Page images

style is most strictly correct in construction and perspicuous in its meaning.

It has been said, that an idiomatic style is the style of conversation. Still-it must be confessed, that there is hardly any one, that has not more formality in his writings, than in his familiar, oral intercourse. The distinction may be illustrated by referring to reading aloud. A good reader will, on the one hand, be far removed from artificial, or, as they are called, "reading tones;" on the other, though his tones are natural, they will differ in some respects from the familiar tones of conversation. In the same manner, a style may be idiomatic, and rise in some degree above the most common forms of conversational intercourse.

An idiomatic style is always grateful to the reader. It requires no labor to understand a writer of this class. His forms of expression are those with which we are familiar those which we use in the most artless, free communication of our thoughts, and we collect his meaning from a glance at the sentence.

An abuse of the idiomatic style, to which no particular epithet has as yet been applied, is sometimes found at the present day. It is in fact rather the want of style, than a well-characterized manner of writing.

Like the conversation of a man who is hasty in his conclusions, and all whose thoughts and views are ill defined, this style is loose and rambling, utterly disregarding all smoothness and polish, and often violating the most common principles both of Rhetoric and Grammar. There is a mixing together of low cant words and phrases, with foreign, abstruse and strangely compounded terms, and sometimes with lofty and imposing forms of expression. The figurative language especially, and all that is introduced with the design of illustration and ornament, wants consistency and uniformity. Odd conceits, vulgar illustrations, and undignified figurative ex

pressions, are found in the same sentence with figures and
language, striking and pertinent, and sometimes chaste and
beautiful. The same inequalities mark different passages
and parts of the composition. One paragraph is trite and
common-place both in thought and expression. The next
is original, bold, startling and impassioned.

An analysis of this mode of writing shews us that it is an
unsuccessful attempt to be idiomatic and striking. It is in
fact a species of literary coxcombry, and those who affect it
would pass themselves off as men of superior powers and
attainments. Their leading motto is, “ Never think twice,"
and the first thoughts and expressions which they give us,
are such as might be expected. It is not necessary to state
the remedies, which should be applied to the faulty style
that has been described.

Opposed to the easy. and idiomatic manner of writing,
which has now been described, is the labored style. This,
as the epithet imports, appears to have been written with
much pains on the part of the writer, and requires close at-
tention and effort that it may be understood. The arrange-
ment of the words and clauses is often inverted, and the
whole composition of the sentence is artificial. A labored
style, when carried to excess, will be highly faulty. It will
want perspicuity, smoothness, and naturalness.
often the case that a style, which is in some degree labored,
has redeeming qualities, which recommend it, and give
some degree of reputation to a writer. The style of Dugald
Stewart may be mentioned as an instance of this kind. His
manner of writing is evidently labored; but there are quali-
ties to be found in it which save it from censure.

For the correction of a labored style, and the attainment
of a more idiomatic and easy manner of writing, it is recom-
mended; 1. To compose with greater rapidity. Ordinarily,
that form of expression, which presents itself to the mind



with the thought to be communicated, will best convey this thought to others; especially is this the case, when a writer's views of his subject are clear and well defined. But the labored writer is not willing to use this obvious and easy form of expression. He must stop to select less common words, less simple and obvious phrases, to invert his clauses and new model his sentences. But a habit of writing with greater rapidity, will tend to correct this propensity and the consequent faults of style.

2. There are some kinds of composition, the frequent practice of which will aid in the attainment of ease of style. Epistolary writing may particularly be mentioned. He who often communicates his thoughts to his friends in the easy, artless style of letter writing, will insensibly be led to use the same forms of expression on other occasions. The writing of a journal, or the noting down of our casual thoughts and feelings, or the sketching of short descriptions of scenes and occurrences presenting themselves to our notice, when done simply for our own amusement and benefit, without any intention of submitting what we write to the inspection of others, will be of service in the same way.

3. Aid will be obtained in the correction of a labored style from a familiarity with those writers, who are distinguished for their easy and idiomatic manner of writing. Goldsmith, Addison, Steele, Swift, and many of their contemporaries, are of this class.

The epithets CONCISE and DIFFUSE are often applied to style. It may be said generally, that these qualifying terms refer to the number of words used by a writer for conveying his thoughts; but these different kinds of style merit a more particular description.

A writer whose style is concise, expresses his thoughts in few words. There is a vividness and distinctness in his views, and he endeavors by a single and sudden effort to exhibit

[ocr errors]

these views to others. His words are well chosen, and his turns of expression short and bold. No unnecessary expletive, no redundant phrase is found. Grammatical ellipses are common, and his sentences are usually short. The thought is presented in but one light, and much is left to be inferred. As to ornament, there is no room for it. Sometimes a short, plain comparison, or a bold metaphor is found. These, however, are always highly illustrative, and seem designed to save the necessity of a fuller statement.

A diffuse style is the opposite of the concise. The thought is expressed in comparatively many words. It is not meant by this, that a diffuse writer employs more words than are of use in conveying his thoughts. A writer may be diffuse, and be free from the charge of Tautology and Pleonasm. But he does not, as in the former case, leave any thing to be supplied. The statement is not only clear, but full. He dwells on the thought presented, exhibits it in different lights, and enforces it by repetition in different language, with many and varied illustrations. His words are poured forth in a full and uninterrupted stream, and his sentences, though long, are usually harmonious and flowing.

These different kinds of style are respectively suited to different subjects and occasions. The concise style is often used in short biographical notices, or what is sometimes called character painting in the detail of facts, and in proverbs and sententious remarks. The diffuse, on the contrary, is used in the statement and discussion of novel opinions, especially on subjects that are uncommon. It is also well suited to discourses, which are designed to be delivered, and not to be read. Still it is often difficult to determine the degree of conciseness or diffuseness which is desirable. On the one hand, an excess of conciseness endangers the perspicuity of the style; on the other, an excess of diffuseness renders it heavy and tiresome. Whately

recommends to combine the two to state the thought first in a diffuse manner, expanding the sense so that it may be distinctly understood, and then to convey the same idea in a more compressed and sententious form. This expedient produces the effect of brevity, and at the same time, what is said is fully comprehended, or, as he has well expressed it, “the reader will understand the longer expression and remember the shorter.” Passages in the writings of Burke and Johnson illustrate this remark.

The epithets BARREN and LuXURIANT are applied to style to denote defective modes of writing nearly allied to conciseness and diffuseness. The former epithet implies a nakedness and want of connexion in the thoughts and expressions. The trains of thought which are started, are but partially followed out, and the production has in this respect a half finished appearance. The expressions, too, want fulness and flow. Repetitions of the same words and phrases are frequent, and all that pertains to the use of words and the forms of expression, is common place.

What is thus described as barrenness of style, may owe its origin, either to a want of fertility of invention or to a deficiency of ideas or of words. Where there is a deficiency of ideas, when the subject is within the compass of the writer's powers, further research and reflection are needed. When barrenness of style arises from want of copiousness of expression, or command of language, it is a defect, which much reading of good English authors and persevering efforts after improvement will overcome. This defect is most frequently found in those whose acquaintance with literature has commenced late in life, and such especially need make persevering efforts to supply the deficiencies of their early education. In other instances, barrenness of style arises from a want of fertility of invention. The writer is unable to trace the relations between his thoughts, to

« PreviousContinue »