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denotes the omission of a word, or part of a word; and, instead of being always a straight line, is occasionally made up of ASTERISKS ( * * * * ); as if filling the place of the suppressed letters. These marks are seldom, if ever, seen in respectable Composition: they are meant to insinuate what the author is either afraid or ashamed to write.
There are other marks, such as the HYPHEN; the APOSTROPHE; the CARET; the ACCENT, &c. but these are the province of the printer rather than of the author; and, besides, are explained sufficiently in every Spelling Book.
Next to the separation of the words themselves, nothing is so necessary to fix the signification of a passage as punctuation; and, notwithstanding, there is no part of composition so shamefully neglected. Few, even among professed authors, pay any attention to the subject, but send their manuscripts to the press, without comma or semicolon, leaving those little matters to the judgment of the compositor. Yet, the misplacing of a single comma is often fatal to the intended meaning of the sentence; and, if it is not nonsense already, it has every chance of becoming so. The late Mr. Sharpe committed a strange blunder of this kind, when he wrote the following under the likeness of his patron saint:
Believing Richard Brothers to be a prophet sent, by God I have engraved his portrait."
Had he removed the comma two words forward, the assertion would have been different. Literary men are well aware of the ambiguities in the text of ancient authors, arising from this source; and Dr. Hunter's famous Editions of the Latin Classics, owe the greatest part of their merit to his corrections of punctuation.
Let us suppose that Thomson had been indolent enough to have sent his verses to the printer without points. We shall suppose, too, that the printers of those days were as capable of distinguishing the members of a sentence as they are now; and, with these qualifications, we will imagine the reader of proofs set down to his task, and endeavouring to scan the following lines:
"Come gentle spring ethereal mildness come
The first hesitation will be, whether spring' and 'mildness' are the same, or two different personifications; but this knot can be cut, if it cannot be untied; for the verb come,' will
apply in either case. 'Ethereal,' too, as far as construction is concerned, may be either an epithet of spring,' or of 'mildness;' but he will probably discover that ethereal mildness' is equivalent to a mild æther,' or, otherwise, a 'soft atmosphere.' His next doubt, if he be wise enough to doubt, will be-who it is that is "veil'd in a shower of shadowing roses." To be sure spring,' as well as mildness,' is requested to come "from the bosom of a dropping cloud,"but neither of them require a "Veil;" whereas, Music is always "veil'd," she is heard, but never seen. The Revise is sent to be wrought off in the following plausible form:
"Come, gentle Spring, ethereal Mildness come,
And from the bosom of yon dropping cloud,
But the author meant otherwise, and by merely shifting the place of a comma, and changing two of the capitals into small letters, he made "Spring" the sole personage in his picture:
"Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness, come,
If a sentence is well arranged, and properly. punctuated, there is no clause which may not be removed without affecting its construction. To satisfy ourselves of the accuracy of the Rule, we shall try the following by this criterion:
"On the fifth day of the moon, which, according to the custom of my forefathers, I always keep holy, after having washed myself, and offered up my morning devotions, I ascended the high hills of Bagdad, in order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer."
Here we may dismiss clause after clause, and still something like construction will remain. Taking out the second clause, we read:
"On the fifth day of the moon,always keep holy, &c."
Take away the third, and we have,
On the fifth day of the moon,——————after having washed myself, &c."
Dismiss a fourth clause and the edifice is stript bare; there remaining only the mere timbers of the building: the use, for which it was intended, is no longer expressed:―
On the fifth day of the moon,- -I ascended the high hills of Bagdad,in order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer."
The conclusion states the purpose of the action.
There now only remain three clauses which, though they do not express all the ideas of the general sentence, still retain the form of grammatical construction.
1 "On the fifth day of the moon,
I ascended the high hills of Bagdad, 3 In order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer."
The Italics, in the last division, are relatives, referring to the morning meditations." Relatives and Conjunctions have no part in the analysis of construction,-they are the pegs and joints that keep the clauses in combination. It will be found, on trial, that these three remaining members of the original sentence may be arranged six different ways with equal perspicuity. They have only to be written down, according to their numbers, in the following order: 1, 2 & 3; 1, 3 & 2; 2, 1 & 3; 2, 3 & 1; 3, 1 & 2 and 3, 2 & 1.
We are well aware that every sentence cannot be thus anatomized; for every writer is not an Addison. Regularity in language is consonant with regularity of thought. If the ideas be confused, the sentence will be equally so. If there be no ideas the words will be unmeaning. If it be asked how words can be written without being preceded by ideas; we will answer by another question: How can Parrots be taught to speak?