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But, the basis of good to him, is, steady and skilful labour. -Introduction to Cottage Economy.
11. English Composition.
LANGUAGE is made use of for one of three purposes; namely, to inform, to convince, or to persuade. The first, requiring merely the talent of telling what we know, is a matter of little difficulty. The second demands reasoning. The third, besides reasoning, demands all the aid that we can obtain from the use of figures of speech, or, as they are sometimes called, figures of rhetorick, which last word means, the power of persuasion.
Whatever may be the purpose, for which we use language, it seldom can happen that we do not stand in need of more than one sentence; and, therefore, others must be added. There is no precise rule; there can be no precise rule, with regard to the manner of doing this. When we have said one thing, we must add another; and so on, until we have said all that we have to say. But, we ought to take care, and great care, that, if any words in a sentence relate, in any way, to words that have gone before, we make these words correspond grammatically with those foregoing words. . . .
The order of the matter will be, in almost all cases, that of your thoughts. Sit down to write what you have thought, and not to think what you shall write. Use the first words that occur to you, and never attempt to alter a thought; for, that which has come of itself into your mind is likely to pass into that of another more readily and with more effect than any thing which you can, by reflection, invent.
Never stop to make choice of words. Put down your thought in words just as they come. Follow the order which
your thought will point out; and it will push you on to get it upon the paper as quickly and as clearly as possible.
Thoughts come much faster than we can put them upon paper. They produce one another; and, this order of their coming is, in almost every case, the best possible order that they can have on paper: yet, if you have several in your mind, rising above each other in point of force, the most forcible will naturally come the last upon paper.
Mr. Lindley Murray gives rules about long sentences and short sentences and about a due mixture of long and short; and, he also gives rules about the letters that sentences should begin with and the syllables that they should end with. Such rules might be very well if we were to sing our writing; but, when the use of writing is to inform, to convince, or to persuade, what can it have to do with such rules? ...
A writing, or written discourse, is generally broken into paragraphs. When a new paragraph should begin, the nature of your thoughts must tell you. The propriety of it will be pointed out to you by the difference between the thoughts which are coming and those which have gone before. It is impossible to frame rules for regulating such divisions. When a man divides his work into Parts, Books, Chapters, and Sections, he makes the divisions according to that which the matter has taken in his mind; and, when he comes to write, he has no other guide for the distribution of his matter into sentences and paragraphs.
Never write about any matter that you do not well understand. If you clearly understand all about your matter, you will never want thoughts, and thoughts instantly become words.
One of the greatest of all faults in writing and in speaking is this; the using of many words to say little. In order to guard yourself against this fault, inquire what is the substance,
or amount of what you have said. Take a long speech of some talking Lord, and put down upon paper what the amount of it is. You will mostly find, that the amount is very small: but, at any rate, when you get it, you will then be able to examine it, and to tell what it is worth. A very few examinations of this sort will so frighten you, that you will be for ever after upon your guard against talking a great deal and saying little.
Figurative language is very fine when properly employed; but, figures of rhetorick are edge tools and two-edge tools too. Take care how you touch them ! They are called figures, because they represent other things than the words in their literal meaning stand for. For instance: The tyrants oppress and starve the people. The people would live amidst abundance, if those cormorants did not devour the fruit of their labour.' I shall only observe to you upon this subject, that, if you use figures of rhetorick, you ought to take care that they do not make nonsense of what you say; nor excite the ridicule of those to whom you write. Mr. Murray, in an address to his students, tells them, that he is about to offer them some advice with regard to their future walks in the paths of literature.' Now, though a man may take a walk along a path, a walk means also the ground laid out in a certain shape, and such a walk is wider than a path. He, in another part of this address, tells them, that they are in 'the morning of life, and that is the season for exertion.' The morning, my dear James, is not a season. The year, indeed, has seasons, but the day has none. If he had said the spring of life, then he might have added the season of exertion. I told you they were edge-tools. Beware of them.-English
Grammar, a Series of Letters.
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
WALTER SCOTT was born on Aug. 15, 1771, at Edinburgh, where his father was a writer to the Signet. A lameness which seized him in infancy and lasted through life caused his removal to the country, where in his grandfather's farmhouse of Sandyknowe, beneath the crags of a ruined baronial tower, and surrounded by spots famous in border history, his childhood was passed. Here his sympathy with the beauty and grandeur of nature was roused, and his delight kindled in ballads and legends told to him amid the scenes where the deeds they recorded were done. At eight he returned to Edinburgh, to enter the High School. Here severe illness interrupted his education, and by throwing him upon reading as a resource gave the colour to his subsequent life. He says of a library founded by Allan Ramsay, 'I believe I read almost all the romances, old plays, and epic poetry of that formidable collection.' Many of the friends of his home had taken part in the stirring events of Scottish history in the middle of the century, and their presence and conversation carried him back to a state of society which had ceased to exist. In 1786 he was able to commence his apprenticeship as writer to the Signet.
In 1792 he was called to the bar. In 1799 he was appointed Sheriff of Selkirkshire, and in 1806 Clerk of the Court of Session. Scott's earliest attempts at writing were translations from the German, but in 1805 he published the Lay of the Last Minstrel, which was quickly followed by Marmion, the Lady of the Lake, and several other pieces. In 1808 he brought out an edition of Dryden's works, which is still a standard one. In 1814 he made his first venture in prose in Waverley, which was published anonymously. Its success was immediate and unparalleled. During the few
years that followed the brilliant series of novels which was thus commenced was poured from the press with the most astonishing rapidity.
In 1820 the author, whose identity was by this time tacitly acknowledged, was created a Baronet by George IV in recognition of his genius. The commercial crisis of 1825 brought ruin on Scott through the failure of his publishers, Constable and Ballantyne, with whom he was in partnership. Scott bore up bravely under the crushing blow, and the History of Napoleon was written to help to meet the demands of his creditors; but his health gave way, and their claims were only fully satisfied by the sale of his collected works after his death. Scott's life was on the whole a singularly happy one, though its last years were spent, and his declining strength wasted, in a fruitless struggle to bear up against these commercial difficulties.
He died at his seat of Abbotsford, Sept. 21, 1832, and is buried at Dryburgh.
As a poet, Sir Walter Scott stands not in the first rank, but very high in the second. No poet of modern times has so nearly caught the ancient Homeric fervour of narrative in verse. As a writer of prose fiction he stands at the head of English novelists. There is no one in this class who, either in the delineation of characters or the construction of plots, has trod so nearly, though at a long interval, in the footsteps of Shakspeare. Of the historical romance he may be considered the inventor. In his mixture of pathos and humour, especially in the Scottish characters, in his power of reproducing the general effect of the scenes of the past, though often with much inaccuracy in detail, he is unrivalled. By the healthy and elevating influence of his works, he has probably done more to purify English literature than any writer since Addison. His power of interesting his readers, both as a poet and as a prose writer, is almost unbounded; but his style suffered from his fertility, and will not stand the test of a critical examination. His love for medieval antiquity, of which the first example was his collection of the Border Minstrelsy, was probably the fountain-head of all his other works, and places him foremost amongst the restorers of that taste.