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progress in the science of words. This useful exercise may be made extremely amusing as well as instructive, if friends, having a like desire for self-improvement, will join you in the practice of it; and I can assure you that an evening will be thus spent pleasantly as well as profitably. You may make a merry game of it—a game of speculation. Given a word : each one of the
company in turn writes his definition of it; Webster's Dictionary is then referred to, and that which comes nearest the authentic definition wins the honour or the prize. It may be a sweepstakes carried off by him whose definition hits the mark the most nearly. But, whether in company or alone, you should not omit the frequent practice of this exercise, for none will impart such a power of accurate expression and supply such an abundance of apt words wherein to embody the delicate hues and various shadings of thought.
So with sentences or the combinations of words. Much skill is required for their construction. They must convey your meaning accurately, and as far as possible in the natural order of thought, and yet they must not be complex, involved, verbose, stiff, ungainly, or tautological. They must be brief, but not curt ; explicit, but not verbose. Here, again, good taste must be your guide, rather than rules which teachers propound, but which the pupil never follows. In truth, there is no rule for writing sentences. It is easy to say what may not be done, what are the besetting faults, and perhaps to offer some hints for their avoidance. But there are no rules by observing which you can write well; for not only does every style require its own construction of a sentence, but almost every combination of thought will demand a different shape in the sentence
by which it is conveyed. A standard sentence, like a standard style, is a pedantic absurdity, and, if you would avoid it, you must not try to write by rule, though you may refer to rules in order to find out your faults after you have written.
Lastly, inasmuch as your design is, not only to influence but to please, it will be necessary for you to cultivate what may be termed the graces of composition. It is not enough that you instruct the minds of your readers, you must gratify their taste and win their attention, imparting pleasure in the very process of imparting information. Hence you must make choice of words that convey no coarse meanings and excite no disagreeable associations. You are not to sacrifice expression to elegauce; but so, likewise, you are not to be content with a word or a sentence, if it is offensive or even unpleasing, merely because it does express your meaning The precise boundary between refinement and rudeness cannot be defined ; your own cultivated taste must tell you the point at which power or explicitness is to be preferred to delicacy. One more caution I would impress upon you, that you pause and give careful consideration to it before you permit a coarse expression, on account of its correctness, to pass your critical review when you revise your manuscript, and again when you read the proof, if ever you rush into print.
And much might be said also about the music of speech. Your words and sentences must be musical. They must not come harshly from the tongue, if uttered, or grate upon the ear, if heard. There a rhythm in words which should be observed in all composition, written or oral. The perception of it is a natural gift, but it may be much cultivated and improved by reading the works of the great masters of English, especially of the best poets—the most excellent of all in this wonderful melody of words being ALFRED TENNYSON. Perusal of his works will show you what you should strive to attain in this respect, even though it may not enable you fully to accomplish the object of your endeavour.
THE ART OF WRITING.
The faculty for writing varies in various persons. Some write easily, some laboriously; words flow from some pens without effort, others produce them slowly ; composition seems to come naturally to a few, and a few never can learn it, toil after it as they may. But whatever the natural power, of this be certain, that good writing cannot be accomplished without much study and long practice. Facility is far from being a proof of excellence. Many of the finest works in our language were written slowly and painfully; the words changed again and again, and the structure of the sentences carefully cast and recast. There is a fatal facility that runs “in one weak, washy, everlasting flood” that is more hopeless than any slowness or slovenliness. If you find your pen galloping over the paper, take it as a warning of a fault to be shunned; stay your hand, pause, reflect, read what you have written, see what are the thoughts you have set down and resolutely try to condense them. There is no more wearisome process than to write the same thing over again ; nevertheless it is a most efficient teaching.
Your endeavour should be to say the same things again, but to say them in a different form, to condense your thoughts, and express them in fewer words. Compare this second effort with the first, and you
will at once measure your improvement. You cannot now do better than repeat the lesson twice more ; rewrite, still bearing steadily in mind your object, which is to say what
you desire to utter in words the most apt, and in the briefest form consistent with intelligibility and grace. Having done this, take your last copy and strike out pitilessly every superfluous word, substitute a vigorous or expressive word for a weak one, sacrifice the adjectives without remorse, and when this work is done, rewrite the whole, as amended.
And, if you would see what you have gained by this laborious but effective process, compare the completed essay with the first draft of it and you will recognise the superiority of careful composition over facile scribbling; and you will be fortunate if you thus acquire more condensation and can succeed in putting reins upon that facility before it has grown into an unconquerable habit.
Simplicity is the charm of writing, as of speech ; therefore, cultivate it with care. It is not the natural manner of expression, or, at least, there
grows rapidity in all of us a tendency to an ornamental style of talking and writing. As soon as the child emerges from the imperfect phraseology of his first letters to papa, he
, sets himself earnestly to the task of trying to disguise what he has to say in some other words than such as plainly express his meaning and nothing more. To him it seems an object of ambition- -a feat to be proud of— to go by the most indirect paths, instead of the straight way, and it is a triumph to give the person he addresses