Page images

thing to a supreme end. This principle is well illustrated in the practice of writing books. For instance, one decides to write a grammar, and not having mastered language by an intimate experience with it through its prolonged use and study, places before him the grammars already written ; and by a careful reading and comparison rewords the matter in new phrases and outlines. This is the best he can do, if his wealth of experience with the language itself does not move him to construct from an inward resource. In one case there is mechanism ; in the other, organic life. One may easily write a history of the United States by averaging and paraphrasing many texts on that subject ; but to produce a living history the United States must have so found its way into the writer that he can construct originally. None but an original work can be well written, — not one that announces truth before undiscovered, for in this sense originality is a vain striving ; but one written by the self-assertive thought of the writer, — one actively and not passively determined. Everything is original to the man who makes it his own, — to the one who can originate it and reproduce it. Originality in this sense conditions all effective writing. When the theme so takes possession of the writer as to speak through him as its mouthpiece something will be said clearly and forcibly to the purpose.

This firm holding of the theme by the composer requires first that the theme be definitely bounded. To this end it should be stated in as many definite ways as possible, and the boundary lines between it and all adjacent territory of thought should be pre

“ fingers of the mind” must be placed well and firmly around it, as a condition to wielding it to any definite end. After the theme as a whole has been grasped it must be inwardly explored and all its phases, and its elements selected out and organized into the theme as a whole. Whatever wealth of life there is in the theme must be taken possession of by the composer. The law of unity implies variety ; there can be no unity without difference, and the greater the variety the richer the unity, so long as unity is maintained. The more complex any work of man, so long as the complexity is in obvious unity, the greater the power of art displayed. One of the greatest feats of composition is shown by Shakespeare's dramas, which display great profusion of life in unity. Many scenes move abreast without confusion, and in a way to sweep the diapason of human life. A great volume of life is gradually wrought up to the most intense climax, and then as gradually relieved in the peace and joy that follow the storm cloud. The chief labor of the composer is to give distinct feature and wealth of variety to the object of his discussion. The greater the diversity held in unity in an organism the higher the life of that organism. The egg passes into the diversity of the chick, and thus assumes greater unity and life force ; and so must a theme, by the mind's brooding on it, grow into diversity and higher unity, and thus become a living and active force in the world of speech. Every composer will recall the fact that the greatest stress under which he labors is that of giving organic life to his subject ; and the striking weakness of compositions such as those prepared for high-school graduating exercises, is the lack of varied and conspicuous features given to the theme treated. Bare mathematical unity may be maintained ; it may be a unit without variety, — a globe without air, land, or water, without valley, plateau, or mountain, without lake, river, or waterfall, — a monotonous surface, without height or depth, day or night, winter or summer. Thus while emphasizing the unity of the theme, there is implied a wealth of diversity in the unity, and that the greater the diversity the stronger the unity. In fact the law might well be stated as diversity in unity.

While emphasizing wealth of diversity, the law does not require all the elements of the theme to be presented ; but only those necessary to the purpose under the circumstances. All elements which do not further the purpose must be strictly rejected ; but every element which will further the purpose must be included. To whatever end the subject may be presented, many elements and phases of the subject have to be rejected ; and the composer must often practice self-denial in withholding what he finds interesting to himself, yet irrelevant to his purpose. He may desire to give his theme unity and completeness in itself, but he must yield to the unity of the theme in relation to the proposed end.

But while unity does not require all the attributes of the theme, yet care must be taken to emphasize

the all which are necessary to produce the desired effect. Again, the necessity for the complete mastery of the theme appears. The composer has ample resources only through knowing all the possibilities of the theme. He cannot make the theme go for all it is worth to the auditor without knowing the wealth of thought which it contains. He must be able to dwell on it with cumulative power till the end is realized ; and this he cannot do without an all-sided view, and without having explored its inner constitution. The cumulative force in his movement is by the wealth of material which he is able to present. The composer is most conscious of the effort to expand and amplify. His greatest strain is that of pushing out his theme here and there in its varied and distinct features till it takes possession of the mind addressed. The mind must have time to grow into a new state. It is a great art to be able to hold the theme close to the mind long enough for its full reaction upon the theme, even though old elements have to be repeated ; yet in this case they would assume new aspects and relations. The time factor is most easily secured when the speaker or writer has a wealth of views and materials provided. The unity requires the action of the theme on the mind in ways varied and continuous till the mind grows into the state desired. Shakespeare, in bringing his audience up to the climax, illustrates this principle admirably. His wealth of invention enables him to hold the auditor in one movement for a great length of time. But care is needed, in seeking to gain time, to keep up a feeling of progress. The purpose is defeated as soon as there is a feeling of delay. The auditor must feel that the thought is being developed as rapidly as possible ; and the only way to secure this feeling and gain the necessary time is to have the mind of the author in rich and varied touch with the subject being considered.

But the effective movement to a mental change by means of a theme does not depend wholly on the selection and number of phases and elements of the theme, but finally on the method of their presentation.

In discourse the elements are seldom, if ever, presented in the order in which they logically cohere; but in the order in which they can most easily be appropriated by the recipient. The discourse order is the chronological rather than the logical order; the point needed by the mind first is not necessarily of first importance to the subject. To instruct children in the Civil War would require first its picture and moving panorama of events; but these logically follow the cause and the moving spirit of the war. The child must begin with the objective and picturable aspects; and it may be that these are all he can receive at the time. The different grades of ability addressed require different arrangements of subject-matter. Popular, scientific, and philosophic discourse employ different methods of presenting the same subject matter. And the elements arranged for the purpose of instruction are not properly arranged for volitional or emotional ends. The orator does not use materials in the same order as does the poet; and when audiences and circumstances vary the arrangement varies with them.

« PreviousContinue »