Page images



. OF




Of the qualities of Style strictly rhetorical.

PURITY, of which I have treated at some length in the two preceding chapters, may justly be denominated grammatical truth. It consisteth in the conformity of the expression to the sentiment which the speaker or the writer intends to convey by it, as moral truth consisteth in the conformity of the sentiment intended to be conveyed, to the sentiment actually entertained by the speaker or the writer; and logical truth, as was hinted above, in the conformity of the sentiment to the nature of things. The opposite to logical truth, is properly error; to moral truth, a lie ૐ VOL. II,


Of the qualities of style strictly rhetorical.

to grammatical truth, a blunder. Now the only standard by which the conformity implied in grammatic truth must be ascertained in every language, is, as hath been evinced already *, reputable, national, and present use, in that language.

BUT it is with the expression as with the sentiment, it is not enough to the orator that both be true. A sentence may be a just exhibition, according to the rules of the language, of the thought intended to be conveyed by it, and may therefore, to a mere grammarian, be unexceptionable; which to an orator may appear extremely faulty. It may, nevertheless, be obscure, it may be languid, it may be inelegant, it may be flat, it may be unmusical. It is not ultimately the justness either of the thought or of the expression, which is the aim of the orator; but it is a certain effect to be produced in the hearers. This effect as he purposeth to produce in them by the use of language, which he makes the instrument of conveying his sentiments into their minds, he must take care in the first place that his style be perspicuous, that so he may be sure of being understood. If he would not only inform the understanding, but please the imagination, he must add the charms of vivacity and elegance, corresponding to the two sources from which, as was observed in the beginning of this work †, the merit of an address of this kind results. By vivacity,

* Vol. I. Book II. Chap. I. +Ib. Book L. Chap. I.

Of the qualities of style strictly rhetorical.

resemblance is attained; by elegance, dignity of manner. For as to the dignity of the subject itself, or thing imitated, it concerns solely the thought. If he purposes to work upon the passions, his very diction, as well as his sentiments, must be animated. Thus language and thought, like body and soul, are made to correspond, and the qualities of the one exactly to co-operate with those of the other.

But though the perfection of the body consists, as was formerly observedt, in its fitness for serving the purposes of the soul, it is at the same time capable of one peculiar excellence as a visible object. The excellence I mean, is beauty, which evidently implies more than what results from the fitness of the several organs and members for answering their respective ends. That there is a beauty in the perceived fitness of means to their end, and instruments to their use, is uncontrovertible. All that I contend for here is, that this is not the whole of what is implied in the term beauty. The eyes of one person may be much inferior in this respect to those of another, though equally fit for all the purposes of vision. The like may be said of every other feature. Analogous to this there is an excellence of which language is susceptible as an audible object, distinct from its aptitude for conveying the sentiments of the orator with light and energy into the minds of the hearers. Now as music is to the ear what beauty is to the eye, I shall,

+ Ibid. Chap. 4.

Of Perspicuity.

for want of a more proper term, denominate this excellence in style, its music; though I acknowledge the word is rarely used with so great latitude.

THUS it appears, that besides purity, which is a quality entirely grammatical, the five simple and original qualities of style, considered as an object to the understanding, the imagination, the passions, and the ear, are perspicuity, vivacity, elegance, animation, and music.


Of Perspicuity.

Of all the qualities above mentioned, the first and most essential is perspicuity*. Every speaker doth not propose to please the imagination, nor is every subject susceptible of those ornaments which conduce to this purpose. Much less is it the aim of every speech to agitate the passions. There are some occasions, therefore, on which vivacity, and many on which animation of style, are not necessary; nay, there are occasions on which the last especially would

Prima est eloquentiæ virtus perspicuitas. QUINT.

Of perspicuity.

be improper. But whatever be the ultimate intention of the orator, to inform, to convince, to please, to move, or to persuade, still he must speak so as to be understood, or he speaks to no purpose. If he do not propose to convey certain sentiments into the minds of his hearers, by the aid of signs intelligible to them, he may as well declaim before them in an unknown tongue. This prerogative the intellect has above all the other faculties, that, whether it be or not immediately addressed by the speaker, it must be regarded by him either ultimately or subordinately; ultimately, when the direct purpose of the discourse is information, or conviction; subordinately, when the end is pleasure, emotion, or persuasion.

THERE is another difference also between perspicuity and the two last-mentioned qualities, vivacity and ́ animation, which deserves to be remarked. In a discourse, wherein either or both of these are requisite, it is not every sentence that requires, or even admits them; but every sentence ought to be perspicuous. The effect of all the other qualities of style is lost without this. This being to the understanding what light is to the eye, ought to be diffused over the whole performance. In this respect it resembles grammatical purity, of which I have already treated, but it is not in this respect only that it resembles it. Both are best illustrated by shewing the different ways wherein they may be lost. It is for these reasons that, though perspicuity be more properly a rhetorical than a gramma

« PreviousContinue »