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ultimate intention of the orator, to inform, to convince, to please, to move, or to persuade, still he must speak so as to be understood, or he speaks to no purpose. If he do not propose to convey certain sentiments into the minds of his hearers, by the aid of signs intelligible to them, he may as well declaim before them in an unknown tongue. This prerogative the intellect has above all the other faculties, that whether it be or be not im. mediately addressed by the speaker, it must be regarded by him either ultimately or subordinately; ultimately, when the direct purpose of the discourse is information, or conviction ; subordinately, when the end is pleasure, emotion or persuasion.
There is another difference also between perspicuity and the two last mentioned qualities, vivacity and animation, which deserves to be remarked. In a discourse wherein either or both of these are requisite, it is not every sentence that requires, or even admits them ; but every sentence ought to be perspicuous. The effect of all the other qualities of style is lost without this. This being to the understanding what light is to the eye, ought to be diffused over the whole performance. In this respect it resembles grammatical purity, of which I have already treated, but it is not in this respect only that it resembles it. Both are best illustrated by showing the different ways wherein they may be lost. It is for these reasons that, though perspicuity be more properly a rhetorical than a grammatical quality, I thought it better to include it in this book, which treats of the foundations and essential or universal properties of elocution, than to class it with those which are purely discriminative of particular styles.
Indeed, if language were capable of absolute perfection, which it evidently is not; if words and things could be rendered exact counterparts to each other; if every different thing in nature had a different symbol by which it were expressed; and every difference in the relations of things had a corresponding difference in the combidations of words, purity alone would secure perspicuity, or rather these two would entirely coincide. To speak grammatically would, in that case, convey infallibly and
perspicuously the full meaning of the speaker, if he had any meaning, into the mind of every hearer who perfectly understands the language. There would not be even a possibility of mistake or doubt. But the case is wide. ly different with all the languages that ever were, are, or will be in the world.
Grammatical purity, in every tongue, conduceth greatly to perspicuity, but it will by no means secure it. A man may in respect of it speak unexceptionably, and yet speak obscurely, or ambiguously; and though we cannot say, that a man may speak properly, and at the same time speak unintelligibly, yet this last case falls more naturally to be considered as an offence against perspicuity, than as a violation of propriety. For when the meaning is not discovered, the particular impropriety cannot be pointed out. In the three different ways, therefore, just now mentioned, perspicuity may be violated.
SECTION I.-The Obscure.
Part I. From Defect.
This is the first offence against perspicuity, and may arise from several causes. First, from some defect in the expression. There are in all languages certain elliptical expressions, which use hath established, and which, therefore very rarely occasion darkness. When they do occasion it, they ought always to be avoided. Such are, in Greek and Latin, the frequent suppression of the substantive verb, and of the possessive pronouns ; I was going to add, and of the personal pronouns also: but, on reflection, I am sensible, that, in the omission of them in the nominative, there is properly no ellipsis, as the verb, by its inflection, actually expresses them. Accordingly, in these languages, the pronoun in the nominative is never rightly introduced, unless when it is emphatical. But the idiom of most modern tongues, English and French particularly, will seldom admit such ellipsis*. In Italian and Spanish they are pretty frequent.
• The French I imagine, have gone to the other extreme. They require in many instances a repetition of pronouns, prepositions, and articles, which, as they
Often, indeed, the affectation of conciseness, often the rapidity of thought natural to some writers, will give rise to still more material defects in the expression. Of these I shall produce a few examples : “ He is inspired," says an eminent writer,“ with a true sense of that func
tion, when chosen from a regard to the interests of piety " and virtue, *" Sense in this passage denotes an inward feeling, or the impression which some sentiment makes upon the mind. Now a function cannot be a sentiment impressed or felt. The expression is therefore defective, and ought to have been,“ He is inspired with “ a true sense of the dignity, or of the importance of " that function."_" You ought to contemn all the wit " in the world against yout." As the writer doth not intend to signify that all the wit in the world is actually exerted against the person wbom he addresses, there is a defect in the expression, though perhaps it will be thought chargeable with redundancy at the same time, More plainly thus, “ You ought to contemn all the wit " that can be employed against you." "He talks all the way up stairs to a visits." There
There is here also a faulty omission, which, if it cannot be said to obscure the sense, doth at least withhold that light whereof it is susceptible. If the word visit ever meant person or peo
add nothing to the perspicuity, must render the expression languid. There are some cases in which this repetition is consequential on the very construction of their language. For example, we say properly in English, my father and mo. thes ; because the possessive pronoun having no distinction of gender, and so having but one form, is alike applicable to both : the case being different with them renders it necessary to follow a different rule, and to say, mon pere et ma mere. But it is not to instances of this sort that the rule is limited. Custom with them hath extended it to innumerable cases, wherein there is no necessity from construction. With us it is enough to say, “ She was robbed of her “ clothes and jewels.” With them the preposition and the pronoun must both be repeated, de ses habits et de ses joiaur. Again, with then it is not sufficient to say, ' The woman whom you know and love, but whom you know and whom you love-que vous connoissez et que vous aimez. In like manner, the relatives in French must never be omitted. They often are in English, and when the omission occasions no obscurity, it is not accounted improper. An expression like this would in their tongue be intolerable ; “ You are obliged to say and do all you can.” It must be “ to say and to do all that which you can,"de dire et de faire tout ce que vous savez. But though in several instances the critics of that nation have rem fined on their language to excess, and by needless repetitions have sometimes enervated the expression, their criticisms, when useful in assisting us to shun any obscurity or ambiguity, deserve to be adopted. Guardian, No. 13. of Ib. No. 53.
Spect. No. 2.
ple, there would be an ambiguity in the sentence, and we should imagine this the object talked to; but as that cannot be the case, the expression is rather to be accounted lame, there being no verb in it with which the words to a visit can be construed. More explicitly thus, “ He talks all the way as he walks up stairs to make a “ visit.” Arbitrary power,” says an elegant writer, “ I look upon as a greater evil than anarchy itself, as “ much as a savage is a happier state of life than a slave “at the oar*." Neither savage nor slave can be denominated a state of life, though the states in which they live may properly be compared." This courage a
mong the adversaries of the court,” says the same writer in another piece," was inspired into them by var
ious incidents, for every one of which, I think, the “ ministers, or, if that was the case, the minister alone “ is to answert.” If that was the case, Pray, what is he supposing to have been the case ? To the relative that I can find no antecedent, and am left to guess that he means, if there was but one minister.
When a man considers not only an ample fortune, but even the very “ necessaries of life, his pretence to food itself at the mer
cy of others, he cannot but look upon himself in the “ state of the dead, with this case thus much worse, that “ the last office is performed by his adversaries instead “of his friends [." There is a double ellipsis in this sentence, You must first supply as being before the words at the mercy, and insert as before in the state of the dead. “ I beg of you," says Steele,“ never let the glory of our
nation, who made France tremble, and yet has the gen“tleness to be unable to bear opposition from the mean" est of his own countrymen, be caluminated in so im
pudent a manner, as in the insinuation that he affected "a perpetual dictatorshipg.” At first reading, one is at a Joss to find an antecedent to the pronouns who, his, and he. On reflection, one discovers that the phrase the
Sentiments of a Church of England man.
& Guardian, No. 53.
glory of our nation is figurative, and denotes a certain illustrious personage. The trope is rather too adventurous, without some softening clause, to suit the idiom of our tongue. The sense would have appeared immediately, had he said, “ Never let the man, who may justly be " styled the glory of our nation
The instances now given will suffice to specify the obscurities in style which arise from deficiency. The same evil may also be occasioned by excess. But as this almost invariably offends against vivacity, and only sometimes produceth darkness, there will be a more proper occasion of considering it afterwards. Another cause of obscurity to a bad choice of words. When it is this alone which renders the sentence obscure, there is always ground for the charge of impropriety, which hath been discussed already
Part II.-From bad Arrangement.
Another source of obscurity is a bad arrangement of the words. In this case the construction is not sufficiently clear. One often, on first hearing the sentence, imagines, from the turn of it, that it ought to be construed one way, and on reflection finds that he must construe it another way. Of this, which is a blemish too common even in the style of our best writers, I shall produce a few examples : “ It contained,” says Swift, “ a warrant for conducting me and my retinue to Tral
dragdubb or Trildrogdrib, for it is pronounced both “ ways, as near as I can remember, by a party of ten “ horse*.” The words by a party of ten horse must be construed with the participle conducting, but they are placed so far from this word, and so near the verb pronounced, that at first they suggest a meaning perfectly ludicrous. “ I had several men died in my ship of calen“ tures t.” The preposition of must be construed with the verb died, and not, as the first appearance would suggest, with the noun ship immediately preceding. More
Voyage to Laputa.
+ Voyage to the Honyhnhnmus.