صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

clearly thus, “ I had several men in my ship who died “ of calentures." I shall remark, by the way, that though the relatives who and which may, agreeably to the English idiom, be sometimes omitted in the oblique cases, to omit them in the nominative, as in the passage last quoted, almost always gives a maimed appearance to the expression. “I perceived it had been scowered with half an eye*.” The situation of the last phrase, which is besides a very bad one, is liable to the same exception. “I have hopes that when Will confronts him, « and all the ladies in whose behalf he engages him, cast “ kind looks and wishes of success at their champion, he “ will have some shame t." It is impossible not to imagine, on hearing the first part of the sentence, that Will is to confront all the ladies,-though afterwards we find it necessary to construe this clause with the following verb. This confusion is removed at once by repeating the adverb when, thus, “ I have hopes that when Will con“ fronts him, and when all the ladies cast kind looks—." The subsequent sentence is liable to the same exception : " He advanced against the fierce ancient, imitating his "address, his pace and career, as well as the vigour of his horse, and his own skill would allowf.” The clause as well as the vigour of his horse, appears at first to belong to the former part of the sentence, and is afterwards found to belong to the latter. In all the above instances of bad arrangement, there is what may be justly termed a constructive ambiguity ; that is, the words are so disposed in point of order, as would render them really ambiguous, if, in that construction which the expression first suggests, any meaning were exhibited. As this is not the case, the faulty order.of the words cannot properly be considered, as rendering the sentence ambiguous, but obscure.

It may indeed be argued, that, in these and the like examples, the least reflection in the reader will quickly remove the obscurity. But why is there any obscurity to be removed? Or why does the writer require more

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

attention, from the reader, or the speaker from the hearer, than is absolutely necessary ? It ought to be remembered, that whatever application we must give to the words, is, in fact, so much deducted from what we owe to the sentiments. Besides, the effort that is exerted in a very close attention to the language, always weakens the effect which the thoughts were intended to produce in the mind. • By perspicuity," as Quintilian justly observes, “ care is taken, not that the hearer may under" stand, if he will; but that he must understand, whether “ he will or not *.” Perspicuity originally and properly implies transparency, such as may be ascribed to air, glass, water, or any other medium, through which material objects are viewed. From this original and proper sense it. hath been metaphorically applied to language, this being, as it were, the medium, through which we perceive the notions and sentiments of a speaker. Now, in corporeal things, if the medium through which we look at any object be perfectly transparent, our whole attention is fixed on the object; we are scarcely sensible that there is a medium which intervenes, and can hardly be said to perceive it. But if there be any flaw in the medium, if we see through it but dimly, if the object be imperfectly represented, or if we know it to be misrepresented, our attention is immediately taken off the object, to the medium. We are then desirous to discover the cause either of the dim and confused representation, or of the misrepresentation of things which it exhibits, that so the defect in vision may be supplied by judgment. The case of language is precisely similar. A discourse, then, excels in perspicuity, when the subject engrosses the attention of the hearer, and the diction is so little minded by him, that he can scarcely be said to be conscious that it is through this medium he sees into the speaker's thoughts. On the contrary, the least obscurity, ambiguity, or confusion in the style, instantly removes the attention from the sentiment to the expression and, the hearer endeavours, by the aid of reflection, to correct the imperfections of the speaker's language.

Non utf intelligere possit, sed ne omnino possit non intelligere curandum. Instit. Lib. viii. Cap. 2.

So much for obviating the objections which are frequently raised against such remarks as I have already made, and shall probably hereafter make, on the subject of language. The elements which enter into the composition of the hugest bodies, are subtile and inconsiderable. The rudiments of every art and science exhibit at first, to a learner, the appearance of littleness and insignificancy. And it is by attending to such reflections as to a superficial observer would appear minute and hypercritical, that language must be improved, and eloquence perfected *.

I return to the causes of obscurity, and shall only further observe, concerning the effect of bad arrangement, that it generally obscures the sense, even when it doth not, as in the preceding instances, suggest a wrong construction. Of this the following will suffice for an example: “ The young man did not want natural ta“ lents; but the father of him was a coxcomb, who af“ fected being a fine gentleman so unmercifully, that he “could not endure in his sight, or the frequent mention " of one, who was his son, growing into manhood, and “ thrusting him out of the gay world t." It is not easy to disentangle the construction of this sentence. One is at a loss at first to find any accusative to the active verb endure; on further examination it is discovered to have two, the word mention, and the word one, which is here closely combined with the preposition of, and makes the regimen of the noun mention. " I might observe also the vile application of the word unmercifully. This, together with the irregularity of the reference, and the intricacy of the whole, renders the passage under consideration, one of those which may, with equal justice, be ranked under solecism, impropriety, obscurity, or inelegance.

Part III.-From using the same word in different senses.

Another source of obscurity, is when the same word is in the same sentence used in different senses. This

* The maxim Natura se potissimum prodit in minimis, not confined to physiology.

† Spect. No. 496. T.

error is exemplified in the following quotation : “ That " he should be in earnest it is hard to conceive; since any reasons of doubt, which be might have in this

case, ** would have been reasons of doubt, in the case of other “ men, who may give more, but cannot give more evident, signs of thought than their fellow creatures *." This errs alike against perspicuity and elegance; the word more is first an adjective, the comparative of many ; in an instant it is an adverb, and the sign of the comparative degree. As the reader is not apprized of this, the sentence must appear to him, on the first glance, a flat contradiction. Perspicuously either thus, “ who

may give more numerous, but cannot give more evi" dent signs," or thus, “ who may give more, but cannot give clearer signs.”

It is but seldoin that the same pronoun can be used twice or oftener in the same sentence, in reference to different things, without darkening the expression. It is necessary to observe here, that the signification of the personal, as well as of the relative pronouns, and even of the adverbs of place and time, must be determined by the things to which they relate. To use them, therefore, with reference to different things, is in effect to employ the same word in different senses; which, when it occurs in the same sentence, or in sentences closely connected, is rarely found entirely compatible with perspicuity. Of this I shall give some examples. “One

may have an air which proceeds from a just sufficiency " and knowledge of the matter before him, which may

naturally produce some motions of his head and body, " which might become the bench better than the bar.” † The pronoun which is here thrice used in three several senses, and it must require reflection to discover, that the first denotes an air, the second sufficiency and knowledge, and the third motions of the head and body. Such is the use of the pronouns those and who in the follow

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

ing sentence of the same writer : “ The sharks, who

prey upon the inadvertency of young heirs, are more pardonable than those, who trespass upon the good

opinion of those, who treat with them upon the foot “ of choice and respect.”* The same fault here renders a very short sentence at once obscure, inelegant, and unmusical. The like; use of the pronoun they in the following sentence, almost occasions an ambiguity : They “ were persons of such moderate intellects, even before " they were impaired by their passion t.”—The use made of the pronoun it in the example subjoined, is liable to the same exception : “ If it were spoken with

never so great skill in the actor, the manner of utter

ing that sentence could have nothing in it, which could “ strike any but people of the greatest humanity, nay,

people elegant and skilful in observations upon it I." To the preceding examples I shall add one wherein the adverb when, by being used in the same manner, occasions some obscurity : “ He is inspired with a true

sense of that function, when chosen from a regard to " the interests of piety and virtue, and a scorn of what

ever men call great in a transitory being, when it comes “ in competition with what is unchangeable and eter

[ocr errors]

Part IV.-From an uncertain reference in pronouns

and relatives.

A cause of obscurity also arising from the use of pronouns and relatives, is when it doth not appear at first to what they refer. Of this fault I shall give the three following instances : “ There are other examples,” says Bolingbroke,“ of the same kind, which cannot be brought “ without the utmost horror, because in them it is sup“ posed impiously, against principles as self-evident as any

of those necessary truths, which are such of all “ knowledge, that the supreme Being commands by one

Guardian, No. 73.

Ib. No. 502.

+ Spec. No. 30. § Guardian, No. 13.

« السابقةمتابعة »