« PreviousContinue »
process of producing an effect on some mind addressed, and its organization varies in obedience to the different effects to be produced, and the circumstances and conditions under which the effect is to be produced. To give instruction, the battle of Gettysburg should be organized in one way ; to arouse poetic emotions, it must be organized differently, and still differently to move the will. And each of these must be changed in a marked degree in adapting from a lower to a higher phase of mental development. A still further modification is required when the end is sought under the limitations of some particular time, or place, or peculiar circumstances, or to minds, of special experience. An address to citizens would not be adapted to the soldiers who were engaged in the battle, and what would be suitable for the Southern soldier would not be suitable for the Northern soldier. The poet and the astronomer do not present the same facts about the sun, the moon, and the stars. A didactic discourse on religion or ethics requires the selection of quite different phases and elements from that required in arousing people to religious and ethical conduct. The poet dare not give the mathematical position, form, and size of a landscape, but the surveyor must do so. To use the rainbow as a subject of instruction would require its analysis into the laws of light, but to awaken esthetic feelings the attention must be directed to other aspects, and if it is used to guide conduct in some specific way, still other views must be taken. Lowell, in saying of the dandelion :
“ Dear common flower that grow'st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,”
does not select the same points that are given in the botany. The instructor in zoology would not say of the bird singing that he
... "lets his illumined being o'errun
Thus always the subject considered must be plastic to the purpose. Thought in discourse is peculiar in being considered, not in itself, as in logic, but as a means to an end, and is, therefore, organized, not only by its own laws, but also by the laws of the mind in which the effect is to be produced. From the side of mind we have already deduced the fundamental law of discourse as that of Purpose, and we are now brought to the highest law from the side of thought ; namely, that of Unity of process to the end sought. If instruction is to be given, the ideas must coöperate to that end ; if the will is to be moved, all the feelings aroused must prompt in that direction ; if the esthetic feelings are to be stimulated, there must be no discordant note. The thought must have unity in moving the mind to the end sought. Such is the supreme requirement which the purpose makes upon the thought.
In every discourse there must be one idea which sums up the whole, and within which all the parts are organized. Whether a discourse is a single sentence, a paragraph, or an entire book, there must be one all-inclusive
thought. The Declaration of Independence is a complex document, but it is designed to express a single truth, — the right of the American Colonies to freedom. Many things are said in “ Little Lord Fauntleroy,” but they are all included in the idea that kindness begets kindness. All the diversity of imagery and sentiment in the “ Vision of Sir Launfal” have their unity in the feeling of true charity. No matter how elaborate the exposition, if it have organic unity, it must revolve about, or within, a single idea. Hence the theme is the total significance of the discourse.
the first requirement of the composer or the interpreter. Reading or hearing a discourse is largely the art of grasping into unity the various elements and phases of thought as they are presented ; as the art of composition consists chiefly in giving wealth and diversity of life to some theme constantly kept in unity. Hence the very great value, in reading and literary work, of being required to state the one idea for which the given discourse stands. For practical purposes discourse has been quite thoroughly read when the reader can state its theme ; not its title, for this is quite generally not its theme, and perhaps always too indefinite to answer the requirement of interpretation. The required definiteness will be given to the theme by stating it in the form of a proposition, — by answering the question, What one thing can be affirmed by the reading of this selection? Or, if a composer, What one thing do I wish to affirm by writing on this theme?
It will be observed that the composer and the interpreter move in reverse order in relation to the elements of the theme. The interpreter seizes the elements and features first, and progressively unifies them into the theme. The composer first grasps the theme, and then proceeds to analyze it into its elements, after which the elements are given the organic unity of the whole. The critic will take one step beyond the ordinary reader ; for, after ascertaining the theme from the elements, he will reconstruct the discourse from the standpoint of the author from the theme to its elements. But the first, and for general purposes the last, movement in reading is the construction of the theme out of the elements presented. Hence, to interpret with efficiency one must keep the imagination and the judgment intently active relating into one idea all the others. The difference between readers is great ; and it lies chiefly in the power of organizing details into unity. One tries to hold everything, and remembers nothing ; while another organizes the elements into unity as he proceeds, and reaches with certainty the one thought which holds for him all the others.
As no habit of reading is so valuable as that of resting the attention on the main issue as it unfolds itself in the process of interpretation, so nothing steadies the nerve of the writer through the complicated details of his subject-matter like a firm grip on the organic unity of his theme. After the inspiration of a worthy purpose, a firm grasp of the theme is next of prime importance. In fact there is little distinction
between them ; for seizing a theme firmly and vividly is itself an inspiration to utterance. One cannot wield a subject till it becomes a part of his life, and is reënforced by his whole life. At this point the subject is transmuted into motive to utterance. Therefore when a composer chooses a theme by which to accomplish a certain end, his first concern is to so bring the theme into his life that it becomes the impelling force in speech. No merely external posting up on a subject will meet the requirement ; the speaker or writer must be able to give original construction to the theme by the initiative force of his own life. Unless the theme be thoroughly possessed it cannot be wielded with precision and force to the end proposed ; it cannot be adapted and given organic unity under a dominant purpose. One staggering under the weight of his theme cannot move nimbly to varying ends, nor adjust the matter delicately to varying conditions. The theme will burden him, and constrain him to the same movement under all circumstances. Thus burdened he cannot move with that masterly progress through the subject, and with that harmony and proportion of treatment which gives symmetry and organic beauty to the whole.
Here again it appears that the primary condition of effective speech is the man himself ; for the theme on which he discourses must have been fully assimilated to his own life — must be his life. Unity in discourse cannot be secured by patching things together in a mechanical and external way ; it must arise from a unitary life impulse which orders and organizes every