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sect. III, the Impropriety. Part Impropriety in singlewords.
which are almost diametrically opposite to the former. One is, the love of novelty; the other, a fondness for variety. The former, when excessive, tends directly to misguide us, by making us disdain the beaten track, for no other reason but because it is the beaten track. The idea of vulgarity in the imaginations of those who are affected by this principle, is connected with every thing that is conceived as customary. The genuine issue of this extreme, much worse, I acknowledge, than the former, is not only improprieties, but even absurdities, and fustian, and bombast. The latter, to wit, a fondness for variety, produceth often the same: effect, though more indirectly. It begets an immoderate dread of becoming tedious, by repeating too frequently the same sound. In order to avoid this, a writer resolves at any rate to diversify his style, let it cost what it will. And, indeed, this fancied excellence usually costs more than it is worth. Very of. ten propriety and perspicuity both are sacrificed to it.
IT is justly observed by Abbe Girard *, that when a performance grows dull through an excess of uniformity, it is not so much because the ear is tired by the frequent repetition of the same sound, as because the mind is fatigued by the frequent recurrence of the same idea. If, therefore, there be a remarkable paucity of ideas, a diversity of words will not answer the purpose, or give to the work the agreeable appearance
* Synonymes François. Preface.
Of grammatical purity.
of variety. On the contrary, when an author is at great pains to vary his expressions, and for this purpose even deserts the common road, he will, to an intelligent reader, but the more expose his poverty, the more he is solicitous to conceal it. And, indeed, what can more effectually betray a penury of words, than to be always recurring to such as custom hath appropriated to purposes different from those for which we use them 2 Would the glitter of jewels which we know to be stolen, produce an opinion of the wearer's affluence? And must not such alienations of words, if I may be allowed the metaphor, awaken a suspicion of some original defects which have given occasion to them? We should hardly say that a house were rich. ly furnished, I am sure we could not say that it were well furnished, where we found a superfluity of utensils for answering some purposes, and a total want of those adapted to other purposes not less necessary and important. We should think, on the contrary, that there were much greater appearance both of opulence and of taste, where, though there were little or nothing superfluous, no vessel or piece of furniture useful in a family were wanting. When one is obliged to make some utensils supply purposes to which they were not originally destined; when, for instance, “ the copper pot boils milk, heats porridge, holds “ small beer, and, in case of necessity, serves for a “jorden “;” there are always, it must be confessed,
Sect. III. The Impropriety...Part I. Impropriety in single words.
the strongest indications of indigence. On the contrary, when every real use hath some instrument or utensil adapted to it, there is the appearance, if not of profusion, of what is much more valuable, plenty.
IN a language there may be great redundancies, and at the same time great defects. It is infinitely less important to have a number of synonymous words, which are even sometimes cumbersome, than to have very few that can be called homonymous, and consequently to have all the differences which there are in things, as much as possible, marked by corresponding differences in their signs. That this should be perfectly attained, I own is impossible. The varieties in things are infinite, whereas the richest language hath its limits. Indeed, the more a people improve in taste and knowledge, they come the more, though by imperceptible degrees, to make distinction in the application of words which were used promiscuously before. And it is by thus marking the delicate differences of things, which in a ruder state they overlooked, more than by any other means, that their language is refined and polished. Hence it acquires precision, perspicuity, vivacity, energy. It would be no difficult matter to evince, as partly it may be collected from what hath been observed already, that our own language hath from this source received greater improvements in the course of the last century and of the present, than from the accession of new words, or perhap from any other cause. No
Of grammatical purity.
thing, then, surely, can serve more to corrupt it, than to overturn the barriers use hath erected, by confounding words as synonymous to which distinct 'significations have been assigned. This conduct is as bad policy with regard to style, as it would be with regard to land, to convert a great part of the property into a common. On the contrary, as it conduceth to the advancement of agriculture, and to the increase of the annual produce of a country, to divide the commons, and turn them into property, a similar conduct in the appropriation of words, renders a language more useful and expressive.
PART II.... Impropriety in phrases.
I come now to consider the improprieties which occur in phrases. The first of this kind of which I shall take notice, is, when the expression, on being grammatically analysed, is discovered to contain some inconsistency. Such is the phrase of all others after the superlative, common with many English writers. Interpreted by the rules of syntax, it implies that a thing is different from itself. Take these words for an example, “It celebrates the church of England, “as the most perfect of all others”.” Properly, either —" as more perfect than any other,” or—“ as the “most perfect of all churches.” This is precisely the same sort of impropriety into which Milton hath fallen in these words, - - -
* Swifts Apology for the Tale of a Tub.
Sect. III. The Impropriety....Part II. Impropriety in phrases.
* . . . . . .
And in these, ' ' '.
... The loveliest pair That ever since in love's embraces met”.
Use indeed may be pleaded for, such expressions, which, it must be acknowledged, use hath rendered intelligible. But still the general laws of the language, which constitute the most extensive and important use, may be pleaded against them. Now it is one principal method of purifying a language, to lay aside such idioms as are inconsistent with its radical principles and constituent rules; or as, when interpreted by such principles and rules, exhibit manifest nonsense. Nor does the least inconvenience result from this conduct, as we can be at no loss to find expressions of our meaning, altogether as natural, and entirely unexceptionable.
SoMETIMES, indeed, through mere inattention, slips of this kind are commited, as in the following instance: “I do not reckon that we want a genius “ more than the rest of our neighbours f.” The impropriety here is corrected by omitting the words in Italics.
+ Paradise Lost. * Ib. B. iv.