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STYLE FROM SEVERAL ANGLES
truded rhetoric of his “Life of Christ,"
a lady who was an enthusiastic admirer BY BRANDER MATTHEWS
of his was taken in to dinner by Dr.
Thompson, the Master of Trinity. She be added to clearness or force." And in
sang Canon Farrar's praises, and at last THAT I have ever striven for as the same essay Freeman declared that
she reached her climax: "And then, a writer is not a style of my “it is for others to judge whether I
Master, Canon Farrar has so much own, not the acquiring of a learned from Macaulay the art of being
taste!" To which the exasperated Dr. distinctive and individual way of ex- clear; I at least learned from him the
Thompson promptly retorted: "He has pressing myself, but the attainment of duty of trying to be clear.”
indeed, madam, and all of it so bad!” clarity. A precious compliment was The difference between Macaulay and
That the style of the great lexicogpaid to Macaulay when the proof-reader lay when the proof-reader Freeman is that between a brilliant
rapher was all of it so bad was also the of his history told him that it had not cavalry charge—"marshaled battalions
opinion of a later dictionary maker, been necessary to read any sentence bright in burnished steel”—and the
Noah Webster, who declared in his twice to grasp its meaning. Of course lumbering advance of a train of heavy
"Dissertations" that "the benefit dethis compliment is also a criticism, in artillery. It is a difference so wide that
rived from his (Johnson's] morality and its implication that Macaulay's thoughts Freeman's style can scarcely be called
his erudition will hardly counterbalance were never so deep-or, if you please, a style; rather is it a stolid manner
the mischief done by his manner of so abstruseas to demand concentrated which fatigues far more quickly than
writing." effort for their apprehension. Macaulay's rapidity. Stevenson plainly
Dr. Johnson's sesquipedalian ponderThe first duty of the writer is to make goes too far when he calls Macaulay "an
osity was imposed on him by his misthe path easy for the reader—to grade
taken understanding of the demands of the right of way so that the train of
the dignity of literature. He did not thought, heavy or light as the load may
talk as he wrote-nobody ever did; and be, shall go on its course without annoy.
this is the reason why he lives as a ing applications of the emergency brake.
talker in Boswell's pages, while his own It is as true in this twentieth century
writings are now read by title only. as it was in the eighteenth, when Sheri
Yet unattractive as he is in his works, dan said it, that "easy writing is cursed
with their persistent and insistent balhard reading.” It is true also that
ance of polysyllabic noun with polystyle, in its masterly manifestations
syllabic noun and of polysyllabic adjecthe soaring eloquence of Burke, for ex
tive with polysyllabic adjective, he is at ample, and the severe elevation of New.
least clear. We know what he means, man—is the lofty privilege of the gifted
and he makes us know it, even if we only; and those of us who are not gifted
are not interested. He parades his macannot achieve it by taking thought.
chinery, but the wheels do go round, But there are lowlier virtues which the
even if they revolve slowly. humblest of us may attain.
I remember my mother's telling me Clarity, for example, does not vaunt
that in her school days, now fourscore itself; but its value is inestimable; and
years ago, she had been taught that the it is within the reach of the least gifted.
opening sentence of "Rasselas" was esIn fact, it can be had for the asking,
teemed the most beautiful in the lanor at least it can be bought with a price.
guage. Here is that sentence: "Ye who It may demand infinite care, protracted
listen with credulity to the whispers of training, hard labor—what matter, if it
fancy and pursue with eagerness the is worth what it costs? When the British Courtesy Charles Scribner's Song
phantoms of hope, who expect that age bard flattered Washington Irving by
will perform the promises of youth, and the assertion that the American author
that the deficiencies of the present day had "added clarity to the English incomparable dauber," and when he will be supplied by the morrow, attend language,” he must for the moment suggests that it was probably for a to the history of Rasselas, Prince of have forgotten Bunyan and Defoe, Swift "barbaric love of repeating the same Abyssinia." and Franklin, whose meaning is always sound rather than from any design of Recalling the hatred the author of unerringly apprehensible. Even if the clearness" that Macaulay "acauired his
clearness" that Macaulay "acquired his "Taxation No Tyranny" had for Ameripoet was complimenting a newcomer in irritating habit of repeating words." cans, I feel that there is a certain the field of letters at the expense of cer. The artifice of Macaulay's antithesis piquancy in companioning this quotatain of his forerunners, he was none the and alliteration thrusts itself upon the tion from the most honored of British less emphasizing the value of one of the reader's notice. Macaulay is not a authors at the end of the eighteenth most obvious qualities of Irving's work. dauber; he is an artist; but his brush- century with a quotation from an Behind and beneath the charm and the work is so bold that it obtrudes itself American author honored at the begingrace of Thackeray's writing, and of and he fails to conceal his art as well ning of the twentieth century. After Howells's no less, there is an easy trans as he might. His is not “that exquisite recording his pure bliss in the endeavor parency by which their readers profit something caned style," which, so to transmute a German or Italian lyric even if they fail to remark it.
Lowell declared, "like the grace of per- into English verse, Howells went on to The clarity of Irving and Thackeray fect breeding, everywhere pervasive and say that he sometimes thought there and Howells is not so uncompromising nowhere emphatic, makes itself felt by was “a finer pleasure in divining the as that of Macaulay. They do not argue the skill with which it effaces itself, and subtle offices, the exquisite potentialities with us; they only tell us; whereas masters us at last with a sense of inde- of prose. It is like walking in a fair Macaulay insists on driving home his finable completeness."
country over a path that wanders at points with repeated taps of the tack
will among waving fields, beside ramhammer, and to avoid any possible con
bling brooks, through shadowy woods fusion he does not shrink from the repe. Has Dr. Johnson a style? Or is his and sunny openings, all under a blue tition of the essential words—a repeti- manner of writing only a mannerism, sky; and the birds flute and trill on tion which at times is almost tautology. not natural to him, and deliberately every side; and when you will them, Freeman said that he had learned from adopted? Certainly it is everywhere the shy words come trooping, come Macaulay "never to be afraid of using emphatic and nowhere pervasive. Once flying, and settle in their chosen places the same word or name over and over upon a time, when Canon Farrar had as of their own accord, with no rythagain, if by that means anything could captured the unthinking with the pro- mic compulsion and no metrical com
mand. Prose, when it is perfected, will able to transmogrify Cæsar into Cice. that “all the conventional rules of the be as sweet as the talk of gracious- ronian or Cicero into Cæsarese as to construction of speech may be put aside minded women, as simple and strong as transfer the thought of Swift into the if a writer is thereby enabled to follow the parlance of serious men; and it will style of Addison. After all, style is the more closely the form and process of not have to hide the art of its construc- man; and when it is not the fruit of his thought. It is the law of that logic tion, for it will be a thing born, not his own spirit it is illegitimate. It is that he must forever follow, and in atmade, and will live from the pen as it then not good writing, it is only “fine taining it alone find rest. ... The simlives from the lips."
writing." And fine writing is the ple and naked beauty of Swift's style, If the thought in the opening sen- abomination of desolation.
sometimes so keen and poignant, rests tence of "Rasselas" had occurred to
absolutely on this truth to the logic of Howells-and it is one of the eternal
thought." And here we discover ancommonplaces which any essayist might The fine writers who insist on tying other reason why Swift cannot be transfind at the tip of his pen-with what pink bows to all their thoughts fell un- lated into Addisonian. delicate and delightful words would he der the displeasure of Sir Philip Sidney It may be doubted whether Swift or have phrased it! And if Johnson had more than three centuries ago; he said Addison, Charlotte Brontë or Hawwanted to say what Howells has here they were like the Indians, because they thorne, ever worried their heads about uttered with his customary felicity, the were “not content to wear earrings at style. They sought clarity and directburly Briton would have swathed it in the fit and natural place of the ears, but ness and simplicity. They seemed to cumbrous robes, whereby it would have they will thrust jewels through their have recognized that style is a little like lost its lightness and its ease, its grace noses and lips because they will be sure happiness in that it is likely to evade and its charm. There would be no to be fine."
those who seek it too strenuously or too insuperable difficulty in turning John. As I copy this out I am reminded of openly. Certainly they did not wrestle son's sentence into Macaulay, or How- a kindred figure of speech to be found with the angel of the Lord as Carlyle ells's into Thackeray; but Howells's in an uncollected essay of Henry did, panting with the fierce exertion. It lovely phrases refuse absolutely to be James's, in which he says that Swin- would be amusing if we could have translated into Johnsonese.
burne's style is "without measure, with Swift's or Hawthorne's opinion of the This impossibility is what Walter out discretion, without sense of what to hectic rhetoric of Ruskin and of the Bagehot made plain when he asserted take and what to leave; after a few epicene fastidiousness of Pater. that "if you will endeavor to write an pages, it becomes intolerably fatiguing" Not only do the masters of style write imitation of the thoughts of Swift in a because “it is always listening to itself— with an apparently effortless ease, but copy of the style of Addison you will always turning its head over its shoul. they have often had to wait for the full find that not only is it hard to write ders 'to see its train flowing behind it. recognition of their mastery. In readAddison's style, from its intrinsic excel. The train shimmers and tumbles in a ing the work of those who have clarity lence, but also that the more you ap- very gorgeous fashion, but the rustle of and directness, who match manner and proach to it the more you lose the its embroidery is fatally importunate." matter, who obey the law of the logic thought of Swift; the eager passion of And in another of his discarded criti. of the thought, we are so satisfactorily the meaning beats upon the mild dra- cisms he expressed his deep admiration carried along that at first we lack pery of the words.”
for George Eliot's "perfect solid prose; leisure to remark the sober artistry of Probably no two writers who were brilliant and lax as it was in tissue, it their verbal craftsmanship. In their contemporaries had styles more sharply seemed to contain very few of the silken closely woven fabric there are no purdissimilar than Cicero and Cæsar. Both threads of poetry; it. lay on the ground ple patches to take the eye and to deof these Romans had sat at the feet of like a carpet, instead of floating in the mand instant acclamation. It was long the Greeks, and had mastered the com- air like a banner.”
years after John Bunyan was laid to plex technic of Attic rhetoric; both had Here James's own style displays its rest that his command over our stubto deal with matters of state; and, silken threads, and has the immitigable born tongue began to receive the praise while Cicero elaborated and decorated clarity which is ever the essential ele- it deserved. And even now there are with unfailing certainty of effect, Cæsar ment of perfect solid prose the very not so many as there might be who have willfully achieved a stark simplicity. element which disappears in his later discovered that the unassuming BenNobody has more aptly characterized works, wherein we grope in a distilled jamin Franklin had a style of his own, Cicero's ornate method than Goumy in darkness with never a thread, silken or as clear as Irving's or Addison's, easy his posthumous essays on "Les Latins:” hempen, to guide us out of the laby- and unobtrusive, and completely ade Cicero's is "an enchanting prose, which rinth. The early James seems to have quate to the expression of his common shows no effort nor tension nor shirk been a fairly simple creature, whereas sense. ing, as clear as the day, as harmonious the later James was the most compli- Probably Franklin and Bunyan would as music, flowing with the full majesty cated of mortal men. Again style is the not quite know what to make of an of a great river, and as it flows rolling man himself. How can it ever be any often-quoted passage in Stevenson's all the riches of a superb language." Ching else and still be sincere? And highly technical and therefore suggesOn the other hand, Cæsar's "Commen the puzzle remains that a writer who tive and stimulating study of "Style in taries on the Gallic War" has the stern had mastered modern French literature, Literature." Often quoted this passage concision of "a military report, sent who followed in the footsteps of Tur- has been; and yet it must here be back by a democratic general to the genev, and who appreciated the sturdy quoted once more if only to bring to a people from whom he derived his vigor of Maupassant, an American who sonorous finish this medley of quotapowers," as Mommsen put it; and had lovingly but disinterestedly appre- tions: - "We begin to see now what an Cicero called it a work of high value ciated Hawthorne, could ever have been intricate affair is any perfect passage; resembling "a beautiful, antique statue, tempted to the raveling of hésitating how many faculties, whether of taste or as stript of ornaments as that is of gar- convolutions. In his “Recollections" pure reason, must be held upon the ments, and owing its beauty and its Lord Morley records George Meredith's stretch to make it; and why, when it grace to its nudity."
assertion that some pages in Charlotte is made, it should afford us so complete No doubt Cicero could have attained Brontë's "Villette" and some in Haw. a pleasure. From the arrangement of bare directness had he so desired, and thorne's "Marble Faun" are “the high- according letters, which is altogether Cæsar could have been luxuriant; but water mark of English prose in our arabesque and sensual, up to the archieach of them had an excellent reason time."
tecture of the elegant and pregnant senfor his choice. Cæsar was clear because Hawthorne and Charlotte Brontë are tence, which is a vigorous act of the he was simple, ani Cicero was clear a strange couple; and yet their respec- pure intellect, there is scarcely a faculty even if he was not simple. Either of tive styles have this in common-that in man but has been exercised. He em would have betrayed himself if they obey what Havelock Ellis has need not wonder, then, if perfect sen had tried to employ the method of called "the law of the logic of thought." tences are rare, and perfect page other; and it would be as unprofit. And the shrewd British critic declared rarer."
How the Cost of
to the Public
BY NEWTON A. FUESSLE
“There has been a renaissance in this country of an appreciation of the genuine; the demand is again for lasting
possessions of valid worth"
D LAIN people no longer eat un reply: "Your Excellency can find multi
questioningly from their pewter, tudes of men who are able to build you
while the glisten of Sterling silver cities and palaces, but you will not, perware is reserved exclusively for kings, haps, find one man in the world who and cardinals, and noble dignitaries. can make another 'Perseus.'”. But it has taken centuries for Sterling Along with gold, silver is the most silver and the spirit of democracy to get malleable and ductile of all metals; a together.
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