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are good in proportion as they do this, provided the mode of completing it be obvious.
32. Passing over much that may be said of like purport upon Hyperbole, Personification, Apostrophe, &c., let us close our remarks upon construction by a typical example. The general principle that has been enunciated is, that the force of all verbal forms and arrangements is great in proportion as the time and mental effort they demand from the recipient is small. The special applications of this general principle have been severally illustrated; and it has been shown that the relative goodness of any two modes of expressing an idea may be determined by observing which requires the shortest process of thought for its comprehension. But, though conformity in particular points has been exemplified, no cases of complete conformity have yet been quoted. It is indeed difficult to find them; for the English idiom scarcely permits the order which theory dictates. A few, however, occur in Ossian. Here is one:
6 As autumn's dark storms pour from two echoing hills, so towards each other approached the heroes. As two dark streams from high rocks meet and mix, and roar on the plain; loud, rough, and dark in battle meet Lochlin and Inisfail. ... As the troubled noise of the ocean wlien roll the waves on high, as the last peal of the thunder of heaven; such is the noise of the battle."
Except in the position of the verb in the first two similes, the theoretically best arrangement is fully carried out in each of these sentences. The simile comes before the qualified image, the adjectives before the substantives, the predicate and copula before the subject, and their respective complements before them. That the passage is more or less open to the charge of being bombastic proves nothing, or, rather, proves our case; for what is bombast but a force of expression too great for the magnitude of the ideas embodied ? All that may rightly be inferred is, that only in very rare cases, and then only to produce a climax, should all the conditions of effective expression be fulfilled.
33. Passing on to a more complex application of the doctrine with which we set out, it must now be remarked, that not only in the structure of sentences, and the use of figures of speech, may economy of the recipient's mental energy be assigned as the cause of force, but that, in the choice and arrangement of the minor images out of which some large thought is to be built, we may trace the same condition of effect. To select from the sentiment, scene, or event described, those typical elements which carry many others along with them, and so, by saying a few things, but suggesting many, to abridge the description, is the secret of producing a vivid impression. Thus if we say, “Real
nobility is not transferable,” besides the one jilea expressed, several are implied; and, as these can be thought much sooner than they can be put in words, there is gain in omitting them. How the mind may be led to construct a complete picture by the presentation of a few parts, an extract from Tennyson's “ Mariana” will show:
“ All day, within the dreamy house,
The door upon the hinges creaked;
The several circumstances here specified bring with them hosts of appropriate associations. Our attention is rarely drawn by the buzzing of a fly in the window, save when every thing is still. Whilst the inmates are moving about the house, mice usually keep silence; and it is only when extreme quietness reigns that they peep from their retreats. Hence each of the facts mentioned, presupposing numerous others, calls up these with more or less distinctness, and revives the feeling of dull solitude with which they are connected in our experience. Were all these facts detailed instead of suggested, the attention would be so frittered away, that little impression of dreariness would be produced. And here, without further explanation, it will be seen, that, be the nature of the sentiment conveyed what it may, this skillful selection of a few particulars which imply the rest is the key to success. In the choice of component ideas, as in the choice of expressions, the aim must be to convey the greatest quantity of thoughts with the smallest quantity of words.
34. Before inquiring whether the law of effect, thus far traced, will account for the superiority of poetry to prose, it will be needful to notice some supplementary causes of force in expression that have not yet been mentioned. These are not, properly speaking, additional causes, but rather secondary ones, originating from those already specified, — reflex manifestations of them. In the first place, then, we may remark, that mental excitement spontaneously prompts the use of those forms of speech which have been pointed out as the most effective. “Out with him!” “ Away with him!” are the natural utterances of angry citizens at a disturbed meeting. A voyager, describing a terrible storm he had witnessed, would rise to some such climax as, “Crack went the ropes, and down came the mast!” Astonishment may be heard expressed in the phrase, “Never was there such a sight!” All of which sentences are, it will be observed, constructed after the direct type. Again: every one will recognize the fact that excited persons are given to figures of speech. The vituperation of the vulgar abounds with them; often, indeed, consists of little else. “Beast,” “ brute," "gallows-rogue," “cut-throat villain,” – these, and other like metaphors and metaphorical epithets, at once call to mind a street-quarrel. Further: it may be remarked that extreme brevity is one of the characteristics of passionate language. The sentences are generally incomplete; the particles are omitted; and frequently important words are left to be gathered from the context. Great admiration does not vent itself in a precise proposition, as “It is beautiful," but in a simple exclamation, “ Beautiful!” He who, when reading a lawyer's letter, should say, “ Vile rascal!” would be thought angry; whilst “He is a vile rascal” would imply comparative coolness. Thus we see, that, alike in the order of the words, in the frequent use of figures, and in extreme conciseness, the natural utterances of excitement conform to the theoretical conditions of forcible expression.
35. Hence, then, the higher forms of speech acquire a secondary strength from association. Having, in actual life, habitually found them in connection with vivid mental impressions, and having been accustomed to meet with them in the most powerful writing, they come to have in themselves a species of force. The emotions that have from time to time been produced by the strong thoughts wrapped up in these forms are partially aroused by the forms themselves. They create a certain degree of animation; they induce a preparatory sympathy; and, when the striking ideas looked for are reached, they are the more vividly realized.
POETRY. 36. The continuous use of those modes of expression that are alike forcible in themselves and forcible from their associations produces the peculiarly impressive species of composition which we call poetry. Poetry, we shall find, habitually adopts those symbols of thought, and those methods of using them, which instinct and analysis agree in choosing as most effective, and becomes poetry by virtue of doing this. On turning back to the various specimens that have been quoted, it will be seen that the direct or inverted form of sentence predominates in them, and that to a degree quite inadmissible in prose. And not only in the frequency, but in what is termed the violence, of the inversions, will this distinction be remarked. In the abundant use of figures, again, we may recognize the same truth. Metaphors, similes, hyperboles, and personifications are the poet's colors, which he has liberty to employ almost without limit. We characterize as “poetical ” the prose which repeats these appliances of language with any frequency, and condemn it as “over-florid” or “affected ” long before they occur with the profusion allowed in verse. Further: let it be remarked, that, in brevity, the other requisite of forcible expression which theory points out, and emotion spontaneously fulfills, poetical phraseology similarly differs from ordinary phraseology. Imperfect periods are frequent; elisions are perpetual; and many of the minor words, which would be deemed essential in prose, are dispensed with.
37. Thus poetry, regarded as a vehicle of thought, is especially impressive, partly because it obeys all the laws of effective speech, and partly because in so doing it imitates the natural utterances of excitement. Whilst the matter embodied is idealized emotion, the vehicle is the idealized language of emotion. As the musical composer catches the cadences in which our feelings of joy and sympathy, grief and despair, vent themselves, and out of these germs evolves melodies suggesting higher phases of these feelings; so the poet develops, from the typical expressions in which men utter passion and sentiment, those choice forms of verbal combination in which concentrated passion and sentiment may be fitly presented.
38. There is one peculiarity of poetry, conducing much to its effect, — the peculiarity which is indeed usually thought its characteristic one, — still remaining to be considered: we mean its rhythmical structure. This, unexpected as it may be, will be found to come under the same generalization with the others. Like each of them, it is an idealization of the natural language of emotion, which is known to be more or less metrical if the emotion be not violent; and, like each of them, it is an economy of the reader's or hearer's attention. In the peculiar tone and manner we adopt in uttering versified language may be discerned its relationship to the feelings; and the pleasure which its measured movement gives us is ascribable to the comparative ease with which words metrically arranged can be recognized. This last position will scarcely be at once admitted; but a little explanation will show its reasonableness. For if, as we have seen, there is an expenditure of mental energy in the mere act of listening to verbal articulations, or in that silent repetition of them which goes on in reading; if the perceptive faculties must be in active exercise to identify every syllable, — then any mode of combining words so as to present a regular recurrence of certain traits which the mind can anticipate will diminish that strain upon the attention required by the total irregularity of prose. In the same manner that the body in receiving a series of varying concussions must keep the muscles ready to meet the most violent of them, as not knowing when such may come; so the mind, in receiving unarranged articulations, must keep its perceptives active enough to recognize the least easily caught sounds. And as, if the concussions recur in a definite order, the body may husband
its forces by adjusting the resistance needful for each concussion ; so, if the syllables be rhythmically arranged, the mind may economize its energies by anticipating the attention required for each syllable. Far-fetched as this idea will perhaps be thought, a little introspection will countenance it. That we do take advantage of inetrical language to adjust our perceptive faculties to the force of the expected articulations, is clear from the fact that we are balked by halting versification. Much as, at the bottom of a flight of stairs, a step more or less than we counted upon gives us a shock; so, too, does a misplaced accent or a supernumerary syllable. In the one case, we know that there is an erroneous pre-adjustment; and we can scarcely doubt that there is one in the other. But, if we habitually pre-atljust our perceptions to the measured movement of verse, the physical analogy lately given renders it probable that by so doing we economize attention; and hence that metrical language is more effective than prose, simply because it enables us to do this.
Were there space, it might be worth while to inquire whether the pleasure we take in rhyme, and also that which we take in euphony, are not partly ascribable to the same general cause.
ECONOMY OF THE SENSIBILITIES.
39. A few paragraphs only can be devoted to a second division of our subject that here presents itself. To pursue in detail the laws of effect, as seen in the larger features of composition, would exceed both our limits and our purpose ; but we may fitly indicate some further aspect of the general principle hitherto traced out, and hint a few of its wider applications.
Thus far, then, we have considered only those causes of force in language which depend upon economy of the mental energies : we have now briefly to glance at those which depend upon economy of the mental sensibilities. Indefensible though this diversion may be as a psychological one, it will yet serve roughly to indicate the remaining field of investigation. It will suggest, that, besides considering the extent to which any faculty, or group of faculties, is taken in receiving a form of words, and realizing its contained idea, we have to consider the state in which this faculty, or group of faculties, is left, and how the reception of subsequent sentences and images will be influenced by that state. Without going at length into so wide a topic as the exercise of faculties, and its re-active effects, it will be sufficient here to call to mind that every faculty (when in a state of normal activity) is most capable at the outset; and that the change in its condition which ends in what we term exhaustion begins simultaneously with its exercise. This generalization, with which we are all