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Sect. II. - The solecism.
SECT. II...The Solecin.
I Now enter on the consideration of the second way by which the purity of the style is injured, the rolecirm. This is accounted by grammarians a much greater fault than the former, as it displays a greater ignorance of the fundamental rules of the language. The sole aim of grammar is to convey the knowledge of the language; consequently, the degree of grammatical demerit in every blunder, can only be ascertained by the degree of deficiency in this knowledge which it betrays. But the aim of eloquence is quite another thing. The speaker: or, the writer doth not purpose to display his knowledge in the language, but only to employ the language which he speaks or writes, in order to the attainment of some further end. This knowledge he useth solely as the instrument or means by which he intends to instruct, to please, to move, or to persuade. The degree of demerit, therefore, which, by the orator's account, is to be found in every blunder, must be ascertained by a very different measure, Such offence is more or less heinous, precisely in proportion as it proves a greater or smaller obstruction to the speaker's or writer's aim. Hence it happens, that when solecisms are not very glaring, when they do not darken the sense, or suggest some ridiculous idea, the rhetorician regards them as much more excuseable than barbarisms. The reason is, the former is accounted solely the effect of negligence, the latter of affec.
Of grammatical purity.
tation. Negligence in expression, often the consequence of a noble ardour in regard to the sentiments, is at the worst a venial trespass, sometimes it is even not without energy; affectation is always a deadly sin
against the laws of rhetoric.
IT ought also to be observed, that in the article of solecisms, much greater indulgence is given to the
speaker than to the writer; and to the writer who proposeth to persuade or move, greater allowances are
made, than to him who proposeth barely to instruct or please. The more vehemence is required by the
nature of the subject, the less correctness is exacted
in the manner of treating it. Nay, a remarkable de
ficiency in this respect is not near so prejudicial to the scope of the orator, as a scrupulous āccuracy, which
bears in it the symptoms of study and art. Eschines is said to have remarked, that the orations of his rival
and antagonist Demosthenes, smelled of the lamp;
thereby intimating that their style and composition were too elaborate. If the remark is just, it contains the greatest censure that ever was passed on that emiment orator. But, as the intermediate degrees be
‘tween the two extremes are innumerable, both doubtless ought to be avoided.
GRAMMATICAL inaccuracies ought to be avoided by a writer, for two reasons. One is, that a reader will much sooner discover them than a hearer, however
attentive he be. The other is, as writing implies more
Sect. II. -- - - The solecism.
leisure and greater.coolness than is implied in speaking, defects of this kind, when discovered in the foriner, will be less excused, than they would be in the
latter. . . . . . . . . . .
To enumerate all the kinds of solecism into which it is possible to fall, would be both a useless and at endless task. The transgression of any of the syntactic rules is a solecism; and almost every rule may be transgressed in various way. But as novices only are capable of falling into the most flagrant solecisms, such, I mean, as betray ignorance in the rudiments of the tongue, I shall leave it to grammarians to exemplify, and class the various blunders of this sort which may be committed by the learner. All I propose to do at present, is to take notice of a few less observable, which writers of great name, and even of critical skill in the language, have slidden into through inattention; and which, though of the nature of Solecism, ought perhaps to be distinguished by the softer name inaccuracy *.
* I am sensible, that in what concerns the subject of this section, I have been in a great measure prevented by the remarks of Lowth and Priestly, and some other critics and grammarians, who have lately favoured the world with their observations. Since reading their publications, I have curtailed considerably what I had prepared on this article; for though I had rarely hit upon the same samples, there was often a coincidence in the matter, inasmuch as the species of fault animadverted on, was frequently the same. I have now almost entirely confired myself to such slips as
Of grammatical purity.
THE first of this kind I shall observe, is a mistake of the plural number for the singular, “The zeal of “the feraphim breaks forth in a becoming warmth of “sentiments and expressions, as the character which “is given us of him denotes that generous scorn and “intrepidity which attends heroic virtue *.” Cherub and feraph are two nouns in the singular number
transplanted into our language, directly from the He
brew. In the plural we are authorised, both by use and by analogy, to say either cherubs and feraphs, according to the English idiom, or cherubim and seraphim, according to the oriental. The former suits better the familiar, the latter the solemn style. It is surprising that an author of Mr Addison's discernment, did not, in criticising Milton, take notice of a distinction which is everywhere so carefully observed by the poet. I shall add to this remark, that as the words cherubim and seraphim are plural, the terms cherubims and feraphims, as expressing the plural, are quite improper. Yet, these barbarisms occur sometimes in our translation of the Bible ; which, nevertheless, doth not once adopt the plural form cherubim and seraphim, to express the singular; though
have been overlooked by others, I say almost entirely; for when any error begins to prevail, even a single additional remonstrance may be of consequence; and in points on which critics are divided, I thought it not unreasonable to offer my opinion.
* Spectator, No. 327.
Sect. II. The solecism.
one would naturally imagine, that this error must originally have given rise to the other.
INAccuRAcIEs are often found in the way wherein the degrees of comparison are applied and construed. Some of these, I suspect, have as yet escaped the animadversion of all our critics. Before I produce examples, it will be proper to observe, that the comparative degree implies commonly a comparison of one thing with one other thing; the superlative, on the contrary, always implies a comparison of one thing with many others. The former, consequently, requires to be followed by the singular number, the latter by the plural. In our language, the conjunction than must be interposed between the things compared in the former case; the preposition of is always used in the latter. - •
-THE following is an example of wrong construction in the comparative : “ This noble nation hath of all “ others admitted fewer corruptions *.” The word fewer is here construed precisely as if it were the superlative. Grammatically thus: “ This noble nation “hath admitted fewer corruptions than any other.” Sometimes indeed the comparative is rightly followed by a plural; as in these words, “He is wiser than “we.” . But it cannot be construed with the prepo.
* Swift's Mechanical Operations.