Page images

and elegantly; yet strength must be seeured, even if the strokes be rough and sinewy.

Thus effectiveness, the law of language in discourse, requires language to be clear, energetic, or elegant, accordingly as the purpose is to instruct, to move the will, or to gratify the taste.

Clearness. Clearness, then, is that quality of language which adapts it to instruct or to communicate thought to the intellect, whether in prose, oratory, or poetry.

This quality is essential in prose. If mind could communicate directly with mind, the communication would be perfect, for nothing would be lost in the process. But language is necessarily an impediment. The receiving mind must not only think the speaker's or the writer's thought, but must, at the same time, interpret the medium through which the thought is transmitted. This divides the attention between the thought and the language, — the thought, which the author wishes the reader or hearer to attend to with all his energy that he may fully realize the content, and the language, which the writer or speaker uses only as a means of causing him to think the content. Since the receiving mind has only a given amount of energy, so far as the attention is required to the medium of communication it is withdrawn from the thought to be conveyed. Hence, the chief problem of language in discourse is to reduce to the minimum the effort of the mind in the interpretation of the medium. The medium must be so transparent that the interpreting mind will not be conscious of its presence, but will feel itself in immediate communication with the mind of the writer or speaker. While language necessarily requires some attention, it may be so perfect that the interpreter is unconscious of it; so far, at least, as not to have a double consciousness in gaining the thought. In learning a foreign language, the student at first is conscious only of language form, and does not read. Later, he begins to interpret the thought of discourse, but realizes feebly the content, being painfully conscious of the language medium. Finally, after many years of study, when the language has passed into identity with thought, the student reads with only a consciousness of the thought and spirit of the author. Not that language and thought are identical, but that the mind in seeing the language immediately grasps the thought without a second act of attention.

Effectiveness in communicating the thought has already been given as the fundamental law of language. The preceding prepares for the statement of the fundamental law of effectiveness in terms of the law of Clearness.

That language is most effective which, to the reader or hearer, is identical with the thought. Or, that language is most effective which requires the least possible amount of attention from the reader or hearer.

Whatever be the end sought, whether instruction, pleasure, or volition, Clearness must be found in every word and in every sentence of every prose discourse, poem, or oration; for if the author is not to be understood it were as well that he remain silent. Clearness

has been defined as that quality of expression by virtue of which it communicates the contained thought without diverting the attention from the thought to the symbol of thought. That language is clearest which requires the least attention in the process of its interpretation. A truly transparent medium through which reader and hearer meet without interruption, mind to mind with writer or speaker, is the standard of perspicuity in the expression of thought.

Clearness is not a quality that can belong to language as such; it becomes a quality only when organized by thought in adaptation to a stated purpose to be accomplished under given conditions. It is, therefore, a relative, not an absolute quality; a rhetorical rather than a grammatical quality. Language can be said to be clear or obscure only for those to whom it is addressed. Language must be as clear as the subjectmatter permits and as the capacity of those addressed requires. The same language will not be clear to the man and to the child, to the literate and to the illiterate. That the reader does not understand what he reads may not, however, be the fault of the expression; the difficulty may be in the thought itself. The expression may be clear to those to whom such thought is addressed. Assuming that the matter is adapted to the level of the experience of the given audience, the expression should be such as to enable that audience to realize without effort, so far as the expression is concerned, the matter presented.

Energy. Energy is that quality of style which impresses the matter of discourse.

Energy is an active, clearness a passive quality. So far as the medium is concerned, clearness permits the reader to gain the thought without effort. Clearness assumes an eager mind seeking the truth, -a mind already stored with the necessary stimulus for acquisition. Energy has for its purpose the stimulation of mental activity; either to impress the truth on the intellect when the purpose is to instruct, or to excite the sensibilities when the purpose is to please as an end, or when it is desired to affect an action of the will. Hence, the quality of style now to be considered is common to all classes of discourse. But while it is secondary in prose and poetry, it is a primary quality in oratory. Prose and poetry may assume a mind active in seeking the truth or the pleasure communicated; but in the oration, the hearer is not already choosing in the line proposed. This would remove the condition which gave rise to the oration; and this condition requires Energy as the primary quality of style.

That Energy is necessary in prose is obvious from the fact that a truth may be expressed clearly to the intellect, yet so feebly that it makes no lodgment in the mind addressed. Such a statement may often be infused with sufficient life and force to imbed the thought effectively. That is, the truth is not only expressed but impressed by the quality of the statement itself. When Lowell wishes not only to express but to impress the fact that a large number of authors begin their career with promise and even notoriety, but that only a few of this number have an enduring fame, he says: “Many a light, hailed by too careless observers as a fixed star, has proved to be only a short-lived lantern at the tail of a newspaper kite.” The same author, in speaking of the influence of Swift's humor on Carlyle, after it had filtered through Richter, says: “Unhappily, the bit of mother from Swift's vinegar barrel had strength to sour all the rest." These are not examples of clearness, for this could have been secured by ordinary language. They are not elegant, for they do not appeal to the taste. The purpose being to instruct, the secured energy is not to move the will. When Chaucer, in speaking of the Clerk's horse, says, “ As lene was his horse as is a rake,” he did not express the truth more clearly nor more elegantly than he might otherwise have done, but he forcibly impressed the image of that horse. When we are told that a certain pastor was so faithful that he watched over his flock while they slept, we receive the plain truth that he preached sleep-producing sermons with multiplied power and lasting effect. Fortunate is that writer who not only can express his truth clearly, but can impress it by the power of the statement in which it is expressed

When emotions are presented, either to the end of esthetic pleasure or to new resolution, they must be made to have their full power in the mind addressed. If pity is the theme, the object awakening it must be made to stir the heart to its depths with that emotion; when grief is to be experienced, the feeling must be made as intense as the purpose requires and the truth permits. With reference to the effective handling of

« PreviousContinue »