« PreviousContinue »
sentences fatigue the eye and the mind; short sentences distract them. The skillful writer alternates the two, using the former for the most part to explain, the latter to enforce his views.” Certain habits of thought give the mind a tendency toward long or short sentences. It is natural for some to express themselves in short, simple statements, while others unconsciously pack the sentence with all the incidental ideas which accompany the leading thought; others, without having distinct thought, as in the case of children, run statements together by short pauses and conjunctions. Nations, too, have their characteristic type of sentence. The French use short, simple sentences; the Germans, long, involved, complex ones; the English, being a mixture of Norman-French and German, naturally prefer sentences of intermediate length, with a tendency, however, to the German type. De Quincey, comparing the English sentence with the French and German, says :
“In French authors, whatever may otherwise be the differences of their minds or the differences of their themes, uniformly we find the periods short, rapid, unelaborate. One rise in every sentence, one gentle descent — that is the law for French composition, even too monotonously so ; and thus it happens that such a thing as å long, involved sentence could not be produced from French literature, though a Sultan were to offer his daughter in marriage to the man who should find it.
“The character of German prose is an object of legitimate astonishment. Whatever is bad in our own
ideal of prose style, whatever is most repulsive in our own practice, we see there carried to the most outrageous excess. Lessing, Herder, Richter, and Lichtenberg, with some few beside, either prompted by nature or trained upon foreign models, have avoided the besetting sin of German prose. Among ten thousand offenders we would single out Immanuel Kant. A sentence is viewed by him, and by most of his countrymen, as a rude mould or elastic form admitting of expansion, to any possible extent; it is laid down as a rude outline, and then, by superstruction and episuperstruction, it is gradually reared to a giddy altitude which no eye can follow. Yielding to his natural impulse of subjoining all additions or exceptions or modifications, not in the shape of separate consecutive sentences, but as intercalations and stuffings of one original sentence, Kant might naturally enough have written a book from beginning to end in one vast hyperbolical sentence.”
The demand which the truth makes upon the sentence cannot always be reconciled with the law of the economy of memory. On this point D. J. Hill remarks: “The most frequently recurring and perplexing problem of style is to adjust the equilibrium between these two forces, the contracting and the expanding. Condensing the sentence too much, we violate truth by omitting details and ignoring limitations. Expanding too much, we render the interpretation of the sentence impossible by forcing upon the mind more labor than it can perform. A reader may, indeed, recur to the beginning, if he be conscious of failing to grasp the thought fully,
while a hearer has not this privilege. On this account the expansion of sentences is more allowable when they are written than when they are spoken; but readers generally are not willing to read a sentence more than
To impress the nature of this error, let the following long sentences be broken into shorter ones, and the greater ease of interpretation be observed :
“ Although they were all known as Saxons by the Roman people who touched them only on their southern border where the Saxons dwelt, and who remained ignorant of the very existence of the English or the Jutes, the three tribes bore among themselves the name of the central tribe of their league, the name of Englishmen."
“ Each little farmer commonwealth was girt in by its own border or 'mark,' a belt of forest or waste of fen which parted it from its fellow-villages, a ring of common ground which none of its settlers might take for his own, but which served as a death ground where criminals met their doom, and was held to be the special dwellingplace of the nixie and the will-o'-the-wisp."
“ They found, in fact, a crushing answer in the • Ecclesiastical Polity' of Richard Hooker, a clergyman who had been Master of the Temple, but whose taste for the controversies of its pulpit drove him from London to a Wiltshire vicarage at Boscombe, which he exchanged at a later time for the parsonage of Bishopsbourne, among the quiet meadows of Kent.”
“ They sent Tallien to seek out a boy lieutenant, Napoleon Bonaparte, the shadow of an officer, so thin and pallid that, when he was placed on the stand before them, the President of the Assembly, fearful, if the fate of France rested on the shrunken form, the ashy cheek before him, that all hope was gone, asked: • Young man, can you protect the Assembly?'”.
Having rejected all useless material, and having given the mind only the number of ideas which it can easily
organize in a single act, the next concern of the composer is with the placing of the elements so that they may the most easily and effectively be organized into a whole.
The Proper Arrangement of the Sentence. — That is, as determined by the respective claims of the memory and imagination. The idea expressed by the principal part of the subject, is the organizing idea of all the others expressed in that subject, while the idea expressed by the whole subject is the organizing idea of the predicate. All ideas in the predicate are organized into the principal one, and the completed idea of the predicate is organized into the completed idea of the subject. As the result of the interpreting process, one conception is formed. The memory must hold each subordinate idea until a principal idea is reached. The question here is, In what order should the constituent ideas of the subject, including the predicate, be presented so that the memory will have the least possible labor to perform ? The memory must bear each attribute and object until an idea is presented in which they can be organized. At this point the imagination and the judgment relieve the memory by attaching the attribute or object to the leading idea. In the sentence, “A few dilapidated old buildings still stand in the deserted village,” all the ideas are organized in the one expressed by the word “buildings.” The ideas expressed by the words “ A," "few,” “ dilapidated,” and “old” are borne in memory until the idea “ buildings” is suggested, and then the memory is relieved by the imagination, which constructs the picture of building, containing the attributes that the memory has been holding for that purpose. The idea “ still ” is borne but a short distance, for the idea “stand,” in which it is organized, is immediately suggested. The idea “still stand” is a constituent idea of “ A few dilapidated old buildings,” already pictured by the imagination, and need be carried no further, for the mind at once has the conception of these buildings as standing. The idea of a certain kind of buildings as standing is already in the mind to receive the idea of place expressed by the phrase “in the deserted village.” In two of the acts of interpretation, the organizing idea is already in the mind to receive the additional idea as soon as interpreted; and in the other cases the ideas are almost instantly deposited in their subject. Reversing the order, In the deserted village still stand a few dilapidated old buildings, and the memory is required to bear all of the accessory ideas to the close. The effect of this in a single sentence is so slight as not to be felt; but a series of such will soon exhaust the energies of the mind, and leave it without the power to realize the thought conveyed. The tiresome effect is perceptible in a single long sentence arranged with the organizing idea at the close; as,
* Farther than it is connected with the high intellectual and moral endowments when public bodies are to be addressed on momentous occasions, when great interests are at stake, and strong passions are excited, nothing is valuable in speech.” Or this: “In the Old Colonial days in Plymouth, the land of the Pilgrims,
To and fro in a room of his simple and primitive dwelling,