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'I he offences against brevity considered.... Part III. Verbosity.
fence certainly be liable to such a penalty, and, for the second, he shall surely incur such another. This style. would appear intolerable even to one of ordinary discernment. Why? The answer is obvious. It ill suits the dignity of the British senate, to use a manner which supposes that its authority or power can be called in question. That which hath misled our translators in the passage quoted, as in many others, hath been an attempt to express the import of a hebraism, which cannot be rendered literally into any European tongue. But it is evident, that they have not sufficiently attended to the powers of the language which they wrote. The English hath two futures, no inconsiderable advantage on some occasions, both for perspicuity and for emphasis. The one denotes simply the futurition of the event, the other also makes the veracity and power of the speaker vouchers of its futurition. The former is a bare declaration; the latter is always in the second person and the third, unless when used imperatively, either a promise or a threatening. No language that I know, exactly hits this distinction but our own. In other languages you must infer, not always infallibly, from the tenor of the story, whether the future is of the one import or of the other; in English you find this expressed in the words *. Fur
* This remark needs perhaps a further illustration, and, in order to this it will be necessary to recur to some other language. The passage quoted is thus translated into Latin by Castalio, Si ea vesceris, moriere. He judged right not to add certé or profecto even in
Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.
ther, it was observed, that affirmative adverbs are no less improper when doubt is entirely precluded by the evidence of the fact, than when it is prevented by the authority of the speaker. I have given an example of the latter, and shall now produce one of the former.. An Israelite informing David concerning Goliath, is represented in our version as saying, "Surely, to de
fy Israel is he come up*" Had the giant shown himself between the camps, and used menacing gestures, or spoken words which nobody understood, this expression would have been natural and proper. But no man could have talked in this manner who had himself been a witness that every day, for forty days successively, this champion had given an open defi. ance to Israel in the most explicit terms, and in the
Latin. Neither of these adverbs could have rendered the expression more definite; and both are liable to the same exception with the English adverb surely. Yet take the version as it stands, and there is an evident ambiguity in the word moriere. It may be either the declaration of one who knew that there was a poisonous quality in the fruit, and meant, only to warn Adam of his danger, by representing the natural consequence of eating it; or it may be the denunciation of a legislator against the transgression of his law. Every one who understands English, will perceive immediately, that, on the first supposition, he must render the words into our language, "If "thou eat thereof, thou wilt die ;" and, on the second supposition, he must render them, " If thou eat thereof, thou shalt die." If there be any thing emphatical in the original idiom, it serves here, in my opinion, to mark the distinction between a simple declaration and the sanction of a law; which are perfectly distinguished in our tongue by the two futures.
Offences against brevity considersd....Part II. Verbosity.
audience of all the army. Such adverbs always weaken an assertion that is founded on the evidence of sense, or even of exceptionable testimony, and are suited only to cases of conjecture or probability at most. It requires a certain justness of taste to know when we have said enough, through want of which, when we attempt to say more, we say less.
ANOTHER example, of a nature pretty similar, and arising from a similar cause, is the manner wherein our interpreters have attempted, in the New Testament, to strengthen the negation, wherever the double negative* occurs in the Greek, even in the most authoritative threatenings, by rendering it sometimes in no case, sometimes in no wise. It is evident that, in such instances, neither of these phrases expresseth more than the single adverb not, and as they partake of the nature of circumlocution, and betray an unsuccessful aim at saying more, they in effect debilitate the expression. The words "Ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven," as they have more simplicity, have also, from the mouth of a legislator, more dignity and weight than “ ye shall in no case," or " in “no wise enter into it," as though there were various ways and means of getting thither. The two negatives of the Greek are precisely on the same footing
Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words,
with the two negatives of the French †, our single darticle not is a full equiualent to both. For should a translator from the French attempt to render every double negative by such a periphrasis in English, his version would be justly accounted ridiculous. It may be thought a consequence of this doctrine, that the solemn protestation, "Verily, verily, I say unto you," so often adopted by our Lord, would rather weaken than enforce the sentiment. But the case is different. As these words enter not into the body of the proposition, but are emplowed solely to introduce it, they are to be considered purely as a call to attention, serving not so much to affirm the reality, as the importance of what is to be said. Or, if they are to be un derstood as affirming the reality, it is from this single consideration, because said by him.
I ADD, as another cause of a languid verbosity, the loading of the style with epithets, when almost every verb hath its attendant adverb, which may be called its epithet, and every substantive its attendant adjective, and when both adjectives and adverbs are often raised to the superlative degree. Epithets used spa. ringly and with judgment, have a great effect in en
+ Ne pas or non point. Sometimes the French use even three negatives where we can properly employ but one in English, as in this sentence: 'Je ne nie pas que je ne l'aye dit.' 'I do not deny ' that I said it.' I believe no man who understands both languages will pretend, that the negation here is expressed more strongly by them than by us.
Offences against brevity considered....Part III. Verbosity.
livening the expression, but nothing has more of an opposite tendency than a profusion of them. That such profusion has this tendency may be deduced, partly from a principle already mentioned, partly from a principle I am going to observe. That already mentioned is, that they lengthen the sentence without adding proportionable strength. The other principle is, that the crowding of epithets into a discourse, betrays a violent effort to say something extraordinary, and nothing is a clearer evidence of weakness than such an effort when the effect is not correspondent. I would not, however, be understood to signify, that adjectives and adverbs are always to be regarded as mere epithets. Whatever is necessary for ascertaining the import of either noun or verb, whether by adding to the sense, or by confining it, is something more than an epithet, in the common acceptation of that term. Thus, when I say, " the glorious sun," the word glorious is an epithet, because it expresses a quality, which, being conceived always to belong to the object, is, like all its other qualities, comprehended in the name. But when I say, " the meridian sun," the word meridian is not barely an epithet, because it makes a real addition to the signification, denoting the sun in that situation wherein he appears at noon. The like may be said of" the rising," or "the setting "snn." Again, when I say, "the towering eagle," I use an epithet, because the quality towering may justly be attributed to all the kind; not so when I say "the golden eagle," because the adjective golden serves