« السابقةمتابعة »
" law, what he forbids by another." * It is not so clear
as it ought to be, what is the antecedent to such. Another from the same author, " The laws of Nature are “ truly what my Lord Bacon styles bis aphorisms, laws 6 of laws. Civil laws are always imperfect, and often “ false deductions from them, or applications of them ;
nay, they stand in many instances in direct opposition " to them.”+ It is not quite obvious, on the first reading, that the pronoun them in this passage, doth always refer to the laws of Nature, and they to civil laws. “When “ a man considers the state of his own mind, about which
every member of the Christian world is supposed at " this time to be employed, he will find that the best “ defence against vice, is preserving the worthiest part “ of his own spirit pure from any great offence against “ it.”! It must be owned that the darkness of this sentence is not to be imputed solely to the pronoun.
Part V.-From too artificial a structure of the
Another cause of obscurity is when the structure of the sentence is too much complicated, or too artificial; or when the sense is too long suspended by parentheses. Some critics have been so strongly persuaded of the bad effect of parentheses on perspicuity, as to think they ought to be discarded altogether. But this, I imagine, is also an extreme. If the parenthesis be short, and if it be introduced in a proper place, it will not in the least hurt the clearness, and may add both to the vivacity and to the energy of the sentence. Others, again, have carried their dislike to the parenthesis only so far as to lay aside the hooks by which it is commonly distinguished, and to use commas in their place. But this is not avoiding the fault, if it be a fault, it is only endeavouring to commit it so as to escape discovery, and may therefore be more justly denominated a corruption in writing than an improvement. Punctuation, it will
* Bolingb. Phil. Fr, 20,
+ Ib. Fr. 9.
* Guardian, No. 19.
readily be acknowledged, is of considerable assistance to the reading and pronunciation. No part of a sentence requires to be distinguished by the manner of pronouncing it, more than a parenthesis ; and consequently, no part of a sentence ought to be more distinctly marked in the pointing.
Part VI.-From technical terms.
Another source of darkness in composing, is the injudicious introduction of technical words and phrases, as in the following passage:
Tack to the larboard, and stand off to sea,
What an absurd profusion, in an epic poem too, of terms which few beside seamen understand! In strict propriety, technical words should not be considered as belonging to the language ; because not in current use, nor understood by the generality even of readers. They are but the peculiar dialect of a particular class. When those of that class only are addressed, as in treatises on the principles of their art, it is admitted, that the use of such terms may be not only convenient, but even necessary. It is allowable also in ridicule, if used sparingly, as in comedy and romance.
Part VII.- From long Sentences.
The last cause of obscurity I shall take notice of is, very long sentences. This rarely fails to be conjoined with some of the other faults before mentioned. The two subsequent quotations from two eminent writers, will serve sufficiently to exemplify more than one of them. The first is from Bolingbroke's Philosophy:
are so, contrary to all appearances (for they denote plainly one single system, all the parts of which are so “ intimately connected and dependent one on another, “ that the whole begins, proceeds, and ends together,)
- If we
+ Dryden's Iliard.
“ this union of a body and a soul must be magical in“ deed, as Doctor Cudworth calls it, so magical, that “ the hypothesis serves to no purpose in philosophy, “ whatever it may do in theology; and is still less con
prehensible, than the hypothesis which assumes, that
although our idea of thought be not included in the “ idea of matter or body, as the idea of figure is, for in16 stance, in that of limited extension; yet the faculty " of thinking, in all the modes of thought, may have “ been superadded by Omnipotence, to certain systems " of matter: which it is not less than blasphemy to
deny ; though divines and philosophers, who deny it “ in terms, may be cited ; and which, whether it be true " or no, will never be proved false by a little metaphy“ sical jargon about essences, and attributes, and modes." * The other quotation is from Swift's letter to the Lord High Treasurer, containing a proposal for correcting, improving, and ascertaining the English tongue : “ To this
succeeded that licentiousness which entered with the
Restoration, and from infecting our religion and mo“rals, fell to corrupt our language, (which last was not “ like to be much improved by those who at that time “ made up the court of king Charles the Second; either “ such who had followed him in his banishment; or “ who had been altogether conversant in the dialect of " those fanatic times; or young men who had been “educated in the same company), so that the court
(which used to be the standard of propriety and cor" rectness of speech) was then (and, I think, hath ever " since continued) the worst school in England for that
accomplishment; and so will remain, till better care “ be taken in the education of our young nobility, that
they may set out into the world with some foundation " of literature, in order to qualify them for patterns of
politeness.” There are indeed, cases in which even a long period will not create obscurity. When this happens, it may almost always be remarked, that all the
Essa i. Sect. 2.
principal members of the period are similar in their structure, and would constitute so many distinct sentences, if they were not united by their reference to some common clause in the beginning or the end.
Section II.-The double meaning.
It was observed, that perspicuity might be violated, not only by obscurity, but also by double meaning. The fault in this case is not that the sentence conveys darkly or imperfectly the author's meaning, but that it conveys also some other meaning, which is not the author's. His words are susceptible of more than one interpretation. When this happens, it is always occasioned, either by using some expression which is equivocal ; that is, bath more meanings than one affixed to it; or by ranging the words in such an order, that the construction is rendered equivocal, or made to exhibit different senses. To the former, for distinction's sake, I shall assign the name of equivocation ; to the latter, I shall appropriate that of ambiguity,
I begin with the first. When the word equivocation denotes, as in common language it generally denotes, the use of an equivocal word or phrase, or other ambiguity, with an intention to deceive, it doth not differ essentially from a lie. This offence falls under the reproof of the moralist, not the censure of the rhetorician. Again, when the word denotes, as agreeably to etymology it may denote, that exercise of wit which consists in the playful use of any term or phrase in different senses, and is denominated pun, it is amenable indeed to the tribunal of criticism, but cannot be regarded as a violation of the laws of perspicuity. It is neither with the liar nor with the punster that I am concerned at present, The only species of equivocation that comes under re. prehension here, is that which takes place, when an author undesignedly employs an expression susceptible of a
sense different from the sense he intends to convey by it.
In order to avoid this fault, no writer or speaker can think of disusing all the homonymous terms of the language, or all such as have more than one signification. To attempt this in any tongue, ancient or modern, would be to attempt the annihilation of the greater part of the language ; for in every language, the words strictly univocal will be found to be the smaller number. But it must be admitted, as a rule in elocution, that equivocal terms ought never to be avoided, unless where their connexion with the other words of the sentence instantly ascertains the meaning This, indeed, the connexion is often so capable of effecting, that the hearer will never reflect that the word is equivocal, the true sense being the only sense which the expression suggests to his mind. Thus the word pound signifies both the sum of twenty shillings sterling, and the weight of sixteen ounces avoirdupois. Now if you should tell me, that you rent a house at fifty pounds, or tbat you have bought fifty pounds of meat in the market, the idea of weight will never present itself to my mind in the one case, or the idea of money in the other. But it frequently happens, through the inadvertency of writers, that the connected words in the sentence do not immediately ascertain the sense of the equivocal term. And though an intelligent reader may easily find the sense on reflection, and, with the aid of the context, we may lay it down as a maxim, that an author always offends against perspicuity, when his style requires that reflexion from his reader. But I shall proceed to illustrate, by examples the fault of which I am treating. An equivocation, then, may be either in a single word or in a phrase.
As to the former, there is scarcely any of the parts of speech in which you will not find equivocal terms. To begin with particles; the preposition of denotes sometimes the relation which any affection bears to its subject; that is, the person whose affection it is; sometimes the relation which it bears to its object. Hence this expression of the apostle hath been observed to be