[First published in The Westminster Review for October 1852.]
Commenting on the seeming incongruity between his father’s argumentative powers and his ignorance of formal logic, Tristram Shandy says:—“It was a matter of just wonder with my worthy tutor, and two or three fellows of that learned society, that a man who knew not so much as the names of his tools, should be able to work after that fashion with them.” Sterne’s implied conclusion that a knowledge of the principles of reasoning neither makes, nor is essential to, a good reasoner, is doubtless true. Thus, too, is it with grammar. As Dr. Latham, condemning the usual school-drill in Lindley Murray, rightly remarks:—“Gross vulgarity is a fault to be prevented; but the proper prevention is to be got from habit—not rules.” Similarly, good composition is far less dependent on acquaintance with its laws, than on practice and natural aptitude. A clear head, a quick imagination, and a sensitive ear, will go far towards making all rhetorical precepts needless. And where there exists any mental flaw—where there is a deficient verbal memory, or an inadequate sense of logical dependence, or but little perception of order, or a lack of constructive ingenuity; no amount of instruction will insure good writing. Nevertheless, some result may be expected from a familiarity with the principles of style. The endeavour to conform to laws may tell, though slowly. And if in no other way, yet, as facilitating revision, a knowledge of the thing to be achieved—a clear idea of what constitutes a beauty, and what a blemish—cannot fail to be of service.
No general theory of expression seems yet to have been enunciated. The maxims contained in works on composition and rhetoric, are presented in an unorganized form. Standing as isolated dogmas—as empirical generalizations, they are neither so clearly apprehended, nor so much respected, as they would be were they deduced from some simple first principle. We are told that “brevity is the soul of wit.” We hear styles condemned as verbose or involved. Blair says that every needless part of a sentence “interrupts the description and clogs the image;” and again, that “long sentences fatigue the reader’s attention.” It is remarked by Lord Kaimes that, “to give the utmost force to a period, it ought, if possible, to be closed with the word that makes the greatest figure.” Avoidance of parentheses, and the use of Saxon words in preference to those of Latin origin, are often insisted upon. But, however influential the precepts thus dogmatically expressed, they would be much more influential if reduced to something like scientific ordination. In this as in other cases, conviction is strengthened when we understand the why. And we may be sure that recognition of the general principle from which the rules of composition result, will not only bring them home to us with greater force, but will disclose other rules of like origin.
On seeking for some clue to the law underlying these current maxims, we may see implied in many of them, the importance of economizing the reader’s or hearer’s attention. To so present ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental effort, is the desideratum towards which most of the rules above quoted point. When we condemn writing that is wordy, or confused, or intricate—when we praise this style as easy, and blame that as fatiguing, we consciously or unconsciously assume this desideratum as our standard of judgment. Regarding language as an apparatus of symbols for conveying thought, we may say that, as in a mechanical apparatus, the more simple and the better arranged its parts, the greater will be the effect produced. In either case, whatever force is absorbed by the machine is deducted from the result. A reader or listener has at each moment but a limited amount of mental power available. To recognize and interpret the symbols presented to him, requires part of this power; to arrange and combine the images suggested by them requires a further part; and only that part which remains can be used for framing the thought expressed. Hence, the more time and attention it takes to receive and understand each sentence, the less time and attention can be given to the contained idea; and the less vividly will that idea be conceived. How truly language must be regarded as a hindrance to thought, though the necessary instrument of it, we shall clearly perceive on remembering the comparative force with which simple ideas are communicated by signs. To say, “Leave the room,” is less expressive than to point to the door. Placing a finger on the lips is more forcible than whispering, “Do not speak.” A beck of the hand is better than, “Come here.” No phrase can convey the idea of surprise so vividly as opening the eyes and raising the eyebrows. A shrug of the shoulders would lose much by translation into words. Again, it may be remarked that when oral language is employed, the strongest effects are produced by interjections, which condense entire sentences into syllables. And in other cases, where custom allows us to express thoughts by single words, as in Beware, Heigho, Fudge, much force would be lost by expanding them into specific propositions. Hence, carrying out the metaphor that language is the vehicle of thought, we may say that in all cases the friction and inertia of the vehicle deduct from its efficiency; and that in composition, the chief thing to be done, is, to reduce the friction and inertia to the smallest amounts. Let us then inquire whether economy of the recipient’s attention is not the secret of effect, alike in the right choice and collocation of words, in the best arrangement of clauses in a sentence, in the proper order of its principal and subordinate propositions, in the judicious use of simile, metaphor, and other figures of speech, and even in the rhythmical sequence of syllables.
The greater forcibleness of Saxon English, or rather non-Latin English, first claims our attention. The several special reasons assignable for this may all be reduced to the general reason—economy. The most important of them is early association. A child’s vocabulary is almost wholly Saxon. He says, I have, not I possess—I wish, not I desire; he does not reflect, he thinks; he does not beg for amusement, but for play; he calls things nice or nasty, not pleasant or disagreeable. The synonyms learned in after years, never become so closely, so organically, connected with the ideas signified, as do these original words used in childhood; the association remains less strong. But in what does a strong association between a word and an idea differ from a weak one? Essentially in the greater ease and rapidity of the suggestive action. Both of two words, if they be strictly synonymous, eventually call up the same image. The expression—It is acid, must in the end give rise to the same thought as—It is sour; but because the term acid was learnt later in life, and has not been so often followed by the ideal sensation symbolized, it does not so readily arouse that ideal sensation as the term sour. If we remember how slowly the meanings follow unfamiliar words in another language, and how increasing familiarity with them brings greater rapidity and ease of comprehension; and if we consider that the like effect must have resulted from using the words of our mother tongue from childhood upwards; we shall clearly see that the earliest learnt and oftenest used words, will, other things equal, call up images with less loss of time and energy than their later learnt equivalents.
The further superiority possessed by Saxon English in its comparative brevity, obviously comes under the same generalization. If it be an advantage to express an idea in the smallest number of words, then it must be an advantage to express it in the smallest number of syllables. If circuitous phrases and needless expletives distract the attention and diminish the strength of the impression produced, then so, too, must surplus articulations. A certain effort, though commonly an inappreciable one, is required to recognize every vowel and consonant. If, as all know, it is tiresome to listen to an indistinct speaker, or to read an ill-written manuscript; and if, as we cannot doubt, the fatigue is a cumulative result of the attention needed to catch successive syllables; it follows that attention is in such cases absorbed by each syllable. And this being so when the syllables are difficult of recognition, it will be so too, though in a less degree, when the recognition of them is easy. Hence, the shortness of Saxon words becomes a reason for their greater force. One qualification, however, must not be overlooked. A word which embodies the most important part of the idea to be conveyed, especially when emotion is to be produced, may often with advantage be a polysyllabic word. Thus it seems more forcible to say—“It is magnificent,” than—“It is grand.” The word vast is not so powerful a one as stupendous. Calling a thing nasty is not so effective as calling it disgusting. There seem to be several causes for this exceptional superiority of certain long words. We may ascribe it partly to the fact that a voluminous, mouth-filling epithet is, by its very size, suggestive of largeness or strength, as is shown by the pomposity of sesquipedalian verbiage; and when great power or intensity has to be suggested, this association of ideas aids the effect. A further cause may be that a word of several syllables admits of more emphatic articulation; and as emphatic articulation is a sign of emotion, the unusual impressiveness of the thing named is implied by it. Yet another cause is that a long word (of which the latter syllables are generally inferred as soon as the first are spoken) allows the hearer’s consciousness more time to dwell on the quality predicated; and where, as in the above cases, it is to this predicated quality that the entire attention is called, an advantage results from keeping it before the mind for an appreciable interval. To make our generalization quite correct we must therefore say, that while in certain sentences expressing feeling, the word which more especially implies that feeling may often with advantage be a many-syllabled one; in the immense majority of cases, each word, serving but as a step to the idea embodied by the whole sentence, should, if possible, be a single syllable.
Once more, that frequent cause of strength in Saxon and other primitive words—their onomatopœia, may be similarly resolved into the more general cause. Both those directly imitative, as splash,bang, whiz, roar, &c., and those analogically imitative, as rough, smooth, keen, blunt, thin, hard, crag, &c., have a greater or less likeness to the things symbolized; and by making on the ears impressions allied to the ideas to be called up, they save part of the effort needed to call up such ideas, and leave more attention for the ideas themselves.
Economy of the recipient’s mental energy may be assigned, too, as a manifest cause for the superiority of specific over generic words. That concrete terms produce more vivid impressions than abstract ones, and should, when possible, be used instead, is a current maxim of composition. As Dr. Campbell says, “The more general the terms are, the picture is the fainter; the more special they are, the brighter.” When aiming at effect we should avoid such a sentence as:
―― When the manners, customs, and amusements of a nation are cruel and barbarous, the regulations of their penal code will be severe.
And in place of it we should write:
―― When men delight in battles, bull-fights, and combats of gladiators, will they punish by hanging, burning, and the rack.
This superiority of specific expressions is clearly due to a saving of the effort required to translate words into thoughts. As we do not think in generals but in particulars—as, whenever any class of things is named, we represent it to ourselves by calling to mind individual members of the class; it follows that when a general word is used, the hearer or reader has to choose from his stock of images, one or more, by which he may figure to himself the whole group. In doing this, some delay must arise—some force be expended; and if, by employing a specific term, an appropriate image can be at once suggested, an economy is achieved, and a more vivid impression produced.
Turning now from the choice of words to their sequence, we find the same principle hold good. We have a priori reasons for believing that there is some one order of words by which every proposition may be more effectively expressed than by any other; and that this order is the one which presents the elements of the proposition in the succession in which they may be most readily put together. As in a narrative, the events should be stated in such sequence that the mind may not have to go backwards and forwards in order to rightly connect them; as in a group of sentences, the arrangement should be such that each of them may be understood as it comes, without waiting for subsequent ones; so in every sentence, the sequence of words should be that which suggests the constituents of the thought in the order most convenient for building it up. Duly to enforce this truth, and to prepare the way for applications of it, we must analyze the mental act by which the meaning of a series of words is apprehended.
We cannot more simply do this than by considering the proper collocation of substantive and adjective. Is it better to place the adjective before the substantive, or the substantive before the adjective? Ought we to say with the French—un cheval noir; or to say as we do—a black horse? Probably, most persons of culture will say that one order is as good as the other. Alive to the bias produced by habit, they will ascribe to that the preference they feel for our own form of expression. They will expect those educated in the use of the opposite form to have an equal preference for that. And thus they will conclude that neither of these instinctive judgments is of any worth. There is, however, a psychological ground for deciding in favour of the English custom. If “a horse black” be the arrangement, then immediately on the utterance of the word “horse,” there arises, or tends to arise, in the mind, an idea answering to that word; and as there has been nothing to indicate what kind of horse, any image of a horse suggests itself. Very likely, however, the image will be that of a brown horse: brown horses being the most familiar. The result is that when the word “black” is added, a check is given to the process of thought. Either the picture of a brown horse already present to the imagination has to be suppressed, and the picture of a black one summoned in its place; or else, if the picture of a brown horse be yet unformed, the tendency to form it has to be stopped. Whichever is the case, some hindrance results. But if, on the other hand, “a black horse” be the expression used, no mistake can be made. The word “black,” indicating an abstract quality, arouses no definite idea. It simply prepares the mind for conceiving some object of that colour; and the attention is kept suspended until that object is known. If, then, by precedence of the adjective, the idea is always conveyed rightly, whereas precedence of the substantive is apt to produce a misconception; it follows that the one gives the mind less trouble than the other, and is therefore more forcible.
Possibly it will be objected that the adjective and substantive come so close together, that practically they may be considered as uttered at the same moment; and that on hearing the phrase, “a horse black,” there is not time to imagine a wrongly coloured horse before the word “black” follows to prevent it. It must be owned that it is not easy to decide by introspection whether this is so or not. But there are facts collaterally implying that it is not. Our ability to anticipate the words yet unspoken is one of them. If the ideas of the hearer lingered behind the expressions of the speaker, as the objection assumes, he could hardly foresee the end of a sentence by the time it was half delivered; yet this constantly happens. Were the supposition true, the mind, instead of anticipating, would fall more and more in arrear. If the meanings of words are not realized as fast as the words are uttered, then the loss of time over each word must entail an accumulation of delays and leave a hearer entirely behind. But whether the force of these replies be or be not admitted, it will scarcely be denied that the right formation of a picture must be facilitated by presenting its elements in the order in which they are wanted; even though the mind should do nothing until it has received them all.
What is here said respecting the succession of the adjective and substantive is applicable, by change of terms, to the adverb and verb. And without further explanation, it will be manifest, that in the use of prepositions and other particles, most languages spontaneously conform with more or less completeness to this law.
On similarly analyzing sentence considered as vehicles for entire propositions, we find not only that the same principle holds good, but that the advantage of respecting it becomes marked. In the arrangement of predicate and subject, for example, we are at once shown that as the predicate determines the aspect under which the subject is to be conceived, it should be placed first; and the striking effect produced by so placing it becomes comprehensible. Take the often-quoted contrast between—“Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” and—“Diana of the Ephesians is great.” When the first arrangement is used, the utterance of the word “great,” arousing vague associations of an imposing nature prepares the imagination to clothe with high attributes whatever follows; and when the words, “Diana of the Ephesians” are heard, appropriate imagery already nascent in thought, is used in the formation of the picture: the mind being thus led directly, and without error, to the intended impression. But when the reverse order is followed, the idea, “Diana of the Ephesians,” is formed with no special reference to greatness; and when the words, “is great,” are added, it has to be formed afresh; whence arises a loss of mental energy, and a corresponding diminution of effect. The following verse from Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner,” though incomplete as a sentence, well illustrates the same truth.
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.”
Of course the principle equally applies when the predicate is a verb or a participle. And as effect is gained by placing first all words indicating the quality, conduct, or condition of the subject, it follows that the copula also should have precedence. It is true, that the general habit of our language resists this arrangement of predicate, copula, and subject; but we may readily find instances of the additional force gained by conforming to it. Thus in the line from “Julius Cæsar”―
priority is given to a word embodying both predicate and copula. In a passage contained in Sir W. Scott’s “Marmion,” the like order is systematically employed with great effect:
A Home! a Gordon! was the cry;
Loud were the clanging blows;
Advanced,—forced back,—now low, now high,
The pennon sunk and rose;
As bends the bark’s mast in the gale
When rent are rigging, shrouds, and sail,
It waver’d ’mid the foes.”
Pursuing the principle further, it is obvious that for producing the greatest effect, not only should the main divisions of a sentence observe this sequence, but the sub-divisions of these should have their parts similarly arranged. In nearly all cases, the predicate is accompanied by some limit or qualification called its complement. Commonly, also, the circumstances of the subject, which form its complement, have to be specified. And as these qualifications and circumstances must determine the mode in which the acts and things they belong to are conceived, precedence should be given to them. Lord Kaimes notices the fact that this order is preferable; though without giving the reason. He says:—“When a circumstance is placed at the beginning of the period, or near the beginning, the transition from it to the principal subject is agreeable: is like ascending or going upward.” A sentence arranged in illustration of this will be desirable. Here is one:
―― Whatever it may be in theory, it is clear that in practice the French idea of liberty is—the right of every man to be master of the rest.
In this case, were the first two clauses, up to the word “practice” inclusive, which qualify the subject, to be placed at the end instead of the beginning, much of the force would be lost; as thus:
―― The French idea of liberty is—the right of every man to be master of the rest; in practice at least, if not in theory.
Similarly with respect to the conditions under which any fact is predicated. Observe in the following example the effect of putting them last:
―― How immense would be the stimulus to progress, were the honour now given to wealth and title given exclusively to high achievements and intrinsic worth!
And then observe the superior effect of putting them first:
―― Were the honour now given to wealth and title given exclusively to high achievements and intrinsic worth, how immense would be the stimulus to progress!
The effect of giving priority to the complement of the predicate, as well as the predicate itself, is finely displayed in the opening of “Hyperion:”
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,
Sat grey-haired Saturn, quiet as a stone.”
Here we see, not only that the predicate “sat” precedes the subject “Saturn,” and that the three lines in italics, constituting the complement of the predicate, come before it; but that in the structure of this complement also, the same order is followed: each line being so composed that the qualifying words are placed before the words suggesting concrete images.
The right succession of the principal and subordinate propositions in a sentence depends on the same law. Regard for economy of the recipient’s attention, which, as we find, determines the best order for the subject, copula, predicate, and their complements, dictates that the subordinate proposition shall precede the principal one, when the sentence includes two. Containing, as the subordinate proposition does, some qualifying or explanatory idea, its priority prevents misconception of the principal one; and therefore saves the mental effort needed to correct such misconception. This will be seen in the annexed example.
―― The secrecy once maintained in respect to the parliamentary debates, is still thought needful in diplomacy; and diplomacy being secret, England may any day be unawares betrayed by its ministers into a war costing a hundred thousand lives, and hundreds of millions of treasure: yet the English pique themselves on being a self-governed people.
The two subordinate propositions, ending with the semicolon and colon respectively, almost wholly determine the meaning of the principal proposition with which the sentence concludes; and the effect would be lost were they placed last instead of first.
From this general principle of right arrangement may also be inferred the proper order of those minor divisions into which the major divisions of sentences may be decomposed. In every sentence of any complexity the complement to the subject contains several clauses, and that to the predicate several others; and these may be arranged in greater or less conformity to the law of easy apprehension. Of course with these, as with the larger members, the succession should be from the less specific to the more specific—from the abstract to the concrete.
Now however we must notice a further condition to be fulfilled in the proper construction of a sentence; but still a condition dictated by the same general principle with the other: the condition, namely, that the words or the expressions which refer to the most nearly connected thoughts shall be brought the closest together. Evidently the single words, the minor clauses, and the leading divisions of every proposition, severally qualify each other. The longer the time that elapses between the mention of any qualifying member and the member qualified, the longer must the mind be exerted in carrying forward the qualifying member ready for use. And the more numerous the qualifications to be simultaneously remembered and rightly applied, the greater will be the mental power expended, and the smaller the effect produced. Hence, other things equal, force will be gained by so arranging the members of a sentence that these suspensions shall at any moment be the fewest in number; and shall also be of the shortest duration. The following is an instance of defective combination.
―― A modern newspaper-statement, though probably true, would be laughed at, if quoted in a book as testimony; but the letter of a court gossip is thought good historical evidence, if written some centuries ago.
A re-arrangement of this, in accordance with the principle indicated above, will be found to increase the effect. Thus:
―― Though probably true, a modern newspaper-statement quoted in a book as testimony, would be laughed at; but the letter of a court gossip, if written some centuries ago, is thought good historical evidence.
By making this change, some of the suspensions are avoided and others shortened; while there is less liability to produce premature conceptions. The passage quoted below from “Paradise Lost” affords a fine instance of a sentence well arranged; alike in the priority of the subordinate members, in the avoidance of long and numerous suspensions, and in the correspondence between the sequence of the clauses and the sequence of the phenomena described, which, by the way, is a further prerequisite to easy apprehension, and therefore to effect.
Whom hunger drives to seek new haunt for prey,
Watching where shepherds pen their flocks at eve,
In hurdled cotes amid the field secure,
Leaps o’er the fence with ease into the fold:
Or as a thief, bent to unhoard the cash
Of some rich burgher, whose substantial doors,
Cross-barr’d and bolted fast, fear no assault,
In at the window climbs, or o’er the tiles:
So clomb the first grand Thief into God’s fold;
So since into his Church lewd hirelings climb.”
The habitual use of sentences in which all or most of the descriptive and limiting elements precede those described and limited, gives rise to what is called the inverted style: a title which is, however, by no means confined to this structure, but is often used where the order of the words is simply unusual. A more appropriate title would be the direct style, as contrasted with the other, or indirect style: the peculiarity of the one being, that it conveys each thought step by step with little liability to error; and of the other, that it conveys each thought by a series of approximations, which successively correct the erroneous preconceptions that have been raised.
The superiority of the direct over the indirect form of sentence, implied by the several conclusions above drawn, must not, however, be affirmed without reservation. Though, up to a certain point, it is well for the qualifying clauses of a proposition to precede those qualified; yet, as carrying forward each qualifying clause costs some mental effort, it follows that when the number of them and the time they are carried become great, we reach a limit beyond which more is lost than is gained. Other things equal, the arrangement should be such that no concrete image shall be suggested until the materials out of which it is to be framed have been presented. And yet, as lately pointed out, other things equal, the fewer the materials to be held at once, and the shorter the distance they have to be borne, the better. Hence in some cases it becomes a question whether most mental effort will be entailed by the many and long suspensions, or by the correction of successive misconceptions.
This question may sometimes be decided by considering the capacity of the persons addressed. A greater grasp of mind is required for the ready apprehension of thoughts expressed in the direct manner, where the sentences are anywise intricate. To recollect a number of preliminaries stated in elucidation of a coming idea, and to apply them all to the formation of it when suggested, demands a good memory and considerable power of concentration. To one possessing these, the direct method will mostly seem the best; while to one deficient in them it will seem the worst. Just as it may cost a strong man less effort to carry a hundred-weight from place to place at once, than by a stone at a time; so, to an active mind it may be easier to bear along all the qualifications of an idea and at once rightly form it when named, than to first imperfectly conceive such idea, and then carry back to it, one by one, the details and limitations afterwards mentioned. While conversely, as for a boy the only possible mode of transferring a hundred-weight, is that of taking it in portions; so, for a weak mind, the only possible mode of forming a compound conception may be that of building it up by carrying separately its several parts.
That the indirect method—the method of conveying the meaning by a series of approximations—is best fitted for the uncultivated, may indeed be inferred from their habitual use of it. The form of expression adopted by the savage, as in—“Water, give me,” is the simplest type of this arrangement. In pleonasms, which are comparatively prevalent among the uneducated, the same essential structure is seen; as, for instance in—“The men, they were there.” Again, the old possessive case—“The king, his crown,” conforms to the like order of thought. Moreover, the fact that the indirect mode is called the natural one, implies that it is the one spontaneously employed by the common people; that is—the one easiest for undisciplined minds.
There are many cases, however, in which neither the direct nor the indirect mode is the best; but in which an intermediate mode is preferable to both. When the number of circumstances and qualifications to be included in the sentence is great, the judicious course is neither to enumerate them all before introducing the idea to which they belong, nor to put this idea first and let it be remodelled to agree with the particulars afterwards mentioned; but to do a little of each. It is desirable to avoid so extremely indirect an arrangement as the following:―
―― “We came to our journey’s end, at last, with no small difficulty, after much fatigue, through deep roads, and bad weather.”
Yet to transform this into an entirely direct sentence would be unadvisable; as witness:―
―― At last, with no small difficulty, after much fatigue, through deep roads, and bad weather, we came to our journey’s end.
Dr. Whately, from whom we quote the first of these two arrangements, proposes this construction:―
―― “At last, after much fatigue, through deep roads and bad weather, we came, with no small difficulty, to our journey’s end.”
Here by introducing the words “we came” a little earlier in the sentence, the labour of carrying forward so many particulars is diminished, and the subsequent qualification “with no small difficulty” entails an addition to the thought that is easily made. But a further improvement may be effected by putting the words “we came” still earlier; especially if at the same time the qualifications be rearranged in conformity with the principle already explained, that the more abstract elements of the thought should come before the more concrete. Observe the result of making these two changes:
―― At last, with no small difficulty, and after much fatigue, we came, through deep roads and bad weather, to our journey’s end.
This reads with comparative smoothness; that is—with less hindrance from suspensions and reconstructions of thought.
It should be further remarked, that even when addressing vigorous intellects, the direct mode is unfit for communicating ideas of a complex or abstract character. So long as the mind has not much to do, it may be well able to grasp all the preparatory clauses of a sentence, and to use them effectively; but if some subtlety in the argument absorb the attention it may happen that the mind, doubly strained, will break down, and allow the elements of the thought to lapse into confusion.
Let us pass now to figures of speech. In them we may equally discern the same general law of effect. Implied in rules given for the choice and right use of them, we shall find the same fundamental requirement—economy of attention. It is indeed chiefly because they so well subserve this requirement, that figures of speech are employed.
Let us begin with the figure called Synecdoche. The advantage sometimes gained by putting a part for the whole, is due to the more convenient, or more vivid, presentation of the idea. If, instead of writing “a fleet of ten ships,” we write “a fleet of ten sail,” the picture of a group of vessels at sea is more readily suggested; and is so because the sails constitute the most conspicuous parts of vessels so circumstanced. To say, “All hands to the pumps,” is better than to say, “All men to the pumps;” as it calls up a picture of the men in the special attitude intended, and so saves effort. Bringing “grey hairs with sorrow to the grave,” is another expression, the effect of which has the same cause.
The effectiveness of Metonymy may be similarly accounted for. “The low morality of the bar,” is a phrase both more brief and significant than the literal one it stands for. A belief in the ultimate supremacy of intelligence over brute force, is conveyed in a more concrete form, and therefore more representable form, if we substitute the pen and the sword for the two abstract terms. To say, “Beware of drinking!” is less effective than to say, “Beware of the bottle!” and is so, clearly because it calls up a less specific image.
The Simile is in many cases used chiefly with a view to ornament; but whenever it increases the force of a passage, it does so by being an economy. Here is an instance.
―― The illusion that great men and great events came oftener in early times than they come now, is due partly to historical perspective. As in a range of equidistant columns, the furthest off seem the closest; so, the conspicuous objects of the past seem more thickly clustered the more remote they are.
To express literally the thought thus conveyed, would take many sentences; and the first elements of the picture would become faint while the imagination was busy in adding the others. But by the help of a comparison much of the effort otherwise required is saved.
Concerning the position of the Simile, 54 it needs only to remark, that what has been said about the order of the adjective and substantive, predicate and subject, principal and subordinate propositions, &c., is applicable here. As whatever qualifies should precede whatever is qualified, force will generally be gained by placing the simile before the object or act to which it is applied. That this arrangement is the best, may be seen in the following passage from the “Lady of the Lake:”―
54 Properly the term “simile” is applicable only to the entire figure, including the two things compared and the comparison drawn between them. But as there exists no name for the illustrative member of the figure, there seems no alternative but to employ “simile” to express this also. The context will in each case show in which sense the word is used.
Slides from the rock that gave it rest,
Poor Ellen glided from her stay,
And at the monarch’s feet she lay.”
Inverting these couplets will be found to diminish the effect considerably. There are cases, however, even where the simile is a simple one, in which it may with advantage be placed last; as in these lines from Alexander Smith’s “Life Drama:”―
The reason for this seems to be, that so abstract an idea as that attaching to the word “future,” does not present itself to the mind in any definite form; and hence the subsequent arrival at the simile entails no reconstruction of the thought.
Such however are not the only cases in which this order is the more forcible. As putting the simile first is advantageous only when it is carried forward in the mind to assist in forming an image of the object or act; it must happen that if, from length or complexity, it cannot be so carried forward, the advantage is not gained. The annexed sonnet, by Coleridge, is defective from this cause.
Affrighted, clinging to its grandam’s knees,
With eager wond’ring and perturb’d delight
Listens strange tales of fearful dark decrees,
Mutter’d to wretch by necromantic spell;
Or of those hags who at the witching time
Of murky midnight, ride the air sublime,
And mingle foul embrace with fiends of hell;
Cold horror drinks its blood! Anon the tear
More gentle starts, to hear the beldame tell
Of pretty babes, that lov’d each other dear,
Murder’d by cruel uncle’s mandate fell:
Ev’n such the shiv’ring joys thy tones impart,
Ev’n so, thou, Siddons, meltest my sad heart.”
Here, from the lapse of time and accumulation of circumstances, the first member of the comparison is forgotten before the second is reached; and requires re-reading. Had the main idea been first mentioned, less effort would have been required to retain it, and to modify the conception of it into harmony with the illustrative ideas, than to remember the illustrative ideas, and refer back to them for help in forming the final image.
The superiority of the Metaphor to the Simile is ascribed by Dr. Whately to the fact that “all men are more gratified at catching the resemblance for themselves, than in having it pointed out to them.” But after what has been said, the great economy it achieves will seem the more probable cause. Lear’s exclamation―
would lose part of its effect were it changed into―
and the loss would result partly from the position of the simile and partly from the extra number of words required. When the comparison is an involved one, the greater force of the metaphor, due to its relative brevity, becomes much more conspicuous. If, drawing an analogy between mental and physical phenomena, we say,
―― As, in passing through a crystal, beams of white light are decomposed into the colours of the rainbow; so, in traversing the soul of the poet, the colourless rays of truth are transformed into brightly-tinted poetry;―― it is clear that in receiving the two sets of words expressing the two halves of the comparison, and in carrying the meaning of the one to help in interpreting the other, considerable attention is absorbed. Most of this is saved by putting the comparison in a metaphorical form, thus:―
―― The white light of truth, in traversing the many-sided transparent soul of the poet, is refracted into iris-hued poetry. How much is conveyed in a few words by using Metaphor, and how vivid the effect consequently produced, is everywhere shown. From “A Life Drama” may be quoted the phrase,
as a fine instance among the many which that poem contains. A passage in the “Prometheus Unbound,” of Shelley, displays the power of the metaphor to great advantage.
We wandered, underneath the young gray dawn,
And multitudes of dense white fleecy clouds
Were wandering in thick flocks along the mountains
Shepherded by the slow unwilling wind.”
This last expression is remarkable for the distinctness with which it calls up the features of the scene; bringing the mind by a bound to the desired conception.
But a limit is put to the advantageous use of Metaphor, by the condition that it must be simple enough to be understood from a hint. Evidently, if there be any obscurity in the meaning or application of it, no economy of attention will be achieved; but rather the reverse. Hence, when the comparison is complex, it is better to put it in the form of a Simile. There is, however, a species of figure, sometimes classed under Allegory, but which might well be called Compound Metaphor, that enables us to retain the brevity of the metaphorical form even where the analogy is intricate. This is done by indicating the application of the figure at the outset, and then leaving the reader or hearer to continue the parallel. Emerson has employed it with great effect in the first of his Lectures on the Times.
The division of Simile from Metaphor is by no means definite. Between the one extreme in which the two elements of the comparison are detailed at full length and the analogy pointed out, and the other extreme in which the comparison is implied instead of stated, come intermediate forms, in which the comparison is partly stated and partly implied. For instance:―
―― Astonished at the performances of the English plough, the Hindoos paint it, set it up, and worship it; thus turning a tool into an idol. Linguists do the same with language.—Here there is an evident advantage in leaving the reader or hearer to complete the figure. And generally these intermediate forms are good in proportion as they do this; provided the mode of completion be obvious.
Passing over much that may be said of like purport on Hyperbole, Personification, Apostrophe, &c., let us close our remarks on construction by a typical example of effective expression. The general principle which has been enunciated is that, other things equal, the force of a verbal form or arrangement is great, in proportion as the mental effort demanded from the recipient is small. The corollaries from this general principle have been severally illustrated. But though conformity now to this and now to that requirement has been exemplified, no case of entire conformity has yet been quoted. It is indeed difficult to find one; for the English idiom does not commonly permit the order which theory dictates. A few, however, occur in Ossian. Here is one:―
Except in the position of the verb in the first two similes, the theoretically best arrangement is fully carried out in each of these sentences. The simile comes before the qualified image, the adjectives before the substantives, the predicate and copula before the subject, and their respective complements before them. That the passage is bombastic proves nothing; or rather, proves our case. For what is bombast but a force of expression too great for the magnitude of the ideas embodied? All that may rightly be inferred is, that only in rare cases should all the conditions to effective expression be fulfilled.
A more complex application of the theory may now be made. Not only in the structures of sentences, and the uses of figures of speech, may we trace economy of the recipient’s mental energy as the cause of force; but we may trace this same cause in the successful choice and arrangement of the minor images out of which some large thought is to be built. To select from a scene or event described, those elements which carry many others with them; and so, by saying a few things but suggesting many, to abridge the description; is the secret of producing a vivid impression. An extract from Tennyson’s “Mariana” will well illustrate this.
The doors upon their hinges creaked,
The blue fly sung in the pane; the mousev Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek’d,
Or from the crevice peer’d about.”
The several circumstances here specified bring with them many appropriate associations. When alone the creaking of a distant door is much more obtrusive than when talking to friends. Our attention is rarely drawn by the buzzing of a fly in the window, save when everything is still. While the inmates are moving about the house, mice usually keep silence; and it is only when extreme quietness reigns that they peep from their retreats. Hence each of the facts mentioned, presupposing various others, calls up these with more or less distinctness; and revives the feeling of dull solitude with which they are connected in our experience. Were all of them detailed instead of suggested, the mental energies would be so frittered away in attending that little impression of dreariness would be produced. Similarly in other cases. In the choice of component ideas, as in the choice of expressions, the aim must be to convey the greatest quantity of thoughts with the smallest quantity of words.
The same principle may sometimes be advantageously carried yet further, by indirectly suggesting some entirely distinct thought in addition to the one expressed. Thus if we say,
―― The head of a good classic is as full of ancient myths, as that of a servant-girl of ghost stories; it is manifest that besides the fact asserted, there is an implied opinion respecting the small value of much that passes as classical learning; and as this implied opinion is recognized much sooner than it can be put into words, there is gain in omitting it. In other cases, again, great effect is produced by an overt omission; provided the nature of the idea left out is obvious. A good instance occurs in Heroes and Hero-worship. After describing the way in which Burns was sacrificed to the idle curiosity of lion-hunters—people who sought to amuse themselves, and who got their amusement while “the Hero’s life went for it!” Carlyle suggests a parallel thus:―
“Richter says, in the Island of Sumatra there is a kind of ‘Light-chafers,’ large Fire-flies, which people stick upon spits, and illuminate the ways with at night. Persons of condition can thus travel with a pleasant radiance, which they much admire. Great honour to the Fire-flies! But—!—”
Before inquiring whether the law of effect thus far traced, explains the impressiveness of poetry as compared with prose, it will be needful to notice some causes of force in expression which had not yet been mentioned. These are not, properly speaking, additional causes; but rather secondary ones, originating from those already specified. One is that mental excitement spontaneously prompts those forms of speech which have been pointed out as the most effective. “Out with him!” “Away with him!” are the cries of angry citizens at a disturbed meeting. A voyager, describing a terrible storm he had witnessed, would rise to some such climax as—“Crack went the ropes, and down came the mast.” Astonishment may be heard expressed in the phrase—“Never was there such a sight!” All of which sentences are constructed after the direct type. Again, there is the fact that excited persons are given to figures of speech. The vituperation of the vulgar abounds with them. “Beast,” “brute,” “gallows rogue,” “cut-throat villain,” these, and like metaphors or metaphorical epithets, call to mind a street quarrel. Further, it may be noticed that extreme brevity is a trait of passionate language. The sentences are generally incomplete; and frequently important words are left to be gathered from the context. Great admiration does not vent itself in a precise proposition, as—“It is beautiful;” but in the simple exclamation,—“Beautiful!” He who, when reading a lawyer’s letter, should say, “Vile rascal!” would be thought angry; while, “He is a vile rascal,” would imply comparative coolness. Thus alike in the order of the words, in the frequent use of figures, and in extreme conciseness, the natural utterances of excitement conform to the theoretical conditions to forcible expression.
Hence such forms of speech acquire a secondary strength from association. Having, in daily intercourse, heard them in connection with vivid mental impressions; and having been accustomed to meet with them in writing of unusual power; they come to have in themselves a species of force. The emotions that have from time to time been produced by the strong thoughts wrapped up in these forms, are partially aroused by the forms themselves. These create a preparatory sympathy; and when the striking ideas looked for are reached, they are the more vividly pictured.
The continuous use of words and forms that are alike forcible in themselves and forcible from their associations, produces the impressive species of composition which we call poetry. The poet habitually adopts those symbols of thought, and those methods of using them, which instinct and analysis agree in choosing as most effective. On turning back to the various specimens which have been quoted, it will be seen that the direct or inverted form of sentence predominates in them; and that to a degree inadmissible in prose. Not only in the frequency, but in what is termed the violence of the inversions, may this distinction be remarked. The abundant use of figures, again, exhibits the same truth. Metaphors, similes, hyperboles, and personifications, are the poet’s colours, which he has liberty to employ almost without limit. We characterize as “poetical” the prose which uses these appliances of language with frequency; and condemn it as “over florid” or “affected” long before they occur with the profusion allowed in verse. Once more, in brevity—the other requisite of forcible expression which theory points out and emotion spontaneously fulfils—poetical phraseology differs from ordinary phraseology. Imperfect periods are frequent; elisions are perpetual; and many minor words which would be deemed essential in prose, are dispensed with.
Thus poetry is especially impressive partly because it conforms to all the laws of effective speech, and partly because in so doing it imitates the natural utterances of excitement. While the matter embodied is idealized emotion, the vehicle is the idealized language of emotion. As the musical composer catches the cadences in which our feelings of joy and sympathy, grief and despair, vent themselves, and out of these germs evolves melodies suggesting higher phases of these feelings; so, the poet develops from the typical expressions in which men utter passion and sentiment, those choice forms of verbal combination in which concentrated passion and sentiment may be fitly presented.
There is one peculiarity of poetry conducing much to its effect—the peculiarity which is indeed usually thought its characteristic one—still remaining to be considered: we mean its rhythmical structure. This, improbable though it seems, will be found to come under the same generalization with the others. Like each of them, it is an idealization of the natural language of emotion, which is not uncommonly more or less metrical if the emotion be not too violent; and like each of them it economizes the reader’s or hearer’s attention. In the peculiar tone and manner we adopt in uttering versified language, may be discerned its relationship to the feelings; and the pleasure which its measured movement gives, is ascribable to the comparative ease with which words metrically arranged can be recognized. This last position will not be at once admitted; but explanation will justify it. If, as we have seen, there is an expenditure of mental energy in so listening to verbal articulations as to identify the words, or in that silent repetition of them which goes on in reading, then, any mode of so combining words as to present a regular recurrence of certain traits which can be anticipated, will diminish that strain on the attention entailed by the total irregularity of prose. Just as the body, when receiving a series of varying concussions, must keep its muscles ready to meet the most violent of them, as not knowing when such may come; so, the mind when receiving unarranged articulations, must keep its perceptive faculties active enough to recognize the least easily caught sounds. And as, if the concussions recur in a definite order, the body may husband its forces by adjusting the resistance needful for each concussion; so, if the syllables be rhythmically arranged, the mind may economize its energies by anticipating the attention required for each syllable. Far-fetched though this idea will be thought, introspection countenances it. That we do take advantage of metrical language to adjust our perceptive faculties to the expected articulations, is clear from the fact that we are balked by halting versification. Much as at the bottom of a flight of stairs, a step more or less than we counted upon gives us a shock; so, too, does a misplaced accent or a supernumerary syllable. In the one case, we know that there is an erroneous pre-adjustment; and we can scarcely doubt that there is one in the other. But if we habitually pre-adjust our perceptions to the measured movement of verse, the physical analogy above given renders it probable that by so doing we economize attention; and hence that metrical language is more effective than prose, because it enables us to do this.
Were there space, it might be worth while to inquire whether the pleasure we take in rhyme, and also that which we take in euphony, are not partly ascribable to the same general cause.
A few paragraphs only, can be devoted to a second division of our subject. To pursue in detail the laws of effect, as applying to the larger features of composition, would carry us beyond our limits. But we may briefly indicate a further aspect of the general principle hitherto traced, and hint a few of its wider applications.
Thus far, we have considered only those causes of force in language which depend on economy of the mental energies. We have now to glance at those which depend on economy of the mental sensibilities. Questionable though this division may be as a psychological one, it will serve roughly to indicate the remaining field of investigation. It will suggest that besides considering the extent to which any faculty or group of faculties is tasked in receiving a form of words and constructing its contained idea, we have to consider the state in which this faculty or group of faculties is left; and how the reception of subsequent sentences and images will be influenced by that state. Without going fully into so wide a topic as the action of faculties and its reactive effects, it will suffice to recall the fact that every faculty is exhausted by exercise. This generalization, which our bodily experiences force upon us, and which in daily speech is recognized as true of the mind as a whole, is true of each mental power, from the simplest of the senses to the most complex of the sentiments. If we hold a flower to the nose for long, we become insensible to its scent. We say of a brilliant flash of lightning that it blinds us; which means that our eyes have for a time lost their ability to appreciate light. After eating honey, we are apt to think our tea is without sugar. The phrase “a deafening roar,” implies that men find a very loud sound temporarily incapacitates them for hearing faint sounds. To a hand which has for some time carried a heavy body, small bodies afterwards lifted seem to have lost their weight. Now, the truth thus exemplified, may be traced throughout. Alike of the reflective faculties, the imagination, the perceptions of the beautiful, the ludicrous, the sublime, it may be shown that action exhausts; and that in proportion as the action is violent the subsequent prostration is great.
Equally throughout the whole nature, may be traced the law that exercised faculties are ever tending to resume their original states. Not only after continued rest, do they regain their full powers—not only are brief cessations in the demands on them followed by partial re-invigoration; but even while they are in action, the resulting exhaustion is ever being neutralized. The processes of waste and repair go on together. Hence with faculties habitually exercised—as the senses of all persons, or the muscles of any one who is strong—it happens that, during moderate activity, the repair is so nearly equal to the waste, that the diminution of power is scarcely appreciable. It is only when effort has been long continued, or has been violent, that repair becomes so far in arrear of waste as to cause a perceptible enfeeblement. In all cases, however, when, by the action of a faculty, waste has been incurred, some lapse of time must take place before full efficiency can be reacquired; and this time must be long in proportion as the waste has been great.
Keeping in mind these general truths, we shall be in a condition to understand certain causes of effect in composition now to be considered. Every perception received, and every conception framed, entailing some amount of waste in the nervous system, and the efficiency of the faculties employed being for a time, though often but momentarily, diminished; the resulting partial inability affects the acts of perception and conception that immediately succeed. Hence the vividness with which images are pictured must, in many cases, depend on the order of their presentation; even when one order is as convenient to the understanding as the other. Sundry facts illustrate this truth, and are explained by it: instance climax and anti-climax. The marked effect obtained by placing last the most striking of any series of ideas, and the weakness—often the ludicrous weakness—produced by reversing this arrangement, depends on the general law indicated. As immediately after looking at the sun we cannot perceive the light of a fire, while by looking at the fire first and the sun afterwards we can perceive both; so, after receiving a brilliant, or weighty, or terrible thought, we cannot properly appreciate a less brilliant, less weighty, or less terrible one, though by reversing the order, we can appreciate each. In Antithesis, again, the like truth is exemplified. The opposition of two thoughts which are the reverse of each other in some prominent trait, insures an impressive effect; and does this by giving a momentary relaxation to the faculties addressed. If, after a series of ordinary images exciting in a moderate degree to the emotion of reverence, or approbation, or beauty, the mind has presented to it an insignificant, or unworthy, or ugly image; the structure which yields the emotion of reverence, or approbation, or beauty, having for the time nothing to do, tends to resume its full power; and will immediately afterwards appreciate anything vast, admirable, or beautiful better than it would otherwise do. Conversely, where the idea of absurdity due to extreme insignificance is to be produced, it may be intensified by placing it after something impressive; especially if the form of phrase implies that something still more impressive is coming. A good illustration of the effect gained by thus presenting a petty idea to a consciousness which has not yet recovered from the shock of an exciting one, occurs in a sketch by Balzac. His hero writes to a mistress who has cooled towards him, the following letter:―
“Adieu, trop belle et trop ingrate amie! Puissions-nous nous revoir dans un monde meilleur!
Thus the phenomena of Climax, Antithesis, and Anticlimax, alike result from this general principle. Improbable as these momentary variations in susceptibility may seem, we cannot doubt their occurrence when we contemplate the analogous variations in the susceptibility of the senses. Every one knows that a patch of black on a white ground looks blacker, and a patch of white on a black ground looks whiter, than elsewhere. As the blackness and the whiteness are really the same, the only assignable cause, is a difference in their actions upon us, dependent on the different states of our faculties. The effect is due to a visual antithesis.
But this extension of the general principle of economy—this further condition to effective composition, that the sensitiveness of the faculties must be husbanded—includes much more than has been yet hinted. Not only does it follow that certain arrangements and certain juxtapositions of connected ideas are best; but also that some modes of dividing and presenting a subject will be more striking than others, irrespective of logical cohesion. We are shown why we must progress from the less interesting to the more interesting; alike in the composition as a whole, and in each successive portion. At the same time, the indicated requirement negatives long continuity of the same kind of thought, or repeated production of like effects. It warns us against the error committed by Pope in his poems and by Bacon in his essays—the error of constantly employing forcible forms of expression. As the easiest posture by and by becomes fatiguing, and is with pleasure exchanged for one less easy; so, the most perfectly-constructed sentences unceasingly used must cause weariness, and relief will be given by using those of inferior kinds. Further, we may infer not only that we ought to avoid generally combining our words in one manner, however good, or working out our figures and illustrations in one way, however telling; but that we ought to avoid anything like uniform adherence to the wider conditions of effect. We should not make every division of our subject progress in interest; we should not always rise to a climax. As we saw that in single sentences it is but rarely allowable to fulfil all the conditions to strength; so, in the larger sections of a composition we must not often conform entirely to the principles indicated. We must subordinate the component effects to the total effect.
The species of composition which the law we have traced out indicates as the perfect one, is the one which genius tends naturally to produce. As we found that the kinds of sentence which are theoretically best, are those commonly employed by superior minds, and by inferior minds when temporarily exalted; so, we shall find that the ideal form for a poem, essay, or fiction, is that which the ideal writer would evolve spontaneously. One in whom the powers of expression fully responded to the state of feeling, would unconsciously use that variety in the mode of presenting his thoughts, which Art demands. Constant employment of one species of phraseology implies an undeveloped linguistic faculty. To have a specific style is to be poor in speech. If we remember that in the far past, men had only nouns and verbs to convey their ideas with, and that from then to now the progress has been towards more numerous implements of thought, and towards greater complexity and variety in their combinations; we may infer that, in the use of sentences, we are at present much what the primitive man was in the use of words; and that a continuance of the process which has hitherto gone on, must produce increasing heterogeneity in our modes of expression. As now, in a fine nature, the play of the features, the tones of the voice and its cadences, vary in harmony with every thought uttered; so, in one possessed of fully-developed powers of language, the mould in which each combination of words is cast will vary with, and be appropriate to, the mental state. That a perfectly-endowed man must unconsciously write in all styles, we may infer from considering how styles originate. Why is Johnson pompous, Goldsmith simple? Why is one author abrupt, another involved, another concise? Evidently in each case the habitual mode of utterance depends on the habitual balance of the nature. The dominant feelings have by use trained the intellect to represent them. But while long habit has made it do this efficiently, it remains, from lack of practice, unable to do the like for the less active feelings; and when these are excited, the usual verbal forms undergo but slight modifications. But let the ability of the intellect to represent the mental state be complete, and this fixity of style will disappear. The perfect writer will be now rhythmical and now irregular; here his language will be plain and there ornate; sometimes his sentences will be balanced and at other times unsymmetrical; for a while there will be considerable sameness, and then again great variety. His mode of expression naturally responding to his thought and emotion, there will flow from his pen a composition changing as the aspects of his subject change. He will thus without effort conform to what we have seen to be the laws of effect. And while his work presents to the reader that variety needful to prevent continuous exertion of the same faculties, it will also answer to the description of all highly-organized products both of man and nature. It will be, not a series of like parts simply placed in juxtaposition, but one whole made up of unlike parts that are mutually dependent.
POSTSCRIPT. —The conclusion that because of their comparative brevity and because of those stronger associations formed by more frequent use, words of Old-English origin are preferable to words derived from Latin or Greek, should be taken with two qualifications, which it seems needful to add here.
In some cases the word furnished by our original tongue, and the corresponding word directly or indirectly derived from Latin, though nominally equivalents, are not actually such; and the word of Latin origin, by certain extra connotations it has acquired, may be the more expressive. For instance, we have no word of native origin which can be advantageously substituted for the word “grand.” No such words as “big” or “great,” which connote little more than superiority in size or quantity, can be used instead: they do not imply that qualitative superiority which is associated with the idea of grandeur. As adopted into our own language, the word “grand” has been differentiated from “great” by habitual use in those cases where the greatness has an æsthetic superiority. In this case, then, a word of Latin origin is better than its nearest equivalent of native origin, because by use it has acquired an additional meaning. And here, too, we may conveniently note the fact that the greater brevity of a word does not invariably conduce to greater force. Where the word, instead of being one conveying a subordinate component of the idea the sentence expresses, is one conveying the central element of the idea, on which the attention may with advantage rest a moment, a longer word is sometimes better than a shorter word. Thus it may be held that the sentence—“It is grand” is not so effective as the sentence—“It is magnificent.” Besides the fact that here greater length of the word favours a longer dwelling on the essential part of the thought, there is the fact that its greater length, aided by its division into syllables, gives opportunity for a cadence appropriate to the feeling produced by the thing characterized. By an ascent of the voice on the syllable “nif,” and an utterance of this syllable, not only in a higher note, but with greater emphasis than the preceding or succeeding syllables, there is implied that emotion which contemplation of the object produces; and the emotion thus implied is, by sympathy, communicated. One may say that in the case of these two words, if the imposingness is alone to be considered, the word “magnificent” may with advantage be employed; but if the sentence expresses a proposition in which, not the imposingness itself, but something about the imposingness, is to be expressed, then the word “grand” is preferable.
The second qualification above referred to, concerns the superiority of words derived from Latin or Greek, in cases where more or less abstract ideas have to be expressed. In such cases it is undesirable to use words having concrete associations; for such words, by the very vividness with which they call up thoughts of particular objects or particular actions, impede the formation of conceptions which refer, not to particular objects and actions, but to general truths concerning objects or actions of kinds that are more or less various. Thus, such an expression as “the colligation of facts” is better for philosophical purposes than such an expression as “the tying together of facts.” This last expression cannot be used without suggesting the thought of a bundle of material things bound up by a string or cord—a thought which, in so far as the materiality of its components is concerned, conflicts with the conception to be suggested. Though it is true that when its derivation is remembered, “colligation” raises the same thought, yet, as the thought is not so promptly or irresistibly raised, it stands less in the way of the abstract conception with which attention should be exclusively occupied.