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Sect. I.

This quality explained and exemplified.

ceivable is no beauty. Without perspicuity, words are not signs, they are empty sounds; speaking is beating the air, and the most fluent declaimer is but as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.


oriental idiom, the observation will equally affect other European tongues into which the Bible is translated. A scrupulous attention to the purity of the language into which the version is made, must often hurt the energy of the expression. Saci, who in his translation hath been too solicitous to frenchify the style of scripture, hath made nonsense of the first passage, and (to say the least) hath greatly enervated the second. The first he renders in such a manner as implies that Joab had killed Abner and Amasa oftener than once.

Ayant repandu leur sang (le sang d'Abner et d'Amasa) durant "la paix, comme il avoit fait, durant la guerre." A terrible man this Joab.

And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain. The other passage he renders, " Elle n'a point mangé son pain dans l'oisiveté." The meaning is very indistinctly expressed here. Can a sluggard be said to be idle when eating? or does the most industrious disposition require that in the time of eating one should be employed in something else? Such a translation as this, is too free to exhibit the style of the original, too literal to express the sense, and therefore is unlucky enough to hit neither. Diodati hath succeeded better in both. The last he renders literally as we do, and the first in this manner, "Spandendo in tempo di pace, il sangue "che si spande in battaglia." This clearly enough exhibits the sense, and is sufficiently literal. The meaning of the other passage, stripped of the idiom, and expressed in plain English, is neither more nor less than this, "She eateth not the bread which she hath


not earned." In many cases it may be difficult to say whether propriety or energy should have the preference. I think it safer in every dubious case to secure the former.

Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.

YET there is a sort and a degree of obscurity which ought not to be considered as falling under this censure. I speak not of those sentences wherein more is meant than meets the ear, the literal meaning being intended purely to suggest a further meaning, which the speaker had chiefly in view, I gave some examples in this way, when on the subject of perspicuity, and showed that they are not to be regarded as exceptions from the rule *. But what I here principally allude to, is a species of darkness, if I may call it so, resulting from an excess of vivacity and conciseness, which, to a certain degree, in some sorts of composition, is at least pardonable. In the ode, for instance, the enthusiastic fervour of the poet naturally carries him to overlook those minutenesses in language, on which perspicuity very much depends. It is to abruptness of transition, boldness of figure, laconism of expression, the congenial issue of that frame of mind in which the piece is composed, that we owe entirely the

Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.

Hence proceeds a character of the writing, which may not unhappily be expressed in the words of Milton, "Dark with excessive bright." I have compared vivacity produced by a happy conciseness, to the splendour occasioned by concentring sunbeams into a little spot. Now, if by means of this the light is rendered

* Book II. Chap. viii. Sect. 2.

Sect. I.

This quality explained and exemplified.

dazzling, it is no more a fit medium for viewing an object in, than too weak a light would be. Though the causes be contrary, the effects are in this respect the same. Objects in both are seen indistinctly. But the cases to which this observation is applicable, are extremely few.


INDEED, the concise manner in any form is not alike adapted to every subject. There are some subjects which it particularly suits. For example, the dignity and authority of the preceptive style receives no small lustre from brevity. In the following words of Michael to Adam, how many important lessons are couched in two lines?

Nor love thy life, nor hate; but what thou liv'st,
Live well; how long, or short, permit to Heaven


*Paradise Lost.

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The aphoristic style, and the proverbial, receive like, wise considerable strength from the laconic manner. Indeed these two styles differ from each other only as the one conveys the discoveries in science, and the other the maxims of common life. In Swift's detached thoughts, we find a few specimens of this manner. "The power of fortune is confessed by the miserable, "the happy ascribe all their success to merit."—" E

very man desires to live long, but no man would be "old."-"A nice man is a man of nasty ideas." "The sluggard," saith Solomon, "hideth his hand in

Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.

"his bosom, it grieveth him to bring it to his mouth*." "The desire of the slothful killeth him, for his hands “refuse to labourt." "A fool," says the son of Sirach, "travaileth with a word, as a woman in labour of a "child ." It is indeed true, that a great degree of conciseness is scarcely attainable unless the style be figurative; but it is also true, that the vivacity of the expression is not to be attributed solely to the figure, but partly to the brevity occasioned by the figure, But though the combination of the figurative with the concise is very common, it is not necessary. This will appear from some of the examples already given, wherein, though we discover a happy comprehension of a great deal of meaning in little compass, there is neither trope nor figure. Nor indeed is there either of these, in the picture that Swift gives of himself, where he says, "I am too proud to be vain," in which simplicity, perspicuity, and vivacity, are happily united. An inferior writer, in attempting to delineate fully the same character, would have employed many sentences, and not have said near so much. Further, the writer on politics often avails himself of a sententious conciseness, which adds no little energy to the sentiments he unfolds. Of the successful application of brevity in this way, we have an excellent model in the spirit of laws. It hath no bad effect, if used sparingly, even in narrative §.

Ecclus. xix. II.

*Proverbs xxvi. 15. + Ib. xxi. 25. § The veni, vidi, vici, of Cæsar, derives hence its principal beau

Sect. II.

The principal offences against brevity considered.

On the other hand, the kinds of writing which are less susceptible of this ornament, are the descriptive, the pathetic, the declamatory, especially the last. It is besides much more suitable in writing than in speaking. A reader has the command of his time, he may read fast or slow, as he finds convenient; he can peruse a sentence a second time when necessary, or lay down the book and think. But if, in haranguing to the people, you comprise a great deal in few words, the hearer must have uncommon quickness of apprehension to catch your meaning, before you have put it out of his power, by engaging his attention to something else. In such orations, therefore, it is particularly unseasonable; and by consequence, it is, in all kinds of writing addressed to the people, more or less so, as they partake more or less of popular declamation.

SECT. II....The principal offences against brevity con


BUT though this energetic brevity is not adapted alike to every subject, we ought, on every subject, to avoid its contrary, a languid redundancy of words. It is sometimes proper to be copious, but never to be

ty; I came, I saw, I conquered, is not equal. So small a circumstance, as the repetition of the pronoun, without which the sentence in our language would appear maimed, takes much from its vivacity and force.

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