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ADVICE TO A STUDENT OF HARVARD UNI
VERSITY IN A SERIES OF LETTERS.
LETTER VII. As a good style is considered an object of very great importance at the University, you may think it singular, my dear friend, that I have not more particularly tecommended it.
This indeed deserves its share of attention. So much depends on perspicuity of language, on the proper choice of words, on their right position, on the adaptation of sentiments to the subject, and of expressions to the sentiments, that were you to neglect your style of writing, you might express yourself in an unintelligible, or, at least, in a disgusting manner.
But I must confess to you my opinion, that style, in itself considered, is, at College made an object of too great importance. You may observe, that the scholarship of those, who have the reputation of writing well, is generally overrated. By long exercise a student may acquire the habit of expressing his sentiments in a more pleasing style, than another, who far excels him in general science. Now, to assign to the former greater literary merit than to the latter, would be to form an unjust estimate of talents.
Yet so fashionable is it to strive after a popular style, that I have known students spend an undue proportion of time in preparing their themes, and in thus seeking distinction from the English professor.
It cannot be denied, that it is far more important to attend to the acquisition of science, than to the mode of communie cating our thoughts.'
Besides, no style is equally adapted to all subjects. One kind of style is fitted for didactic ; another, for descriptive writings. One is more suitable for the pulpit ; another for the bar. In fine, this is expected in a set oration ; that is indispensable to the freedom of epistolary correspondence.
Whenever style is misapplied, it instantly excites ridicule. Who, for example, can avoid laughing at an expression in the journal of Gibbon, when, instead of simply telling us, that he was confined such a day with the gout, he gravely informis us, “This day ..::* I could move only with the laborious majesty of crutches ?”
This fault is common to most extravagant admirers of an artificial style. They are never willing, that you should walk at your ease ; but are always for mounting you on stilts. If by letter you advise à young friend what conduct to observe, and what studies to pursue, you must carefully avoid every direction, which is not expressed in a measured style. If you would recommend to him any particular author, it would be trite and harsh to say, I advise you to read such a book. If a warm advocate for an artificial style, he would turn from your advice with disgust. Would you expect a favorable reception, you must clothe your recommendation in some such language, as the following. Such a book should be sought with earnestness and read with avidity by him, who would attain the best sentiments on the subject, and by him, who would aspire after literary fame. If in any such way you can prepossess him in favor of your style, you may be secure of his attention to your advice.
It is moreover absurd to aim at that uniformity of style, which some appear to require, as every one, who is not a servile imitator of others, necessarily has something peculiar to himself in his turn of thinking, speaking, and writing.
It is common, at the present day, to try every composition, whatever be the subject, occasion, or object, by the standard of Johnson. If you are writing a familiar letter, it is at once condemned, if not conformable to the model of his didactic writings.
Every one, who has a true relish for literary excellence, cannot but admire the clear discernment, the masculine thoughts, the polished diction, and the profoundly critical powers of this wonderful man.
But who can refrain from laughter at observing the mul. citude of hypercritics, his works have occasioned ? Who is
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not diverted, that rash and inexperienced youth should so ofus ten and so peremptorily estimate every production by the balanced sentences, of which it is composed, or by the measured couplets and triplets, it contains ? How many have plumed themselves on their critical powers, and have excited the attention of others, because with some degree of success they have imitated the dictatorial authority, the decisive tone, and keen satire of their master?
Nothing is easier, as nothing is more common, than te criticise the works of others. For who cannot find fault? Nor is any thing read with greater avidity, than severe criticism. For it gratifies that propensity to slander so common to man. But the observation ought always to be borne in mind, that “a person may demolish a palace, who cannot “ build a shed.”
Imagine not then, that your style is perfect, because you can find imperfections in others, or because you can amuse by your satire. Beyond your immediate connexions the literary world will pay little attention to your dogmas, till you have established the reputation of a good writer.
But expect not this happy attainment by servilely copying any model, however excellent it may be, or however successful your attempts. “ Nature in russet is more agreeable, “ than affectation in embroidery.” Better is it to appear in a garb plain, simple, and unadorned, yet your own, than to captivate by the gaudy plumes of a Burke, than to astonish in the massy armor of a Johnson.
ORIGINAL MEMOIRS OF BENJAMIN, COUNT
1 HE next great work, in which Rumford engaged, was the “ Royal Institution of Great Britain,"* under the immediate patronage of the king; and, if the success of the institution has satisfied the sanguine expectations of its founder, and the liberal and extensive views, which animat
• The idea of this institution was first suggested by the “ Conservatoire des arts et métiers," and the National Institute of France; but neither the royal institution por any other merely scientific society in Europe can ever be considered the rival of the latter. Considering that the members of the old French acad. emy constitute the first class only in the National Institute, and the number of learned and scientific men, who compose that body, and the philosophical enthusiasm, which animated them, while Napoleon was leading his warlike troops through his own and the German empire, that society makes some improvement in the intellectual, for the ravages of war, committed in the physica al world.
The following committees for specifie scientific investigation and improve ment, chosen at a meeting of the managers of the Royal institution in March 1800, show it to be the legitimate offspring of Rumford's genius.
1. A committee for the experimental and scientific investigation of the var rious processes, used in MAKING BREAD, and of the means, that can be employ, for improving them.
2. A committee for the experimental investigation and improvement of alle art of preparing cheap and nutritious soups for feeding the poor.
3. A committee for the improvement of COTTAGES and of COTTAGE TIREPLACES.
4. A committee for improving the construction of stoves for warming dwelling houses.
5. A committee for improving the kitcHEN FIRE PLACES and KITCHIN UTENSILS in private families.
6. A committee for improving the most useful articles of HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE
7. A committee for ascertaining by experiment the effect of the various processes of cookery on the rooD OF CATTLE.
$. A committee for improving the KITCHIN FIREPLACIS and kitchen
ed those, who sketched the grand design, have been pursu. ed in filling up the piece, it is one of the most laudable and useful establishments, of which Europe can boast,
Its object is more directly to connect the labors of me. chanics with the scientific investigations of philosophers ; to call in the assistance of mental to the aid of physical employments; and, by combining study with practice, to increase the comforts of mankind, by only teaching them how easily they are obtained.
The king's charter was granted in 1800 to several of his loving subjects, for the purpose of forming a "public institu, “ tion for diffusing the knowledge and facilitating the gene “ral introduction of useful mechanical inventions and im“provements ; and for teaching by courses of philosophical atensils, USED ON SHIPBOARD ; and for improving the apparatus and process, ised for procuring fresh water by distillation at sea.
9. A committee for improving the construction of LIME KILNS.
10. A committee for ascertaining by experiment the effects produced by nixing clay and other substances, in various proportions, with coal dust and cinders, in forming FIRE BALLS and COMBUSTIBLE CAKES to be used, as fuel.
II. A committee for improving the composition of mortar and cements.
12. A committee for determining by experiment the best method, that can be adopted in this climate, for building cottages and farm houses with pise, or with different kinds of earth, rammed together in the manner, practised in
some foreign countries. ** 13. A committee of MECHANICS for the improvement of useful machines of all descriptions. * 14. A committee for improving the various processes, that are necessary ia PROCURING IRON FROM ITS ORE, and in the working and refining of iron and steel.
As every thing, which can aid the general utility of this institution, has been scrupulously regarded, the following advertisement ought to excité à blush at Oxford and Cambridge, or any other society established for the diffusion of science and useful improvement. “Any inferior officer, attendant, or servant, e employed in the house of the institution, who shall at any time, or on any “ pretext whatever, receive any present, from a proprietor, or subscriber, or & from any stranger, or other person, who shall visit or frequent the house, of « be employed in it, or for it, shall for such offence be forthwith discharged, * and rendered incapable of being employed in the service of the institution, * And the managers will cause this régulation to stand, as a clause in the print, * ed instructions, which they give to all such persons, whom they shall emate *ploy, as inferior officers and attendants in the house of the institution,"