« PreviousContinue »
And some too near that rolling torrent lie,
"In Mr. Bacon's parish, the vicarage, though humble as the benefice itself, was the neatest. The cottage in which he and Margaret passed their childhood, had been remarkable for that comfort which is the result and the reward of order and neatness, and when the reunion which blessed them both rendered the remembrance of those years delightful, they returned in this respect to the way in which they had been trained up, practised the aconomy which they had learned there, and loved to think how entirely their course of life, in all its circumstances, would be after the heart of that person, if she could behold it, whose memory they both with equal affection cherished. After his bereavement, it was one of the widower's pensive pleasures to keep every thing in the same state as when Margaret was living. Nothing was neglected that she used to do, or would have done. Tbejlowers were tended as carefully as if she were still to enjoy theirfragrance and their beauty; and the birds, who came in winter for their crumbs, were fed as duly for her sake as they had formerly been by her hands."
If the reader is not now satisfied that the masters of our language wrote that of their forefathers, he may search farther for himself; he will find the same results wherever a style is remarkable for its ease or its force. Let the following passages, not certainly captivating to the ear, be compared with the above.
"It is the most probable supposition that he did not owe his exaltation in any great degree, if at all, to private favour or recommendations, but principally or entirely to his character, which pointed him out as the person best qualified to adorn the station and to support its dignity. Jt is stated, and probably with truth, in a narrative of his life, that his zeal, candour, and learning, his exemplary behaviour in a lower state, his public spirit in many scenes of life, his constancy in suffering, his unbiassed deportment, all concurred to recommend him as a fit governor of the Church in that turbulent age."—D'Oyly's Life of Abp. Suncroft.
"At this happy period of the world, we cannot reject on the idolatry of antient times, without astonishment at the infatuation which has so inveterutely, in various regions clouded the human mind. We feel indeed that it is impossible to contemplate the grand canopy of the universe, to descry the planets moving in governed order; to find comets darting from system to system in an or6i<, of which a space almost incalculable is the diameter; to discover constellations beyond constellations in endless multiplicity, and to have indications of the light of others whose full beam of splendour has not yet reached us: we feel it impossible to meditate on these innumerable theatres of existence, without feeling with awe that this amazing magnificence of nature announces an Author tremendously great. But it is very difficult to conceive how the lessons of the skies should have taught that localizing idolatry which their transcendent grandeur and almost infinite extent seem expressly calculated to destroy." Turner's Hist, of the Anglo-Saxons.
"From some passages in these letters it will be seen, that Foster began very early the cultivation of his conversational powers, instead of leaving this invaluable instrument of social pleasure and improvement to the casual excitement of circumstances. The result was such as might be expected from a mind which was receiving constant accessions from observation and reflection. No one could be on terms of familiar intercourse with Foster without being struck with his affluence of thought and imagery, and the readiness with which the most insignificant object or incident was taken as a kind of nucleus, on which was rapidly formed an assemblage of original remarks."
Life of John Foster.
The contrast between these latter quotations and the former hardly wants a comment. It is only needful to glance on the words in italics, to see why the latter are so stiff and *so unenglish in their style:—they have flouted at their good old mother-tongue, and she has had her revenge. It would be easy to multiply instances of faulty composition, for unfortunately they are too common; but it would be a thankless task, and would fill a space which this small treatise can ill afford. One passing remark may be allowed on the first class of quotations—that Lord Byron is the most completely English of any of the writers quoted, excepting the translators of the Bible, Shakespeare, and Swift. The admirers of his writings, perhaps, have hardly been aware of the source from which he drew his forcible expression—or guessed that much of the charm of his style was its thoroughly Saxon character; his imitators undoubtedly have been far from divining this: passages may be found where he has purposely availed himself of the rich variety which English affords by its naturalization of words of all languages, but his language is habitually idiomatic, witness his letters.
And here the grammarian must pause. The fine taste which suits the style to the subject— which always selects the most appropriate word, and is easy or forcible as the occasion requires, cannot be taught by rule—it must be gained by the thought and study of the writer himself; and the only rules to be given are, never to let an unweighed expression pass, but to re-write even a letter of compliment, if on reading it over it appears that it might have been put in better phrase. To watch what displeases our ear in the writings of others, and avoid it; to observe what pleases particularly, and analyze if possible the causes of the pleasure it affords, so as to be able ourselves to reproduce those causes ; and all this from youth up. At first, the judgment may be faulty—the taste false; but time and experience will correct these errors, and the man who has early made up his mind to write and speak well, even if he do not immediately attain his object, will rarely fail, by the time he reaches mature age, to have formed a correct taste, and a good style.