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receives stronger impressions from the masterly strokes of a great author every time he peruses him: besides that he
in whom these three requisites are found together, in almost an equal degree of perfection. It is, indeed, one purpose of these cursory notes, to show, that, in some few instances, he has transgressed, or rather neglected, the strict rules of grammar; which yet, in general, he observes with more care than any other of our writers. But, in the choice of his terms, (which is the most essential point of all,) and in the numbers of his style, he is almost faultless, or rather admirable.
It will not be easy for the reader to comprehend the merit of Mr. Addison's prose, in these three respects, if he has not been conversant in the best rhetorical writings of the ancients; and especially in those parts of Cicero's and Quinctilian's works, which treat of what they call composition. But, because the harmony of his style is exquisite, and this praise is geculiar to himself, it may be worth while to consider, in what it chiefly consists.
1. This secret charm of numbers is effected by a certain arrangement of words, in the same sentence; that is, by putting such words together, as read easily, and are pronounced without effort ; while, at the same time, they are so tempered by different sounds and measures, as to affect the ear with a sense of variety, as well as sweetness. As, to take the first sentence in the following essay : “ Our sight is the most perfect and most delightful of all our senses.” If you alter it thus—“Our sight is the perfectest and most delightful of all our senses,” though the change be only of one word, the difference is very sensible; perfectest being a word of difficult pronun. ciation, and rendered still harsher by the subsequent word most, which echoes to the termination est.
Or, again, read thus—“Our sight is the most perfect and most pleasing of all our senses.”—Here, the predominance of the vowel e, and the alliteration of the two adjectives, perfect and pleasing, with the repetition of the superlative sign “most,” occasions too great a sameness or similarity of sound in the constituent parts of this sentence.
Lastly, read thus—“Our sight is the most complete and most delightful sense we have.”—But then you hurt the measure or quantity, which, in our language, is determined by the accent; as will appear from observing of what feet either sentence consists.
“Our sīght-is the most-complēte-ắnd most-dělīght-fůl sēnse-wě hāve." Here, except the second foot, which is an anapæst, the rest are all of one kind, i. e. iambics. Read now with Mr. Addison—“Oůr sīght-ys thě mostpērféct-ěnd most dělīght-fůl of all-oůr sēnsěs.”—And you see how the rhythm is varied by the intermixture of other feet, besides that the short redundant syllable, sěs, gives to the close a slight and negligent air, which has a better effect, in this place, than the proper iambic foot.
2. A sentence may be of a considerable length: and then the rhythm arises from such a composition, as breaks the whole into different parts ; and consults at the same time the melodious flow of each. As in the second period of the same paper_“It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues the longest in action without being tired or satiated with its proper enjoyments.”
A sing!c sentence sbould rarely consist of more ‘han three members, and
naturally wears himself into the same manner of speaking and thinking
the rhythm is most complete, when these rise upon and exceed each other in length and fulness of sound, till the whole is rounded by a free and measured close. In this view, the rhythm of the sentence here quoted might be improved by shortening the first member, or lengthening the second, as thus-“ it fills the mind with the most ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance," &c. Or thus—“it fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, has the advantage of conversing with its objects at the greatest distance,” &c.
These alterations are suggested only to explain my meaning, and not to intimate that there is any fault in the sentence, as it now stands. It is not necessary, nay it would be wrong, to tune every period into the completest harmony: I would only signify to the reader, what that arrangement of a complicated period is, in which the harmony is most complete. We have numberless instances in Mr. Addison's writings; as in the next of his papers on the imagination-"the eye has room to range abroad, to expatiate at large on the immensity of its views, and to lose itself amidst the variety of objects that offer themselves to its observation.”
The instance here given is liable to no objection. But there is danger, no doubt lest this attention to rhythm should betray the writer, insensibly, into some degree of languor and redundancy in his expression. And it cannot be denied, that Mr. Addison himself has sometimes fallen into this trapBut the general rule holds, nevertheless; and care is only to be taken, that in aiming at a beauty of one kind, we do not overlook another of equal, or, as in this case, of greater importance.
What has been said, may enable the reader to collect the rule in shorter sentences, or in sentences otherwise constructed.
3. The rhythm of several sentences combined together into one paragraph, is produced, in like manner, by providing that the several sentences shall differ from each other in the number of component parts, or in the extent of them, if the number be the same, or in the run and construction of the parts, where they are of the like extent. The same care must, also, be taken, to close the paragraph, as the complex sentence, with a gracious and flowing termination. Consider the whole first paragraph of the paper we have now before us, and you will not find two sentences corresponding to each other in all respects. Each is varied from the rest; and the conclusion fills the ear, as well as completes the sense.
Something like the same attention must be had, in disposing the several paragraphs of the same paper, as in arranging the several periods of the same paragraph.
But, “ verbum sapienti." The charm of Mr. Addison's prose eonsists very much in the dexterous application of these rules, or rather, in consulting his ear, which led him instinctively to the practice from which these rules are drawn.
If it be asked, whether the harmony of his prose be capable of improve ment, I think we may say in general, that, with regard to this way of writing, in short essays to which Mr. Addison's style is adapted, and for which it was formed, it is not. There is, with the utmost melody, all the cariety of composition (which answers to what re call the pause, in good
Conversation with men of a polite genius is another me. thod of improving our natural taste. It is impossible for a man of the greatest parts to consider anything in its whole extent, and in all its variety of lights. Every man, besides those general observations which are to be made upon an author, forms several reflections that are peculiar to his own manner of thinking; so that conversation will naturally furnish us with hints which we did not attend to, and make us enjoy other men's parts and reflections as well as our
This is the best reason I can give for the observation which several have made, that men of great genius in the same way of writing seldom rise up singly, but at certain periods of time appear together, and in a body; as they did at Rome in the reign of Augustus, and in Greece about the age of Socrates. I cannot think that Corneille, Racine, Moliere, Boileau, la Fontaine, Bruyere, Bossu, or the Daciers, would have written so well as they have done, had they not been friends and contemporaries.
It is likewise necessary for a man who would form to him. self a finished taste of good writing, to be well versed in the works of the best critics both ancient and modern. I must confess that I could wish there were authors of this kind, who, beside the mechanical rules which a man of
little taste may discourse upon, would enter into the very spirit and soul of fine writing, and show us the several sources of that pleasure which rises in the mind upon the perusal of a noble work. Thus although in poetry it be absolutely necessary that the unities of time, place, and action, with other points of the same nature, should be thoroughly explained and understood; there is still something more essential to the art, something that elevates and astonishes the fancy, and gives a greatness of mind to the reader, which few of the critics besides Longinus have considered.
poetry which the nature of these writings demands. In works of an. other length and texture, the harmony would be improved in various ways; and even by the very transgression of these rules.
Every kind of writing has a style of its own; and a good ear formed on the several principles of numerous composition, will easily direct how, and in what manner, to suit the rhythm to the subject and the occasion. There is no doubt that what is exquisite in one mode of writing, would be finical in another. It is enough to say, that the rhythm of these essays, cal’ed Spectators, is wonderfully pleasing, and perhaps perfect in its kind.
Our general taste in England is for epigram, turns of wit,
1 and forced conceits, which have no manner of influence, either for the bettering or enlarging the mind of him who reads them, and have been carefully avoided by the greatest writers, both among the ancients and moderns. I have endeavoured in several of my speculations to banish this Gothic taste, which has taken possession among us. I entertained the town, for a week together, with an essay upon wit, in which I endeavoured to detect several of those false kinds which have been admired in the different ages of the world; and at the same time to show wherein the nature of true wit consists. I afterwards gave an instance of the great force which lies in a natural simplicity of thought to affect the mind of the reader, from such vulgar pieces as have little else besides this single qualification to recommend them. have likewise examined the works of the greatest poet which our nation or perhaps any other has produced, and particularized most of those rational and manly beauties which give a value to that divine work. I shall next Saturday enter upon an essay on “the pleasures of the imagination,” which, though it shall consider that subject at large, will perhaps suggest to the reader what it is that gives a beauty to many passages of the finest writers both in prose and verse. As an undertaking of this nature is entirely new, I question not but it will be received with candour.
No. 411. SATURDAY, JUNE 21.
Avia Pieridum peragro loca, nullius ante
LUCR. 1 Our sight is the most perfect and most delightful of all
It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and
| This essay on the pleasures of the imagination, is by far the most masterly of all Mr. Addison's critical works. The scheme of it, as the motto to this introductory paper intimates, is original; and the style is finished with so much ease, as to merit the best attention of the reader. Some inaccuracies of expression have, however, escaped the elegant writer, and these, as we go along, shall be pointed out.
continued the longest in action without being tired or sa. tiated with its proper enjoyments. The sense of feeling can indeed give us a notion of extension, shape, and all other ideas that enter at the eye, except colours; but at the same time it is very much straitened and confined in its operations, to the number, bulk, and distance of its particular objects. Our sight seems designed to supply all these defects, and may be considered as a more delicate and diffusive kind of touch, that spreads itself over an infinite multitude of bodies, comprehends the largest figures, and brings into our reach some of the most remote parts of the universe.
It is this sense which furnishes the imagination with its ideas; so that by the pleasures of the imagination, or fancy, (which I shall use promiscuously,) I here mean such as arise from visible objects, either when we have them actually in our view, or when we call up their ideas into our minds by paintings, statues, descriptions, or any the like occasion. We cannot, indeed, have a single image in the fancy that did not make its first entrance through the sight; but we have the power of retaining, altering, and compounding those images, which we have once received, into all the varieties of picture and vision that are most agreeable to the imagination ; for by this faculty a man in a dungeon is capable of entertaining himself with scenes and landscapes more beautiful than any that can be found in the whole compass of nature.
There are few words in the English language which are employed in a more loose and uncircumscribed sense than those of the fancy and the imagination. I therefore thought it necessary to fix and determine the notion of these two words, as I intend to make use of them in the thread of my following speculations, that the reader may conceive rightly what is the subject which I proceed upon. I must therefore desire him to remember, that by the pleasures of the imagination, I mean only such pleasures as arise originally from sight, and that I divide these pleasures into two kinds: my design being first of all to discourse of those primary pleasures of the imagination, which entirely proceed from such objects as are before our eyes; and in the next place to speak of those secondary pleasures of the imagination which flow from the ideas of visible objects, when the objects are not
I He should have said, with regard to.