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Of perspicuity.

tical quality, I thought it better to include it in this book, which treats of the foundations and essential or universal properties of elocution, than to class it with those which are purely discriminative of particular styles.

INDEED, if language were capable of absolute perfection, which it evidently is not; if words and things could be rendered exact counterparts to each other; if every different thing in nature had a different symbol by which it were expressed; and every difference in the relations of things had a corresponding difference in the combinations of words, purity alone would secure perspicuity, or rather these two would entirely coincide. To speak grammatically would, in that case, convey infallibly and perspicuously the full meaning of the speaker, if he had any meaning, into the mind. of every hearer who perfectly understands the language. There would not be even a possibility of mistake or doubt. But the case is widely different with all the languages that ever were, are, or will be in the world.


GRAMMATICAL purity, in every tongue, conduceth greatly to perspicuity, but it will by no means secure it. A man may in respect of it speak unexceptionably, and yet speak obscurely, or ambiguously; and though we cannot say, that a man may speak properly, and at the same time speak unintelligibly, yet this

Sect. I.

The obscure....Part I. From defect.

last case falls more naturally to be considered as an offence against perspicuity, than as a violation of propriety. For, when the meaning is not discovered, the particular impropriety cannot be pointed out. In the three different ways, therefore, just now mentioned, perspicuity may be violated.

SECT. I....The Obscure.

PART I....From Defect.

THIS is the first offence against perspicuity, and may arise from several causes. First, from some defect in the expression. There are in all languages certain elliptical expressions, which use hath established, and which, therefore, very rarely occasion darkness. When they do occasion it, they ought always to be avoided. Such are, in Greek and Latin, the frequent suppression of the substantive verb, and of the possessive pronouns; I was going to add, and of the personal pronouns also: but, on reflection, I am sensible, that, in the omission of them in the nominative, there is properly no ellipsis, as the verb, by its inflection, actually expresses them. Accordingly, in these languages, the pronoun in the nominative is never rightly introduced, unless when it is emphatical. But the idiom of most modern tongues, English and French particularly, will


Of perspicuity.

seldom admit such ellipsis*. In Italian and Spanish, they are pretty frequent.

OFTEN, indeed, the affectation of conciseness, often the rapidity of thought natural to some writers, will

* The French, I imagine, have gone to the other extreme. They require, in many instances, a repetition of pronouns, prepositions, and articles, which, as they add nothing to the perspicuity, must render the expressión languid. There are some cases in which this repetition is consequential on the very construction of their language. For example, we say properly in English, my father and mother; because the possessive pronoun having no distinction of gender, and so having but one form, is alike applicable to both the case being different with them renders it necessary to follow a different rule, and to say, mon pere et ma mere, But it is not to instances of this sort that the rule is limited. Custom with them hath extended it to innumerable cases, wherein there is no necessity from construction. With us it is enough to say, "She was robbed of her clothes and jewels." With them the preposition and the pronoun must both be repeated, de ses habits et de ses joiaux. Again, with them it is not sufficient to say, "The woman whom you know "and love," but whom you know and whom you love-que vous connoissez et que vous aimez. In like manner, the relatives in French must never be omitted. They often are in English, and when the omission occasions no obscurity, it is not accounted improper. An expression like this would in their tongue be intolerable: "You


are obliged to say and do all you can." It must be to say and "to do all that which you can,”—de dire et de faire tout ce que Vous savez, But though, in several instances, the critics of that nation have refined on their language to excess, and by needless repetitions have sometimes enervated the expression, their criticisms, when useful in assisting us to shun any obscurity or ambiguity, deterve to be adopted,

Sect. Ì.

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The obscure....Part I. From defect.


give rise to still more material defects in the expression. Of these I shall produce a few examples: "He "is inspired," says an eminent writer, "with a true "sense of that function, when chosen from a regard to "the interests of piety and virtue *." Sense in this passage denotes an inward feeling, or the impression which some sentiment makes upon the mind. Now a function cannot be a sentiment impressed or felt. The expression is therefore defective, and ought to have been," He is inspired with a true sense of the dignity, or of the importance of that function."-" You ought to contemn all the wit in the world against "yout." As the writer doth not intend to signify that all the wit in the world is actually exerted against the person whom he addresses, there is a defect in the expression, though perhaps it will be thought chargeable with redundancy at the same time. More plain-ly thus, "You ought to contemn all the wit that can' "be employed against you."-" He talks all the way 66 up stairs to a visit ." There is here also a faulty omission, which, if it cannot be said to obscure the sense, doth at least withhold that light whereof it is susceptible. If the word visit ever meant person or people, there would be an ambiguity in the sentence, and we should imagine this the object talked to; but as that cannot be the case, the expression is rather to be accounted lame, there being no verb in it with which the words to a visit can be construed. More

* Guardian, No. 13. + Ibid, No. 53.

+ Spect. No. 2.

Of perspicuity.


explicitly thus, "He talks all the way as he walks up "stairs to make a visit." " Arbitrary power," says an elegant writer, "I look upon as a greater evil than a"narchy itself, as much as a savage is a happier state "of life than a slave at the oar *." Neither savage nor slave can be denominated a state of life, though the states in which they live may properly be compa"This courage among the adversaries of the court," says the same writer in another piece, “was inspired into them by various incidents, for every one of which, I think, the ministers, or, if that was "the case, the minister alone, is to answer †." If that was the case, Pray, what is he supposing to have been the case? To the relative that I can find no antece-" dent, and am left to guess that he means, if there was but one minister. "When a man considers not only



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an ample fortune, but even the very necessaries of

life, his pretence to food itself at the mercy of others, "he cannot but look upon himself in the state of the



dead, with his case thus much worse, that the last "office is performed by his adversaries, instead of his "friends." There is a double ellipsis in this sentence. You must first supply as being before the words at the mercy, and insert as before in the state of the dead. "I beg of you," says Steele, " never let the glory of


our nation, who made France tremble, and yet has

*Sentiments of a Church of England Man.

+ Free Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs,
Spectator, No. 456. T.

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