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from a confusion of ideas, and a want of proper arrangement of the subject matter of a treatise.
The advice given by Mr. Cobbett, in his Letters on Grammar, as to the arrangement of the parts of a sentence, is sound and truthful. He says" 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. Whatever may be the purpose for which we use language, whether the purpose of informing or persuading, 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 none, with regard to the manner of doing this. When we have said one thing, we must add another; and so on, till 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."
Again—“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. 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
Long, involved sentences, as a general rule, should be avoided; the generality of readers cannot comprehend them; and many writers, setting out with a subject to write of, because thoughts sometimes come much more quickly than they can be expressed, continue to build up clause upon clause, and sentence upon sentence, till even they themselves forget the original subject of the sentence, and therefore leave it unfinished -a mass of heterogeneous matter, as perplexing to the reader as it is discreditable to themselves.
The following is an example of such sentences from the pen of Dryden “History, properly so called, may be
described by the addition of those parts which are not required to annals ; and, therefore, there is little farther to be said concerning it, only that the dignity and gravity of style is here necessary; that the guesses of secret causes inducing to the actions be drawn at least from the most probable circumstances, not perverted by the malignity of the author to sinister interpretations (of which Tacitus is accused), but candidly laid down and left to the judgment of the reader; that nothing of concernment be omitted, but things of trivial moment are still to be neglected as debasing the majesty of the work; that neither partiality nor prejudice appear, but that truth may everywhere be sacred. Ne quid falsi dicere audeat; ne quid veri non audeat historicus' (that a historian should never dare to speak falsely, or fear to speak what is true); that he neither incline to superstition in giving too inuch credit to oracles, prophecies, divinations, and prodigies, nor to irreligion, in disclaiming the Almighty Providence; but where general opinion has prevailed of any miraculous accident or por tent, he ought to relate it as such, without imposing his opinion on our belief.”
Here are sufficient errors to serve as examples for a whole treatise. First, there is the great blunder alluded to in the preceding remarks. There are a great many thats commencing a great many clauses, leading one to expect that some general assertion would be made relative to and embracing the subject-matter of each such clause ;—no such assertion is made, but the structure of the sentence most awkwardly breaks off unfinished, and a new subject is introduced at the end by the word he, which has no noun to refer to but the word historian,-first introduced, be it remarked, in a parenthetical translation of a Latin quotation, and therefore in no wise connected with the sentence as to its grammatical construction. “ To the actions,” is perfectly indefinite, requiring a complement to enable the reader to divine what it means. Did any one ever hear of
guesses being drawn, and from the most probable circumstances ?” And guesses being perverted ? And, worse than all, candidly laid down, and left to the judgment of the reader! A schoolboy could at once detect the following jarring elements of this sentence—" that nothing of con.
cernment be omitted, but things of trivial moment are still to be omitted.” What does still mean? Notwithstanding? Then it has no force or meaning, there being evidently no opposition between the idea represented in this latter clause and that in the preceding. Does it mean up to this time? Then has it as little meaning. In the expression, “ that he neither incline," the neither is wrongly placed, for there is no succeeding verb with a nor before it, expressing some other act which he must not do. It should be, " That he incline neither to superstition, &c., nor to irreligion, &c. Of the usage of, "in giving too much credit to oracles," as connected with the preceding clause, the least that can be said is that it is exceedingly doubtful. In giving, translated into other words, signifies whilst he gives ; and to require of a historian that he should not incline to superstition in the act of giving, i. e., whilst he gives too much credit to oracles, is to act the hard taskmaster indeed! The word by substituted for in would banish all doubt as to the grammatical correctness of the words used to express the idea intended : the same remarks, of course, apply to the in before disclaiming. Again, an opinion prevailing of an accident, has positively no meaning ; probably the writer meant belief. What does it refer to-opinion or accident? And what is the meaning of saying that the historian ought to relate it (the opinion or accident) where the one prevailed or the other occurred ?
If such unpardonable blundering as to grammatical construction and the application of words be not sufficient to point out the wisdom of Horace's instruction to writers,
sæpe stylum vertas,"* nothing will. On such carelessness, Locke, in his Essay on the Human Understanding, pours the following well-merited censure :-“This inconvenience, in an ill use of words, men suffer in their own private meditations; but much more manifest are the disorders which follow from it in conversation, discourse, and arguings with others. For language being the great conduit whereby men convey their discoveries, reasonings, and knowledge from one to another, he that makes an ill use of it, though he does not corrupt the fountains of knowledge, which are in things themselves, yet he does, as much as in him lies break or stop the pipes whereby it is distributed to the public use and advantage of mankind."
*“Often revise what you have written."
ON THE SUBJECT AND THE VERB.
It has been already laid down that a noun and a verb are essential to the construction of every sentence, however simple- -a verb as the affirming word, and a noun as the name of that of which the affirmation is made: the verb is governed by the noun which is connected with it as its nominative case, which latter is called the subject of the verb, or of the sentence, from sub=under, and jectum=to throw, being, as it were, the foundation on which the sentence is built.
The verb and the noun, it will have been seen from what has gone
before, are inflected in number, and the verb in person too; the noun, moreover, changes its person according as it stands for the speaker, the person spoken to, or the person spoken of. Number and person are the only two accidents (so to speak) which the noun and the verb have in common; the verb wanting gender and case, which the noun has, and the noun wanting mood and tense, which the verb has. The verb accommodates itself to the noun in these two common particulars; that is, the verb is always in the same number and person as the subject, which is in the nominative case.
The subject and the verb being so essential to the formation of a sentence-being, in fact, the most important words therein—the agreement between them is generally treated of first by grammarians, and the principle of their agreement is first laid down in the following formal rule :
RULE I.—The verb agrees with its nominative case in number and person. I walk—The men were found guilty —The house is finished, will serve as illustrations of this principle. I walkest— I walks—The men was found guilty
The house are finished, are violations thereof, in one or other of the particulars of number and person, as will be seen on considering the number and person of the subjects severally, and referring to the conjugation of the verb.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE SUBJECT AND THE VERB.
1. The subject or nominative case it is which influences, in the aforesaid particulars, the verb; not the verb, the nominative case ; hence, if it were required to correct the ungrammatical expression, “The sun shine," the verb must be operated on, not the subject; there are two ways of changing the expression, so as to make it conformable to good grammar, viz., The suns shine, or The sun shines, the question is, which is the correction ? Evidently the latter; accommodating, as it does, the number and person of the verb to those of the subject, which, as first present to the mind, and that whereof something is to be asserted, cannot be altered.
2. It has been already stated that verbs and nouns are, in some instances, convertible: the infinitive mood especially may be placed in the position of a noun—to laugh =laughing; to read=reading; to see=seeing; hence it is that the infinitive mood is frequently used as the subject of a verb, as “ To read is pleasant;" “Not to see is unpleasant.”
3. With the infinitive in such a position, some other word or words necessary to complete the sense will generally be found associated; as, “To do wrong is never useful;" “To betray our country is a sin.”
4. A complete sentence is sometimes used as the subject of a verb; as, “Let him come and take them, laconic reply of Leonidas to the Persian herald demanding him (Leonidas) to lay down his arms.
NOTE.—The verb in the position referred to in Observations 2, 3, and 4, is in the singular number.
5. Two or more nominatives singular, connected by a copulative conjunction, have a verb plural; as, “Cicero and Demosthenes were great orators;" “ The food which nourishes our bodies, and the care which protects us from harm, convince us of the goodness of our Creator.”