Obrázky stránek

May there not be an excess of perspicuity?

and lent



[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

to the rational and active powers of the mind, will soon grow irksome through excess of facility. In this männer some able critics have expressed themselves on this point, who will be found not to differ in sentiment, but only in expression from the principles abovë laid down. The objection ariseth manifestly from the confounding of two objects, the common and the clear, and thence very naturally their contraries, the new and the dark, that are widely different. If you entertain your reader solely or chiefly with thoughts that are either trite or obvious, you cannot fail soon to tire him. You introduce few or no new sentiments into his mind, you give him little or no information, and consequently afford neither exercise to his reason, nor entertainment to his fancy. In what we read, and what we hear, we always seek for something in one respect or other new, which we did not know, or at least attend to before. The less we find, of this, the sooner we are tired. Such a trifling minuteness, there fore, in narration, description, or argument, as an or. dinary apprehension would render superfluous, is apt quickly to disgust us. The reason is, not because any thing is said too perspicuously, but because many things are said which ought not to be said at all. Nay, if those 'very things had been expressed obscurely (and the most obvious things may be expressed obscurely), the fault would have been much greater ; because it would have required a good deal of attention to discover what, after we had discovered it, we should perceive not to be of sufficient value for re

res: 141 Tain


May there not be an excess of perspicuity ?

quiting our pains. To an author of this kind we should be apt to apply the character which Bassanio in the play gives of Gratiano's conversation : “ He ' speaks an infinite deal of nothing. His reasons are " as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff

you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you

have them, they are not worth the search.” It is therefore futility in the thought, and not perspicuity in the language, which is the fault of such perfor

There is as little hazard that a piece shall be faulty in this respect, as that a mirror shall be too faithful in reflecting the images of objects, or that the glasses of a telescope shall be too transparent.



At the same time, it is not to be dissembled that, with inattentive readers, a pretty numerous class, darkness frequently passes for depth. To be perspicuous, on the contrary, and to be superficial, are regarded by them as synonymous. But it is not surely to their absurd notions that our language ought to be adapted.

It is proper, however, before I dismiss this subject, to observe, that every kind of style doth not admit an equal degree of perspicuity. In the ode, for instance, it is difficult, sometimes perhaps impossible, to reconcile the utmost perspicuity with that force and vivacity which the species of composition requires. But

* Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

May there not be an excess of perspicuity ?

even in this case, though we may justly say, that the genius of the performance renders obscurity to a certain degree excuseable, nothing can ever constitute it an excellence. Nay, it may still be affirmed with truth, that the more a writer can reconcile this quality of perspicuity with that which is the distinguishing excellence of the species of composition, his success will be the greater.

I 3

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Of Vivacity as depending on the Choice of Words.

Having discussed the subject of perspicuity, by

which the discourse is fitted to inform the understand-
ing, I come now to those qualities of style by which
it is adapted to please the imagination, and conse-
quently to awake and fix the attention. These I
have already denominated vivacity and elegance,
which correspond to the two sources, whence, as was
observed in the beginning of this inquiry *, the me-

[ocr errors]

Book I. Chap. I.

[ocr errors]
« PředchozíPokračovat »