Page images

accustomed to comprehensive, methodical, and strong views of subjects. It requires also skill in the use of language, but derives little aid from what are called the ornaments of style.

When to sound and convincing arguments, clearly and forcibly exhibited, is added a highly excited state of feeling, vehemence of style is the result. It is from this deeper current of feeling, implied by the latter term, that the shade of difference between a forcible and vehement style arises. This excitement of feeling may spring from the greater importance of the subject, or from the more intense interest felt in it by the writer. An able political writer, in a production on an electioneering question, might be forcible in his style; but if this same writer be called upon to treat of a subject, deeply affecting the welfare of his country, he becomes vehement.

The forcible and vehement styles are well suited to the discussion of political subjects; and the history of every nation presents occasions, when examples of this kind are furnished. Such are the political writings of Milton and Algernon Sidney. Controversial writings on other subjects are likewise often forcible, and our age has furnished some good examples of the vehement style among divines. Chalmers may be mentioned as a writer of this class.

Opposed to the forcible and the vehement style, is that manner of writing which is called feeble and languid. A distinction may be made between these epithets, similar to that made between forcible and vehement. The former has reference to strength of reasoning, and energy of thought; the latter to the degree of excitement which is manifested. Hence it is, that a feeble and languid manner of writing is indicative of the whole character of the writer. The man whose style is feeble and languid is usually slothful in his habits, and inefficient in his plans and conduct. His view of his subject is cold and indistinct. His words are general, and destitute of that

vivacity which results from the use of more specific terms. His sentences are frequently long, and the clauses and members loosely connected. The parenthesis is much used; and we often find at the close of a sentence an additional clause, which is evidently designed to save the trouble of forming a new sentence.

Attempts after force and vehemence of style, when unsupported by strength of thought and real feeling, become rant and declamation. In such instances, instead of strong reasoning, we have confident assertions; and for clear, impressive views of the subject, we have frequent repetitions, and bold declarations of its clearness. Instead of being left ourselves to discern the depth of the writer's feelings, we are told how deeply he feels; and all the artificial helps of vivacity, as exclamation, interrogation, antithesis, and climax, are called to his aid. But while force and vehemence of style, like a deep and powerful current, sweep every obstacle before them, rant and declamation are fitly represented by the broad and shallow stream, specious and noisy, but powerless.

ELEVATED AND DIGNIFIed. The foundations of an elevated style are laid in the thoughts. And these have more of originality and sublimity about them, than those which flow through the minds of less gifted men. There is also a fervour by which the writer seems to be urged onwards not an impetuous and violent feeling, but

calm and powerful.

In reading a production in an elevated style, our attention is ordinarily too much engrossed by the thoughts, to permit us to regard the language in which they are conveyed; and if at any time we stop with this object in view, it is but to feel and express our admiration. The words used, are those, which, from the associations connected with them, are well suited to the feelings and thoughts that have possession of our minds. But the

selection of these words does not seem the result of effort and care. They have sprung up in the mind simultaneously with the thoughts themselves, and we regard them as the language in which the author usually thinks and converses.

The sentences are full and flowing, but at the same time unlaboured, and simple in their composition. There is also an uniformity about them, which is characteristic of an elevated style. In more common styles you will find here and there a striking thought, or a bold expression, while other parts are thrown in as subsidiary or as connecting the more prominent thoughts; but in the elevated style, every sentence has its meaning and its importance. The whole abounds in thought, and there is a majesty and grandeur in the quiet but resistless power, with which it holds its undisturbed and even


We can hardly speak of the ornaments of an elevated style with propriety. This word implies something put on with the design of pleasing; but in the style I am describing, figurative language, and all that is included under the head of ornament, seems rather to arise from a kind of inspiration, than from any design of pleasing; and the effect produced on the mind of the reader is a grateful exaltation of feeling. The definition which Longinus has given of sublimity, is in such instances happily exemplified. We seem to put ourselves in the place of the author, and as if the thought were our own, we glory in the grandeur and nobleness of the conception.

In applying the epithet dignified to style, there is a reference to true dignity, in distinction from the air of importance which sometimes assumes this name. Considered in this light, it is allied to the elevated style, but differs from it, in the want of ease and naturalness in its character. The attitudes and movements of dignified

men, are often the results of design and study, and similar art and labour are found in the style of the dignified writer. He seems conscious, that he is treating of weighty matters, and laying down important conclusions, and there is something in his very air, which tells us it is a great work he is carrying on. Hence uncommon and learned words are chosen, and there is a stateliness and formality in his sentences. The phrase, which the idiomatic writer would select as most happily expressive of his meaning, the dignified writer rejects as beneath his style. Instead of distinctness and ease of expression, there are inversions and involutions of clauses. Many circumstances are introduced, which give preciseness to the meaning, but which break up the continuous flow of the sentence. A tiresome uniformity in the length and form of the sentence, is also found, giving to the whole production the appearance of the enunciation of successive, distinct propositions.

The dignified style admits of ornament, and that of a high kind. But there is something of parade attending its use. Instead of the sprightly metaphor, or well-timed allusion, we have the protracted allegory, or the formal comparison. But then the images which are brought to view, are not only illustrative, but often ennobling and exalting. It is not a common pageant that passes before the mind, but one of those splendid scenes that give pleasure to the great.

For examples of the elevated style, I may refer to the writings of Robert Hall, and of Dr. Channing of the United States of America. Of the dignified style, the philosophical writings of Dugald Stewart may be mentioned.

Unsuccessful attempts after the elevated or dignified manner of writing, result in what is called the pedantic or pompous style. A pedant is one fond of showing book-knowledge; and a pedantic style is characterized

by the use of such terms and phrases, as are obsolete, uncommon, or derived from the dead languages. The pompous style is usually associated with the pedantic, and is characterized by the use of long and sonorous words, by circumlocutions, by the frequent use of synonymes, and by the repetition of the same thought in different words. There are plants which, in the language of husbandmen, grow rank in certain soils. They spread wide their branches, and are covered with thick foliage, but it is only after a long and wearied search, that any fruit can be found, and then it is not of sufficient value to repay the toil. These plants are apt emblems of the productions of pompous writers.

NEAT AND elegant. These epithets are applied to style with particular reference to what is called the turn of expression. They denote also, especially the latter, the nature of the ornament used. We well understand their force, as they are applied to a production in the arts. By the application of the former to any article of ornament or use, we declare that it is not only free from faults, but that it is executed in a manner that pleases us, and shows skill on the part of the artist. In applying the other epithet, we express admiration. The work is not only faithfully and skilfully executed, but in a manner which excels. The epithets have the same meaning when applied to style. In saying that a style is neat, we mean that the turns of expression are such, as happily convey the thoughts, and are well suited to the subject and occasion. In saying that a style is elegant, we declare that there is the same happy and well adapted mode of conveying the thoughts, and this to a degree that is uncommon.

The turn of expression must necessarily depend both on the choice of words, and the composition of the sentence. It is also closely connected with the thought that is conveyed. Thus in the forcible and vehement style,

« PreviousContinue »