« ZurückWeiter »
Q. Is this branch of literature much in request?
Ă. Not nearly so much so as it once was; though there are still some very popular works of this class ; as, Conversations on Natural Philosophy, Morehead's Dialogues on Natural and Revealed Religion, &c.
Q. Who are supposed to have excelled most in this kind of writing?
A. The ancients; particularly Plato, Socrates, and Cicero.
Q. What is supposed to have given rise to this particular de scription of composition?
Ā. The desire of imitating real life, or probably the conversations between ancient philosophers, who were mostly all public instructors, and their pupils.
Q. What was the particular mode of conversation pursued by Socrates called ?
A. The Socratic dialogue; and consisted of a particular mode of reasoning by means of question and answer.
Q. What kind of composition is an Enigma ?
A. It is an obscure question, as, for example, What word is that in the English language, and in common use, which will describe a person or thing as not to be found in any place, and yet, without any other alteration than a separation of the syllables, will correctly describe him as being present at the same moment? The proper answer to this enigma would be—"Nowhere, ,"" Now here."
[Note.-In connection with this lesson, each scholar should be required to write a letter and a dialogue, or several of each, in the course of the study of this book.]
OF HISTORY. Q. Do you think History an important branch of composition :
A. Exceedingly so; as upon it depends all our knowledge of events beyond our own limited circle of observation.
Q. What may all be included under the term history?
A. Annals, voyages, and travels, with the lives and memoirs of distinguished individuals.
Q. How may these, in treating of composition, be included under the term history?
A. Because they are all, though very different in other respects, an account of events and transactions that are entirely past, and therefore beyond the observation of the person who reads them.
Q. By what name is the history of individuals generally known?
A. By the term biography; while that of kingdoms is called national history, or, by way of eminence, merely history.
Q. What is the chief excellence of all these?
A. That of being a true report of what has actually taken place, without any appearance of either distortion or exaggeration.
Q. In what style should history be written?
A. The parts that relate to common events and occurrences should be simple and perspicuous; while those which relate to great and splendid actions may rise to the highest elevation of style.
Q. What, upon the whole, may be considered the best history?
A. That which is at once the most faithful in its details, and the most interesting to the mind of the reader,
Q. On what does fidelity in history depend ?
A. Upon the writer's diligence of inquiry and freedom from prejudice.
Q. And on what does the interest of history depend?
A. Partly on the subject, but more upon the manner in which it is treated. Q. How do you know this?
A. By the circumstance that, in the hands of some writers, every subject acquires interest; while, in those of others, every subject becomes dull and insipid. Q. Have we many good historians ?
A. Many excellent writers of national history; as, Robertson, Gibbon, Hume, Bancroft, Prescott, &c., but few good writers of biography.
Q. What are the most common faults in biography ?
A. It generally displays either a minuteness which renders it tedious, or a partiality which excites disgust.
STYLE OF PRESCOTT, THE AMERICAN HISTORLAN. It may serve to convey just ideas of the best his. torical style, as well as of the excellence of this branch of American literature, to add, from the North American Review, a criticism upon W. H. Prescott, author of the History of Ferdinand and Isabella, and of the Conquest of Mexico.
The style of the latter work, published in 1843, has essentially the same qualities of style as those which throw an unvarying charm over the pages of the former work. Mr. P. is not a mannerist in style, and does not deal in elaborate, antithetical, nicely. balanced periods. His sentences are not cast in the same artificial mold, nor is there a perpetual recurrence of the same forms of expression, as in the writings of Johnson or Gibbon; nor have they that satin-like smoothness and gloss for which Robertson is so remarkable. The dignified simplicity of his style is still farther removed from any thing like pertness, smartness, or affectation; from tawdry gum-flowers of rhetoric, and brass-gilt ornaments; from those fantastic tricks with language which bear the same relation to good writing that vaulting and tumbling do to walk ing. It is perspicuous, flexible, and natural, sometimes betraying a want of high finish, but always manly, always correct, never feeble, and never inflated. He does not darklý insinuate statements, or leave his reader to infer facts. Indeed, it may be said of his style, that it has no marked character at all. Without ever offending the mind or the ear, it has nothing that attracts observation to it, simply as a style. It is a transparent medium, through which we see the form and movement of the writer's mind. In this respect we may compare it with the manners of a well-bred gentleman which have nothing so peculiar as to awa ken attention, and which, from their very ease and simplicity enable the essential qualities of the understanding and character to be more clearly discerned.
Many of the sentences would have fallen with a richer mu. sic upon the ear, with some changes in their structure and rhythm. But, in looking on the work (on Mexico) as a whole, and from the proper point of view, every thing else is lost and forgotten in the general blaze of its merits. It is a noble work ; judiciously planned and admirably executed; rich with spoils of learning, easily and gracefully worn; imbued every where with a conscientious love of the truth, and controlled by that unerring good sense without which genius leads astray with its false lights, and learning encumbers with its heavy panoply.
One of the principal duties of an historian is to give the very form and pressure of the time he is describing, to infuse its spirit into his pages; to paint his scenes to the eye as well as to the mind; to produce an effect resembling, as nearly as possible, the illusion created by seeing the events he narrates represented by well.
trained actors, with appropriate costume, scenery, and decorations. Here, too, Mr. P. has been signally successful. In his animated pages we see, as in the mirror of Cornelius Agrippa, the very shape and features of the sixteenth century.
The style of George Bancroft, as an historian, is generally as much admired as that of Prescott.
OF ESSAYS AND PHILOSOPHY. Q. What sort of writing do you include under the term Es
A. Essays are a species of writing confined to subjects of no particular kind, though generally under-' stood as denoting short dissertations upon topics connected with life and manners.
Q. What does the word essay properly mean?
A. A trial, or an attempt at something; and is a term often modestly applied to treatises of the greatest profundity.
Q. What is meant by the British Essayists?
A. The Tatler, Spectator, Guardian, Rambler, Idler, Adventurer, Observer, Mirror, Lounger, &c., &c., all consisting of short dissertations upon various subjects, and exhibiting some of the choicest specimens of English composition. - (For other remarks, see part vi., sec. v.)
While this statement is just, there is too much truth in the following criticism, from Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, respecting them:
The Essayists occupy a conspicuous place in the literature of the last century; but, somehow, I do not feel disposed to set much store by them. Their fault, or, let us be gentle, their misfortune is, that they do not relate so much to human nature as to some of its temporary modes. There is a sad deal too much about hoops and founces, and rolled stockings, and enforcements of little moralities which no gentleman now thinks of disobeying ; and then the Flirtillas, and Eudosias, and Eugeniuses, and Hymenæuses, are stiff old frumps at the best. The whole reminds one of an exhibition of waxwork and old dresses; yet there are fine things among them too: Sir Roger De Coverly, for instance, that admirable Old-English gentleman, so humane, so little think ing of the current of the world, so unreflecting on every thing be
yond the traditionary habits and duties of his station and locality. Here, also, we have the majestic moral melancholy of Johnson, and the fine pathos of Mackenzie. But, after all, it must be a se lection from that long line of essays which can give pleasure nowadays.
The author farther would express, as his own opinion, that the modern British essayists, Professor Wilson, Sir Walter Scott, and T. B. Macaulay, in brilliancy and power of composition, far transcend the justly-lauded British essayists of earlier days.
Q. 'Is there any particular style in which essays should be written?
A. Their style depends altogether upon the subject, and they may contain every species, according to the topic discussed, from the simplest to the most sublime.
Q. What do you understand by Philosophical writing ?
Ă. All kinds of composition connected with the principles of art and science, or with the investigation of moral and physical truth.
Q. What should be the character of compositions of this kind ?
A. Plainness, simplicity, and perspicuity of style, with clear, accurate, and methodical arrangement.
(For an account of some British philosophers, see part yi., section vi.]
A. All those displays of public speaking denominated oratory or eloquence. Q. Into how many species may eloquence be divided ?
Ă. Into three : the eloquence of popular assemblies; the eloquence of the bar; and the eloquence of the pulpit : the last, a species entirely unknown to the ancients.
Q. What other names do these sometimes receive ?
Ă. The first is called the eloquence of the senate; the second, the eloquence of the forum; and the last, which is appropriated to sacred subjects, is generally styled sermons. Q. What is the object of all public speaking ? Å. To instruct and to persuade.