Page images
PDF
EPUB

fore time, answering the questions when and how long, is one of the fundamental thought relations in narration. Time is necessary not only to explain the relation of each event to every other in a series, but also to explain the entire change with reference to other events. An event in history may be accounted for by its relation in time to preceding or succeeding events. In fact, it cannot be explained without this relation. The relations of preceding, succeeding, and during, one or all, are absolutely essential to the explanation of an event.

Cause and Effect. — The changes in objects are produced by causes ; and the changes themselves produce effects. Every conception of a change involves the idea of cause and effect. To think the manufacture of a lead pencil, the growth of a tree, the development of character, or the progress of civil liberty, requires, as an element in the conception, the forces operative in each case to produce the changes, and also the results produced. Therefore the ideas of cause and effect must be employed in the narration of an object.

change involves a comparison and contrast of the object with itself at a preceding or a succeeding moment. This relation is not only essential to the conception of a change, but it is used, as in description, to facilitate the thought processes under all the other relations. Well-known events may be used to explain events under discussion. This not only shortens the narrative process, but it deepens the impression. For this reason two events equally well known may be compared and contrasted with great advantage. Changes may be compared under all the foregoing relations — purpose, time, cause, and effect ; and also the parts. Which relation shall be selected to be thus presented is determined by the purpose of the narration as a whole. Whether two battles be compared as to purpose, time, cause, effect, or parts, is determined when it is decided whether the purpose is to instruct, — and what the grade of instruction, whether to excite the emotions, or to stimulate to action. The law of purpose and unity requires such relations to be chosen in the comparison and contrast as will best accomplish the end sought in the narration.

The second step in narration is that of presenting

THE CHANGE IN ITS PARTS.

The parts in narration are the changes which constitute the change as a whole. They fill out the time whole, as the parts in space fill out the space whole in description. This is the most prominent relation in narration. Changes thrust themselves on the attention. They may be seen and heard, in most cases, while the other relations reveal themselves only to thought. It is easy to picture the panorama of events in a battle ; but the causes, results, and purposes can be ascertained only by reflection.

It is more difficult to obey the law of unity in partitive narration than in partitive description, from the fact that time is a continuous quantity, while a space object is discrete. Hence, the divisions in time are more or less arbitrary, while in space objects nature makes the divisions. The shifting of a dividing line in time one hundred years in history will often do no violence to the purpose of the narration. Because there are no distinct separations in time, which the mind requires for convenience in thinking, an artificial system is adopted ; and the divisions of time by the calendar, satisfying in the sharpness of its boundaries, stand ready made to cut events into parts of definite and convenient length. But whether this arbitrary exactness or some inner moving principle be adopted as the basis, will be determined by the purpose of the narration. If the history of England be narrated to show the course of civil freedom, the law of purpose would be violated in choosing the reigns of kings as the basis of separation. This is a proper basis if, instead of their inner life, the external phase of the movement is desired. For common purposes of narration, the external separation of events by some accidental accompaniment, as the above, is desirable and proper; but for the highest purpose, those phases which mark the progress of the moving principle in the realization of itself must be chosen as the basis. In such a movement there are no definite boundaries, and to make the arbitrary distinction of date or king control the presentation is to do violence to the purpose. The picturesque phases of things may well mark the divisions of a child's history ; but in tracing for the mature the movement towards spiritual freedom, the division must be made on the basis of the relation of occurrences to that end.

Not only is the law of unity difficult to obey because the parts are vaguely and indefinitely marked, - because all are as unfixed and restless as the waves of the sea, — but because the changes are infinitely complex ; and yet all must be seen as organic parts of one complex whole. When there is but a single line of events in the movement the law of unity presents but little difficulty. The difficulty arises when there is a complex series of events to be exhibited in their interrelations, — “when concurring streams of events have to be exhibited as contemporaneous in order to show their actual relations.” In carrying up each line to unite it into the general movement, some events will necessarily be named after those before which they occurred. In the Revolutionary War, a series of events were happening in the South parallel with another series in the North ; and both were parts of the same movement. Both series cannot be narrated at once ; yet that they are parallel must ever be kept before the mind, together with the purpose and cause-and-effect relations of each to the other. Especially difficult is the narration of a conflict. The narrator must be careful not to shift carelessly from one party to the other. The movement is in neither party, but in the conflict between the two. To stand above this conflict and hold steadily the attention on both parties at the same time in the movement is the requirement of unity. To this end the narrator may have to locate the attention in one party, as in the aggressive one, and hold it there while drawing the other party into the movement. If the attention needs to be shifted, it must be done so that the reader or hearer will be aware of the change.

The law of unity further requires that the changes in the theme be presented in the order of their occurrence — in the chronological order. Sometimes it may be desirable to violate the actual order of events. Irving introduces the reader to the funeral of the “ Pride of the Village," and then narrates her life. Thus also in “The Widow and Her Son.” This method serves as a kind of introduction to enlist the reader's interest in what is to follow. But in such cases the writer really follows a chronological order ; for he presents the events in the order of learning them.

It is a common fault, especially in ex tempore narration, to reverse the order of events, even when there is only a single line ; thus making it necessary to correct by retracing. The movement should be constantly forward ; otherwise the mind of the interpreter is kept on a strain readjusting the parts. But when there is a large complex whole, with lines running parallel, yet related to each other, to obey the law of unity requires a conscious effort on the part of the writer. If language permitted all the lines to be carried along together, there would be no more difficulty than there is in narrating a single line of events. But this cannot be done, and the only question is, How far shall each be followed up before another is

« PreviousContinue »