« IndietroContinua »
wit, and to temper wit with morality, that my readers may, if possible, both ways find their account in the speculation of the day. And to the end that their virtue and discretion may not be short, transient, intermittent starts of thought, I have resolved to refresh their memories from day to day, till I have recovered them out of that desperate state of vice and folly into which the age is fallen. The mind that lies fallow for a single day sprouts up in follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture. It was said of Socrates that he brought philosophy down from heaven to inhabit among men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me,' that I have brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea tables, and in coffee houses.
'I would, therefore, in a very particular manner, recommend these my speculations to all well-regulated families, that set apart an hour in every morning for tea and bread-and-butter; and would earnestly advise them for their good to order this paper to be punctually served up, and to be looked upon as a part of the tea equipage.'—Spectator, No. 10.
But he who wishes for periods that will furnish a mental gymnastic, must read page after page of Milton's prose works, or of the very dissimilar Jeremy Taylor, where, amidst much that is almost chaotic in its irregular massiveness, he may from time to time fall in with such a piece of architecture as will reward his patient quest. If the following piece from the close of Milton's Reformation in England appears to the reader hardly to match this description, it will at least serve to give a taste of what a really great sentence can be.
. Then, amidst the hymns and hallelujahs of saints, some one may perhaps be heard offering at high strains in new and lofty measures, to sing and celebrate Thy divine mercies and marvellous judgments in this land throughout all ages, whereby this great and warlike nation, instructed and inured to the fervent and continual practice of truth and righteousness, and casting far from her the rags of her old vices, may press on hard to that high and happy emulation to be found the soberest wisest and most Christian people at that day, when Thou, the eternal and shortly expected King, shalt open the clouds to judge the several kingdoms of the world, and, distributing national honours and rewards to religious and just commonwealths, shalt put an end to all earthly tyrannies, proclaiming Thy universal and mild monarchy through heaven and earth; where they undoubtedly, that by their labours counsels and prayers, have been earnest for the common good of religion and their country, shall receive, above the inferior orders of the blessed, the regal addition of principalities, legions, and thrones with their glorious titles, and, in supereminence of beatific vision, progressing the dateless and irrevoluble circle of eternity, shall clasp inseparable hands with joy and bliss, in overmeasure for ever.'
It is a gain to our general literature that the long sentence is but rarely used, for it is sorely out of place in ordinary writing, such as historical narrative, or any other kind that is produced at a moderate temperature. It is the defect of Clarendon's style that his sentences are too long for their energy. Long sentences are intolerable without enthusiasm. It is only under the glow of passion that the highest capabilities of a language are displayed. As, however, we are not now engaged upon the rhetorical aspect of the language for its own sake, but only by way of illustrating the resources of modern syntax for continuous and protracted structure, it should be added that to the beauty of the long sentence it is not necessary that the passion be at all furious, but only that the feeling be strong enough to sustain itself during the flight from one resting -place to another. The following four stanzas from In Memoriam constitute but one period, which though quiet enough is yet well sustained :
• I past beside the reverend walls
In which of old I wore the gown;
I roved at random through the town,
And heard once more in college fanes
The storm their high-built organs make,
And thunder-music, rolling, shake
And caught once more the distant shout,
The measured pulse of racing oars
Among the willows; paced the shores
The same gray flats again, and felt
The same, but not the same; and last
Up that long walk of limes I past
If we ask, What is this sustaining power, which bears along more than a hundred words in one movement, with all the unity of an individual organism ? the answer is, that it is rhythm. The particular notice of rhythm will find its place in the last chapter: here, it will be enough to illustrate what manner of thing symbolic syntax is when it is without rhythm
If we want to see this form of syntax carried out to an extreme and exaggerated development, unsupported moreover and unbalanced by rhythm, we have only to read a legal document, such as a marriage settlement, or a release of trust. Often whole lines are mere strings of words till the reader's head swims with the fluctuations of the unstable element, and, like a man at sea, or in a balloon, he longs to plant his feet on terra firma.
* And that the said sum when paid should be held upon the trusts thereinafter declared of and concerning the same.'
* Four other of the children of the said testator are entitled respectively to one other of the remaining four other of the said shares.'
The following is from a release of trust :
* And also of from and against all and all manner of actions and suits cause and causes of action and suit reckonings debts duties claims and demands whatsoever both at Law and in Equity which they the said releasing and covenanting parties or any or either of them their or any or either of their heirs executors administrators or assigns or any other person or persons whomsoever (sic) claiming or who shall or may at any time hereafter claim by from through under or in trust for them him or her or any or either of them may or can have claim challenge or demand of from or against the said.'
And so it goes floating on, when it could almost all be said by a mere passive verb; as, The trust is discharged.
In a general way of speaking, compounds are merely morsels of syntax which, from being often together, have become adherent, and have grown into something between phrases and words. A mature language makes fresh compounds after the pattern established; but the origin of the pattern is to be sought in the habits, often the earlier habits, of the syntactical structure. Compounds vary extremely as regards laxity and compactness of fabric. When first made they are very lax, and hardly to be distinguished as compounds from words in syntax. Such loose compounds are daily made by little more than the trick of inserting hyphens. In the Cornhill Magazine a writer upon rhetoric designates a certain style of diction as the allude-to-an-individual style.
In those languages which have a ready faculty of compound-making, this sort of off-hand compound has always been one of the recognised means of being funny. Passing over this sort, which are hardly to be ranged as compounds at all, we have such loose examples as forget-me-not, and such compact examples as mankind, nostril, boatswain, which through long use are so well knit as to be more like simple
words than compounds. The compound state, properly so called, is an intermediate condition between the phrase and the word; a transition which the phrase passes through in order to become gradually condensed into a simple word. We are of old familiar with the grammatical idea that phrases are made out of words, but we now recognise that the reverse of this is also true, and that words are made out of phrases.
The distinctive condition which marks that a compound has been formed, is the change of accent. The difference between “black bird' and 'blackbird' is one of accent. Or, when it is stated of a horse that he is 'two years old,' each of these words has its own several tone. But make a trisyllable of it, and say 'a two-year-old,' and the sound is greatly altered. The second and third words lean enclitically upon the first, while the first has gathered up all the smartness of tone into itself, and goes off almost like the snap of a trigger. The written sign which is used to signify that a compound is intended, is the hyphen; which may therefore be regarded as being indirectly a note of accent.
This is the reason why the hyphen is so much more used in poetry than in prose. The poet is attending to his cadences, and therefore feels the need of the accentual sign of the hyphen. Our prose (on the other hand) is sprinkled with compounds which are written as if they were in construction. There is no need to search for examples, they offer themselves on the page of the moment. On the page that happens to be under my eye, I find two compounds, one of the first and one of the second order; both without hyphens.
coast-line. • Indeed these old coal layers call to mind our peat bogs. We find a layer of peat nearly everywhere on our coast line between high and low water mark.'