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... Of grammatical purity. . - t
ANOTHER oversight of much the same kind, and by the same author, we have in the following passage : “I had like to have gotten one or two broken heads “for my impertinence+.” This unavoidably suggests the question, How many heads was he possessed of? Properly, “I was once or twice like to have gotten “my head broken.” . . . . . . . .
ANOTHER from the same work, being a passage formerly quoted for another purpose, is this, “The first “project was to shorten discourse by cutting polysyl“lables into one.” One thing may be cut into two or more, but it is inconvceivable that, by cutting, two or more things should be made one. -
ANOTHER, still from the same hand, “I solemnly “declare, that I have not wilfully committed the “least mistake|.” The words used here are incompatible. A wrong wilfully committed is no mistake.
ADDISON hath fallen into an inaccuracy of the same kind, in the following lines: - So the pure Imped stream, when ful with stain; Of rushing torrents and descending rains. f
A stream may doubtless be at one time limpid, and at another foul, which is all that the author meant; but we cannot properly call it a pure limpid stream,
* Voyage to Brobdignag. + Voyage to Laputa. | Remarks on the Barrier Treaty. T Cato.
Seet. III. The Impropriety....Part II.Impropriety in phrases.
when it is foul with stains. So much for those improprieties which involve in them some absurdity: - “. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . * . . . . . . . . I SHALL hext illustrate those by which an author is made to say one thing when he means another, Of this kind I shall produce only one example at present, as I shall have occasion afterwards of considering the same fault under the article of perspicuity. “I will “instance in one opinion, which I look upon every “man obliged in conscience to quit, or in prudence to “conceal; I mean, that whoever argues in defence of “absolute power in a single person, though he offers “ the old plausible plea, that it is his opinion, which “he cannot help, unless he be convinced, ought in “all free states to be treated as the common enemy of “mankind *.” From the scope of the discourse it is evident, he means, that whoever hath it for his opinion, that a single person is entitled to absolute authority, ought to quit or conceal that opinion; 'because, otherwise, he will in a free state deserve to be treated as a common enemy. Whereas, if he says any thing, he says, that whoever thinks that the advocates for absolute power ought to be treated as common enemies, is obliged to quit or conceal that opinion ; a sentiment very different from the former. - - THE only species of impropriety that remains to be exemplified, is that wherein there appears some slight incongruity in the combination of the words, as in the
* Sentiments of a Church of England Man.
of grammatical purity
quotations following: “When you fall into a man's “convertation, the first thing you should consider, “is— f" Properly, “fall into conversation with a “man.” “I wish, Sir, you would animadvert frequent“‘ly on the false taste the town if in, with relation to “plays as well as operas f.” Properly, “the false “taste of the town.” , i. *
... “THE presence of the Deity, and the care such an “august Cause is to be supposed to take about any ac“tion *.” The impropriety here is best corrected by substituting the word being in the place of cause ; for though there be nothing improper in calling the Deity an august Cause, the author hath very improperly connected with this appellative some words totally unsuitable; for who ever heard of a cause taking care about an action.
I shall produce but one other instance—“Neither “implies that there are virtuous habits and accomplish“ments already attained by the possessor, but they “certainly shew an unprejudiced capacity towards “them f.” In the first clause of this sentence, there is a gross inconsistency; we are informed of habits and accomplishments that are possessed, but not attained ; in the second clause there is a double impropriety, the participial adjective is not suited to the substantive with which it is construed; nor is the subsequent pre
+ Spectator, No. 49. f Ibid, No. 22. * Pope's View of the Epic Poem. + Guardian, No. 34.
Sect. III. The Impropriety....Part II. Impropriety in phrases.
position expressive of the sense. Supposing, then, that the word possessor hath been used inadvertently for person, or some other general term, the sense may be exhibited thus: “Neither implies that there are vir“tuous habits and accomplishments already attained “by this person; but they certainly shew that his “mind is not prejudiced against them, and that it hath “a capacity of attaining them.” -
UNDER this head I might consider that impropriety which results from the use of metaphors, or other tropes, wherein the similitude to the subject, or connection with it, is too remote; also, that which results from the construction of words with any trope, which are not applicable in the literal sense. The former errs chiefly against vivacity, the latter against elegance. Of the one, therefore, I shall have occasion to speak, when I consider the catachresis; of the other, when I treat of mixed metaphor.
I HAVE now finished what was intended on the subject of grammatical purity; the first, and in some respect the most essential of all the virtues of elocution. I have illustrated the three different ways in which it may be violated ; the barbarism, when the words employed are not English ; the solecism, when the construction is not English ; the impropriety, when the meaning in which any English word or phrase is used, by a writer or speaker, is not the sense which good use hath assigned to it.
Some grammatical Doubts in regard to English Con- * struction stated and examined.
BEFoRE I dismiss this article altogether, it will not be amiss to consider a little some dubious points in construction, on which our critics appear not to be agreed.
ONE of the most eminent of them makes this remark upon the neuter verbs: “A neuter verb cannot “ become a passive. In a neuter verb the agent and “object are the same, and cannot be separated even “ in imagination; as in the examples to sleep, to walk; but when the verb is passive, one thing is acted up“ on by another, really or by supposition different from “it *.” To this is subjoined in the margin the following note: “That some neuter verbs take a passive “form, but without a passive signification, has been “observed above. Here we speak of their becoming “both in form and signification passive, and shall en“deavour further to illustrate the rule by example. “To split, like many other English verbs, has both an “active and a neuter signification; according to the
* Short Introduction, &c. Sentences.