Page images
PDF
EPUB

Clad in doublet and hose, and boots of Cordovan leather, Strode, with a martial air, Miles Standish, the Puritan Captain.”

Sentences in which the organizing idea is suspended till the close are called Periodic sentences; those in which the sense and the grammatical structure are complete before the close — the organizing idea given before the close — are called Loose sentences. The periodic sentence favors the imagination, but the loose sentence is required to bring relief to the memory. The economy of memory requires that each idea be placed as near as possible to the one to which it belongs. This order is the subject followed by its modifiers, and then the predicate followed by its modifiers. On the whole, this is not the most economical arrangement. Subject and predicate should stand in the midst of their modifiers. What is called the natural order, the order that has grown up under the instinct of the mind for ease of interpretation, is the best guide to arrangement; at least so far as the memory is concerned. And this is subject, copula, predicate, with the modifiers grouped closely about each.

But the claims of the imagination must be more distinctly recognized. We have seen that the imagination pictures the single ideas in the process of word interpretation. It, with the judgment, also combines the separate ideas into a single picture or conception. To secure ease in the formation of the picture out of the separate elements, these elements must be supplied in the order in which the imagination most readily and correctly combines them into the new product.

In the interpretation of the sentence, A few dilapidated old buildings still stand in the deserted village,” the imagination constructs one picture out of the objects and attributes named. The process would have been different had the sentence been arranged thus: In the deserted village, still stand a few dilapidated old buildings. Or thus: Buildings, a few, old, and dilapidated, still stand in the deserted village. In the second, all the attributes which characterize the object to be pictured are presented before the object, buildings; in the third, the concrete object is firsť presented, and then the attributes added, one by one. The second being the reverse of the third, the law of the imagination in the process of the interpretation will be determined by ascertaining which of the two requires the least effort in the picture-constructing process.

As shown in Herbert Spencer's “ Philosophy of Style,” the third has decidedly the preference. While the law of memory requires the organizing idea to be presented first, the law of the imagination requires it to be presented last. When the concrete image is given at the outset, as in the last sentence, a complete and, most certainly, an incorrect image is formed; and when the succeeding elements are named, the imagination must reform the picture by removing the incorrect attributes and adding the correct ones. The first impression is apt to persist in the mind to the exclusion of the correct one. Thus we frequently carry away from a conversation what we imagine a person said for what he really did say. In the last sentence, when buildings are expressed, the imagination makes a complete picture of them, anticipating their number, condition, color, position, and surroundings. But as the sentence continues, it first limits the number to “a few," requiring any previous conception of number to be changed and a new one to be substituted. The few buildings now in mind may be new; and this attribute must be removed and the picture changed to include the old. And so on, at each successive step. But in the second sentence, in which all the abstract elements are first presented, i.e., the attributes named, without any subject to which they may be attached, the imagination brings them all at once to the concrete image of buildings; again illustrating how labor is imposed on the memory, and how it is compensated by the gain to the imagination.

The requirements of the memory and the imagination are antagonistic; and the two forms of the sentence, the loose and the periodic, growing out of the . requirements of each, stand in reverse relation to these faculties. One of these forms cannot be said to be better than the other. The tension between them gives rise to an intermediate form, a compromise, which is better than either, as in the first sentence. Each form has its advantage and its disadvantage. The loose sentence rests the mind, the sense and the grammatical structure being complete at the points before the close is reached. But this is a double source of error: (1) the mind may be satisfied with the partial truth and withdraw attention before all the modifying circumstances correct and amplify what precedes them; (2) the habit of the imagination to fill out the picture when

a concrete object is named and of anticipating what the writer is to say makes necessary a series of corrections. The periodic sentence, in bringing the mind directly to the correct conception, relieves the imagination from the necessity of readjusting its work. It also prevents error in another way. In the very nature of the case the attention is compelled to the close, and no error can arise by the omission of qualifying circumstances. With all of this, it imposes a burden on the carrying power of the mind, and requires a higher tension of activity, which soon exhausts the energies of the mind to such a degree that the thought will be entirely lost. What is called the natural order of the sentence is a compromise between the periodic and the loose sentence, with the difference in favor of the loose. Both the natural and the loose sentence require this order: subject, copula, and predicate, and certain modifiers, as the explanatory, the objective, and phrase, and clause modifiers to follow the part modified; while adjective and possessive modifiers, and in most cases the adverb, precede the part modified. The natural order should not, however, be considered as opposed to the periodic order. For some moods of mind, the periodic, or what is often called the inverted order, is the only form natural. The habitual use of either form in a single discourse characterizes the style of the whole as natural or inverted— loose or periodic. Spencer suggests that, “A more appropriate title would be the direct style, as contrasted with the other, or indirect style; the peculiarity of the one being, that it conveys each thought into the mind step by step, with little

liability to err; and of the other, that it gets the right thought conceived by a series of approximations."

Since one style is economy to one faculty and a burden to the other, and since the other style reverses the economy and the burden, an intermediate sentence, which combines as far as possible the merits of the others, is preferable.

Let the following sentences be arranged in the different ways and the relative ease of interpretation tested:

1. “ The live thunder leaps far along from peak to peak, among the rattling crags."

2. “ And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."

3. “ At last, after no small difficulty, and after much fatigue, we came, through deep roads and bad weather, to our journey's end."

4. “ Endowed with a rare purity of intellect, a classic beauty of expression, a yearning tenderness toward all God's creatures, no poet appeals more tenderly than Shelley to our love for the beautiful, to our respect for our fellow men, to our heartfelt charity for human weakness.”

5. “No nobler feeling than this of admiration for one higher than himself dwells in the breast of man." '

6. “ As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards you."

7.

“ At Attri in'Abruzzo, a small town

Of ancient Roman date, but scant renown, —
One of those little places that have run
Halfway up the hill, beneath the blazing sun,

« PreviousContinue »