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majority of nouns convey to the mind a much more accurate picture of the thing they signify than you can possibly paint by attaching epithets to them. A river is not improved by being described as “flowing ;" the sun by being called “the glorious orb of day;" the moon by being styled “gentle;" or a hero by being termed “gallant.” Pray you avoid it. When
you have repeated this lesson many times and find that you can write with some approach to the purity of your author, you should attempt an original composition. In the beginning, it would be prudent, perhaps, to borrow the ideas, but to put them into your own language. The difficulty of this consists in the tendency of the mind to mistake memory for invention, and thus, unconsciously, to copy the language as well as the thoughts of the author. The best way to avoid this is to translate poetry into prose; to take, for instance, a page of narrative in verse and relate the same story in plain prose ; or to peruse a page of didactic poetry, and set down the argument in a plain unpoetical fashion. This will make you familiar with the art of composition, only to be acquired by practice; and the advantage, at this early stage of your education in the arts of writing and speaking, of putting into proper language the thoughts of others rather than your own is that you are better able to discover your faults. Your fatherly love for your own ideas is such that you are really incompetent to form a judgment of their worth, or of the correctness of the language in which they are embodied. The critics see this hallucination every day. Books continually come to them, written by men who are not mad, who probably are sufficiently sensible in the ordinary business of life, who see clearly enough the faults of other books, who would have laughed aloud over the same pages, if placed in their hands by another writer, but who, nevertheless, are utterly unable to recognise the absurdities of their own handiwork. The reader is surprised that any man of common intelligence could indite such a maze of nonsense, where the right word is never to be found in its right place, and this with such utter unconsciousness of incapacity on the part of the author. Still more is he amazed that, even if a sensible man could so write, a sane man could read that composition in print and not with shame throw it into the fire. But the explanation is, that the writer knew what he intended to say-his mind is full of that, and he reads from the MS. or the type, not so much what is there set down, as what was already floating in his own mind. To criticise yourself you must, to some extent, forget yourself. This is impracticable to many persons, and lest it may be so with you, I advise you to begin by putting the thoughts of others into your own language before you attempt to give formal expression to your own thoughts.
READING AND THINKING.
Having accustomed yourself to express, in plain words, and in clear, precise and straightforward sentences, the ideas of others, you should proceed to express your own thoughts in the same fashion. You will now see more distinctly the advantage of having first studied composition by the process recommended in my last letter, for you are in a condition to discover the deficiences in the flow of your own ideas. You will be surprised to find, when you come to put them into words, how many of your thoughts were shapeless, hazy and dreamy, slipping from your grasp when you try to seize them, resolving themselves, like the witches in Macbeth,
Into the air: and what seemed corporal melted
As breath into the wind. Arguments that seemed conclusive in contemplation, when translated into language, are seen to be absurdly illogical; and brilliant flashes of poetry, that had streamed through your imagination in the delightful promise of " the all hail hereafter,” positively refuse to be embodied in words and disappear the moment you attempt to make prisoners of them.
Thus, after you have learned how to write, you will need a long and laborious education before you
will learn what to write. I cannot much assist you in this part of the business. Two words convey the whole lessonRead and think. What should you read ? Everything. What think about ? All subjects that present themselves. An orator must be a man of
varied knowledge. Indeed, for all the purposes of practical life, you cannot know too much. No learning is quite useless. I can say, for my own part, that everything I took the trouble to acquire in youth I have found to come to use at some season in after life. But a speaker, especially if an Advocate, cannot anticipate the subjects on which he may be required to talk. Law is the least part of his discourse. For once that he is called upon to argue a point of law, he is compelled to treat matters of fact twenty times. And the range of topics is encyclopædic; it embraces science and art, history and philosophy; above all, the knowledge of human nature that teaches how the mind he addresses is to be convinced and persuaded, and how a willing ear is to be won to his discourse. No limited range of reading will suffice for so large a requirement. The elements of the sciences must be mastered; the foundations of philosophy must be learned ; the principles of art must be acquired; the broad facts of history must be stamped upon the memory; poetry and fiction must not be neglected. You must cultivate frequent and intimate intercourse with the genius of all ages and of all countries -not merely as standards by which to measure your own progress, or as fountains from which you may draw unlimited ideas for your own use, but because they are peculiarly suggestive. This is the characteristic of genius,
that, conveying one thought to the reader's mind, it kindles in him many other thoughts. The value of this to the speaker and writer will be obvious to you. Never, therefore, permit a day to pass without reading more or less—if it be but a single page—from some one of our great writers. Besides the service I have described in the multiplication of your ideas, it will render you the scarcely lesser service of preserving purity of style and language and preventing you from falling into the conventional affectations and slang of social dialogue. For the same reason, without reference to any higher motive, but simply to fill your mind with the purest English, read daily some portion of the Bible ; for which exercise there is another reason also, that its phraseology is more familiar to all kinds of audiences than any other, is more readily understood, and therefore is more efficient in securing their attention.
Your reading will thus consist of three kinds : reading for knowledge, by which I mean the storing of your memory with facts ; reading for thoughts, by which I mean the ideas and reflections that set your own mind thinking ; and reading for words, by which I mean the best language in which the best authors have clothed their thoughts. And these three classes of reading should be pursued together daily, more or less as you can, for they are needful each to the others and neither can be neglected without injury to the rest.
So also you must make it a business to think. You will probably say that you are always thinking when you are not doing anything, and often when you are busiest. True, the mind is active, but wandering vaguely from topic to topic. You are not really thinking out anything ; indeed, you cannot be sure that your thoughts