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thoughts in words, to discover the manifold graces with which they have invested the communication of their thoughts, so as to surround the act of communicating information, or kindling emotion, with the various attractions and charms of art.

I say to you, cultivate style; but instead of labouring to acquire the style of your model, it should be your most constant endeavour to avoid it. The greatest danger to which you are exposed is that of falling into an imitation of the manner of some favourite author whom you have studied for the sake of learning a style which, if you did learn, would only be unbecoming to you, because not your own.

That which in him was manner becomes in you mannerism; you but dress yourself in his clothes, and imagine that you are like him, while you are no more like than is the valet to his master, whose cast-off coat he is wearing. There are some authors whose manner is so infectious that it is extremely difficult not to catch it. Johnson is one of these ; it requires an effort not to fall into his formula of speech. But your protection must be an ever-present conviction that your own style will be the best for you, be it ever so bad or good. You must strive to be yourself, to think for yourself, to speak in your own manner; then what you say, and your style of saying it, will be in perfect accord, and the pleasure of those who read or listen will not be disturbed by a sense of impropriety and unfitness.

Nevertheless I repeat, you should cultivate your own style, not by changing it into some other person's style, but by striving to preserve its individuality, while decorating it with all the graces of art. Nature gives the style, for your style is yourself ; but the decorations are slowly and laboriously acquired by diligent study, and above all, by long and patient practice. There are but two methods of attaining to this accomplishmentcontemplation of the best productions of the art, and continuous toil in the practice of it. I assume that, by the process I have already described, you have acquired a tolerably quick flow of ideas, a ready command of words and ability to construct sentences of good grammar ; all that now remains to you is to learn so to use this knowledge that the result may be presented in the most attractive shape to those whom you address. I am unable to give you many practical hints towards this, because it is not a thing to be acquired by formal rules, in a few lessons and by a set course of study ; it is the product of very wide and long-continued gleanings from a countless variety of sources ; but, above all, it is taught by experience. If you compare your compositions at intervals of six months, you will see the progress you have made. You began with a great multitude of words, with big nouns and bigger adjectives, a perfect firework of epithets and a tendency to call everything by something else than its proper name, and the longer the periphrasis the more you admired your own ingenuity and thought that your readers must equally admire it. If you had a good idea, you were pretty sure to dilute it by expansion, supposing all the while that you were improving by amplifying it. You indulged in small flights of poetry (in prose), not always in appropriate places, and you were tolerably sure to go off into rhapsody, and to mistake fine words for eloquence. This is the juvenile style; it was not peculiar to yourself—it is the common fault of all young writers. But the cure for it may be hastened by judicious self-treatment. In addition to the study of good authors, to cultivate your taste, you may mend your style by a process of pruning, after the following fashion. Having finished your composition, or a section of it, lay it aside, and do not look at it again for a week, during which interval other labours will have engaged your thoughts. You will then be in a condition to revise it with an approach to critical impartiality, and so you will begin to learn the wholesome art of blotting. Go through it slowly, pen in hand, weighing every word, and asking yourself, “What did I intend to say? How can I say it in the briefest and plainest English ?” Compare with the answer you return the form in which you had tried to express the same meaning in the writing before

you, and at each word further ask yourself, “ Does this word precisely convey my thought ? Is it the aptest word ? Is it a necessary word ? Would my meaning be fully expressed without it?" If it is not the best, change it for a better. If it is superfluous, ruthlessly strike it out. The work will be painful at first; you will sacrifice with a sigh so many flourishes of fancy, so many figures of speech, of whose birth you were proud. Nay, at the beginning, and for a long time afterwards, your courage will fail you, and many a cherished phrase will be spared by your relenting pen. But be persistent,

will triumph at last. Be not content with one act of expurgation. Read the manuscript again, and, seeing how much it is improved, you will be inclined to blot a little more. Lay it aside for a month, and then read again, and blot again as before. Nay, for the third time let it rest in your desk for six months, and then repeat the process. You will be amazed to find how differently you look at it now. The heat of composition having passed away, you are surprised that you could

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and you

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have so written, mistaking that magniloquence for eloquence, that rhapsody for poetry, those many words for much thought, those heaped-up epithets for powerful description.

10

LETTER VII.

LANGUAGE.

SIMPLICITY is the crowning achievement of judgment and good taste in their maturity. It is of very slow growth in the greatest minds ; by the multitude it is never acquired. The gradual progress towards it can be curiously traced in the works of the great masters of English composition, wheresoever the injudicious zeal of admirers has given to the world the juvenile writings which their own better taste had suffered to pass into oblivion. Lord Macaulay was an instance of this. Compare his latest with his earliest compositions, as collected in the posthumous volume of “Remains," and the growth of improvement will be manifest. Yet, upon the first proposition of it, nothing could appear to be more obvious to remember, and easy to act upon, than the rule, “Say what you want to say in the fewest words that will express your meaning clearly ; and let those words be the plainest, the most common (not vulgar), and the most intelligible to the greatest number of persons.” It is certain that a beginner will adopt the very reverse of this. He will say what he has to

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