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Some sentences are so neatly expressed that the change of a single word would injure them. Take the following from Edward Everett as an instance:
"On one occasion a person introduced himself in the following manner: "You see before you a father who has educated his son agreeably to the principles in your Emile.' Rousseau's reply was, 'So much the worse for you and your son!'"
14. Practical Directions.-Elementary treatises on grammar may be studied with great profit to ascertain the best directions for the location of adverbs, adjectives, the infinitive mode, and other elements of speech, but a careful writer will need only to observe that perspicuity and force are primarily to be secured, and that a variety in the construction of sentences should be sought.
Also guard against a useless expenditure of breath -a superabundance of vocables. Scattering shot do
SIMPLE AND COMPOUND SENTENCES. 199
15. Definition, and Examples.-SENTENCES may be simple or compound. A simple sentence has but one subject, and one finite verb. Instances:
"Man is mortal."
"To an American visiting Europe, the long voyage he has to make is an excellent preparative."
A compound sentence has more than one finite verb, and is capable of being divided into two or more propositions.
Sentences differ much in length. "Beauty is vain," is a short sentence.
The following is longer:
"Our immense extent of fertile territory opening an inexhaustible field for successful enterprise, thus assuring to industry a certain reward for its labors, and preserving the lands for centuries to come from the manifold evils of an overcrowded, and consequently degraded population; our magnificent system of federated republics, carrying out and applying the principles of representative democracy to an extent never hoped or imagined in the boldest theories of the old speculative republican philosophers, the Harringtons, Sydneys, and Lockes of former times; the reaction of over-political system upon our social and domestic concerns, bringing the influence of popular feeling and public opinion to bear upon all the affairs of life in a degree hitherto wholly unprecedented; the unconstrained range of freedom of opinion, of speech, and of the press, and the habitual and daring exercise of that liberty upon the highest subjects; the absence of all serious inequality of fortune and rank in the con
dition of our citizens; our divisions into innumerable religious sects, and the consequent co-existence, never before regarded as possible, of intense religious zeal with a degree of toleration in feeling and perfect equality of rights; our intimate connection with that elder world beyond the Atlantic, communicating to us, through the press and emigration, much of good and much of evil not our own, high science, refined art, and the best knowledge of old experience, as well as prejudices and luxuries, vices and crimes, such as could not have been expected to spring up in our soil for ages; all these, combined with numerous other peculiarities in the institutions, and in the moral, civil, and social condition of the American people, have given to our society, through all its relations, a character exclusively its own."
16. Variety of Taste on this Subject.-Some vigorous and clear writers confine themselves almost entirely to short sentences. Writings of a didactic character sometimes consist of a succession of independent propositions naturally expressed in short sentences. Some writers present us with an almost unbroken succession of long sentences. Either practice as a fixed habit is reprehensible. A continued succession of either short or long sentences wearies the hearer or reader.
Short sentences are more forcible and lively, but weary the ear and mind by monotony, unless relieved by the occasional interposition of a long sentence. Long sentences require a more constant attention, and, however well constructed and expressive, soon cease to charm, unless the attention is relieved by shorter expressions.
It is evident that he who never constructs a long sentence can not reach a great height in eloquence, though indeed often the strongest emotions and the most heart-stirring appeals are couched in simple language and short sentences.
The thrilling description of a murder given by
Webster in one of his pleas as a lawyer is a good illustration of the power of short sentences. We present a brief extract to illustrate this fact:
"Deep sleep had fallen on the destined victim, and on all beneath his roof. A healthful old man, to whom sleep was sweet, the first sound slumbers of the night held him in their soft but strong embrace. The assassin enters, through the window already prepared, into an unoccupied apartment. With noiseless foot he paces the lonely hall, half lighted by the moon; he winds up the ascent of the stairs, and reaches the door of the chamber. Of this he moves the lock, by soft and continued pressure, till it turns on its hinges; and he enters, and beholds his victim before him. The room was uncommonly open to the admission of light. The face of the innocent sleeper was turned from the murderer; and the beams of the moon, resting on the gray locks of his aged temple, showed him where to strike. The fatal blow is given! and "the victim passes, without a struggle or motion, from the repose of sleep to the repose of death!"
In the whole of the plea from which the above is taken, occupying hours in its delivery, not a single long sentence is found. On the other hand, some of the most splendid orations of ancient and modern times abound in long sentences. It requires a highlycultivated mind to construct a long sentence full of thought, containing no superfluous parts, and so ar ranged as to interest the mind and not offend the ear. I 2
LOOSE SENTENCES AND PERIODS.
SENTENCES may be farther divided into Loose Sentences and Periods.
17. Loose Sentences. A loose sentence consists of parts, at the end of each of which a full pause might be made, and yet complete sense would be expressed. Sometimes, also, the latter part, or parts, of the sentence, will make sense without the preceding.
"It seems, gentlemen, that this is an age of reason; the time and the person have at last arrived that are to dissipate the errors of past ages."
A full pause could be made after "reason," the following word could begin with a capital letter, and no change would be made in the sense. The whole is therefore a loose sentence.
"He aspired to be the highest; above the people; above the authorities; above the laws; above his country."
The above sentence could close with either of the words, "highest," "people," "authorities," or "laws," and make complete sense. It is therefore a loose sentence.