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mass of metaphors and comparisons. There is evidence of an active imagination, but it wants the guidance of taste. There is also ingenuity, but it manifests itself in strange conceits and far-fetched illustrations.
From these instances we learn what is meant by the epithets simple, elegant, specious, and florid, as applied to style; and these epithets denote the most common qualities of those styles in which ornament abounds.
SECTION 3. On modes of writing suited to different subjects and occasions.
It is the design in the preceding chapters to treat of the principles and rules of good writing. An examination of the different classes of literary productions, and of the style suited to them, may form a second part of this work. All that will now be attempted, is to give in a short section some practical directions, which may aid the writer in those kinds of composition which are most common.
Such are Epistolary writings, Essays, Historical and Fictitious writings, Argumentative Discussions, and Orations.
EPISTOLARY WRITINGS are communications between individuals, which serve as a medium both of friendly intercourse and of transacting the business of life. They hold a middle rank between the unrestrained flow and carelessness of conversation, and the preciseness and formality of dignified composition, approaching, however, nearer to the former than to the latter.
Authors sometimes assume the form of letters in their publications when nothing more than the form is designed to be used. Such letters, though addressed to individuals, are in fact written for the public, and dropping the addresses prefixed to them, differ in no respect from the essay or dissertation. These are not included in the class of writings I am now describing.
Letters of friendly intercourse should be written in an easy, artless style. Sprightliness of thought and vivacity of expression, are appropriate to this class of writings; but the more formal ornaments of style should be rarely introduced. At least, it may be said, that such ornaments must be man-, aged with uncommon skill, not to injure the simplicity that is required. In the conversation of the man •of taste and intelligence, we look for a correct use and happy choice of words, and for an easy, idiomatic and simple phraseology, avoiding alike the cant of the vulgar, the verbosity of the pedant, and the sickening refinement of the sentimentalist. The same propriety in words, the same artlessness in expression, are required in his letters, with the additional care which must always be caused by the thought manent scripta.
The letter of business should have strictness of method and perspicuity of style. Its object should be promptly stated, and nothing unnecessary be introduced.
It is not sufficient to insist upon a simple and artless style, and to caution the writer against a stiff and labored manner of composition. There is danger of negligence and carelessness. Some, presuming on the good nature of their friends, write their letters in hasty, disconnected manner as to the thoughts, while their words are often incorrectly used, and their expressions are slovenly. Such may be called rattlers. They run on from one subject to another — their words and sentences but half written out, and their letter, from its beginning to its close, is a perplexing enigma. To such a letter, the lines of Cowper may be applied ;
" One had need Be very much his friend indeed,
To pardon or to bear it.”. It may be added that the man who can write better, is thus doing injustice to himself. An improper expression in
conversation may be forgotten, an awkward movement may be overlooked, but a carelessly written letter is an abiding witness against its author.
English literature furnishes many good models in this species of composition. Cowper may be mentioned as a writer who excels. His solid common sense, his judicious reflections, his lively wit, his playful poetical fancy, his warm affections, his melancholy but deeply interesting feelings of piety, all conspire to give a charm to his letters. Add to this a style, chaste, simple, and sometimes elegant, and it is no wonder, that his productions of this kind are ever read with interest.
Essays are writings, which are usually addressed to the public periodically, and which are brief in their extent and humble in their pretensions. The Essayist does not promise a full view of his subject; nor does he seek to exert a strong influence over the minds of his readers. His
arrangement is professedly desultory; his arguments are probabilities and inferences from facts that are stated. He makes no appeal to the passions, but tells his story and leaves his reader to his own feelings and reflections. The characteristics which recommend writings of this kind to public attention, are the following:
1. The thoughts should have novelty and importance. It can hardly be expected, that readers will direct their attention to só humble a class of writings as the Essay, unless they are to be compensated, either by the pleasure of novelty or by an increase of valuable knowledge. Hence the difficulty of ably conducting periodical publications. To do this successfully, requires a mind well furnished with rich and varied stores of knowledge. Addison has said, that it is more difficult to write a series of periodical essays, than to compose a book on some definite subject; and he spoke from experience. He is said to have spent much time in
preparation, and to have collected three manuscript volumes of interesting facts and references, before he commenced the writing of the Spectator., The issuers of proposals for publishing periodical essays, who with limited resources are wont to make ample promises, should know this anecdote of Addison.
2. The flow of thought in the essay should be discursive and animated. To writings of this kind, the maxim ars est celare artem, may be well applied. Every well disciplined mind will form its plan, but as it has been already remarked, it is not necessary in all cases, that this plan be formally stated. Much skill is also required in the frequent transitions from one subject to another. By dwelling too long on one part, the production becomes tedious; by passing too rapidly from one to another, it appears sterile and abrupt. Wit and sprightliness are also expected in the Essay. We look for the efforts of the active, playful mind, rather thar: for the deep-laid and well-matured reflections of the philosopher. Sprightliness and discursiveness are so essential to productions of this kind that those, who from their intellectual habits, or from the constitution of their minds, are des titute of these qualities, should abstain from all attempts in this species of writing.
3. The style of the Essay may be easy and idiomatic, or more labored and neat. I have already explained what is denoted by these qualifying terms.
The absence of those adventitious causes, which excite a strong interest and arouse the attention, is a reason, why writings of this class should in some degree be addressed to the imagination. There are few minds willing to seek after knowledge, unless some peculiar interest in the subject of inquiry, or some striking charms in its representation, allure them to the task. Hence, so far as is consistent with the calm and simple manner of the essay, the allusions should
be frequent and happy, the illustrations pertinent, and the figurative expressions profuse and pleasing.
In the literature of no country, do we find more perfect and numerous specimens of Essay writing, than in that of England. From some favorable circumstances, this species of composition early became popular in that country. The minds of those who devoted their time and talents to it, were well suited to the employment, while the state of morals, manners and literature, afforded fit and copious subjects. Hence the Spectator was well received, had a wide circulation, and became a part of the literature of the country. Numerous, and some of them able periodical publications of this class, have since been issued and well received.
History is the record of past events. It may treat separately of the government and political relations of a country, --of its literature, or of its religion; and may hence receive the epithet of Civil, Literary, or Ecclesiastical History. As examples, we have Pitkin's Civil History of the United ·States, Dunlop's History of Roman Literature, and Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History. So intimate, however, is the connexion between civil government, literature and religion, and so great is their reciprocal influence on each other, that writers inost frequently view them in connexion, and give us the General History of a country; - such is Hume's History of England.
A further division of historical writings, is founded on thc different modes of stating events. One is a simple relation of facts; the other views facts in their connexion with each other, as cause and effect. The former is termed. Narrative History; the latter Philosophical History.
In examining the merit of a historical production, we direct our attention, 1. To the skill shown in the selection and arrangement of facts. 2. To the fidelity of the writer. 3. To the style. Each of these topics will now be briefly noticed.