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such reflections, as to a superficial observer would appear minute and hypercritical, that language must be improved, and eloquence perfected *.
I RETURN to the causes of obscurity, and shall only further observe, concerning the effect of bad arrangement, that it generally obscures the sense, even when it doth not, as in the preceding instances, suggest a wrong construction. Of this the following will suffice for an example: “ The young man did not want natu“ral talents; but the father of him was a coxcomb, “ who affected being a fine gentleman so unmerciful
ly, that he could not endure in his sight, or the fre
quent mention of one, who was his son, growing inis to manhood, and thrusting him out of the gay 5 world t." It is not easy to disentangle the construction of this sentence. One is at a loss at first to find any accusative to the active verb endure; on fur ther examination it is discovered to have two, the word mention, and the word one, which is here closely combined with the preposition of, and makes the regimen of the . noun mention. I might observe also the vile application of the word unmercifully. This, together with the irregularity of the reference, and the intricacy of the whole, renders the passage under
, consideration, one of those which may, with equal
* The maxim, Natura se potissimum prodit in minimis, is not confined to physiology.
† Spect. No. 496. T.
Sect. I. The obscurity... Part III. From using the same word in different senses.
justice, be ranked under solecism, impropriety, obscu, rity, or inelegance.
PART III....From using the same word in different senses.
ANOTHER source of obscurity, is when the same word is in the same sentence used in different senses. This error is exemplified in the following quotation: “ That he should be in earnest it is hard to conceive;
since any reasons of doubt, which he might have in " this case, would have been reasons of doubt in the " case of other men, who may give more, but cannot give more evident, signs of thought than their fel" “ low-creatures *? This errs alike against perspicuity and elegance; the word more is first an adjective, the comparative of many; in an instant it is an ad
; verb, and the sign of the comparative degree. As the reader is not apprised of this, the sentence must appear to him, on the first glance, a flat contradiction. Perspicuously either thus,“ who may give more แ numerous, but cannot give more evident signs,
-"? or thus, “ who may give more, but cannot give clear" er signs."--It is but seldom that the same pronoun can be used twice or oftener in the same sentence, in reference to different things, without darkening the expression. It is necessary to observe here, that the signification of the personal, as well as of the relative pronouns, and even of the adverbs of place
Bolinb. Ph. Es. i. Sect. 9.
and time, must be determined by the things to which they relate. To use them, therefore, with reference to different things, is in effect to employ the same word in different senses; which, when it occurs in the same sentence, or in sentences closely connected, is rarely found entirely compatible with perspicuity. Of this I shall give some examples. “ One may have “ an air which proceeds from a just sufficiency and
knowledge of the matter before him, which may naturally produce some motions of his head and
body, wbich might become the bench better than “ the bar *.” The pronoun which is here thrice used in three several senses; and it must require reflection to discover, that the first denotes an air, the second sufficiency and knowledge, and the third motions of the bead and body. Such is the use of the pronouns those and who in the following sentence of the same writer : “ The sharks, who prey upon the inadvertency of “young heirs, are more pardonable than those, who
trespass upon the good opinion of those, who treat “ with them upon the foot of choice and respect t." The same fault here renders a very short sentence at once obscure, inelegant, and unmusical. The like use of the pronoun they in the following sentence, almost occasions an ambiguity : “ They were persons of “ such moderate intellects, even before they'were im
paired by their passion 1.”—The use made of the pronoun it in the example subjoined, is liable to the
* Guardian, No. 13.
+ Ib. No. 73.
† Spect. No. 30.
Sect. I. The obscurity.... Part Ill. From an uncertain reference in pronouns, &c.
same exception: “ If it were spoken with never so
great skill in the actor, the manner of uttering that sentence could have nothing in it, which could “ strike any but people of the greatest humanity, nay,
people elegant and skilful in observations upon it *.” To the preceding examples I shall add one, wherein the adverb when, by being used in the same manner, occasions some obscurity : “ He is inspired with a true
sense of that function, when chosen from a regard " to the interests of piety and virtue, and a scorn of " whatever men call great in a transitory being, when
it comes in competition with what is unchangeable " and eternal +.
PART IV. From an uncertain reference in pronouns and rela
A CAUSE of obscurity also arising from the use of pronouns and relatives, is when it doth not appear at first to what they refer. Of this fault I shall give the three following instances : “ There are other exam* ples,” says Bolingbroke, “ of the same kind, which cannot be brought without the utmost horror, because in them it is supposed impiously, against principles as self-evident as any of those necessary truths, " which are such of all knowledge, that the supreme “ Being commands by one law, what he forbids by
* Spect. No. 502.
+ Guardian, No. 13:
“ another *.” It is not so clear as it ought to be, what is the antecedent to such. Another from the same author, “ The laws of Nature are truly what my “ Lord Bacon styles his aphorisms, laws of laws. Ci“ vil laws are always imperfect, and often false de“ ductions from them, or applications of them; nay,
they stand in many instances in direct opposition to “ them t." It is not quite obvious, on the first reading, that the pronoun them in this passage doth always refer to the laws of Nature, and they to civil laws. “ When a man considers the state of his own
mind, about which every member of the Christian “ world is supposed at this time to be employed, he “ will find that the best defence against vice, is pre
serving the worthiest part of his own spirit pure “ from any great offence against it I.” It must be owned that the darkness of this sentence is not to be imputed solely to the pronoun,
From too artificial a structure of the
ANOTHER cause of obscurity is when the structure of the sentence is too much complicated, or too artificial; or when the sense is too long suspended by parentheses. Some critics have been so strongly persuaded of the bad effect of parentheses on perspicuity, as to think they ought to be discarded altogether.
* Bolingb. Phil. Fr. 30. + Phil. Fr. 9. Guardian, No. 19.