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and has been abandoned for the last hundred years. The Germans uniformly print every substantive with a capital, a practice which, in that language, is almost indispensable, in order to distinguish between their verbs and their nouns.
In modern printing, a discourse is divided into heads, by which the uniformity of the lines is broken off, and a new line begun, preceded by a short blank. These divisions are termed PARAGRAPHS. In the early stage of the art, there were no such divisions; for the lines ran on, in an uniform length, until the discourse was closed. It was, however, found convenient to point out the several heads of the general subject; and this was done by inserting a mark (¶) at each division. These scattered black patches having a disagreeable appearance in the body of the reading, they were afterwards transferred to the margin, (where they may yet be seen in our Bibles,) and received the Greek name, PARAGRAPHS, signifying side writings. Marginal Notes were, at one period, very general, especially as Glosses on the classics, and were, sometimes, so numerous to fill three-fourths of a page. When they were few, they were occasionally indented in the side, or placed within BRACKETS, [ ], in the body of the text. Brackets are yet in
use, generally for the purpose of inclosing a Note of reference.
PARENTHESES, ( ), are employed to include a portion of a sentence which is too directly connected with the whole to be thrown into a separate note; and, at the same time, if not so confined, might tend to embarrass the construction.
The Note of INTERROGATION (?) is an oldfashioned Q, for question; in the same way that the Latin Et (and) has been converted into &. In the present form of the Roman character, these contractions are not obvious; but in the old Italic capitals, the similarity of the ? to the Q and that of the & to the Et were sufficiently apparent. It has often been suggested that the Notes of Interrogation, and of EXCLAMATION (!), (as well as one for IRONY which is wanting), ought to be placed at the beginning rather than at the end of a sentence. In catechisms the Q precedes.
The lengths of the several pauses indicated by the COMMA (,), SEMICOLON (;), COLON (:), and PERIOD (.), are treated of in every Grammar; and, although authors differ on the subject, we shall not enter into the dispute; for it is only their use, in marking the subdivisions of a paragraph, with which we are here concerned. In a general view, the Period separates the Paragraph
into Sentences; the Semicolon divides a compound sentence into simple ones; and the Comma collects, into clauses, the scattered circumstances of manner, time, place, relation, &c. belonging to every verb and to every noun. When something explanatory, or illustrative, is added to a sentence, the construction of which was previously complete, the addition is preceded by a Colon. A few examples of accurate punctuation will be preferable to a multitude of Rules and Exceptions:
"Didactic works are, in general, either too laconic for the ignorant, or too garrulous for the learned; and it is, probably, impossible to satisfy both classes of readers, in the same production."
This sentence is divided into two portions (by a semicolon) which are reunited by the conjunction and. The former part gives us the choice of two assertions:
Didactic works are too laconic for the ignorant,'-and
Didactic works are too garrulous for the learned.'
Each of these is modified by the words, "in general," which are, therefore, placed between commas. The latter part of the sentence asserts that, "it is, probably, impossible to satisfy both classes of readers, in the same production." The
clauses "probably" and "in the same production," limit the general assertion, which might, otherwise, be false, or doubtful.
"At this man's table I enjoyed many chearful and instructive hours, with companions such as are not often found; with one who has lengthened, and one who has gladdened life; with Dr. James, whose skill in physick will be long remembered; and with David Garrick, whom I hoped to have gratified with this character of our friend: but what are the hopes of man! disappointed by that stroke of death, which has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the stock of harmless pleasure."
The skeleton of the preceding paragraph is, merely, "I dined at this man's table with Dr. James and David Garrick;" but the structure is completed by the ideas which that remembrance suggests. Every portion of a sentence that can be transferred to another place, without injury to the construction, may be considered as a clause and marked off by points accordingly; but this is not always done, for the best writers often unite two or more clauses to avoid what is termed 'too close pointing.' In the preceding example, the first clause may be divided into two, by placing a comma after the word table;' and we might, therefore, write,
'At this man's table, I enjoyed many chearful and instructive hours,' &c.
'I enjoyed many chearful and instructive hours, at this man's table,' &c. Or,
I enjoyed, at this man's table, many chearful and instructive hours,' &c.
It is not pretended that either of these transmutations would improve the style, (for who will pretend to polish the periods of Dr. Johnson?) but the observation is equally applicable to examples of a less perfect kind.
The BREAK (—) is a mark of recent introduction, and is now, perhaps, often used unnecessarily. It intimates an unexpected interruption to the flow of thought, whether from extraneous circumstances, or a change of mind. Goldsmith's "Gift to Iris" is a playful example: the following, is in a different strain.
"Sweet bud of Spring! how frail thy transient bloom;
Unconscious of the worm that mined her own!
The DASH (,) because it is also a line, is sometimes confounded with the Break, It