Page images
PDF
EPUB

WHATELY'S CRITICISM OF JOHNSON. 43

happens, unfortunately, that Johnson's style is particularly easy of imitation, even by writers utterly destitute of his vigor of thought; and such imitators are intolerable. They bear the same resemblance to their model that the armor of the Chinese, as described by travellers, consisting of thick quilted cotton covered with stiff glazed paper, does to that of the ancient knights: equally glittering and bulky, but destitute of the temper and firmness which was its sole advantage. At first sight, indeed, this kind of style appears far from easy of attainment, on account of its being remote from the colloquial, and having an elaborately artificial appearance; but in reality there is none less difficult to acquire. To string together substantives connected by conjunctions, which is the characteristic of Johnson's style, is, in fact, the rudest and clumsiest mode of expressing our thoughts: we have only to find names for our ideas, and then put them together by connectives, instead of interweaving, or rather felting them together, by the admixture of verbs, participles, prepositions, etc. So that this way of writing, as contrasted with the other, may be likened to the primitive rude carpentry, in which the materials were united by coarse external implements, pins, nails, and cramps, when compared with that art in its most improved state, after the invention of dove-tail joints, grooves, and mortises, when the junctions are effected by forming properly the extremities of the pieces to be joined, so as at once to consolidate and conceal the juncture."*

Whately's Rhetoric, part iii. chap. ii. § 8.

On this subject Ralph Waldo Emerson remarks: "In Parliament, in pulpits, in theatres, when the speakers rise to thought and passion, the language becomes idiomatic; the people in the street best understand the best words.”*

*Emerson's English Traits, p. 104.

REMEMBRANCE OF WORDS.

45

CHAPTER VI.

HOW TO OBTAIN A GOOD VOCABULARY.

20. Degrees of Memory in Relation to Language.THERE is a great difference between such a knowl edge of a word as enables a person to understand its meaning when it is either heard or read, and such a mastery over it as enables the person to command it either in speech or rapid writing. Many persons can understand the most of what is uttered to them in familiar conversation in a foreign language who can not express themselves readily and correctly in that language. Thousands of scholars can read foreign languages who could not write a page of them accurately. A speaker who uses many and elegant words will often interest and delight an auditory of uneducated persons, not one of whom could use the words which he hears and understands, and some of which perhaps he never heard before.

21. Analysis of Memory.-The faculty of memory, when analyzed, is found to embrace the powers of retention and reproduction. First, the knowledge must be acquired; second, it must be retained, and, finally, it must be reproduced when needed.

Each of these departments of the memory can be strengthened only by attention and exercise. Each

+

particular department must be specially exercised. The acquisition of words can be secured by a study of dictionaries, by accurately observing every new term that is heard or seen, and particularly by translating from one language into another. It should be heeded by the student that a familiarity with words can not be secured accidentally, any more than any other valuable power.

In like manner words, once comprehended and stored in the memory, must be employed frequently, or they will not be ready to do the bidding of their master when needed. The frequent and careful use of the pen is a great aid to the memory. The oft-quoted apothegm of Bacon should be regarded: "Reading maketh a full man, conference [conversation or use] a ready man, and writing an exact man."

22. Advice of Bacon.-The following advice of this illustrious author, though comprehending more than directly applies to the present subject, is all pertinent to a study of Rhetoric:

"If a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep, moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."

In the above extract, the careful reader will note that several words are used with a signification that is now either obsolete or not common. They are, "had need have" for needs to have, "confer " for converse, "cunning" for skill, "that" for that which or what.*

COMMAND OF A VOCABULARY.

47

This illustrates the changes in the meaning and use of words gradually introduced into the language.

23. Further Advice on Cultivating a Remembrance of Words.-To obtain a knowledge of words and a facility in their employment, it is a commendable practice never to pass over a word in reading without a thorough perception of its meaning, and to employ in speaking or writing as great a variety of choice and appropriate terms as can be commanded, provided that none are used superfluously. Also, while it is profitable to study carefully other languages, no person should presume to consider himself well educated, without having spent much time, not only in the study of the grammar, but in the special and severe study of the words of his own language.

24. Advice of Choate on Choice of Words.- Mr. Choate, whose opinion on the style of Erskine has already been quoted, was himself the master of a rich, copious, and highly-ornamented style, which could not have been acquired without the patient study of words. His opinion on this subject is worthy of notice:

"The culture of expression should be a specific study, quite distinct from the invention of thought. Language and its elements, words, are to be mastered by direct, earnest labor. A speaker ought daily to exercise and air his vocabulary, and also to add to and enrich it. Translations should be pursued with these two objects, to bring up to the mind and employ all the words you already own, and to tax and torment invention and discovery, and the very deepest memory, for additional, rich, and admirably-expressive words. In translating, the student should not put down a word till he has thought of at least six synonyms, or varieties of expression, for the idea. Dictionaries are of great service in this filling up and fertilizing of dic

« PreviousContinue »