« PreviousContinue »
never dreamed of before. So attention seems to concentrate the rays of perceptive power, revealing thereby that which was previously unperceived. In its relation to perception, attention may be called a mental microscope.
“ To Memory. — Attention gives power to the memory. It gives clearness of conception, which is a condition of remembering. That which the mind has clearly apprehended, which it has carefully discriminated from other things, takes firm hold of, and thus retains it in its mental grasp. Continuous attention also enables us to fix the idea, to give permanence to the impression. It acts like a kind of die which stamps the picture upon the tablet of memory. Without it, the greater part of what we hear or see would fade from the mind, as a shadow fits across the summer landscape.”
Besides the sins of commission against brevity, in the form of Tautology, Redundancy, and Circumlocution, there are the sins of omission, in which the composer fails to use all legitimate means of condensation. These means are various, some of which are as follows:
Often what is expressed by a compound sentence may be more compactly put in a complex or a simple one; thus : White garments are cool in summer, because they reflect the rays of the sun, — White garments, which reflect the rays of the sun, are cool in summer, — White garments, reflecting the rays of the sun, are cool in summer.
The omission of an essential part of the sentence, when it can be readily supplied, is an effective means for securing brevity; as, the omission of a subject, verb, object of a verb, conjunction, or other parts more readily supplied than interpreted. Thus: Mirth should be the embroidery of conversation, but it should not be
the web of it, — Mirth should be the embroidery of conversation, but it should not be the web, — Mirth should be the embroidery of conversation, but not the web, — Mirth should be the embroidery of conversation; not the web. The copula, preceding a series of details, is omitted with good effect; as, A beautiful flower is the lily — sweet, graceful, and delicate.
A word may often be substituted for a phrase; thus: His writing is such that it cannot be read, — illegible. Participles are frequently used for brief equivalents of phrases and clauses.
In many such ways the writer may condense his expression to the least compass of the thought. Yet clearness must be the first consideration. The composer should not risk obscurity for brevity. The exact nature of the thought and the knowledge and capacity of the mind addressed must determine each case; and if there be error, let it favor clearness.
What has been said touching the qualities of the sentence which burdens the memory and tries the judgment with useless material applies to the discourse as a whole. As the sentence must contain the fewest words consistent with clearness, so the discourse as a whole should contain the fewest sentences consistent with the purpose of the discourse.
The positive offense at this point is Prolixity.
Prolixity is the enumeration of unimportant things, or things which the reader, from his general knowledge, would readily supply from the context. Prolixity gives to incidental and subordinate parts the prominence of essential ones. It is avoided by holding the attention to the leading idea ; by presenting suggestive characteristics and leaving the imagination to supply such minutia as it may need. “A prolix writer delights in circumlocution, extended detail, and trifling particulars.” A concise writer suggests much in saying little. No fault is more directly opposed to the law of economy than is prolixity. The mind often anticipates in a moment all that a writer narrates in pages; and then an effort of the will is required to hold the mind in readiness for the needed thought, which may happen along by and by. Examples of this fault are too lengthy for quotation. They are abundantly illustrated by the conversational bores, who vex, tire, and perplex by endless talk of irrelevant minutia, and personal details which they assume are as interesting to others as to themselves. Literary bores are less numerous and more polite, for they do not hold one fast to listen whether he will. Yet the pleasure of reading such an author, even such as Dickens, would be greatly increased if he were less prolix.
Not only must the mind not be burdened with useless material, but too much material must not be given it for a single organizing act. This makes it necessary to consider
The Proper Length of the Sentence. — As shown in the preceding, the memory may be required to carry both unnecessary words and unnecessary ideas. Of essential ideas, it may be required to carry more, or to carry them longer than is possible without conscious effort. This puts a limit to the length of the sentence. A sentence may be long without being ver
bose. Instead of breaking the truth up into several distinct statements, each expanding and correcting what is said in the first, the whole may be given in one long, involved, complex sentence. The one long sentence may be shorter than all the short ones out of which it is made. There is a gain to the memory up to the point of conscious effort in carrying the parts. The greater the amount carried at once, the better, so long as the effort to lift the burden is less than that required in repeating the carrying act. While the short sentence is always less burdensome in itself than the long one, the long sentence is always more economical than the several short ones out of which it is made, provided the effort to carry the parts is less than the effort through the repetition required in short sentences. Were it always known how many ideas could be carried without conscious effort, the length of the sentence might be absolutely determined. No rule can be given for drawing this line. While it may be said absolutely that no tautological word should be used, the principle controlling the length of the sentence must be applied to test anew each case. Some long sentences, owing to their arrangement, are less taxing to the attention than others. The culture of the mind addressed is a determining factor as to the length of the sentence. The trained mind can hold a great many qualifying circumstances without the necessity of depositing them in the principal idea. For the immature, the truth must be presented in short, simple sentences, item by item. The long sentence presents the thought as a whole better than several short ones, and, therefore, requires less effort on the part of the imagination and judgment to organize the material given. It thus appears that as much as possible should be expressed in the single sentence, the limit being the point at which the burden to the memory exceeds the gain to it and to the other faculties.
The requirements of the subject itself has much to do with the length of the sentence. Phelps says :“You cannot express the rising and the expanding and the sweep and the circling of eloquent thought, borne up on eloquent feeling, in a style resembling that which seamen call “a chopping sea.' For such thinking, you must have at command a style of which an oceanic ground-swell or the Gothic interweaving of forest trees is the more becoming symbol. You must have long sentences, involved sentences, magnificent sentences, euphonious sentences, sentences which invite a rotund and lofty delivery. This diction is often censured by critics as 'fine writing. But you must have such a style for the most exact utterance of certain elevated and impassioned thought.”
The error is usually on the side of long sentences; sometimes by making complex, involved sentences, and sometimes by connecting a series of sentences by
to use periods. A. S. Hill says: “Even when the distinction between a long and a short sentence consists chiefly in punctuation, the mere substitution of colons or semicolons for periods makes a world of dif