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Of perspicuity.

be the best criterion of nonesense *. It is, indeed, more difficult to distinguish sentences of this kind from those of the second class of the unintelligible already discussed, in which the darkness is chiefly imputable to an affectation of excellence. But in these matters it is not of importance to fix the boundaries with precision. Sometimes pompous metaphors, and sonorous phrases, are injudiciously employed to add a dignity to the most trivial conceptions ; sometimes they are made to serve as a vehicle for nonsense. And whether some of the above citations fall under the one denomination or the other, would scarce be worth while to inquire. It hath been observed, that in madmen there is as great a variety of character, as in those who enjoy the use of their reason.

In like manner,


may be said of nonsense, that, in writing it, there is as great scope for variety of style, as there is in writing

I shall therefore not attempt to give specimens of all the characters of style which this kind of composition admits.

The task would be endless. Let it suffice to specify some of the principal.


* Of all that is written in this style, we may justly say, in the words of Lord Verulam, (De Aug. Sci. L. vi. C. 2.) applying to a particular purpose the words of Horace.

Tantum series juncturaque pollet,
Tantum de medio sumptis accedit honoris ;

ut speciem artis, nescio cujus, præclaræ sæpenumero reportent ea, quæ si solvantur, segregentur, et denudentur, ad nihilum fere recasura forent.

-As to the causes of the deception there is in this manner of writing, I shall attempt the investigation of them in the following chapter,

Sect. II.

The unintelligible.... Part III. From want of meaning.

1. The puerile.

The first I shall mention is the puerile, which is al. ways produced when an author runs on in a specious verbosity, amusing his reader with synonymous terms and identical propositions, well-turned periods, and high-sounding words ; but, at the same time, using those words so indefinitely, that the latter can either affix no meaning to them at all, or may almost affix to them any meaning he pleases. “ If ’tis asked,” says

' “ a late writer, “ Whence arises this harmony or beauty of language? what are the rules for obtaining it? " The answer is obvious, Whatever renders a period

sweet and pleasant, makes it also graceful ; a good " ear is the gift of nature, it may be much improv"ed, but not acquired by art; whoever is possessed

of it, will scarcely need dry critical precepts to en"able him to judge of a true rhythmus, and melody * of composition : just numbers, accurate proportions, " a musical symphony, magnificent figures, and that decorum, which is the result of all these, are unison to the human mind; we are so framed by Nature, " that their charm is irresistible. Hence all ages and s nations have been smit with the love of the mus

Who can now be at a loss to know whence the harmony and beauty of language arises, or what the rules for obtaining it, are? Through the whole

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* Geddes on the Composition of the Ancients, Sect. i.

Of perspicuity.

paragraph, the author proceeds in the same careless and desultory manner, not much unlike that of the critical essay upon the faculties of the mind; affording

; at times some glimmerings of sense, perpetually ringing the changes on a few favourite words and phrases. A poetical example of the same signature, in which there is not even a glimpse of meaning, we have in the following lines of Dryden :

From harmony, from heavenly harmony

This universal frame began :

From harmony to harmony
Thro' all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man *.

In general it may be said, that in writings of this stamp, we may accept of sound instead of sense, being assured at least that if we meet with little that can inform the judgment, we shall find nothing that will offend

the ear.

2. The learned.

ANOTHER sort I shall here specify, is the learned

I know not a more fruitful source of this species, than scholastical theology. The more incomprehensible the subject is, the greater scope has the declaimer to talk plausibly without any meaning. A specimen of this I shall give from an author, who


* Song for St. Cecilia's day, 1687.


Sect. II,

The unintelligible.... Part III. From want of meaning.

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should have escaped this animadversion, had he not introduced from the pulpit a jargon which (if we can say without impropriety, that it was fit for any thing) was surely fitter for the cloister. For what cannot in the least contribute to the instruction of a christian society, may afford excellent matter of contemplative amazement to dronish monks, Although we read " of several properties attributed to God in scripture,

as wisdom, goodness, justice, &c. we must not apprehend them to be several powers, habits, or qualities, as they are in us; for as they are in God, they are neither distinguished from one another, nor from “ his nature or essence in whom they are said to be. In " whom, I say, they are said to be: for, to speak proper“ ly, they are not in him, but are his very essence or na

ture itself; which, acting severally upon several ob“jects, seems to us to act from several properties or perfections in him ; whereas, all the difference is

only in our different apprehensions of the same thing. "God in himself is a most simple and pure act, and " therefore cannot have any thing in him, but what “ is that most simple and pure act itself; which, see

ing it bringeth upon every creature what it deserves, "we conceive of it as of several divine perfections in " the same Almighty Being. Whereas God, whose understanding is infinite as himself, doth not appre“ hend himself under the distinct notions of wisdom, " or goodness, or justice, or the like, but only as Jeho


Of perspicuity.


“ vah *.” How edifying must it have been to the hearers to be made acquainted with these deep discoveries of the men of science; divine attributes, which are no attributes, which are totally distinct and perfectly the same ; which are justly ascribed to God, being ascribed to him in scripture, but do not belong to him ; which are something and nothing, which are the figments of human imagination, mere chimeras, which are God himself, which are the actors of all things; and which, to sum up all, are themselves a simple act!“ Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge t?, Can the tendency of such teaching be any other than to perplex and to confound, and even to throw the hearers into universal doubt and scepticism? To such a style of explication these lines of our British bard, addressed to the patroness of sophistry as well as dulness, are admirably adapted :

Explain upon a thing, till all men doubt it;
And write about it, goddness, and about it f.

Of the same kind of school-metaphysics are these lines of Cowley :

Nothing is there to come, and rothing past,
Eut an eternal now does always last I.

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Fere:idge's Sermons. + Job xxxviii. 2. ' Duncaid.

# Davides, Book i.

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