Page images
PDF
EPUB

to explain the language symbol — thought the means, language the end; in the other, language is used to convey thought — language the means, thought the end: that is, language considered in the process of communicating thought.

In order to make thought a means to gain a knowledge of language as an end, there is required a con

form and the content. This conscious separation of form and content, in order to discern how language is adjusted to thought, is the characteristic feature of all true grammatical study. But language in discourse is necessarily viewed in living unity with the thought which it communicates. Neither the composer nor the interpreter is conscious of the relation of language to thought. Language and thought grow into one in the process of communication; and the words become so tinged and flushed with the life of thought that language itself includes, not merely language symbols as shown by grammatical dissection, but whatever life the thought imparts to them. Language as a means of expression includes the life, the richness, the fullness, and the power with which words are charged by the mind, stimulated and exalted into new and unusual conceptions of the matter under consideration. When we speak of one's clearness, charm, and vigor of language, we include not merely choice of words and structure of sentences, but a certain illumination of the subject by the mind, — the grace and delicacy of its conceptions, and the striking forms and imagery with which it clothes its thought to make it effective. Hence, it is not correctness of language form in relation to thought, but effectiveness in securing the end sought which constitutes the rhetorical quality of language. That quality of language which makes it effective is called Style. As usually defined, style is the peculiar manner in which an individual author expresses himself. If this is style no science can be made of it; for then there are as many styles as speakers and writers. That individuality of an author which one readily detects in reading a new selection from a familiar author, and which constitutes a part of his charm, is for that author only, and can no more be explained and utilized by another than can the author's peculiar voice, bearing, and facial expression. Whatever the individual peculiarities of the writing, whether it be Tennysonian or Johnsonian, it must have those common properties which make language effective. Style, as here to be understood, is the common, essential, and fundamental quality of language which adapts it to the ends for which language is uttered, — which makes it an instrument to the effective communication of thought.

Hence, the fundamental law of language in discourse, which is the organizing principle throughout the following discussion, may be formulated as follows:

That language, or style, is best which communicates thought most effectively to the end sought by the discourse.

QUALITIES REQUIRED BY THE LAW.

Language must be adapted to the three ends of discourse; hence there must be three qualities of language, one quality adapting it to communicate thought to the intellect, one to present thought to the end of volition, and one to the end of esthetic pleasure. Since thought is presented in each case, there is one fundamental quality of style growing out of the relation of language to thought in the process of language interpretation; namely, Clearness, or Perspicuity. This is the fundamental quality of all discourse, whatever its purpose, and the only quality uniformly required when the purpose is to instruct. But if the author seek to move the will or to impress the thought, he must add to Clearness, Energy; and if to please or to touch the emotions for their own sake, he must add to Clearness, Elegance. The language of prose should be clear; of oratory, energetic; of poetry, elegant. Each should be clear as a condition of delivering the thought to the intellect; but oratory, to impress the truth, to stimulate the indifferent, to convince the perverse, must be full of vigor and power; and poetry, to please the taste, must have beauty of conception and expression. In addition, therefore, to the fact that language must be clear in order to deliver its truth to the intellect, under some circumstances, it is required also to stimulate the energies of the mind to appropriate the truth presented, to enjoy it, or to live in obedience thereto.

transmission, but its active phase of stimulation.

While Clearness is the characteristic quality of prose, it may be necessary to stimulate it with beauty and force of diction and conception in order to dispose the mind to receive the truth, and that the truth may be impressed upon it. To instruct those of mature age and those who are active seekers of truth requires only the utmost Clearness; but to instruct children or those who are indifferent to the truth which the author wishes to convey requires a degree of Elegance in style to interest the attention, and a degree of Energy to impress the thought presented. Hence, Elegance and Energy do not belong exclusively to poetry and oratory. Elegance and Energy in prose, as in oratory, are a means. In poetry, Elegance is an end. The style constitutes the poem. Prose takes upon itself the qualities of poetry and oratory when it adds to its ordinary work of instruction that of influencing the mind to appropriate the instruction given. Prose influences to instruct; while oratory instructs to influence.

To influence, however, is not the characteristic function of prose, and Elegance and Energy are not the characteristic. qualities of its language. Prose and poetry communicate truth and beauty for all time, and assume eager minds in search of them. Therefore, the language is not required to bear the burden of conveying thought or pleasing the taste, and at the same time of stimulating the reader or hearer. The scientist and the poet cast their books to the public, knowing that those will read who find there what the mind and the heart crave. The book of prose or poetry determines the reader; the audience determines the oration. Given the audience with a definite change of will to be produced, and the orator assumes the aggressive. He cannot wait till they, desiring to change their opinion or conduct, search out motives to influence themselves. This would remove the necessity for the oration. His thought and language cannot be passive, but must be energized to stir the indifferent, sluggish, or perverse wills to some definite course of action.

While all these qualities of language are essential, under certain conditions, to each kind of discourse, yet, beyond a given degree, they are incompatible, Prose may gain such beauty and force of expression as to defeat perspicuity. Clearness, accuracy, and force of statement may be carried so far as to defeat poetic beauty; and the terse vigor essential to the oration is inconsistent with prosaic clearness or poetic finish.

own quality of language, or its identity will be lost and its purpose defeated. If it be necessary to infuse the clearness of prose with the life of poetry and oratory, it must be so tempered that the intellect will be stimulated only to seize the truth, not so as to be absorbed in the beauties of conception. Here, Clearness must prevail over Elegance and Energy. While poetry is marked by Elegance, yet Clearness and Energy are essential. That accuracy and fullness which are best adapted to the expression of thought are inconsistent

rigid tension of forcible utterance in oratory. The orator with due care must present his thoughts clearly

« PreviousContinue »