Imágenes de páginas

public are able to decide. Neither legislation nor the most powerful combination of workers can compel employers to carry on their business when it has ceased to be profitable.

It has been shown that co-operative industries would be of special advantage in fixing a gauge or standard of wages for the whole body of workmen. In view, however, of the slow and limited development of co-operative industry, there is no reason to anticipate any extensive transfer of difficult forms of enterprise from personal to co-operative management. We must look for other means of spreading light and knowledge. To open confidential books to public inspection being impracticable, it is the more incumbent on employers to go as far as they possibly can in friendly reasoning and full explanation of their position and their difficulties to their workmen. Courts of conciliation for mutual explanation and consultation should be set up in every industry. Now for more than a generation the schoolmaster has been abroad. The spread of education has created in every class a more democratic spirit. Organisation has given the workers more confidence in their own strength. Education has created a stronger desire to know reasons and to judge independently of the fitness of things. Every consideration points to the desirability of frequent and friendly conferences between employers and employed. They are in harmony with the liberal sentiment and tendency of the present age. Wherever they have been formed, good relations have grown up between employers and employed. They have never yet been found to fail, and we may confidently rely on their efficacy in the future as a safeguard and protection from the miseries of industrial




Fili mi dilectissime (if, sir, I may borrow the words of the late Lord Derby when, as Chancellor of the University, he conferred the degree of D.C.L. on Lord Stanley, his son)-I fear that I am about to do an unwise thing. When, in an hour of paternal weakness, I accepted your invitation to address the Bodley Society on Style, it escaped me that it was a subject to which I had hardly given a thought, one with which undergraduates have but small concern. And now I find myself talking on a matter whereof I know nothing, and could do you little good if I did, in presence of an illustrious historian, to say nothing of your own Head, who was an acknowledged master of English, when my own literary style aspired to nothing more elegant than the dry forms of pleadings and deeds.


Everyone knows how futile for any actual result are those elaborate disquisitions on Style which some of the most consummate masters have amused themselves in compiling, but which serve at best to show how quite hackneyed truisms can be graced by an almost miraculous neatness of phrase. It is in vain to enjoin on us 'propriety,' 'justness of expression,' 'suitability of our language to the subject we treat,' and all the commonplaces which the schools of Addison and of Johnson in the last century promulgated as canons of good style. Proper words in proper places,' says Swift, 'make the true definition of a style.' 'Each phrase in its right place,' says Voltaire. Well! Swift and Voltaire knew how to do this with supreme skill; but it does not help us, if they cannot teach their art. How are we to know what is the proper word? How are we to find the right place? And even a greater than Swift or Voltaire is not much more practical as a teacher. 'Suit the action to the word, and the word to the action,' says Hamlet. Be not too tame neither. Let your own discretion be your tutor.' Can you trust your own discretion? Have undergraduates this discretion? And how could I, in presence of your College authority, suggest that you should have no tutor but your own discretion?


1 An (unreportel) aldress to the Bodley Literary Society, Oxford, President, C. René Harrison.

All this is as if a music master were to say to a pupil, Sing always in tune and with the right intonation, and whatever you do, produce your voice in the proper way! Or, to make myself more intelligible to you here, it is as if W. G. Grace were to tell you, Play a 'yorker' in the right way, and place the ball in the proper spot with reference to the field! We know that neither the art of acting, nor of singing, nor of cricket can be taught by general commonplaces of this sort. And good prose is so far like cricket that the W. G.'s of literature, after ten or twenty centuries,' can tell you nothing more than this-to place your words in the right spot, and to choose the proper word, according to the field' that you have before you.


The most famous essay on Style, I suppose, is that by one of the greatest wizards who ever used language-I mean the Ars Poetica of Horace, almost every line of which has become a household word in the educated world. But what avail his inimitable epigrams in practice? Who is helped by being told not to draw a man's head on a horse's neck, or a beautiful woman with the tail end of a fish? 'Do not let brevity become obscurity; do not let your mountain in labour bring forth a mouse; turn over your Greek models night and day; your compositions must be not only correct, but must give delight, touch the heart,' and so forth, and so forth. All these imperishable maxims-as clean cut as a sardonyx gem-these 'chestnuts,' as you call them, in the slang of the day-serve as hard nuts for a translator to crack, and as handy mottoes at the head of an essay; but they are barren of any solid food as the shell of a cocoa-nut.

Then Voltaire, perhaps the greatest master of prose in any modern language, wrote an essay on Style, in the same vein of epigrammatic platitude. No declamation, says he, in a work on physics. No jesting in a treatise on mathematics. Well! but did Douglas Jerrold himself ever try to compose a Comic Trigonometry; and could another Charles Lamb find any fun in Spencer's First Principles? A fine style, says Voltaire, makes anything delightful; but it is exceedingly difficult to acquire, and very rarely found. And all he has to say is, 'Avoid grandiloquence, confusion, vulgarity, cheap wit, and colloquial slang in a tragedy.' He might as well say, Take care to be as strong as Sandow, and as active as Prince Ranjitsinhji, and whatever you do, take care not to grow a nose like Cyrano de Bergerac in the new play!

An ingenious professor of literature has lately ventured to commit himself to an entire treatise on Style, wherein he has propounded everything that can usefully be said about this art, in a style which illustrates everything that you should avoid. At the end of his book he declares that style cannot be taught. This is true enough: but if this had been the first, instead of the last, sentence of his piece. the book would not have been written at all. I remember that, when 3 Q

VOL. XLIII-No. 256

I stood for the Hertford Scholarship, we had to write a Latin epigram on the thesis :

Omnia liberius nullo poscente—

-fatemur, (I replied-) Carmina cur poscas, carmine si sit opus?

And so I say now. Style cannot be taught. And this perhaps puts out of court the Professor's essay, and no doubt my own also. Nothing practical can be said about style. And no good can come to a young student by being anxious about Style. None of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature-no! nor one gem to his English prose, unless nature has endowed him with that rare gift—a subtle ear for the melody of words, a fastidious instinct for the connotations of a phrase.

You will, of course, understand that I am speaking of Style in that higher sense as it was used by Horace, Swift, Voltaire, and great writers, that is, Style as an element of permanent literature. It is no doubt very easy by practice and good advice to gain a moderate facility in writing current language, and even to get the trick of turning out lively articles and smart reviews. Tis as easy as lying; govern these ventages with your finger and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music'—quite up to the pitch of the journals and the magazines of our day, of which we are all proud. But this is a poor trade: and it would be a pity to waste your precious years of young study by learning to play on the literary ' recorders.' You may be taught to fret them. You will not learn to make them speak!

[ocr errors]

There are a few negative precepts, quite familiar common form, easy to remember, and not difficult to observe. These are all that any manual can lay down. The trouble comes in when we seek to apply them. What is it that is artificial, incongruous, obscure? How are we to be simple? Whence comes the music of language? What is the magic that can charm into life the apt and inevitable word that lies hidden somewhere at hand-so near and yet so farso willing and yet so coy-did we only know the talisman which can awaken it? This is what no teaching can give us--what skilful tuition and assiduous practice can but improve in part-and even that only for the chosen few.

About Style, in the higher sense of the term, I think the young student should trouble himself as little as possible. When he does. it too often becomes the art of clothing thin ideas in well-made garments. To gain skill in expression before he has got thoughts or knowledge to express, is somewhat premature: and to waste in the study of form those irrevocable years which should be absorbed in the study of things, is mere decadence and fraud. The young student

ex hypothesi―has to learn, not to teach. His duty is to digest

[ocr errors]

knowledge, not to popularise it and carry it abroad. It is a grave mental defect to parade an external polish far more mature than the essential matter within. Where the learner is called on to express his thoughts in formal compositions-and the less he does this the better-it is enough that he put his ideas or his knowledge (if he has any) in clear and natural terms. But the less he labours the flow of his periods the more truly is he the honest learner, the less is his risk of being the smug purveyor of the crudities with which he has been crammed, the farther is he from becoming one of those voluble charlatans whom the idle study of language so often breeds.

I look with sorrow on the habit which has grown up in the University since my day (in the far-off fifties)-the habit of making a considerable part of the education of the place to turn on the art of serving up gobbets of prepared information in essays more or less smooth and correct-more or less successful imitations of the viands that are cooked for us daily in the press. I have heard that a student has been known to write as many as seven essays in a week, a task which would exhaust the fertility of a Swift. The bare art of writing readable paragraphs in passable English is easy enough to master; one that steady practice and good coaching can teach the average man. But it is a poor art, which readily lends itself to harm. It leads the shallow ones to suppose themselves to be deep, the raw ones to fancy they are cultured, and it burdens the world with a deluge of facile commonplace. It is the business of a university to train the mind to think and to impart solid knowledge, not to turn out nimble penmen who may earn a living as the clerks and salesmen of literature.

Almost all that can be laid down as law about Style is contained in a sentence of Madame de Sévigné in her twentieth letter to her daughter. Ne quittez jamais le naturel,' she says; 'votre tour s'y est formé, et cela compose un style parfait.' I suppose I must translate this; for Madame de Sévigné is no subject for modern Research, and our Alma Mater is concerned only with dead languages and remote epochs. Never forsake what is natural,' she writes; 'you have moulded yourself in that vein, and this produces a perfect style.' There is nothing more to be said. Be natural, be simple, be yourself; shun artifices, tricks, fashions. Gain the tone of ease, plainness, selfrespect. To thine own self be true. Speak out frankly that which you have thought out in your own brain and have felt within your own soul. This, and this alone, creates a perfect style, as she says who wrote the most exquisite letters the world has known.

And so Molière, a consummate master of language and one of the soundest critics of any age, in that immortal scene of his Misanthrope, declares the euphuistic sonnets of the Court to be mere play of words, pure affectation, not worth a snatch from a peasant's song. That is not the way in which Nature speaks, cries Alceste-J'aime mieux

« AnteriorContinuar »