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is the first necessity of speech, an indispensable quality of language for which no other excellence can compensate. In this quality the English may vie with any other language, and if its writers have not always been remarkable for it, the defect has proceeded from extrinsic causes. Indistinctness of expression generally arises from obscurity of thought; those who think clearly will mostly speak intelligibly: but it may be sometimes traced to causes merely accidental, to a neglect of some precaution or an erroneous compliance with some popular perversion. If a writer would be perspicuous, he should depend solely upon his words, and dispense with all other helps to convey his meaning. The common grammatical marks of punctuation determine the dependence of the several parts of a period, and, therefore, regulate the fall of the voice at the close of each member, rather than the length of the pause, which must be left to the reader's judgment. But in every sentence there are other pauses of indefinite place and duration, and words of peculiar emphasis, which materially affect the sense and determine the exact intention of the author. It is the excellence of a perspicuous style to choose words of so distinct a character, and set them in so clear an order, that this pause and emphasis should spontaneously suggest themselves without any adventitious mark. But when helps to the sense are derived from the art of the printer, and the imperfect expression of the subject is aided by a variety of characters, breaks in the line, and other fantastical devices, the writer is naturally led to a careless and imperfect method of composition, and clearness and facility of language
gradually disappear. The frequent use of the parenthesis unquestionably produced this ill effect upon the style of our early writers, and there seems an equal danger at the present period, that precision and force of language should be lost in the profusion of typographical signs, which deform the page, whilst they encourage an enigmatical expression, and leave the imagination of the reader to supply the energy or feeling which the words should convey.
Of the English language in general it may be confidently affirmed, that it yields to no other, either ancient or modern, in the excellence or variety of its powers; in its actual attainments, or its susceptibility of improvement. Its diction is copious, varied, expressive, and melodious; its formation simple and obvious, yet clear and adequate; its construction natural and easy, yet nervous and bold. It is capable of fulfilling all the purposes of the poet, the orator, or the philosopher of gratifying the ear, moving the passions, informing the reason, or affecting the heart. It is equally adapted to the terrible or gentle, the majestic or familiar, the serious or the gay. The writer may give full scope to his imagination, unlimited range to his fancy; he may observe mankind with minute attention, or inquire into truth with subtle discrimination; if his images be distinct, and his conceptions accurate, he shall not want expression to sustain his highest flights, and the elegance and splendour of the words shall at least equal the grace and dignity of the thoughts.
It has been already observed that the first bloom of the English language and literature was intercepted by
the civil distractions which followed the time of Chaucer; but though the blossom was blighted, the stock was not injured, nor the root impaired. The premature growth was checked, that the tree might acquire fresh vigour to shoot forth again, and might be enriched with deeper umbrage and more luxuriant fruit. The reign of Elizabeth and her successor was the period of our first great prose writers. Amongst the illustrious names which distinguished it, Sidney and Hooker, Raleigh, Bacon, and Hall, may be selected for particular remark. Sidney may be commended for elegant simplicity; Hooker, for severe majesty: Raleigh, is sustained and eloquent; Bacon, sententious, figurative, and profound; Hall, overflowing and tender. With these distinctive properties they have many common excellences. In all of them there is a surprising union of substantial sense and rich imagination, of philosophic enlargement and practical observation, of extensive learning and civil or prudential wisdom. Their works are enriched with the fundamental principles of religious and moral truth; they embrace human nature in the past and the future, in its defects and excellences; they supply principles for the government of empires, maxims for the regulation of common life, and seeds of thought which may fructify in the mind of the sage; they seem fitted to be the improvers of society, the legislators of states, the oracles. of mankind. Their diction is of rather an ancient mould, but vigorous and rich: full, even to exuberance, and yet pregnant with matter. They are originals in the highest sense, whilst their pages teem with references to ancient authorities. It is common to speak of their
learning as something gigantic and unattainable in these degenerate days, but this statement has probably been much exaggerated. It is certain that their means of becoming acquainted with classical literature were inferior to those which we possess, and that they never attained the same minuteness of research, or accuracy of interpretation. If they read more of the great authors of antiquity, it was because they had scarcely any other writers of eminent value; and if we find frequent and familiar references to books, which are now buried in the dust of libraries, strange to the most learned, and only known in catalogues, it is because those authors, though now superseded by better treatises of the same kind, were then the common sources of instruction, and read by all who aimed at knowledge. It may be doubted if they were more learned than ourselves, but that they better applied their learning can scarcely be disputed. They did not study for ornament, curiosity, or ostentation, but for use. They did not inquire into the niceties of language as an end, but as a channel by which they might more perfectly derive the thought which lay locked up in them. 'hey properly considered the poets, historians, and philosophers of antiquity as vast repositories of the common sense of mankind; treasures of profound and acute observation on life and manners, and of continued meditation upon the moral and civil relations and duties of men; records of the capacities and of the progress race to which they belonged; reservoirs of political experience and practical wisdom. To these storehouses of ancient thought they freely resorted for principles, maxims, and facts, as the basis or illustration of their
own inquiries, whilst they at the same time studied them as models of arrangement and examples of style; from whom they might best learn to methodize their own reflections, and embody their conceptions in language. To this judicious use of their illustrious predecessors we cannot hesitate in ascribing the rapidity of their advance, and the early maturity to which they attained. Amongst the writings of this period the prose works of Milton may be correctly placed, though their actual date was somewhat later. Scarcely any of the great -productions of English genius are less known to common readers. Nor is this at all surprising, if their general character be considered. The style is mostly harsh and difficult, and the subjects destitute of any allurement. For though many of the great topics of religious and political inquiry are brought into discussion, Milton's opinions are so peculiarly framed to his own character and circumstances, so impracticable in their general application, so unsuited to the actual condition of human nature, that perhaps no one of his own, or succeeding times, has concurred with or adopted them. But as the constitution of his mind was essentially poetical; his feeling of religion, sublime; his love of truth, virtue and liberty, ardent; his respect for human nature, sincere; and his conception of its capacities and destiny, exalted; he occasionally breaks forth into passages of lyrical inspiration, of majestic eloquence. These passages lie scattered in the mass of his works like diamonds, surrounded indeed by rubbish, but of splendid lustre and inestimable value. Their matter and manner strongly resemble the great writers