Page images

Definition. A general is the commander of an army. Opinion. One who holds this office should possess many high qualities; such as courage, decision, knowledge of military tactics, &c. Reason. For the welfare of a whole nation is sometimes committed to his keeping, and the lives of thousands may depend on his


1. A dictionary 2. A grammar 3. Harmony 4. A minister 5. Contentment 6. A pilgrim 7. A record 8. A residence 9. A catalogue

10. A consul.

11. A gladiator . .

13. A sergeant (military)
14. A sentence (legal)
15. A revolution (political). .
16. A review (literary)
17. A pirate..
18. A museum
19. A parish
20. Economy
21. A monitor

22. A month

23. A glacier

12. A square (mathematical)... | 24. A herald.


A description differs from a definition; the latter is merely a general statement of the nature of a subject, whereas the former enters into the particulars by which certain individual persons, places, and things, are distinguished from others. Thus, the definition of 'man may be 'a rational animal;' but the description of a man would inform us of the appearance, manners, mental peculiarities, &c., of some one man.

A description need not contain all the qualities belonging to a subject. Sometimes it may refer only to external appearance-sometimes to moral habits-sometimes to mental faculties or acquirements, &c. Of course, the more of these various qualities it comprises, the more complete will be the description.

To describe well, attention should be directed chiefly

to three points: 1. Begin with the larger divisions, and then go into particulars. 2. Do not make too many subdivisions; and 3. Be careful to choose accurate and appropriate terms.

Before writing a description, it will be well to consider the various parts or divisions of the subject, and to make a list of them in their proper order. This will prevent us from losing sight of any of the necessary parts of the subject, and will serve to render the description more complete. For example, suppose we are required to describe A COUNTRY HOUSE, the following points would have to be considered:-1. The situation. 2. The country in the immediate neighbourhood. The garden, stables, out-houses, &c. 4. The style of building. 5. The entrance-hall. 6. The division or plan of the house. 7. The library and other sittingrooms. 8. The bed-rooms, &c.


It should also be remembered that, in writing a description, it is inexpedient to enter too minutely into details. A sufficient number of these should be introduced to fix the peculiarity of the subject to bring it vividly before the reader's mind; but the broad outlines and striking features are the main points for consideration: they are like the powerful strokes of the painter's brush, which stamp the individuality of the scene, and impress it firmly upon the imagination.



The following is a description of an interior, from Sir Walter Scott's story, 'Old Mortality':—

'Upon entering the place of refuge, he found Balfour seated on his humble couch, with a pocket Bible open in his hand, which he seemed to study with intense meditation. His broadsword, which he had unsheathed in the first alarm, at the arrival of the dragoons, lay naked across his knees, and the little taper that stood beside him on the old chest, which served the purpose of a table, threw a partial and imperfect light upon those stern and harsh features, in which ferocity was rendered more solemn and dignified by a wild cast of tragic enthusiasm. His brow was that of one in whom some strong o'ermastering principle has overwhelmed all other passions and feelings,-like the swell of a high spring-tide, when the usual cliffs and breakers vanish from the eye, and their existence is only indicated by the chafing foam of the waves that burst and wheel over them.'

The singular beauty of this passage consists in the truth of the delineation, and the power and skill with which the whole picture is drawn. The words marked in italics are the main features-the materials of the description and their grouping contributes powerfully to deepen the impression. First, we have Balfour, the principal figure. The couch, the Bible, the broadsword, and the taper, are external accessories, and the reflection of the light upon his features gives the writer an opportunity of revealing the character and feelings, as well as the outward appearance, of the fanatical Puritan. The graceful figure with which the passage closes, renders it one of the most striking and impressive descriptions in the works of this great writer.


The second example is a description of external appearance, extracted from Prescott's 'History of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain ':

'King Ferdinand was of the middle size. His complexion was fresh; his eyes bright and animated; his nose and mouth small and finely formed, and his teeth white; his forehead lofty and serene, with flowing hair of a bright chestnut. His manners were courteous, and his countenance seldom clouded by anything like spleen or melancholy. He was grave in speech and action, and had a marvellous dignity of presence. His whole demeanour, in fine, was truly that of a great king.'

Here, the writer does little more than enumerate the several particulars of Ferdinand's appearance, viz., his height, complexion, features, hair, speech, action, and manner, and lastly, sums up with his whole demeanour. Though nothing is said of the king's morals or intellect, the passage fulfils its probable intention, which was to give a lively picture of his personal appearance.


Our next example is the description of a prospect; and is characterised by that vigour of delineation, and exquisite delicacy, and accuracy in choice of terms, for which its author is so justly celebrated :—

'If I were to choose a spot from which the rising or setting sun could be seen to the greatest possible advantage, it would be that wild path winding round the foot of the high belt of semicircular rocks, called Salisbury

crags, and marking the verge of the steep descent which slopes down into the glen on the south-eastern side of the city of Edinburgh. The prospect, in its general outline, commands a close-built, high-piled city, stretching itself out beneath in a form which, to a romantic imagination, may be supposed to represent that of a dragon; -now a noble arm of the sea, with its rocks, isles, distant shores, and boundary of mountains; and now a fair and fertile champaign country, varied with hill, dale, and rock, and skirted by the picturesque ridge of the Pentland Mountains. But as the path gently circles round the base of the cliffs, the prospect, composed as it is of these enchanting and sublime objects, changes at every step, and presents them blended with, or divided from each other in every possible variety which can gratify the eye and the imagination. When a piece of scenery so beautiful, yet so varied,—so exciting by its intricacy, and yet so sublime,-is lighted up by the tints of morning or of evening, and displays all that variety of shadowy depth exchanged with partial brilliancy, which gives character even to the tamest of landscapes, the effect approaches near to enchantment.'- Sir W. Scott.


The following is the description of the moral character of Oliver Cromwell, by Smollett:

'His character was formed of an amazing conjunction of enthusiasm, hypocrisy, and ambition. He was possessed of courage and resolution that overlooked all dangers, and saw no difficulties. He dived into the

« PreviousContinue »