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abstract into the concrete is avoided; just as in the * preceding case the labor is avoided of transforming the general idea into the individuals of which it is composed. Spencer says, we should avoid such sentences as this:
“In proportion as the manners, customs, and amusements of a nation are cruel and barbarous, the regulations of their penal code will be severe.”
· And in place of it we should write:
“ In proportion as men delight in battles, bull-fights, and combats of gladiators, will they punish by hanging, burning, and the rack.”
The second sentence loses nothing of the abstract
of the recipient's effort to realize the abstract thought presented. How much does Emerson gain for the reader in ease of interpretation in these concrete statements of abstract truths:
“Wealth has its source in the rudest strokes of spade and axe.” — “Coal makes Canada as warm as Calcutta.” — “Will man content himself with a hut and a handful of dried peas?” – “No matter whether he makes shoes or statues or laws.” — “A dollar in a university is worth more than a dollar in a jail.” — “ His bones ache with the day's labor he has earned.”
Such expression gives the composer, also, an opportunity to present a strong and impressive idea instead of a weak one; and thus concrete expression is more forcible, not only because it reserves the energy of the mind for the idea conveyed, but because it stimulates the mind to activity in appropriating the idea. In
this way, too, the mind may be kept moving through pleasing, as well as stimulating, imagery; as when Tennyson says :
“ Were this not well, to bide mine hour,
Tho' watching from a ruined tower
How grows the day of human power.” Certainly the picture of the tower stimulates and delights the mind in the process of interpretation. The highest effect in the beauty of style cannot be secured except there be free use of fresh and glowing imagery. The literary writer dare not speak in abstract terms. The incidental imagery in discourse may be so rich and varied as to become an end in itself, and thus largely, if not wholly, justify the discourse without relation to the theme presented. Just as the music of language may be its own excuse for being, without considering the sense of the selection, as in the case of Poe's “Bells,” so concrete expression may rise through charming imagery into more than mere economy of interpretation, and become an esthetic object in itself.
But for whatever purpose, a style rich in imagery is a means to effective utterance. The more fully the writer can put his abstract thought in imagery, the more effective will be his presentation. The chief difference between speakers in addressing popular audiences lies chiefly in their power to throw their thought into pleasing and expressive imagery. On one side this is a necessity, for most minds think in the sensuous forms of the imagination. But the point here to be emphasized is the stimulation of the faculties by means of pleasing sensuous forms,
There is still another element of efficiency in concrete language. The imagination delights in its own free activity, and this is stimulated by suggestive imagery. The beautiful part of the painting is not the part directly seen, but the part beyond the jutting headland or far down the dim vista. The picture is most pleasing which gives only hints, leaving the imagination the pleasure of its own free activity. The pattern of carpet or wall paper that constrains the mind to definite figures soon wearies the observer; it permits no freedom. Whether a reader return again and again to a selection with increased delight, is not so much determined by what is strictly given as by what is indirectly suggested. The permanence of a piece of literature depends largely upon its power of suggestion to the imagination.
Precision. — A word usually expresses several ideas. The one intended to be expressed in any given case must be ascertained through inference by the judgment, based on the relation to accompanying ideas. The word compass standing alone may express equally well any one of a dozen ideas; but standing in discourse, it is limited to one of this number; and the judgment must, by the accompanying words, infer which idea the author intends to express. When the writer uses a word which expresses an idea that does not harmonize with the context, the judgment must perform unnecessary labor in selecting the true idea, and also in organizing the thought as a whole. There is no way to avoid the constant activity of the judgment in realizing the idea expressed by a word in discourse; yet care must be taken to avoid unnecessary labor, by selecting the exact word for the idea in the mind of the writer. Thé quality of the word which economizes the judgment is called Precision.
Precision — literally to cut off — is that quality of a word by which it expresses “no more, no less, and no other” than the idea which the writer intended to convey. It is a synonym for exactness — the exact fit of the word to the idea. If the word does not express accurately the idea intended, the recipient must labor to gain that idea. If it should be said, “ Virtue alone makes us happy,” meaning that nothing else can do it, we should miss the meaning of the writer or waste effort to find it. Or, if it should be said, “ Virtue only makes us happy,” meaning that virtue by itself is sufficient to do so, the idea would be falsely conveyed. If the host should say to his guest, “Do not be in a hurry to depart,” the guest should think that he was requested not to be excited to leave so quickly, when perhaps it was only intended to request him not to leave so soon -- not to hasten.. In this case too much is expressed, and the judgment, taking into account the circumstances, makes the correction, but this costs effort. The term hasten would express too little, if it was intended to express not only rapid movement, but, with it, a disturbed state of mind causing abrupt and irregular movement. Sometimes the writer, by confounding two words which resemble in form, commits the awkward blunder of missing the idea entirely; as, when the writer closes his letter with, “ Yours respectively." The connection in which the word is used will generally prevent a misconception; but to require a reader to make out the correct meaning for himself is to impose on him labor that belongs to the writer.
Precision is secured by using words in their proper sense, or with propriety. Whatever the derivation or history of words, they must be used with their current meaning — with the exact meaning stamped upon them by the masters of expression. While in general a knowledge of the derivation and history of a word is essential to its intelligent and accurate use, yet because of the capricious changes in the language, the present application of a large number of words seems to have no connection with their radical meaning. Often two words from the same root and having nearly the same sound have widely different meanings; as, respectively and respectfully. At one time it would have been a compliment to have spoken of a “painful sermon." A clerk is no longer a clergyman. We build a house rather than edify it.
This divergence in meaning of words from the same radical often leads to the expression of a different idea from the one intended. If one should speak of the observation of the Fourth of July — confounding the word with observance — the hearer would be puzzled as to the method of the performance. Yet the words are radically so near alike that we can say, The man observes the landscape, or, the Fourth of July. The words falseness and falsehood are both derived from the word false, yet falseness can be applied only to persons, while falsehood is affirmed of statements. Words having the same radical signification are called Paro