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COMPOSITION.

The most striking characteristic of English literature in the nineteenth century, is the loose and ungrammatical diction that disfigures every species of prose composition. Learning is now more widely diffused, and the number of writers is greater than at any former period, but not the number of correct writers. We have a hundred Alisons for one Macaulay. Nay, I believe it could be shown that, in proportion as the English language has been improved, the art of composition has been neglected. Let the reader take up any of the publications of the day. A mere glance will satisfy him, that, whatever credit may be due to the author for invention of subject or arrangement of materials, he is sadly deficient in the first requisite of authorship,--the art of communicating his ideas in correct and appropriate language. Everywhere diffuseness and want of method take the place of conciseness and perspicuity; purity of diction and elevation of thought are supplanted by solecisms and common-places; and what is wanting in dignity and vigour is supplied in vulgarisms and slang. Instead of guiding or reforming the public taste, our authors yield themselves up to the caprice of the passing hour, making the pursuit of literature subservient to the dissemination of every fashionable frivolity, and reducing its professors to the degrading level of this most mercenary of human epochs.

Whatever may be the cause, the fact is undeniable, that modern English prose exhibits more blemishes of style than that of any other language. That this proceeds in a great measure from the character of the language itself, there can be no doubt: for there is no modern language which, from its simplicity of structure and its expressive copiousness, is so well adapted for communicating men's thoughts without labour or effort. But the main cause must be sought for in one of our national peculiarities; and here it must be confessed that, while there is no people more remarkable than we are for a correct appreciation of method and propriety in all mental productions, there is none that displays a greater impatience of restraint in everything that relates to criticism and grammar.

This will be better understood by comparison with the French. Their language is a science in itself, and the labour bestowed on the acquisition of it, has the effect of vividly impressing on the mind both the faults and the beauties of each style. Method and perspicuity are its very essence; and there is no writer of any note who

; does not attend to these requisites with commendable scrupulosity. A fault of style becomes apparent to the commonest reader. « Cela saute aux yeux,” as they say themselves. With us the case is totally different : our written language is as irregular as that of the French is methodical ; and while they are restricted to fixed and clearly defined forms of speech, we can revel in a wealth of phraseology, from which every one deems himself at liberty to select whatever is most pleasing to his taste, without regard to grammar or propriety. Hence the correctness so remarkable in the style of French writers. Hence the looseness so conspicuous in our own. If a French writer of distinction were to violate any important rule of grammar, the fact would be laid hold of immediately by the critics, and laughed at from one end of France to the other. With us an author may discard grammar, precision, and propriety, and few, if any, will raise their voices against such a proceeding. Of course, a total freedom from blemish is not to be looked for in any author, however great his ability; and there are modes of

: expression even in the best French writers which would not stand the test of severe criticism : but, in general, their authors are as classical as ours are the reverse. Correctness of style is the rule with them ; with us it is the exception.

The history of French literature is replete with facts illustrative of these views. All who are familiar with it are aware of the high estimation in which Boileau is held by his countrymen. But, if there be one characteristic more than another for which he is indebted to his great fame, it is perhaps the correctness of his diction. Among the very few sins against grammar that have been detected in his works, there is one which has obtained particular notice, and which consists in the repetition of the preposition à in the first line of his Ninth Satire :

“ C'est à vous, mon Esprit, à qui je veux parler.”

A foreigner would find it difficult to estimate the effect of this slip upon the grammatical sensibility of French ears. Since its discovery, it has been quoted by every writer on grammar, and impressed on the memory of every schoolboy. Some point to it as one of the few instances of false grammar to be found in the French Horace; but the generality of critics refer to it rather with feelings of surprise, that so correct a writer should have perpetrated so shocking a blunder. Indeed, such is the national fastidiousness on this subject, that I doubt whether there be a single line in Boileau that is so often quoted for its beauty, as this unfortunate one is for its lack of grammar.

In England we treat these matters in a different fashion. Not only are faults of style not offensive to our critical ears, but such is our indifference or insensibility, that we seldom so much as notice them when they fall in our way. “The English,” says Hallam, “have ever been as indocile in acknowledging the rules of criticism, even those which determine the most ordinary questions of grammar, as the Italians and French have been voluntarily obedient.” I cannot more appropriately illustrate this fact than by quoting from a popular English writer, an example of a fault similar to that of Boileau. In one of Sydney Smith's articles on “Spring Guns," we read the following sentence :

“ It is to this last new feature in the supposed Game Laws to which, on the present occasion, we intend to confine our notice.”

Here we have the preposition to improperly repeated; and as Boileau's French, to be correct, should have been : “C'est à vous, mon Esprit, que je veux parler” – or, “C'est vous, mon Esprit, à qui je veux parler;" so our English author should have written : “ It is to this last new feature in the supposed Game Laws that, on the present occasion, we intend to confine our notice"-or, “It is this last new feature in the supposed Game Laws to which, on the present occasion, we intend to confine our notice.” Sydney Smith's article is one of the most popular ever written by that deservedly popular writer, and it

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