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Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.

SECT. I....This quality explained and exemplified.

WHEN I entered on the subject of vivacity *, I observed that this quality of style might result either from a happy choice of words, from their number, or from their arrangement. The first I have already discussed, and shown how words may conduce to vivacity, not only from their sense, whether they be proper or figurative, but also from their sound.

I COME now to consider how far vivacity may be affected by the number of the words. On this article it may be established as a maxim that admits no exception, and it is the only maxim which this article admits, that the fewer the words are, provided neither propriety nor perspicuity be violated, the expression is always the more vivid. " Brevity," says Shakespeare," is the soul of wit +." Thus much is certain, that of whatever kind the sentiment be, witty, humorous, grave, animated, or sublime, the more briefly it is expressed, the energy is the greater, or

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Sect. I.

This quality explained and exemplified.

the sentiment is the more enlivened, and the particular quality for which it is eminent, the more displayed.

AMONG the ancients, the Lacedemonians were the most remarkable for conciseness. To use few words, to speak energetically, and to be laconic, were almost synonymous. As when the rays of the sun are collected into the focus of a burning glass, the smaller the spot is which receives them, compared with the surface of the glass, the greater is the splendor; or as in distillation, the less the quantity of spirit is, that is extracted by the still, compared with the quantity of liquor from which the extraction is made, the greater is the strength; so in exhibiting our sentiments by speech, the narrower the compass of words is, wherein the thought is comprised, the more energetic is the expression. Accordingly we shall find, that the very same sentiment expressed diffusely, will be admitted barely to be just; expressed concisely, will be admired as spirited.

To recur to examples, the famous answer returned by the Countess of Dorset, to the letter of Sir Joseph Williamson, secretary of state to Charles the Second, nominating to her a member for the borough of Appleby, is an excellent illustration of this doctrine. "I have been bullied," says her ladyship, " by an usur


per, I have been neglected by a court, but I will not "be dictated to by a subject, your man sha'n't stand*"

* Catalogue of royal and noble authors.

Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.

If we consider the meaning, there is mention made here of two facts, which it was impossible that any body of common sense, in this lady's circumstances, should not have observed, and of a resolution in consequence of these, which it was natural for every person who had a resentment of bad usage to make. Whence then results the vivacity, the fire which is so manifest in the letter? Not from any thing extraordinary in the matter, but purely from the laconism of the manner. An ordinary spirit would have employed as many pages to express the same thing, as there are affirmations in this short letter. The epistle might in that case have been very sensible, and withal very dull, but would never have been thought worthy of being recorded as containing any thing uncommon, or deserving a reader's notice.

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Or all our English poets, none hath more successfully studied consciseness, or rendered it more conducive to vivacity, than Pope. Take the following lines as one example of a thousand which might be produced from his writings:

See how the world its veterans rewards!
A youth of frolics, an old age of cards;
Fair to no purpose, artful to no end;
Young without lovers, old without a friend;
A fop their passion, but their prize a sot;
Alive ridiculous, and dead forgot *.

*Moral Essays, Ep. II.

Sect. I.

This quality explained and exemplified.

Nothing is more evident than that the same passage may have great beauties and great blemishes. There is a monotony in the measure of the above quotation, (the lines being all so equally divided by the pauses) which would render it, if much longer, almost as tiresome to the ear as a speech in a French tragedy; besides, the unvaried run of antithesis through five successive lines is rather too much, as it gives an air of quaintness to the whole. Yet that there is a great degree of liveliness in the expression is undeniable, This excellence is not, I acknowledge, to be ascribed solely to the brevity. Somewhat is doubtless imputable both to the words themselves and to their arrangement; but the first mentioned is still the principal cause. The trope in the fifth line, their passion, for the object of their passion, conduceth to vivacity, not only as being a trope, but as rendering the expression briefer, and thereby more nervous. Even the omission of the substantive verb, of the conjunctions, and of the personal pronouns, contribute not a little to the same end. Such ellipses are not indeed to be adopted into prose, and may even abound too much in verse. This author in particular hath sometimes excecded in this way, and hath sacrificed both perspicuity and a natural simplicity of expression, to the ambition of saying a great deal in few words. But there is no beauty of style for which one may not pay too high a price. And if any price ought to be deemed too high, either of these certainly ought; especially perspicuity, be

Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.

cause it is this which throws light on every other beauty.

PROPRIETY may sometimes be happily violated. An improper expression may have a vivacity, which, if we should reduce the words to grammatical correctness, would be annihilated. Shakespeare abounds in such happy improprieties. For instance,

And be these juggling fiends no more believed,
That palter with us in a double sense,
That keep the word of promise to our ear,
And break it to our hope *.

In another place,

-It is a custom

More honour'd in the breach than the observance †.

David's accusation of Joab, that he had shed the blood of war in peace ‡, or what Solomon says of the virtuous woman, that she eateth not the bread of idleness, serve also to verify the same remark. Every body understands these expressions; every body that knows English, perceives an impropriety in them, which it is perhaps impossible to mend without destroying their energy §. But a beauty that is unper

* Macbeth. + Hamlet.

1 Kings ii. 5. || Prov. xxxi. 37.

§ The Hebraism in each of these quotations from scripture, constitutes the peculiarity; and as the reasons are nearly equal with regard to all modern languages, for either admitting or rejecting an

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