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wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? but what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold they that wear soft raiment are in kings' houses: but what went ye out for to see? A prophet, yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.”
Exclamation is a stronger figure than the former. The best rule that can be given with regard to it, is, that you should attend to the manner in which the passion you describe would naturally vent itself. The figure must be seldom used, as it will appear very ridiculous, unless where the passions of the hearers are much inflamed.
The same author observes, that some writers fill their books with points of admiration! as if the points were sufficient to produce that passion by a magical power, when their sentiments are perfectly frigid. Nearly allied to this is another trick, which has been much employed by modern authors, i. e. filling their writings with black lines, as if every sentence was so important as to deserve applause. Dr. Blair calls this a typographical figure, and it is well adapted to some contemptible writers, and that herd of novelists, who have nothing either in their matter or style to attract attention. There was another custom used not long ago, which modern writers have justly laid aside; they wrote every word which they thought emphatic in Italic characters. Though this may be very proper with respect to some very energetic words, yet the too frequent use of them only dazzles the sight, without informing the understanding.
Dr. Blair remarks also another figure, which he calls vision, by which we describe a thing that is past or absent as if passing immediately before our eyes: by it we place things in a very lively manner before our readers, an example of which may be found in Cicero's fourth oration against Catiline. "Cum vero mihi proposui regnantem Lentulum," &c. It is not easy to give any rules concerning the management of this figure; it requires, indeed, great caution, and its use ought to be almost exclusively restricted to very passionate orations.
Repetition is another animated figure remarked by the same writer; by this we repeat the most material words of a sentence, in order to make the impression the stronger. There is an example of this in Virgil, when Orpheus laments his lost wife Eurydice.....
"Te, dulcis conjux te, solo in littore secum
To the same purpose Mr. Pope....
"By foreign hands thy dying eyes were clos'd,
1 "By strangers honour'd and by strangers mourn'd.”
The finest instance of this is, however, in St. Paul's 2d Epistle to the Corinthians, ch. xi. v. 22. “ Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they the ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft."
I have already treated of the climax in a former letter; all that is necessary to remark here is, that it is commonly classed as a figure of rhetoric.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON COMPOSITION.
MY DEAR JOHN,
I HAVE endeavoured to give you as correct a notion as I can of all the figures of rhetoric which deserve the name. To enter into the minuteness of Farnaby would be trifling, and only perplex. There was scarcely a form or idiom of language for which the Greeks did not invent a name; and it is to be lamented that much of their science consisted only in giving names.
Even in what I have done, I fear you will apply to me the remark of Butler, formerly quoted. Yet let it be remembered, that it is at least an accomplishment to know how literary men, both ancient and modern, have specified and defined the various modes of expression.
I shall have frequently to call your attention to something of more importance than style, the matter and form of the different species of composition. Yet even here what has been advanced on the subject of style will not be found useless. Independent of those qualities which every good style ought to possess.....perspicuity, purity, and harmony....you will have to apply much of what I have advanced to the different kinds of composition of which we are now to treat. It is evident that some will be improved by an ornamental or florid style; that in others, figurative language must be sparingly employed, while on some subjects it would be an absolute vice.
All kinds of composition may be classed under two general divisions: prose, and poetry; and it will be most natural and easy to treat in the first instance of the former.
Prose compositions may again be arranged in the folłowing classes: 1st. Didactic and argumentative; 2d.
Oratorical; 3d. Narrative and descriptive. The first will comprehend every thing relating to moral, political, or natural philosophy; all treatises on the arts or sciences; all discussions or controversies, which do not come under the second division of the oratorical or declamatory. The second division will include not only the three great branches of oratory.....the senate, the bar, and the pulpit; but also much of controversy, political pamphlets, and every thing that assumes a declamatory form. The letters of Junius, though under the epistolary title, may be classed as political declamations.
The last division will extend not only to real but fictitious history, memoirs, books of travels, and even many compositions which rank as essays, but which are in reality either narratives or descriptions. The three kinds will be found sometimes blended in one production, as in Thucydides and Livy will be found almost as much of oratory as of mere narrative; though this is a style of composition which I would not recommend.
It is obvious, that in didactic or argumentative compositions, works of reasoning, a florid or figurative style is very improperly introduced: yet in what are called moral essays, such as the Spectators, Ramblers, and Adventurers, a style moderately florid is far from misplaced. The truth is, these productions partake more or less of the nature either of poetry or oratory. They are in a great measure works of imagination, and therefore the ornaments of fancy are not improperly bestowed upon them.
There are few productions of the narrative kind which will not admit of ornament. The ancient historians are, however, rather more chaste in this respect, except where they professedly introduce an oration. Books of travels are mostly descriptive; and description admits of even more ornament than narrative. It indeed ap
proaches to poetry, and almost admits of equal licence.
But of all the different kinds of prose composition, oratory admits of the greatest variety of ornament. It allows occasionally of almost all the figures which are
appropriated to poetry, and of some almost peculiar to itself. It is, therefore, to this branch of composition that the art of rhetoric particularly applies; and the ancient rhetoricians were mere teachers of oratory.
In treating critically of the different kinds of composition, both prose and verse, I shall have to enforce more particularly these observations In the mean time, as this letter is of a miscellaneous character, I shall conclude it with a few practical rules, which you will find useful in the acquisition of a good style; some from my own practice and observation, and some from other authors.
1st. As we have been treating so lately of figurative language, my first observation will apply to it. Never be anxious to embellish your compositions in this Never study to find out comparisons or metaphors to adorn your discourse. Figurative language, when it is good, comes spontaneously from a lively imagination, or from a mind richly stored by the perusal of the best authors.
2d. Avoid common-place metaphors. Nothing can be more disgusting than an accumulation of trite and common allusions. The plainest style is preferable; and figures to be pleasing should always have something ingenious and uncommon to recommend them. Such a style as I have now been deprecating, is always frigid, and commonly characterized as fustian or bombast.
3d. To write well you should study to acquire a clear idea of the subject. Some may suppose that this has no connection with style; but the case is otherwise, for unless you understand what you write upon, you can never make others understand you. When you are to write, you are to reflect upon all the parts of the subject; and when you have acquired a clear view of it, the words will come of course, though probably they will admit of much amendment. Do not however stop the ardour of composition for the sake of a single word or phrase, but leave it a blank when a proper one does not occur, or rather take the word that presents itself, and mark it to be afterwards corrected.