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of a very
familiar in our bodily experiences, and which our daily language recognizes as true of the mind as a whole, is equally true of each mental
power, from the simplest of the senses to the most complex of the sentiments. If we hold a flower to the nose for a long time, we become insensible to its scent. We
brilliant flash of lightning, that it blinds us; which means that our eyes have for a time lost their ability to appreciate light. After eating a quantity of honey, we are apt to think our tea is without sugar. The phrase, “A deafening roar," implies that men find a very loud sound temporarily incapacitates them for hearing faint
Now, the truth which we at once recognize in these, its extreme manifestations, may be traced throughout; and it may be shown, that alike in the reflective faculties, in the imagination, in the perceptions of the beautiful, the ludicrous, the sublime, in the sentiments, the instincts, in all the mental powers, however we may classify them, action exhausts; and that, in proportion as the action is violent, the subsequent prostration is great.
40. Equally, throughout the whole nature, may be traced the law, that exercised faculties are ever tending to resume their original state. Not only, after continued rest, do they regain their full power, not only do brief cessations partially re-invigorate them, but, even whilst they are in action, the resulting exhaustion is ever being neutralized. The two processes of waste and repair go on together. Hence, with faculties habitually exercised, as the senses in all or the muscles in a laborer, it happens, that, during modern activity, the repair is so nearly equal to the waste, that the diminution of power is scarcely appreciable; and it is only when the activity has been long continued, or has been very violent, that the repair becomes so far in arrear of the waste as to produce a perceptible prostration. In all cases, however, when, by the action of a faculty, waste has been incurred, some lapse of time must take place before full efficiency can be re-acquired; and this time must be long in proportion as the waste has been great.
41. Keeping in mind these general truths, we shall be in a condition to understand certain causes of effect in composition now to be considered. Every perception received, and every conception realized, entailing some amount of waste, or, as Liebig would say, some change of matter in the brain, and the efficiency of the faculties subject to this waste being thereby temporarily, though often but momentarily, diminished, the resulting partial inability must affect the acts of perception and conception that immediately succeed. And hence we may expect that the vividness with which images are realized will in many cases depend on the order of their presentation, even when one order is as convenient to the understanding as the other. We shall find
sundry facts which alike illustrate this, and are explained by it. Climax is one of them. The marked effect obtained by placing last the most striking of any series of images, and the weakness often ludicrous weakness — produced by reversing this arrangement, depend on the general law indicated. As, immediately after looking at the sun, we can not perceive the light of a fire, whilst by looking at the fire first, and the sun afterwards, we can perceive both; so, after receiving a brilliant or weighty or terrible thought, we can not appreciate a less brilliant, less weighty, or less terrible one, whilst, by reversing the order, we can appreciate each.
42. In Antithesis, again, we may recognize the same general truth. The opposition of two thoughts that are the reverse of each other in some prominent trait insures an impressive effect, and does this by giving a momentary relaxation of the faculties addressed. If, after a series of images of an ordinary character, appealing in a moderate degree to the sentiment of reverence or approbation or beauty, the mind has presented to it a very insignificant, a very unworthy, or a very ugly image, the faculty of reverence or approbation or beauty, as the case may be, having for the time nothing to do, tends to resume its full power, and will immediately afterwards appreciate a vast, admirable, or beautiful image better than it would otherwise do. Improbable as these momentary variations in susceptibility will seem to many, we can not doubt their occurrence when we contemplate the analogous variations in the susceptibility of the senses. Referring once more to phenomena of vision, every one knows that a patch of black on a white ground looks blacker, and a patch of white on a black ground looks whiter, than elsewhere. As the blackness and the whiteness must really be the same, the only assignable cause for this is a difference in their action upon us, dependent upon the different states of our faculties. It is simply a visual antithesis.
43. But this extension of the general principle of economy, this further condition of effect in composition, - that the power of the ficulties must be continuously husbanded, includes much more than has been yet hinted. It implies, not only that certain arrangements and certain juxtapositions of connected ideas are best, but that some modes of dividing and presenting the subject will be more effective than others, and that, too, irrespective of its logical cohesion. It shows why we must progress from the less interesting to the more interesting; and why not only the composition as a whole, but each of its successive portions, should tend towards a climax. At the same time, it forbids long continuity of the same species of thought, or repeated production of the same effects. It warns us against the error committed both
by Pope in his poems and by Bacon in his essays, — the error, namely, of constantly employing the most effective forms of expression; and it points out, that as the easiest posture by and by becomes fatiguing, and is with pleasure exchanged for one less easy, so the most perfectly constructed sentences will soon weary, and relief will be given by using those of an inferior kind. Further, it involves that not only should we avoid generally combining our words in one manner, however good, or working out our figures and illustrations in one way, however telling, but we should avoid any thing like uniform adherence even to the wider conditions of effect. We should not make every section of our subject progress in interest; we should not always rise to a cli
As we say, that, in single sentences, it is but rarely allowable to fulfill all the conditions of strength ; so, in the larger portions of a composition, we must not often conform entirely to the law indicated. We must subordinate the component effects to the total effect.
44. In deciding how practically to carry out the principles of artistic composition, we may derive help by bearing in mind a fact already pointed out, the fitness of certain verbal arrangements for certain kinds of thought. That constant variety in the mode of presenting ideas which the theory demands will in a great degree result from a skillful adaptation of the form to the matter. We saw how the direct or inverted sentence is spontaneously used by excited people, and how their language is also characterized by figures of speech and by extreme brevity. Hence these may with advantage predominate in emotional passages, and may increase as the emotion rises. On the other hand, for complex ideas, the indirect sentence seems the best vehicle. In conversation, the excitement produced by the near approach to a desired conclusion will often show itself in a series of short, sharp sentences; whilst, in impressing a view already enunciated, we generally make our periods voluminous by piling thought upon thought. These natural modes of procedure may serve as guides in writing. Keen observation and skillful analysis would, in like manner, detect many other peculiarities of expression produced by other attitudes of mind; and, by paying due attention to all such traits, a writer possessed of sufficient versatility might make some approach to a completely organized work.
45. This species of composition, which the law of effect points out as the perfect one, is the one which high genius tends naturally to produce. As we found that the kinds of sentence which are theoretically best are those generally employed by superior minds, and by inferior minds when excitement has raised them; so we shall find that the ideal form for a poem, essay, or fiction, is that which the ideal writer would evolve spontaneously. One in
whom the powers of expression fully responded to the state of mind would unce
nconsciously use that variety in the mode of presenting his thoughts which Art demands. This constant employment of one species of phraseology, which all have now to strive against, implies an undeveloped faculty of language. To have a specific style is to be poor in speech. If we glance back at the past, and remember that men had once only nouns and verbs to convey their ideas with, and that from then to now the growth has been towards a greater number of implements of thought, and, consequently, towards a greater complexity and variety in their combinations, we may infer that we are now, in our use of sentences, much what the primitive man was in his use of words; and that a continuance of the process that has hitherto gone on must produce increasing heterogeneity in our modes of expression.
46. As, now, in a fine nature, the play of the features, the tones of the voice and its cadences, vary in harmony with every thought uttered ; so, in one possessed of a fully-developed power of speech, the mold in which combination of words is cast will similarly vary with, and be appropriate to, the sentiment. That a perfectly endowed man must unconsciously write in all styles, we may infer from considering how styles originate. Why is Addison diffuse, Johnson pompous, Goldsmith simple? Why is one author abrupt, another rhythmical, another concise ? Evidently, in each case, the habitual mode of utterance must depend upon the habitual balance of the nature. The predominant feelings have by use trained the intellect to represent them. But, whilst long though unconscious discipline has made it do this efficiently, it remains, from lack of practice, incapable of doing the same for the less powerful feelings; and, when these are excited, the usual modes of expression undergo but a slight modification. Let the powers of speech be fully developed, however, let the ability of the intellect to convey the emotions be complete, and this fixity of style will disappear. The perfect writer will express himself as Junius, when in the Junius frame of mind; when he feels as Lamb felt, will use a like familiar speech; and will fall into the ruggedness of Carlyle when in a Carlylean mood. Now he will be rhythmical, and now irregular ; here his langnage will be plain, and there ornate; sometimes his sentences will be balanced, and at other times unsymmetrical; for a while there will be considerable sameness, and then, again, great variety. From his mode of expression naturally responding to his state of feeling, there will flow from his pen a composition changing to the same degree that the aspects of his subject change. He will thus, without effort, conform to what we have seen to be the laws of effect. And, whilst his work presents to the reader that variety
needful to prevent continuous exertion of the same faculties, it will also answer to the description of all highly-organized products both of man and of nature : it will be, not a series of like parts simply placed in juxtaposition, but one whole made up of unlike parts that are mutually dependent.
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT.
Born Nov. 3, 1794, CUMMINGTON, MASS.
It is eminently fitting for us to begin the study of English literature with the name of this veteran poet and most accomplished master of pure English.
From 1808, the date of his first published literary effort, to the present time, 1870, a period of more than sixty years, the power and beauty of the language have been almost continuously illustrated by his genius. Combining in the rarest manner in himself the true poet, the careful critic, and the political philosopher, it would be difficult to say in which character he has performed the most distinguished services to humanity. For beauty and purity of thought and expression, his poeins, and for sound logic, and lucidity of style, lis political writings, place him in the front rank of modern authors.
“Thanatopsis;" “ Inscription for an Entrance into a Wood;" “ Letters of a Traveler;" Second Series of “Letters of a Traveler;" “ The Waterfowl;" “ The Ages ;” three volumes of Poems; Contributions as editor and correspondent of “ The New-York Evening Post” since 1826; “ Translation of Homer,” 1870.