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“ tal atoms thereof." But if Johnson imitated Brown's style, he gave the praise to Addison's; for in his life of Addison he says: “Whoever wishes to acquire a style which is familiar but not
coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and “nights to the volumes of Addison.”
It has been surmised that after Johnson had written his Dictionary, he introduced such a number of hard words into “The Rambler," in order to oblige people to buy the Dictionary, that they might be able to find out their meaning. In his conversation he got so fond of such long sounding words, that often, after having expressed himself in simple words, he would go over it again, and translate his speech into something more sonorous. A lady having one day said that she doubted Mr. Thomas Hollis was an Atheist. Johnson replied, 'I don't know that. He might perhaps have become one, if he had time to ripen ;' then, smiling, ' he might have exuberated into an Atheist.'
But, however such a style may be tolerated, or even admired, when it is the vehicle of an abundance of matter and powerful thought, it is a gross imposture when used without such accompaniments; and it is certainly a great mistake to suppose that simplicity of style and easy language are not fully capable of expressing the sublime, the beautiful, and the pathetic.
When Sir Walter Scott was contemplating writing “The Tales of a Grandfather,” he entered into his Diary the following passage :-"A good thought came into my head to write “ stories for little Johnie Lockhart, from the History of Scotland,' “ like those taken from The History of England,' by Croker. “ But I will not write mine quite so simply as he has done. “ persuaded both children, and the lower class of readers, hate books “ which are written down to their capacity, and love those that are
composed more for their elders and betters. I will make it, if
possible, a book that a child shall understand, yet a man will “ feel some temptation to peruse, should he chance to take it up. "I will require, however, a simplicity of style not quite my own. “ The grand and interesting consists in ideas, not in words. A 66 clever thing of this sort might have a race. How admirably he succeeded in his attempt, it is needless for me now to say ; or
how great has been the pleasure and improvement afforded to young and old. The author of "Companions of my Solitude" remarks “that of all defects, that which has been most fatal to a good style " is the not knowing when to come to an end. Take some inferior “ writer's works. Dismiss nearly all the adjectives; when he “uses many substantives, either in juxtaposition, or in some de
pendence on each other, reduce him to one; do the same with the + verbs; finally omit all the adverbs; and you will perhaps find out " that this writer had something to say, which you might never “have discovered, if you had not removed the superfluous words. " " Indeed in thinking of the kind of writing that is needed, I am “ reminded of a stanza in a wild Arab song, which runs thus :
" Terrible he rode along,
" With his Yemen sword for aid; 6. Ornament it carried none,
" But the notches on the blade.
“So in the best writing, only that is ornament, which shows some “ service done, which has some dint of thought about it.”
The great Roman critic observes, “ To your expression be attentive, but about your matter be solicitous.” And still further, in all compositions of a serious kind, the object, as Pope remarks, should invariably be to turn the attention
“From sounds to things, from fancy to the heart.” Since the days of the great philosophic critic of Palmyra, Longinus, down to those of Blair and the moderns, the words of the Jewish lawgiver,--"no common person," as Longinus designates Moses, all recognition of anything like Divine inspiration being, in his estimation, of course, quite out of the question,—the words of the Jewish lawgiver have been for ever quoted, as a notable instance of the true sublime; yet words more simple in themselves could scarcely be uttered. As for what is called the sublime style, observes Blair, it is for the most part a very
and has no relation whatever to the real sublime. Persons are apt to imagine that magnificent words, accumulated epithets, and a certain swelling kind of expression, by rising above what is usual or vulgar, con
tributes to, or even forms, the sublime.- Nothing can be more false : “God said, let there be light, and there was light.” And this, in the Hebrew, as Moses wrote it, and in the Greek, is still simpler, and expressed in fewer words, "genestho phos kai egeneto "_"Let there be light, and there was light.” This is striking and sublime. But put it in what is commonly called the sublime style: Sovereign Arbiter of Nature, by the potent energy of a single word, commanded the light to exist"; and, as Boileau has well observed, the style indeed is raised, but the thought is fallen.
In general, in all good writing, the sublime lies in the thought, not in the words; and when the thought is truly noble, it will for the most part clothe itself in a native dignity of language. Milton is simple in the midst of all his grandeur; and Demosthenes in the midst of all his vehemence. Milton shows too how harmony of expression may be preserved even among monosyllables, in Adam and Eve's Morning Hymn:
" His praise, ye winds, that from four quarters blow,
Breathe soft or loud ; and wave your tops, ye Pines,
“With every plant, in sign of worship wave.” Here we have three lines, of which the second, although composed entirely of monosyllables, is the most harmonious ; indeed, throughout the whole of this beautiful Hymn the abundance of monosyllabic words is very remarkable, several lines being made up entirely of them.
Most of the passages from the best authors, which are being forever quoted as remarkable for their force and beauty, have a chasteness and simplicity about them, even when combined with the greatest richness of fancy and strength of idea. For those who are fond of the sweet music of language, perhaps there is hardly a sentence to be found more remarkable, than the wellknown and often repeated one, with which Dr. Johnson commences his beautiful Tale of Rasselas; and which is the more apposite for our present purpose, because, though not all expressed in simple Saxon, yet is encumbered with none of his sesquipedalian words : “Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope, who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow, attend to the history of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia." Scarcely less known, and even more striking, are the words of Bishop Horne, in which he describes the conclusion of his labours, in his Preface to his much-valued Commentary on the Psalms : “And now could the Author flatter himself, that any one would take half the pleasure in reading the following exposition, which he has taken in writing it, he would not fear the loss of his labor. The employment detached him from the bustle and hurry of life, the din of politics and the noise of folly; vanity and vexation flew away for a season, care and disquietude came not near his dwelling. He arose, fresh as the morning, to his task; the silence of the night invited him to pursue it: and he can truly say that food and rest were not preferred before it. Every Psalm improved infinitely upon his acquaintance with it, and no one gave him uneasiness but the last; for then he grieved that his work was done. Happier hours than those which have been spent on these meditations on the Songs of Zion, he never expects to see in this world. Very pleasantly did they pass, and moved smoothly and swiftly along, for while thus engaged he counted no time. They are gone, but they have left a relish and a fragrance upon the mind, and the remembrance of them is sweet.” Simpler expressions it were hardly possible to use; while he that uttered them must have learnt the sweet melody of words, as well as thought, from those lovely songs of Zion, he had been so fondly and profitably studying.
I shall only give you one more passage, of a different cast of thought; but still simple in diction, though vivid in the picture set before you, and full of power. It is on the vanity of wordly greatness, from a sermon by Dr. Donne: “The ashes of an oak in the chimney are no epitaph of that oak to tell me how high, or how large it was. It tells me not what flocks it sheltered while it stood; nor what men it hurt when it fell. The dust of great persons is speechless too; it says nothing, it distinguishes nothing. As soon the dust of a wretch, whom thou wouldst not, as of a prince whom thou couldst not look upon, would trouble thine eyes if the wind blew it thither; and when a whirlwind hath blown the dust of a churchyard into the church, and the man sweeps out the dust of the church into the churchyard, who will undertake to sift these dusts again and to pronounce, This is the patrician, this is the noble flower, this is the yeomanly, this is the plebeian bran.'” Coleridge once, in noticing this passage, added a brief, but expressive, “very beautiful indeed."
If beauty and force of expression can thus be combined, both in poetry and prose, with much simplicity, it is well to be guarded against that tinsel splendor of language, which some authors perpetually affect; but which is so often very contemptible. It were well if this could always be ascribed to the real overflowing of a rich imagination. We should then have something to amuse us, if we found little to instruct. But the worst is, that, with such frothy writers, it is a luxuriancy of words, not of fancy. We see a labored attempt to rise to a splendor of composition, of which they have formed to themselves some loose idea ; but having no strength of genius for attaining it, they endeavour to supply the defect by poetical words, by cold exclamations, by common place figures, and every thing that has the appearance of pomp and magnificence. It has escaped such persons that sobriety in ornament, an essential element of good Taste, is the great secret for rendering it pleasing, wherever it can be justly appreciated; and that without a foundation of good sense and solid thought, the most florid style is but a childish imposition on the public. The public, however, are but too apt to be imposed upon, and too often ready to be caught, at first sight, with whatever is dazzling and gaudy.
But it is impossible, as passing time warns me, to do more in a single Lecture of this description, than in a very general way to offer such remarks, as may be suggestive rather, than completely to discuss so wide a subject. I wish I may, in this respect, have succeeded in even a little measure. But why should we be thus solicitous for the development of a true Taste in the works of nature and of art, and for the appreciation of a correct Style in Literature ? As a Christian Minister I would say : because, in doing this, we are cultivating those higher powers with which the Almighty has endowed us; and giving proper scope and exercise to faculties, which were surely intended for use, and meant to be improved.