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On the statement of the subject. The first and leading object of attention in every compa sition of an argumentative kind, is to determine the precise point of inquiry - the proposition which is to be laid down and supported Unless the writer has steadily before him some point which he would reach, he will ever be liable to go astray- to lose himself and his readers. It is not till he has determined on the definite object of inquiry, that he can know what views to present, and how long to dwell on the different topics he may discuss.
It is recommended to him, who is considering what proposition shall be laid down, and in what form it shall be stated, to ask himself the three following questions; L. What is the fact? 2. Why is it so?
3. What consequences result? Suppose as an illustration, that my thoughts have been turned towards the manifestations of wisdom, goodness and power in the works of creation around me, and I wish to lead those whom I address, to be mindful of these things. I ask myself, 1. What is the fact? In reply, it may be said, - that in the material world there are numerous indications of infinite wisdom and benevolence, and of almighty power. I ask, 2. How is the existence of these works to be accounted for? What is the cause? I answer, God hath created them. I ask again, 3. What should be the consequence? Again I reply, men should live mindful of God. I embody the results of my inquiries in the following proposition; Men who live in the midst of objects which shew. forth the perfections of the great Creator, should live mindful of Him.
It is not always necessary, that the proposition to be supported, should be thus formally stated, though this is usually done in writings of an argumentative nature. Sometimes it is elegantly implied, or left to be inferred from the introduc
When however any doubt can exist as to the object proposed, or there is any danger that the reader may mistake the design of the writer, the precise object of discussion cannot be too distinctly and formally stated. In the management of the subject, as in the expression of the thoughts, elegance should always be sacrificed to perspicuity. Half the controversies and differences of opinion among men, arise from their not distinctly understanding the questions on which they write and converse.
It is a common impression with young writers, that the wider the field of inquiry on which they enter, the more abundant and obvious will be the thoughts, which will offer themselves for their use. Hence, by selecting some general subject, they hope to secure copiousness of matter, and thus to find an easier task. Experience, however, shews that the reverse is true that as the field of inquiry is narrowed, questions arise more exciting to the mind, and thoughts are suggested of greater value and interest to the readers. Suppose, as an illustration, that a writer proposes to himself to write an essay on literature. Amidst the numerous topics which might be treated upon under this term, what unity of subject could be expected ? How commonplace and uninteresting would be the thoughts advanced ! But let some distinct inquiry be proposed, or some assertion be made and supported, of which the extract among the Exercises, entitled a “ Defence of literary studies in men of business,” is an instance, and there is a copiousn
isness of interesting thoughts, presented in a distinct and connected
On the plan or divisions.
Having before his mind the precise object of inquiry, and having stated also, either in a formal manner, or by impli
cation, the proposition to be supported, the writer now turns his attention to the formation of his plan; in other words, he determines in what order and connection his thoughts shall be presented. Thus are formed the divisions of a composition, which will correspond in their nature to the leading design and character of the performance. In argumentative discussions, the heads are distinct propositions or arguments, designed to support and establish the leading proposition. In persuasive writings, they are the different considerations, which the writer would place before his readers, to influence their minds, and induce them to adopt the opinions and pursue the course, which he recommends. In didactic writings, they are the different points of instruction. In narrative and descriptive writings, they are the different events and scenes, which in succession are brought before the mind.
It is obvious, that no particular rules of general application, can be given to aid the writer in forming his plan. It must vary with the subject and occasion. Here then is room for the exercise of ingenuity; and the habits of consecutive thinking mentioned in a former section of this chapter, are the best preparation for this part of his work. But though no specific rules can be given, there are a few general directions, which will now be stated. It will be seen, that they apply principally to those writings, which are of an argumentative nature, and which alone admit of an extended plan.
1. Every division should have a direct and obvious. bearing on the leading purpose of the writer.
2. The different divisions should be distinct, one not including another.
3. The divisions should to a good degree exhaust the subject, and taken together should present a whole.
Let us suppose, in illustration of these rules, that it is
proposed to write an essay on Filial duties. As the object of the essay, the writer designs to shew, that children should render to their parents obedience and love. His division is as follows: Children should render obedience and love o their parents,
1. Because they are under obligation to their parents for benefits received from them.
2. Because in this way they secure their own happiness.
3. Because God has commanded them to honor their parents.
In this division there is a manifest reference to the object of the writer. The different heads are also distinct from each other, and taken together give a sufficiently full view of the subject. It is in accordance then with the preceding directions.
Let us now suppose that the following division had been made;
Children should render obedience and love to their parents,
1. Because they are under obligations to them for benefits received from them.
2. Because their parents furnish them with food and clothing.
3. Because in this way they secure their own happiness.
4. Because there is a satisfaction and peace of conscience in the discharge of filial duties.
This division is faulty, since the different parts are not distinct from each other. The second head is included under the first, and the fourth under the third.
A third division might be made as follows; Children should render obedience and love to their parents,
1. Because they should do what is right. 2. Because in this way they secure their own happiness.
3. Because God has commanded them to honor their parents. It
may be said of the first part of this division, that it has no particular reference to the object of the writer. It is a truth of general application, and may with equal propriety be assigned in enforcing any other duty as that of filial obedience. It is also implied in the other heads, since children do what is right, when, in obedience to God's command, they seek to secure their own happiness."
The question may arise, Is it of importance distinctiy to state the plan which is pursued ? Should there be formal divisions of a discourse? To this I answer, that in, the treatment of intricate subjects, where there are many divisions, and where it is of importance that the order and connexion of each part should be carefully observed, to state the divisions is the better course. But it is far from being always essential. Though we never should write without forming a distinct plan for our own use, yet it may often be best to let others gather this plan from reading our productions. A plan is a species of scaffolding to aid us in erecting the building. When the edifice is finished, we may let the scaffolding fall.
In the discussion of a subject, which is of an argumentative nature, the direction is generally given, that the arguments should rise in importance. In this way the attention, excited by novelty at first, may continue to be held, and a full and strong conviction be left on the mind at the conclusion of the reasoning. This, as a general rule, may be observed, but the more obvious occurrence of an argument or some other cause, will often require the skilful writer to de
part from it.