over. It is exceedingly difficult to avoid
a flat and monotonous tone ;^ to give spirit, animation, and
interest to a mere recital of facts ; and that, w hen the writer
composes not under the influence of gassion, or the ardour of
controversy^ which in narrative is seldom the case

** Perspicuity, it will be easily seen, is the first excellence
of narrative. The impressioti must be clear and vivid.
Whether the subject will admit of ornament or not, is a re-
mote consideration, compared with this indispensable quality.
On this account, the writer of even an extended history should
take care to have a clear and comprehensive view of the sub-
ject in his mind, at least to a given period. He should see it
as a picture or a drama before his eyes, previous to his begin-
ning to compose. If he lijjs this view of the subject before
him, he will easily, if he has judgment and taste, distinguish
the parts or circumstances which should be treated in detail,
from those which should be transiently glanced at, or perhaps
wholly omitted.

*' To have a just and comprehensive view of his subject
previously formed, (at least to a certain e.xtent as to the order



PLAN OF STUDY, kc. 229

of time^ will enable an author to write with vivacity, and to
interest his readers, for he will describe within a shorter com-
pass, 9nd in a manner less dull and tedious than the person
who transcribes every circumstance from a note book ; and
the fancy will have a more unbounded range, and be able to
throw in more of ornament and eloquence.

'* As in the style of narrative perspicuity is the first object,
an author should be careful that every sentence may present a
distinct image ; for nothing confuses more than when several
circumstances are blended or complicated one with another.
Yet for tiie sake of harmony, and to avoid a monotonous tone,
which is a very common vice of narration, the sentences must
not be too short

^' The degree of ornament or figure ttf be employed, must
depend, in a great measure, on the subject ; but in general it is
safer to attempt too little in the way of ornament than too much.
Nothing tends more to confuse a narrative than a style too
florid ; though figurative language, sparingly and judiciously in-
troduced, occasionally gives animation. The comparison is a
figure too flat and formal to suit with narrative, and almost
the only figure which may be freely employed is the meta-
phor. But even metaphors, when introduced, should be easy
and natural, for recondite or remote allusions perplex the
inind, and withdraw the attention from the subject. They
must not be common-place neither, for nothing renders a
style so frigid as common-place ornaments. But after all,
the attentive and studious perusal of the best writers in this,
as well as in every other department, will effect infinitely more
ihao any abstract rules or observations whatever. Read care-
fully the most approved narrators; mark their manner of
bringing events and circumstances before your view ; observe
their mode of connecting them ; the compass and turn of
their periods. You will see that there is nothiug abrupt ;
nothing either defectively terminated, or violently or harshly
introduced ; or where there is a deviation from the thread or
course of the story, the reader's micd is prepared by a short



2S0 BELLES LETTRES.

introduction or apology, so that the smoothness and svnplicity
of the narrative shall not be materially interrupted. As you
will have to write in English, i would advise you to study the
best models in your own language, for none has better writers
of narrative. It will also be an improving exercise, if, after
having read a long passage, and made yourself master of the
facts, you close the book and try to narrate them yourself,
when the comparison will shew you your own defects, and
enable you to avoid them on a future occasion. For the
grave kind of narration, examine the style of Robertson, Hume,
Gibbon, Goldsmith,* and Dr. Haw kesworih's Voyages ; for
the lighter and more familiar kinds, the short narratives in
the Spectator, especially those of Mr. Addison; some of a
similar nature in the Rambler of Dr. Johnson; and the Ad-
venturer of Dr. Hawkesworlh, will afford you unexceptionable
specimens."

The criticisms of Dr. Gregory on the ancient and modern
Historians, from Herodotus to Gibbon ; on the Annalists and
Biographers of our own country, on the writers of Voyages
and Travels, Fictitious Narrative, and Epistolary writing,
are well adapted to inform the mind, strengthen the judg-
ment, and improve the taste of young persons, and, as such,
cannot be too strongly recommended to their attention. A
brief but excellent account of poetry follows the subjects
already noticed : its various descriptions are correctly classi-
fied ; and the authors who have excelled in each, are ranked
without prejudice or partiality, we conceive, according to their
most legitimately acknowledged precedence.

If, therefore, a young person desirous of extending his
knowledge in polite hterature, be limited either in the time that
he can expend in study, or in the means of possessing himself
of a number of books, we hav6 no scruple in recommending

The History of England, in a series of Letters from a Nobleman to
his Son, is an admirable iperimen of historical language, sufficiently fanii*
liar, withoat any lou of dignity.



PLAN OF STUDY, &C. 231

Dr. Gregory's Letters, as a work that will answer all com-
mon purposes.

Dr. Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, well
deserve a place in the library of the student in polite litera-
rature. They were originally published in two volumes, 4to.
but have gone through a great number of editions in three
volumes, 8vo. In recommending this work to the reader's
attention, we need do little more than briefly enumerate the
contents of the several volumes.

The first volume contains introductory dissertations on
Taste, Genius, and Criticism :'~-on the sources of the pleasures
of Taste, Sublimity, Beauty, Novelty, Imitation, and De-
scription ; and on the rise and progress of language and
writing. In this part of the work, the prhiciples of Universal
Grammar are investigated, and these principles applied to the
English tongue. From this, the author proceeds to style,
which is treated of under the two heads of Perspicuity aud
Ornament. The former is considered, as it relates to the
choice of single words aud phrases ; and under the latter are
examined the origin and nature of figurative language.

In the second volume, the general characters of style are
explained, and directions are given for forming a style.
These are followed by critical analyses of the style of some
papers of the Spectator, and of a passage from the writings
of Swift, which abound with much useful criticism, and
merit the attention of those who would understand the prin-
ciples of good writing.

The author next treats of Eloquence, properly so called,
or public speaking, in its different departments. In this part,
the eloquence of the bar, that of the pulpit, and that of
popular assemblies, are illustrated at considerable length, and
will be extremely useful to those who are practically engaged
in the learned professions. Dr. Blair has drawn with a
masterly hand, the characters of several of the most dis-
tinguished English writers, viz. Swift, Tillotson, Addison,
Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke. These in general are accu-



232 BEIXES LETTRES.

rate and highly fiubhed dehneations. The predotninaiit aod
characteristical manner of each author is happily seized on,
and exhibited in striking colours. To illustrate Dr. Blair's
manner, rather than to give proof of our assertions, we will
transcribe his character of L(Ord Bolingbroke. He is speak-
ing of the vehement style, which implies strength, but
which is not inconsistent with simplicity. It is, he says, a
gloning style, the language of a man whose imagination and
passions are heated, and strongly affected by w hat he writes ;
who is therefore negligent of lesser graces, but pours himself
forth with the rapidity and fullness of a torrent. It belongs
to the higher kinds of oratory, and indeed is rather expected
from a man who is speaking, than from one who is writing in
bis closet. The orations of Demosthenes furnish the full and
perfect example of this species of style. Among English
writers, the one who had most of this character, though
mixed with several defects, is Lord Bolingbroke.

" Bolingbroke," he adds, " was formed by nature to be 9
factious leader ; the demagogue of a popular assembly. Ac-
cordingly^ the style that runs through all his political writings,
is that of one declaiming with heat, rather than writing with
deliberation. He abounds with rhetorical figures ; and pours
forth with great impetuosity. He is copious to a fault;
places the same thought before us m many different views,
but generally with life and ardour. He is bold rather thai;
correct ; a torrent that flows strong but often muddy. His
sentences are varied as to length and shortness; inclining,
however, most to long ppriods, sometimes including paren-
theses, and frequently crowding and heaping a multitude of
things upon one another, as naturally happens in the warmth
pf speaking. In the choice of words, there is great felicity
and precision. In the exact construction of sentences, he is
much inferior to Lord Shaftesbury, but greatly superior to
him in life and ease."

In his third volume, Dr. Blair, after giving a comparative
yiew of the merit of the ancients and moderns, and maki^ig



PLAN OF STUDY, &c. 233

Some observaitions on the different styles of Historical, Phi-
losophical and Epistolary writing, with remarks on Dialogue
and Fictitious History, devotes himself entirely to Poetry, in
which is included the Drama. This part of the work, which
to many readers will appear most interesting, contains a cri-
tical examination of the most distinguished species of poetical
compositions. i

A work of similar import to that of Dr. Blair, is entitled
" Lectures on Belles Lettres and Logic, by the late William
Barron, professor of Belles Lettres and Logic in the Univer-
sity of St. Andrews" in two vols. 8vo. These lectures, as
far as the Belles Lettres are concerned, treat: 1. Of the
structure of language, and the properties of style. 2. Of
spoken language, or eloquence, as proper for deliberative as-
semblies, courts of justice, and the pulpit. 3. Of written
language, or the most eminent kinds of composition in prose
and verse. The reader, if he have an opportunity of
comparing the lectures of Mr. Barron with those of Dr.
Blair, will find a great similarity in the subjects discussed ; in
those of Mr. Barron, the arriftigement is often more clear
and lucid, but the author is evidently indebted to his pre-
decessor for much of what is excellent and valuable in his'
work, and unfortunately there is no acknowledgment made of
the obligations due to him. In justification of Mr. Barron, it
must be observed, that the lectures were published after his
death, and before they had undergone his own revision, and
preparation for the press. The omission complained of does
not affect their value to the student ; he is concerned only with
the information which they are calculated to convey ; and cer-
tainly Mr. Barron's Lectures may be studied with great advan-
tage, either with or without the aid of other works on the
same subject.

" Elements of Criticism," by Lord Kames, is a very valu-
able work connected with the study of Belles Lettres: it
was published more than half a century ago, and maintains, at
the present time, a high reputation among the learned. It was



234 -BELLES LETTRES.

in truth the first considerable work on the subject of criti-
cism in our language ; and every subsequent writer, whether
he acknowledge it or not, is greatly indebted to his Lordship
for the number of examples which he collected, and for the
value and profundity of his. remarks and observations. He
was well acquainted with the human mind, and applied his
knowledge to the illustrations and investigation of the science
which he undertook to establish on a solid foundation.

Lord Karnes introduces his work with some curious ob-
servations concerning the impressions which we receive from
the senses. He next traces the progress of our pleasures,
among which the organic take the lead, though they are of short
duration : when prolonged, he says, they lose their relish ; when
indulged to excess, they beget satiety and disgust. The plea-
sures of the eye and ear succeed, and prepare us for enjoying
internal objects, where there cannot be an organic impression.
He then proceeds to recommend the cultivation of those plea-
sures of the eye and ear especially, which require extra-
ordinary culture, such ' as are inspired by poetry, painting,
music, gardening and architecAire. The principles of the fine
arts, he observes, are evolved by studying the sensitive part of
human nature, and by learning what objects are naturally
agreeable, and what are naturally disagreeable. The man who
aspires to be a critic in these arts, must pierce still deeper.
He must clearly perceive what objects are lofty, what are low
what are proper or improper, what are manly, and what are
mean or trivial. Hence a foundation for judging of taste, and
for reasoning upon it. Where it is conformable to principles,
we can pronounce with certainty that it is correct. Thus the
fine art^, like morals, become a rational science, and like
morals, may be cultivated to a high degree of refinement.

Manifold, says his lordship, are the advantages of criti-
cism, when thus studied as a rational science. A thorough
acquaintance viih ihe principles of the fine arts redoubles
the pleasure which we derive from them. To the man who
resigns himself to feeling, without interposing any judgment.



PLAN OF STUDY, &c. 235

they become mere pastime, and will in time lose their power
over the mind, and be neglected ; but to those who deal in
criticism, as a regular science, governed by just principles,
and giving scope to judgment as well as to fancy, the fine
arts are a favourite entertainment, and will in old age 'main-
tain that relish which they produce in the morning of life.

In the next pjace, a philosophic inquiry into the princi-
ples of the fine arts, inures the reflecting mind to the most
enticing logic : the practice of reasoning upon .subjects so
agreeable, tends to a habit ; and a habit strengthening the
reasoning faculties, prepares the mind for entering into sub-
jects more intricate and abstract. This branch of science,
moreover, furnishes an inviting opportunity to exercise the
judgment ; we delight to reason upon subjects that are equally
pleasant and familiar : we proceed giadually from the simpler
to the more involved cases ; and in a due course of discipline,
custom, which improves all our faculties, bestows acuteness
on that of reason, sufficient to unravel all the intricacies of
philosophy.

Another advantage mentioned by our author, is, that the
reasonings employed on the fine arts, are of the same kind
with those which regulate our conduct. Rational criticism
tends to improve the heart, no less than the understanding.
It contributes to moderate the selfish affections, and is a strong
antidote to the turbulence of passion. Delicacy of taste, 6b-
tained by rational criticism, tends likewise, his lordship assumes,
to invigorate the social affections ; and is, in fact, the great sup-
port of morality. " I insist upon it," says he, " with entire
satisfaction, that no occupation attaches a man more to his
duty, than that of cultivating a taste in the fine arts: a just
relish of what is beautiful, proper, elegant and ornamental, is
a fine preparation for the same just relish of these qualities in
character and behaviour."

Having thus stated the advantages which Lord Karnes
considers as necessarily the result of the study recommended
and enforced by the " Elements of Criticism," he goes on to



236 BELLES LETTRES.

unfold the plan of his work, and the method which he has
taken to accomplish his object. " It is not," says he, ** the
author's intention to compose a regular treatise upon each of
the fine arts ; but only, in general, to exhibit their funda-
ment^ principles, drawn fiom human nature, the true source
of criticism. The fine arts are inended to entertain us, by
making pleasant impressions, and by that circumstance, are
distinguished from the useful arts : but in order to make plea-
sant impressions, we ought to know what objects are naturally
agreeable, and w hat naturally disagreeable. That subject is here
attempted, as far as is necessary for unfolding the genuine prin-
ciples of the fine arts ; and the author assumes no merit from
his performance, but that of evincing, perhaps more distinctly
than hitherto has been done, that these principles, as well as
every just rule of criticism, are founded upon the sensitive part
of our nature, W hat the author hath discovered or collected
upon that subject, he chooses to impart in the gay and agreeable
form of criticism ; imagining thai this form will be more relished,
and is, perhaps, no less instructive, than a regular and laboured
disquisition. His plan is to ascend gradually to principles,
from facts and experiments ; instead of beginning with the
former, handled abstractedly, and descending to the latter.
But, though criticism is thus his only declared aim, he will
not disow n, that all along it has been his view to explain the
nature of man, considered as a. sensitive being, capable of
pleasure or pain; and, though he flatters himself with having
made some progress in that important science, he is, how-
ever, too sensible of its extent and difficulty, to undertake



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 19 of 44)