By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Talks on Writing English - First Series
Author: Bates, Arlo
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Talks on Writing English - First Series" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

available by Internet Archive (https://archive.org)

Note: Images of the original pages are available through
      Internet Archive. See

Transcriber's note:

      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

      The spelling and hyphenation are as found in the original

      There are 7 footnotes: each of them has been placed at the
      end of the chapter in which it is flagged.


First Series



      *      *      *      *      *      *

Books by Arlo Bates.

THE DIARY OF A SAINT. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

LOVE IN A CLOUD. A Novel. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

THE PURITANS. A Novel. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

THE PHILISTINES. A Novel. 12mo, $1.50.

THE PAGANS. A Novel. 16mo, $1.00.

PATTY’S PERVERSITIES. A Novel. 16mo, $1.00.

PRINCE VANCE. The Story of a Prince with a Court in his Box. By
ARLO BATES and ELEANOR PUTNAM. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

A LAD’S LOVE. 16mo, $1.00.

UNDER THE BEECH-TREE. Poems. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

TALKS ON WRITING ENGLISH. First Series. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

TALKS ON WRITING ENGLISH. Second Series. Crown 8vo, $1.30, _net_.
Postpaid, $1.42.

TALKS ON TEACHING LITERATURE. Crown 8vo, $1.30, _net_. Postpaid,



      *      *      *      *      *      *


First Series




Boston and New York
Houghton, Mifflin and Company

The Riverside Press, Cambridge

Copyright, 1896,
By Arlo Bates.

All rights reserved.


These talks were given in the autumn of 1894 as a course on Advanced
English Composition in the Lowell Free Classes, and that they are now
printed is largely due to the fact that they were so well received by
those who then heard them. In preparing them, I consulted whatever
books upon composition came to my hand. I examined some with profit,
some with pleasure, and some, it must be confessed, not wholly without
amusement, or even impatience. Doubtless, I owe something to many
of these books; but I am not conscious of much obligation to any
save the “Principles of Rhetoric,” by Professor A. S. Hill, “English
Composition,” by Professor Barrett Wendell, and “English Prose,” by
Professor John Earle.

I have conscientiously endeavored to make the lectures as practical
as possible, stating as clearly as I could those things which would
have been most helpful to me had I read and heeded them twenty years
ago. The necessity of holding an audience made fitting some effort
to render the talks entertaining; but I have never consciously said
anything for the mere purpose of being amusing, and I have never been
of the opinion that a book gains either in dignity or in usefulness
by being dull. My purpose has throughout been sincerely serious, and
if the book shall prove helpful, I shall have attained the object for
which it was written.

                                                              A. B.



      I. THE ART OF WRITING                       1

     II. METHODS OF STUDY                        20

    III. PRINCIPLES OF STRUCTURE                 29

     IV. DETAILS OF DICTION                      43

      V. PRINCIPLES OF QUALITY                   59


    VII. MEANS AND EFFECTS                       89


     IX. CLASSIFICATION                         120

      X. EXPOSITION                             128

     XI. EXPOSITION CONTINUED                   144

    XII. ARGUMENT                               152

   XIII. ARGUMENTATIVE FORM                     166

    XIV. DESCRIPTION                            181

     XV. DESCRIPTION CONTINUED                  202

    XVI. NARRATION                              210

   XVII. NARRATION CONTINUED                    224


    XIX. CHARACTER AND PURPOSE                  258

     XX. TRANSLATION                            269

    XXI. CRITICISM                              285

   XXII. STYLE                                  299




Into all productive art enter two sorts of power, that which is
communicable and that which is incommunicable,--in other words,
that which may be taught and that which is inborn. Upon this fact
is based the distinction between the mechanical and the fine arts,
although since both kinds of power have a share in all production
nobody has ever been able to draw a sharp and definite line at which
the mechanical arts end and the fine arts begin. The power which is
incommunicable is that of imagination, that indefinable grace and
skill, that enchantment of creative ability which is born with rare
individuals, and for which he who is not dowered with it by nature
struggles in vain. It is this which has given rise to that saying as
profound as it is terribly hackneyed which declares that a poet is born
and not made. It is this which distinguishes genius from talent; and it
is this which has so dazzled the eyes of the world as to produce the
mistaken notion that since imagination is not to be learned nothing is
to be learned in the realm of art.

This incommunicable power is the soul of fine art; yet into fine art
no less than into the mechanical arts comes also that power which
may be learned. This communicable power is commonly spoken of as
the technical, or as technique. This any person of intelligence and
perseverance can and may master if he choose, every man according
to his ability; and this every artist must acquire, no matter how
richly he may have been gifted by nature with the magic power which
transcends and dominates it. It is this that musicians, painters,
sculptors, architects, dancers, and writers are set to learn when they
are said to study art. The world has long recognized that in painting,
music, sculpture, and architecture it is indispensable that technique
shall be acquired; but--absurd as it may seem--it is only recently,
comparatively speaking, that it has been practically recognized that
this is as true of poetry as of painting, as true of literature as of
any other art. It is in truth only in our own day that there has been
anything like a general acceptance of the fact that in literature as
in the other arts technical skill must be laboriously acquired before
any successful and permanent work can be produced. The masters have of
course known this; but the idea that to be an author nothing is needed
but pen, ink, and paper used to hold undisputed sway over the popular
mind, and is by no means extinct yet. Not long ago I heard a learned
professor in one of the leading American colleges declare that he could
not see what there is to learn in composition. Last summer a gentleman
of really wide reading, but who was brought up under the old system,
said to me: “By teaching composition, I suppose you mean chiefly
correcting the grammar and punctuation.” He was somewhat surprised when
I explained that students were supposed to have mastered both grammar
and punctuation before the teaching of composition as such could begin.

The truth is that there has never been anything like a popular
understanding of the difference between spoken and written speech.
Anybody is supposed to be able to talk, and to learn to do so
unconsciously,--a doctrine to which I do not wish to be understood
as giving assent!--and it has been held to follow that anybody could
write. To write was merely to talk with the pen, and that has commonly
been held to be all there is to the matter save for the fact that some
persons were born to write and some were not.

A personal experience of my own illustrates this, if its introduction
may be pardoned. I have never forgotten the general bewilderment with
which my friends met my announcement when I left college that I meant
to study literature. That one should follow literature as a profession
was not entirely unintelligible, if it did suggest a dire mental
weakness on the part of the young man who was rash enough to take such
a resolution; but how one studied literature as a profession was beyond
ordinary understanding. “You mean that you are going to write books,”
some said tentatively. My reply that such a possibility was presupposed
in the study of literature just as the pleading of cases might be
presupposed in the study of law only increased the difficulty of the
confusing puzzle. It was of course understood that there was in the law
something to study; but what, in the name of common sense, was there
to study in literature? Books one sat down and wrote, and that was
the whole of it; and I soon found the idea gaining ground that I only
put the matter in this way for the sake of producing an impression,
or perhaps of covering a fixed and reprehensible intention of doing

I thought then that I had some idea of what the study of literature
really meant, and I gave such explanations as I could; but, alas, the
incessant work of years has chiefly served to show me how inadequate my
idea was, and how much more there is to be learned than I then had any
notion of! Some of the things which experience has taught me I think
may be of value to you; and in these lectures I shall try to state
them, although I realize but too well how far I am from being able
to cover or exhaust the subject. I shall, of course, say some things
which all of you know already, and many things which some of you know.
I hope, however, to say also some things which you have not thought
of, and by arrangement and system to give fresh value and force to old
ideas. It is not impossible that experience has shown me things which
will be practically helpful to others. Any man who has wrought long at
a craft is likely to be able to give suggestions valuable to those who
have not. The sluggard is by the Scriptures referred to the ant not
on account of her intellectual superiority, but solely because of her
great practical training.

       *       *       *       *       *

All discussion must begin with definition, either expressed or
understood. There is of course no doubt that each of us has an idea
what composition is, yet to be sure that we are agreed, it is necessary
to state the meaning in which we use the term. Let us say, then:--

Composition is the art by which ideas and mental impressions are
conveyed in written language.

Nothing could sound more simple; few things are more difficult of
achievement. It is not hard to convey ideas, but it is by no means
easy to be sure that they will arrive at their destination in good
order. Impressions and ideas are delicate things, and are most liable
to be injured in the passage. There are writers whose methods suggest
an attempt to get eggs to market by shooting them from a cannon,--the
eggs may arrive, it is true, but in what condition? The means must
be adapted to that with which one is dealing. It is folly to attempt
to carry soap-bubbles in a mealsack or leaden bullets in a lace
handkerchief. The student of the art of writing has to learn to suit
his means to the end sought. He must train himself to judge what manner
of expression, of style, or treatment, will best serve to transfer
ideas from his own mind to that of the reader. He must study the effect
of words and of combinations of words; the value of suggestion, and of
all the emotional effects possible in written words. He must train
himself to be able to use language as a skillful swordsman uses his
rapier, adapting it to every emergency, master of it always; he must
learn to be dexterous, adroit, and full of resources.

Exactly to impart an idea or an impression to another human being
is manifestly impossible. The character of the mind of the receiver
necessarily affects and modifies whatever comes to it. The thing which
we say to our closest friend strikes him in a way somehow and somewhat
different from that which we intend. A poem by John Boyle O’Reilly
expresses this so fully that I take leave to quote it:--

                    AT BEST.

    The faithful helm commands the keel,
      From port to port fair breezes blow;
    But the ship must sail the convex sea,
      Nor may she straighter go.

    So, man to man; in fair accord,
      On thought and will, the winds may wait;
    But the world will bend the passing word,
      Though its shortest course be straight.

    From soul to soul the shortest line
      At best will bended be;
    The ship that holds the straightest course
      Still sails the convex sea.

I do not quote this merely as a matter of sentiment, but because it
phrases one of the most insistent and practical difficulties with which
every writer must contend. The study of literary art, and indeed of all
art, is in one sense an effort at approximation. Perfect expression
can never be reached, and the thing after which a writer strives is
to approach more and more closely toward that complete transmission
of meaning which is forever unattainable while the barriers of human
individuality stand between mind and mind.

We recognize this fact as soon as we reflect. Bob, thinking of Betty,
remarks to Jack that he does admire a pretty girl; and Jack, fondly
recalling the features of Jane, receives the idea with all the
variations which belong to an altogether different idea of feminine
loveliness. Tom, Dick, and Harry, returning from the races, declare to
one another that it has been a jolly day. Each accepts the statements
of his companions according to his individual experiences, and no one
has imparted precisely the thought which was in his own mind. We praise
a picture, a piece of music, a sunset, and the friend to whom we speak
listens with a temperament and cultivation so different from our own
that our words inevitably mean one thing to us and another to him. The
ear which hears has always its share in the impression produced as
surely as has the tongue that speaks.

The result might be much the same whether the words in these cases were
spoken or written; but there is another element which makes an immense
difference between oral and written communication. The speaker adds to
his words a language of emphasis, of inflection, of facial expression,
of gesture, of mien. He modifies what he says by what he looks; his
bearing has as important a share in the work of conveying impressions
as have his words. Two actors taking the same text will give characters
so different as hardly to seem to have anything in common. A speaker
may so contradict and override his speech that his hearer believes not
the tongue that speaks, but the personality and manner which declare
the contrary. You remember how Emerson puts this: “What you are stands
over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to
the contrary.”

Now the writer is confronted by the necessity of making himself
intelligible without the many aids by which the speaker may help
out or modify his oral communication. The novelist, it is true, may
avail himself of the simple device of describing the manner in which
his characters speak. He tells us that this was said with a sly look
of coquetry, while that was uttered in a voice of utter misery, and
the other thundered forth in tones of overmastering determination.
My washing came home in London last summer wrapped in a newspaper
containing an installment of a blood-curdling tale which began thus:
“Eleanore shot at Reginald from under her pellucid brows a lingering
look of lurid hate.” All this, however, is at its best ineffective
and unsatisfactory, even when heroines have pellucid brows and the
author is master of the art of alliteration. Some things are within the
province of language and some are not.

Words may describe form, color, sound, and motion, but they can
reproduce none of them. What they can do is to call up in the mind of
the reader something which he has seen; or aid him to construct from
material in his memory some new image. If one read a description of a
landscape, for instance, he unconsciously selects bits of nature which
he remembers and arranges them as nearly as may be after the pattern
which the author gives. On the first page of “Westward Ho!” there is a
description of--

     the little white town of Bideford, which slopes upward from its
     broad tide-river paved with yellow sands, and many-arched old
     bridge where salmon wait for autumn floods, toward the pleasant
     upland on the west. Above the town hills close in, cushioned
     with deep oak woods, through which juts here and there a crag of
     fern-fringed slate; below they lower, and open more and more in
     softly-rounded knolls, and fertile squares of red and green, till
     they sink into the wide expanse of hazy flats, rich salt marshes
     and rolling sand-hills, where Torridge joins her sister Tor, and
     both together flow quietly toward the broad surges of the bar, and
     the everlasting thunder of the long Atlantic swell.

The reader constructs the picture as he goes on; but unless he has
actually seen “the little white town of Bideford” the picture in his
mind is likely to bear no very close resemblance to the reality.
The broad tide-river which his fancy sees is some stream of his
boyhood’s home, and far enough from North Devon; the many-arched old
bridge may be one which he knows or which comes to his memory from a
picture,--perhaps from a photograph that a friend has brought from
abroad of some hoary stone structure spanning a French river or a
stream of Italy. The hills and the fern-clad cliffs are recalled in
the same way, their outlines identical with the curves of some spot
in the Catskills, in Wales, in Brittany, or wherever the reader is
most familiar or has been most impressed. It is evident that the most
carefully elaborate verbal description could not enable the artist to
reproduce a scene; and herein is manifest the limitation of words in
this direction.

The inadequacy of words becomes the more evident when it comes to
matters intellectual. Who has not, even in conversation, experienced
that baffled and hopeless feeling which comes from not being able to
make another understand? Who does not know the sensation of being
shut in as by walls of stone, so that it is impossible to reach the
comprehension of the one addressed? Yet the speaker has a hundred
advantages over the writer. He has at command all the resources of
gesture, of look, accent, tone, mien. No man has written much and
written earnestly without experiencing moments of complete despair in
regard to being able to convey to his readers that which it is in his
heart to say.

How far it is possible to overcome the obstacles which hinder
communication is the study of the literary--as of every--artist. We
human beings are prisoned in the solitary confinement of the body,
and must needs devise means of sharing our thoughts, as political
convicts in the Russian prisons strive to communicate by rapping on the
walls. Every device by which intelligence may be carried more safely
and surely is an addition to the intellectual resources and strength
of the race. On this power of mutual transference and understanding
of thought depends the whole intellectual progress of men, and on
individual mastery of it rests the ability to share that progress.

It is only by the most careful and patient labor, the most rigid
self-discipline, that advance can be made in a matter so difficult and
so delicate. If you have supposed that the art of composition is one
easily acquired, I beg you to lay aside that idea at the start. It is
true that any person who has had an ordinary school training may write
a poor letter or a badly bungled paragraph. Some even attain to a
respectable facility in the superficial expression of ordinary ideas.
To go beyond this, however, to arrive at being able really to write,
to be capable of expressing with the pen genuine thoughts and real
emotions with a reasonable hope that these will reach the reader not
entirely distorted out of all resemblance to what they were when they
left the mind of the writer,--this requires labor long and strenuous.
The devils of incoherence, obscurity, and incompetency go not out save
by untiring striving and watching.

This is strikingly illustrated by the great gulf between amateur
and professional work. Many newspaper reporters are ignorant and
intellectually untrained; yet merely from continuous and earnest
practice they become so dexterous in the use of words as to be able to
serve their needs with surprising facility. I have had well educated
and cultivated men come into my office when I was an editor, and spend
an hour in trying satisfactorily to phrase some simple announcement
which they wished printed. All that there was to do was to say that
such a charity needed funds, that a subscription had been opened, or
some learned society was to meet at such a time and place; yet the
amateur would struggle with the paragraph in an agony of ineptitude
which was alike pathetic and farcical. When at last the conflict
between mind and matter ended from the sheer exhaustion of the mind,
there would be handed to me a scrawled sheet, recrossed and rewritten,
and in the end a miracle of obscurity and awkwardness,--the art of how
not to say it illustrated to perfection. Then after the visitor had
taken himself off, in a condition not far from nervous exhaustion, it
was only necessary to say to a reporter: “Make a paragraph of these
facts.” In a couple of minutes the slip would be ready to send to the
printer, written in English not elegant, but easy and above all clear.
The reporter had very likely not a hundredth part of the information
or the experience of life of the amateur, but he had had continued
business-like drill. He had written as a matter of steady work, with
the improving consciousness of an editorial blue pencil ever before his
mind. I have seen many definitions of the difference between amateur
and professional work. To my own mind it has always seemed sufficient
to say that the professional is one who has learned how to do a thing
while the amateur is one who has not.

Closely connected with the difficulty of saying a thing is the
difficulty of knowing when it is said. Anybody may write, but only
the trained writer is able to be sure that what he has written says
what he supposes it to say. This is of course doubly true from the
need that there is of making words impart mood as well as meaning, the
atmosphere as well as the facts. If it is hard to express ideas, it is
doubly hard to embody also the state of mind from which they spring and
which must be understood before their real value and significance can
be appreciated. Not only is it far from easy to know when the written
word will express what is meant; it is no less hard to be sure how much
of a thought is actually on paper. It requires great effort to realize
that the sentence or the paragraph which we write will not mean to the
reader all that we wish him to understand. The thought in our mind is
so vivid, so poignant, so vital, that for us the words brim over with
significance as a full honeycomb drips with honey. The emotion which
we feel in writing seems to belong inevitably to what is written, and
to be inseparable from it. It is of all things most difficult for the
author, especially in an impassioned mood, to put himself in the place
of the cool and unmoved public; yet in no other way is it possible to
judge how that public will be affected; in no other way is it possible
to compare what is written with what is intended; to estimate the power
of those poor black conventional signs there on the paper to express
the thought and the mood, the glow and the fervor of head and of heart
which it is their mission to carry vibrating and alive to the mind and
the spirit of the reader.

It has often been remarked that authors are apt to be most fond of
works which are not their best, and it is notorious that the most
passionately poetic mood may be that in which a writer produces his
least effective compositions. It is easy to see how this is connected
with the point under consideration. In the aroused, imaginative,
ecstatic mood every word is suggestive, every phrase full of meaning,
each sentence rich with emotion. The writer who is carried away by
his feelings is apt to go beyond the range of his judgment. He puts
down the sign of his mood in language intelligible only to himself. He
writes a sort of emotional shorthand, illegible to every eye except
his own. To him it may remain beautiful because to him it recalls
the exalted mood which produced it. To him it is the significant and
sufficient memorandum of a thing beautiful and sublime; to others it is
but a mass of words left by the elusive

    Fancies which broke through language and escaped.

Dr. Holmes has said, with that quaint mingling of wit and wisdom which
made him unique, that writing a poem is like pouring syrup out of
a pitcher,--some of it always sticks to the pitcher. The principle
holds good of all composition, and by no means the smallest thing to
be learned is to judge how completely the syrup has been poured out.
Often it is necessary to let the mood pass away entirely before one
can estimate work. It is frequently well to let a manuscript lie by
until the original enthusiasm of creation has faded fully, whether this
process requires more or less time than the nine years which Horace
recommended as the proper period during which a poem should remain

It is perhaps not necessary to speak much of the value of a mastery
of the art of composition; but there is one point which needs to be
touched upon. There is a prevalent if not generally spoken idea that
while this skill is an excellent thing, it is really necessary to
nobody save professional writers; that while persons who give their
lives to writing must of course master technique, it is not at all
worth while for others to bother about a thing so difficult. That this
error is less wide-spread than of old is evident from the increased
attention which is everywhere given to composition in all modern
schemes of education; but it survives in popular misapprehension. The
truth is, on the contrary, that as society is organized to-day it is
essential that every man or woman who hopes to make his or her way,
at least to anything like eminence even comparative, shall be able
to write fairly good English. In a world so largely dominated by the
printing-press as is ours in these modern days, not only has the man
who can express himself in ink a manifest advantage, but he who cannot
is hampered from the start. The highest skill in composition which
can be acquired is of instant practical value in every profession.
Students of technical and scientific subjects seem to me to be as
truly acquiring practical training when they are improving their skill
in writing as when they are performing experiments in the laboratory or
smelting ores at the furnaces. In reports to corporations, papers on
sanitary engineering addressed to city officials, schemes for railroads
or telegraphs laid before legislative committees, they will have need
of all the literary cleverness that they can compass, all the literary
skill which they are able to acquire. Competition is fierce all along
the line, and facility in the use of the pen counts in every trade and
in every profession no less truly than it does among avowed writers.

Nor is this the whole of the matter. Into every-day, common experience
has the modern habit of life brought the need of being master of
expression; and even he who does not put pen to paper--if it is
possible to suppose such a person to exist among intelligent people--is
under the necessity of cultivating his knowledge of the art of
expression to the end that he may read more intelligently and more
sensitively. There is great need of establishing communication with
our fellow-men; there is hardly less need of learning to establish
communication with ourselves. It seems sometimes as if our beings were
like those Chinese carved balls which Tennyson calls

    Laborious orient ivory sphere in sphere.

We strive to make our different selves know one another, but we find
it hard. We are conscious of feelings, of ideas, of emotions, which
some sphere of our manifold being knows, yet which to us--to the
outer sphere, to the external Ego, so to say--are vague and distant
however keenly we long to understand. The ability to phrase for others
is soon found to be ability to phrase for ourselves. By no means the
least of the advantages, as it is one of the greatest of the delights,
of conquering expression, is the power of interpreting ourselves to

There is a crude popular idea that the refinements of literary art are
wasted, at any rate upon the general reader. So many books succeed, at
least temporarily, which can make no slightest pretense to any grace of
manner, and which have not even the merit of reasonable accuracy, that
the student is apt to feel that these things are superfluous.

Of course the ordinary reader does not perceive delicate shades of
expression, fine distinctions of phrase, or subtile beauties of style.
Very likely he does not pause to consider whether a style is good or
bad; and certainly he would be unable to analyze its merits if he
attempted this. It does not follow that these graces do not touch him.
It is by means of them that deep and lasting effects are produced.
Susceptibility to artistic beauty is not necessarily conscious.
Frankly, it is to be admitted that for the instant, evanescent,
lurid success of sensational popularity it is not necessary to write
good English. Books outside of the furthest stretch of charity in
workmanship and style have, each in its day, the dazzling, however
transient, success of a Roman candle or a rocket. In far too many
newspapers one may see how flippant pertness and vulgar sharpness can
dispense with the smallest shred of good style, may ignore syntax,
scorn accuracy, and outrage decency itself.

Once for all it must be allowed that whoever seeks this sort of success
need not waste his time in the study of English composition. The
author of the latest scandalous novel never experiences the necessity
of any exhaustive acquaintance with rhetoric, or even of knowing much
more than the outside of the English grammar. The young women who are
employed by enterprising journals to scramble around the world in the
briefest possible time with a hand-satchel for luggage are apt to be as
little encumbered with syntax as with trunks. The purveyors of gossip
to society papers are not in the least obliged to know the language in
which they attempt to convey their precious information. If they can
discover that Mrs. Cholmondely-Jones is at the Sea View House, their
readers are not troubled at the declaration that this leader of fashion
is “stopping at the hotel for a week;”--confusingly impossible as such
a feat may appear.

All this has been said over and over, and I repeat it here simply by
way of reminder that there is no claim that popular success is not to
be won without literary merit; any more than it could be claimed on the
other hand that popular success is insured by it. It is certain that no
permanent literary work can be accomplished without the mastery of a
good English style; and it is equally certain that command of written
language is of the highest value and use. Sensational books make their
way not because of their crudities of style and their inaccuracies,
but in spite of them. If to the qualities which have given them vogue
had been added literary merit, they might have reached to permanent in
place of temporary success. Certainly if a writer desires to impress,
to persuade, to move, to arouse; if he have a report to write which he
hopes may be adopted, a theory to state which he is in earnest to have
received; a history to relate that he would have believed; an appeal
that he longs to have heeded, a creation of the imagination by which he
aims to touch the emotions of his fellow-men, he cannot too carefully
cultivate the art of communicating it. In any of these cases mastery of
literary technique is as essential to success as is air to breathing or
light to seeing.



The question remains: How is skill in composition to be gained?
The general principle is as simple as the details of the craft are
complicated. The way to write is to write. Perhaps the most exact
image of the process is that of piano-playing. Just as one acquires
skill in the use of the piano by innumerable exercises and continual
practice, so one attains to mastery in written language only by writing
and writing and writing. It is necessary to compose and recompose; to
write all sorts of things, to prune them, recast them, polish them;
to elaborate and to simplify; to weigh each word and phrase; and when
all is done to destroy the result as ruthlessly as we would destroy
anything else which has become rubbish by outliving its usefulness.

This last point needs to be insisted upon. Personal vanity and that
interest in self which is so naturally and so universally human, work
constantly to persuade the beginner that his poorest trials are worth
preservation. In the case of the pianist, the sound of the five-finger
exercise dies on the air, and there is luckily an end of it. The player
cannot gather it up and send it to a magazine. He cannot even without
great risk of encountering personal violence impose it upon the friend
whom he has invited to dine. With the writer it is unhappily different.
His first verses he sends cheerfully and a little condescendingly
to a magazine. His second he distributes on privately printed slips
to his friends,--and any acquaintance will serve as a friend in the
distribution of privately printed poems! His third effort is apt to go
to some overworked man of letters, accompanied by a note delicately
hinting that the inclosure is better than anything which the recipient
has done, and requesting him to have it published at once in one of the
leading magazines.

It is a thousand pities that the work of writers who are learning their
art is not written in ink fading over night, or which would at least
vanish as soon as the manuscript had undergone revision. The next
best thing is for the would-be author to accustom himself to phrasing
thoughts in his mind without setting them down upon paper at all. This
habit is of great value from the constant training that it gives, and
it is of value also because it takes its place as the study of form for
the sake of form; the effort to attain technical excellence unhampered
by any consideration of producing compositions permanent in themselves.

The best technical training is that which is entirely disassociated
from any idea that permanent work is being done. No one can get on very
well or very far in English composition who is not able patiently and
faithfully to do a great deal of work simply for the sake of learning
how to do it, entirely realizing that the thing produced is of no value
when it is done. It is as absurd to preserve or to attempt to publish
these crude experiments as it would be to practice the five-finger
exercises in public, and to attempt to persuade music-lovers to pay to
come and hear them. Every editor knows what need there is of saying
this. Each mail carries to the office of every magazine scores of
manuscript which are nothing but the crude exercises produced in more
or less unintelligent struggles with the art of composition. The soul
of the editor faints within him, while on the other hand the misguided,
sensitive, self-conscious writer is smitten to the heart when his or
her exercise is sent back with a printed card declining it with a
hollow mockery of thanks. It is ludicrously pathetic; and I dwell upon
it a little because in my time I have been foolish enough to offend in
this manner; because as an editor I suffered enough from this cause
to square the account beyond the cavil of the most exacting fate; and
because in the course of my literary life I have seen so much of this
sort of thing that I realize how general the experience is. It would
be of less moment were it not for the depth of despair into which
would-be authors are plunged by the return of these exercises. There
is no despair like the despair of youth, and it makes my heart tingle
now to recall the utter anguish with which I have received rejected
early manuscripts--which should never have been sent to a publisher.
Would to heaven that there were some one eloquent enough to persuade
the world once and for all that literature is as surely a profession
which must be learned as is law or medicine. No delicate woman or
sensitive man, thrown suddenly upon her or his own resources, turns to
law or medicine, expecting to gain a livelihood by practicing these
professions uninstructed; yet this would be hardly less logical than
to expect to make a way in literature without long preparation and
study. Nobody seems to believe this. It is probably disbelieved now,
as I say it; and examples of persons who have succeeded in writing
with no apparent training come to mind at once. It would be idle to
retort to objections of this sort that quacks have succeeded in all
professions; and I must content myself with insisting that whether what
I have been saying is believed or not, it is true, and the proofs are
heart-sickeningly familiar to every man of literary experience at all

It is important to remember that the best technical training is that
in which nothing is considered but technical excellence. The student
should write with his entire attention fixed upon the technical
excellence of the work. He must think not of what he is doing, but of
how he is doing it. It is a long time before the student has a right to
look upon himself as a producer at all; and the more completely he can
preserve the attitude of a learner, the better will be the results of
his self-training.

Guy de Maupassant, one of the most finished masters of literary art,
pure and simple, who have written in this century,--a writer who
achieved so much, and who lacked only a supreme ethical ideal to do so
much more,--indicates something of what is meant by technical training
in composition in his account of his studies under Flaubert:--

     Flaubert, whom I saw sometimes, conceived a friendship for me.
     I ventured to submit to him some of my attempts. He kindly read
     them, and said to me: “I cannot tell whether you have talent. What
     you have shown me proves a certain intelligence; but you must not
     forget this, young man,--that talent, in the phrase of Buffon,
     is only long patience. Work.” ... For seven years I made verses,
     I made tales, I made novels, I even made a detestable play. Of
     them all nothing remains. The master ... criticised them, and
     enforced upon me, little by little, two or three principles, which
     were the pith of his long and perfect teaching. “If one has not
     originality,” he said, “it is necessary to acquire it.” Talent
     is long patience. It is a question of regarding whatever one
     desires to express long enough and with attention close enough to
     discover a side which no one has seen and which has been expressed
     by nobody. In everything there is something of the unexplored,
     because we are accustomed to use our eyes only with the thought
     of what has been already said concerning the thing we see. The
     smallest thing has in it a grain of the unknown. Discover it. In
     order to describe a fire that flames or a tree in the plain, we
     must remain face to face with that fire or that tree until for us
     they no longer resemble any other tree or any other fire. This is
     the way to become original.

     Having, moreover, impressed upon me the fact that there are not
     in the whole world two grains of sand, two insects, two hands or
     two noses absolutely alike, he forced me to describe a being or
     an object in such a manner as to individualize it clearly, to
     distinguish it from all other objects of the same kind. “When you
     pass,” he said to me, “a grocer seated in his doorway, a concierge
     smoking his pipe, a row of cabs, show me this grocer and this
     concierge, their attitude, all their physical appearance; suggest
     by the skill of your image all their moral nature, so that I shall
     not confound them with any other grocer or any other concierge;
     make me see, by a single word, wherein a cab-horse differs from
     the fifty others that follow or precede him.” ... Whatever may
     be the thing which one wishes to say, there is but one word for
     expressing it; only one verb to animate it, but one adjective to
     qualify it. It is essential to search for this verb, for this
     adjective, until they are discovered, and never to be satisfied
     with anything else.--_Pierre et Jean_, Introduction.

I have given this long quotation because it puts the case so strongly,
because it has the weight of authority so high in technical matters,
and because it touches upon several points which will come up later.
There are dangers in this method of which we shall speak in the
proper place, but here the thing to be emphasized is the absolute
indispensability of rigorous training when one is struggling to acquire
the art of verbal expression.

Robert Louis Stevenson, that beautiful master of words, has also told
us how he trained himself to that dexterity and grace which have been
the delight of so great a company of readers:--

     All through my boyhood and youth, I was known and pointed out
     for a pattern of an idler; and yet I was always busy on my own
     private end, which was to learn to write. I kept always two books
     in my pocket, one to read, one to write in. As I walked, my mind
     was busy fitting what I saw with appropriate words; when I sat
     by the roadside, I would either read, or a pencil and a penny
     version-book would be in my hand to note down the features of
     the scene or commemorate some halting stanzas. Thus I lived with
     words. And what I wrote thus was for no ulterior use. It was
     written consciously for practice.--_A College Magazine._

It is well in learning to write to select uninteresting subjects;
themes which depend for their effectiveness not upon what they are but
upon the way in which they are presented. It is the natural tendency
of any inexperienced writer to set to work to find something to write
about which is in itself attractive. In the daily themes which I
receive from students I find that the almost inevitable course of
things is that the student writes upon whatever romantic or striking
incidents have occurred in his life, and that when these are exhausted
he is utterly at a loss for something to write about. It is not easy to
persuade students that they will get training far more valuable out of
careful attempts to express the commonplace. It is hard for eager young
writers to follow the advice which Flaubert gave to De Maupassant. They
are not willing to put their most strenuous efforts into the attempt to
present vividly the grocer or the cab-horse. Yet there is nothing more
valuable in training than to be thrown entirely upon one’s own literary
skill, be it much or little. When one deals with a subject fascinating
in itself it is difficult to determine how much of the force of what is
written depends upon the theme and how much may fairly be attributed to
the treatment. In training which is purely technical it is essential
to make this distinction, and it follows that the learner is wise
to choose for his ’prentice efforts matters little attractive in

I have said that the way to learn to write is to write. It would
perhaps be better to say that the way to learn to write is to rewrite.
In the careful revision, the patient reconstruction, the unsparing
self-criticism of the student who is determined to be satisfied with
nothing short of the best of which he is capable, lies the secret
of success. Here, as in everything else connected with the study of
technique, patient, painstaking, untiring work is the essential thing.

In regard to revision it is necessary to call attention to the
fact that it must extend to the revision of paragraphs and whole
compositions. We are apt to confine ourselves to the remodeling and the
polishing of sentences, or, if we get so far as to revise paragraphs,
to take each separately. It is essential that we train ourselves to
consider sentences as part of paragraphs and paragraphs as but portions
of a whole. This it is especially hard for untrained writers to do.
Those who have taught will recognize how difficult it is to make
students realize that the sentences of a theme may all be individually
right while yet the theme as a whole is all wrong.

As a matter of practical work it is well to make a schedule of
chapters by paragraphs and of the whole composition by chapters, if
the work be on so extensive a scale. It is one of the tests of a
properly constructed paragraph that it can be roughly summed up in a
single sentence, and a longer division may consequently be reduced
in substance to as many sentences as there are paragraphs. It is an
excellent plan thus to summarize work, and a little practice enables
a writer to do this in his head without the trouble of putting the
abstract upon paper.

It is evident that to learn the art of composition is no small
undertaking, but it is to be kept in mind that this art, being the
means of human expression, underlies all study and all thought no less
than it underlies all communication. It aids one to understand what
one reads, what one studies, what one thinks, no less than it aids
one to compose a poem, to produce a novel, to write a letter, or to
relate the latest bit of piquant gossip. Do not make the mistake of
supposing that it is outside of your other intellectual pursuits, save
in the sense that all the rest of your education is inclosed in it.
We fully understand only that which we are ourselves capable of; and
to comprehend the literature of the world it is necessary to come as
near to being able to have produced it as is possible to our individual



Since it is the object of this book first of all to be practical,
it is well, before passing to matters more intricate, to consider
for a little the elementary principles of composition.[1] Written
language, to repeat what everybody knows, consists of words arranged in
sentences, which in turn are grouped into paragraphs, these again being
placed together to form whole compositions. In all composition, it may
be remarked, it is necessary to remember that the punctuation is as
integral and as important a part of what is written as are the words.
It is often more easy to forgive the careless printer for altering
a word than for changing punctuation, since the reader more easily
corrects an error of diction than of pointing. The student has not
mastered even the preliminary stages of composition who is not as sure
of the punctuation of a page as he is of its grammatical construction.

There is a general vagueness on the subject of the mechanical forms
employed in written or printed language which affects the nerves
as if it were connected with the moral laxity of the age. There is
probably no real connection between the frequency of bank defalcations
and a failure to recognize the relative values of the comma and
the semicolon, but to a literary man this ignorance is so culpable
as almost to seem likely to lead to crime. When an inexperienced
writer gets the words down he is apt to suppose that all is well,
and frequently he does not even know when to put in a period. It is
necessary not only to close a sentence when it is done, but also to
bear in mind that if it is not finished putting a period in the middle
does not really make two sentences of it. When a tyro finds that his
pen is getting out of breath, he has a tendency to set down a period,
and then to go on with a conjunction, supposing, in the innocency of
his heart, that he is beginning afresh. He is really only setting up
the divorced better half--for the latter portion of a sentence should
be the better half--in a sort of separate maintenance. The period in
such a case has not even the power of a divorce, since it cannot make
the separation legal. A sentence is like an ingot: if it be chopped in
two, each piece is half of the original whole. It must be melted and
recast to make individual ingots of smaller size.

It is also to be noted that students too often fail to recognize
the fact that there are reasons as definite and as binding for the
divisions of sentences into paragraphs as for the division of words
into sentences. A teacher recently told me of the definition of a
country schoolboy which, if not over-elegant, represents pretty fairly,
it seems to me, the attitude of the common mind toward the paragraph.
“A paragraph,” this lad said blunderingly, when called upon to define,
“why, a paragraph--a paragraph--it’s--it’s a gob of sentences!” I
fancy that most teachers have encountered plenty of pupils who think of
a paragraph as merely a “gob” of sentences,--a lump accidentally broken
off from the rest of the composition, but possessed of no structural
qualities of its own.

The analysis of sentences is common in schools, but, so far as I know,
there is little analysis of paragraphs. To my thinking there is more
to be gained from the latter than from the former. The analysis of
the paragraph calls for a wider view, for a better comprehension of
subject, and for a more developed idea of form. I do not wish to be
understood as endeavoring to invent a new torture for pupils or one
more device for further overburdening teachers already overloaded. I
merely call attention to the value as a means of mental and literary
training of the study of paragraph structure in the works of the
masters of style, and to the fact that such study is an indispensable
part of a literary training.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course the ultimate appeal in all that concerns the mechanics of
composition is to what is commonly called Good Use. All written symbols
by which intelligence is conveyed from man to man are arbitrary. It
is merely because it is agreed that the character “I” shall represent
a sound and that this sound shall stand for an idea, that we are able
to bring up the idea in the mind of others simply by writing the
sign. That there is nothing innate in the symbol is evident from the
fact that other signs have been used to represent this sound, and
that other syllables have stood for the pronoun in the first person
singular. The examples which might be given to illustrate this point
are limited only by the number of words in existence. Consciously or by
tacit consent--oftener, of course, by the latter--it has been agreed
to attach sounds to ideas and to represent those sounds by definite
symbols. It follows that he who wishes to communicate an idea in
writing has no resource outside of the means which have been agreed
upon by the consent of his fellow-men. A writer may decide to have a
new vocabulary and to write it in novel characters. The difficulty is
that it will be understood by nobody. He is forced to use the language
of men, and to use it in the fashion in which it is employed by others.
He is bound by the habit of men who write, established by custom and
defined by common acceptance. In other words, he is constrained to
follow Good Use.

Good Use is the general agreement in regard to conventions by means
of which ideas are conveyed. It is the basis of all composition, and
without an intimate knowledge of it no one can write successfully. What
the best general agreement is, is to be determined by the practice
of the most eminent and widely recognized authors. The fact of their
general indorsement and recognition is a sufficient proof that their
use is intelligible to their public, and that it is therefore safe to
follow them. Their custom decides not because of their authority, but
because their reputation proves that their use is the one which is
tacitly accepted by intelligent readers, and which is therefore the
only one that will insure comprehension.

There are certain things which in writing it is necessary to keep
constantly in mind until they are observed unconsciously and
instinctively. Always a writer must hold to three Principles of
Structure and three Principles of Quality. The division is of course
arbitrary, but it is logical and convenient. The three Principles of
Structure,--the mechanical principles, so to say, those which direct
most obviously the mechanics of language,--are Unity, Mass, and
Coherence. The three Principles of Quality--those which govern the
inner and more intellectual character of a composition--are Clearness,
Force, and Elegance.

The first principle of structure, Unity, has to do with the substance
of a sentence or a composition. It is the law which requires that every
composition shall be informed with a general intention, shall centre
around one fundamental idea; that every paragraph and every sentence
shall be dominated by one essential thought or purpose. It is the
principle which produces the difference between a well-ordered whole
and an unorganized collection of scraps; between a rich embroidery
and a sampler, a mosaic and a crazy-quilt. Without Unity as a whole a
composition becomes as disjointed as a dictionary, without attaining
to the instructiveness of that necessary book; and in degree only less
from the proportionate importance of a part to the whole, the lack of
Unity in a sentence destroys the value and effectiveness of the entire

The second principle, that of Mass, concerns the external arrangement
of what is written. It is the rule which enjoins the putting of the
chief parts of the composition, of the paragraph and of the sentence,
in the places which most readily catch the eye or the ear. This is
sometimes spoken of as Emphasis, but the term is hardly comprehensive
enough. All questions of proportion come of course under the head of
Mass, and so does whatever in the outward form of a composition appeals
to the eye.

Coherence, the third principle of structure, is the law of internal
arrangement. The relation of each part to the others must be made
clear and unmistakable. We are all but too familiar with the style
of writing which resembles the valley of dry bones of the prophet’s
vision, composition wherein the relation of one fragment to another is
to be discerned only by the most careful research. Coherence is as the
inspired prophecy of Ezekiel, whereby the bones came together, bone to
bone, so that the valley was filled with an exceeding great army.

Unity is at once the simplest and the most easily secured of these
three requirements. It is within the power of any writer of reasonable
judgment to tell when the matter contained in a sentence concerns a
single idea or several ideas so closely connected that they must belong
together. It is a matter of perception, and for avoiding incongruous
constructions there is perhaps no other rule so good as the simple
injunction: Be sure that sentences have Unity. Every text-book upon
rhetoric warns against this fault and contains examples of it. The
writer who accustoms himself to realize vividly what he is saying is
not likely to fall into the error.

The danger attending upon the effort to secure Unity is that of
Dryness. The writer who is excessively careful about confining every
sentence to a single thought and every paragraph to a single group of
thoughts dominated by a central idea is sometimes likely to fail of
variety and richness of structure. He becomes timid about admitting
even proper ornaments, and gives to his style an air of being
constructed upon the model of a wall of brick masonry. Variety is as
essential to composition as is Unity, and it is necessary to be careful
lest in securing one the other be lost. Every student should become
sufficiently self-critical to know in which direction he is more likely
to err, and to direct his efforts for improvement accordingly.

The question of Mass is more difficult. This principle governs
the places of words and clauses in the sentence, of sentences in
paragraphs, of paragraphs in longer compositions. The whole matter is
admirably and succinctly put by Mr. Wendell:--

     In any composition the points which most readily catch the eye
     are evidently the beginning and the end. From which, of course,
     it follows that, broadly speaking, every composition--sentence,
     paragraph, chapter, book--may conveniently begin and end with
     the words which stand for ideas that we wish to impress on our
     readers.... Broadly speaking, the office of punctuation is to
     emphasize,--to do for the eye what vocal pauses and stress do for
     the ear,--to show what parts of a composition belong together,
     and among these parts to indicate the most significant. It is
     clear that periods emphasize more strongly than semi-colons; and
     semi-colons than commas. From this, of course, it follows that in
     an ideally massed sentence the most significant words come close
     to the periods, the less significant close to the lesser marks of
     punctuation, the least significant in those unbroken stretches
     of discourse where there is nothing but words to arrest the eye.
     The test of a well-massed sentence, then, is very simple: Are the
     words that arrest the eye the words on which the writer would
     arrest your attention?

The application of this principle to books is easily seen, and perhaps
is especially obvious in fiction. In an effective novel it will
generally be found that some interesting and striking situation has
been chosen for the beginning. Frequently the author makes a bold
plunge into the very heart of the story in order to find an impressive
passage with which to begin. The more important emphasis, that of the
conclusion, must be properly employed or the entire effect of the work
as a whole is sacrificed.

A good example of the ill effect of failing to employ the emphatic
points of a book properly is afforded by Stanley J. Weyman’s pleasing
story, “My Lady Rotha.” The first seven chapters are occupied with an
account of the rebellion of a village against its chatelaine and of
her flight from her castle to avoid their rage. Once the Lady Rotha is
free of the castle, however, the book is devoted to her adventures in a
country where the King of Sweden, the great Wallenstein, and numerous
other leaders are filling the land with war and danger and bloodshed.
To the very end of the tale the reader expects that the narrative will
return to the castle, and that there will appear some better excuse
for the opening chapters than the need of starting the heroine on her
perilous travels; but the novel finishes without going back to the
castle or telling how matters were settled there. The book is so badly
massed that the very force of its beginning injures instead of aiding
the effect of the whole.

In another and better tale by the same author, “A Gentleman of France,”
the first emphasis is given to the poverty and undeserved ill fortune
of the hero; so that when in time fate leads him to better things the
later joy is heightened by contrast with the earlier gloom. I take
these two books because they have been widely read of late, but any
novel that comes to hand is an illustration of one sort or another.

The danger to be avoided in endeavoring to secure effective massing
of compositions is that of artificiality. This is especially obvious
in the construction of sentences. In an uninflected language, like
English, wherein the relative places of words are necessarily fixed
more or less absolutely, it is not easy to re-order the arrangement
without giving to the style an appearance of artifice. Dexterously to
overcome this difficulty is one of the things which the student has to
learn, and perhaps more upon the success with which he is able to do so
than upon any other single thing will depend the effectiveness of what
he writes.

The third principle of structure, Coherence, is one of which the lack
is easily perceptible, but the securing of which is often difficult.
The rule is that words closely related by their share in the thought to
be conveyed shall be kept together,--and so stated is simple enough. No
one, however, is likely to have written even a page upon any subject
at all intricate without having to pause to rearrange the clauses of
some involved sentence or of some confused paragraph. A great hindrance
in the struggle for Coherence, it should be added, is a want of clear
perception of what one wishes to say. The position of words is often
determined by the choice of shades of expression which are extremely
delicate, and unless the writer has an accurate and acute perception of
these he cannot be sure of the order of his words and clauses.

It is easy enough to see how the phrases are misplaced in the stock
examples of incoherence which are given in the books of rhetoric. Any
novice could improve a sentence of this sort:--

     He left off his old coat to marry a lady with a large Roman nose
     which had been worn continuously for ten years.

It takes only a little thought to see the error in the phrase:--

     The crowd turns, departs, disintegrates;

where it is evident that the connection is between “turns” and
“disintegrates,” and that the crowd departs after it has broken up. Not
less obvious, when attention is called to it, is the fault here:--

     Lothair was unaffectedly gratified at _not only_ receiving his
     friends at his own castle, _but_ under these circumstances of

It is not hard to see the difference of meaning between these two

     So long as men had slender means, whether of keeping out cold
     or checkmating it with artificial heat, Winter was an unwelcome
     guest, especially in the country.

     So long as men had slender means, especially in the country, of
     keeping out cold or checkmating it with artificial heat, Winter
     was an unwelcome guest.

It requires a more trained perception to feel the variations which
result from altering in the following example the position of “only.”

     The theory that the poet is a being above the world and apart from
     it is true of him as an observer only who applies to the phenomena
     about him the test of a finer and more spiritual sense.--Lowell:
     _Life and Letters of James Gates Percival_.

If we say “is true only of him who as an observer,” we shall mean one
thing,--and I confess to a suspicion that this is the thing which
Lowell intended!--whereas the passage as it stands asserts that the
theory is true considering the poet as merely an observer.

It is not necessary to multiply examples. Every student who attempts
careful expression will come upon illustrations enough in his own work.
The important thing is to be clearly aware of what is to be said, and
then to be sure that it is said, and said unmistakably.

In the construction of sentences the coherent arrangement of words is
frequently hindered by the grammatical relations; no such limitation
prevents the proper placing of sentences in the formation of
paragraphs. In the construction of paragraphs, however, even more than
in the construction of sentences, is necessary the utmost clearness
of ideas. It is here essential to know not only what one has to say,
but the relative strength which should be given to each link in the
chain of thought. The question of proportion must here have the fullest
answer. The relative stress which is to be given by position and the
relative stress which is to be imparted by proportion are alike of the
greatest importance in the making of the paragraph.

Something of this may be shown by an example. The following is a
paragraph from the essay by Jeffrey on “The Characters in Shakespeare’s

     Everything in him [Shakespeare] is in unmeasured abundance and
     unequaled perfection,--but everything so balanced and kept in
     subordination, as not to jostle or disturb or take the place of
     another. The most exquisite poetical conceptions, images, and
     descriptions, are given with such brevity, and introduced with
     such skill as merely to adorn without loading the sense they
     accompany.... All his excellences, like those of nature herself,
     are thrown out together; and instead of interfering with, support
     and recommend each other.

Let this now be read with a transposition of sentences:--

     Although in Shakespeare everything is so balanced and kept in
     subordination as not to jostle or disturb or take the place of
     another, and is in unequaled perfection, yet everything is in an
     unmeasured abundance. He gives with such brevity and introduces
     with such skill as to adorn without loading the sense they
     accompany, the most exquisite poetical conceptions, images, and
     descriptions. All his excellences, although they support and
     recommend instead of interfering with each other, are thrown out
     together like those of nature herself.

The words and phrases are identical in these two paragraphs, save for
the slight alterations and changes of connectives made necessary by
transposition; and yet the effect is distinctly different. The first,
as Jeffrey intended, remarks that in spite of the great luxuriance of
Shakespeare’s work it is always well ordered; the second declares that
although well ordered the poet’s work is as luxurious as nature herself.

If the proportion were changed, the effect would be varied again.
Cutting out a few clauses from the original, we have:--

     Everything in Shakespeare is so balanced and kept in subordination
     as not to jostle or disturb or take the place of another. The most
     poetical conceptions are given with such brevity and introduced
     with such skill as merely to adorn without loading the sense
     they accompany. All his excellences are thrown out together, and
     instead of interfering with, support and recommend each other.

Here Shakespeare’s fine ordering of his style is made more emphatic
than in the original, and a glance will show how, by the suppression
of other phrases, the luxuriance of his work could have been given the
more prominence. A writer must know which of many possible shades of
meaning is the one which he desires to convey, and he is likely to be
successful in his work or the reverse according to the sharpness of
his own apprehension of what he is aiming at. The gunner who shuts his
eyes when he fires is more likely to hit the mark than is the writer
who vaguely endeavors to say something likely to succeed in accurately
saying anything.

[Footnote 1: In this chapter and the next three I am so greatly
indebted to Professor Barrett Wendell’s “English Composition” that this
part of my book might almost be called a summary of his, although I
have of course omitted much and have introduced some things upon which
he has barely touched.]

[Footnote 2: Disraeli: _Lothair_. Quoted by Professor Hill.]



The student who endeavors to apply to words the tests of Good Use
finds himself confronted with some questions which are very easily
answered and with others so difficult that even the experts of language
may disagree concerning them. It is of course to be supposed that
we have all mastered the canons which forbid the use of Barbarisms,
Improprieties, and Solecisms,--however much we allow ourselves to be
influenced by the newspapers into the habit of violating them. We have
not got through our early school years without having our attention
called to the difference of effect produced by long and short words.
Most of us have had more or less confusing instruction on the subject
of the use of Latin words and words which are somewhat inexactly termed
Anglo-Saxon. We have all known brief but bewildered intervals during
which we endeavored to live up to a noble resolution to make our
vocabulary strongly Anglo-Saxon; and we are most of us conscious in our
secret hearts that we neither did this ever, nor ever for a moment knew
how to set to work to do it.

It is as well for the written language of to-day that there has never
been possible a practical revision of the tongue by the dropping
of words of Latin origin. It is a most mistaken notion which turns
attention to the race origin of words instead of directing study to
their actual force in use. It sounds admirably learned to talk of a
diction which is too strongly Latin or which is markedly Anglo-Saxon;
it is possible enough to see that in general a preponderance of
classical words imparts dignity and that an abundance of Saxon gives
terseness to a style; but the man who in desiring to secure the one
effect or the other goes to work to select his language on this basis
is utterly ignoring the very first principles of practical composition.
Words are to be chosen with reference to a desired effect, and their
pedigree is of no more consequence than is that of the players on
a foot-ball team. The boys of one descent may do better than those
of another, and words of one or of another derivation may produce a
desired effect,--but the contrary may be true, so that such a principle
of selection is as absurd in one case as in the other.

Of long and short words much the same might be said. We are pretty well
out of the days when it was still needful to insist upon the admonition
of Frere:--

    And don’t confound the language of the nation
    With long-tailed words in _osity_ and _ation_.

The childish love of fine words which belongs to the infancy of
literature is generally outgrown. It is recognized that words are to be
selected solely for their effect, and not for extraneous pretensions.
In this way is to be made the choice between words general and
specific, and of words literal or figurative.

A consideration which is of importance in the choice of words, and
one with which we shall be concerned later on, is that of denotation
and connotation. A word denotes what it expresses directly; it
connotes what it expresses indirectly; it denotes the idea which it
names, and connotes the idea that it implies; it denotes what it
says, and connotes what it suggests. The word “Washington” denotes a
particular man, whose history we know, but with that history go so
many suggestions and associations that the name connotes the idea
of patriotism, military skill, and devotion to the nation from the
very hour of its birth. The word “treason” denotes a specific offense
against the government; while it connotes all the shame with which men
regard one who betrays his country. In the familiar line of Wordsworth,

    A violet by a mossy stone,

the words denote a certain common flower beside a stone covered with
another common and ordinary vegetable growth; they connote all the
beauty of the azure blossom, the sweetness of the springtide, the
quietude of a sylvan scene, all those lovely and touching associations
which can be expressed only by suggestion. It is in the fact that
certain sentiments can be conveyed by indirect means only that the
value of connotation lies. To suggest by the choice of words those
delicate and subtle ideas which are like a fragrance or like the
iridescent sheen of nacre is one of the highest triumphs of literary
art; and the nice artist in words is certainly not less careful in
regard to the connotation of words than he is of their denotation.

One of the things which often puzzles beginners is how to increase
their vocabulary. Of course reading is one of the most effective means
of enlarging one’s knowledge of the language,--but it is only careful
reading, reading in which are studied the force and the color of terms
as well as their literal meaning, that is of any marked value in this
direction. It is said that Thackeray was in the habit of studying the
dictionary with a frank purpose of adding to his knowledge of words. I
have known two literary men who followed this practice, but they both
deliberately selected unusual and bizarre examples with the avowed
object of adding a unique and whimsical flavor to their journalistic
work. Such an example is of course to be shunned, but in general there
is far too little stress laid upon the use of the dictionary. There
should be in every preparatory school a regular exercise in the use of
the dictionary, and in it all students should be required to join. The
teacher should read an extract or a sentence, or should give out words
to the class, and have the meanings and derivations actually looked up
at the moment. The differing values of synonyms should be examined; and
if possible something of the history of the words given. The aim should
be to encourage the student in the habit of having a lexicon at hand
and of using it constantly.

Another important means of increasing one’s command of language
is conversation, and the value of conversation in this respect as
in every other is in direct ratio to its character. To talk is not
enough; it is necessary that the talker exert himself to do his best.
Chatter is of no value as intellectual training; it is the exercise
of the mind which tells. The subject of conversation may be as light
as possible; but it is important that whatever is said is said well,
whether it be a compliment to a mistress’ eyebrow, a discussion of the
deepest philosophy of life, or the latest bon-mot of the clubs. “Every
variety of gift,” Emerson says truly,--“science, religion, politics,
letters, art, prudence, war, or love,--has its vent and exchange in
conversation,” and it follows that conversation properly conducted
helps to the power of expression in all of these.

Better than all other means of increasing the vocabulary, however,
is writing. Always the way to learn to write is to write. The way to
increase one’s power of expression is to strive to express. The habit
of seeking constantly for the right word results in ability to find the
right word. It acts not only directly, widening one’s domain in the
realm of language, but it renders a hundred-fold more effective the
use of reading and of talk. It puts the mind into an attentive mood
so that when a new term is met with it is remembered. The perception
on the alert for words becomes susceptible to them, so that they are
appreciated and retained. Cultivate the habit of putting things into
words and the words will come unconsciously; practice phrasing thought
and the means of phrasing it will not long be wanting.

       *       *       *       *       *

When we go on from the consideration of words to that of sentences we
find that here Good Use is more clearly defined. The rules for the
construction of sentences are to a large extent more formal than those
which govern the choice of terms, and the most obvious of them are
conveniently collected and arranged under the name of Grammar.

Grammar is the account-book of custom; it is in reality a reckoning
up of the popular suffrages in regard to verbal proprieties. In other
words, grammar is the formal statement of the decisions of Good Use
in so far as they apply to the relative forms of words. It is of
course not necessary to speak here in detail of these. I only wish to
call attention to the rules of the grammarian as a particularly well
defined example of the supremacy of Good Use in all matters relating to
language and its employment in literature. It is because the general
consent has decided that a certain form of the verb shall be plural
that the grammarian declares it to be in that number. Grammars follow
and formulate custom; they neither precede nor dictate.

The inability of the grammarian to dictate to custom is made especially
evident when we consider that thing more subtle than syntax and in
composition no less important, which we call Idiom. That a writer
shall be idiomatic is as essential to writing well as the avoidance of
solecisms, yet every student of the language knows how elusive and
difficult of attainment is a sound understanding of the idioms of any

An idiom is the personal--if the word may be allowed--the personal
idiosyncrasy of a language. It is a method of speech wherein the genius
of the race making the language shows itself as differing from that of
all other peoples. What style is to the man that is idiom to the race.
It is the crystallization in verbal forms of peculiarities of race
temperament--perhaps even of race eccentricities.

It is customary to define an idiom as the form of language which cannot
be translated into another tongue; and the example which is commonly
given is the habit English-speaking peoples have of saying: “You are
right,” whereas the Latin form--literally translated--would be: “You
speak rightly,” the French: “You have reason,” and the German: “You
have right.” An idiom is independent of grammatical rules,--sometimes
is in distinct violation of them. It makes us say: “A ten-foot pole,”
“A two-dollar bill,” “A five-acre lot,”--where a plural adjective
modifies a singular substantive, or to speak more accurately is
compounded with it. It decides that we shall write: “More [friends]
than one friend has told me,”--although the subject of “told” is
“friends” understood. An idiom boldly ignores the derivation of words.
Since “circumstances” means “things standing around,” it is evidently
logical to use the phrase, “in these circumstances.” The genius of the
language decides that the form shall be, “under these circumstances;”
and whoever writes “in” for “under” not only uses unidiomatic English,
but lays himself open to the charge of pedantry. Untranslatable and
above rules, Idiom is as inviolable as the laws of the Medes and the
Persians, and for him who sins against it there is no pardon.

For idioms there is no law save that of Good Use, and perhaps in the
discernment of no other rules is required so critical and so nice a
discrimination. English which is not idiomatic becomes at once formal
and lifeless, as if the tongue were already dead and its remains
embalmed in those honorable sepulchres, the philological dictionaries.
On the other hand, English which goes too far, and fails of a delicate
distinction between what is really and essentially idiomatic and what
is colloquial, becomes at once vulgar and utterly wanting in that
subtle quality of dignity for which there is no better term than
distinction. The grammarian, moreover, wageth against Idiom a warfare
as bitter as it is unceasing. It is distinctly idiomatic to use in
certain cases what is known as the “flat adverb,”--the adverb in the
adjective form without _ly_. The man who writes “speak loudly,” “speak
more loudly,” “speak plainly,” “walk fastly,” “drink deeply,” “speak
lowly,” “the moon shines brightly,” “the sun shines hotly,” may have
the applause of grammarians and his own misguided conscience, but he
is not writing idiomatic English. His virtue must be its own reward,
since he can never win the approval of lovers of sound, wholesome,
living English. Those who use the language idiomatically write “speak
loud,” “speak louder,” “speak plain,” “walk fast,” “drink deep,” “speak
low,” “the moon shines bright,” and “the sun shines hot.” Yet these
idiomatic distinctions are often very delicate. An adverb is sometimes
properly used in its flat form with an imperative when in other cases
the form in _ly_ is proper. We say, for instance, “walk slow, walk
slower;” but “He walked slowly across the field and more slowly over
the bridge.” Nothing but the careful training of the perceptions avails
for distinctions such as these.

Another idiomatic construction against which the purist waggeth his
tongue and gritteth his teeth is the ending of a sentence with a
particle. Instead of the good old idiomatic “Where does it come from?”
he would have us say “Whence does it come?” For “Where is it going to?”
he offers “Whither is it going?” Both of his phrases are eminently
respectable, but there is sometimes a lack of vitality in too eminent
respectability! Do not be afraid to say: “The subject which I spoke to
you about;” “The conclusion that we came to;” “The man whom I talked
with;” “This is a cause to stand up for;” “It is worth living for;”
“A name to conjure with;” and the allied phrases which would never
have been tolerated for an instant if the language had been made in
libraries instead of having grown up in the lives of peoples and on the
tongues of breathing men.

Professor Reed, of the University of Pennsylvania, admirably says:--

     The false fastidiousness which shuns a short particle at the end
     of a sentence is often fatal to a force which belongs to the
     language in its primal character.

He points out that only the misapplication of analogies from
Continental languages has brought into discredit this characteristic
English idiom. He quotes Bacon, “Houses are built to live in, and not
to look on;” Donne, “Hath God a name to curse by?” and Burke, “The
times we live in.” He might have gone to contemporary authors, and
cited Stevenson, “After expedients hitherto unthought of,” “He was all
fallen away and fallen in;” James, “The different bedrooms she has
successively slept in,” “There is almost literally nothing he does not
care for;” Newman, “The elect are few to choose out of;” Lowell, “In
accomplishing what he aimed at,” “The words are chosen for their value
to fill in,” “The soil out of which such men as he are made is good
to be born on, good to live on, good to die for and be buried in.” It
would not be difficult to extend the list until it should include all
the writers of idiomatic English.

It is necessary, however, to add here a word of warning. Allowing a
particle to come at the end of a sentence or clause because it belongs
there idiomatically is one thing; letting the particle drag loosely
along behind from a lack of skill or energy sufficient to manage the
construction properly is quite another. Idiom is a cloak which may
be made to cover as many vices as virtues. The beginning and end of
clause or sentence are the emphatic parts, and to give the close to an
unimportant word is to waste an opportunity and weaken the effect of
the whole. The reason why the idiomatic final particle is permissible
is because it really belongs to the emphatic idea or is practically a
part of the verb which precedes it. In the phrase “the times we live
in,” it is evident that “in” is in intention part of the idea expressed
by the verb, so that the sentence does not close with the particle “in”
but with the verb “live in;” and so on for the other examples which
have been quoted.

A common instance of unidiomatic use of a particle at the end of a
sentence is that of closing with the sign of the infinitive. “Do as you
have a mind to” is bad English because the words “mind” and “to” do
not in idea belong together. Either the verb should be expressed,--“Do
as you have a mind to do,” or the sentence should be recast. However
strong colloquial precedent may seem, do not allow that forlornly
orphaned sign of the infinitive to come trailing along alone as a last

The idiomatic use of conjunctions is one mark of a finished and careful
style. It is perhaps too much to say that if a writer takes care of
his particles the other parts of speech will take care of themselves,
but it is at least true that no style can be lucid and polished in
which the particles--and especially the conjunctions--have not been
looked to most carefully. Amateur writers are apt to seem aware of
the existence of only two conjunctions, “and” and “but;” while they
are especially careful to omit the conjunction “that.” It has been
remarked that one of the important means by which the French masters
secure that wonderful clarity and vivacity of style which so few
English authors have been able to approach is a careful and explicit
discrimination of the value of connectives. A stylist might be not very
inaccurately defined as a writer who is always conscientious in his
choice of conjunctions. Coleridge’s remarks on this point have often
been quoted:--

     A close reasoner and a good writer in general may be known by
     his pertinent use of connectives. Read that page of Johnson;
     you cannot alter one conjunction without spoiling the sense.
     It is in a linked strain throughout. In your modern books for
     the most part, the sentences in a page have the same connection
     with each other that marbles have in a bag; they touch without
     adhering.--_Table Talk_, May 15, 1833.

This is impatiently inexact, it may be, but the modern tendency,
especially in careless newspaper work, is to do away with connectives
for the sake of securing briskness. The result is abruptness always
and confusion generally. Insignificant as they seem, connectives are
the articulations of the skeleton of a composition, and unless they be
flexible and delicately adjusted there is no possibility of freedom of
movement in the whole.

Certain weak idioms which are common in conversation are apt to creep
into the writings of those not over sensitive to literary effects,
but these colloquialisms are religiously avoided by careful writers.
An example of this sort of thing is the detestable use of “got”--as
a substitute for “have” or as a superfluous appendage to it,--which
is so conspicuous a vice in England. In America this is at least
theoretically frowned upon, and indeed it is protested against by the
best authorities on the other side of the water.

Of course I have not space to take up one by one all the idiomatic
expressions of the language. These given will serve as examples, and
I have but to add that there is perhaps no better way of becoming
sensitive to idiom than by conversing with rustics and reading the
English classics. Neither method is of value without the restraining
and enlightening influence of sound good judgment, but the student
who is able to criticise his own work and compare it with that of the
masters will find the talk of country folk and the works of the old
masters alike helpful in the formation of an idiomatic style.

       *       *       *       *       *

The matter of long sentences or short sentences is practically the same
as that of long or short words. The question is what effect the writer
wishes to produce. If he desires to treat a subject with dignity,
to impress by gravity of manner, or to produce a mood of solemnity
or melancholy, it is all but essential that his sentences shall be
long. If on the other hand it is his object to produce an effect of
lightness, to induce a feeling of gayety, of briskness, to make the
blood run swiftly in the veins, his style will be crisp with short
sentences. With even a limited amount of literary training the choice
of length in sentences becomes almost instinctive.

Something of the same principle is to be applied to sentences loose and
sentences periodic. A loose sentence is one in which the meaning and
the grammatic structure are complete at some point before the end; a
periodic sentence is one in which sense and sentence end together. If
I say, “We all praise periodic sentences, but few of us write them,” I
have given an example of the truth of the statement. The sense and the
grammatic construction are both complete at the middle of the sentence.
If this be rewritten so as to read, “Although we all praise periodic
sentences, few of us write them,” we have a periodic form in which
sense and construction are alike incomplete until the close.

That closeness of structure which in an inflected language is imparted
by the form of words must in English depend upon word arrangement;
and from this it follows that the question of making the sentence
periodic must be subordinate to the matter of bringing the right words
together. The tendency of the language is toward a loose structure; but
between the two sorts of sentences that we are considering there is the
difference that there is between giving to a person a thing in pieces
and giving it to him whole. In the loose sentence you present to him
one portion after another, often in a way which leaves him uncertain
at the end of the different parts whether there is or is not more to
come; in the periodic, you offer to him the whole at once. Evidently
the latter is the more definite, the more precise, the more finished.
It is, however, so often impossible to make a sentence periodic without
apparent effort that no style could be wholly periodic without seeming
elaborately and even painfully studied; hence as a matter of fact
all good style consists of a judicious mingling of the two kinds of

The danger in a style too uniformly periodic is that of appearing stiff
and formal; and it seems to be true that the best and most flexible
English contains a larger portion of loose sentences than of periodic.
Reaching out my hand for volumes which chance to be within arm’s length
of my writing-table, I find that of the first fifteen sentences in
Lowell’s essay on Chaucer, ten are loose and five periodic; of the same
number at the beginning of Henry James’ essay on Balzac, nine are loose
and six periodic; at the commencement of Stevenson’s paper on Burns
the loose are to the periodic eight to seven; Saintsbury’s essay on De
Quincey begins with the same proportions; while that by the same author
on Sydney Smith opens with thirteen loose relieved but by two periodic.
Of course such examples are not conclusive, but they are at least

In all these matters the important thing is to train one’s self to do
whatever it seems well to do, by the use of the form most apt for the
effect desired. Since the natural tendency of the untrained writer is
towards loose sentences, it is well to conquer the art of writing
periodically. In this, as in all points of the study of composition,
the thing aimed at is to be able to do with language whatever is
desired; to become as absolutely master of it as the cunning sculptor
is master of the modeling-clay, which is as plastic under his hand as
if it were a part of his very thought.



When an architect builds a palace, or an edifice no matter how much
humbler, he first attends to the unity, the proportions, and to the
strength of the structure; after that he has to consider the harmony,
the finish, and the adornment. According to the nature and purpose of
the building, it may be given a coat of mineral paint, such as that
which made the transient fortune of Silas Lapham, it may be set with
clustering statues like an Old World cathedral, or it may be jeweled
with precious marbles and flower-bright mosaics like the Taj Mahal.

The analogy between this process and that of the writer is close enough
to excuse the somewhat florid comparison. First is to be considered
the mechanical form of what is written; unity, proportion, and
texture must be looked to, and afterward there must be thought of the
harmony, finish, and adornment. When we have studied the Principles of
Structure,--Unity, Mass, and Coherence,--we have next to do with the
Principles of Quality.

Whatever work interests a reader may be said to touch him in one of
three ways: it may appeal to his understanding, to his emotions, or to
his imagination. In other words, it may affect him by its intellectual,
by its emotional, or by its imaginative or æsthetic quality. Bearing
in mind that any nomenclature is a matter of convenience, and that we
use names chiefly as a means of dividing the subject into portions
which may be handled less awkwardly than the whole, we may call these
three qualities Clearness, Force, and Elegance.

If we examine our feelings in regard to anything which we read, we
find that it has been easily intelligible, or that it has bothered
our comprehension; it has interested us, stirred us, or has left
us indifferent or bored; and it has or has not produced in us a
sense of beauty and elevation of mood. Neither these sensations nor
the qualities which produce them are sharply separable; but the
distinctions perceptibly exist, so that for purposes of study the
qualities may conveniently be treated one at a time. It is easy to see
that in understanding the meaning of a thing we most markedly use the
intellectual faculties; that in liking or disliking we respond to an
appeal to the emotions; and that in feeling beauty and appreciating
the æsthetic, we necessarily employ the imagination. The first is a
question of comprehension; the second of feeling; and the third of
taste. Clearness is the intellectual principle of style; Force the
emotional; and Elegance the æsthetic.

The Principles of Structure must precede and underlie those of Quality.
Speaking broadly, we may say that it is idle to attempt to give to a
composition or to a sentence Clearness, Force, or Elegance, unless it
is already satisfactory in Unity, Mass, and Coherence. The closest
attention to the laws of mechanical form, however, is not sufficient
to secure quality. For the secret of that it is needful to go further.

It is in Clearness that the Principles of Quality are most obviously
associated with those of Structure. If an author has carefully
considered the Unity of his composition, if he has massed it properly
in parts and as a whole, if he has looked well to its Coherence,--it
is hardly possible that he should fail of being readily understood.
Close attention to the mechanics of style will generally make a
writer intelligible, provided always that he wishes his meaning to be
apprehended easily, and that he himself knows what he is attempting to

These two considerations are of much practical importance. Sometimes
writers do not choose to be clear. George Meredith seems often to write
with the deliberate intention of forcing the reader to go slowly,--as
if from the feeling that what can be read rapidly is in danger of
being merely skimmed over. There are others, like Thomas Carlyle, who
deliberately obscure what they write, apparently in the hope of adding
by complexity an air of mystery to commonplaces and a meretricious
dignity to wisdom.

Take, for instance, this sentence:--

     If for the present, in our Europe, we estimate the ratio of Ware
     to Appearance of Ware so high even as One to a Hundred (which,
     considering the Wages of a Pope, Russian Autocrat, or English
     Game-Preserver, is probably not far from the mark),--what almost
     prodigious saving may there not be anticipated, as the Statistics
     of Imposture advances, and so the manufacture of Shams (that of
     Realities rising into clearer and clearer distinction therefrom)
     gradually declines, and at length becomes all but wholly
     unnecessary!--Carlyle: _Sartor Resartus_, ii. 3.

Here the lack of lucidity is intentional. The author has sacrificed
it to the particular effect which he wished to produce. He sought to
give to what he wrote an air of bizarre and piquant individuality,
and it is for this that he so distorts and convulses his sentences.
The purpose is as conscious as that which informs the gyrations of an
acrobat. There is the same relation between a page of “Sartor Resartus”
or the “French Revolution” and a page of ordinary prose that there is
between the marvelous distortions of a contortionist and the walk of a
gentleman,--each, of course, being well in its place.

Compare with the sentence just given, this passage from an
undergraduate’s theme:--

     Chaucer’s influence on the language was great, and he helped to
     put the language before the people in a way that had not been done
     before, so that it is evident that there was a great result from
     this. This was because he helped to change the English language,
     and in this way he was very influential in affecting the language.

Here an unhappy youth, engaged in all but mortal combat with an
examination paper, was endeavoring to say something when he had nothing
to say. Of course he could not but fail, since it is impossible to show
clearly what one does not see clearly.

With these put also this, which again is from an undergraduate’s

     If the student respects a professor, as many do, he can show his
     respect in many ways; if he does not, and there are teachers who
     do not command the respect of students (I do not consider the
     question to be confined to this school, and in some colleges there
     are men on the Faculty who are not respected, nor do they deserve
     to be) and I think a man should raise his hat only to ladies or to
     gentlemen that have ladies with them.

Here the writer knew fairly well what he wished to say, although he had
not taken the trouble to think it out very sharply. His difficulty was
that he lacked technical skill in expression.

These examples illustrate the causes from which obscurity may arise.
The first is legitimate. Whether we agree that Carlyle or George
Meredith or Browning has carried obscurity beyond the farthest limit
at which it is permissible has nothing to do with the fact that there
are times when it is the right of an author to sacrifice Clearness to
some other effect which he seeks. It is, however, fair to say that in
ordinary experience these emergencies are pretty nearly as rare as the
appearance of white blackbirds; and that at least no writer has a right
to discard Clearness until he has secured it. Certainly no one can
successfully employ obscurity as a means of producing literary effect
until he has acquired the art of writing with transparent simplicity.

Of the second cause it is sufficient to say here that no outward aid
can enable the student to overcome it. To think sharply and lucidly is
the result of self-discipline. It is a matter of mental exercise, and
while a student may be sent to a mental as to a physical gymnasium,
all strengthening of the mind as of the muscles must be the result of
individual exertion. There has as yet been discovered no system of
intellectual _massage_, by means of which the understanding may attain
to the benefits of work without doing anything.

While rules or wise maxims help little in this matter of mental
clearness, it is a thing so important and so universally essential in
all intellectual training that it is difficult to pass it without a
word more. If a new Dante were to people a new Inferno with sinners
guilty of crimes intellectual, as the stern old Florentine peopled his
with those who violated moral laws, the most populous circle would
be devoted to those who mistakenly think themselves to think. There
is a discouragingly large portion of mankind whose mental processes
are apparently those of the oyster. They are mentally so indolent or
incapable that the labor of reflecting is entirely beyond them. No
student can afford to remain in doubt as to whether he really thinks,
or merely indulges in vague mental impressions which are to genuine
thought as is the dull smouldering of a heap of wet leaves in a
November fog to a brisk beech-wood fire on a wide hearth in a winter

Macaulay is right when he says: “Propriety of thought and propriety
of diction are commonly found together.... Obscurity of expression
generally springs from confusion of ideas.” He might have added that
it is of great importance that the writer be able to think of his
subject as a whole. It is easy for the mind to grasp a small thing
and it is proportionately harder for it to seize upon a greater; yet
upon the power to hold work in the mind in its entirety must as surely
depend success in writing as does all vigorous mental development.

The third cause of obscurity, inability to express the thought which
one has, is at once the most common, and the most inexcusable. Here we
are dealing with a tangible thing, to a great extent a matter of rule,
and, at most, largely a question of study. There is no reason why a
person of ordinary intelligence should not be able to express whatever
he is able to think. Indeed, whoever has fully thought out an idea has
already phrased it, and if he has even a moderate amount of training in
composition should have no difficulty in expressing it on paper if he
will but take the necessary pains.

It is evident that what is clear to one reader may be obscure to
another. It follows that the first question to be decided is to what
audience a composition is to be addressed. Few of us can understand
this sentence from a treatise on comparative embryology.

     The inner wall of each of the paired cavities forms a
     splanchnopleuric mesoblast, and the outer wall of the whole the
     somatic mesoblast.

This is clear to readers who understand the technical language of
embryology; and for them the author wrote. Parallel examples might be
given which would show how many sorts of writing there are which are
clear to a limited audience only. The reports of base-ball games are
unintelligible to the average English reader, while to the American the
notes on cricket are equally meaningless. The criticisms of artists
upon pictures seldom convey a definite impression to those not versed
in the technical language of painting; and the same principle holds
throughout all sorts of literature.

The whole matter then resolves itself into the simple maxim: Use the
language of those addressed. There is somewhere a story of a lady who
always spoke to her maid in French, because in taking the situation
the girl had wrongfully claimed to know that tongue. The mistress
held stubbornly to the position that the maid should understand, and
she endured the discomforts of never being well served rather than
abandon it. Much writing and not a little talking is all but as absurd.
Constantly authors address themselves to the general public in language
which they know or might know the general public will not understand.
Whatever else the human race may be, it is not logical; there are few
of us free from the fault of sometimes acting upon assumptions which we
know to be false; and nowhere is this fact more strikingly illustrated
than in composition.

This question of using the language of those addressed is one which
meets every teacher at the very threshold of the class-room. The best
instructor is not he who knows most, but he who imparts most; and he
imparts most who most perfectly speaks the language of his pupils. It
is of no use daily to fire over the heads of children all the wisdom
of Solomon if it be embodied in a language which is not theirs. The
teacher who really teaches does not take the attitude of the lady whose
maid should have known French; he does not assume that pupils should
understand what he says; he simply considers whether as a matter of
fact they do understand. If they do not, he sets himself with patience
to re-phrase it, and, if need be, re-phrase again, until he has put
it into language which the children cannot fail to comprehend. It is
not a question of what might be understood but of what must be. It is
true that this calls for a patience which is almost divine, and there
are teachers in the common schools to-day who are only preserved to us
because the age of translation to heaven is past. There are unhappily
others who do not understand that this patient and laborious seeking
after the intellectual dialect of the pupil is the only possible means
of imparting instruction; and thus it happens that some schools are
taught in a language which, while it is English, is yet hardly more
intelligible to the students than would be Choctaw or the speech of

In writing, the safest guide in this respect is sound, homely common
sense. Write without nonsense in the way of self-consciousness or
affectation. Make it always a rule in general composition to aim at
the simple, average man; to write so that the traditionally foolish
wayfaring man need not err therein. Remember that the aim is not to
write so that one may be understood, but to write so that one cannot
be misunderstood.

Absurdly enough, human vanity comes in here. Untrained writers are apt
to feel that they lower themselves if they condescend to write for
the intellectual bourgeoisie. Many a clever young author has come to
grief because he could not bring himself to use simple language lest
it should seem that he had not command of a more elaborate diction.
He has failed because he could not be willing to address the ordinary
reader lest he thereby might appear to show that he had not the gift of
speaking to the learned. The great writers are men who are free from
this weakness; who are intent upon making their message understood, and
not upon preserving a foolish appearance of superiority. Shakespeare
did not disdain to write for the London apprentices brawling in the
pit, or Homer to sing for semi-barbarians half-drunken at the feast.
The masterpieces of literature which have been addressed to the
educated few are revered; those which have been confessedly for the
many have been read and lived upon. To take as instances two works
written at about the same time: “Paradise Lost” has been commended by
critics and admired by scholars; “Pilgrim’s Progress” has been and is
the favorite book with thousands. The one has always been profoundly
admired and the other has been loved. I do not mean that this is all
that might be said of these classics, or that there are no other
considerations in determining their worth, but they do serve to make
more clear the fact that to reach the general reader it is necessary
to write for the general reader.

Speaking the language of the average man includes also the confining
of allusions to the range of his probable knowledge, the taking for
granted nothing which he may not reasonably be supposed to know. The
temptation to show erudition is at the elbow of every writer. When,
near the beginning of this lecture, I referred in an easy manner to the
Taj Mahal, I was instantly conscious that I had used the comparison
with a pleasant sense of the air of superior knowledge which it might
give. However it may be with you, the probabilities are that the
ordinary reader would not be sufficiently familiar with the elaborate
ornamentation of that wonder of the East to make my comparison to its
jewelled walls effective, and I left it only because I wanted to use it
here as an illustration.

It is no less needful to appeal to the average emotional experiences
of mankind in order to be clear to the general reader. It must be
remembered that all art is based on the assumption of a community of
human feelings; in other words, upon the theory that the fundamental
emotions are shared by all mankind. The more closely a writer holds to
common humanity, to common human experience, the more wide will be the
range of his work, and the more clear will he be in those very matters
where clearness is most difficult of attainment. The more subtile and
remote from ordinary human life are the emotions and the passions to
be portrayed, the more absolute is the necessity of conveying them in
terms of simple and common experience. Analyze one of the tragedies
of Shakespeare or of the old Greek dramatists, and you will find that
its tremendous effects are produced by means essentially simple. By
keeping always within the range of the sympathies and feelings common
to humanity, the masters are able to make every stroke tell; and
this method is in the nature of things the only possible one. Common
humanity can comprehend only what it has felt.

To gain Clearness it is necessary first to avoid all vagueness of
thought and all vagueness of expression. It is needful to shun
ambiguity of word or of phrase, and that more subtle ambiguity which
may arise from ill-considered paragraphing, from misproportion, or from
bad arrangement of the parts of a composition. It is no less important
to write with a constant remembrance of the audience addressed; to use
their language, and to appeal to the emotions and experiences which are
likely to be common to the average individual of the class for which
one writes. Inexperienced writers may make the mistake of supposing
that this is the rule by which mediocrity is to be reached; but as a
matter of fact these are the principles upon which have been written
the masterpieces of the world.



Force has been defined as the quality which appeals to the emotions.
Obviously, what we read interests us or it does not. Persons who are
conscious that they are not qualified to judge of the value of work,
yet who are secretly convinced that their judgment must be of value
despite this fact, are rather apt to take refuge in the annoying
phrase, “I am no judge, but I can tell what I like.” Even this
qualified statement is often conspicuously untrue, but in so far as
they really can tell what they like, they are judges of the force of
what they read, their own emotions being the standard; and in so far as
they can tell why they like or fail to like, they are judges also of
the means by which force has been secured, or for want of which it has
been lost.

We are accustomed to associate with the term which is here used a
signification more narrow and more intense than that which is given
to it in this connection. Generally, when we speak of a piece of
literature as having force, we mean that it has the power to move us
to an unusual degree. We think at once of the cyclone-swept pages
of Carlyle, of the penetrating mysteriousness of Kipling, or of the
fate-pervaded realism of Hardy; at least, of something moving and
intense. In discussing force as a quality of style, we must make the
term wide enough to cover whatever power a literary composition has
of arousing interest by what it is. An accidental circumstance--the
antiquity of a book, the fact that it was written by a particular
person, the part which it has played in an important event, and so
on--might arouse a certain sort of interest in it, but this would have
nothing to do with the force of the composition. Those things which
certain magazines bring out, written by the notoriety of the hour,--the
prize-fighter, the woman who has made herself most conspicuous in ways
decent or indecent,--have not in themselves anything that can be called
Force in the proper sense of the term. They may attract much attention,
but it is by accidental circumstances, and not by their quality.

“The secret of Force,” Mr. Wendell writes, “is connotation;” and he
goes on to exemplify this thus:--

     Compare these three simple statements: “I found him very agreeable
     one afternoon;” “I found him very agreeable one wet afternoon;” “I
     found him very agreeable one wet afternoon in a country house.”
     Now all that the word “wet” says is that the afternoon was watery;
     but it clearly implies that it was an afternoon when you would
     not care to be out of doors. All that the words “in a country
     house” state is a simple fact of locality; but they imply that
     you were in a place where not to be out of doors was probably a
     serious trial to the temper. So the last statement as a whole, “I
     found him very agreeable one wet afternoon in a country house,”
     suggests, though it does not state, that the person spoken of was
     one whose charms could overcome a pretty bad temper. At the same
     time it is a phrase which I fancy anybody would admit to hold the
     attention more strongly than either of its predecessors; and its
     superiority in force lies not so much in the bare facts which
     it adds to the first statement as in the thoughts and emotions
     it suggests. Still again, take this sentence from one of M. de
     Maupassant’s stories: “It was the 15th of August--the feast of
     the Holy Virgin, and of the Emperor Napoleon.” He states only
     two facts about the 15th of August, and these in the simplest
     of words. Neither by itself would hold one’s attention enough
     to remain long in memory. But put them together; think what
     the Holy Virgin means to Catholic Europe, and what the Emperor
     Napoleon means to those who are not subdued by the magic genius
     of Bonaparte,--and you have a sentence that when mid-August comes
     about will hover in your head. Yet the force of this--so greatly
     superior to the force of either statement by itself--lies not in
     what is actually said, but wholly in what is implied, suggested,
     connoted, in this sudden, unexpected antithesis.

The thing which the writer has caused the reader to think--or even
to suppose himself to think--is sure to interest him. The dullest of
bores is absorbed in his own words, and in effect that which the reader
receives by suggestion is his own thought. What is denoted is the word
of the writer; what is connoted is for the time being the thought of
the reader.

It is not difficult to see that Clearness is an aid to Force; or, to
put it more exactly, that a lack of Clearness will interfere with
Force. Yet the one is by no means essential to the other. The diction
of “The Ordeal of Richard Feverel,” that book so strong that it
wrings the heart almost like a fierce personal sorrow, is in passages
so obscure as to have given rise to the rather cheap _mot_ that the
novel would be successful if it were translated into English. Almost
any page of Carlyle might also be cited in illustration; while that
Clearness may fail to secure Force is proved by the pellucidly stupid
lucubrations of an innumerable company of authors whom nobody could
fail to understand if it were possible to keep awake to read them.

Connotation may be the result of various causes. It may be produced
by a swiftness and briskness of motion which so awakens and quickens
the mind that the reader is aroused to thought, and seizes each idea
presented as if he had himself originated it. It is this sort of force
that we mean when we speak of the vivacity or the brilliancy of a work.
The secret lies chiefly in passing quickly from one significant point
to another. This involves, it is apparent, the power of selecting the
significant, and of bringing this out while avoiding the unessential.

The effectiveness of the sensational story depends largely upon
a quality closely allied to this, although here it is a matter
not so much of style as of material. The tale which moves rapidly
from situation to situation, so that the reader seems to share the
adventures of the characters, often owes as much to the swiftness of
its progress as to the nature of the story told. It owes more, as a
general thing, to the vividness with which the exciting situations
are imagined and presented. The more real a thing seems to the reader,
the more suggestive it must be to him, and the more likely is he to
share the sensations set down, so that for the moment it seems as if
he were actually experiencing them. In other words, the more real the
narrative, the more suggestive it becomes.

One great means of producing this sense of reality either in narrative
or in any other kind of composition, whether in the setting forth of
thoughts, or in the telling of events, is in making what is written
specific. The specific term is apt to be more suggestive than the
general from the fact that it presents to the mind an idea which can be
grasped readily. When one reads that the Indians are on the war-path
and are ravaging the country, one has a vague feeling of horror; but
if one is told that the Red Men have crossed the bounds of Big Lick
Reservation, have murdered and scalped a settler named John Thing, have
burned his cabin, and carried off his wife and children, there is no
vagueness about it. The impression becomes at once vivid and forceful
in what it denotes, and stirring in what it connotes.

It is from a misapplication of this fact that modern fiction has fallen
into that vice which has been known as Realism--perhaps because it is
less real than any other sort of fiction ever devised. It is apparently
by a perception of the effectiveness of the specific, that Realists
have been led into the error of believing in the effectiveness of the

Before leaving the quality under discussion it is well to say a word
about what is called “reserved force.” Our respect for a writer is
always increased by feeling that he might do more than he is doing. We
are led on by a desire to see what greater things he will accomplish.
The feeling in reading an author who is evidently doing his utmost
is not unlike that felt in crossing a bridge which shakes with the
footfall. It may carry us over the stream, but on the other hand it may
break under us. I once heard a lady explain her dislike for a certain
youth by saying: “I never could endure a man who is always doing his
darnedest!” The expression is unhappily vulgar, but it does seem to me
to be humanly expressive. We do not like to feel that we have come to
the end of the resources of a friend or of an author.

How then does a writer produce an impression of reserved force? The
phrase meets one in book reviews, and to inexperienced writers is
apt to convey little but bewilderment. One way in which the finished
literary craftsman secures the impression of reserved power is by
deliberately making the minor parts of his work weaker than those more
important. In other words, he gains the effect of reserved strength by
reserving strength. Often it is well in the revision of a composition
to lessen the stress of expression in unimportant passages; to soften
down, as it were, all portions except the high lights. The natural
tendency of every earnest writer is to express himself as vigorously as
possible, and in the first draft this is well,--provided always that
he has the self-control and the skill so to modify in revision the
less important parts that the emphasis shall be properly proportioned.
Shading in literature is a matter which it is not easy to explain
without examples much longer than it is possible to use here. It must
be learned by the study of masterpieces. It is well to keep in mind,
however, that it is oftener the result of a clever softening of minor
passages than of a heavier emphasis upon important portions; and
above all that the secret of shading and of reserved force as well
is proportion. It is rather comparative than absolute stress which
is effective. Vehemence is not vigor. Make up your mind clearly what
points you wish to bring out most sharply; that is half of the process:
then see to it that the remaining parts of the composition are kept
subordinate to these; that is the rest of it.

Largely, too, is a sense of reserved force imparted by smoothness and
ease of style. A style which is rough generally seems hard and labored.
To carry the reader forward easily seems to be to carry him surely, and
gives the impression that the writer could go faster and farther if he
but chose.

One of the secrets of smoothness is the art of easy transition from one
paragraph to another, from one sentence to another, from one thought
to another. In Macaulay’s essay on “Machiavelli,” for instance, after
speaking of the correspondence of the Italian, the author continues:

     It is interesting and curious to recognize, in circumstances which
     elude the notice of historians, ... the fierce and haughty energy
     which gave dignity to the eccentricities of Julius; the soft and
     graceful manners which masked the insatiable ambition and the
     implacable hatred of Cæsar Borgia.

     We have mentioned Cæsar Borgia. It is impossible not to pause for
     a moment on the name of a man in whom the political morality of
     Italy was so strongly personified, etc.

And so the essayist goes on to draw a comparison between Cæsar Borgia
and Machiavelli, which he had of course intended from the first, but
which he has had the art to introduce as if it were a sudden thought.
The effect is as if the name of Borgia had suggested the parallel; and
not only does this give an air of spontaneity, but it also impresses
the reader with a feeling of security in the resources of the writer.
If the mere mention of a famous name can bring so much from his mind,
it is evident that that mind must be most abundantly stored.

More subtle, and therein so much the more admirable, is the art which
links together the parts of a composition simply by closeness of
meaning. To illustrate it would take too much room, but all the great
essayists afford examples, and it is in them that this detail of
literary skill may most conveniently be studied.

Another matter closely connected with Force is that of beginning and
ending well. If the opening sentence of a composition interest the
reader he is ready to go on, while an effective close leaves him with
a pleasant impression of what he has been reading. In a composition
divided into parts or chapters, it is especially important to see to it
that the separate portions end effectively. The general verdict upon
a book is largely made up of the sum of impressions received from the
endings of sections. Here again the reader will find examples in all
the masters, but a few may be given. In a vein almost familiar, but in
entirely good taste, Lowell begins his superb essay on Chaucer:--

     Will it _do_ to say anything more about Chaucer? Can any one hope
     to say anything, not new but even fresh, on a topic so well worn?

This very statement of the difficulty provokes the reader to go on to
see how that difficulty is overcome.

In somewhat the same vein is Saintsbury’s beginning of his paper on

     “What on earth,” it was once asked, “will you make of Hogg?” I
     think that there is something to be made of Hogg, and that it
     is something worth making.

Or take the opening of Stevenson’s “Gossip on Romance:”--

     In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process
     itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a
     book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal,
     our minds filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images,
     incapable of sleep or continuous thought.

The intoxication of the ideal which this gives us is so full of
suggestion, it brings up so vividly the best delights that have marked
our reading, that our minds are awake and alert from the start. We are
not only ready but eager to go forward under the guidance of an author
who has so charming a conception of what sort of a treat he should
strive to give the reader.

Endings are if possible even more important, and they are carefully
studied by masters of style. Take this conclusion of Lowell’s “Abraham

     Never was funeral panegyric so eloquent as the silent looks of
     sympathy which strangers exchanged as they met that day. Their
     common manhood had lost a kinsman.

One puts down the book with that suggestively solemn phrase sounding on
in the brain like the reverberation when a great bell ceases its knell
for a hero.

Or re-read the brief description of the tombstone of Hester Prynne,
which closes “The Scarlet Letter,” and which ends with a phrase so

     It bore a device, a herald’s wording of which might serve for
     a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend, so
     sombre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light
     gloomier than the shadow: “ON A FIELD, SABLE, THE LETTER A, GULES.”

Or take the wonderful ending of that chapter in “Vanity Fair” which
gives a description of Waterloo, and in a single sentence shows its
relation to the story and brings the tale into closest connection with
all of history and all of human life:--

     The darkness came down on field and city, and Amelia was praying
     for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet
     through his heart.

It is of course unnecessary to go on with examples. The student can
find them abundantly for himself. The point is that in his own work
he shall remember to look carefully to this detail, since there is no
single matter more closely connected with the effect of a composition.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is evident that the power to interest and to arouse by suggestion
must depend largely upon the extent to which the writer is able
to enter into the reader’s mood. In other words, that writer is
most effectively suggestive who is most completely and practically
sympathetic. The foundation of whatever is really vital must be in
the genuine feeling and the actual experience of the author. This
experience, it is true, may be actual in the imagination only, but it
must have been felt as a reality. The secret of sympathy is in the
well-known line of Sidney:--

    “Fool,” said my muse to me, “look in thy heart and write!”

It is idle to hope to hold any reader, or to move him strongly, unless
we are really interested ourselves; and it is equally impossible to
touch him if there be any suspicion on his part that we are not dealing
with him with perfect frankness. What we write must be real to us, and
it must be told with perfect frankness, if we are to reach the hearts
of those we address.

There is perhaps no advice more wholesome for young writers than that
they confine themselves absolutely to their own experience whenever
it is in any way possible. If an illustration is to be given, a
figure employed, a comparison used, let the illustration, the figure,
the comparison be found in the things of which the writer has actual
knowledge. It is not alone that this will insure a vitality which is
hardly to be imparted to anything taken at second hand, but, what is of
more importance, it will also make it at least more probable that the
writer keeps within the experiences of his readers. Of the things which
one has actually seen and felt, it is easy to judge how far they are
usual; and the more closely a writer confines himself to usual things,
the more forceful his style is likely to be.

A remark of Lowell’s contains by implication a hint which we shall do
well to notice here.

     What he [Dryden] valued above all things was force, though in
     his haste he is willing to make shift with its counterfeit,

The word “force” is here used in the sense of vigor and lasting power,
its meaning being somewhat more limited than that in which we are using
it as a technical term. It is the same in essentials, however, and the
distinction which is brought out in the sentence quoted is one not to
be overlooked. Effect is the transient, whereas force is the permanent:
effect startles, force holds; effect is the sham, force the true. The
worst type of style which sacrifices force to effect is the sensational
novel, or the so-called “breezy” journalism. To startle, to shock, to
produce a sensation, at whatever sacrifice of probability, of reason,
or of good taste,--the thing is unfortunately too well known to need

An effeminate form of striving for effect is what is known as “fine
writing.” “Fine writing” is a fault so gross that it is not necessary
to waste many words on it. It need only be said that there is no more
certain indication of a hopelessly diseased literary taste, or of a
hopelessly depraved habit of composition, than this absurdly antiquated
verbal vice. Of course no writer who produces literature is guilty
of it, but I somewhere have picked up an example which so happily
illustrates all that could be said on the subject that I cannot forbear
to quote it. It is from a novel called “Barabbas,” by Miss Marie
Corelli, and is part of the description of the appearance of Christ
before Pontius Pilate. Water having been brought, Pilate, according to
Miss Corelli, thus proceeded:--

     Slowly lowering his hands, he dipped them in the shining bowl,
     rinsing them over and over again in the clear, cold element, which
     sparkled in its polished receptacle like an opal against the fire.

The Bible finds it possible to say all of this that is necessary in the

     Pilate took water, and washed his hands.

Miss Corelli’s ingenuity in expanding and distorting has won its
reward,--her novel has been warmly commended by Queen Victoria.

Even really great writers are not always free from this fault, although
here it is apt to be from some mixture of humorous intent that they
fall into it. Instead of “she hardened her heart,” George Meredith
writes, in one of those irritating sentences which are too frequent in
his books, and which affect one like freckles on the face of a goddess,
“She turned her inward flutterer to steel.”

Force, then, depends upon suggestion, and this is secured by sincerity,
by appeals to human experiences common to all, by freedom from
affectations, and by attention to such details as proper beginnings
and endings. Other means of securing it we shall deal with later. Here
it is enough to insist again that the great secret of Force lies in
earnestness, sincerity, and sympathy.

To pass from Force to Elegance is to advance from the more subtle to
the most subtle. It is not difficult to be definite in speaking of
Clearness; it is less easy in discussing Force; while, at the very
outset of the consideration of Elegance, we are met by the fact that
it is hardly possible even to define this third principle of quality.
Indeed, it is perhaps not too much to say that nobody is even fully
satisfied with this name for the æsthetic quality. “Elegance” is
the term which is coming to be accepted as, on the whole, the most
convenient and satisfactory offered; but I suppose that nobody would
feel inclined to insist strongly upon this especial word. Mr. Wendell

     Elegance is that distinguishing quality of style that pleases the
     taste; ... the æsthetic quality of style, that subtle something in
     a work of literary art which makes us feel delight in workmanship.
     Beauty, some call it; charm, others; others still, grace, ease,
     finish, mastery.

The name does not much matter; the quality matters greatly. It is this
more than all else that gives lasting value to literature. There is
in style an indefinable power of reaching the emotions of the reader
which is beyond the effect of what is actually said, even beyond the
effect of what is suggested. The quality which makes intelligible
actual statement is Clearness; that which brings home to the reader
the wealth of suggestion which may lie behind what is directly said
is Force; while beyond both is that quality of style which conveys
the intangible, which carries to the mind of the reader emotions too
delicate to be confined in words, which touches and arouses as fineness
of color or line or sound moves us in painting or sculpture or music.
This is what we mean by Elegance. It is the æsthetic effect produced
purely by the literary form; by the perfection of the relation between
the end sought and the means employed; by the complete mastery of
technique, and the employment of all the resources of art for the
embodiment of the imaginative in literary form.

I am aware that my definition may make the matter less clear rather
than more plain, but the thing is too elusive to be caught in the
trap of a simple definition. Elegance is the quality in which the
imagination most directly makes itself manifest. It is the most
tangible proof that a writer possesses that power which at the start we
spoke of as inborn and incommunicable. As a matter of workmanship, and
so far as it may be learned, Elegance is chiefly the ability to convey
in words the mood of the writer. It depends largely upon an exquisite
sensitiveness to the indirect effect of words and of word-combination.
It is to be cultivated by training the mind to consider always the
value of terms in their connotation; to weigh them not only by their
direct meaning, but by their association, and by the ideas and ideals
and emotions which they bring to the mind; and by developing taste in
literary construction. To write with Elegance, it is also necessary to
keep in mind the effect upon the reader of the emotional word-color.
The suggestions of words are dependent in part upon the mere vocal
effect of the sounds producing them, upon the harmony of the sentence,
the tone-value and cadence of clause and paragraph. All these things
are elements which must be considered. Completely to master all these,
so as to work upon the mind and imagination of the reader at will, is
of course within the power of the great imagination only; but every
student may advance toward it.

We are none of us able satisfactorily to define beauty, or to explain
the pleasure which it excites; yet there is no one of us who has
not recognized both. Why a curve is more pleasing to the eye than a
straight line may be too deep a question; but none the less may one
safely appeal to the universal experience that there are certain lines,
certain forms, certain colors, certain sounds which give us pleasure.
With equal assurance may one appeal to the universal instinct which
is gratified by the adaptation of ends to means; to the innate human
sense of the rightness of what is fitting; the constant pleasure in
order, in appropriateness, in harmony. It is this instinct, this sense,
this pleasure, which underlies the sensitiveness of the mind to what we
call Elegance in composition.

The quality which we are discussing is, more than any other, dependent
upon the personal taste and culture of the writer. The thing to be
said to the student is perhaps this: “Elegance is the result of a
keen and acutely imaginative perception of the fitness of things, and
of a quick appreciation of beauty, with the power to convey both by
a delicate adaptation of literary means to literary effects.” A keen
and acute perception of the fitness of things can only be acquired
by the development of the taste. This is an affair of culture in its
broadest sense, and it is hardly possible to separate here the question
of literary excellence from that of general development. The study
of the masterpieces of literature--always with earnestness and with
sympathy--is the most direct means of improving a sensitiveness to
literary fitness and to literary beauty. The adaptation of means to
ends we shall go on considering throughout these talks; and now, as
always, it is necessary to remember that the way to learn to write is
to write. The way to achieve Elegance is to labor for it with that
persistence which is in itself the best compensation which Heaven
has bestowed upon man for all other boons denied. “Persistence,
persistence, and persistence” is the motto which the student must
engrave on his heart.

There will always remain the personal equation. No student can afford
to close his eyes to the fact that all men are born intellectually
unequal. To one has Nature given gifts of appreciation, of
apprehension, and of expression, while from another she has withheld
them. This personal difference affects all work, and it affects work
more and more strongly as we draw nearer to that quality in literature
which is incommunicable. Steadily, since the beginning of these talks,
have we been advancing toward those fields of composition where
comes into play that power which is the gift of the gods only; that
imaginative essence which some men are dowered with at birth, and which
some go seeking their whole lives through with insistence pathetically
vain. The one thing important is, that the student not only accept his
individual limitations, but that he do not stop short of them. It is
necessary to realize that one has not genius, and then to work as if
one had; and it is amazing how much may be done in this way. Nature,
for instance, plainly intended that Matthew Arnold should not write
elegant prose, and she absolutely forbade him to write poetry, yet he
succeeded in doing both. The earnest student of literary art should
resolutely refuse to be satisfied with any thing short of the miracle
of the impossible, and haply so he may sometimes attain to it.



When the student has come to have a clear idea of what is to be sought
in composition, he naturally goes on to inquire by what means a writer
can gain the ends desired. It has been shown that there are certain
principles which govern the mechanical structure of language, and also
that there are as well principles which have to do with the quality of
what is written. The next step is to examine the especial means which
are at the command of the worker, and what effects may be secured by
the use of given means.

It has already been said and insisted upon that it is necessary to
know accurately what effect the writer desires to produce; and it is
to be added that it is especially needful to realize from the start
what is to be the conclusion of a work, great or small. The end of
a composition is its consummation, the climax toward which all else
conducts the reader, the ultimate effect to which all other effects are
subordinate. The writer who sets out to go nowhere in particular, it
has been said, is little likely to arrive anywhere. It is also to be
remembered that, unless he is clearly aware what is to be his strongest
point, he is not in a position to make all other parts properly
subordinate to this,--to secure that careful proportion of emphasis
which is one of the great essentials of all good work in whatever
province of art.

Before he begins to write, the writer must make up his mind how he
intends to end. He may, it is true, modify to some extent the first
idea of the form in which this climax of his work is to be put, but it
is safe to lay down as a general rule that he shall not essentially
alter it. Whether one sits down to write a novel, a tale, an essay,
an editorial, or a simple paragraph, let him know at least what the
conclusion is to be, whether he is aware of the steps by which he is to
reach this or not. The minor points may be thought up as one proceeds,
but the end, which is in a manner the reason of the existence of the
whole, must be clear in the mind of the writer from the very start.

It is this thing which Mr. Walter Pater means when he speaks of--

     That architectural conception of a work which foresees the end
     from the beginning, and never loses sight of it, and in every part
     is conscious of all the rest, till the very last sentence does
     but, with undiminished vigor, unfold and justify the first.

The conclusion being well defined in the writer’s thought, the next
thing to be determined is the point of view. The point of view is to
any composition what the hypothesis is to a proposition in geometry. It
is the assumption of personality and of attitude which is presupposed
from the start, and which must be rigidly maintained to the end.

If a writer is describing a landscape, he is obliged to fix in his own
mind the point from which he is to consider that landscape as being
seen,--whether near or remote, from hill or plain, from a bridge, a
window, or it may be from the deck of a vessel. If he hopes to produce
an impression which shall be clear, or to bring up vividly in the mind
of the reader the thing described, he must not forget where the reader
is supposed to be placed. If at the start he writes as if the view were
remote, and then forgets and speaks of it as if it were near at hand,
he destroys the consistency of the work and makes all ineffectual.

Another easily appreciated illustration is to be found in novels
which are written in the form of an autobiography. Since the story
is supposed to be narrated by one of the characters, it follows
that nothing should be told which that person could not know. The
introduction of scenes at which he could not have been present, of
talk which he could not have heard, of thoughts which he had no means
of discovering, completely dispels the illusion. If these things must
be used, care must be taken to show how the narrator came to know
them; since otherwise the hypothesis with which the author started is
violated by the alteration of the point of view. The reader may or may
not realize why the story loses its effect of reality, but he cannot
fail to feel that it does lose it.

The same principle applies to everything that is written, even to the
most trivial paragraph. Consciously or unconsciously, the writer at
the start assumes a certain mental attitude toward the subject of
which he writes, and this attitude he must carefully preserve. Of
course the point of view may be progressive, as when one describes the
scenery as viewed from a car window or shows the change of opinion;
but in this case the motion is part of the original hypothesis. The
first assumption must be adhered to, since to change the point of view
is to break faith with the reader, and to break faith is to lose his

The philosophy of the matter is simple and obvious enough. It is the
aim to induce the reader to submit, for the time being, his personality
to that of the writer; to induce him to see with the eyes of the
author, and to think with the author’s mind. The slightest jar may
destroy all illusion; the least difficulty may make the reader assert
the supremacy of his own individuality. If even unconsciously his
judgment is offended, his own consciousness is sure to assert itself,
and he gives himself up no longer.

In practical work, the secret of preserving one mental attitude is
largely that of being clearly aware of it. This detail of composition
is perhaps most easily understood in its application to description or
narration, but it must be as clearly realized in all composition. It
is of high importance to determine beforehand what is the attitude of
the writer both toward the subject and toward the reader addressed. The
effect of a failure to observe this is found in a great many letters,
and, perhaps I may be pardoned if I add, especially in feminine
letters. The mind of woman is so flexible, so versatile, so capable of
seeing many sides to a subject which to the duller masculine intellect
seems to have but one, that it not infrequently happens that in a
single page of a woman’s letter there will be half a dozen points of
view, or even that seeming impossibility of two or three points of view
at once.

Often the application of this principle is so subtle that the tyro is
entirely at a loss to know what is the matter with his sentence. Take
these examples:--

     The crowd turns, departs, disintegrates.

     I noticed that the hat was of soft felt, and one might easily
     guess that it had been bought at a bargain sale. It lent a
     comfortable sense of satisfaction to its owner, and suggested to
     him the idea of going to church.

In the former, the writer’s point of view is that of one looking out
of a window at a crowd, and it is proper that he should say “turns,
departs;” but after the crowd has departed he cannot see whether
it disintegrates or not. If he should say, “Turns, disintegrates,
departs,” one could find no fault. In the second example, the point of
view is at first that of an observer who sees the hat on the head of
a stranger; then, without warning, it is shifted to the mind of any
observer,--“one,”--and then, in a twinkling, to the thought of the
wearer himself, which has been by the hat turned to the idea of going
to church.

We shall have to do later with the point of view in its application to
the various sorts of composition. Here it is enough to add the warning
to inexperienced writers: Do not write to discover what you think, or
how you feel about a subject. These questions are to be settled before
writing is begun. In half the themes which I read, it is apparent that
the writer has been going ahead in a sort of forlorn hope of ultimately
learning his own opinions. To be in doubt when one begins, either of
where one is bound or of how the attempt to get there is to be made,
is as fatal in writing as in horse-racing. There is a good deal of
what might be called the June-bug style of composition. Just as a
beetle bangs his clumsy thick head against a window or a netting in
hope that he may chance to strike a place where he can get through to
the lamp within, so the June-bug writer goes banging absurdly down his
page, bumping against any obstacle, trusting to fate and the chapter
of accidents to show somewhere and somehow a way through. The man who
has learned to write does not begin until he has an idea what his way
through is to be. This being clear in his mind, he goes consistently
toward it, and his consistency is what is called keeping the point of

The point of view being selected, it is often necessary to give the
reader a clue to it. Sometimes it is needful to use no inconsiderable
amount of skill to bring him to accept it. The well-trained reader
always endeavors to put himself into complete sympathy with an author.
The author is bound to make this as easy as possible, and even, if may
be, to render it inevitable, to the end that the reader shall be forced
to share the outlook of the writer, whether with conscious willingness
or not. In obvious matters, like descriptions, the simple device of
naming the point of view is enough. When Keats begins a poem,--

    I stood tiptoe upon a little hill,--

he gives the point of view. So does Spenser when he opens the “Faerie

    A gentle knight was pricking on the plain.

Equally is Lowell giving the point of view in the opening of the
essay on Chaucer, already quoted: “Will it _do_ to say anything more
about Chaucer?” Here he at once puts the reader into the attitude
of examining with fresh attention a subject which has been greatly
discussed; by implication he intimates that there is still enough wheat
in the often-threshed straw to make it worth while once more to turn it
over. With equal skill and felicity he puts the reader into the mood in
which he writes of Carlyle by the first sentence of another essay:--

     A feeling of comical sadness is likely to come over the mind of
     any middle-aged man who sets himself to recollecting the names of
     the authors that have been famous, and the number of contemporary
     immortalities whose end he has seen since coming to manhood.

The reader perceives at once that the subject which is to be treated
is to be regarded as of less assured permanence of importance than has
been sometimes held. Evidently Lowell would not allude to the many
transient so-called immortalities if he had not at least a suspicion
that the contemporary reputation of Carlyle is likely to be lessened
by time. The key-note is struck, and what follows is governed by it.

The secret of holding the reader to the point of view consists largely
of keeping strictly to it in writing. If the author does not change
his position, the reader is unconsciously drawn to it. There is a
persuasive power in mere persistency which is recognized by any one
who has had to do with an obstinate person, and this power tells in
literature as fully as in domestic life.

       *       *       *       *       *

We come next to figurative language, so called; and at this point it
used to be the fashion to overwhelm the student with a list of dreadful
names which was in itself enough to paralyze the mental processes, and
to discourage at once and forever all aspiration after excellence. The
appalling words _synecdoche_, _metonymy_, _antonomasia_, _asyndeton_,
_anacolouthon_, _parrhesia_, _onomatopoeia_, and the rest, seemed
to fascinate the soul of writers on composition as completely as
they dazed and stupefied the understanding of the unhappy student.
Pedants have amused themselves by darkening wisdom with words without
knowledge, until it is all but impossible to come at anything practical
in the old-fashioned books,--which were invariably called “treatises.”
It has been found that this is idle, and for the most part it has been
laid aside. A few terms are for convenience still used, but in these
days the effort, instead of being to give learned and pompous-sounding
treatises on the art of composition, is if possible to set down what
will assist the student in learning literary expression.

One of the first literary devices of which man’s mind availed itself in
its efforts to communicate ideas, was the use of figures. The thought
moves naturally from the near to the remote, and from that which is
known to that which is unknown. If we attempt to describe or explain a
thing, we instinctively compare it to something which is familiar. “It
is like this,” we say; “it is similar to that thing which you know.”
It has often been remarked that all language is full of what Trench
happily calls the fossil remains of metaphors,--words which were once
used to convey an idea by comparing it to something known, but of which
the figurative force is now forgotten. It is hardly necessary to give
examples, because every student has had his attention called to this
class of words; but their number illustrates how natural comparisons
are, and how constantly they are called to aid expression.

To comparison it is customary to give two names, according as the
likeness is stated explicitly or is implied. If a writer says, “The
officer followed his victim like a sleuth-hound,”--a phrase which
used to come into all the detective stories,--he makes an explicit
comparison between the officer and a hound. If he writes, “The
sleuth-hound of justice followed the track of his prey,”--a phrase
still to be met with in newspapers of a certain class,--the comparison
is the same, but it is assumed instead of being explicitly stated.
To the expressed comparison is given the name “simile;” to the
comparison assumed, the name “metaphor.” It is of no great practical
importance--unless in the line of encouraging carefulness in the
discrimination of words--whether the distinction of names is carefully
observed or not, but it is of some convenience in study.

The object of using figures is to add Clearness, or Force, or
Elegance--or all of these--to the presentation of an idea. Constantly
it happens that, by declaring that an unknown thing is like some known
thing, the writer enables the reader to form an idea of it as it is.
When in Job we read the beautiful simile, “My days are swifter than
a weaver’s shuttle,” we are impressed by the passage of life with a
vividness which could not be secured by any mere assertion, no matter
how strong. The physical fact is so easily grasped that it makes more
clear the intellectual reflection. In the same wonderful poem--and no
one studying literature either for profit or for pleasure can afford to
neglect the book of Job--there are beautiful figures enough to teach
the art of using them were it otherwise forgotten. “Man is born unto
trouble, as the sparks fly upward;” “I caused the widow’s heart to sing
for joy;” “The house appointed for all living;” “He maketh the deep to
boil like a pot;” “Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as
a shock of corn cometh in in his season,”--it is impossible not to see
how in every case the thought is made more clear by the comparison.

It is evident, too, that in each case cited the expression has gained
not only in Clearness but in Force. The moment a likeness is suggested,
the mind of the reader is led to make the comparison, and is thus alive
and alert; while in each case the figure suggests far more than any
bare statement of fact. Since the secret of Force lies in connotation,
in the suggestiveness which leads the mind onward into the mood so
that it seems to itself to originate the ideas which are really given
to it directly or indirectly by the author, it follows that in the
use of figures is one of the most effectual means of securing this
quality. Job says, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,” and
with the plain statement of the brevity of life come suggestions of the
inevitableness of this brevity; we seem to see man tossed by the hand
of the unseen, as a shuttle is thrown by the hand of the weaver, flung
to and fro without power to stay or to resist. The whole despairing
mood of the afflicted patriarch is summed up in the single simile. To
come nearer to our own times, take that simile which is perhaps the
most beautiful in English literature outside of Shakespeare:--

    Fair as a star when only one
      Is shining in the sky.

What is suggested is all the serenity of the eventide; the hush which
comes between the daylight and the dark; the sense of peace; that
feeling that a mystery is being wrought before our very eyes, when out
of the faintly rose-purple haze of the sky throbs into radiance the
first star. There is, too, that sense of restfulness that belongs to
the twilight coolness, and, in some undefinable way, an idea of purity
and innocence too high and too subtle to be defined. The gain in Force
from such richness of suggestion is evident.

Even more closely than with Clearness or Force is the use of figures
connected with Elegance. More than any other means at the disposal
of the writer does this help to establish the mood which the author
desires to share with his reader. More, perhaps, than any other means
may figures be moulded to manifold uses, and thus they have large share
in that adaptation of the means to an end, in which, as has been said,
lies the secret of Elegance.

The proper use of figures is a thing which it is of the utmost
importance for the student to master thoroughly; and I have ventured to
set down a few rules which may be useful in practical work:--

1. Never use a figure without a definite purpose, and never simply for
its own sake.

2. Never subordinate sense to figure.

3. Make all figures easily comprehensible.

4. Never make a comparison without realizing fully what it is.

5. Never push a figure too far.

The reason for giving the first rule is, that so many young writers--I
say young writers as a matter of courtesy, since there are plenty of
old ones of whom it is no less true!--are given to the fault of piling
up figures in much the same way that a tasteless milliner sometimes
puts on her bonnets all the artificial flowers that can be made to
stick to them, or as a stupid architect kills the design of a building
by overloading it with ornaments. Figures exist for the style, and not
the style for the figures; and from this follows not only the first
rule, but the second also. To make the figure of more importance than
the thing which it is to illustrate or to reinforce is to exalt the
servant above the master.

The third rule is justified by the fact that figures are used to
increase the lucidity of style, and that in a manner all comparisons
are to be looked upon as in the nature of illustrations. It follows
that they must, in order to fulfill their function, be easily
understood themselves. Examine this passage:--

            ... The Wandering Jew has seen
    Men come and go as the fixed Pyramids
    Have seen even the steadfast polar star
    Shift in its place.

To see any force in this, it is necessary to be aware that, since the
Pyramids were built, the North Star has been altered in the precession
of the equinoxes. A writer has no right to appeal to such special
knowledge. This is one of the reasons why there are so few of the
discoveries of modern science, rich and varied as they are, which can
effectively be used in simile. The allusions would not be commonly
understood. Another reason, equally potent, is that in general the
connotation of scientific facts is too practical and uninspiring to add
to the interest of poetic or imaginative themes. In old days it was the
fashion for minor poets to go as far afield as possible for similes,
which were dragged into verse as a Comanche Indian drags into camp his
captives. Foot-notes were generously provided for the enlightenment
of the reader, and nobody seemed to see the absurdity of illustrating
a thought by a figure so obscure that it had itself to be explained.
The tropes of the minor poets of the last century remind one of the
remark of the Scotch goodwife about a learnedly obscure commentary on
the Scriptures: “’Tis a braw wise book, na dout; an’ the Bible does
explain it wonderfu’.” If a writer will hold to his own experience for
his similes, he will have little difficulty in deciding what is likely
to be readily understood by the general reader; and if he will remember
that, provided that there be nothing vulgar or ludicrous or commonplace
in its suggestion, the more homely an allusion the more effective it is
likely to be, he cannot go far wrong.

The rule never to make a comparison without realizing fully what it is
should be regarded as being as binding as a moral precept. If this be
obeyed, there is no danger of the production of that hybrid microbe
with which the pages of sensational fiction swarm, which is known as
the mixed metaphor. I took up in the smoking-room of a steamer not
long ago a novel called “Half a Million of Money,” by Miss Amelia B.
Edwards. I opened to a page on which was this sentence:--

     Trefalden cast a hasty glance about the room, as if looking for
     some weapon wherewith to slake the hatred that glittered in his
     eye.--Chap. xciv.

I give carefully the origin of this, since it seems like an absurd
mock simile manufactured for the occasion. If the author had felt the
force of the word “slake,” and how it involves the idea of thirst, she
could not have coupled it with “weapon” or with “glittered in his eye.”
A thirst which is slaked with a sword and glitters in the eye needs
only to be realized to be cast aside.

Goethe, in speaking of Klopstock, once said:--

     An ode occurs to me where he makes the German muse run a race
     with the British; and indeed, when one thinks what a picture
     it is, where the girls run one against the other, throwing
     about their legs, and kicking up the dust, one must assume that
     the good Klopstock did not really have before his eyes such
     pictures as he wrote, else he could not possibly have made such
     mistakes.--_Conversations of Goethe_, November 9, 1824.

Of these lines of Montgomery,--

    The soul aspiring pants its source to mount,
    As streams meander level to their fount,--

Macaulay observes:--

     We take this to be, on the whole, the worst similitude in the
     world. In the first place, no stream meanders or can possibly
     meander level with the fount. In the next place, if streams did
     meander level with their founts, no two notions can be less
     like each other than that of meandering level and mounting
     upward.--Cited in Bartlett’s _Familiar Quotations_.

It would be easy and it would be amusing to go on with examples of
mixed figures and figures which are ineffective, but the point hardly
needs further illustration.

Pushing a figure too far is a fault less common in these days than
it has been at some periods of our literary history when fashions in
writing were more ornate than at present. If a writer realizes what a
simile means, he is not likely to fall into this error. It is when he
introduces a figure for the sake of the figure, and not for the purpose
of strengthening or making more clear what he is saying, that this
fault occurs.

These lines of Cowper may serve as an example:

    Man is a harp, whose chords elude the sight,
    Each yielding harmony disposed aright;
    The screws reversed (a task which, if He please,
    God in a moment executes with ease),
    Ten thousand thousand strings at once go loose,
    Lost, till He tune them, all their power and use.

If this stopped with the second line, it might do well enough; but when
the attention is forced to the consideration of the mechanical details
of the harp, and the image of ten thousand thousand strings and a
corresponding number of screws, and the notion applied to a man bereft
of his wits, the idea becomes absurd, and whatever value the figure
might have is entirely lost.

A clear realization of what he is doing will also prevent the writer
from mingling figure and fact. “He was the guardian genius of Ireland,
and had served with eloquence and credit in legislative halls,” could
hardly have been written by one who felt clearly the meaning and
significance of the figure. To realize how a guardian genius would look
in legislative halls would have brought him at once to his senses. It
is always necessary to have sharply defined in the brain whatever one
is saying, but this is especially true of any use of language which
invites the reader to loose his grasp upon absolute, literal fact.

The difference between simile and metaphor is one which need not be
pressed very sharply. It is to be observed that as writing becomes
more excited or impassioned there is less need of insisting upon
formalities; so that as the writer warms his readers, he may assume
a likeness instead of explicitly stating it. At the beginning of
a passage it may be better to say, “Napoleon swept like a tempest
over Europe,” whereas later, the reader having become interested in
the theme, it is fitting to write, “Napoleon, the tempest which was
sweeping over Europe.” There is probably no better rule than for the
writer to do that which at the moment seems to him most natural, and
then in revision to see if it strikes him as it did when he wrote it.

Personification may be conveniently regarded as classed with simile
and metaphor. It is somewhat out of fashion, but if it is used it is
to be governed by the rules given above. One who realizes what he is
saying in the phrase, “Hope told a flattering tale,”--who sees that
he is representing Hope as a beautiful and seductive being,--is not
likely to go on to add, “but this hope was founded upon a delusion,”
because he cannot conceive a young nymph or goddess as being founded
upon anything. He will naturally and without effort carry out the
figure, and say, “but she beguiled us;” or, “but all her flatteries
were delusions.” The truth is, that the mind will generally go in the
right direction if it is given a fair chance. It is only when we hamper
it with rules not understood, when we force it to go in paths which we
suppose to be laid out by conventions, or when we endeavor to make it
pace according to our vanity, that it goes astray. Be natural in the
use of figures, and you will seldom be wrong.



Few means of literary effect are more subtle than Variety. It must
pervade all parts of a composition, yet it is to be perceived only by
its effects. Its absence is at once noted, and at once destroys the
beauty and attractiveness of any work; yet to define Variety is as
difficult as to tell how it is to be secured. Stevenson gives a rule
as wise as it is hard to follow: “The one rule is to be infinitely

The need of variety in the use of words is evident. The fault of
repetition is sufficiently obvious, yet it is very easily committed.
The fact that a sentence has been written in a given form often makes
that seem the only correct way of expression. No one but a thoroughly
trained writer can be as sensitive to errors in his own work as to
mistakes in the writings of others; and so it happens that unless
one is very careful the same word may appear two or three times in
a passage where synonyms would be better than the repetition. That
richness in synonyms which is one of the finest characteristics of
English does away with any necessary difficulty in attaining variety in
diction. In writing, and yet more in revising, the value and force of
synonymous terms cannot be too constantly kept in mind. A knowledge
of these, with that cardinal virtue of writers, the dictionary-habit,
should carry any student triumphantly past all dangers of monotony in

One caution should perhaps be added: Do not be afraid to repeat a word
as often as is really necessary. I quoted in an earlier chapter a
sentence from Lowell which illustrates what I mean:

     The soil out of which such men as he are made is good to be born
     on, good to live on, good to die for and be buried in.

Or notice the repetition of “man” and of “department” in this from

     A man possessed of splendid talents, which he often abused, and of
     sound judgment, the admonitions of which he often neglected; a man
     who succeeded only in an inferior department of his art, but who
     in that department succeeded preëminently.--_On John Dryden._

Here the judicious repetition of the subject holds the whole closely
together, and saves the attention of the reader from fatigue. It
serves, also, to mark the distinction between the first half, which
is a specification of the causes of failure, and the second half,
which states the effects that followed from them. The recurrence
of “department” adds to the emphasis in a way which may easily be
appreciated by replacing it by a pronoun. Repetitions so cleverly used
as this are of course not defects but beauties.

The variation of form is an art more cunning than that of the changing
of the word. Look at this sentence from Stevenson, and notice how much
is gained by the alteration of the construction:--

     How often and willingly do I not look in fancy on Tummel, or
     Manor, or the talking Ardle, or Dee swirling in its Lynn; on the
     bright burn of Kinnaird, or the golden burn that pours and sulks
     in the den behind Kingussie!--_Pastoral._

To put “talking” before its noun and “swirling” after the substantive
it modifies, to see to it that no two phrases shall have the same form,
may seem small matters, and yet it is by devices of this sort that the
skillful artificer of words gives to his style finish and charm.

The ability to command a variety of forms gives to the writer the power
of repetition without seeming to repeat. Often it happens that it is
well to re-say a thing, either for the sake of putting it in a light
somewhat different from that of its first presentation, or to enforce
it more strongly. This is especially true, it may be, of writing which
is expository or argumentative, but the need of repetition of ideas is
common to composition of all sorts. To vary the cadence of the sentence
so that the ear shall never be wearied by monotony, cunningly to mix
long and short paragraphs so that no single form constantly repeated
shall tire the attention, is indeed a difficult art to acquire. No rule
can be given for variety; the very idea of rule for variation involves
a contradiction of terms, since it is the essence of variation to be
irregular. The student must train his ear and his mind by reading
the best authors; but the most that instruction can do is to call
attention to this matter, and thus to afford a clue to what may be the
real if unsuspected cause of a writer’s dissatisfaction when his work
appears vaguely dull and unattractive. Variety is closely connected
with Elegance. The adaptation of the sentence structure to the thought,
and yet more the subtler adaptation to the mood, are refinements of
composition which it takes long to acquire; but with every advance
toward a mastery of them the learner has come nearer to the secret of
that consummate skill in fitting means to effects which is the soul
of the highest style. Each must do it for himself; for the secret of
variety cannot be told farther than it is revealed in the words of
Stevenson, with which we began: “The one rule is to be infinitely

Upon variety depends largely that delightful and elusive quality
which we call Euphony. No writer or reader can be long insensible to
that music of words which is as intangibly tangible in prose as in
poetry,--different in the one from the other, but as real and truly a
source of delight in speech as in song, in prose as in verse. It is
true that what is written is not necessarily read aloud. It is written
in silence, and untrained writers fail to realize that although it be
read in silence, the eye is the ear of the mind, and all melody or lack
of melody will be subtilely felt in the soundless perusal. All that has
been said of variety applies as well to this quality; and, indeed, it
is perhaps hardly necessary to give two names where the two things are
so closely interwoven.

Intangible as this quality may seem, it is yet one of the most striking
in literature. Take this sentence from Walt Whitman, and see if it is
possible for any reader not to be offended by its close:--

     Nor shades of Virgil, nor myriad memories, poems, old
     associations, magnetize and hold on to her.

Or suppose one said:--

     If for the city of Athens nature did much, it is not to be denied
     that art did a great deal more.

The ear is dull which does not perceive the difference between this and
the sentence as Newman wrote it:--

     If nature did much for Athens, it is undeniable that art did much

Examples might be multiplied indefinitely, but it is better that
the student find them for himself. Sensitiveness to euphony and the
practical acquirement of a euphonious style are greatly aided by the
habit of reading aloud the works of men who are masters, and it is well
to test in the same way whatever is written. The ear is more readily
trained by the voice than by any other means. It is possible to suppose
that what we have written must sound well as a matter of course; but
if we read or hear it read aloud, and find that it does not please
the ear, only one stupid with self-conceit will leave it unaltered.
A melodious diction is apt to be made up more largely of short words
than of long ones, and of words easily pronounced than of those trying
to the tongue; yet it is no more possible to achieve a euphonious
style simply by using words short and easily pronounced than it is to
make a beautiful brook by digging a channel which shall be entirely
straight and free from obstructions, or to build a beautiful temple by
collecting exquisite marbles. Construction is more than material.

One of the means by which it was formerly the fashion to strive after
pleasing sound in diction was the use of alliteration. This device is
somewhat in disrepute in these days, because it has been so notoriously
abused. The sensational novelist could no more do without alliteration
than without the historical present tense. The patent medicines are
alliteratively labeled; comic operas and pseudo-Queen Anne cottages at
little watering-places have been baptized with titles with reduplicated
initials, until the writer who indulges in alliteration feels something
as does the professor who sees his title blazoned on the shingle of the
barber and the boot-black.

Yet this pleasant device cannot be spared. There is in our blood
some trace of the fondness for it which made it serve the old bards
instead of rhyme. It must be employed more cunningly than of old, and
as it were slipped into the literary web surreptitiously. Here are

     A man is a bundle of _r_elations, a knot of _r_oots, whose
     _f_lower and _f_ruitage is the world.--Emerson: _History_.

     In making edu_c_ation not only _c_ommon to all, but in some sense
     _c_ompulsory on all.--Lowell: _New England Two Centuries Ago_.

     All the beautiful _s_entiments in the _w_orld _w_eigh less than a
     _s_ingle lovely action.--_Id._: _Rousseau and the Sentimentalists_.

Here there is little more than the repetition of the initial of a
prominent word, marked by the same place in successive cadences. Often
alliteration in modern prose of the best sort is carried much farther.
Here are a couple of examples from Stevenson:--

     I know a child of Suffolk whose fancy still _l_ingers about the
     _l_i_l_ied _l_ow_l_and waters of that shire.--_Pastoral._

     A task in _r_ecitation that _r_eally merited _r_eward.--_The

Of course I am speaking only of prose. The diction of poetry is
governed by different laws, and the reduplication of sound is a
recognized and not infrequent ornament of verse used to a degree which
would not be tolerated in prose. In the latter it is important that
alliteration shall appear to be rather the consequence of the subject
than an extraneous ornament. Once a writer introduces into prose a word
which is evidently or even apparently chosen for its initial, he has
given the reader a suspicion of artificiality which is fatal to the
best effect.

Alliteration is, however, more readily allowed in epigram and
antithesis than in plain, straightforward passages. The writer is
permitted some especial graces of ornament when he attempts either
of these, as a child may without remark wear its best raiment to a
party when its companions would jeer at such display at school. “Forms
are the food of faith,” writes Newman. “All mankind love a lover,”
Emerson says. These epigrams are openly alliterative. No less so is the
well-known antithesis of Macaulay, “The Puritans hated bear-baiting,
not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to
the spectator.”

The epigram has the great advantage of recalling the proverb; and
proverbs will ever be dear to the heart of man as the purses in which
have been preserved the homely wisdom of the world. It is perhaps in
part because of its family likeness to the proverb that it seems not
unfitting for the epigram to balance word against word in a way which
would seem artificial in any other form of expression.

The mention of epigram and antithesis reminds us that it is well to
speak briefly of both.

Antithesis is the setting formally against each other of contrasting
thoughts. I might make an example if I wrote: Epigram is a sword with
one edge; but antithesis is a blade with two. I should at the same
time be expressing to some extent the characteristics of these verbal
forms. Antithesis defines by differences; epigram emphasizes a single
idea. One confesses its artificiality by its balanced structure; the
other endeavors to hide it under an appearance of lucky spontaneity.
Antithesis is obviously deliberate; epigram must have an air of
quickness, as if it were the birth of the moment. The former belonged
to the elaborate style of a more ceremonious age; the latter has been
cultivated in the prose of our own time until it has almost become a

The above paragraph, which is largely antithetical, shows the
limitation of this form. It is not possible long to continue this sort
of writing without wearying the reader with a sense of artificiality.
Such pleasure as the present age is willing to take in undisguised
effort in prose is largely confined to the epigram.

An epigram is a notion rounded like a snowball for throwing. Looked at
in another way, it is a thought packed for quick transportation. It is
wit or wisdom given wings; or, if it be neither, it is at least an idea
with its loins girt for running. Sometimes it is a base or worthless
reflection set in terse phrase, like a fly in amber; or a cruel
insinuation wounding like a wasp with envenomed sting. At its best it
is a jewel of price; at its worst it is a drop of subtle poison.

Here, somewhat at the risk of confusing by a variety of images, I
have tried to write a short paragraph which is practically all in the
form of epigrams. It is in turn evident that although less obviously
artificial than antithesis, epigrams are apt to lack spontaneity, no
matter how much they strive for it. It is difficult to incorporate them
into ordinary prose so that they shall seem really to be an integral
part of it. An epigram is apt to be like a shell, so complete and
individual in itself that it is hard to make it appear to be a part
of any other whole. Skillfully handled, the epigram gives crispness
and vigor to a style, but by so much the more as it is effective
if successful it is damaging if it fails. It is to be remembered,
too, that the habit of striving for any especial verbal form is a
dangerously fascinating one. It is easy to fall into the way of making
phrases for their own sake, instead of for the purpose of expressing
what one has to say. An epigram is valuable and commendable only in so
far as it serves the purpose for which it is contrived. The Greeks used
the word originally to signify a verse inscribed on a tomb, and not a
few modern epigrams are the epitaphs of thoughts killed in making them.

We are accustomed to-day to employ the word for any concise and terse
expression of thought, and to call that style epigrammatic which is
distinguished by conciseness and by brief and pregnant sentences.
Broadly speaking, so long as the writer keeps in mind that the epigram
is to aid expression, and that intention is never to be sacrificed
to form, the more of these qualities his style has the better. He
must remember, moreover, that the ear must be relieved by sentences
of varied length. The successful epigram is almost always brief, and
it must contain an element of novelty. One of its chief claims to
attention is that it puts its thought in a form which excites surprise.
It is like the German bonbon, which parts with a startling snap and
discloses a gift within. The more it has the air of being the result
of an instantaneous, happy inspiration, the more effective is it. An
epigram must seem at least to be like the poet, born and not made.

This matter of novelty concerns more than epigram. Words and phrases
become worn as surely as coins which have long passed from hand to
hand. Epithets which have been constantly repeated lose the force of
their original intent and fail to produce their first effect. The
masters of style do not hesitate now and then to coin new words with
which to serve themselves in the attempt to produce pungent effects
which old terms no longer yield. Carlyle is an extreme example of this,
and a list of the extraordinary novelties which he boldly made for his
own use would fill pages. He exposed himself to the danger of losing
the impression which he produced as soon as the words invented lost
their first novelty, and no doubt something of the diminution of the
influence of Carlyle which we have lived to see is due to this very
cause. The ordinary writer is not allowed thus to serve his need by
invention. He must be content to take words already in use, and must
display his ingenuity by contriving so to employ them that from old
terms he brings freshness of effect.

The novelty which is within the reach of all is that of originality. It
seems at first startling to speak of originality as within common reach
when we take up every day books wherein the writers show so absolute a
lack of all originality that they shake one’s very belief in original
sin. Yet remember what Flaubert said to De Maupassant: “The smallest
thing has in it something unknown. Discover it.... That is the way to
become original.” Life can never appear the same to any two human
beings, because no two look at it with the same eyes or with the same
mind. The original writer is he who sets down his own thoughts, who
shows to others what is exactly in his own brain and heart. It is not
within the power of every author thus to create profoundly fresh and
inspiring works; but it is within the reach of all to say something
which shall be at once new and individual and vital.

What is called individuality is the result of this frank and sincere
speaking of the thought which comes to the writer and as it comes to
the writer. It is needful to be on one’s guard lest sometimes instead
of being guided by sincerity and natural honesty one fall into the
trick of using particular forms of diction or construction. We are
all exposed to the danger of imitating ourselves. Having once written
a thing which by its honesty and frankness was impressive, there
is a temptation to go on repeating the same thing or to try to do
something which shall seem like it. In this way arise what are known as
mannerisms. The difference between individuality and mannerism is that
between sincerity and egotism; between personality and affectation.
Individuality in style is an honest embodying of that which makes the
writer different from any other man alive; mannerism is the sham--if
unconscious--effort to appear different. Be truthfully exact in saying
nothing but what is really felt, and individuality is as sure as
mannerism is impossible.

Read what Lowell says of Chaucer:--

     Chaucer seems to me to have been one of the most purely original
     of poets.... He is original not in the sense that he thinks and
     says what nobody ever thought or said before, and what nobody
     can ever think and say again, but because he is always natural;
     because, if not absolutely new, he is always delightfully fresh;
     because he sets before us the world as it honestly appeared to
     Geoffrey Chaucer, and not a world as it seemed proper to certain
     people that it ought to appear.

There you have the whole of it. He who is least concerned about being
original, and most engrossed in expressing precisely the thought and
the feeling which have come to him, is in the end the writer who is
most vitally and perennially fresh. Think new thoughts always if
you can; but above all do not put a thought upon paper unless you
so honestly and sincerely think it that it does not occur to you to
consider whether anybody else has or has not said this thing before.



Thus far we have spoken of the general principles of composition, and
of qualities which are common to all attempts to express thought by
written language. There are so many ways, however, in which composition
may be employed, that for further consideration it is convenient to
divide it into classes. We have come to the place where it is well to
serve ourselves with some division of the sorts of writing, just as we
before found it well to serve ourselves by the separation of general

Classification is necessary in any study, not only for convenience
in handling, but for clearness of conception. If ideas are arranged
systematically, they not only are remembered more easily, but their
mutual relations are discovered, and their relative values more
accurately estimated. It is of importance, however, to recognize
that in all investigations classification is not an end, but a
means. He who classifies clears the way for future work, either of
his own or of others, but he does not necessarily reach anything
permanent or effective in itself. The student of botany may analyze
and tabulate all the plants in the land; but if he has not reached
out toward general truths and fundamental principles, it cannot be
said that he has learned much. He has amused himself, perhaps has had
a good deal of healthful out-of-door life, and a certain amount of
mental gymnastics,--but that is the whole of it. Classification, and
especially classification which is not original, is not the attainment
of knowledge in any high sense.

I pause to comment upon this at more length than the connection
warrants, strictly speaking, because the subject is one of so great
general importance. Everywhere in his studies the learner finds
classification set up as a ladder by means of which he may climb to
knowledge. Most students fall to counting the rungs of the ladder, to
measuring the spaces between them, to informing themselves carefully
who made it. Unless in the waste of time there is no harm in this,
if, after all, the ladder be really used, and if the learner be
clear-headed enough to realize that all this is of no more than
relative value. Classification is the means by which the mind is able
to master a subject, but it is not the subject itself. To classify
originally it is necessary to understand the relations of things,
and the investigators by whom classes are defined must of course be
thoroughly well informed in regard to the facts upon which arrangement
is based. The ordinary student is constantly in danger of accepting the
formal schedule instead of the truths which it represents; of filling
his mind with nomenclature instead of principles; of being, in a word,
satisfied with system in place of knowledge.

All essential and ultimate knowledge is natural, and all
classification is artificial. Classification is founded upon natural
facts, but it is an enumeration rather than an elucidation. It
arranges; it does not explain.

Understand that I do not undervalue classification. The student can no
more advance without it than he could climb to a roof without a ladder.
I merely wish to impress upon you the fact that in all work--and
perhaps especially in scientific work--it is of the highest importance
to keep steadily in mind that it is not the ladder but the ascent which
is of consequence; that the aim is not the schedule but the secrets of
wisdom to which it helps us.

Thus it is that it is not for any value in the distinction itself, but
solely as an expedient for our convenience in acquiring knowledge which
is of worth, that we divide the sorts of composition. We classify, as
in microscopy it is necessary to make sections for ease of examination.
Do not fail to classify; but do not fail also to remember that
nomenclature is not knowledge, that classification is not wisdom.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is hardly necessary to remark how varied are the effects which
writers may endeavor to produce. One is intent simply upon giving a
clear and prosaic account of some matter; making a straightforward
appeal to the understanding, and not troubling himself to go beyond
this. A second is bent upon conveying to his readers some emotion,
overpowering or delicate, painful or joyous, as the case may be.
A third aims only to amuse; a fourth is determined to convince, to
persuade, or to overcome; and so on through the long list of objects
which are conceivable as coming within the scope of the writer’s range
of intention.

Obviously, the treatment must be varied as the effect sought alters,
and we divide compositions into classes by their most strongly marked
characteristics. Different authorities have varied the number of
divisions, and I have not felt bound to follow any of them. It seems
to me well to assume that the kinds of composition are Exposition,
Argument, Description, and Narration; and to take up their examination
in this order.

From the classification commonly received this differs in a change of
order and in the omission of Persuasion. Some writers, indeed, include
here both Criticism and Translation; but Criticism is really a species
of exposition, while Translation is whatever sort of composition its
original may happen to be. That Persuasion should so long have been
retained in the list is curious, although not so strange as might
appear from the name. Persuasion, in the strict sense of the term,
is of course not a kind of composition, but a quality of style.
An argument, an exposition, a narrative, must alike be persuasive
to succeed in winning the reader. Indeed, persuasion is a quality
essential to all art. In the sense of being that which leads others to
submit their personality to the artist, it is necessary to painter,
musician, sculptor, and architect, no less than to writer. As used
to designate a department of composition, Persuasion has been that
which addresses, which appeals to the passions directly.[3] The term
is not a happy one, since it would seem that the vocative--the mood of
address--might include denunciation, or invective, or praise, as well
as persuasion. The obvious explanation of the use of such a division of
composition seems to be that it was made to provide a place of dignity
for oratory. In the days of our forefathers the art of eloquence held
a high station, such as it is not likely to occupy soon again; and it
was evidently felt that there should be a separate department for it
in formal rhetoric. Persuasion as a division of composition seems to
have been provided for oratory, much as a sinecure is established for a
court favorite; but since platform eloquence has fallen somewhat into
obscurity, it has been realized that Exposition and Argument cover
the whole ground. If such a division were to exist still, it would be
better to call it Oratory and be done with it; but if there were to be
a fifth kind of composition, there is more ground for trespassing on
the domain of Narrative and naming it Dramatization.

As a reason for departing from the time-honored custom of putting
Description and Narrative before Exposition and Argument, I might
perhaps content myself with saying that it is being found by
instructors in whose judgment I have the highest confidence that
the new order is the better. This is in part due to the fact that
inexperienced writers naturally suppose that they can describe and
narrate without having had especial training, and it is less difficult
to detach them from bad habits of composition, if they begin with a
sort of writing in which they have not contracted faults already. To
put pupils in advanced composition first upon Description and Narration
is apt to be to expose them to the danger of repeating whatever
bad literary habits they may have, since it is in these forms of
production that they are most likely to have contracted them. Another
point of importance is that Description and Narration are so much
more attractive and easily emotional than Exposition and Argument. I
have already said that technique can be readily mastered only in an
unemotional way. The great performers upon musical instruments have
almost always been those who were trained technically while they were
still so young or so undeveloped that the emotional capabilities of
their nature were not matured. There is great danger in allowing the
emotions to be aroused while training which is merely technical is
going on. Awaken in the pupil all interest in technical perfection
which is possible; to excite his emotional interest in subject or
sentiment is dangerous, and obstructs his progress in the cultivation
of skill in form and technique. Technical facility is gained by work
not in itself inspiring, but done with the most patient exactness for
the sake of the power it gives.

Assuming, then, that it is convenient to consider composition as being
divided into the four sorts named, and that there are sufficient
reasons for taking them in the order given, we find it necessary next
to define. Making broad definitions, and leaving finer distinctions to
be considered later, we may say:--

Exposition is a statement, an explanation, or a setting forth.

Argument is the endeavor to establish the truth or falsity of an idea
or a proposition.

Description is the endeavor to present a picture.

Narration is a record of events.

If a traveler, for instance, should write of the Acropolis at Athens,
he might treat the subject in any one of several ways. If he discuss
its architectural character, its beauty, and the æsthetic feelings of
delight which this awakens, if he explain its use, or make statements
of any sort about it, he is making an Exposition; if he endeavor
to establish the truth or untruth of especial views of its use, of
theories of its age, or of any matters subject to controversy, he
passes into Argument; if he by words strives to call up in the mind
of the reader a picture of that glorious ruin, he is describing it;
while, if he tell the story of the temple, he is evidently dealing in

It is hardly necessary to say that these varieties of composition melt
into one another. In a work of any extent, it is generally probable
that all of them will be employed. As an engraver, cutting his block
of box-wood, uses first one tool and then another, according to the
line demanded by the picture, striving to bring out the effect which
the artist desires, so the skilled writer takes up one variety of
composition after another, employs now this and now that. It is the
old question of adapting the method to the end sought, the effort to
the effect desired. In almost any book there will be found Exposition,
Argument, Description, and Narrative, as in a single rose are sepals,
petals, stamens, and pistils. We study these separately, but always the
art of writing is one as the rose is one.

[Footnote 3: Professor Hill’s definition of Persuasion seems to me to
make it an argument which appeals to selfish prejudices or emotions.]



Doubtless you all remember the amazement of the “Bourgeois Gentilhomme”
of Molière when he suddenly discovered that he had been speaking prose
all his life without suspecting it. We may be in the same situation
when it first becomes clear to us that without being aware of it we
have been making expositions from the time we began first to speak. The
statements, the explanations, the opinions which we give by hundreds
every day are simply expositions in little. What we have to do now is
merely to discover if possible what are the principles which will make
the same sort of thing effective when it is carried further than in
common speech, and is put in written instead of in spoken words.

To expound is to set forth the nature, the significance, the
characteristics, and the bearing of an idea or a group of ideas.
Exposition therefore differs from Description in that it deals
directly with the meaning or intent of its subject instead of with
its appearance. A good deal which we are accustomed inexactly to call
description is really exposition. Suppose that your small boy wishes
to know how an engine works, and should say: “Please describe the
steam-engine to me.” If you insist upon taking his words literally--and
are willing to run the risk of his indignation at being willfully
misunderstood,--you will to the best of your ability picture to him
this familiarly wonderful machine. If you explain it to him, you are
not describing but expounding it; you are not making a Description but
an Exposition, in so far as these words are applied in our present
sense. The exact boundary lines of Exposition--or, for that matter,
of any sort of composition--it is impossible to draw sharply. Not
everything which claims to explain really makes clear, any more than
all which wears the air of virtue shall escape scorching in “the
everlasting bonfire.” One thing merges into another, and in the end all
composition, as has been said and repeated already, is an indivisible

The inexactness with which all terms of classification are used and
must be used in literature is illustrated by the extension of the word
“essay,” under which are grouped so many sorts of expositions. It has
become the custom to apply this name to almost any brief monograph of
leisurely or reflective character. The critical papers of Hazlitt, the
historical orgies of Macaulay, the humorous confidences of Charles
Lamb, and the argumentative tracts of Newman on theology or of Ruskin
upon social questions, are all loosely classed together as essays.
In contemporary writings, the suggestive mediæval studies of Vernon
Lee, papers by Walter Pater from which the life has been exquisitely
elaborated, the intimate revelations of nature by Richard Jefferies
or John Burroughs, the delightful word-sonatas of Stevenson, and
the criticisms of Leslie Stephen, fine and scholarly, are all given
the same convenient name. The term “essay” is not unlike that useful
contrivance known to travelers as a “hold-all,” into which may be
huddled whatever there is not room for in more dignified receptacles.
Fortunately the harm done is too small to matter. If a thing is good it
is of no great consequence what we call it.

In an age like this, when the magazine flourishes and newspapers are
thick strewn like sodden leaves in a November storm, the exposition
is naturally one of the most common and one of the most practically
useful of all forms of composition. The modern endeavor to make all men
understand everything of course renders necessary an enormous amount
of expository writing; so that the press turns out daily and hourly an
innumerable number of small essays upon all imaginable topics. We live
in an expository era. The scientific spirit demands that all knowledge
shall be set forth, often to the discouragement of more imaginative
forms of composition. This sort of work is certainly the one for which
there is to-day the most constant and urgent call. The utilitarian
would get along pretty much to his own satisfaction if no other form of
writing than Exposition had been invented; and this is a utilitarian

       *       *       *       *       *

Of all the qualities which we have hitherto considered, the one most
likely to tell in Exposition is Clearness. In practical work the
essential thing here is to make accurately intelligible the meaning
which the writer would convey. In all more delicate matters this is
impossible without recourse to the higher arts of literary technique;
but in general all grace of style, all persuasiveness of presentation,
all elegance of proportion and of manner, are subordinated to this
primary necessity of lucidity. If one is striving to produce permanent
literature these must not be neglected; but as far as common,
practical, workaday prose is concerned, everything else is considered
as of less importance than the conveying to the reader with sharpness
the exact significance of what the writer is endeavoring to phrase.

Two things may be briefly remarked in passing: First, that this
characteristic need of clear-cut accuracy makes especially appropriate
the taking up of Exposition at the start; and second, that this sort of
composition is of great help in intellectual growth. It is not that the
other forms of expression do not call for accuracy. There is as much
need for exactness in the imparting of fine shades of emotion suggested
by a description or by a narrative as in the statement of an opinion.
It is more easy, however, for the student to grasp the more tangible
matter than the more subtile. He more readily appreciates the process
of direct expression than that of delicate implication. It is true that
Exposition in its higher forms deals with thought and emotion; but even
there it handles them rather in a direct than in an indirect manner,
rather by statement than by suggestion.

It is not difficult to see how the practice of this sort of composition
is an aid to intellectual progress. Indeed, education is after all
largely the phrasing for ourselves a statement of the truths of life
and of the world about us. This sort of writing forces the learner to
think sharply and clearly, to realize his thoughts. Exposition leads
the student really to think instead of contenting himself with that
mental muddlement in which the mind goes around and around, playfully
like a kitten chasing its tail or earnestly after the fashion of a
squirrel in his wheel, but getting ahead in neither case.

The two qualities which are, after clearness, most valuable in this
species of writing are unity of the whole work and progression. The
nature of Unity has already been sufficiently commented upon, but
it is worth while to speak of a mechanical device by which much can
be done to secure it. This is the making of a plan of an exposition
before writing it. I have seldom found a student who willingly wrote
out a skeleton of an exercise, and authors are hardly less reluctant
to bother to put upon paper the plan of an essay. I am aware from my
own experience how many excuses for not doing this necessary piece
of drudgery may be invented by the evasive mind. It is of course a
bore, when the head is full of a theme, to be obliged to stop and in
a cold-blooded manner construct the framework of the essay which we
are eager to dash off at full speed. Yet in the end it is a saving
of time. It is better to do this in the first place than to have
to pull the work to pieces afterward. When the mind is alert and
excited, make notes, phrase the vital portions of the essay, set down
the significant thoughts which come to you; but before attempting to
write the completed whole have all these notes, these images, these
phrases, arranged with reference to a plan, a schedule of the entire
composition. This may be slight, but it should be essentially complete
in the sense that it covers the whole ground. I believe it to be
practically impossible for any writer to secure unity in a work of any
extent without making a preliminary plan of some kind; and only men of
rare gifts and much experience can safely carry this in the head. It is
certainly true that the inexperienced writer should not trust himself
to attempt any composition more than a page or two in length without
actually writing out a skeleton beforehand.

As a matter of practical work, a young writer who is attempting an
exposition should begin by thinking out his subject and putting his
thoughts on paper. He should strive to phrase them well when he makes
his first memoranda, for thoughts are like metal, much more malleable
when they are hot. Often an ugly phrase which could without much
trouble have been improved when it was making becomes stubbornly
intractable after it has been for a time on paper. It is convenient to
have these notes on slips of paper, since it is thus easy to arrange
and to rearrange them. It is also of importance to consider how a
subject will appear to a reader whose views are opposed to those of
the writer. Think up all possible objections that might be made to the
ideas expressed. Turn the subject over, and examine the wrong side;
this is the best way to judge of the strength and the smoothness of the
seams by which the parts are joined to make a whole.

The next step is to arrange the thoughts noted down. Make a plan
of the essay with reference to its logical continuity. Look at the
framework as a single thing. Remember that it is upon the completeness
and sufficiency of this that the finished work must depend for its
unity and its effect as a whole. To this scheme fit your notes. Do not
trouble as yet about ornament or finish unless pregnant illustration
or happy phrase suggest itself unsought. You cannot afford to go
seeking these graces until the more substantial portions of your work
are practically complete. Write slowly or swiftly according to your
temperament,--but whatever your temperament do not suppose that good
work is to be done otherwise than systematically and thoroughly.

Once the form is complete, the more you finish and polish the better.
It is true that it is possible to polish the life out of a composition;
but this is a danger much farther along the road than I should presume
to act as a guide. I do not suppose that any author liable to spoil his
work from over-finish is likely to trouble himself about what I may say
on the subject; and certainly this fault lies so far ahead of most of
us that we need not from fear of it stay our hand.

When the essay is planned and written and polished, and if possible
laid aside and taken out and polished over again,--why, then, I am
tempted to say, the wisest rule is that given by Edward Lear for the
making of “Crumbobblious Cutlets:” “Procure some strips of beef, and
having cut them into the smallest possible slices, proceed to cut
them still smaller,--eight or perhaps nine times.” When you have
made the work as good as you can make it, proceed to make it better
still,--eight or perhaps nine times!

It is not impossible that it may occur to you that this sounds a good
deal like hard work. I said to you in the beginning that to succeed in
writing is a laborious task. It is a task infinitely interesting, and
it is this which makes it endurable. The fine arts are possible only
because men do not spare labor even if what is done must be wrought
in the sweat of the brow and with the blood of the heart; art lives
because the artist works from love, and does not count the cost. Unless
the worker is willing thus to labor at literature, he will do well to
leave it alone. If his heart is not in it he will in the end but waste
good paper and ink which might have served better workmen for better

Keeping still to practical details, we may note that it is well to
accustom the mind to measure compositions by the number of words. This
is the professional method, and it is the only way of coming at a
fairly accurate idea of the size of a work and the proportionate length
of its parts. It is not difficult to get into the mind a standard in
the number of words one usually writes on a page. Once this is done,
the rest is easy. The page becomes a personal measure of extent, and
by it one without difficulty estimates the bulk of the whole or any
part of a manuscript. Whoever has dealings with periodicals or with
publishers is sure to come to this question of the number of words
sooner or later, and it is well to learn it early.

One of the cleverest of American playwrights told me that he had made
a careful study of the dramas of the modern French authors to see how
many words they use to produce an effect. So many words he found to be
the average for a love scene, so many in this situation and so many
in that. It was not that he endeavored to follow exactly these rules;
but he was thus getting at the secrets of construction. This was a
practical method of judging proportions. The incident is worth mention
not only as an illustration of the way in which words are used as a
measure in literature, but also as showing how tirelessly and with what
minute care the professional worker is willing to labor.

One of the first practical uses to which the student is called to apply
this measure of the number of words is that of estimating proportion.
The space given to any division of a subject, the number of words in
which it is embodied, largely determines its relation to the whole.
It is somewhat difficult to illustrate this point, but by way of
indicating the sort of analysis which it is well for the student now
and then to make of essays which he finds especially effective, I must
give an example. I have taken Macaulay’s essay of Machiavelli, and made
a summary of it with a view of showing the proportionate length at
which this clever author writes of the different points upon which he
touches. In this paper he is setting forth his view of the character
of that dazzlingly clever Italian whose family name has furnished
the language with an epithet for whatever is most trickily cunning,
while by an absurd paradox his Christian name is held to have given
us an affectionate pseudonym for the devil,--“Old Nick.” The whole
monograph is something in the nature of a special plea, and without
great violation of propriety might be smuggled under Argument. It is an
attempt to show that the characteristics in the writings of Machiavelli
which have made his name a hissing and a byword belong rather to the
time than to the man.

After a brief introduction follows a statement of the disrepute in
which Machiavelli has been held. This is intentionally made strong
to the verge of absurdity, and to it is added a brief acknowledgment
that “The Prince,” Machiavelli’s famous and infamous book, is indeed
shocking. This requires about three hundred and fifty words.

Assuming the attitude which he wishes the reader to take, that of a
puzzled seeker for truth, Macaulay states several theories which might
account for the moral obliquity of the Italian, yet points out that his
personal career was elevated, patriotic, and just; and that there is in
“The Prince” much good as well as much evil. He also calls attention
to the fact that at the time the book was written it apparently shocked
nobody. To this are given about eight hundred words.

This leads directly to the conclusion which is the key-note of the
whole essay:--

     It is, therefore, in the state of moral feeling among the Italians
     of those times that we must seek for the real explanation of what
     seems most mysterious in the life of this remarkable man.

This proposition being the one which it is the aim of the essay to
establish, nearly seventy-five hundred words, almost half of the whole,
are given to tracing the growth of the peculiar conditions of moral
sentiment which obtained in Italy in the time when Machiavelli wrote.
The subject is led on toward the next point in this way:--

     Every age and every nation has certain characteristic vices....
     Posterity, ... finding the delinquents too numerous to be all
     punished, ... selects some of them at hazard to bear the whole
     penalty.... In the present case the lot has fallen on Machiavelli;
     a man whose public conduct was upright and honorable.

The essayist then turns from the man to his work, pointing out the
merits of his novels, comedies, and letters. About twenty-three hundred
words are given to this,--rather more than an eighth of the paper.
Some eighteen hundred follow on his public services. His struggles
to establish a regular army are emphasized, both because here he
appears to the best advantage, and because this line of thought is
artfully made to lead up to and to suggest the view of “The Prince”
which is put forward immediately after: the view that the book was
really designed to forward the substitution of a regular army for the
mercenary troops which had demoralized all Italy. The proportion is
here admirably judged. Enough space is given to the matter to make the
point seem one of dignity and weight, yet not so much as to let it
appear as if the author were insisting upon it too much. The economy
of effect is observed throughout; enough is always done, but never too

We have now, roughly speaking, thirteen thousand out of the not
much over sixteen thousand words in the essay; and the author has
practically done his work. He has pretty well developed his theory,
and the remainder of the monograph is given to making it more clear
and to enforcing it. To the personal merit of Machiavelli is devoted
about a quarter of the entire essay; to the immorality of the age and
its influence upon him, nearly one half; to the admirable way in which
he played his part in public life, nearly an eighth. To the hatred and
abhorrence of Machiavelli which the essayist desires to overcome, he
gives directly but three or four hundred words in the whole sixteen
thousand. Proportion so careful and so effective as this can only be
the result of studied and accurate design.

A word of caution may not be amiss. Proportion is to be determined
not by the interest of the writer or by his ease in writing upon
particular points, but by the relation of the parts to the whole. The
reason for saying this is that almost any author is liable to be led
away by the facility with which it is possible for him to enlarge upon
certain points. An opportunity presents itself for the introduction
of a charming episode; there is a temptation to develop a thought, a
sentiment, a seductively favorite theory; and the result of yielding
to this is apt to be a violation of unity. What the old-fashioned
writers--as if confession were an excuse--were accustomed to confess by
saying, “But this is a digression,” hopelessly injured the effect of a
composition as a whole. Only the clever and cunning artificer of style
can introduce digressions without marring the fair proportions of the
complete work.

Proportion, here as elsewhere, is emotional as well as mechanical.
One must bear in mind the fact that a few emphatic words are of more
account than many mild and commonplace ones. Consider not only the
space given to particular portions of a work, but the stress laid upon

And here it is well to consider a feature of human frailty. Such is
man’s weakness that blame always counts for more than praise. If I
were to say to you that looked at from a purely literary standpoint
“The Heavenly Twins” is morbid and unhealthy rubbish; that “Trilby” is
a pleasant transient excitement; but that “The Return of the Native”
seems to me the most notable English novel since Thackeray--you would
have no difficulty in remembering that I condemned “The Heavenly
Twins;” you would have a fairly clear idea that I had been less
enthusiastic than is the general public about “Trilby;” and you
would perhaps recall vaguely that there was something else--really
it is astonishing how quickly a name slips from the memory!--which I
praised.[4] The point is one to be remembered when one is dealing with
delicate shades of emphasis.

As I have more than once used Carlyle in warning, it is no more than
fair to mention him here as one of the masters of emotional emphasis.
He had an instinct for the proportion of stress, and used it with
the greatest success. It is an excellent lesson in the study of this
quality to analyze the cumulative and unified effect of the stronger
chapters of the “French Revolution.”

I have spoken of progression as being one of the important matters to
be considered in connection with Exposition. Perhaps a better name
for what I mean would be continuity. It is necessary to arrange ideas
in a logical order which is not only unbroken, but which is perfectly
obvious. It is not enough that the author is aware how one thought
logically follows another; he must make it evident to all who read.
He must remember that so long as the connection of ideas is clear
and inevitable the reader is led on unconsciously; while every pause
which the reader is forced to make to see how one statement follows
from another leaves him less fully in the author’s control. So great a
thinker and so great a writer as Emerson materially lessened the circle
of his readers by a lack of this very quality. The ordinary student
often finds it hard to supply the thoughts which make the sequence of
ideas complete. Emerson stalks like a giant from mountain peak of
thought to mountain peak, while the reader is often sorely puzzled to
know how to cross the deep gullies between. Emerson was a genius, and
prophesied so gloriously on his mountain-tops, that we struggle forward
after him despite all difficulties. Those who are not geniuses cannot
hope that readers will follow their lead unless the road is shown and
the chasms bridged.

One may go farther than this in insisting upon the need of
continuousness in literature. The present age is impatient of being
called upon to take trouble in apprehension, so that it is necessary
to use every art--whether of connectives, of arrangement of thought,
of sequence of ideas or incidents--to make more inevitably evident
the connection of parts. Indeed, this must be not only plain but
easy and attractive. To blaze out a path through the woods avails in
pioneer life and in the beginnings of literature; but when civilization
has advanced, the way must be graded until it is comfortable to the
foot accustomed to smooth pavements and velvet carpets. Sequence in
expository writing should usually be so complete that the reader goes
forward so glidingly that the mere progress itself shall be a pleasure.

[Footnote 4: A droll incident happened in connection with this
illustration when these lectures were first delivered. As the audience
left the hall one lady said to another, a stranger: “I beg your pardon,
but could you tell me the name of the third book that was given,--the
one that the lecturer said we should forget?” This was of course
conclusive of nothing, but it was amusingly to the point.]



In expository writing--and indeed the rule might safely be applied to
all composition--it is wise to proceed from the near to the remote;
from cause to effect; from the physical to the mental; from the clear
to the obscure; and from that which is generally allowed to that which
is doubtful or disputed.

It is well to proceed from the near to the remote. We do not say “All
the way from London to here,” but “All the way from here to London.”
The exception would be when the point of view is that of one in London,
since then that city would be the near, and “here” the remote. “Near”
in this connection is always near to the point of view. We say, “What
we do will be talked of all the way from here to London.” We say
also, “When Tom came home from England last year, he was ill all the
way from London to here.” We begin with that which the mind accepts
most readily. The principle is the same which we have already found
to underlie the use of figurative language. There the unknown is made
clear by comparison with the known; and it is well to lead the mind
from what is near, physically or mentally, to what is remote. Take this
example from Stevenson:--

     It is difficult to see why the fellow does a thing so nameless and
     yet so formidable to look at, unless on the theory that he likes
     it. I suspect that is why; and I suspect it is at least ten per
     cent. of why Lord Beaconsfield and Mr. Gladstone have debated so
     much in the House of Commons, and why Burnaby rode to Khiva the
     other day, and why the Admirals courted war like a mistress.--_The
     English Admirals._

This was published in England, and at a time when the speeches of Lord
Beaconsfield and Mr. Gladstone were matters of every-day comment in the
newspaper; the ride to Khiva was famous, but not so near in place or
in realization, while the bravery of the English Admirals was part of
history stretching back for centuries.

Here is illustration from Lowell:--

     J. H., one of those choice poets who will not tarnish their bright
     fancies by publication, always insists on a snowstorm as essential
     to the true atmosphere of whist. Mrs. Battles, in her famous rule
     for the game, implies winter, and doubtless would have added
     tempest, if it could be had for the asking. For a good, solid read
     also, into the small hours, there is nothing like that sense of
     safety against having your evening laid waste, which Euroclydon
     brings, as he bellows down the chimney.--_A Good Word for Winter._

Here we are given the pleasant saying of a neighbor, such as any of us
might have heard; we go on to Mrs. Battles, dear to every reader of
Elia; and from that to Euroclydon, the wind which put the apostle in
danger of his life.

The same principle of course holds good in dealing wholly with ideas.
Speaking of Leonardo da Vinci, Walter Pater writes:--

     He brooded over the hidden virtues of plants and crystals, the
     lines traced by the stars as they moved in the sky, over the
     correspondences which exist between the different orders of living
     things, through which, to eyes opened, they interpret each other;
     and for years he seemed to those about him as one listening to a
     voice silent for other men.

From the idea of the virtues of plants and crystals, things which one
might hold in the hand, the mind is led to the stars, far yet visible;
while only after this is introduced the mysterious and intangible bond
which has been conceived of as existing between all living things. Last
of all is the suggestion of that thing still more remote, the silent
voice heard only by the artist of all men who walked the earth.

I read in a scientific book the other day, in the description of a
proposed machine, “On account of difficulty in handling and great
weight, this is unsuitable.” Here the effect is put before the cause,
and the result is a loss of smoothness in progression. The point of
view is that of a scientist who knows all about the machine, and
he should have written: “great weight and consequent difficulty of
handling.” If the point of view were that of an investigator, the
phrase might perhaps properly be, “difficulty in handling consequent
upon the great weight,” because the investigator would discover first
the difficulty and then reflect upon the cause. This may seem a little
like hair splitting, but no principle can be too closely examined, and
for the student there is no such thing as being too careful in the
study of means and effects.

We shall have occasion to speak of this matter again, particularly
in its application to description. Here it is enough to add that the
simplest course is to follow in writing the order which seems most
natural; and then in revision to apply the rule given at the beginning
of this chapter.

The order which seems most natural will generally be that in which the
thoughts have presented themselves to your own notice, and a perception
of this order is one of the advantages which belong to the collection
of material from personal experience. Whoever has done literary work
is likely to have discovered how constantly the literary mind must be
on the alert. The daughters of the horse-leech that in the Scriptures
are said continually to cry “Give! Give!” are less insatiable than
is the greedy pen of the professional writer. Like the grave, it
has never enough. He who makes literature a profession must take
for his model the barnacle at high tide. As that busy and tireless
unpleasantness grasps ceaselessly with finger-like tentacles, so the
mind of the writer must be always reaching out,--grasping, grasping,
grasping,--until the accumulation of ideas, of facts, of impressions,
with the realization that this is literary material, becomes a second
nature. Life itself must for the professional writer be so much
material. Joy and sorrow, hope, disappointment, whatever he sees and
feels, must yield him something which he may set down in words for the
instruction or the delight of others. It is not that his feelings
are less genuine than those of others; it is not that he writes of
his emotions as if they were his own; it is simply that a sort of
sub-consciousness takes note always of the world around him and of the
world within him no less, seizing all fact and emotion as stuff for the
web it weaves.

And here, at the risk of setting down a platitude, it may be well to
say that it seems to me of the utmost importance that the professional
writer, and especially the young aspirant for literary honors, keep a
note-book. It is as foolish to start upon a literary career without
the habit of jotting things down as it would be to put to sea without
water in the casks. The need is especially great if one is going into
any sort of journalistic work, because there is always danger of being
called upon to produce “copy” without warning and without material
offered either by the editor or by circumstances. There is at such
times a great practical value in a well-filled note-book, while the
moral support is perhaps of importance even greater. No man who has
had literary experience will fail, I believe, to realize the folly of
trusting to memory to hold and to bring forward at the right time the
thoughts, the reflections, or the facts which come to one unexpectedly.
The memory is apt to be a careless servant. It mislays, it injures,
it mars the things which are intrusted to it. It is necessary to
acquire the habit of setting thoughts down, and of setting them down
at once. Do not delude yourself with the notion that you will recall
in the morning the clever phrase or acute deduction which your brain
evolves after you are tucked safely into bed at night; that you can
put upon paper at the end of the journey the incident which struck you
in traveling. You may remember to make the record later, but a thought
is like a sunset,--the instant it reaches its full glory it begins to
fade. What is written while it is fresh has a vitality, a spontaneity
which nothing can have that is recalled and set down later. If you are
reading and the thought of the author suggests a reflection, throws a
sudden illumination upon some spot in your mind hitherto in darkness,
do not wait to finish the chapter, but interrupt your reading to write
it down. It is a bother. No reader likes to break off to use pencil
and note-book,--but the professional writer is forbidden to consider
whether he like a thing or not, if it will assist his progress. The
first thing in his life is his art,--moral questions aside,--and to
this he is to sacrifice everything.

Of the cultivation of the habit of observing, one is almost ashamed
to say anything, so often has this been discussed. Every one who
discourses upon this subject has spoken of the prime necessity of
training the faculties of observation; yet every one who shall
discourse hereafter is likely to be called upon to say the same thing.
Remember that if you lack material for writing, the fault is entirely
your own. The world is around you, infinite and inexhaustible; the
question is whether you take what is at hand. Our daily walks and ways
afford us all that is needed--except the eye to see and the heart to

Yesterday--which you remember was a sharply cold day--I had occasion to
go down town. I noticed at least three things any one of which a clever
writer might make the theme of a charming little essay. I saw in the
street-car a large, middle-aged man, coarsely dressed, and of rather
a forbidding face. He was seated in a corner, and gave an impression
of surly ill-nature. A little, thin, weazened lad of not more than six
or seven, with pinched features and starved look, poorly clad, and
seeming to have been always cold or hungry when he was not both, came
in and took the seat next to this man. There was nothing to indicate
that the two knew each other, and indeed the boy’s air showed plainly
enough that they did not; but when the poor forlorn little fellow blew
on his small, grimy fists, in vain attempt to warm them, the big,
sulky-looking man put out a great hand hardly cleaner, took the boy’s
blue fingers between his palms, and held them there to warm them. His
grim face hardly relaxed, but the kindliness of the act, and the queer
mingling of astonishment and pleasure on the child’s face, made the
incident good to see.

Again, on Washington Street I passed a woman in Quaker garb, who stood
looking in at the window of a jeweler. She regarded placidly, yet
with an inscrutable look, the gems on velvet cushions within. What
she was thinking it would not be easy to say; but what a delightful
essay Charles Lamb might have written “On a Quakeress looking in at a
Jeweler’s Window”!

Half an hour later I passed the silk counter of one of the large
dry-goods stores. There a couple of nuns were selecting a sumptuous
white brocade, examining it with an air serious and absorbed, and yet
subtilely suggestive of feminine delight in the beauty of the stuff.
What to them were the pomps and vanities of this world that their taste
should be concerned in a purchase so incongruous? Did they buy a new
robe wherein the image of some Madonna is to shine forth in splendor at
the coming Christmastide, or the garment which some young novice shall
wear at her mystic spousals with the church, thenceforth to know no
raiment but the strait livery of the sisterhood?

I grant you that one does not chance upon three things so suggestive
as these in every trip down town; but there is always something. Learn
to see and to hear. Seeing and hearing are more matters of the brain
than of eye and ear. Train the mind to observe, and no less train it
to phrase; then the whole question of material is settled. Exposition
demands, of course, the exercise of reason as well as of observation,
but the two are closely bound together; and the mind which is trained
to see is as sure to reason about what it sees as the plant which
thrusts its rootlets into rich soil is to grow.



It is one of the most trying conditions of human life that conviction
is not proof. It is hard to be brought face to face with the fact that
the most ardent belief does not make a thing true. We have most of us
known moments when it seemed that there could be no justice in the
universe because some hope or some faith which we have cherished with
the whole soul was found after all to be but a delusion. Truth in this
world must be tried not by desire but by reason; and we can hardly be
too careful in studying the processes by which reason attempts its

Argument has been defined as the endeavor to establish the truth
or the falsity of an idea or a proposition. Naturally a written
argument is supposed to be addressed to others, but the methods used
in constructing it are those which we employ in examining a theory
or a proposition in our own minds. It is necessary to study these
for the sake of using them in composition; yet it is of no less
importance that we apply their principles to our thinking. It may
seem to you that I have a tendency to treat English Composition as if
it involved the whole duty of man, but it is certainly true that the
advantages of familiarity with legal processes may be very great, not
only intellectually, but ethically. Since conviction is not proof,
either in things emotional or things ethical any more than in things
intellectual, it follows that it is essential to be provided with the
means of testing the many propositions and ideas which life puts before
us. It is not my intention to discuss Argument as a means of spiritual
advancement, yet it is not amiss to call attention to its great value,
even for one who never intends to write at all.

Looking at Argument simply as a division of composition, we need not
have difficulty in perceiving its importance. No intellectual necessity
is more common than that of endeavoring to make others think or believe
as we think or believe. The effort to establish truth by argument is
one which from the dawn of civilization has occupied the best powers
of mankind. Openly, in avowed reasoning, or covertly, in cunningly
disguised forms, those who write are constantly arguing for one theory
or another, for some idea, for some conviction. The writer who is
trained to the craft of logic has the same advantage in discussion with
one who has not that a trained boxer has in an encounter with a green

It must be evident to any one that Argument is closely allied to
Exposition. Much discussion may be resolved into a dispute over
definitions, and when thinkers disagree it is more often about terms
than about principles. It has happened before now that men have gone to
the stake upon a question whether a thing in regard to which everybody
was in substantial accord should be called by one name or by another;
and it is evident that Exposition may sometimes be more effectively
convincing than formal Argument, since if a truth is clearly set forth
it is likely to carry conviction with it.

Macaulay’s “Machiavelli,” which we have examined, goes very near
the line of Argument, since, as has been said, it is essentially an
endeavor to prove that the vices of the Italians of the fifteenth
century were national rather than personal and individual. Indeed, in
perhaps the majority of expositions of any complexity there is likely
to be an underlying basis of argument. It is difficult to suppose a
logical sequence of facts or ideas which does not involve argumentative
reasoning, at least tacitly. Here, as everywhere in composition, one
form passes into another, and no arbitrary line of division can be
drawn. Exposition and Argument are constantly united; and moreover
it is true that the latter is constantly given the guise of the
former, so that at first glance a chain of logical reasoning is easily
mistaken for a simple statement of facts. To quote once more from the

     When war becomes the trade of a separate class, the least
     dangerous course left to a government is to form a standing
     army. It is scarcely possible that men can pass their lives in
     the service of one state without feeling some interest in its
     greatness. Its victories are their victories. Its defeats are
     their defeats. The contract loses something of its mercantile
     character. The services of the soldier are considered as the
     effects of patriotic zeal, his pay as the tribute of national
     gratitude. To betray the power which employs him, to be even
     remiss in its service, are in his eyes the most atrocious and
     degrading of crimes.

This is a complete argument, easily reducible to logical terms. It
opens with the proposition that if war becomes a trade the nation
should enlist and control the army; and the remainder of the paragraph
is taken up with the proof of this statement. It is not all expressed;
but it may be said to consist of three propositions supported as

First: Men who make war a trade are likely to betray a country.

     Men likely to betray are a danger.

     Hence, men who make war a trade are a danger.

Second: Men in standing army become identified with the country.

     Men identified with the country less likely to betray.

     Hence, men in standing army less likely to betray.

Third: Whatever most decreases chance of betrayal is best.

     To form standing army most decreases the chance of betrayal.

     Hence, to form standing army is best, or least dangerous.

This illustrates how intricately interwoven is Argument with other
forms of composition, and how easily one may overlook the fact that he
is reading or writing it.

Formally speaking, the difference between Exposition and Argument is
the difference between peace and war. One is a hidden and the other
an avowed struggle. In Exposition the writer declares; in Argument he
defends. In the former there is no necessary endeavor to convince. The
writer concerns himself with setting forth facts, views, or theories;
he nominally deals with statement pure and simple. In the latter he
attempts to enforce assent to his proposition; to convince is his
declared and primary object. Exposition is the teacher; Argument, the

The danger of Argument is that of all contest. To make an effort to
effect a given thing, to endeavor to enforce a view, is of course to
expose one’s self to the chance of arousing opposition. It is to invite
attack, and to run the risk of defeat. For this reason it is necessary
to use not a little shrewdness in deciding whether it is best to put
what one has to say into the form of declared argument. Often it is
wiser to endeavor to produce an exposition so clear that it shall carry
with it the conclusion which the writer desires to establish. It is at
least safe to assert that in writings meant to convince, the more fully
the appearance of not arguing can be maintained the more satisfactory
will be the effect. The reader will certainly go as far as he can be
made to suppose himself and not the author to be drawing conclusions.
Most editorial argumentative writing, and especially that which deals
with political questions, is almost of necessity disguised in a
semblance as close to Exposition as possible. Where passion is aroused,
prejudices excited, and the mind of the reader armed against attempts
to convince, whatever is done must be done in a way calculated to
soothe rather than to excite.

When Argument avowed and formal is attempted, no pains should be
spared to make it irresistible. Reasoning which does not succeed is
the strongest presumption against the proposition it seeks to defend.
Indeed, logic which fails seems almost to establish the truth of the
opposite proposition. “He that taketh the sword shall fall by the
sword,” and he who advances an argument must either prevail by it or
fall altogether. The proposition which before it is argued is viewed
at worst with indifference is discredited and disbelieved when once an
attempt to establish its credibility has been made and has failed.

The strength of an argument lies in that quality which is called
logical accuracy. To cover the whole subject of reasoning minutely
it would be necessary to go over the entire field of formal logic;
but here we must content ourselves with considering points which are
essential and which pretty fairly cover the needs of argumentative
composition in a literary sense.

Before beginning a chain of reasoning it is wise to fix what is named
the burden of proof. In other words it is well to decide how much
one is called upon to prove. It is important to know whether the
presumption lies for or against the proposition at issue, to be clear
what may be assumed. In many cases this has no especial practical
bearing, but it is well to be sure where one stands. It is always
easier to defend than to attack, and in so far as a writer can put
from him the burden of proof, in so far he has rendered his task
lighter. The received theory and the existing state of things have in
their favor a presumption which may be advanced by him who argues in
their favor and which must always be done away with by him who reasons
against them. The writer who attacks civilization, for instance, who
decries the existing religion or the value of literature, has upon him
the burden of proof; while he who defends them has the advantage of an
affirmative assumption. The former is called upon to produce arguments
to prove his claim; the latter need do no more than to refute the
reasoning of his opponent. On the one hand it is a question of attack;
while on the other it is a matter of defense.

The first thing in establishing a line of argument is to define clearly
the proposition to be proved. Nothing further can be done until the
writer has made the question at issue clear beyond all possibility of
mistake. It is necessary to force one’s own mind to an understanding so
sharp and exact that confusion is impossible. The most common failing
of mankind is mental ambiguity; and nothing is more frequent than
for writers to be entirely mistaken in what they suppose themselves
to mean. The whole so-called Socratic method of reasoning--the most
teasingly irritating form of logic ever devised; the Spanish-fly
form of conviction--consists chiefly in badgering an opponent into
a realization of the fact that he does not know what he is talking
about; that he is entirely wrong in his notion of his own meaning.
The philosopher who in these less patient days should devote himself
to questioning so vexing as that with which Socrates is said to have
roasted opponents in his time would run imminent risk of a broken head;
but the class of illogical arguers against whom he contended is with us
to this day.

Once the proposition is clear in the mind, it is necessary to find
means to convey it to the understanding of others; to convey it, be
it remembered, so that it shall arrive with meaning and sharpness of
outline unimpaired. It is the old question of Clearness. An idea which
leaves one mind with all the beauty and symmetry of a snow-crystal
often gets to another mind as a mere formless drop of snow-water. To
the end that the proposition come to the reader with the identity and
form uninjured, it is often needful to declare at the outset the sense
in which are used the words, terms, and phrases which follow. The only
sure way of dealing with a doubtful case is to say plainly: “When such
a word is introduced, it means exactly this.” In close writing such
defining is almost always essential to the success of the work. You
may remember, as an illustration, how Ruskin defines his terms at the
beginning of “Modern Painters.” In this way only is it possible to
avoid the pitfalls which the varied meanings of the language spread for
the foot of the unwary. Some of the many possible errors are dangerous,
some easily detected. No one, for instance, need be fooled by a fallacy
like the following:--

     An artist is an interpreter of the beautiful.

     Mr. Rothschild’s _chef_ is an artist.

     Hence, Mr. Rothschild’s _chef_ is an interpreter of the beautiful.

There may be those whose respect for gastronomy is so high that they
would not shrink from this conclusion, but taking the argument as it
stands, it is evident that the word “artist” is used in a double sense.
In the first assertion it signifies one who labors in what we call
the fine arts; one gifted with that incommunicable power of which we
spoke at the beginning of these talks. In the second assertion, the
word “artist” signifies one clever and skillful in the practice of his

To take a more serious illustration, the much mooted question whether
Walt Whitman is or is not a poet can be argued only after an agreement
upon the sense in which “poet” is to be understood. If “poet” means
one who writes verse in metrical forms, the proposition cannot be even
discussed, because the fact that Whitman did not write formal metrical
verse is admitted by everybody. If, on the other hand, the term “poet”
be extended to include writers of imaginative and dithyrambic prose, a
discussion becomes almost inevitable. Most of the magazine essays which
nominally deal with the question stated are really occupied chiefly
with the inquiry, “What sense shall we give to the term ‘poet’?”

It is true that the ordinary reader will often fail to make a
distinction of this sort. If he be told that the point at issue is
Whitman’s poetic standing, he will generally accept the statement,
however widely the discussion may depart from the proposition. It might
seem to follow that it is of little consequence whether a writer is
logical or not; but it is always to be remembered that the fact that a
reader does not know by what means he is impressed does not necessarily
weaken the impression. Indeed, it is probably true that those who are
least aware of the processes of literature are often those most vividly
affected by them. The writer who has command of literary forms, who
understands clearly what he desires to do and how it is best done, will
reach and control the mind of the reader, and need not be disturbed by
the fact that the latter does not in the least appreciate the art which
has seized and which holds him.

It is of the highest importance to keep in mind when defining
propositions or terms that the basis of all discussion must be
mutually accepted by writer and reader. Until a starting-point where
these two are in accord is found, it is manifestly idle to attempt to
draw inferences. The writer who argues with the view of convincing
the general public is forced to take as premises truth universally
allowed, and facts generally known or which can be supported by easily
convincing evidence. He is at the outset met with the difficulty that
words are seldom free from ambiguity, and that fact and fiction are
as inextricably intertangled as are the rootlets of two trees growing
side by side. The nicest judgment must be used in determining how far
any statement is admittedly true; not, be it noted, how far it _is_
true, but how far common consent admits its verity. The premise of any
argument addressed to the general reader can go no farther than general
conviction goes. Even here a writer is often hampered by the fact that
the sense of ambiguity is apt to cling to any question concerning which
there has been dispute. This is especially true of subjects about which
there has been extensive controversy. It is admitted by everybody,
for instance, that there are things in Scripture which are not to be
accepted with absolute literalness; yet to assume this in argument is
almost inevitably to arouse suspicion if not opposition. No matter how
carefully the writer endeavors to keep within bounds of common belief,
the uncertainty and the doubt which belong to the proposition in its
extreme are apt to interfere with its being given even the weight which
it may deserve when carefully guarded.

The best guides here are two: that homely, domestic angel of the mind
which we call common sense, and the sincere desire to arrive at and
to establish the truth, as distinguished from eagerness to win in
argument. If a writer can divest himself of a wish to prevail even if
wrongfully, he has increased tenfold his chance of winning rightly.
If he can bring his mind to the attitude of simple, unsophisticated
truth-seeking, without affectation and without vanity, he is in the
best possible condition for arguing successfully. Enthusiasm tells in
this as in any other form of composition; but Argument is primarily an
appeal to the intellect, and since the reason of the reader is aroused
to meet the logic advanced, the writer has need of all his coolness and
self-control in devising and arranging his arguments.

The choice of the line of proof which is to be employed is one of the
most delicate matters connected with this form of composition. If one
undertakes to convince, it is evident that no means which may secure
conviction should be slighted; and it is of importance to select the
train of reasoning along which the mind of the reader will move with
the least opposition. Here advice cannot avail much. The student must
depend upon care, good judgment, and practice, with the study and
analysis of the masterpieces of reasoning. The choice of methods in
arguing is the selection of the order of battle; on it depends much of
the success alike of attack and of defense.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sense of the proposition, the meaning of the terms, and the line
of argument having been determined, they must be held to firmly to the
end. No defect in disputation is more common than that of shifting
ground. Sometimes, especially in debate, this is deliberate. A clever
dialectician, one who is able deftly to twist words to varied uses
and to turn phrases about, has little difficulty, if he finds himself
cornered, in altering his position completely. He easily confuses the
terms so that the point at issue is changed. He raises a cloud of
phrases under cover of which his attack is shifted to another quarter,
as a line of battle is sometimes altered behind a cloud of smoke. This
is less often possible in written conflict than in oral, yet there it
may sometimes be done. It is at best, however, merely a temporization.
What is set down in “the cold permanence of print” may be examined
until its inaccuracies are brought to light. The swiftness of speech
and the glamour of personal persuasiveness will cover fallacies
which could avail nothing if put upon paper. Any change of position,
moreover, is a confession of weakness; and once it is observed, the
effect of the entire chain of reasoning is weakened, if not destroyed

A change of base in argument is the result of deliberate intention
less often than of mental confusion. Few of us realize how seldom we
think clearly; how much more rarely we think clearly and consecutively;
and how most rare it is that we think clearly, consecutively, and
logically. Much training is required to bring the mind to the power of
holding fast to a single issue in discussion, of persisting in a single
line of proof, of resisting all temptations to turn to side issues.

Nor is this solely from a lack of intellectual power; it is in part
due to an instinctive desire to escape unwelcome results. One of the
surest indications of a firm and well-disciplined mind is that it does
not shrink from its own conclusions. The natural, human tendency is
to escape from a distasteful result of investigation or reasoning by
assuming that the process must be wrong because the decision arrived at
is unpleasant. Yet to dislike a proposition is not to disprove it. To
protest against the fact established by sound logic no more destroys
it than the wail of a child brings down from heaven the round yellow
moon for which he cries. All intellectual growth and all character
stand upon the willingness of the mind to accept and to act upon the
conclusions at which it arrives by the exercise of its best reasoning
powers. It is much to be able to think; it is more to dare to think;
but it is most of all to be able to accept without shrinking or evasion
the results of thought, whether one’s own or others’.



It is proper and perhaps even important that the student shall learn
the distinction which is made by logicians between reasoning which is
inductive and that which is deductive. As a matter of practical work in
the writing of arguments, the distinction is of less importance than
might seem from the formality with which these terms are treated; but
as Induction and Deduction are words which the true logician cannot
mention without at least a seeming impulse to cross himself, it is well
to know what the difference is.

Induction, then, is reasoning from the particular to the general; the
establishment of an hypothesis by showing that the facts agree with
it. It is preëminently the scientific method. By observing natural
phenomena, the scientist conceives what the law which governs them must
be. This idea of the general principle is then the hypothesis which he
attempts to prove; and his method is to examine the facts under all
conditions possible, establishing his proposition by showing that the
facts are in accord with it.

Deduction is the converse of this, and consists in drawing out
particular truths from general ones. A universal proposition may be
regarded as a bundle in which are bound together many individual ones.
It is the work of deduction to take these out,--to separate any one
of them from the rest. The general truth, “All metals are elements,”
includes in it the especial truths, “Iron is an element,” “Gold is an
element,” and so on for each metal which could be named. Deduction
is the process of separating one of these from the whole. Speaking
broadly, scientific reasoning is more likely to be inductive, while
other reasoning is more likely to be deductive.

As a matter of practical composition, Argument is the statement of
a proposition, and the arrangement of the proofs which the writer
believes will establish its truth. The essential matter is to begin
with some truth or fact generally acknowledged, and to lead the mind
of the reader on by deductions which cannot be disputed, until the
proposition to be proved is reached as an unassailable conclusion.

This process may be very simple, or extremely complex; the steps may
be slight, or they may be, like the platforms of the pyramids, barely
scalable. In discussing methods, it is necessary to use some technical
expressions which it is well to define:--

A Term is a word or combination of words used to name some thing or
idea in reasoning.

A Proposition is a statement of the relation between two terms.

If we say, “The man is a patriot,” we have a sentence in which is
a statement of the relation between the thing “man” and the thing
“patriot.” This is therefore a proposition. Here the terms are “man”
and “patriot,” because these are the names of the things of which we
speak in reasoning.

We might now make another proposition, this time general, and say,
“A patriot is a valuable citizen.” Here the terms are “patriot” and
“valuable citizen,” and the proposition asserts a relation between them.

If these two propositions are examined, they are found to have in
common the term “patriot,” and it is seen to be possible to draw from
them another proposition. If the man of whom mention is made is a
patriot, and a patriot is a valuable citizen, it is evident enough that
the man must be a valuable citizen. It is merely an application of the
principle that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to
each other. And this brings us to a third definition:--

A Syllogism is a group of three propositions, of which, if the first
two are true, the third must follow as a deduction from them.

A complete syllogism has just been given: The man is a patriot; a
patriot is a valuable citizen; hence the man is a valuable citizen.

It is possible to draw a third proposition only from two that have
one term in common. It follows that there are three terms in a
syllogism,--the first and second propositions having one term alike,
and each having a particular term which reappears in the third
proposition. This third proposition is that which the endeavor is
made to prove. To establish a proposition by syllogism, then, it is
necessary to find two others which contain each one of its terms, and
which have a term in common. It is necessary to add that not from
every pair of propositions which contain a common term is it possible
to draw a third, and thus to form a syllogism. If we say, “A rose is a
flower,” “A lily is a flower,” we have two propositions which have a
common term, yet we cannot go on to make the third proposition, “Hence
a rose is a lily.” The term which is common to both propositions must
in one of them be spoken of as a whole, or in a general way. Logicians
say that it must be “distributed;” in other words, one assertion must
cover the term in its entire extent. In the first syllogism which we
examined, the common--it is usually called the “middle”--term is in the
second proposition spoken of in a general way. “A patriot is a valuable
citizen” is an assertion of all patriots. In the false syllogism, “A
rose is a flower; a lily is a flower,” there is nothing said of all
flowers, and yet “flower” is the middle term. The rose is one flower,
the lily is one flower, but until there is something said of all
flowers it is not possible to draw out a new conclusion,--to form a

He who wishes to exercise his wits with pretty mental gymnastics may
learn from books on logic that there are a great many varieties of
syllogisms. There are twenty-four valid ones, and a crowd of poor
relatives, which exist under the discrediting title, “imperfect
syllogisms,” and which, paradoxically, are of no use until they have
been “reduced.” When it is added that each has a fine Latin name, the
reader may appreciate that he is here being spared a good deal.

       *       *       *       *       *

Although it is not possible to take space for a very intricate example
of the skeleton of an argument, it is hardly fair to give nothing more
complex than a simple syllogism; and the following may assist the
formation of a more clear conception of the form in which reasoning
should be put. Suppose the proposition which is to be proved to be,
“The Norsemen discovered America before Columbus.”

Taking a few of the more obvious arguments which might be advanced in
support of this proposition, and arranging them so as to begin with the
more generally allowed and easily proved, we have:

1. The frequent appearance in European literature before Columbus of
allusions to a land across the sea.

2. The story in the Icelandic Sagas.

3. Norse remains in America.

These proofs will be sufficient for purposes of illustration. Let us
examine them in detail a little. Under each of these proofs--which
it is convenient to call subordinate propositions--lies a syllogism,
whether it is fully stated or not. The writer must be entirely clear
in his own mind what this is, whether it seem to him well to state
it explicitly or not. Here the syllogism of the first subordinate
proposition, briefly stated, is:--

     Allusions to a land over sea prove knowledge of such a land.

     In pre-Columbian literature are allusions to land over sea.

     Hence there must have been knowledge of such a land.

This brings us face to face with the necessity of supporting premises
with facts. To support the first sub-proposition there must be
citations from pre-Columbian literature. This is a mere matter of
research. One reason for putting this especial proof first is that
in supporting it it is possible to begin with facts which cannot be
questioned. It is true that the very next step will bring us upon
doubtful territory, but we start from firm ground. The moment that the
passages are quoted, the possibility occurs to the mind that they may
be taken to refer to lands then known, or as the expression of mythical
fancies. These objections must be met. An argument can no more pass an
unanswered objection than a locomotive can cross a bridge from which
a span is missing. Reasons must here be given for connecting with the
New World the passages cited. It will be no less important to show the
reasons for supposing that the information which the ancient writers
possessed of the New World came from the Norsemen. The rest may all be
allowed, and yet be held to have no bearing on the thing to be proved,
so that this link in the chain must be made strong and evident.

This last point illustrates the sort of questions which are likely
to arise in regard to arrangement. Is it well to introduce here the
proofs that this knowledge of another continent came from the Norse, or
would it be better to wait until the Icelandic Sagas have been spoken
of? In the latter case, the parts of the argument may be more closely
bound together, and it gives an air of fairness to the whole when the
writer is willing to go back a good way in his argument to take up
possible objections and answer them. Against this is to be balanced the
possibility that the reader may be put into a suspicious state of mind
by finding that a doubtful point is passed over, and so be less easily
convinced than he otherwise might be. The writer of an argument must
consider these things, and upon the good judgment with which he settles
such questions much of his success depends.

In this first sub-proposition there is no need of stating formally
the syllogism involved, since, if the first or major premise is
successfully defended, the rest follows obviously. As a matter of
practical arrangement, then, the sub-proposition and its defense might
stand in this order:--

1. The discovery of America by the Norsemen is proved by the allusions
in pre-Columbian literature to a land over sea.

_a._ Citation of passages.

_b._ Proofs that these do not refer to the Eastern Hemisphere.

_c._ Proofs that they are not mythical allusions.

_d._ Proofs that they do refer to America.

_e._ Proofs that the knowledge shown came from Norsemen.

When these points are established, the first sub-proposition, with
its underlying syllogism, may be looked upon as proved, and the next
may be taken up. I have not studied the question of the discovery of
America by the Norsemen closely enough to know that the line of proof
given is the best possible, but it serves well enough to illustrate the
general form of the skeleton of an argument. Each of the subordinate
propositions must be divided and subdivided if necessary, until the
divisions can be handled easily and proved conclusively; and the writer
will do well to test the strength of his argument by making a complete
chain of the syllogisms involved, seeing which rests upon another, so
that the arrangement may be conformed to principles of natural sequence.

One important matter in reasoning is never to claim too much. Care must
be taken not to put upon a proof a greater strain than it will bear.
It is also an obvious rule that it is wise to insist upon no more than
is absolutely needed to establish the proposition in hand. Sometimes
it is wise to indicate that more might be proved, but in general the
assent of the reader is to be treated as a bank account to be drawn
upon as far as it is necessary, but in no case beyond the actual need
of the occasion. It is well never to waste strength in proving more
than is essential, and always to avoid a side issue as one shuns a road
leading to sure destruction. Often it is a wise device in argumentation
to establish a point and leave the reader to perceive its import. Here
as everywhere a thing which the reader is led to do for himself is a
hundred fold more effective than anything which can be done or said for
him. The phrase, “Is it not possible that these facts prove this?” has
won more converts than the boldest assertion: “These proofs make it
impossible to doubt.” Man that is born of woman is born to obstinacy
as the sparks fly upward, and if he be assured that he cannot or shall
not doubt, he is apt to begin to doubt from simple contrariety. Yet it
will not do to run any risk of leaving the reader in doubt as to what
has been established by the arguments given. It is often necessary to
insist that a proposition is proved. A victory is hardly recognized as
a victory until the trumpets are blown, and an argument is scarcely
concluded without some sort of a declaration of success.

Where the line is to be drawn between the extreme of leaving to the
reader the perception of what is proved and that of insisting that a
demonstration has been made must depend upon the audience addressed.
The writer of an argument has especial need to be sure to whom he
speaks. He must consider the knowledge of his audience, their views,
and especially their prejudices. It is in relation to the last that
there comes into play what it has been the fashion to call Persuasion.
Although Argument is an appeal to the intellect, there are few chains
of reasoning which fail to appeal also to the emotions. It is hardly
possible to conceive of a discussion which will not to a greater or
less degree touch the passions of those addressed. Much is effected by
keeping in mind the natural prejudices of the reader, and so framing
arguments that they shall appeal directly to the emotions by the
personal or selfish nature of their deductions. An illustration is to
be found in political harangues, which, while nominally devoted to
proving the wisdom or advisability of some party measure, are really
only clever attempts to convince that the measure is for the personal
advantage of voters. This is, of course, the abuse of this form of
argument. The legitimate use of this appeal to the passions is in the
putting of reasoning sound and wholesome in itself into a form which
shall captivate the hearer or reader. It is the lavishing upon the
composition of all the graces of manner, of style, of ornament, which
the writer can compass, to the end that the reader shall be attracted
and inclined to accept the conclusions set down. Stevenson speaks of a
somewhat different matter in words which are strictly applicable here:--

     Whatever be the obscurities, whatever the intricacies of the
     argument, the neatness of the fabric must not suffer, or the
     artist has been proved unequal to his design. And, on the other
     hand, no form of words must be selected, no knot must be tied
     among the phrases, unless knot and word be precisely what is
     wanted to forward and illuminate the argument; for to fail in this
     is to swindle in the game.--_Cont. Rev._, vol. xlvii. (1885),
     p. 551.

Almost as often as with the establishment of our own reasoning, are
we concerned in argument with endeavors to overthrow the logic of
an opponent. Frequently it is necessary to refute views opposed to
that which is being put forward. It is in general wise not to bring
this in too soon. It is well to predispose the reader in favor of the
conclusion to be defended, and then to take up contrary opinions.
Sometimes a broad statement at the beginning to the effect that
objections exist is politic; and in any case it is important that
there be no slightest appearance of shirking or evading the issue.
When the writer is conscious that the weight of popular sentiment or
general opinion is against him, he may sometimes command attention
and provoke interest by boldly plunging at once into an attack upon
commonly received theories. Audacity always commands attention, and
if it be reinforced by ability it is no less sure of admiration. A
striking example of this method is to be found in Colonel Ingersoll’s
attacks upon the Bible and religion. However one may be shocked by
his violations of good taste, and whether one does or does not agree
with his methods or his conclusions, it is impossible to deny his
success as a speaker. The very boldness with which he has attacked has
insured a hearing. This form of discussion calls for dash, courage, and
confidence,--and it is sometimes the result of sheer impudence. Only he
who has great powers and perfect command of them can reasonably hope to
succeed here.

For answering the arguments of others, and indeed for the proper
examination of one’s own, it is necessary to give attention to the
numerous fallacies which may creep into reasoning, by design or by
accident. These are to be completely mastered only by the minute study
of logic; but some are so common that they should be considered here.

The first fallacy is that of the confusion of terms, such as that
found in the attempt to prove the _chef_ to be an interpreter of the
beautiful, or in the question whether Whitman was a poet.

The second fallacy which in practical writing it is well to be on guard
against is the _non sequitur_. There is much advanced as argument--as
for instance in political editorials--where consecutiveness is
confounded with causality. _Post hoc ergo propter hoc_ is the phrase
which sums this up: After this, therefore because of this. “We shall
die after eating this meal, therefore this meal is the cause of our
death,” is an example of this fallacy. Put in this way the absurdity is
evident; but a genuine fallacy, lurking under words as the conventional
serpent of school-girl compositions and of temperance orators lurks
beneath flowers, is a different thing. Here is part of an editorial
from one of the leading New York daily journals:

     The vote of Senator X. is a striking illustration of the power of
     money among the law-makers of this great nation. The vigorous and
     unscrupulous support which has been given to this bill by Mr. A.,
     the western billionaire, is known to everybody; and equally well
     known is the fact that hitherto Senator X. has been counted among
     the stanch opposers of the iniquitous measure. Senator X. is known
     to have had a private interview with Mr. A. on the evening before
     the vote was taken, and the result was evident when next morning
     the Senator gave his support to the bill which he had before
     steadily opposed.

In the especial case to which this refers there may or there may not
have been bribery; but it is well to bear in mind that this editorial
proves nothing. It amounts merely to saying that the vote happened
after the interview and was therefore the result of it; so that it is
in reality one of those fallacies which in a simpler form appear so
absurd. Yet readers in abundance accept this sort of thing as proof,
especially when political prejudice inclines them to believe it. It
would seem that a little common sense and a little care in examination
were all that could be needed to dispose of specious errors of this
class, yet they every day prevail.

The third fallacy is that of analogy. Analogy proves a probability,
but it cannot establish a certainty. If a young woman has refused a
dozen suitors, it is manifestly absurd to say that this proves that
she will be equally unkind to the thirteenth. Politicians reason by
analogy that a State which hitherto has gone Republican or Democratic
may be counted upon to give a majority for its old party; when, lo, a
change comes suddenly, and the conclusion is found to be false. That we
have always liked the novels of a certain author does not insure that
we shall be pleased with his next; that the sun has always risen does
not prove that it will rise to-morrow morning; that men have from time
immemorial been born with one head does not prove that a child may not
be born with two,--as testify the freaks of dime museums. It is true
that analogy often establishes a probability so strong that it amounts
to a moral certainty. We are justified in acting upon the assumption
that the sun will rise to-morrow, and in assuming that any given child
of whose birth we hear has but one head. It is important in arguing,
however, to bear in mind the difference, whether in one’s own reasoning
or in that of an opponent, between analogy and absolute proof. Things
which are like the same thing are like each other; but things that are
like the same thing are not necessarily equal to each other.

The practical rules which may be given for the writing of Argument are
chiefly recapitulations of what has been said.

_a._ Begin with clear understanding and clear statement of proposition
and of terms.

_b._ Plan argument with reference to the especial point to be
established and to the audience to be addressed.

_c._ Proceed generally from the more obvious to the less clear, and
from the weaker to the stronger proof.

_d._ Be acutely alive to fallacies in any reasoning which is to be
refuted, but to fallacies in your own work no less.

_e._ Never force a proposition or a proof beyond its value.

_f._ Concede all side issues and irrelevant matters if by so doing you
do not lessen the chain of reasoning in points really important, and
especially if in so doing you can foster a disposition favorable to
your position.

_g._ Always remember that assertion is not argument.

To these rules might not inappropriately be added the saying of
Sophocles: “Truth is always the strongest argument.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The practical application of Argument to literary work is not difficult
to discover. The most obvious use of this sort of composition is
in the plea of the lawyer, the editorials of the newspaper, the
essay establishing scientific theories, literary opinions, or the
like. Whoever writes at all, however, even if it be but in simple
private correspondence, is sure to employ Argument sooner or later,
and to a greater or less degree. It may be in defense of a friend,
the justification of one’s own acts, in proving the value of a new
invention, supporting political or scientific views, in urging a
particular line of investment,--in short, in any one of a thousand
different ways. In one shape or another, reasoning comes constantly
into play. He is merely a “mush of concession” who never attempts to
bring another to his way of thinking. Indeed, he who does not endeavor
to make others think as he thinks may be suspected of never thinking at
all. Life is a continuous conflict, the strife for the survival of the
fittest. The instinct to make our opinions prevail is in the blood of
the meekest. Civilization differs from barbarism chiefly in that the
strife has become intellectual instead of physical; and intellectual
conflict is but another name for Argument. Since our lot is cast in a
civilized state of society, to neglect this form of composition is to
neglect the manual of arms of the battalion in which Fate has enrolled



Description is at once the most common and the most difficult of the
varieties of composition. It is apparently a thing which nobody fears
to undertake, while it is certainly one which only a master is able
to do really well. Everybody attempts it, yet there are probably in
literature fewer fully successful descriptions than there are examples
of any other sort of writing whatever.

A description is an endeavor to call up before the mind of the reader
a picture of the thing described. Nothing is easier than to make a
catalogue of things which one has seen; to schedule the details of a
landscape, the particulars of a building, a room or a person. To convey
a clear and accurate idea of the whole is most difficult. The untrained
writer is apt to make of his attempts at description a mere running
memorandum of points which he remembers in a scene. He sets down a
list of matters more or less important, not because he can thus make
the whole vivid and real to the reader, but because they are true. The
result is that he has forced the truth to convey a falsehood--if indeed
it be made to convey anything intelligible.

No student can go far in the examination of any of the arts without
discovering that the object of expression is not so much to tell the
truth as to produce an impression of truth. The literal truth may
easily give a false impression, and becomes in that case the most
vicious of falsehoods of which art is capable, just as the telling
of facts with intent to deceive is the most dangerous form of lying.
The thing to be sought is not accuracy of statement, but accuracy of
perception, and the means must be subordinated to the effect.

It follows that even more vitally important than that all details be
true, is that they be significant; that they not only appeal to the
memory or the reason of the writer, but that they have a creative
effect upon the mind of the reader. The author may remember that all
the things which he sets down are true, yet it may be that all which
he writes is false in its result. In morals it is fitting that we give
credit for good intentions, no matter what the result of them may be;
in authorship the intention is of no consequence whatever. The result
is the only thing to be taken into account. Here to fail is to fail,
whether one meant well or ill; and from this there is no escape.

I am of course keeping strictly to the definition of Description which
has been given. In that form of Exposition which is frequently called
Description, the giving a scientific or practical account of a thing,
accuracy of detail is of the first importance. If one is called upon
to “describe” a machine, it is not usually meant that he shall try to
present to the mind a picture of it, but that he shall expound it.
This is not Description in a literary sense, and with this we have
nothing now to do. In the sense in which the term is used as naming
a department of composition, Description is not scientific, but
emotional; not categorical, but literary; not intellectual, so much as
visual. The description of a landscape falls short of its intent just
so far as it fails to call up before the inner eye the image which was
before the mind of the writer,--save in so far as from the nature of
language any word-picture must fall short. If a passage designed to
paint a scene does not make the reader seem actually to see that scene
it cannot be held that the author has fulfilled his intention.

It must be recognized once and for all that words cannot really paint.
No artificer can labor intelligently until he has learned not only the
possibilities but also the limitations of the means at his disposal.
In writing it is important to remember what words cannot do as well as
what they can effect. The most that the writer can hope to do is to
revive in the mind of the reader images which the latter has seen. In
speaking of the limitations of language in the first of these talks,
I reminded you that when we read the description of a landscape we
construct an image out of material already in the mind. Words cannot
paint; that is the province of another art. The painter is able to
present fresh forms, colors, combinations, new landscapes, strange
and unknown figures, and all varieties of visual novelty. The writer
must content himself with a reawakening and a rearrangement of forms,
figures, colors, images, already in the reader’s mind. His effect
of novelty must come from fresh and untried combinations; from the
vividness with which he is able to arouse these remembered images until
they appear so real as to seem new.

It easily follows that the writer who understands his art will
cunningly avail himself of images which are likely to be stored in the
minds of his readers. It is the same principle which directs us to
appeal to common emotions, to the general experiences of mankind.[5]
Let us examine a little this extract from an account of a walk in the
woods in England:--

     “Looking between the trees, I saw a little circular glade, two or
     three score feet across. It was covered with soft, thin grass,
     speckled with palely blue scabiosas, and set round with tall,
     slender trees. On one side was a strange imitation of the great
     trilith at Stonehenge, formed by two tall boulders across which
     had fallen the trunk of a large beech tree.”

In America the reader might not know what scabiosas are, but as this
was written in England, where, in some parts at least, the pale
blue blossoms of the flower are common in every field, the audience
addressed would probably not be puzzled by this word. It is to be
supposed that even there, however, there would be many who would fail
to feel any force in the phrase “the great trilith at Stonehenge.” A
few might have seen it, and others might be familiar with pictures
representing it; but the chance of finding this image in the mind of
the reader was so small as to render its use at least ill-advised;
and especially so as the comparison is that of a trifling thing to a
great one. The reader who recalled Stonehenge would be likely to feel
that there was small excuse for likening a tree trunk tumbled across
a couple of boulders to the magnificent and mysterious monuments of
Salisbury Plain.

An example of the fact that even in dealing with the supernatural a
writer has no resource save images already known may be found in any
story dealing with the weird. Take this from Rudyard Kipling’s tale,
“The Return of Imray,” where the spirit of a murdered man is haunting
the house:--

     We were alone in the house, but none the less it was too fully
     occupied by a tenant with whom I did not wish to interfere. I
     never saw him, but I could see the curtain between the rooms
     quivering where he had just passed through; I could hear the
     chairs creaking as the bamboos sprung under a weight that had just
     quitted them; and I could feel when I went to get a book from the
     dining-room that somebody was waiting in the shadows of the front
     veranda till I should have gone away.

This is perhaps not one of Mr. Kipling’s happiest passages, since it
insists somewhat too strongly upon the corporeal bulk of the phantom,
but it illustrates the point which we are considering.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of the greatest importance in Description is the point of view. First
there is the question of the physical point of view. The writer must
know certainly and clearly at what point he has placed the reader to
look at the landscape, the person, or the scene which is described.
In the first lecture I quoted the description which opens Kingsley’s
“Westward Ho!” There the point of view is that of one approaching
the “little white town of Bideford,” but there is at the very outset
a violation of propriety which injures the force of the whole. “The
little white town of Bideford,” the author says, “which slopes upward
from its broad tide-river paved with yellow sands, and many-arched old
bridge where salmon wait for Autumn floods.” The “yellow sands” and
the salmon are details which are known to one familiar with the town,
but they are not apparent to the stranger, they are not evident from
the point of view chosen, and their introduction at once confuses the

Goethe, who was keenly alive to all the details of literary
workmanship, commented upon a passage in Scott which violates the point
of view. In talking with Eckermann he said:--

     It is a peculiarity of Walter Scott’s that his great talent
     in representing details often leads him into faults. Thus in
     “Ivanhoe,” there is a scene where they are seated at a table in
     a castle-hall, at night, and a stranger enters. Now, he is quite
     right in describing the stranger’s appearance and dress, but it is
     a fault that he goes to the length of describing his feet, shoes,
     and stockings. When we sit down in the evening and some one comes
     in, we notice only the upper part of his body. If I describe the
     feet, daylight enters at once, and the scene loses its nocturnal
     character.--March 11, 1831.

The point of view may of course be progressive. The reader may be led
on through a landscape or through the rooms of a house, for instance.
In this it is necessary to keep clearly in mind and to make evident
to the reader every alteration in the point of sight. Properly used,
this method may be very effective; but the least vagueness inevitably
leads to confusion. No description can be successful if there is any
uncertainty in regard to the station of observation. The reader must
know where he is looking from as well as what he is at. He may not, it
is true, realize this, but the writer must realize it for him.

What has been said of the physical point of view may be applied to the
emotional. The feeling of the spectator influences the impression made
upon him by that at which he looks. Do not forget the mood in which you
expect your reader to see the mental picture which you are endeavoring
to present. If you introduce into the midst of a highly wrought and
exciting tale a description of a scene so closely connected with the
narrative that it is important for the reader to see it clearly, you
have to consider that if you have the hold you should have upon him
he is aroused by the story, and will look with quickened eyes upon
the view your words present. You may therefore give him, quickly and
sharply, details such as imprint themselves on the brain in moments of
excitement. The principle is one so obvious as hardly to need further
illustration; but it is not to be looked upon as of small importance
because small space is here given to it.

Much modern description may be said to be entirely emotional, in
the sense that it aims rather to produce the emotions aroused by a
scene than to picture the scene in its physical aspect. A recognition
of the difficulty of presenting a visual image has brought this
about, just as it has brought about the discarding of the old-time
fashion of cataloguing details. The modern heroine, for instance, is
seldom described by the best novelists. Two or three characteristic
particulars are generally considered sufficient to suggest the
whole, or one touch is cunningly added to another in the body of the
narrative, so that the image is formed almost imperceptibly.

It is convenient to consider Description as being of two sorts,
although no sharp line can be drawn between them. One method may be
called Direct Description, and the other Suggestive Description.

The names indicate the distinction,--an attempt to call up a picture
by the enumeration directly of the characteristics of an object or a
scene, or to suggest it by an imaginative figure. The former is the
simpler, the more common, the less subtle. The difference between these
sorts of description may perhaps be appreciated by contrasting two
passages, the first from Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” and the second from
Coleridge’s “Hymn before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamouni.” Shelley,
dealing directly with his subject, and enumerating actual features of
the scene, writes:--

    Thus thou, Ravine of Arve--dark, deep Ravine--
    Thou many-colored, many-voicèd vale,
    Over whose pines and crags and caverns sail
    Fast cloud-shadows and sunbeams.

Coleridge, on the other hand, suggests a picture rather than gives one

    Hast thou a charm to stay the morning star
    In his steep course? So long he seems to pause
    On thy bald, awful head, O sovran Blanc!

In the one case there is a statement of particulars, and from these
separate features the reader is expected to build up the scene before
his mental vision. In the other there is merely a suggestion of the
morning star hovering lingeringly over the snowy, awe-inspiring crest
of the mighty mountain. It seems to me that in this especial instance
Coleridge, for once at least, has the better of Shelley, and that the
implied picture is more vivid and effective than the picture more
carefully elaborated.

To take an illustration from prose, let us contrast the description
which Dickens gives of Sairey Gamp with that of Mrs. Fezziwig. Of the
former he says:--

     She was a fat old woman, this Mrs. Gamp, with a husky voice and
     a moist eye, which she had a remarkable power of turning up and
     only showing the white of it.[6] Having very little neck, it
     cost her some trouble to look over herself, if one may say so, at
     those to whom she talked. She wore a very rusty gown, rather the
     worse for snuff, and a shawl and bonnet to correspond.... The face
     of Mrs. Gamp--the nose in particular--was red and swollen; and it
     was difficult to enjoy her society without becoming conscious of a
     smell of spirits.

Of the other lady Dickens merely remarks:--

     In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile.

Good as the former of these descriptions is of its kind, it seems to me
that if this were all that we were told about these two characters, we
should have in the mind a more distinct picture of Mrs. Fezziwig than
of Mrs. Gamp. One is not obliged to share this opinion, however, to
appreciate the difference between the two methods.

In Direct Description, the first thing to be considered, after
the point of view is selected, is what is the central idea of the
picture which is to be produced. It is apt to be the fact that from a
description the reader gets one clear and vivid impression to which all
else is subordinate, and beside which all else is comparatively vague.
It is therefore often wise to put all the real stress upon the points
to be accented, leaving the reader to imagine the rest.

The matter of selecting the central thought is of the more weight,
since it is important that this be given clearly to the reader at its
first presentation. Whoever has tried to alter a mental image knows how
difficult it is to change a picture which is already defined in the
imagination. If the mind in constructing a picture has conceived of a
mountain as standing on the right, and afterward finds that the author
intended it to be on the left, it is on the right that that mountain is
likely to remain in the ideal landscape. I have always been a little
troubled by the fact that in his description at the commencement of
“The Merry Men,” Stevenson, careful and exquisite artist though he was,
speaks of the “great granite rocks that ... go down together in troops
into the sea, like cattle on a summer’s day;” and then, a little later,
declares that “on calm days you can go wandering between them in a
boat for hours, echoes following you about the labyrinth.” From the
comparison to cattle, I always get the idea of boulders much smaller
than the second sentence shows to have been intended. The readjustment
is an unpleasant break which jars upon the reality of the whole.

In the first example which I gave you, we are told that the writer saw
a glade, covered with soft, thin grass, speckled with flowers. It is
added that the glade was set round with trees, and then that on one
side were a couple of tall boulders, across which had fallen a large
beech tree. This does not seem the natural or the effective order. The
eye would first notice that the glade was set about with trees, next
that there was the large fallen tree, lying across the boulders, and
only after this see that the ground was covered with flower-spotted,
thin grass.

Here is another example which illustrates the same error:--

     Vervain saw before him a rude mob, armed with all sorts of
     improvised weapons. They had evidently caught up scythes,
     bill-hooks, axes, or whatever came first to hand. In the midst of
     them his eye distinguished Henley and Western, and they were all
     led by a large, coarse man with a red cap, who seemed to have some
     authority over them. They were marshaled into a rude order, the
     lines being wavering and uneven, and all were evidently fiercely

The author speaks first of a “rude mob,” a phrase which calls up a
formless and confused mass of men. We are next told that in the midst
the spectator recognized two acquaintances, then that there was a
leader, and after that that the crowd was moving in rude order, with
uneven lines. This last statement forces the reader to alter, if he
can, his first impression, and instead of imagining a confused crowd,
to think of a company irregularly organized. If the writer had really
seen in his own mind the thing of which he wrote, he would in the first
place have spoken of the mob as a company led by a leader conspicuous
in his red cap, and marching in wavering lines. After this he would
have been conscious of the rough and improvised weapons, and only after
all these things had forced themselves upon his attention would there
have been any recognition of individuals.

To select the central idea it is generally safe to consider what one’s
own first or strongest impression was or would be at sight of the thing
pictured. The effective order is usually that which would be the actual
experience of the reader if he were standing in the flesh at the point
of view indicated by the author. This is the natural method, and while
it has its dangers, it is at once practical and logical. In any case,
there must be some reason for the order, so that the reader may be led
from one point to the next. Consecutiveness is the logic of Description
and Narration.

As an example of describing where the details are arranged as they
would be likely to catch the attention of the spectator, we may take
this picture from that classic of American literature, Sylvester
Judd’s “Margaret:”--

     The pond covered several hundreds of acres, its greatest diameter
     measuring about a mile and a half; its outline was irregular,
     here divided by sharp rocks, there retreating into shaded coves;
     and on its face appeared three or four small islands, bearing
     trees and low bushes. Its banks, if not really steep, had a bluff
     and precipitous aspect from the tall forest that girdled it
     about.--Ch. i.

Or this exquisite bit from Stevenson:--

     The river there is dammed back for the service of the flour-mill
     just below, so that it lies deep and darkling, and the sand slopes
     into brown obscurity with a glint of gold; and it has but newly
     been recruited by the borrowings of the snuff-mill just above, and
     these, tumbling merrily in, shake the pool to its black heart,
     fill it with drowsy eddies, and set the curded froth of many other
     mills solemnly steering to and fro upon the surface.--_The Manse._

Dickens observes this natural order in many of his detailed pictures of
persons. The portrait of Mr. Grimwig may serve as an example:--

     At this moment there walked into the room, supporting himself by
     a thick stick, a stout old gentleman, rather lame in one leg, who
     was dressed in a blue coat, striped waistcoat, nankeen breeches
     and gaiters, and a broad-brimmed white hat with the sides turned
     up with green. A very small-plaited shirt-frill stuck out from his
     waistcoat, and a very long steel watch-chain, with nothing but a
     key at the end, dangled loosely below it. The ends of his white
     neckerchief were twisted into a ball about the size of an orange;
     the variety of shapes into which his countenance was twisted defy
     description. He had a manner of screwing his head round on one
     side when he spoke, and looking out of the corners of his eyes
     at the same time, which irresistibly reminded the beholder of a
     parrot.--_Oliver Twist._

This elaboration of particulars is somewhat out of fashion. Particulars
are grasped by the eye so quickly that the deliberation of words is
apt to destroy proportion, while it is also true that the reader is in
danger of forgetting the beginning before he reaches the end.

It is perhaps worth while to give an example of the abuse of this
method, since all inexperienced writers have a tendency to mistake
a catalogue for a description. It is manifestly idle to pile up
particulars, unless they are kept subordinate to some central thought.
Here is the description of the heroine of a modern English novel, “A
Chelsea Householder:”--

     To begin, then, Muriel was tall, with a slight, erect figure, a
     quick step, and an air of youth and vigor which did the beholder
     good to look at.[7] Her face was oval, as nearly oval at least
     as a face can be in which the chin is a good deal more pronounced
     than is usual in classic beauties. The cheeks were pale, paler
     than they had any business to be, judging by the rest of the
     physique, the most noticeable fact in point of coloring being
     that the eyes, hair, brows, and lashes were all of the same, or
     pretty nearly the same, color--a deep, dark brown, inclining
     to chestnut above the temples, from which the hair was brushed
     courageously back, so as to form a small knot at the back of the
     head. Her eyes--not, perhaps, by the way, a strikingly original
     trait in a heroine--were large and bright; indeed, brighter or
     pleasanter eyes have seldom looked out of a woman’s face, their
     beauty consisting less in their size and color than in this very
     vividness and brightness, which seemed to shine out of the irises
     themselves. For all that, the face in repose was not exactly a
     bright one, or rather the brightness came to it only by fits and
     starts, its prevailing expression being a somewhat sober one, a
     sobriety giving way, however, at a touch, and being replaced by a
     peculiarly sunshiny smile and glance.

This is not the whole of the paragraph, but it is enough for our
purpose. There need not be a better example of how not to do it, or
of how much may be said about a thing without conveying any definite
idea of it. For my own part, I have no idea whatever how Muriel
looked, and long before I got half through her verbal portrait I had
ceased to care. Few faults are more common than this furnishing a
list of particulars in the expectation that the reader will construct
therefrom the picture which the author has not been clever enough to
make clear--a method, it might be added, not unlike the system of
punctuation adopted by the late so-called Lord Timothy Dexter, who
put all the points together at the end of his book, and directed his
readers to distribute them at their own pleasure.

It is hardly needful to remark upon the prime necessity of clearness in
description, but it is perhaps not amiss to remind beginners that it
is not possible to picture a thing which the writer does not himself
see. If he is writing of an imaginary landscape and speak of a tree,
he should be able if he choose to count the branches of that tree as
clearly as if it in reality stood before him. Unless he know whether
the heads of the flowers tip to the right or to the left, whether the
sheep on the hillside of which he writes are nearer the fence on the
one side or to the stone wall on the other, unless he can with inner
vision actually see the shape of the heroine’s head and the length of
her fingers, the slope of her neck and the folds of her gown as if she
were in bodily presence before him, he cannot describe any of these
things. He cannot tell what he does not know. More than that, he cannot
tell to others as much as he knows; so that unless he be able to see a
good deal more than he wishes to impart, he will fail to convey as much
as he desires.

It is of importance to cultivate the habit of visualizing things, if
one intends to describe them. The mind should be trained to conceive
of them as visibly before it. This is the only way of arriving at the
power of vivid portrayal. It is easy to go through the books of great
writers and select those which show that the authors have this power
of visualization. If a writer has it not, no skill of diction or of
construction can avail to supply its lack.

In Description we have again occasion to emphasize the rule which
was given in Exposition: proceed from the near to the remote; from
the physical to the mental; from the obvious to the obscure. Homer,
surpassed in happiness of epithet by Shakespeare only, affords
abundant illustrations of this point. He says, for instance: “Wheels
round, brazen, eight-spoked;” “shields smooth, beautiful, brazen,
well-hammered.” The particulars are given in the order in which they
would naturally be observed. That the wheel is round and that the
shield is smooth, the eye perceives at once. The second glance adds the
fact of material, and so on.

What is meant by taking up the physical before the mental is
illustrated by the following sentence from a theme picturing the
appearance of a harbor in the West Indies:--

     In the distance I saw six or seven vessels in quarantine for
     yellow fever, all flying yellow flags.

The process of the mind is here reversed. The spectator sees the flags
and reflects that they indicate quarantine for yellow fever. It is
not, as a general thing, well to intersperse these mental comments. It
may properly be done in a case like this, because in reading, as in
seeing, the mind is likely to inquire what is the signification of the
yellow flags; and it is well to answer this question in order that the
reader’s attention do not wander in search of an answer. If this is
to be done, however, the physical appearance which gives rise to the
interrogation should be given first. To reverse the order is something
like giving first an answer and then the conundrum to which it belongs.

It is as bad as mixing metaphors to mingle physical and mental
characteristics. In a description of the volcano of Kilauea I found
this sentence:--

     The combination of vivid red and green contrasted with the
     deathlike quiet and grandeur of the crater.

It is not possible to contrast physical qualities like color with
emotional ones such as quiet and grandeur. It is like multiplying
pictures by potatoes.

Of effects used in Description the appeal to the sight is manifestly
by far the most effective. Indeed, it is to be questioned whether any
other is of use save in very rare instances. Of course the individual
temperament of the reader has much to do with this matter, and I am
perhaps influenced by the fact that while it is very easy for me to see
things in imagination it is rather difficult for me to hear them. There
is no question, however, that an appeal to the sense of hearing is with
the average reader less likely to be convincing than that to sight. It
seems to me also that the use of smell is less often successful than
either of the others, and yet Kipling has shown how effective this
may be if employed by a master. The mention of odors is more likely,
perhaps, to belong to description by suggestion than to description
simple and direct.

An important element in Description is movement. This consists in
showing the details of a picture as if the mind of the reader were
moving from one to another. It is secured by naming them as they would
be observed; by presenting them as they would successively become
apparent to some other person; or by exhibiting them in connection
with their effects. Perhaps I may be able to show this by three brief
pictures of a peasant girl.

     1. She was a beautiful peasant girl, tall and slender, dressed in
     the fashion of the country, and carrying in her hand a bunch of
     scarlet poppies. Her snowy coif was pushed back, showing brown
     cheeks, a mass of black hair, and bright, startled eyes.

     2. Paul watched the tall, slender peasant come up the flowery
     lane, twirling in her hand as she walked a handful of flaming red
     poppies. He was sure that she had not noticed him, and he smiled
     at the unconscious beauty of her brown face, clear eyes, and
     black, wavy hair.

     3. The artist’s gaze was suddenly arrested by a tall peasant girl,
     who walked slowly up the lane. He stopped to watch her, attracted
     by the grace of her slender figure, and noting appreciatively the
     effect against her gray gown of the scarlet poppies which she was
     twirling in her brown hands. As she drew nearer, and unconsciously
     pushed back the snowy coif, an involuntary exclamation escaped his
     lips at the brilliancy of the eyes which flashed out at him from
     beneath her black, tumbled hair.

Such movement as there is in the first of these depends upon the
arrangement of the particulars in the order in which they would
naturally be perceived by the reader; in the second this order is
shown to be natural by presentation of the details as if they were
seen by a spectator; while in the third the effect is heightened by
the introduction of the emotions aroused in the mind of the artist by
the sight of the girl. Whether these examples make the fact clear or
not, there is no question that the last form is the most effective. It
is not always available, nor is it always appropriate; but when it is
possible it is more vivid and persuasive than any other method. There
is in it more suggestiveness, and hence there is more force.

As a practical example of the use of this method, this from Thomas
Hardy may serve:--

     How very lovable her face was to him! There was nothing ethereal
     about it; all was real vitality, real warmth, real incarnation.
     Yet when all was thought and felt that could be thought and felt
     about her features in general, it was her mouth which turned out
     to be the magnetic pole thereof. Eyes almost as deep and speaking
     he had seen before, and cheeks perhaps as fair; brows as arched, a
     chin and throat almost as shapely; her mouth he had seen nothing
     at all to equal on the face of the earth. To a young man with the
     least fire in him, that little upward lift in the middle of her
     top lip was distracting, infatuating, maddening. He had never
     before seen a woman’s lips and teeth which forced upon his mind,
     with such persistent iteration, the old Elizabethan simile of
     roses filled with snow.--_Tess of the D’Urbervilles_, xxiv.

[Footnote 5: A pleasant if a little exaggerated illustration of the way
in which pictures are made up from materials in the mind is afforded by
this account of the vision of Rome which a boy conjured up in his mind:
“Rome!... I tried to imagine what it would be like when I got there.
The Coliseum I knew, of course, from a woodcut in the history-book; so
to begin with I plumped that down in the middle. The rest had to be
patched up from the little gray market-town where twice a year we went
to have our hair cut; hence, in the result, Vespasian’s amphitheatre
was approached by muddy little streets, wherein the Red Lion and the
Blue Boar, with Somebody’s Entire along their front, and “Commercial
Room” on their windows; the doctor’s house, of substantial red brick;
and the façade of the New Wesleyan Chapel, which we thought very fine,
were the chief architectural ornaments; while the Roman populace
pottered about in smocks and corduroys, twisting the tails of the Roman
calves and inviting each other to beer in musical Wessex.”--KENNETH
GRAHAM: _The Golden Age_.]

[Footnote 6: _Sic_.]

[Footnote 7: _Sic_.]



Description by Suggestion is perhaps not to be called Description in
the exact meaning of the word, but in so far as it is an attempt to
call up an image it is proper to consider it so. Even if it seem but an
attempt to induce in the mind the spirit of a scene, a character, or a
thing, it may still be treated as Description, since the main purpose
is to bring vividly to the thought of the reader the image of the thing
spoken of.

It has already been said that words can add no material image to those
in the mind, but must work by the rearrangement of what is already
there. If I read the account of a little rustic pond I call to mind
some sheet of water that I have seen. If I have lived in the South
the picture is likely to be that of a lakelet bordered by moss-hung
trees, while if my experiences have been confined to New England I
shall involuntarily think of northern foliage and scenery. I shall
in any case construct out of old images this new one. Now the mind
is best able to do this for itself if simply properly aroused and
guided instead of being too minutely directed. In direct description
the author adds particular to particular, bidding the reader put one
detail in place by the others. If a writer do this with sufficient
skill, he may succeed in inducing the consciousness of the reader to
follow him; but always he is leading and the other is being led. On
the other hand, when a suggestion is used the reader is aroused to
take, as it were, the initiative. When Dickens calls Mrs. Fezziwig “one
vast, substantial smile,” he stimulates the reader to picture the woman
for himself. Here the imagination of the one who reads takes the lead
instead of following. It goes by the path pointed out by the author,
but it goes by itself. The result is that freshness and clearness of
impression which belong only to what the mind does or seems to do

This is perhaps making more of a show of psychology than the occasion
calls for or than my knowledge of that difficult science warrants; but
at least it may serve to emphasize once more the fact that whatever the
writer can induce the reader to do for himself is sure to be greatly
more effective than anything which the writer can do for him. Herein
lies the value of suggestive description. It arouses the mind to be
actively receptive. Another way of putting the same thing would perhaps
be to say that avowed description appeals more to the understanding,
while suggestion addresses itself more directly to the imagination.

The simplest form of any description is of course the epithet. This
in literal description is apt to be ineffective from its meagreness.
In suggestion it is often rich and satisfactory. When Homer speaks
of the “swift-footed Achilles,” he has not pictured the hero, yet he
conveys by the implication of the epithet an image which is not without
distinctness. The same is true of such Homeric phrases as “far-darting
Apollo,” “laughter-loving Aphrodite,” or “ox-eyed Juno.” In the same
way into a single simile may be condensed a description by suggestion
which could be given directly only by pages. To go to the “Iliad,”
again, take this example:--

     As the gusts speed on, when shrill winds blow, on a day when dust
     lies thickest on the roads, and the winds raise together a great
     cloud of dust, even so their battle clashed together, and all
     were fain of heart to slay each other in the press with the keen
     bronze.--Lang’s _Iliad_, xiii.

There is here no direct picture, yet the mind sees the confused and
furious onslaught more clearly than if all its details were enumerated.

Lowell notes a happy instance of this sort of picturing by intimation
when he says of Chaucer:

     Sometimes he describes amply by the merest hint, as where the
     Friar, before setting himself down, drives away the cat. We know
     without need of more words that he has chosen the snuggest corner.

Another remark which Lowell makes in this connection I cannot pass
without quoting:--

     When Chaucer describes anything, it is commonly in one of those
     simple and obvious epithets or qualities that are so easy to miss.
     Is it a woman? He tells us that she is _fresh_; that she has
     _glad_ eyes; that “every day her beauty newed.”

Notice the phrase, “those simple and obvious epithets or qualities that
are so easy to miss.” Whatever we may learn later, we all begin by
supposing that it is imperative for a writer to go far afield, and to
discover traits, epithets, and thoughts that nobody has used before.
Here as in all writing he succeeds best who most carefully confines
himself to just those traits, epithets, and thoughts which people have
used before, but who so uses them that they have new force. He must
feel so keenly whatever he writes that his words shall seem new because
of the conviction behind them; and the reader will find a continual
charm in this discovery, as it were, of the meaning of familiar terms.

In common practice it is seldom that either of the two sorts of
composition which I have named is used alone, and the most successful
method is that which happily unites them. No literature can go far
or effect much which does not call suggestion to its aid, and this
is perhaps more emphatically true in Description than in any other
division of composition. Description is really a kind of continued
comparison of the image which is in the mind of the writer with things
which the reader may be supposed to have seen. As in the use of
comparison in simile, suggestion is the most effective tool at the hand
of the craftsman. It might be added that the rules given for the use of
figures will be found, by one who takes the trouble to examine them, to
be practically and directly applicable to Description.

I have spoken carefully thus far as if Description had to do with
nothing save the picturing of the physical. There was perhaps danger
lest the word “picture” might seem forced if too soon applied to
things mental and intangible. Description, however, has as one of its
common and legitimate functions, perhaps as its highest office, the
picturing of conditions of mind, of states of emotion, of all sorts of
mental experiences. Its office is to call them up so vividly that the
reader shall realize and share them. Not that he shall feel them as
his own, but as if he saw them with the most intimate and sympathetic
comprehension of them. If the reader received the sorrow of King Lear
as his own, he would be in danger of going mad as King Lear went mad.
If he shared as a personal experience the love of Romeo for Juliet, no
other maid of actual flesh and blood would satisfy his devotion. It
is not as a personal but as an imaginative experience that one is to
enter into these passions. The description of an emotion is an endeavor
to give a picture of it in much the same sense that a picture of a
landscape is given. The reader does not in either case mistake the
mental impression for the actual thing, but in both instances he is
moved by the completeness and reality of the portrayal.

We come here very close to Narration, and to what has been said of the
description of physical things there is not much which need be added
to cover the case of immaterial things. The principles are much the
same in one effort as in the other. In the bringing up of emotions and
states of feeling it is more often wise to use the suggestive method.
The question is moreover one of greater subtilty and delicacy. In the
one case as in the other it is generally well to be governed by the
order in which the details of the reality would present themselves to
the inner sense. The natural is apt to be the most effective order. It
is well, too, to go from the near to the remote, from the likely to the
unlikely, from the simple to the complex.

It is perhaps not amiss to make here an especial point of the phrase
which has been used two or three times already in other connections:
Proceed generally from the physical to the mental. If without too
evident artifice the physical can be made the introduction to the
mental state, the impression is almost sure to be vivid. The picturing
of sensations is at once the most surely effective and the most richly
suggestive. Rudyard Kipling is a master of this. He constantly leads
the mind of the reader to emotions through description of a physical
sensation; and it is largely by his skill in this that he overcomes the
difficulty of dealing with themes and emotions which are so far from
the ordinary experience of an occidental audience. Stevenson is another
author who understood well the use of the physical. His wonderful
description of the flight through the heather in “Kidnapped” is one of
the most brilliant examples of this sort of writing in modern--indeed,
why should one not say in all?--literature.

In summing up, it seems to me just to say that he who would paint with
words must have not only the power of writing well, but he must also
possess three especial qualities. He must be able to perceive a general
effect; he must be able to analyze this general effect into the details
which produce it; and he must have the ability so to express these
particulars that their relative values shall be preserved. The reader
must first be given a broad idea of the thing, the scene, the person
to be pictured. This is no less true in a case where the object is to
fix the attention upon details than where the aim is to give a broad
impression. The mind does not, I believe, grasp the details until after
it has received the wider impression, and it is necessary to make the
latter the background of the former. A remark which is made by Fuseli
upon painting may be applied here. He observes that breadth is attained
not by the _o_mission of details, but by their _sub_mission. While it
is idle to catalogue, it is not needful to omit anything which is of
use in conveying the picture sought. As long as the details are made to
submit to the central thought, are kept clear and subordinate, there is
no call to suppress them.

Above everything must the writer of Description see clearly what he
wishes to picture, feel genuinely what he desires to communicate,
and confine himself to that which is seen and felt by him,--by him
alone out of all the persons who walk this earth. If it is with vague
sensations that he is dealing, they must yet be clear and real to him;
if it is with the emotions of imaginary persons, it is with their
emotions as these are felt by him. This is the most difficult task
in literary art; it is, too, when properly accomplished, the most
splendid triumph of literary skill.



The more fascinating any literary work, the more difficult it is to
write about it satisfactorily. The mention of the D’Artagnan Romances
brings up so vivid a suggestion of life and stir, of adventure and
fire, that any essay which discourses of these superb novels is almost
sure to seem tame by contrast. In the mere names of “Tom Jones,” “Henry
Esmond,” “The Scarlet Letter,” there is so much potency that simply
to use them as illustrations involves the danger of rendering dull
and opaque by contrast the surface of exposition in which they are
set like jewels. Even the specification of Narration as a division of
composition connotes so many pleasant sensations that he must be a
clever man who can deal with the technicalities of this sort of writing
without boring his readers.

It is to be remembered, however, that before “The Lesson in Anatomy”
could be painted Rembrandt had to learn how canvas is prepared and how
colors are mixed; that the Ninth Symphony could not be composed until
dry details of counterpoint and harmony had been mastered. It is apt
to seem to the inexperienced writer as if to study the technique of
art is to brush the bloom from the peach. He likes to feel that only
what is spontaneous can be fresh and vital; and he forgets that in
art spontaneity is impossible until the technical method has been so
perfectly mastered that the creative impulse is unhampered by inability
to express itself. It is not the untrained and the inexperienced who
are able to be naïve and fresh in art, but only the master to whom
technical excellence has become a second nature.

Having in a former talk declared Description to be the most difficult
sort of composition, I am tempted now to make a bull, and to declare
that Narration is more difficult still! Indeed, this would hardly be
extravagant, were it not that the natural, instinctive interest of
mankind in whatever is a story comes to the aid of him who writes a
narrative. Narration as it exists in practice, however, is hardly to
be considered alone. Of all varieties of composition, this is the one
which most comprehensively embraces all other forms. It demands all the
resources of the literary artist. Exposition, Argument, and Description
are all enlisted in the services of the story-teller; and are so
blended in the woof of his web that they can scarcely be disassociated
from the narrative itself.

A succession of events can be fully told only in words. Even when we
see a clever pantomime--as, for example, “L’Enfant Prodigue,” which
was extensively played in this country by a French company a year
or two ago,--we are forced to supply in our minds a sort of running
interpretation of the acts as they go on before us. Music may interpret
continuous emotions, but its inadequacy to tell a definite tale is
abundantly shown by that odd hybrid known as “programme music.”
Painting may give a succession of related themes, but between the
moments chosen for representation there are gaps which break the
continuity. To convey a complete and continuous account of events
there is no resource in all the arts but words. It naturally follows
that Narration is more intimately connected with actual life than any
other sort of writing. It is the events of life which move us, and the
history of these arouses the feelings as no expository or argumentative
page can arouse them.

It is hardly necessary to enumerate all the many forms which Narration
takes. Histories, biographies, plays, novels, romances, anecdotes,
epics, stories long and stories short, the account of a journey and
the folk-tale through which the fairies frisk fantastically, are
all included under this division. The tedious twaddle and sea-water
of “The Voyage of the Sunbeam,” and the quivering pages of “Les
Misérables,” the account of a fire or a burglary in the morning paper,
the anecdote over which a pair of drummers chuckle in a Western railway
car, and the delicate romances of Hawthorne,--beautiful and pure as
delicate frost-work seen by moonlight,--all these belong here, and
all these are but a part. It is manifestly impossible to take up
each variety separately, even were it at all worth while. We must be
content to concern ourselves with general principles. Fortunately it
is not difficult so to phrase these that they shall be applicable
to narratives of all sorts. So many so-called stories written by
inexperienced writers are merely memoranda for tales, undigested
and unarranged, that there is sufficient excuse for being somewhat
rudimentary in our treatment of the subject. While young authors
continue to give us the material for narratives instead of properly
formed and finished Narration there is at least the chance of doing

The first requisite in setting out to tell a story is to have a story
to tell. It is true that not a few modern novels might be cited as
seeming to prove the opposite of this proposition. There is a recent
school of fiction in which the first principle seems to be that if one
is to attempt to tell a story he must above all things else be careful
not to have one in his remotest thought. The patron saint of such
writers seems to be the needy knife-grinder of Canning, with his

    “Story! God bless you! I have none to tell, sir.”

The world in general, however, still holds logically to the old theory,
and believes that to have something to relate is essential in Narration.

It is not that the theme of a narrative need be elaborate. There are
many successful novels and stories with plots extremely simple. Not
one of Miss Wilkins’ New England idyls--those charming sublimations of
the homely--has complexity or intricacy of subject. The only point is
that the writer have in mind some definite and consecutive narrative,
with a beginning and an end, and that he tell it as a narrative, and
not as an Exposition or an Argument. The whole matter is well summed up
in the phrase of Anthony Trollope: “The writer, when he sits down to
commence his novel, should do so, not because he has to tell a story,
but because he has a story to tell.”

It would hardly do at this late day to insist, however, that the
object of a story shall be simply or even primarily the narration of
incident. It has been greatly the fashion during the last score of
years to subordinate incident to any one of several things. Many of
the greatest novelists of the present half-century have deliberately
subordinated events to the study of character. There are not a few
modern novels which can be adequately described only as emotional
dissecting-rooms. They display the most wonderful cleverness in
dismembering emotions,--too often without having a living figure or a
convincing incident from one cover to the other. It is but fair to add
that there are also fictions which seem to justify this method, whether
we like it or not.

For our sins, moreover, the malevolent deities that deal in literary
plagues have sent upon us that mongrel monstrosity, the novel with a
theory. The more harmless are in the form of simpering eccentricities,
or in the shape of childishly naïve whimsicalities; in the more hurtful
sort authors often highly gifted lavish their powers in support of
theories as generous in intention as they are mistaken and sentimental
when tried by the facts upon which they are founded. We have, too, the
theological novel, and the indecent novel, and more sorts than it is at
all worth while to mention, in all of which the telling of a story is
made the excuse for the exploiting of some view. Of these, however, we
shall have occasion to speak later in connection with the moral purpose
in fiction.

It has been remarked by Stevenson that in stories in which incident is
made subordinate to character-drawing the interest is sure to be less
vivid. He remarks:--

     In character-studies the pleasure we take is critical; we watch,
     we approve, we smile at incongruities, we are moved to sudden
     heats of sympathy with courage, suffering, or virtue. But the
     characters are still themselves, they are not us; the more clearly
     they are depicted, the more widely do they stand away from us,
     the more imperiously do they thrust us back into our place as
     a spectator.... It is not character but incident that woos us
     out of our reserve. Something happens as we desire it to happen
     to ourselves; some situation, that we have long dallied with in
     fancy, is realized in the story with enticing and appropriate
     details. Then we forget the characters; then we push the hero
     aside; then we plunge into the tale in our own person and bathe in
     fresh experience; and then, and then only, do we say that we have
     been reading a romance.--_A Gossip on Romance._

All these considerations are of interest to the student, and they
should all be taken into account when he is looking for a subject
or when he is considering methods. As a matter of practical work,
it is probably true that nobody goes to work to construct stories
without having some theme, some dominating suggestion in mind. He
will therefore form his plot or shape his subject according to this
germinating thought, without for the moment taking theories much
into account. Have a theme he must, and to my thinking the more
objective this is the better. The more it deals with outward things
and shows what is within through them; the more it has of incident and
is concerned with the actualities of life; the more it has of broad
realities as distinguished from the trivialities of existence, the more
likely it is to succeed.

In the treatment of a theme, the first thing is to be sure that it is
thoroughly known to the writer. I do not mean that it is necessary to
know every detail. I do mean that what is known should be apprehended
clearly; that there should be no doubt about the end and the beginning,
whatever vagueness there may be about the minutiæ of the way from one
to the other. It is especially important in story-writing that the
author know his characters before he write about them. It is generally
safe to compose half a dozen chapters before beginning a novel,
chapters which are not to be used in the book at all, but which serve
to make the author acquainted with the personages he is to deal with.
If every young novelist would study the methods of Hawthorne in this
respect it would be to his advantage. Any one who is at all accustomed
to examining literature critically knows how almost universal it is
that new authors show in the first third or quarter of their books
that they are slowly becoming aware of the natures of the characters
in their fiction. Often the middle of the work is reached before the
writer has any clear or intimate knowledge of the men and women whom he
is trying to picture.

I do not believe in hard and fast rules for the construction of
stories. Methods of work must vary with individual temperaments. My
own way of work naturally seems to me the most logical, but I realize
that this is a question which each writer must decide for himself.
Personally, I find it necessary to know the general course of a story,
and above all to know the end, before I can begin it. Once these are
clear and true in my mind, I deliberately consider the beginning. I say
“deliberately consider” because the succeeding steps have so much the
air of being involuntary. Once I have decided where to begin, I devote
myself to the study of my characters. I walk the streets with them;
they have a share in my waking and in my sleep. I know the general
course of the history I am trying to tell, but the details I am content
to learn slowly. The thing which I endeavor to do is to be sure of the
character of those who are involved in this history. I am not without a
feeling that an old fellow who sits in solitary state in the attic of
my brain tells me the incidents of the narrative, but the acquaintance
of the actors I must make for myself.

Not only must a story be known to the writer but it must for the time
being at least be true to him. He must believe it as he writes; he
must be completely possessed by a sense of the verity of what he is
telling, or he cannot persuade the reader to accept it as real. It may
seem to you that this is equivalent to saying that a novelist must
be a good deal like the White Queen in “Through a Looking Glass,”
who practiced until she was able to believe as many as six impossible
things before breakfast. The difference is that the novelist does not
have to practice. The characters become so vital in his mind, they act
so independently and with so evident a will of their own, that it is
impossible not to feel that their story is actual. Of course I do not
mean that if the novelist were put on oath he would affirm that the
tale is true; yet it seems to me that if I were called upon to swear
that a story which I had written were not true, I should go about
forever after with a humiliated sense that I had committed perjury.

I think it is the experience of every novelist that characters in a
tale will often act apparently at their own good pleasure and in open
defiance of the intention of the writer. They are not infrequently
almost as independent of the will of the author of their being as the
modern child is said to be independent of the will of the author of
his. I have myself struggled to force characters to do a certain thing
and have written and rewritten certain chapters in my effort to make
them follow my wishes. I could set down the words which declared that
they had done the thing which I desired, but I knew that I was lying
and I was conscious that my characters knew that I knew it, so that
of course there was nothing to do but to tear up the falsehood and
tell the truth. The explanation of all this is, I suppose, that the
superficial conclusions of the mind are corrected by the unconscious
logic of the imagination. The characters of the personages in the
story being what they are, the personages must inevitably behave in a
certain way, and an underlying perception of this fundamental truth
prevents an imaginative author from being able to treat his fictitious
people as puppets.

       *       *       *       *       *

The importance of knowing the end from the beginning is the same
whether one is telling an anecdote or is writing a history, a romance,
or a biography. It is necessary to discriminate clearly in regard
to the climax of an anecdote, as it is to be sure of the climax of
a novel. Everybody knows how the story which in the mouth of one
man is racy and pointed becomes stupid and ineffective the moment
it is told by another. I have to thank an English gentleman for
having unconsciously furnished me with an example of the disadvantage
of relating an anecdote with the wrong end first. He told in the
smoking-room of a London hotel an incident which I dimly remembered as
being in James Dodds’ “Biographical Study of Chalmers,” and I made a
note of his version in order to compare the two. This is Dodds’ story:--

     [Chalmers] was present at an evening party where a very
     accomplished lady was discoursing most eloquent music from the
     fashionable opera of the day. When she was at the overture and the
     recitatives he looked perplexed, as if listening to a medley of
     madness; but when she struck upon some lively and expressive airs,
     he turned with a look of great relief to the gentleman who was
     next to him: “Do you know, sir, I love these lucid intervals!”

This is the way in which the English gentleman told it:--

     “I say, don’t you know, Dr. Chalmers called tunes lucid intervals.
     Wasn’t that deuced good? Lucid intervals, by Jove! He heard a lady
     sing, don’t you know, and that’s what he said. He didn’t mean all
     tunes of course; but she’d been playing things, you know, and
     putting in instrumental fal-lals and crazy things on the keys,
     and finally came to a song. I call that devilish witty, don’t you

It is hardly necessary to give examples of this fault, and this seems
absurd and extravagant. It came so providentially, however, at the very
time when I was writing these lectures, that it was not to be resisted.

It is excellent practice for the student to write out stories or
incidents which come under his observation, and good things which he
hears said or told. There are few exercises in which it is more easily
possible to interest an ordinary class in composition than work of this
sort, and it may be made of a good deal of value. To be really of use
it is necessary that the story be told and retold until it is in the
best possible form that the student can compass. It should be done as
carefully as if it were a great and complete narrative.

I said in another talk that I am not willing to concede that
conversation is an art which comes by nature, and the justice of this
must be especially felt by one who listens when story-telling is the
order of the day. Those who succeed in telling a story well are those
who have taken the trouble to learn how. It is a mistake to suppose
that the carelessly spoken anecdote which is so felicitously put
that it seems to be the thought of the moment has cost the narrator
nothing. He has consciously labored to attain the art of telling things
well; and while here as everywhere natural gifts count, the man who
cultivates a small talent can generally outshine him who leaves a great
talent to take care of itself.

I have perhaps spoken so as to give the impression that a story makes
itself. I mean nothing of the sort. It is true that the first germ of
a fiction is often caught in the mind as a plumy-winged seed of the
wild clematis is caught in the cranny of a wall. Sometimes a chance
word, the sight of a face in the crowd, a bit of information or talk,
will become the suggestion from which a story will grow. It must be
nurtured, however, if its growth is to be vigorous or symmetrical. It
must be brooded over and watched; it must be nourished and tended. When
a story is well formed in the mind and the characters are well defined,
it will grow and develop spontaneously, but it must be given a good
start first. In other words, the theme must be dwelt upon until it is
so completely a part of the thought that the mind will carry it forward
unconsciously, and the tale will seem to be going on of itself.

It is customary to say that all narrative has four elements: first,
what happened,--the plot or story; second, what persons were
concerned,--the characters; third, the situation, which is both in
time and space,--in other words the when and the where; fourth, the
central motive,--the thing of interest or significance for which the
whole is told. These elements seem to me to be likely to come to the
writer in the order in which I have named them. Sometimes he is aware
of the central purpose first, especially in fiction written with a
declared motive; but this does not appear to be the natural order in
the case of fiction really imaginative. An author must of course have
a comprehension of the central motive before he begins to write, but
he deduces it from his plot rather than forms a plot to embody the
idea. All this analysis is of more value in revision of work or in
criticism than in actual composition. The writer who is really alive
and interested in what he is doing thinks of his story as a story and
as a transcript from life, not as a combination of four elements.

In this same line of criticism and revision it is well to note that
Narration is necessarily specific, progressive, and cumulative. It
is specific in that it deals with facts rather than with theories,
with incidents rather than with deductions, with events rather than
with reflections. It is progressive in that the interest must move
forward, and the theme must advance with the incidents. A collection
of incidents does not make a narrative any more than a pile of lumber
makes a house. There must be a sequence of events related to each other
by the tie of cause and effect. Narration is cumulative because this
chain of cause and effect must lead to some conclusion, some climax,
some end. Even in the relation of the most trifling anecdotes these
three qualities are to be found, and in their perfection lies the
secret of the greatest works of literature. The theorists who excuse
inartistic and unsymmetrical fiction by the theory that a novel should
be a piece cut out of life and having neither beginning or end, forget
that that which is comely and fit, so long as it is part of the living
tree-trunk, becomes an unsightly block when it is chopped out. It must
be shaped and finished to be again beautiful. The story which has by
relation been taken from its place in actual life must be worked and
polished by art; it must become a whole in itself or it is forever an
uncomely log, crudely disfiguring the landscape and fit only to be used
as material for work or to feed the fire.



The point of view is of no less importance in Narration than in
Description. It is perhaps not so strictly observed, because to the
ordinary writer it is less obvious. As a rule it is not specifically
announced. If a tale is in the form of an autobiography, as “Robinson
Crusoe,” for instance, or “Henry Esmond,” the point of view is of
course that of the perceptions of the character who relates. To this
the author must confine himself, and every time that he introduces
incidents, words, or thoughts which this character could not have
known he violates it. He breaks the continuity and interrupts the
impression of the reader. Less obviously, many novelists practically
hold to the personality of one or two of their characters for their
point of view. Without any specification of the fact, they refrain
from telling anything which might not have been known or felt by these
personages. An admirable illustration of this method is “The Scarlet
Letter.” Throughout the entire book there are practically only three
individualities through whose perceptions the reader is called upon to
look. The author does not claim at any point to be confining himself to
these or to any one of these; yet the comments and reflections which
are outside the observation of Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and
Roger Chillingworth are so close to them as almost to seem part of
their thought. What is not actually within their perception is little
more than the author’s expression of their unformulated emotions or
interpretations of their motives. More than two thirds of the book
is given from the standpoint of the inner life of the wearer of the
scarlet letter, and the greater portion of the remainder is from that
of the minister.

Of course the writer may, if he choose, take as the point of view the
position of all knowledge. He may decide to speak as one who knows
every thought. The inexperienced writer is especially likely to be fond
of this method. He is apt to dance about in a confused and confusing
will-o’-the-wisp ubiquity. The early days of story-writing are marked
by a delightful sense of omnipotence and omniscience which seldom
outlives the completion of the first novel. While this feeling lasts
the author holds it a sort of duty to allow his readers to look in
turn through the eyes of each of his characters. It is as if he were
proprietor of a peep-show. He cannot bring himself to defraud the
reader by putting him off with anything less than a glimpse through
every peep-hole. Whatever is the point of view chosen, it must, as in
all other sorts of composition, be held throughout. The point of view
of a single character is that which gives most intensity to a tale. The
character chosen becomes the embodiment of the thoughts and emotions
of the reader for the time being, and dominates all others. This is
perhaps even more emphatically true when this is done by implication.
The assumption of a single personality in the story as that which
shall dominate seems to come from the absorbing interest of the author
in this character, and it almost surely not only makes this the most
significant figure in the tale, but imparts to the story fervor and

It is perhaps well to add a word of warning. It is not wise to expect
too much from the reader in the way of coming to a point of view
remote from his ordinary attitude of mind. The short stories of Miss
Wilkins tacitly ask the reader to assume the mood of an observer who
sees the pathetic and yet humorous quality in homely life. They owe
their success in no small degree to the simplicity of this point
of view and the consistency with which it is kept throughout. In
“Pembroke” the same author goes farther, and tacitly asks us to regard
the quarrels of obstinate and ill-tempered rustics with the profound
seriousness demanded by the crushing blows of inexorable fate. It is
asking too much. We cannot look upon these rural contests of obstinacy
with the solemnity demanded by a Greek tragedy. It is a far cry from
the “Œdipus” or the “Antigone” to “Pembroke;” and Miss Wilkins
makes too great a demand upon the reader when she seems to assume so
profound a solemnity. It seems to me that herein lies one secret of the
disappointment felt in reading “Pembroke” after the delights of the
author’s short stories.

The selection of incidents is naturally a matter of the greatest
importance in the construction of any narrative, whether historic
or fictitious. It is evident that it is impossible to tell the whole
truth about any person, whether it be a character real in flesh and
blood or one of the personages so much more real in imagination. A
novelist cannot set down all the particulars of the life of those
about whom he writes, and in the case of any story it must be only the
significant incidents that will attract the reader. The literary code
which professes to find all facts of life of equal value is on the face
of it absurd, and had the men who claim to hold it lived up to their
creed their novels would never have got beyond manuscript. Choice is
necessary, and the great principle of choice is significance.

When we speak of significance, we of course mean the relation of the
incident to the central motive of the narrative. The rule is that
details are to be introduced or omitted as they do or do not form an
essential part of the whole. If the writer have not the art so to
weave in his most interesting and novel incident that it shall be an
integral portion of the web, he must omit it. The taste of our time
has very little patience with that excrescence which used to be known
as an episode. Whatever is told should help forward the general plan
of the work. The space and the importance given to each portion must
manifestly be determined by its value in the entire scheme. Proportion
is in effect the same here as in any other form of composition, a
matter which depends upon the intention of the whole.

The young writer who is moved to delight a waiting and to his fancy
impatient world with a new work of fiction has generally read a good
many stories, and is likely to have gained from them some unconscious
sense of proportion. This may save him from utter failure, but he is
likely to stumble over two serious obstacles. In the first place he is
sure to have his favorite situations, and is apt to linger over these
in a fond belief that his readers will be as charmed as he is with
these portions of his tale. In the second place, he is likely to feel a
certain security in using incidents which are taken from real life.

Of the first of these it is sufficient to say that such is the
perversity of fate that it almost never happens that the reader
agrees with the writer--especially with the untrained writer--in
regard to the most interesting portions of a book. Indeed, it is not
amiss for a writer to be a little suspicious of the parts of his work
which he regards with most favor. It is of importance to cultivate a
dispassionate habit of mind, and always to judge the value of portions
with relation to the whole rather than with reference to the author’s
likes or dislikes.

The second point is one which needs to be emphasized. The moment a
man begins to write, his friends begin to offer true stories for
use,--not one out of a hundred being usable; and they invariably
commend these subjects by saying that they are things which really
happened. It is impossible to make the general public understand that
the fact that a thing happened is rather more likely to be against
it as literary material than in its favor. Facts are admirable from
their suggestiveness. No fiction is of value which is not founded
upon them. They are to be used, however, as material which must be
shaped and moulded before it can be used. They are the rocks from the
quarry that must be dressed before they are fit building material.
The danger lies in accepting actuality instead of literary propriety
as the measure of value. There is perhaps no rule more useful or more
necessary to young writers of fiction than to beware of the truth. If
in a first novel are found scenes and incidents which are unreal and
extravagant, the chances are that these are the things which have been
confidently taken from real life,--and which have become hopelessly
unreal in the transfer. In Narration as in Description the thing sought
is not the truth but the impression of truth. The question is not
whether what is told is true, but whether it seem true. We all know
extraordinary incidents which are real yet which are too improbable
to be used in fiction. The reason is obvious. It is necessary for
fiction to be probable, while truth is free from all restrictions. The
novelist is never allowed to take refuge behind the fact that a thing
is veracious. He may tell whatever he has the art to make appear true,
but the criterion of his success is the semblance of verity rather
than verity itself. Aristotle formulated all this long ago,--“Prefer
an impossibility which seems probable to a probability which seems
impossible.” The philosophy of the matter is that fiction is tried by
truth to the laws which lie behind fact, and that it is no less true
in being false than reality is in being true.

It is to be remembered, however, that probability is largely a matter
of consistency. There is always an implied hypothesis, a certain set
of conditions tacitly agreed to, by which the truth, or rather the
apparent truth, of any narrative is to be tried. If one is writing
history, the hypothesis calls for actual facts and things which really
occurred; if it is a novel which is in construction, actuality is no
longer demanded, but probability according to the time and place is
essential; an author may go farther by writing avowed romance, and
may put events impossible and improbable into the very midst of the
life of to-day, if he will but keep them consistent throughout. It is
a question of what the writer attempts to do. If he choose frankly to
cut loose from fact and write a fairy story, the hypothesis gives his
fancy range, and here it is the strict truth which must be shunned as a
violation of the implied conditions. In a number of folk tales we read
passages like this:--

     Then the fox stretched out his tail, the king’s son seated himself
     upon it, and away they went over stock and stone, so that the wind
     whistled through their hair.

It would be manifestly a violation of the rules of fairy lore to say

     Then the fox stretched out his tail, and the king’s son tried to
     seat himself upon it; but of course it would not support him, so
     he rolled over in the mud.

To thrust facts upon the reader here is to depart from the standard.
When we sit down to read fairy tales we have tacitly consented to
believe the impossible, and upon this assumption fairy lore becomes, in
the happy phrase of Douglas Jerrold, “as true as sunbeams.”

All this, however, is the exception, and as it is an exception which
is sufficiently obvious, it is enough to mention it. The general rule
for Narration is: In writing history select details with reference to
their significance and their truth; in fiction with reference to their
significance and their probability. In every case, significance is an
essential quality. It is so easy to confound minuteness with subtlety;
to suppose that to be finical is to be true; to assume that to be
exact is to be effective; that more than one gifted author has come
to grief and has wasted his powers through these errors. The measure
of subtlety, of truth, and of effectiveness, is the relative value as
measured by the central idea of the composition.

The order of events in a narrative depends chiefly upon the principle
of cause and effect. Since every cause produces its effect, it
follows that the sequence of incidents will generally be practically
chronological. Where there are a number of threads involved and the
plot is complicated, a good deal of ingenuity is often required to keep
things clear, and to secure at the same time a continuous progression
in the narrative. This is a problem with which the historian has almost
always to deal, and upon his cleverness in solving it depends much of
his success. The only rule to be given is that the writer shall have
a careful and definite plan. In a simple tale it is often possible to
depend upon the knowledge of the end to be reached, and to trust to
one’s instinct for the rest. With an intricate theme this will not do.
If one is driving a mild-mannered horse in a light wagon, it is usually
enough to know the general direction, since it is possible from time
to time to stop to inquire the way; in running a complicated system of
railway trains the same method would be madness.

One matter involved in this question of the order of incidents is that
of where and how a story shall begin. Often it is wise to commence
with a striking incident or situation, and it is rare that a story can
be effectively begun without there being more or less which must be
told of what has gone before the actual tale. Much care is needed in
managing this. It is one of the simplest devices, and it remains one of
the most effective which have been devised, to have all explanations of
this sort made to some personage in the tale instead of to the reader
directly. If a story start with the striking appearance of the hero in
some extraordinary situation, it is much more effective and pleasing
to have the spectators, those who in the narrative are represented as
seeing him, ask and obtain information in regard to his past and to the
events which brought him to this place or situation, than it is for the
author in a deliberate manner to set out to inform the reader.

Never presume on the reader’s patience and indulgence. The “gentle
reader” of old-fashioned literature does not exist now, if indeed he
ever existed. The modern reader is far more ready to be bored than to
be interested, and all devices for persuading and holding his attention
must be carefully attended to.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of essential importance in story-telling is movement. This is an
advantage in other forms of composition, but indispensable in
Narration. There can be no sense of unity, no continuity of interest,
unless there is a constant sense of progression. A story can no more
stand still than can life. When the incidents cease to carry the reader
forward, it is as if the heart stopped beating. Each incident in a
narrative, as in existence, must stand in relation to what comes before
it of effect to cause, and to what follows it of cause to effect. It
is necessary to make the reader feel that he is ever going forward,
now slowly and now swiftly, according to the exigencies of the tale.
Contrast, variety, relative importance, have all to be considered. When
the reader is eager to reach some culmination, when he is excited in
regard to some crisis in the narrative, it is often wise to condense
days into a sentence, hours into a phrase. Again, there are times when
it is important to prepare the mind for a situation, to go slowly in
order that an effect be produced by the cumulative force of trifles.
No hard-and-fast rule can be given to govern this progression. The
technical means by which swiftness or deliberation are secured are
simple and easily learned. The whole matter is pretty well covered
by the statement that many words and minute details retard movement,
while few words and a suppression of particulars give rapidity. When
to employ these means the writer must learn from the study of the
work of the masters, from the careful consideration of what result he
wishes to insure, and above all by a close examination of the manner
in which effects are produced in real life. Naturally, the movement is
swifter as the tale nears its conclusion, and in passages which deal
with exciting and intense emotions. Illustrations are hardly possible
in limited space, but the climax of any masterpiece may serve as an

Description and dialogue must be subordinate to the movement of a
story, as they must be subordinate to the general purpose. Speaking
broadly, dialogue aids swiftness of progression, and description delays
it; yet an over-abundance of talk may retard as effectually as profuse
word-painting. With dialogue we shall have to do later, and here it is
enough to say that talk which really belongs to the tale, which helps
the story forward, adds sprightliness to the movement. We all know how
the elder Dumas makes dialogue increase the vivacity and the rapidity
of movement of his dashing romances. What can be told in the speech of
the characters in a narrative seems generally to go forward with more
briskness than what is related in the words of the author.

The mention of Description brings us to the scene of a narrative. The
setting of a tale is not unlike the mounting of a play. When the use
of nature in fiction was fresher than now the affair was very simple.
It was only necessary to bring in gloomy skies and wailing winds
as accompaniments for a doleful situation, or to have the flowers,
the sunshine, and the birds properly specified when things were
going happily. The birds sang most obligingly for the old novelists,
utterly ignoring the habits which ornithologists had with painful care
observed,--they warbled when they were wanted, although they were
called upon at times of day when they had never before dreamed of
piping up:--

    Singing gladly all the moontide,
    Never waiting for the noontide.

In less artistic fiction there is still something of this method. There
are many transiently popular novels where in the closing chapter the
autumn rain still falls dismally upon a lonely grave, or the summer
sun--the June sun--and the obliging dicky-birds decorate the wedding
of the long-persecuted but at last triumphant heroine, transcendently
lovely in white satin.

In really serious work the matter has become more intricate. Nature
must be used without the appearance of design. It is recognized that
no man can command the weather, and the trick of seeming to manage the
elements is no longer tolerated. Art must conceal art. Even contrasts
have been used until it is necessary to be very cautious in employing
them. The villains no longer steal through smiling gardens whose snowy
lilies, all abloom, and sending up perfume like incense from censers
of silver, seem to rebuke the wicked. The thing sought now is the
appearance of naturalness. Simplicity and directness are the prime
qualities to be kept in mind. Set a story carefully, but above all
things be sure that it does not appear that pains have been taken.
The finest art is that which works with apparent frankness, seeming
to display its methods without disguise, yet in reality producing its
effects by a skill which is utterly beyond perception.

One of the faults most common with beginners is self-consciousness. The
inexperienced writer is apt to show that he is not sure how what he
writes will be received. Cultivate the attitude of being conscious of
nothing but the story to be told. Above all, do not seem to apologize.
In fiction as elsewhere apologies are apt to breed contempt. The writer
who seems to plead to be excused inevitably suggests that there is
need of excuse. Tell a story or leave it, but never take the middle
course of telling it with apologies, direct or indirect. Often the
self-conscious author shows that he secretly fears that he will be
thought to lack cleverness if he allows himself so to be imposed upon
by his characters as to think them real. If they are not real to him he
should not be telling their history. The slightest appearance of doubt
on his part ruins all illusion and the story along with it.

On the other hand, it is a mistake to expect the reader to share an
emotion simply from being told that it is felt by the writer. Every
phrase like “I felt,” “I was amused,” “I was enraged,” and so on, which
is not amply supported by the narrative, weakens the effect. It is
generally enough to destroy the entire flavor of any ordinary witticism
to tell the reader that it is droll. It sometimes will do to say that
the characters of the tale thought a thing funny, but even this is a
somewhat dangerous expedient. If a thing does not strike the reader as
amusing, it is of little use to inform him that it is his duty to find
it so. An author has no business to put himself in the attitude of a
verger who leads pilgrims from one historic spot to another, saying
in effect at each, “Here it is necessary that you feel yourselves

When everything else has been said, the essential thing in regard to
Narration is that it shall be interesting. It is the old question
of Force. “Tediousness,” observes Dr. Johnson, with his usual
sententiousness, “is the most fatal of faults.” He might have added
that it is a fault so serious that it overcomes all excellences.
Macaulay inquires, “Where lies the secret of being amusing? and how is
it that art, eloquence, and diligence may all be employed in making a
book dull?” Dullness is less easily forgiven in narrative than in any
other form of composition. The avowed aim of a story is to entertain;
and if it fail of this, its merits count for nothing. The specific
methods by which interest may be secured or increased must be studied
with the realization that the very existence of narrative depends upon

The first point is to be interested one’s self. In other words, the
first great secret is earnestness.

The second is closely allied to it. It is to be perfectly
straightforward. This secret is sincerity.

The first of these calls for the telling of a thing as if the writer
really cares for it, as if it is something which seems to him richly
worth relating; while the second insists that he shall treat his
readers with every appearance of frankness. He shall appear to conceal
nothing which it is for the interest of the tale for him to tell, and
he shall try to take no advantage by telling that of which he is not
himself completely persuaded, nothing which does not seem to him a
vital portion of the history, real or fictitious, which he set out to
relate. Hawthorne, when asked the secret of his style, said: “It is the
desire to tell the simple truth as honestly and as vividly as one can.”
Many entire books on rhetoric have less wisdom in them than is in this
single sentence.

Making a somewhat different division of the subject, we may say that
interest in Narration comes from three sources: the plot, the incident,
and the development of character. The story which depends upon plot
alone goes by quickly. Only while it has novelty can it command
attention, and it is scarcely to be read a second time. The tale which
depends upon incident alone--if there be such--would be not unlike a
book of anecdotes, too fragmentary to be effective as a whole. That
in which the drawing of character is the chief feature is likely
to be heavy and sure to be restricted to a limited audience. In the
masterpiece, plot, incident, and character-drawing are combined. The
great novelists have never essentially varied in their methods, and in
the work of Cervantes, Fielding, Thackeray, Hawthorne, and the rest,
style, character, and story are all integral parts of the whole.

It is perhaps not amiss to say here a word in regard to the collection
of material and to what is meant by the study of nature. I have already
repeated the truism that the writer must ever be on the alert for
material. If he is to write stories he is to undertake the reproduction
of human life, and it is above all needful that he understand human
life. He cannot be too careful in his consideration of the world about
him. He must be constantly examining the acts of his fellow men;
constantly saying to himself: “What were the motives which led to
that act? What were the feelings aroused by that experience? What the
emotions in such a situation?” He must make his own inner experience
the test, and from the less divine the greater. He may to a great
extent judge the motives which actuate men and women in important
crises from those which have moved him in circumstances seemingly
trivial. A well-known New England story-teller said to me once when I
praised a tale in which she had shown most vividly the remorse of a
man who had committed a great crime: “It will amuse you to hear how I
knew what that man’s feelings were. Once when I was a child I burned
up my sister’s doll in a fit of anger. The remorse I suffered over that
foolish performance was the material that I made my story out of.”
There is a good illustration of the way in which the creative mind
works. From the nature of its own emotions it is able to appreciate the
feelings of others, and to see that in feeling there is more question
of degree than of kind. His own being is the only one into which a
writer can really look. What he finds in his own heart is the key by
which to read the cipher which is written in the hearts of others.

Narration is the form of literature which most universally appeals to
men, and it is no less that form which most affects human conduct. Men
who could not be brought to give ear to a sermon may be taught by a
parable or moved by a tale. It is in narrative that prose rises most
surely and indisputably to the rank of a fine art, so that while the
masterpieces of fiction remain it will be impossible to question the
right of prose literature to claim a place beside painting, sculpture,
music, and poetry. Art is the regenerator of the world, and in modern
times it is in the form of fiction that it most easily and most widely
reaches the hearts of men.



The range of Narration is so wide that it is well to look a little
more carefully at the means of producing effects in this especial
department of composition. The subject is at once so fascinating and
so complicated that it would not be difficult to make an entire course
of lectures upon it, although in the end we might be brought to the
humiliating consciousness that no amount of lecturing could make
novelists of us. In the limits of these talks it is impossible to do
more than to consider briefly the more important matters which occupy
the attention of the story-teller; and those which first come to mind
are the things which it is customary to name Local Color, Dialect,
Dialogue, Character Drawing, and Moral Purpose.

Local color in the modern sense was invented in the present century. It
is true that the writers of other times had employed the same device
before, but it has been consciously sought and has been supplied
with this name within recent times. It might be asked by a cynic why
the quality is any better now that it is ticketed and talked about
in reviews than it was in the days of Theocritus and Kalidasa and
Boccaccio; but so many things have been used before modern generations
were thought of that if we are not to have the privilege of regarding
things as new when they have been newly named we are likely to be at a
desperate loss for novelty.

By local color is now meant the bringing out of the peculiarities
of the locality where the scene of a tale is laid. It is evident
that there is no spot so poor as not to have characteristics which
distinguish it from all others. It is the aim of many modern
story-tellers to give this especial local flavor with the most faithful
and often painful vividness. Indeed, there are not a few recent stories
which seem to exist for no other reason than to exploit the accidental
qualities of remote and hitherto undescribed places.

This is an age in which competition between periodicals has waxed warm,
and to the desire of editors to procure novelties is largely due the
increase of the already rather tiresomely abundant examples of local
color and of dialect. An air of freshness may be imparted to a tale by
laying the scene in places practically unknown in fiction. Accidents of
custom and manners arrest the attention for the moment, and it is due
to this fact that the great mass of stories marked by this peculiarity
have succeeded. The principle is not unlike that of drawing a crowd to
the theatre by new scenery. A tale which is really vital can do without
local color, as a really strong play succeeds without elaborate setting.

This is not, however, the whole of the matter. A good play may be
helped by novel effects of scenery and a tale good in itself may be
improved by local color. Detailed description of local peculiarities
may make more clear to the reader the character and the motives
of the personages in a narrative. All men are influenced by their
surroundings, and to be familiar with unusual social conditions is
often essential to the understanding of acts or opinions which have
been done or held under them. To make intelligible the story of Hester
Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, Hawthorne was obliged to set forth
something of the manners and morals of colonial days. Scott could not
have made comprehendable the tale of Rob Roy without giving some idea
of what life in the Highlands was like in the time of that redoubtable
chieftain. The author must in any case impart to the reader whatever
special information is necessary to the best effect of his fiction.

The comment which it seems fair to make in this connection is that
here is to be applied the rule which should govern the management
of all details in narration,--namely, that everything shall be kept
subordinate to the central purpose of the work. So long as particular
description aids in bringing out more clearly the main idea of the
whole, so long as it is used as a means and not as an end, so long as
the setting is kept subordinate to the story, so long it is good. The
moment what is called local color is allowed to dominate a story, it
must injure the permanent effect. The literary mechanic who is writing
stories simply to sell them will usually find it easy to dispose of
studies of local peculiarities which are piquant, whether they are true
or not. There is nothing to object to in this, but this work is not
to be confounded with legitimate Narration, and it is not to be looked
upon as permanent literature. Local color is accidental rather than
essential. It depends upon circumstances which belong to a place rather
than to human nature. It follows that it is not in itself of permanent
interest, and that work depending upon it for interest must go by as
soon as the novelty is passed. The work of Miss Wilkins, Miss Jewett,
Miss Brown, and the rest, has attracted attention through the fidelity
with which it presented peculiarities of New England rural life. The
claim to permanent value in each, however, rests on other and higher
grounds. In so far as they are true to the fundamental and essential
characteristics of humanity, in so far as they deal with the constant
emotions of men and women as men and women, and not as eccentric
types evolved by peculiarities and environment, they have permanent
value--and no farther.

Closely allied with local color, and indeed in many cases hardly
to be distinguished from it, is dialect. We are all familiar with
a certain strange appearance which has of late years come over the
pages of the magazines, a sort of epidemic of which the most prominent
characteristics are the misspelling of words and a plentiful spattering
of apostrophes, as if the secret of literary art lay in eccentric and
intermittent orthography. We have been instructed that these startling
productions were dialect stories, and whether we have professed to
like them or not has depended largely upon our daring to say what
we thought. There are, it is true, dialect stories which we must all
admire and enjoy,--many of them in spite of their strange language
rather than because of it,--but none the less is the multiplicity
of tales in dialect a visitation not unlike the Egyptian plague of
swarming flies or of sprawling frogs.

The object of the use of dialect is of course to produce what might
be called a personal local color. To personages who belong to
nationalities other than his own a writer often gives phrases in their
own tongue or conforming to the idiom of their own language in order
to convey a lively impression of their being foreigners. To produce
a vivid sense of the fact that his characters are Creoles of New
Orleans and to suggest all the romantic flavor of life among them,
George Cable used dialect in that delightful book, “Old Creole Days;”
to make the reader realize the especial local and race peculiarities
of one character or another Thomas Nelson Page used one negro dialect
in “Marse Chan” and Joel Chandler Harris another in “Uncle Remus.”
In these and similar cases the dialect used is really, as far as the
general reader is concerned, an unknown tongue. Its correctness or
incorrectness cannot be judged by the general public to which these
tales are addressed, and its use must therefore be flavor rather than
accuracy, impression rather than information, picturesqueness rather
than literalness.

The proper use of dialect is often a great aid in characterization.
Some figures it is all but impossible to individualize without this
means. There are figures in Scott which would not be at all the same
thing if stripped of their dialect; while in each of the stories
mentioned above there are instances of the same thing. It is to be
remembered, however, that this is a subsidiary purpose. In other words
it is a detail of fiction. Dialect is written for the sake of the
story, and woe to that author who produces a story for the sake of a
dialect. The tales of the “Soldiers Three,” the “Window in Thrums,”
“Old Creole Days,” succeed for other qualities than the dialect, and
the dialect is good because it helps to make effective something
better. It is even not improbable that with a large body of readers
these and kindred books succeed only in spite of their dialect, since
even at its best this perversion of language is apt to be in itself
somewhat irritating even if not perplexing.

Actually to reproduce a dialect as it is spoken is a feat so difficult
that it is worse than idle to attempt it outside of works on philology.
Dialectic peculiarities are always largely matters of accent, of voice
quality, and of inflection. The sounds of vowels and consonants may
be indicated, but it is all but impossible to set down the rising
and falling of the voice which is the most characteristic quality of
these forms of speech. Printed words cannot reproduce that species
of intoning which has so large a share in making unintelligible to
foreigners the speech of London cabmen and porters. Indeed, it is to be
doubted whether any written dialect is to be regarded as a very exact
reproduction of the genuine thing,--a statement which would probably
be regarded with contemptuous anger by the devotees of the dialect
story, if any still survive. Certainly it is true that dialect does not
have to be genuine to be successful. The dialect of the “Biglow Papers”
was never spoken on the face of the earth. It is none the worse for
that, so far as I can see. It has the effect for which it was intended,
and nothing more could reasonably be asked. Mr. Lowell made it with the
most careful patience, and apparently believed in it with beautiful
faith. He set nothing down, or rather he tried to set nothing down,
which he had not heard from the lips of Yankee rustics; but in the
first place no one man ever used all those distorted words and phrases,
belonging sometimes to different localities; and in the second,
letters cannot reproduce the peculiar sounds and accents of rural New
England. Yet this dialect has imposed for a quarter of a century upon
no inconsiderable portion of the American reading public, and it will
probably continue to impose upon English readers until the end of time.

The inability of readers to judge of the accuracy of dialect is
inseparable from its use. How many are acquainted with the vernacular
of “Thrums,” the patois of New Orleans Creoles, the dialect of Mexican
mining camps, or the speech of the half-breeds of Canada or the West
Indian islands? No danger that the general reader will measure work
by reality obliges the writer of dialect to be accurate. The only
restraining influence is the difficulty of making a manufactured
dialect consistent and convincing. The story-teller studies dialect as
it is spoken, not for the sake of being right, but because this is the
surest way to obtain the appearance of being right. The only essential
thing is to be convincing.

The danger in the use of dialect is not far to seek. Its literary value
is that of flavor. As long as this fact is recognized it may properly
be employed. The difficulty is that the great and inglorious company
of imitators have written dialect for its own sake,--or perhaps for
their own sake!--and thereby not only have produced things dreadful
to contemplate, but have so wearied the soul of readers that it has
become dangerous to use it legitimately. Dialect in literature is a
condiment and not a viand; it is mustard and not beef; it is never to
be employed for its own sake any more than are commas and capitals,
paragraphs and periods. Almost every inexperienced writer who tries
his hand at dialect--and most experienced ones--will overdo it. The
French, with their instinctive literary sense, may well be studied
in this connection. They understand that the value of patois is its
suggestiveness, and they go in its use just so far as is necessary to
impart the flavor required, and there they stop. This is the legitimate
method. I have nothing to say of those disfigurements which appear
in some of the periodicals, sketches which are written for the sake
of exhibiting a special dialect. They do not come under the head
of literature except in the sense in which the word includes the
dictionary and thesaurus. They may be of interest to the student of
philology, but they cannot concern the imaginative reader.

The best quality which dialect can give is an impression of
individuality, of quaintness or remoteness from conventional and
hackneyed experiences. It must be written with care and sobriety.
The writer must remember that the day is definitely past when it was
possible to produce effects simply by misspelling. It is well to
keep in mind also that even the ability to write a dialect never so
perfectly is not necessarily a reason for using it. The employment of
local forms of language, like local color, must be subordinate to the
purposes of the story. It is always a means and never legitimately an
end. It is, moreover, a good deal discredited by over-use and abuse, so
that it must be employed with double caution.

One more word of warning it seems well to add. The employment of
dialect and of local color as a means of producing literary effect
is apt to impart to work a transient character. Their effect is less
likely to be permanently pleasing than that of almost any other thing
legitimately among the resources of the story-teller. The principle
that it is well to appeal to ordinary experiences and to ordinary
tastes comes in here. The general reader soon tires of dialect unless
it be very simple and is supported by all other devices within the
range of art. To write dialect is likely to be at best to sacrifice
permanent to temporary success. The greatest writers have usually
employed it sparingly. Shakespeare almost never resorted to it;
Fielding scarcely used it at all; Scott tried it much more largely,
but the Scotch speech was all but universal among his people, and it
has certainly been oftener a hindrance than a help to his continued
success; Thackeray put little of it into his best work; Hawthorne
passed it by; and even Dickens depended upon it very little, despite
the temptations which his characters constantly offered. Thomas Hardy
has given us the best rustics since Shakespeare with not much more
than an indication of dialect. I do not wish to insist upon the point
too strongly, but the principle seems to me a sound one, and it is
certainly worth the consideration of any student of the art of writing

       *       *       *       *       *

The art of writing dialogue is by no means the least difficult thing
which the story-teller has to learn, and there are very many who are
not able to acquire it to the end of their days. If a rule could be
devised by which good and pleasing dialogue could be written, it would
go far toward making it possible for every man to be his own novelist.
To give to the talk of a tale the air of naturalness and ease, to make
it take its place in the story and be attractive without being too
clever or too formal, to give it character and consistency, to impart
to it movement and vivacity, to be sure that it helps forward the
narrative in which it is set,--all these difficulties must be overcome
before an author can be said to write good dialogue.

The first essential in dialogue is naturalness. Some authors get on
without this, but they get on in spite of lacking it and are constantly
hampered by the lack. The most striking instance of this in modern
fiction is probably George Meredith, a novelist who makes his way
with more encumbrances than any other living man of genius. Take, for
instance, this bit, chosen almost at random:--

     “Have you walked far to-day?”

     “Nine and a half hours. My Flibbertigibbet is too much for me at
     times, and I had to walk off my temper.” ...

     “All those hours were required?”

     “Not quite so long.”

     “You are training for your alpine tour.”

     “It’s doubtful whether I shall get to the Alps this year. I leave
     the Hall, and shall probably be in London with a pen to sell.”

     “Willoughby knows that you leave him?”

     “As much as Mont Blanc knows that he is going to be climbed by a
     party below. He sees a speck or two in the valley.”

     “He has spoken of it.”

     “He would attribute it to changes.”

                                            --_The Egotist_, viii.

This does as a matter of fact somewhat help forward the story from
which it is taken, but could anybody get from it the idea that two
living beings were talking together?

The great principle of the impression of truth instead of a servile
imitation of truth is the secret of good talk in fiction. It is
necessary to keep clear on the one hand of formality and stiffness,
and on the other of stupid closeness in mere imitation. In actual
talk there are inaccuracies, broken sentences, phrases of which the
meaning is evident from some glance or gesture, repetitions and
careless constructions, all of which would lose their force or gain
undue importance if set down in print. To preserve or too closely to
imitate these characteristics of genuine conversation is to give an
impression of unreality, or commonplaceness and even of vulgarity. The
rambling speech is often pleasantly and appropriately imitated. The
inimitable Nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” stands at the head of talkers of
this sort, but there are excellent specimens in the fiction of our own
century. Miss Austen possessed the secret of this futile volubility to
perfection, and Mrs. Stowe’s best literary work is her management of
the discursive talk of Sam Lawson.

That conversation should be in keeping with the characters speaking is
one of those things so obvious that it is unsafe to leave them unsaid.
It is another application of the principle of the point of view. The
natural tendency of the beginner is to put into the mouths of his
personages not what they would say but what he would have them say.
If he sufficiently realize them in his own mind there will be little
danger of this. The remedy is to know his characters. The people in any
book will talk consistently if they are real to the author. They will
say what they wish to say and not what he wishes them to say, and that
is the whole secret.

Most young writers compose pages of dialogue which seems to them
clever, which, when it is written, they read over with tender
admiration, generally not without a little amazement that they have
done so well and a conviction that this at least imparts distinction
to their book,--when as a matter of fact the whole thing is simply
an amateurish mistake. It is one of the many pitfalls which egotism
and inexperience dig for the unwary writer, who forgets that success
can be achieved only when the end of a work is the work and not the
worker. The elaborator of his own opinions into the form of talk is not
writing dialogue; he is but making a weak concession to his individual
vanity. His punishment is that he cannot deceive the public. Readers
may not know their right hands from their left, but they know when they
are bored, and they are always bored when the progress of the tale is
interrupted to afford an author opportunity to display himself.

Anthony Trollope puts this matter well in his “Autobiography:”--

     There is no portion of a novelist’s work in which this fault of
     episodes is so common as in dialogue. It is so easy to make two
     persons talk on any casual subject with which the writer presumes
     himself to be conversant! Literature, philosophy, politics, or
     sport may be handled in a loosely discursive style; and the
     writer, while indulging himself, is apt to think he is pleasing
     the reader. I think he can make no greater mistake. The dialogue
     is generally the most agreeable part of a novel; but it is only so
     as long as it tends in some way to the telling of the main story.
     It need not seem to be confined to this, but it should always
     have a tendency in this direction. The unconscious critical
     acumen of a reader is both just and severe. When a long dialogue
     on extraneous matter reaches his mind, he at once feels that he
     is being cheated into taking something that he did not bargain
     to accept when he took up that novel. He does not at that moment
     require politics or philosophy, but he wants a story. He will not,
     perhaps, be able to say in so many words that at some certain
     point the dialogue has deviated from the story; but when it does
     he will feel it.--Ch. xii.

Of course the matter is made more complicated by the fact that it is
often the office of dialogue to indicate character rather than action.
How far the writer may introduce talk simply to illustrate mental
characteristics or moods is a thing to be decided by each writer for
himself and learned by observation. It is not amiss for a young writer
to consider carefully how far he is himself able to enjoy this in the
work of others; and in any case he must learn to distinguish between
what is written genuinely to illustrate mental traits and that which is
really put in simply to show his own cleverness.

       *       *       *       *       *

There are two points in the writing out of dialogue which it is well to
keep in mind: first that care must be taken never to leave the reader
in doubt who is speaking, and second that interspersed comments be used
with skillful nicety.

In a conversation which consists of a somewhat extended succession of
short speeches it is often hard for the reader to keep in mind without
effort who say them, unless they are labeled; while on the other hand
to come upon a constant repetition of “said he,” “said she,” “said
Tom,” “said Jane,” is as irritating as bumping over a corduroy bridge
in a cart without springs. It is worth the author’s while to take all
possible pains to give explicit indication of the personality of the
speaker wherever this is needed and equally to omit it where it is
superfluous. Here is an example from a second-rate novel:--

     “I’m off on Monday,” said he.

     “Not really,” said she.

     “Yes, I have only come to say good-by,” said he.

     “Shall you be gone long?” asked she.

     “That depends,” said he.

     “I should like to know what takes you away,” said she.

     “I dare say,” said he, smiling.

     “I shouldn’t wonder if I know,” said she.

     “I dare say you might guess,” said he.

There are so many devices for avoiding repetition that only gross
carelessness can commit a fault like this. The abundance of terms which
may be used--said, remarked, observed, replied, returned, retorted,
asked, inquired, demanded, murmured, grumbled, growled, sneered,
explained, exclaimed, and the rest of the long list of words of allied
meanings--leaves the writer of English without excuse if he fail to
vary the words of specification in dialogue. There are, too, many ways
of evading the need of employing any of these. Frequently the nature of
the talk indicates sufficiently the speaker; and it is often possible
and well to introduce the name of the character addressed. The simple
device of altering the relative position of the verb and the subject
is not to be despised. In the extract just given the ear would receive
as a relief and a boon a single “he said” among so many “said he’s.”
Opening Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” almost at random, and taking
the words on a couple of pages which indicate the speakers and their
utterances, I find these:--

     Observed Silver.... Cried the cook.... Returned Morgan.... Said
     another.... Cried Silver.... Said Merry.... Agreed Silver.... Said
     Morgan.... Said the fellow with the bandage.... Observed another.

On a couple of pages of one of Hardy’s books the phrases are:--

     Said a young married man.... Murmured Joseph.... Dashed in Mark
     Clark.... Added Joseph.... Said Henry.... Observed Mr. Mark....
     Whispered Joseph.... Said Mr. Oak.... Continued Joseph.

The variety does not come by chance, but by care and a finely trained
perception of the value of trifles. It is of importance that the exact
significance and intensity of the verb employed be taken into account.
There is a distinct difference between “dashed in” and “continued;”
between “cried” and “exclaimed.” The author should have a sense of the
mood and manner of his personages so clear and so fine that only one
of all the possible words shall seem to him fit. If his dialogue is at
all related to real life, it will so vary in its fine shadings that
the terms indicating the manner of utterance will vary naturally and

The interspersion of comments in dialogues is another matter of
detail which greatly increases or lessens the finish of work. It is
often possible to give a much more lively and vivid presentation of
the speakers if amid their talk are mixed bits of action or even of
description. The two things to be observed are that there shall not be
too much of this and that the interpolations shall be significant. The
movement of the current of conversation must not be hindered. Trifles
may be effectively used, yet it is one of the most difficult points
of literary art so to use them. It is a good thing for the student to
write little sketches in dialogue form; stories in which he is forced
to depend almost entirely upon the talk itself for characterization and
narrative. Readers as a rule do not care much for this sort of thing,
and it is to be done as part of the training of the workman rather than
for itself. To sum up this matter, it may be said that in interspersing
comment, as in all else that has to do with dialogue, the great secret
lies in realizing the persons speaking and in allowing them to utter
their own words, instead of making them speak the words of the author
or stand aside while the author expresses his thoughts himself.



The secret of character-drawing of course lies largely in the ability
to understand and to appreciate character, but in its application to
practical work it largely resolves itself into the power of realizing
the personages of the tale. A striking example of how a vitalizing
imagination can and may make the actors in a fiction real in spite
of all drawbacks is furnished by George Meredith. George Meredith’s
style is a teasing madness; his characters talk as no human beings
ever dreamed of talking; and yet these personages are so actual, so
individual, so human, that it is impossible not to feel that if one of
them were pricked, real, red, warm human blood would flow. They existed
so vividly for the author that they exist vividly for the reader and
convince in spite of all the author’s mannerisms. The relation of an
author to his puppets has been well put by Trollope when he says:--

     The novelist has other aims than the elucidation of his plot. He
     desires to make his readers so intimately acquainted with his
     characters that the creatures of his brain should be to them
     speaking, moving, living, human creatures. This he can never do
     unless he know those fictitious personages himself, and he can
     never know them unless he can live with them in the full reality
     of established intimacy.... He must learn to hate them and to
     love them. He must argue with them, quarrel with them, forgive
     them, and even submit to them.--_Autobiography_, xiii.

Deliberate description of persons is seldom of much effect. Says

     Readers cannot fail to have remarked that what an author tells us
     of the beauty or the charm of his creatures goes for naught; that
     we know instantly better; that the heroine cannot open her mouth
     but what, all in a moment, the fine phrases of preparation fall
     from her like the robes from Cinderella, and she stands before
     us, self-betrayed, as a poor, ugly, sickly wench, or perhaps a
     strapping market-woman.--_A Gossip on a Novel of Dumas’s._

The same principle holds with mental traits. It is of little use
to announce, and especially to announce early in a tale, what the
character of an actor is. If the author declare that the fictitious
person is this or that, he gives the reader a measure by which to
criticise his performance. He puts into the hands of his public a rod
wherewith to scourge him for whatever falls short of intention,--and if
tried for falling short of intention, who shall escape? If the reader
is left to judge of character by deeds, he becomes himself responsible
for any opinions which he may choose to hold. The rule which every
student should adopt for himself is that character is to be indicated
first by the acts of the personages in a tale, and secondly by their
talk. Description of character may be suggested, but it should not be
direct if it is possible to avoid this.

Of course I do not mean that there may not be a good deal of direct
comment on character. I do mean, however, that while it will probably
entertain the author to write this and may help him in understanding
the people about whom he writes, the effect upon the reader will in
most cases be exceedingly small. If you are in the habit of analyzing
your mental experiences, I am confident that you will bear me out in
saying that we are seldom much affected by any declaration on the part
of the writer that a character is good, bad, or indifferent. If we have
drawn the same conclusion from the story, that is from the events and
the conversations, we may agree with the author; if we have not, we do
not in the least accept his estimate.

This may seem a covert attack upon the whole school of analytical
fiction, but it is meant merely to be a warning to practical workers.
There is nothing in all literary art more enticing to a novelist than
the vivisection of character, and especially in this introspective
age is it difficult to write objectively and without what might be
called mental rummaging. It is impossible not to feel that all this
minute analysis of character, however interesting as psychological
tract or treatise, distinctly injures the effect of a work as a whole.
It changes the characters from living beings to subjects on the
dissecting-table, and destroys the vitality of the tale. It is in our
time the prevailing fashion, but it is of our time no less the literary
disease. In the masterpieces of fiction it is seldom found; and the
book which is heavily weighted with analysis is desperately sure of
going soon to the bottom of the pool of oblivion, no matter by how much
wit or wisdom it may be buoyed up.

Often a single significant detail will throw more light on a character
than pages of comment. An example in perfection is the phrase in which
Thackeray tells how Becky Crawley, amid all her guilt and terror,
when her husband had Lord Steyne by the throat, felt a sudden thrill
of admiration for Rawdon’s splendid strength. It is like a flash of
lightning which shows the deeps of the selfish, sensual woman’s nature.
It is no wonder that Thackeray threw down his pen, as he confessed that
he did, and cried, “That is a stroke of genius!”

Of drawing characters from life much the same may be said as in regard
to taking incidents from life. Real characters are excellent points of
departure, and in the study of mental traits it is possible to hold
much more closely to nature than in the reproduction of incidents. It
is easy to pass the line of probability in incident, but one may go far
before he cross the line of probability in character. It follows that
there is in character much more material which may be taken directly
from life into fiction, without especial modification. The chief
difficulty here is--or at least so it seems to me--that it is less easy
to make an actual person real in the mind as part of a fiction than
it is to realize a person practically imaginary. If the writer in his
thought and imagination get as perfect a conviction of a personage in
his story when he is drawing him directly from life as when he shapes
him from pure imagination, there is no reason why he should not use
the living man as his model, and often he may in this way gain greater
consistency of development.

Character-drawing belongs rather to novels than to short stories. The
short story practically deals with character as it shows itself in a
crisis or in a brief and rapid series of events. There is here no great
opportunity for showing the development of character, but only for
exhibiting how character is manifested under crucial and significant
circumstances. The method must be varied according to the conditions,
and almost perforce the writer of the short tale is forced to deal
chiefly in suggestion, both of outward and inner conditions and traits,
rather than in extended exposition. In any case, however, the same
fundamental principle holds, that the clearness of the impression
produced upon the reader depends upon the command of technical methods
which enables a writer to impart what he feels and upon the sharpness
with which he realizes the character he depicts.

       *       *       *       *       *

When there is talk of moral purpose in fiction most persons are either
a little indignant or a good deal inclined to get out of the way. If
they think how much useless talk has been wasted over the phrase they
are impatient; if they recall how dull much of this talk has been,
they are bored by the very idea. Indeed, one is sometimes tempted to
take refuge in mere flippancy, and to try to shut off discussion by
declaring that while it is true that there was formerly such a thing
as moral purpose in literature this has in these degenerate days
entirely given place to an immoral purpose. Yet despite this impatience
the fact remains that the matter is one of the most important connected
with the art of fiction.

What is generally meant by the question whether a story shall have a
moral purpose is whether it shall convey an avowed lesson, whether, in
short, it shall be undisguisedly or at least deliberately didactic. To
this there seems to me but one answer possible, whether from a literary
or an ethical point of view,--and that is an unqualified negative.
From the point of view of political and social economics it might
appear that this statement is too sweeping, but closer examination, I
believe, shows it to be sound. Take, for instance, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,”
a book which has been at least as widely read as any ever produced
in this country. Whatever may have been the opinion in the quarter
of the century in which the book saw the light, it would probably be
impossible to find to-day a critic of reputation who would place it
above mediocrity considered simply as literature. As a means of aiding
a great social reform it is one of the most noteworthy intellectual
productions of the time. Its reputation was of course due largely
to the accidental association with a great political movement, but
its influence makes it a historical document of the highest possible
interest. From the literary point of view its moral purpose is a
mistake, and is a drag upon it; just as the question of the reform
of the Court of Chancery is a drag upon “Bleak House.” We may admire
the reformatory effects of these novels, but our interest in this is
historical in so far as it exists at all.

When the critics took Mrs. Humphry Ward to task for so heavily
freighting “Robert Elsmere” with metaphysical discussion and
disquisition, that lady published a defense of her methods. She
declared that she could not “try to reflect the time without taking
account of forces which are at least as real and living as other
forces, and have as much to do with the drama of human existence.” She
misses the real point. She assumes that the objection is to the choice
of subject which she has made in writing her book. The trouble is not
simply that she has concerned herself with theological scruples. It
is that she has made her moral obvious as a moral; and, what is of
perhaps even more importance, that she has not the art to make her
theme show through it the fundamentally human emotions with which, and
with which only, art is properly concerned. It is not the province
of art to deal with the question of limited interests except as they
depend upon and illustrate human life in its wide meaning. Art cannot
stop at so confined an inquiry as whether a man shall be a Mohammedan,
a Catholic, or a Protestant or an Agnostic. The novelist who would
succeed permanently must go deeper than that. The essential principle
of conviction which is common to all humanity must be shown through the
conflict between differing creeds. Here the matter is that of emotions
and principles general to all men, although the especial circumstances
in which these are exercised may be particular and individual. In so
far as “Robert Elsmere” is significant of that passionate fidelity to
truth which is respected by all mankind it is vital and significant;
but it is mistaken and transient in so far as it is concerned with
the discussion of accidental rather than with general truth. I use
“accidental” here in a purely literary sense. I am not estimating the
value of creeds. I mean simply to say that all men as human beings
are not interested in the question whether Agnosticism or the Church
of England is to be preferred; while every true man is concerned with
the fact that it often costs much for a human being to follow his most
profound inner conviction.

This brings me to what I should say is the first principle involved
in this matter. Literature as an art should deal with those ethical
questions only which are of universal human interest.

We have noticed already that whatever a reader is led to do for
himself is more real and more vital than anything which can be done
for him. This principle, carried farther and higher, underlies the
fact that mankind will give little heed to any “record of intellectual
conceptions” of life, while they will be moved and led by a “reflection
of life”--in other words by those tales which are the embodiment of
human emotions and human passions. To be told what some man thinks that
life should mean to us may interest but is not likely to move us deeply
or to change us. To be shown, vitally and vividly, what life has meant
to any human being can hardly fail to reach our emotions and to affect
the whole mental being. Life can teach more than any man can teach. The
novelist who preaches is tacitly assuming that his individual belief
is of more value than the inferences which a reader would draw from a
faithful picture of life. The race avenges itself upon such an egotist.
It does not reason about it, but it lets his book die. Where is the
didactic novel that has outlived its generation? To be didactic is at
best to be temporary.

The very essence of all art is that the motive of a work shall be
inherent in it and not an outside purpose; but even aside from this,
the moral purpose which shows itself as such defeats its own object.
The lesson which is elaborated for us belongs in the sermon, and
sermons are apt to be of effect so transient that it is necessary to
have a fresh one at least once a week. The teaching of a genuine work
of art is permanent. It is hardly conceivable that the race should
outlive the teaching of Dante or Shakespeare. The hypothesis upon
which the “moral purpose,” so called, is introduced into fiction is
that men shall be moved to accept its teaching. The objection which it
seems fair to urge against this is that the ethical lesson conveyed
indirectly is so much more effectual; and that it is not wise to waste
the opportunity and to dull men’s minds to the legitimate effects of

What the sincere novelist does is practically to say to his reader:
“Here is a portion of life as it seems to me it is or might be. I
tell you the whole of its reality or its possibility as far as I can
perceive it. What it means, what is the lesson to be drawn from it,
you must discover for yourself. In the first place the emotions which
I have felt in writing the tale cannot be directly expressed. I have
endeavored to suggest them, and that is all that can be done by means
of language. In the second place, the moral of life will be vital
only to him who draws it for himself.” Of course it is impossible to
determine how far one novelist or another would definitely say to
himself anything of this sort; but I believe that this is the position
consciously or unconsciously taken by every serious writer of fiction.

No conviction, no opinion, no faith is vital which is not the original
growth of the mind which holds it. We may induce it. We may advance
ideas, we may even formulate views, and suppose that we have converted
another to our own position, be it intellectual, moral, æsthetic, or
religious. We may have secured a sort of conformity; the other may even
himself suppose that he thinks as we do; but until he feels that we
think as he does there is little hope that genuine opinions have taken
root in his mind. It is only when the life within him has consciously
put into tangible form its own belief that he is in any permanent way,
in any real sense, convinced. Conviction which is forced upon one by
deliberately didactic books is like a costume, assumed willingly or
unwillingly as the case may be, but only an outer covering. Conviction
which is wrought in one by inner emotion in reading the story of
Arthur Pendennis, of Colonel Newcome, of Effie Deans, of Jean Valjean,
of Hester Prynne, is a change in the very fibre of the moral being.
The one is a view, and the other is vitality; one is a theory, and the
other is belief; the one is a creed, but the other is character.



As the intimate intercourse of the inhabitants of the earth increases,
the necessity of setting over literature from one tongue to another is
every day greater. One nation is no longer content with its own science
or its own literature. Each is greedy for the intellectual treasures
of the whole race. Whatever of thought, of experience, of imagination
has been recorded by the men of any country, is of interest to the
readers of all, and there is therefore a steadily increasing demand for
versions of foreign books.

Translation has come to be almost a distinct profession. The increased
exercise of the art has raised greatly the standard of excellence
demanded. It is true that there is still a great deal of slip-shod work
offered to the public, but even cheapness is ceasing to be an effectual
recommendation for bad translations when good ones are to be had. It
is now necessary for the writer who makes this his business to learn
his trade pretty thoroughly. The days of schoolboy renderings are about
over, and some translators, like Miss Katherine Wormeley, have raised
their work to so high a level that it is almost entitled to take rank
with original production.

Translation is in the mind of the general public associated with
rendering into extremely scraggly English the “Commentaries” of Cæsar
or the “Æneid” of Virgil. Most of us have been through experiences like
that of Betty in “A Woodland Wooing:”--

     “Just listen to this stuff. I’ve got the rest of it, but I can’t
     make head or tail out of this.”

     “Well, what is it?” demanded Bob.

     “‘Him likewise perchance furious alike impelling, and the spoils
     of the Ægean deity whatsoever by means of madness notwithstanding
     to be about to be sacrificed.’ There, that is the very best I can
     make out of it.”

     “Well,” returned Bob, with brotherly candor, “you _are_ a muff.
     That’s plain enough. Don’t you see: ‘He also declared himself
     about to be sacrificed, an offering to the insatiate Ægean deity;
     not caring to live, moreover, impelled by furious madness, but
     ready alike to finish and be forgotten.’ That is as easy as
     rolling off a log.”--Ch. iii.

This idea, however, it is needful to lay aside if the subject is to be
discussed intelligibly, for Translation has come to be treated as a
serious matter, and to be developed like any other intellectual pursuit.

The first fact to be accepted in considering Translation is that
it is impossible exactly to render into one language what has been
written in another. The race that has made each tongue has impressed
its own character upon it in every syllable, in every idiom. It is
not difficult to repeat in one speech the general idea of what is
said in another, and for practical purposes this is often all that
is required. The directions for making a machine, the particulars of
a shipment of grain, the questions one asks in shopping may with no
especial difficulty be changed from language to language. When it
comes to thoughts, and still more when emotions are to be dealt with,
it is impossible to give in two tongues precisely the same shade of
meaning. The delicate aroma of a piece of literary art is as surely
diminished or lost in translation as a man becomes a foreigner and
noticeably strange when removed from his own country to another. Even
in practical affairs this is sometimes a serious consideration. The
meaning in different languages of the phrases most nearly equivalent is
so far from being identical that in important treaties between nations
of differing speech it is necessary to agree beforehand what tongue
shall be considered authoritative in case of dispute. In scientific
books it is common to find that a translator is forced to add the
original to his version of some sentence or phrase because there is no
exact equivalent. Words cannot completely express thought in any case,
and to this constant infirmity of language is in translation added the
difficulty that the words of one tongue cannot accurately represent the
precise shade of idea phrased by another.

Professor Wendell remarks:--

     Each language names ideas in a way peculiarly its own. The common
     agreement on arbitrary symbols that at length results in the
     vocabulary of any language is sure to produce symbols that stand
     for peculiar aspects of real thoughts and emotions which language
     tries to define,--for aspects in other words which differ from
     those named by any other tongue; and what is thus plainly true of
     words by themselves is just as true of words in combination....
     In its vocabulary, in its grammar, in its entirety, each language
     must express the lasting meaning of life in aspects different from
     those expressed by any other.--_Stelligeri_, p. 103.

It follows that the best that a translator can hope to do is to give
the nearest approximation to the original that the language into which
he is changing it is capable of. The problem is not unlike that of the
engraver who is endeavoring to reproduce a picture painted with the
brush. At every point he is forced to decide what combination of lines
and spaces will best represent the work before him. He knows that it
is impossible by any arrangement of lines actually to reproduce the
brush-work of the painter, and so he goes on considering what effect
among those within his reach most nearly approaches this.

The methods of the translator of course vary with the nature of the
original with which he has to deal. In rendering documents which
have to do with practical affairs the chief consideration is strict
exactness of idea. If one attempts to translate a scientific treatise,
the most important point is absolute accuracy. It is in any case
necessary to write correct and clear English, but Force and Elegance
may for the moment be left practically out of consideration,--or,
rather, are considered as in importance subordinate to Clearness. To
say in our tongue as precisely as possible what the author has said in
his is the translator’s first care, and to express, too, the material,
literal, scientific meaning of this as it would appear to a reader of
the original. Here there is no question of atmosphere, of suggestion,
of connotation. The emotional element of literature may and indeed
must be ignored here. The intellectual quality is the only thing to be

All this is comparatively easy. If one knows the languages from which
and into which he is translating, he should have no especial difficulty
in changing a scientific paper from one to another. His knowledge of
the subject will of course affect the ease and accuracy of the result;
and of course the comparative richness of the scientific vocabulary of
the languages is to be taken into account. In general terms, however,
this sort of translation calls for the exercise of the intellectual
faculties only; and whatever depends upon the intellect may be acquired
by any one who has an intellect, if he choose to take the trouble.

When it is a question of a version in another tongue of literature in
its higher sense the matter at once becomes more complicated. Here
there is not only the idea to be considered, but the suggestion,
the flavor, the peculiar quality of style and individuality. There
must be an attempt to give some impression of the effect produced in
the original by euphony, by what we speak of as word-color, meaning
thereby the melody and the peculiar quality which terms have from
suggestions so subtle that it is all but impossible to analyze them.
All these requirements thrust themselves upon the translator, and he
must struggle to achieve the impossible in transferring these from one
language to the other. The difficulties of the undertaking are well
illustrated by George Henry Lewes, in the following passage:--

     Words are not only symbols of objects, but centres of
     associations; and their suggestiveness depends partly upon their
     sound. Thus there is not the slightest difference in meaning
     expressed when I say, “The dews of night began to fall,” or, “The
     nightly dews commenced to fall.” Meaning and metre are the same;
     but one is poetry, the other prose. Wordsworth paints a landscape
     in this line:--

    The river wanders at its own sweet will.

     Let us translate it into other words: “The river runneth free
     from all restraint.” We preserve the meaning, but where is the
     landscape? Or we may turn it thus, “The river flows, now here, now
     there, at will,” which is a very close translation, much closer
     than any usually found in a foreign language, where, indeed, it
     would in all probability assume some such form as this, “The
     river, self-impelled, pursues its course.” In these examples we
     have what is seldom found in translations, accuracy of meaning
     expressed in similar metre; yet the music and the poetry are gone,
     because the music and the poetry are organically dependent upon
     certain peculiar arrangements of sound and suggestion.--_Life of
     Goethe_, 2d ed., p. 466. Quoted in Genung’s “Practical Rhetoric.”

It is in the rendering of works which belong to that department of
literature to which is given the name belles-lettres that translation
is most difficult and also most common. Poetry, fiction, essays, and
kindred forms are most frequently the subject of the worker at this
craft. Here the form is often of importance as great as that of the
idea. To give merely a literal version of the exact ideas in the
original would do no more toward reproducing it than a photograph does
toward reproducing the Sistine Madonna or a plaster cast the Venus
of Melos. Indeed, of the formally literal translation it is hardly
too much to say that it really represents the original no more than
a collection of paint-tubes containing all the colors in a painting
would represent the picture. The value in the painting lies in the
manner in which the tints have been arranged and varied, blended here
and contrasted there. In literature, the value lies in the cunning
blending and contrasting, the arrangement and variety with which ideas
are presented. Shelley said of the chant of the archangels which
opens the “Prologue in Heaven” of Goethe’s “Faust” that not only is
it “impossible to represent in another language the melody of the
versification,” but that “even the volatile strength and delicacy of
the ideas escape in the crucible of translation.” Every one who has
attempted to translate a work of imaginative merit must appreciate this.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course, the first thing which a translator considers is the setting
over of the ideas from one tongue to another, yet it seems to me a
great mistake to make first a version which is simply literal, and
then to try to mould it over into forms of literary grace. Of course,
this is a matter which must to a certain extent depend upon individual
temperament, but it is certainly true here as in other work that a
phrase or a sentence can be more readily shaped and modified while
it is fresh than when it has cooled and hardened. Translation is no
mechanical operation, and no mechanical excellence will suffice. It is
therefore well to aim at excellence of quality from the first, instead
of attempting to add it as it were by an afterthought.

The first and essential requisite in making a translation is that it be
English. By this is meant not only that it shall be made up of English
words. It is not even sufficient that it be made up of English words
so arranged that they may be understood. It is necessary that the
English shall be sound and idiomatic. The ideal translation preserves
nothing in its style to indicate that it was not originally written
in the tongue in which it stands. It is the aim of the translator
to approximate as closely to this standard of excellence as he is
able. The sentence-structure of the German is more elaborate and
more extended than our own. It is necessary that the translator of
German works do not model his English version after this peculiarity
of the original. The paragraph structure of the French is peculiarly
broken and brief; yet the writer who sets work over from French into
English is not permitted to let this fact determine the manner of his
paragraphing in the latter language. Still more important is it that
the idiom of the alien speech shall not leave its traces upon the style
of the translation. This is the point in which all mechanical training
fails. A friend gave me the other day a copy of the sign which was
placed above the electric-light button in the chamber that he occupied
in a hotel at Geneva: “One is begged on entering the room to press
the button to let the light, and on parting again to extend it.” The
man who wrote this rather remarkable direction knew his vocabulary
tolerably well, but he had no idea of the English idiom. You have all
of you seen innumerable examples of the same sort of blunder, and it
is one which can be avoided only by an intimate acquaintance with the
tongue into which one is translating.

Of the three great languages with which the translator is likely to
have to do, French is by far the most idiomatic, German the least,
while English in this respect stands midway between the other two. The
problem in dealing with idioms is to find in one tongue expressions
which are rather the equivalents of the original than a literal
translation. The most nearly satisfactory renderings of the plays of
Aristophanes which are to be found in our literature are those of
John Hookham Frere, and they are probably among the least literal.
Aristophanes was one of the most idiomatic of classic authors, and
he indulged in slang as well as in idiom. To give an impression at
all approximating to that of the original it is necessary constantly
to depart from the exact words of the Greek text, especially when an
attempt is made to preserve the feeling of the metrical effects of the
comedies. In “The Birds,” the literal meaning of a certain passage is
this: “Come ... as many as in the furrows incessantly twitter around
the clods so lightly with blithesome voice.” This is rendered by

    Rioting on the furrowed plain,
          Pecking, hopping,
          Picking, popping,
    Among the barley newly sown.

The difference between the literal version and the other is that from
the latter the reader gets something of the impression which the
Greek carried to its auditors, while from the former nothing is to be
obtained beyond the plain and exact meaning.

Those who have examined the translation of the “Phormio” which was
furnished to the audience when that play was acted at Harvard in 1894
found there numerous illustrations of this use of equivalents in place
of exact meaning. The character of the dialogue made it proper to
employ modern slang to give the impression which the original conveyed
to the audience for which it was written. Accordingly the Latin phrase
which literally means “Gird up your loins” was translated “Brace up!”
“Bring the old man” was rendered “Trot out your old man!” “Now what
will be the talk of folk?” is made to read “Why, what will Mrs. Grundy
say?” The whole is an amusing though perhaps somewhat extreme example
of the modern idea of translating by the emotional equivalent instead
of by the literal equivalent; of giving the phrase which shall make on
the English-speaking reader the impression made by the original upon
the reader who spoke the tongue in which the work was first written.

The method of turning foreign works into English which has until
recently been the popular one is admirably illustrated by the versions
of German novels which have been so successfully made by Mrs. A. L.
Wister. Mrs. Wister once said to a young woman who applied to her for
aid in getting translating to do, and who justified her application
upon the ground that she was an excellent French and German scholar:
“That is not the question. The thing is whether you are able to write
English well. Anybody can find out the meaning of a French or German
text; that is simply a matter of using a grammar and a dictionary.
The secret of making an acceptable translation lies in the ability to
express that meaning in good English.” This is admirably said, but it
does not cover the whole ground. It is of the first importance that
the translator write good English, but it is hardly to be supposed
that the use of grammar and lexicon will give a writer that intimate
and sympathetic acquaintance with foreign idioms without which it is
impossible to make a version satisfactory in the modern sense.

Mrs. Wister is an excellent example of what might more correctly be
called a “paraphraser” than a “translator.” It has been her custom
to select some popular German novel, and from that to make a story
which seemed to her likely to please the American public. She has
allowed herself the widest liberty, even to the extent, if I am not
misinformed, of suppressing characters and modifying situations which
did not please her, or of otherwise altering the story in important
particulars. The success with which her books have met has justified
her practical wisdom in adopting this method of following literature
as a bread-winning business. She set out to please the average
story-reader, by providing for the market pleasantly exciting, clean,
and entertaining books. She has done it well, and she has achieved the
end she sought.

There is always in the mind of the literary man some doubt how far
one author has the moral right thus to bejuggle the work of another,
even in translation. One who has written cannot help being influenced
by a sort of sub-consciousness of what his own feelings would be
if a translator were to work such a transformation upon one of his
books. Letting this pass, however, it is to be said that popular
demands in regard to the quality and veracity of translations have
steadily advanced. The paraphraser is now forced to appeal to a public
intellectually lower than that he formerly addressed. The literary
grade of the admirers of Mrs. Wister’s books is probably distinctly
below what it was ten years ago. Her school may be said practically to
have had its day; and the translator in the best sense has taken the
place of the paraphraser.

It is not that the translator may not take liberties, as we have
already seen in speaking of idiom. It is that where before liberties
were taken for the pleasure or from the caprice of the paraphraser,
variations are now supposed to be made by the translator for the sole
purpose of imparting to the reader a better idea of the impression
produced by the original on those who read it in its first form. Miss
Wormeley, for instance, is publishing a version of the comedies of
Molière. She has decided that she can give the American reader who is
unacquainted with French a better idea of the plays by rendering them
into prose than by attempting the rhymed verse of the original. To the
average American of to-day the effect is undoubtedly more satisfactory
than that of any metrical version could be. This is an extreme
instance, and it involves the difficulty of retaining the beauties and
value of poetical forms in translation, but it illustrates the length
to which variations from the original may legitimately go if they are
made in the line of fidelity to the impression of the original.

The two great principles in translation, then, are faithfulness to the
impression produced by the work in its own language, and faithfulness
to the tongue into which it is rendered, especially in idiomatic
constructions. It is to be remembered that the difficulty of producing
a satisfactory version is never an excuse for any failure. The fact
that one undertakes to make a translation is equivalent to a profession
of ability to cope with whatever obstacles the task may present.

The value of translating as a help toward literary facility is a thing
which should not be overlooked by the student. Whatever increases ease
in the handling of language is of worth, and especially valuable is
whatever forces the writer to greater exactness in the use of words and
phrases. Reading aloud in English from a book in another language is
excellent practice in the line of training the mind to quickness in the
use of words; and this is especially good for one going into newspaper

It is going a little out of our way to comment here on the translation
which comes into school work, but a word may not be amiss. It is always
to be remembered, both by teacher and by pupil, that translation
involves two languages, and one as fully as the other. Too often work
of this sort is done as if the foreign language was the one to be
considered exclusively. Students are allowed to give an approximate
meaning of the Latin or the French which they are reading, putting
their so-called translation into a verbal jargon which uses the
English vocabulary, but which is no more English than the dictionary
becomes a poem from having in it the words used in poetry. This is
unfair to the student in several ways. It makes him hate what he is
doing; it prevents his ever having anything like a proper or true
idea of the value of the literature which he is mangling out of a
foreign tongue into mongrel English. It destroys his feeling for his
own language, and it makes it all but impossible for him to be taught
English composition. More than one teacher who agonizes in spirit over
the themes of his or her pupils, wondering why it is seemingly so
impossible to teach them to write even reasonably well, might find
an answer to the perplexing question by considering the English into
which they are allowed to render their work in the languages. If pupils
are let to translate from French and German and Latin into a sort of
schoolroom dialect, inexact, unidiomatic, and lifeless, it is gross
stupidity to expect that they will fail to be influenced by this. A
pupil’s education is a unit. As long as it is assumed that his training
in the languages is one thing, in mathematics another, and in geography
or history a third, there is a constant loss of energy in counteracting
the effects of this mistake. Every branch must be taught with a view
to every other, and learned with a view to every other; and especially
evident is it that in all teaching the matter of the proper use of the
language of the learner should be kept always in sight. The translation
which injures the pupil’s use of his own tongue does him a harm which
cannot be atoned for by any knowledge it gives him of another.

It must by this time be apparent that translation in the best sense is
really so closely allied to original work as hardly to be distinguished
from it. In fact no writer can hope to produce successful versions
of works of imagination who has not himself a genuine literary gift,
carefully trained. The pathetic idea of so many young women that
because they have taken lessons in French and German they can make
their living by translating from those languages is quickly and
painfully crushed by any attempt to carry it into practice; but there
is far from being any adequate conception even among general writers
of how difficult an art really good translation is. Yet so rapidly is
public taste being educated in this matter that poor versions from
other tongues become every day more and more futile and ineffective.



Criticism is the estimation of work by defined standards. In its
application to literature it is the trying of whatever is written. It
is, so to say, the balance-sheet of composition.

Criticism is a sort of Exposition, yet it is well to consider it by
itself because it has so much the nature of a general survey of the
whole field of composition. Indeed, since literary training depends so
largely upon self-criticism, it is essential to understand its methods
and principles before one can hope to progress fast or far.

There has never before been a time when there has been so much talk
about the art as in the latter half of this century, and seldom a
time when there has been less of the genuine article. Matthew Arnold
preached the gospel of criticism, and the world went on its uncritical
way very much as before. There have even been doubts expressed whether
there was after all any such thing save in theory. That entertaining
Philistine, Mr. Andrew Lang, has declared that criticism is nothing but
the expression of personal opinion, and has strengthened his position
by pretty consistently living up to the assertion. The definition has
been somewhat widely accepted; and it is certainly true that much
which in common speech is called criticism is nothing more or less
than an expression of prejudice or opinion. Indeed, in common speech
the word is pretty generally used to signify mere fault-finding. There
is, however, no more propriety in using the verb “to criticise” in
the sense of “to censure” than in the sense of “to praise.” It means
neither. Its nearest synonym is “to estimate,” or “to measure.”

Criticism is appreciation based upon comparison of work with defined
standards. To criticise is to form or to express an opinion. It is as
far from blame on the one hand as from praise on the other; but it
establishes the reason for either. As a branch of Exposition it is a
written estimate. The principles of the art are the same whatever is
the nature of the work to which judgment is applied, but we shall speak
of it here chiefly as applied to literature.

The first necessity in criticism is that of a standard. Without
definite standards there can be no measurement of work. There is no
estimating the truth or falsity of anything unless there is first
some idea of truth; the merit or the worthlessness of a thing cannot
be measured unless there be some ideal by which it may be judged.
Until one has personal standards by which to measure life he cannot be
said to have any moral identity; until he has standards by which to
estimate ideas, he has no intellectual identity; until he has definite
and defined standards by which to criticise literature it is hardly
possible to consider that he has literary identity or that he is
entitled to lay claim to any literary opinion as his own.

I have spoken in a former lecture of that irritating class who take
refuge behind the phrase, “I do not know what is good or bad, but
I know what I like.” The phrase is a confession of either mental
incapacity or of mental slothfulness. It means either “I am too stupid
to think out the reason why this pleases me,” or “I am too lazy to
think.” It is a moral duty for one to know why one likes or dislikes
a thing. I do not mean that we can go to the ultimate analysis of the
reasons why beauty delights and ugliness pains. I do mean that the
possession of reason lays on a man a moral obligation to use it; and
that so far as his individual reason can go, it is his duty to examine
the grounds of his feelings. How is a man to have the courage of his
dislikes if he does not know upon what they rest? It is the duty of
every rational creature to have opinions. In order to have opinions it
is necessary to estimate belief and feeling. In order to estimate it is
needful to have standards.

All this being so, how are standards to be obtained? There is
unfortunately no market where they are to be bought; and the mere
mention of acquiring them fills untrained and timorous minds with a
shuddering sense of horribly laborious undertaking. Yet in its plainest
form the matter is simply to know what one believes; and that is the
first step in any mental development which can claim to be genuine.
This does not mean that criticism is to be a matter of personal opinion
in the sense of its being arbitrary liking or disliking. It means that
the first standard by which all work must be tried is that of its
truth; and that to be able to measure its truth it is necessary to know
what one regards as truth. To be able to estimate the verity of a book
it is essential that one have definite opinions in regard to the truth
as it concerns life and humanity, and that one be not in the least in
doubt what those opinions are. Criticism by vague opinions is like
weight by an uncertain balance.

For individual criticism, moreover, it is absolutely essential that
judgment be made by truth as it appears to the critic, and not by
his idea of what others may think to be truth. His knowledge of what
others believe is to influence him in establishing a standard, not in
his measurement of works by it. In other words, we all are and should
be affected in our decision of what is truth by the opinion of our
fellow-men. When we have made up our mind that a certain thing is true,
we try work by it as a standard without reference to the belief or the
disbelief of others.

This is a matter which reaches far. It seems to me that it is hardly
possible to insist too strongly in education upon the need of realizing
one’s opinions. What many persons call their mind is merely a sort of
mental protoplasm from which a mind may with care be developed, and the
most effective means of development is that of defining clearly the
things which we believe and of assuring ourselves as exactly as may be
what to us is and what is not truth.

Our idea of truth is the standard by which we estimate the thing that
a work expresses, whether in idea or in impression. To estimate the
mechanics of a book, its technical finish, and all that has to do with
workmanship, it is necessary to study the masterpieces of literature.
To judge of what may be done and what may therefore be fairly demanded,
it is necessary to examine those works which have stood the test of
time and which are pronounced good by the verdict of mankind. It is
difficult to form our standards from contemporary writings because
in them what is permanent is apt to be obscured by the temporary.
Literature shows the relation of men to their time and the relation
of man to life. In the classics of all languages, in the books which
have lived from generation to generation, the temporary drops out of
sight while the essential remains. A story which showed the relation
of the men of the Restoration to the great struggle between Puritanism
and Royalty was of poignant and even bitter interest to the readers
of that time because each reader was a partisan on one side or on the
other. To-day we have no personal feeling in regard to these political
and religious differences, which without the aid of foot-notes we very
likely do not even understand. Only the essential and human remains.
We read such a tale with a perception only of the revelation which it
makes of the nature of permanent human emotions. We get from it only
the truths which have to do with the relation of man to life, not as it
is for one party or sect, but as it is for man as a human being. When
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was new, it was hardly possible to look at it from
a literary standpoint, because from one side or the other of the great
anti-slavery question its readers felt passionately its moral purpose.
We are already far enough away from the anti-slavery struggle to be
able to examine the book critically, and to decide upon its literary
qualities without reference to its political or moral weight. It is
only when time has practically eliminated the temporary and accidental
in a work that we are able to look at it in a temper dispassionate
enough to allow us to get from it an idea of the essential qualities
which shall be to us a standard.

The things which we are thus to learn from the study of the
masterpieces and the classics of literature, are: first, the laws of
province, and second, the possibilities of literary expression. By
the laws of province--which is a somewhat formidable name for a not
very complicated thing--I mean what is the province of each variety
of literary form. This would include, for instance, the consideration
of the consistency of fairy tales, the discussion of a moral purpose
in fiction, methods in writing history or biography, and all the many
matters of this nature. If we are to consider how well a novelist
has done his work, it is necessary that we have some clearly defined
notion of what comes properly within the scope of a novel; if we are
to criticise a romance, a history, an essay, it is in any case needful
that we be acquainted with what the experience of permanent literature
and the judgment of the masters have decided to be the proper range of
each sort of writing. This is what is meant by the laws of province. It
is only by the careful study of the best works of these several sorts
that we become qualified to judge how far a new production holds by the
laws which should govern a composition of its kind. This is the more
difficult as these laws are largely unwritten, and from the nature of
things must be differently applied in different cases.

One thing must be said in regard to the authority of the classics,
the masterpieces of literature to which we are to go to learn our
standards. The young author is apt to feel that it is a mark of
weakness to confess that he is influenced by the example of those who
have gone before him. He protests, often pretty vigorously, against
this autocratic rule of authors long since dust strewn as far as
waters flow or the wind speeds. He feels that it is for the living to
make laws for the living, and this generally means in his own case a
willingness to make such canons, or at least a determination to be a
law unto himself. The difficulty is that he does not recognize the true
state of things. The domain of literature is not a despotism, but the
most absolutely free of all republics. No author, no matter how great
he be, can force the public to accept his book or can impose his works
upon the generations. It is by the suffrages of the readers of the
world that he stands or falls, and if there was ever given in the whole
world a disinterested and impartial vote, it is precisely this decision
which the world makes upon the merit of works. What we call the
classics are the books which the world has decided are good. It is the
consensus of the opinion of mankind that dominates here. The opinion of
individuals is often wrong. I doubt if the verdict of generations upon
a book ever errs substantially.

Yet another thought is of importance. To write is to endeavor to
communicate thought. It is manifestly inconsistent and illogical not to
choose that method of communication to which the world will listen. The
measure of the world’s willingness is to be found in the works which
the world has permanently approved. We learn our standards from the
masterpieces of literature, we say; we might say: Here are the books
which show what form of composition will be attended to by the world
which the writer wishes to address. To see how far successful a given
author has been in doing what he attempted, it is well to compare his
work with this.

The forming of standards of mechanical excellence is of course founded
on the same principles as those by which we determine what I have
called the laws of province. There is no hard-and-fast rule by which to
define exactly the limits of one department of literature or another,
and the only thing which can without qualification be said is that no
one can write criticisms which are of any lasting or indeed of any
transient value who is not well acquainted with the great body of good
English literature.

One thing should be kept constantly in mind in writing criticisms, and
that is that the critic must appreciate and hold to the point of view
of the author criticised. The great point is to know what the author
tried to do, and to judge how far he has succeeded in doing it. If a
book is written for the general public, for instance, it is manifestly
unfair to complain that it does not meet the needs of the specialists;
and equally would it be unfair to find fault with the volume carefully
prepared for the specialist for not being adapted to the average
reader. Be sure that in writing a criticism you are clear in regard to
what it is proper to expect from a given book, and in regard also to
what the work is or is not as judged by the standard thus established.
Criticism must first of all things be definite.

One of the powers first to be called into play in forming an estimate
of any work is that of analysis. It is impossible to compare the
qualities of a composition with the standard in our mind, without
separating those qualities from each other. We must be able to say that
this passage has Force, that that has Elegance; to see that the work as
a whole possesses Force but lacks Clearness; and so on for any and all
the characteristics which may be found. It is necessary to study the
effect which a work produces, and again to be able to tell upon what
means those effects depend. In no other way can we put ourselves in a
position to estimate fairly and conclusively the value and the lasting
merit of that which we criticise.

I have more than once reminded you that literary work that is worth
the name is a severe labor. It has never seemed to me worth while
to attempt to lure you on with delusive persuasions of easy roads
to literary perfection. All literary work which is worth doing is
laborious and long; and of all literature which is generally included
under the head of belles-lettres it seems to me that criticism is
intellectually the most severe. It is so largely a matter of pure
intellect that it even seems more arduous than it is. In writing
poetry or fiction, or indeed any purely creative work, the pleasure of
creation arouses the emotions and kindles the fancy. One can now and
then give the rein to his mind, so to say, and let the steeds of his
imagination start off for a dash. In criticism the imagination has no
office save that of being sympathetic and of entering into the mood
of another. The strain on the attention and the judgment is constant;
and that there are no more good critics is to be accounted for by the
explanation--which is almost an excuse--that criticism is so difficult
an art.

When all other qualifications for criticising have been considered,
there remains that most elusive, most essential of all,--taste. Taste
is a fine sense of the fitness of things; a perception of the proper
proportion in work, and of the limits to which the expression of
feeling or emotion can go. It is closely allied to a sense of humor in
its quality. It is no less a delicate appreciation of the fitness of
means to effect, and of the propriety of the ways by which an author
has endeavored to impress his readers. Taste is the self-respect of
the imagination. It determines the line beyond which the fancy cannot
go with dignity.

It is that faculty by which we decide that one shade of incongruity
is humorous and touching, yet that the shade but a trifle deeper is
vulgar and repulsive. The knowledge how far things should be carried;
sensitiveness to literary propriety; delicacy to finest differences
of effect, are all dependent upon this faculty, which underlies all
æsthetic perception. How to improve it, refine it, develop it, is the
question of all culture. Goethe says:--

     Taste should be educated by contemplation, not of the tolerably
     good, but of the truly excellent.... The best ... when you
     have fully apprehended, ... you will have a standard, and will
     know how to value inferior performances without overrating

There is little that can be added to this. The best books well read
will do all for the taste that definite outward cultivation can do.
The rest is a matter of inner growth. No one is fitted to criticise
work until he has learned to appreciate work. Even a felon may claim to
be tried by his peers, and surely an author is fairly entitled to at
least this grace. The peer of an author in this sense is the man who
sympathetically is able to understand him; who is trained to perceive
what is the aim of a book, and so is in a position to judge how far it
has succeeded or failed. Until one is conscious of having attained to
this he should at least be modest in his judgments; he should define
his opinions for himself, but he will not claim that infallibility
which belongs only to the critic of the highest rank and which is
claimed only by those of the lowest.

All this has to do with criticism as it should be, and as it is at
its best. This is what men like Sainte-Beuve, Leslie Stephen, Taine,
Lowell, and those of their rank have made it. If the question is that
of writing what are called criticisms for the press, and especially for
the daily press, the matter is not entirely the same. A newspaper is
a business enterprise. The publishers have not established it in the
interest of abstract virtues, and they generally care neither more nor
less for ideals, whether literary or otherwise, than the broker or the
banker next door. They conduct their business very much as business
which depends directly upon public support is conducted everywhere.
They endeavor to learn what the largest number of buyers will like,
and this they endeavor to supply. If too many newspapers of to-day are
nothing more or less than mental dram-shops or bagnios, the men who
have not too much principle or self-respect to keep them have at least
the defense, such as it is, that they print what the public proves
itself most eager to buy.

The general public is neither willing nor able to enjoy genuine
criticism, and the publishers do not give it to them. Criticism as it
is to-day practiced as a matter of literary work, is apt to mean the
writing of perfunctory book-reviews, notices of plays and concerts and
pictures, all to entertain the reader or to provoke him to buy. There
are a great many persons, moreover, who either have no time to read, or
no mind to read the books of the day, yet who wish to appear to have
opinions in regard to them. It is for this class that the great bulk of
book-reviews are written. The publisher of a newspaper is aware that by
furnishing what will with the unthinking pass for opinions he can on
the one hand please unintelligent subscribers and on the other gratify
the book publishers from whom come advertisements. There are very many
reviewers who are too honest to say a thing which they do not believe,
yet who are aware that if they said all that they think they would not
be able to hold their places for a day. I do not wish to be unjust to
the newspapers. I am too lately out of an editorial chair myself to be
in a position to reflect upon them too hardly. I must say, however,
that it is the aim of every newspaper to please the publishers if it
is possible, and that there are not half a dozen in the country--if
there are any--which are not in their reviews influenced by other
considerations besides the merit of the works noticed. I should as
soon think of taking my political opinions from a paid stump-speaker
as my literary judgments from the book-reviews in a newspaper. The
intellectual furnishing of a mind which is guided by them is like the
plenishings of a room supplied with second-hand furniture purchased
on the installment plan and decorated with cigarette-advertising

In its high and proper sense, however, criticism is not alone a matter
of literature, but of life as well. Culture is mainly a matter of
self-criticism. We do not really know unless we are fully aware what
we know. In other words, the distinction between conscious knowledge
and vague impression is the measure of development. The correctness
of self-estimate marks the difference between the cultivated and the
uncultivated mind. It might on first thought seem as if this confounded
culture with self-consciousness. On the contrary it distinguishes it
from that painful weakness. Self-consciousness arises from a doubt
of the mind; an inability to tell what is one’s true value and one’s
true place. Culture is a fair and reasonable appreciation at once of
one’s mental merits and shortcomings; a knowledge of one’s intellectual
rank. This fairness of estimate enables the possessor of this quality
to take his intellectual place without false shame on the one hand or
false pride on the other; two faults which are the warp and woof of
self-consciousness. Education is not acquisition, but assimilation;
and assimilation is impossible without that mental judgment which is
the best and final form of criticism. Mental advancement is possible
only by the establishment in the mind of well-defined standards, and
the measuring by them of the thoughts, the ideas, the opinions; and to
establish definite standards and to measure by them is criticism, the
tonic of the mind.



The question which these talks set out to consider was what one can
do to learn to write well. I began by saying that there are two sorts
of power which enter into literary production, the communicable and
the incommunicable, that which may be taught and that which is inborn,
the technical and the imaginative. Naturally we have discussed chiefly
the power which may be learned, those details of structure and of
quality which depend upon means which we are able to analyze. The
subject of which I wish now to say a little is connected rather with
those powers and qualities which can be directly neither acquired nor
imparted. We cannot close without some consideration of Style, that
thing most elusive and intangible in its elements, yet most definite
and recognizable in its effects; and Style in its more exact sense is a
matter which has to do less with the mechanics of literature than with
the creative impulse of the mind. Regarded in its higher aspect it is
closely linked with the imagination, that faculty which, if the figure
were not too mathematical, one might call reason raised to the _n_th

The term style is commonly used rather indefinitely to indicate either
technical finish or the more subtle qualities of literary expression.
Of course as far as it is to be understood in the former sense, we
have been discussing it from the very beginning of these talks. If we
understand it to mean merely correctness or even elegance of language,
the proper proportion of the different parts of a composition, the
accurate choice of words and the judicious employment of figures and of
ornaments, we may be said to have dealt with all this in the previous

If I were to attempt to sum up concisely the more important points
of what I have said, hitherto, it would be possible to cover a large
portion of the ground by saying that the secret of literary ease and
finish lies in attention to details. In my youth and in the dame-school
in which I began to learn to write it was the fashion to set down moral
and improving sentiments in the copy-books, and one of them was the
sententious maxim with which you are all familiar,--“Trifles make up
perfection, but perfection is no trifle.” The hackneyed saying is a
good deal nearer to being exact than are most didactic aphorisms. It is
certainly true that though perfection is above all trifles yet a trifle
may spoil it. The slightest touch breaks a bubble, and a single bad
epithet will spoil a passage otherwise effective. To neglect details is
to neglect the whole.

It is true that to consider only details is to deprive the work of all
unity. It is like finishing carefully all the pieces which are to be
set in a mosaic and neglecting to consider the design of the whole. I
need not repeat here what has been said of the need of dealing with any
literary work as a unit; but it is necessary to keep this in mind.
Conceive a thing as broadly as possible. Look at it in the large; see
it as clearly as you are able in its general outlines; and make it the
aim of your labor to embody in words this broad conception firmly and
clearly. When this is accomplished go over your work with a microscope
to discover if there be anything in it which will prevent or injure the
effect. Indeed, if you hope to be finished artists in words, it will
be necessary that you see to it that every detail not only does not
lessen the effect of the whole, but that it is a positive advantage
and addition. It is only by such care in the management of trifling
particulars that the finest results are to be obtained.

Going beyond all these largely mechanical matters, we come to the
consideration of a more intangible, and yet a higher thing.

Suppose that you came upon these three passages in some book which did
not give their authorship. Could you, although you had never seen them
before, suppose that they had been written by the same author?--

     Of this thing, however, be certain: wouldst thou plant for
     Eternity, then plant into the deep infinite faculties of man, his
     Fantasy and Heart; wouldst thou plant for a Year and Day, then
     plant into his shallow superficial faculties, his Self-love and
     Arithmetical Understanding, what will grow there. A Hierarch,
     therefore, and Pontiff of the World-will we called him, the
     Poet and inspired Maker; who, Prometheus-like, can shape new
     Symbols, and bring new Fire from Heaven to fix it there.--_Sartor
     Resartus_, iii. 3.

     The figure of that first ancestor, invested by family tradition
     with a dim and dusky grandeur, was present to my boyish
     imagination, as far back as I can remember. It still haunts me,
     and induces a sort of home-feeling with the past, which I scarcely
     claim in reference to the present phase of the town. I seem to
     have a stronger claim as a resident here on account of this grave,
     bearded, sable-cloaked and steeple-crowned progenitor,--who came
     so early, with his Bible and his sword, and trode the unworn
     street with such a stately port, and made so large a figure, as
     a man of war and peace,--a stronger claim than for myself, whose
     name is seldom heard and my face hardly known.--_The Custom House._

     An obese person, with his waistcoat in closer connection with his
     legs than is quite reconcilable with the established ideas of
     grace, with that cast of feature which is figuratively called a
     bottle-nose, and with a face covered all over with pimples. He had
     been a tender plant once upon a time, but, from constant blowing
     in the fat air of funerals, had run to seed.--_Martin Chuzzlewit._

Whether the reader recognized in these passages the hand of Carlyle, of
Hawthorne, and of Dickens would of course depend upon his experience;
but if he had any susceptibility to literary expression, he would
appreciate the fact that they are somehow different. He would feel
the distinction which arises from those essential qualities, both of
matter and of manner, which distinguish one piece of literature from
every other composition whatever. To the sum of these qualities we give
the name Style. Style in this sense is the individuality of a work.
What personality is to a human being, that is style to a composition.
Indeed, one would be doing no great violence to language who defined
this quality as the “personal equation” of a work.

Style is the personal impress which a writer inevitably sets upon his
production. It is that character in what is written which results
from the fact that these thoughts and emotions have been those of the
author rather than of any other human being. It is the expression
of one man’s individuality, as sure and as unique as the sound of
his voice, the look from his eye, or the imprint of his thumb. It
is the quality which gives to the work of a master-mind, a mind in
which the intellectual individuality is well developed, a flavor so
unique that no man familiar with literary effects can mistake it
for that of any other. It is style in this sense which is proof of
authorship so conclusive that if we had authenticated and solemnly
sworn declarations from both Shakespeare and Bacon that the latter
wrote the plays attributed to the former, we should still know beyond
all peradventure that this could not be. The final appeal in a case of
doubt of authorship is the internal evidence. I do not mean to assert
that mistakes may not arise here as in all other human affairs; but I
do mean that it is inconceivable that any great imaginative work should
be produced which should fail of bearing in it the incontestable mark
of its author’s personality. We say that one writer imitates another’s
style so cleverly that it is not possible for the counterfeit to
be distinguished from the real. This may sometimes be true of the
trifles of literature, though I doubt if even here the genuine expert
could not detect the imposition. In those writings in which a genius
has expressed his inner being, in which his imagination has unveiled
itself, in which that true self that dwells in every human creature
and with which we sometimes feel that we are hardly acquainted in our
own case,--in these it is impossible that the stamp of his personality
should not be impressed upon the work. It follows in the case mentioned
that one thing of which a literary man is pretty likely to be sure is
that whoever wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare, it
is outside the limits of conceivable literary or human possibilities
that they were written by the author of the poems and essays avowedly
the work of Francis Bacon. There are those who would deny the truth
of this illustration, I believe, but there is nobody who denies that
an imaginative writer stamps the character of his mind upon his

This matter of individualism is one of the most elusive and yet one of
the most tangibly persuasive of all matters connected with literary
art. Suppose two authors to be equally correct, equally well informed,
well trained, and to write upon subjects in which we are equally
interested. It will still be true that one will please us more than the
other. There will be a certain quality, an almost intangible flavor
about one book which is lacking in the other. One author will maintain
a dignity in his attitude toward his subject, or he will possess
a persuasive manner; in one way or another his individuality will
charm us. We say that we are pleased with his style. We mean that the
individual quality of what he writes has attracted us. To go back a
little farther in analysis, what we say means practically that in the
nature of the mind and the character of the author there is that which
appeals to us as human beings or to us in particular as individuals.
Here we touch upon an important principle which underlies this whole
matter. The secret of charm in style lies in character. You have all
heard innumerable times the saying that “Style is the man.” In other
words, style as a matter of structure in composition is the indication
of what a man can do; style as a matter of quality is an indication of
what he is.

The ways in which individuality shows itself are numerous. Each writer,
for instance, may be said to make his own vocabulary. He consciously
increases his knowledge of words, deliberately chooses certain terms
for particular uses, and carefully decides upon the especial term which
in each case seems to him best adapted to convey his meaning. Besides
this he unconsciously has a preference toward this word or that, he is
influenced by association, by the suggestions which are aroused in his
mind by this synonym or that, and is in every decision swayed in one
direction or another by the fineness of his perceptions, the nature of
his temperament, and by all those minute and mingled elements which
make up what we know as character. All these conscious and all these
unconscious causes help to bring it about that every writer shall
make for himself what Walter Pater calls a “vocabulary faithful to
the coloring of his own spirit;” and the same principle may easily be
traced through all the divisions of the literary art, whether they be
of structure or of quality.

It follows that to talk of style in the higher sense is to consider
character in its broadest and deepest extent. It is impossible to
discuss any question of human life to its farthest limits without
finding that it rests upon an ethical basis. The best method of
phrasing aspiration and passion in art cannot be determined until we
have searched out the nature of passion and of aspiration; until we
have fixed upon some theory of man’s relation to life and truth, and
this is what is meant by ethics. If one examined far enough, it is
probable that it would appear that the same is true of things which
seem to us infinitely trivial. There is as truly a moral reason why
children making mud pies in the gutter should not quarrel as there is
that Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is an immortal work. If we search deep
enough, the reason why the children are amused by their mud pies is as
surely to be found in the relations of human beings to life as is the
reason of the spiritual exaltation which may come from the appreciative
reading of the poet. I said the other evening that it might seem that
I had a tendency to speak of English Composition as if it involved the
whole duty of man; we have now come to the place where it is evident
that it does. We cannot go into so extensive an examination as the
foundation of morals and the elements of character, so that I shall
content myself with pointing this out, leaving each to make--or not to
make, as he pleases--such reflections and such deductions as fit his
own need and his own inclinations.

It is strictly in the line of literary work, however, to comment once
more upon the use of books in intellectual development as applied
to style. What a man reads affects what he writes indirectly by its
effect upon what he is, as we have before seen that it has a direct and
swift agency in shaping his methods of expression. What the company
he keeps is to a man’s character, this to his style are the books he
reads. A writer cannot accustom himself to the pages of the masters
of literature and be content to write meanly and incorrectly. He may
not consciously contrast his work with theirs, but the influence of
their example is with him always. In very trying circumstances, I
once said to a workman against whom falsehood seemed to be proved,
“In spite of everything, I do believe that you have been telling me
the truth.” He answered me with a simplicity which was nothing less
than noble, “If you knew my wife, sir, you’d know that I couldn’t live
with her and lie.” I learned afterward that this was the exact state
of the case. His wife was a rather silent woman, and I do not believe
that she had ever lectured her husband on truth-telling. It was simply
that one could not live in her influence and be willing to be guilty
of falsehood. In the same way one cannot live familiarly with good
literature and knowingly write bad.

It is not that one imitates good authors. Any imitation is bad art,
because there should always be in what is done the ring of genuine,
personal conviction. The imitator is not giving expression to that
within him which is so real and so strong that it will not be
suppressed. He is trying to show that he can feel as some one else has
felt, that he can write as somebody else has written. It is a sham, and
the reader feels that it is a sham. Imitation, moreover, is at best
but a reproduction of the more obvious peculiarities of work, while at
worst it is a catching of tricks, mannerisms, and faults. It may be
added, too, that it is oftener at its worst than at its best. Anybody
can imitate the defects of a style, and few its virtues.

In these days nobody reads avowedly for style directly. There was
once an idea that it was well to select an author of standing and
deliberately attempt to catch his manner, or, as the phrase went,
to “form one’s style on the master.” The idea was about as sensible
as would be the notion that it were well for a young man not wholly
satisfied with his features to “form” his nose after that of the
Apollo Belvedere. Style is the expression of selfhood. No writer can
embody his own individuality in the expression of the individuality
of another. Learn from the masterpieces what is good use in diction,
in construction, in arrangement; learn from them to be strenuous,
persuasive, and sincere in whatever you do; but do not for a moment
think of obtaining from them that personal flavor which can come only
from the writer himself, and which is the thing which makes style in
its highest sense.

It is the development of the personality of the writer which saves a
composition from becoming mechanical. In the first of these talks I
quoted the instructions which Flaubert gave to Guy de Maupassant, in
which he said:--

     Whatever may be the thing which one wishes to say, there is but
     one word for expressing it; only one verb to animate it, only one
     adjective to qualify it. It is essential to search for this word,
     for this verb, for this adjective, until they are discovered, and
     to be satisfied with nothing else.

This I commended to you as sound and necessary advice. From our present
point of view, however, it is to be seen that this is the attitude of
a student rather than that of an artist. In other words it is rather
the way to learn to write than the way to write. So painfully minute
a method as that which Flaubert recommended to his pupil would bring
to an end all spontaneous or impassioned writing. The mind should
be trained by these severe and careful methods until exactness of
expression becomes a second nature. Then for good or for bad one must
write as one is impelled to write at the particular moment. In revision
the most strict requirements may be held to, so long as there is kept
in mind the danger of revising the life out of imaginative writing and
of refining until spontaneity is lost. Work should be revised with
patient, with inexhaustible care; but it must be revised delicately. No
formal correctness, no perfection of epithet or propriety of diction,
can atone for the sacrifice of the intangible qualities which in the
original form express the mood of the writer, and are to a composition
what the personality is to a human being.

In all the talks which preceded this we have been considering work as
that of the student who is preparing to write rather than as that of
the author who is actually producing. When we talk of style we are
dealing with the production of literature. The student who has not
mastered details in the most painfully minute manner has not fitted
himself for that perception of a subject on broad lines which is the
condition of successful production. William Blake has said: “In order
to know what is enough, it is necessary to know what is more than
enough.” The student must have acquired thoroughly the highest degree
of elaboration possible in order that he may be able to judge what is
proper and effective in any given case. He cannot fairly judge how far
it is safe to go, unless he is keenly aware of what it is to go too far.

In considering a literary work as a whole and in treating it as an
expression of his own particular and peculiar individuality, it is well
for a writer to bear in mind a phrase of Mr. George Saintsbury, the
English critic. “The first rule of literature,” he says, “is that what
is presented shall be presented not merely as it is, but transformed,
and, if I may say so, _dis_realized.” This is easily and obviously true
of fiction. It is manifestly impossible to give a realized picture of
life as it actually exists, to tell everything which must have happened
to characters, how they eat and sleep, shiver when getting into their
baths in the morning, find their egg too much or too little cooked
at breakfast, get out of breath in hurrying to catch a street-car,
and all the rest of the innumerable trifles which make up the bulk of
life. On this plan the simplest story would be expanded into as many
volumes as “Clarissa Harlowe.” The same principle of selection and
departure from reality is no less true of everything which is written.
The thoughts which a philosopher weaves into a profound system do not
come to him in sequence, beautifully arranged. If he followed the
actual order of nature, he would put down a heterogeneous mass of
reflections, good and bad mingled together, with no system apparent
in them except after a painful study which no reader would be at all
likely to give to the confused and confusing pages. Art is not nature.
It is not the reproduction of nature. It is the invention of man to
produce at will and to enshrine in permanent form those impressions,
those emotions which come to him in rare and fleeting instants when
his own consciousness reaches for a quick moment to the secret of that
life which informs nature. Remember that the object of writing is not
to reproduce the actual; that it is not even wholly that very different
thing, to produce an impression of the actual; it is to embody and
to make evident the truth which actualities express. Whoever takes up
his pen to produce literature undertakes to make clearer the relation
of man to nature and to life. He sets out to say in all sincerity
what some fact of existence means to him. If he is content to be a
mere scribe, simply an artisan of letters, he may deal with words
in a mechanical fashion, and manufacture composition as one makes a
deal table. This is honest work enough, but it is not the production
of literature. It is the work of the hack-writer; of the reporter of
life and not of the interpreter of life. To produce literature there
must be an earnest attempt to embody the writer’s conception of some
phase of existence. There must be that expression of his convictions
and character which is what we mean when we use the word style in its
higher meaning.

It is of style in this sense that Goethe was thinking, when he said:--

     It is not language in itself and independently which is accurate,
     vigorous, lucid, or graceful, but the spirit which is embodied in
     it; and so it is not in the power of every one to give to his work
     the good qualities of expression that should belong to it. The
     question is whether nature has given to the writer intellectual
     and moral qualities which demand and shape out for themselves
     such an embodiment [as he has given them]--intellectual powers
     of intuition and penetration; and not less moral power, that
     he may be able to resist the evil demons who would hinder him
     in the unswerving loyalty that he must pay to truth.--Goethe:
     _Natur-Aphorismen_, iv.

There is no better way of testing what one has written than by
comparing it with the work of great writers. See wherein their work
excels yours. Do not thereupon say to yourself, “Oh, of course I am
not to be expected to do as well as they.” Say rather: “In so far as
my work has fallen short of the best that has been done, it has fallen
short of what has been shown to be possible. Let me see how far I can
bring it nearer to the standard.”

In the second of his “Discourses on Art,” Sir Joshua Reynolds says to
his students of painting:

     Comparing your own efforts with those of some great master is
     indeed a severe and mortifying task, to which none will submit
     but such as have great views, with fortitude sufficient to forego
     the gratifications of present vanity for future honor. When the
     student has succeeded in some measure to his own satisfaction,
     and has felicitated himself on his success, to go voluntarily to
     a tribunal where he knows his vanity must be humbled, and all
     self-approbation must vanish, requires not only great resolution
     but great humility. To him, however, who has the ambition to
     be a real master, the solid satisfaction which proceeds from a
     consciousness of his advancement (of which seeing his own faults
     is the first step) will very abundantly compensate for present

This need not be said differently to apply to the student of literature.

There is one thing of which he who desires to write literature may be
sure, and that is that the unpardonable sin in this as in all art is
flippancy. Flippancy is the prevailing literary vice of the age. The
periodicals are perhaps more largely to blame for this than any other
single cause, but newspapers and magazines by no means have the whole
responsibility in this matter. The desire for amusement has eaten us
up. The overworked and nerve-shaken public desires entertainment which
shall make no call on the intellect and as little as possible on the
perception. The man who could devise the means of amusing his fellows
without their being obliged even to take the trouble to be aware of
it would almost be deified by this age. The modern imagination is
harder to awaken than the Sleeping Beauty. An audience at the theatre
to-day cannot be persuaded to do anything for itself. In the days of
Shakespeare a placard on the stage transferred all the beholders into
the Forest of Arden or to the enchanted isle of Prospero. To-day it
is difficult to induce the spectators to second the most elaborate
devices which have been contrived by scene-painter and carpenter to
assist their sluggish fancy. There is even a large class apparently
so completely atrophied mentally as to be unable to follow a simple
plot on the stage. “Variety shows” to-day take the place which real
plays held once; short stories with only so much substance as admits of
their being beaten up like the white of egg on a custard are languidly
read by the million; and we have even replaced criticism by a sort of
shallow flippancy for which no other name seems to me so appropriate as
literary skirt-dancing. To be clever in the most superficial sense of
that word, to be vulgarly glib, to reverence nothing, and above all to
be smart and amusing, seems to be the sum and substance of the creed of
writers who practice this art. They substitute adroitness for depth,
scoffing for sentiment, and rapidity for brilliancy. Their one aim is
to entertain the idle mind, and to win from astonishment the applause
which they have not the wit to gain from approbation. The literary
gymnastics of writers of these flippant pseudo-criticisms are hardly
more intellectual than the supple evolutions of the ballet girl, and it
is to be doubted if the dance is not the more moral and less debasing
of the two.

This may sound extravagant, but when the influence upon young readers
and young writers is considered it hardly seems possible to state the
matter too strongly. It is true that these writers profess, so far as
they profess anything, allegiance to all the highest virtues, both
moral and intellectual. Their books are distinctly amusing--to those
whose taste is not offended by the tone of flippancy which pervades
them; and what they write is often eminently clever. Their fault is
that they do not take life seriously; that they are as devoid of
reverence as a stone is of blood; that their temper is as fatal to
idealism, to enthusiasm, to aspiration, as carbonic acid gas is to
animal life. Even the cynicism with which they are flavored is as sham
as is the tint of a glass ruby. For a young writer to fall under this
influence seems to me as great a literary misfortune as it would be a
physical calamity for him to become crippled. If one wishes to earn a
trumpery wage by writing smartly, these are his models; but if he is
in love with literature, he must turn his back. The young writer should
strive always to be serious before he is smart, sincere before he is
clever, and to flee flippancy as he would flee the pestilence that
stalketh at noonday.

By serious, I do not necessarily mean grave, and still less do I mean
solemn. It is as true for the writer of humorous literature that he
should take his art seriously as it is for the writer of history or
of sermons. No man ever took literature more seriously than Charles
Lamb, yet he remains one of the most deliciously humorous writers of
all time. He was gay and whimsical and droll, but he never for a moment
failed of a high and noble respect for literature; he was apparently
freakish, but he did not for a line become flippant. It would have
been impossible for him to be vulgar. His taste always prevented his
going too far. Even in the wildest excesses of humorous literature
it is still absolutely needful to preserve a serious attitude toward
literature and toward life. It is not that this feeling is to be
obtruded. It is not meant that the jest shall be made with the sour
visage of a Puritan. It is that the author himself shall never lose
this inner respect and reverence for the dignities of life and for the
truth. If these are a part of his character he cannot write otherwise
than with them as it were forming a background to his work; and no
literature is of lasting value or even fame which lacks this.

One of the most striking examples of what I mean is furnished by
the poet François Villon, thief, house-breaker, and scape-gallows.
He believed not in man, woman, or God, but he did hold to faith
in literary art. Life as a matter of every-day existence he took
flippantly enough, but literature as an expression of life he still
regarded seriously,--and thus it happens that his poems live to-day,
and that they are part of permanent literature.

Life is after all a serious matter to the lightest human being. However
it is embroidered over with joys and jocund devices, with merriment
or frivolity, every man knows its solemnity. There are for the most
careless of men moments in which the real gravity of his situation, as
he stands insecurely for a moment between the cradle and the grave,
forces itself upon him. The only universal human experience is pain.
To most men comes hope, and to most comes love in some degree of
intensity. Joy, ambition, hate, and jealousy, are common to perhaps
the great majority of mankind, and the writer who touches strongly and
skillfully upon any one of these is sure of appealing to most readers.
Only he who portrays sorrow and suffering is dealing with an experience
so universal that he is sure that no man can fail of some appreciation
of the theme. Such being the case, it is only the author who by his
fundamental seriousness implies--remotely, it may be, but surely--that
he has a share in the universal heritage, who can long or deeply
command the attention of mankind. To be flippant is to be inhuman; and
although the world may not analyze this, it is sure to feel it. Style
is the unconscious revelation of the writer’s attitude toward life, and
if this be not serious all good gifts and graces of technical skill and
mental cleverness, all adroitness of wit and strength of intellectual
perception, even all vividness of imagination, will fail of making work
great and permanently effective.

Volumes might be written upon style and its relations to authorship,
but in the end it would still be necessary to acknowledge that the
finest essence of literature is too subtle to be seized or analyzed.
The aim of these talks was to consider the practical side of
composition, and it is therefore aside from the purpose to attempt to
discuss further the elusive æsthetic quality. Individual temperament
and individual purpose must in the end determine what shall be the
quality and style of all work; so that the secrets of this branch
of literary art cannot be discovered until man is able to trace the
nature and the working of those twin halves of the highest human
consciousness, individuality and imagination.


  Adverb, flat, 50, 51.

  Æsthetic sense, 85-87.

  Alliteration, 112-114.

  Amateur work, 12.

  Antithesis, 113-116.

  Argument, 123-127, 152-180;
    rules for, 179.

  Aristotle, quoted, 229.

  Arnold, Matthew, 88.

  Arts, fine, 1, 135, 160, 240.

  Bacon, Francis, quoted, 52.

  Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, 303, 304.

  “Barabbas,” 83.

  Barrie, J. M., use of dialect, 246, 247.

  Beethoven, “Ninth Symphony,” 210.

  Beginning of story, 232.

  Beginning well, 78.

  Bible, quoted, 83.

  “Biglow Papers,” 247.

  Blake, William, quoted, 310.

  “Bleak House,” 264.

  Brassey, Lady, “Voyage of the Sunbeam,” 212.

  Brown, Alice, 244.

  Browning, Robert, obscurity of, 63;
    quoted, 14.

  Browning, Mrs. E. B., quoted, 235.

  Bunyan, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” 68.

  Burke, Edmund, quoted, 52.

  Burroughs, John, 130.

  Cable, George, “Old Creole Days,” 245, 246;
    use of dialect, 245, 246, 247.

  Canning, George, quoted, 213.

  Carlyle, Thomas, force of, 71;
    invention of words, 117;
    Lowell on, 95, 96;
    master of emotional emphasis, 141;
    obscurity of, 61, 63, 74;
    quoted, 61, 301.

  Carroll, Lewis, “Through a Looking Glass,” 218.

  Cause and effect, 231, 233.

  Cervantes, 239.

  Character, development of, 238.

  Character-drawing, 258-262.

  Chaucer, Geoffrey, epithets, 204;
    Lowell on, 204.

  “Chelsea Householder, A,” 195.

  Classics, 289-291.

  Classification, 120-122.

  Clearness, 60, 61-70;
    aided by figures, 98;
    aid to force, 73;
    in exposition, 131;
    in translation, 272.

  Climax, 89.

  Closing well, 78.

  Coherence, 34, 38-42, 61.

  Coleridge, S. T., quoted, 54, 189.

  Color, local. _See_ Local Color.

  Composition defined, 5;
    how mastered, 20;
    value of, 15-17.

  Conjunctions, 53, 54.

  Connotation defined, 45;
    how produced, 74;
    secret of force, 72, 86, 99.

  Consecutiveness, 193.

  Continuity, 142.

  Contrast, 233.

  Conversation, 3, 220.

  Corelli, Marie, “Barabbas,” 83.

  Cowper, William, quoted, 104.

  Criticism, 123, 285-298.

  Culture, 298.

  Dante, 266.

  Deduction, 166, 167.

  De Maupassant, Guy, quoted, 23, 309.

  Denotation, defined, 45.

  Description, 123-127, 181-207;
    setting of narrative, 235, 236;
    subordinate to plot, 234.

  Details, how selected, 231;
    importance of, 300;
    insufficiency of, 301.

  Dialect, 244-250.

  Dialogue, 250-257;
    subordinate to plot, 234.

  Dickens, Charles, quoted, 190, 194, 203, 302.

  Diction, 43-58. _See_ Words, and Vocabulary.

  Dictionary, importance of constant use of, 46;
    in schools, 46;
    Thackeray’s reading of, 46.

  Disraeli, Benj., quoted, 39.

  Dodds, James, quoted, 219.

  Donne, John, quoted, 52.

  Dramatization, 124.

  Dumas, A., _père_, 234;
    D’Artagnan romances, 210.

  Earnestness, 238.

  Education, 298.

  Edwards, Miss A. B., “Half a Million of Money,” 102.

  Effect, how different from force, 82;
    and cause, 231, 233.

  Elegance, 60, 84-88;
    connected with figures, 100;
    with variety, 110.

  Emerson, R. W., lacking in continuity, 142;
    quoted, 8, 47, 112, 114.

  Epigram, 113-117.

  Episodes, 227.

  Epithets, 197, 203-205.

  Euphony, 110.

  Events, order of, 231.

  Exposition, 123-127, 128-151;
    allied to argument, 153, 154, 156;
    criticism as, 286.

  Expression, difficulty of, 11-14;
    perfect impossible, 7-10.

  Fallacies, 176-179.

  “Faust,” 275.

  Fiction, 231;
    modern, 260.

  Figures, 96-106;
    rules for use of, 100.

  Fine arts. _See_ Arts, fine.

  Fine writing, 83.

  Fielding, Henry, 239;
    “Tom Jones,” 210;
    use of dialect, 250.

  Flaubert, Gustave, advice to De Maupassant, 24, 26, 309.

  Flippancy, 314-318.

  Force, 60, 71-84;
    in narration, 237;
    lies in connotation, 99;
    reserved, 76, 77.

  “French Revolution, The,” 141.

  Frere, J. H., 277;
    quoted, 44, 278.

  Fuseli, Henry, 208.

  “Gentleman of France, A,” 37.

  Goethe, 275;
    quoted, 103, 187, 295, 312.

  Good use, 31-33, 48, 50;
    defined by grammar, 48.

  Graham, Kenneth, quoted, 184, n.

  Grammar, 48.

  Hack-work, 312.

  “Half a Million of Money,” 102.

  Hardy, Thomas, realism of, 72;
    use of dialect, 250;
    quoted, 200, 256.

  Harris, Joel Chandler, “Uncle Remus,” 245.

  Hawthorne, 212, 216, 239;
    “Scarlet Letter,” 80, 210, 224, 225, 243;
    use of dialect, 250;
    quoted, 238, 302.

  Hazlitt, William, 129.

  “Heavenly Twins, The,” 140.

  Hill, A. S., definition of persuasion, 124, n.

  History, 231.

  Holmes, O. W., quoted, 14.

  Homer, epithets of, 197, 203;
    sang to semi-barbarians, 68;
    quoted, 204.

  Hugo, Victor, “Les Misérables,” 212.

  Humorous literature written seriously, 316.

  Idiom, 48-55;
    of different languages, 277.

  Imagination, 299, 318;
    expression largely dependent upon elegance, 85;
    incommunicable, 1, 88.

  Imitation, 308.

  Individualism, 303, 304.

  Individuality, 118, 318.

  Induction, 166.

  Ingersoll, Robert, 176.

  James, Henry, use of loose and periodic sentences, 57;
    quoted, 52.

  Jeffrey, Francis, quoted, 40.

  Jefferies, Richard, 130.

  Jerrold, Douglas, quoted, 231.

  Jewett, Sarah Orne, 244.

  “Job,” 98, 99.

  Johnson, Samuel, quoted, 237.

  Judd, Sylvester, quoted, 193.

  Keats, John, quoted, 95.

  Kipling, Rudyard, mysteriousness, 71;
    use of dialect, 246;
    of physical sensation, 207;
    of sense of smell, 199;
    quoted, 185.

  Kingsley, Charles, quoted, 9, 186.

  Klopstock, F. G., Goethe on, 103.

  Lamb, Charles, 129, 316.

  Lang, Andrew, on criticism, 285.

  Lear, Edward, quoted, 135.

  Lee, Vernon, 129.

  “L’Enfant Prodigue,” 211.

  Lewes, G. H., quoted, 274.

  Local color, 241-244.

  Lowell, J. R., 296;
    “Biglow Papers,” 247;
    use of dialect, 247;
    of loose and periodic sentences, 57;
    quoted, 39, 52, 79, 80, 82, 95, 108, 113, 119, 146, 204.

  Macaulay, T. B., 129;
    “Machiavelli,” 77, 78, 137-139, 154;
    quoted, 64, 103, 108, 114, 237.

  “Machiavelli,” 137-139, 154.

  Mannerism, 118.

  Mass, 34-38, 61.

  Material, collection of, 147-151, 239.

  Meredith, George, dialogue of, 251;
    obscurity of, 61, 63, 74, 84;
    “Ordeal of Richard Feverel,” 74;
    style, 258;
    quoted, 251.

  Metaphor, 98.

  Milton, “Paradise Lost,” 68.

  Montgomery, Robert, quoted, 103.

  Moral purpose, 262-268.

  Movement, 233.

  “My Lady Rotha,” 37.

  Narration, 123-127, 206, 210;
    reality in, 75.

  “Native, The Return of the,” 140.

  Newman, Cardinal, 129;
    quoted, 52, 111, 114.

  Newspapers, 296, 297;
    English of, 18;
    expositions in, 130.

  Note-book, advantage of, 148.

  Novel, modern, 214, 223, 227;
    with a theory, 214;
    without plot, 213.

  Novelty, 117.

  Observation, cultivation of, 149.

  “Old Creole Days,” 245, 246.

  Oratory, 124.

  “Ordeal of Richard Feverel, The,” 74.

  O’Reilly, J. B., quoted, 6.

  Originality, 117-119.

  Page, T. N., “Marse Chan,” 245.

  “Paradise Lost,” 68.

  Paragraphs, 30;
    analysis of, 31.

  Particles, final, 51, 52;
    unidiomatic, 52, 53.

  Pater, Walter, 129;
    quoted, 90, 146, 306.

  “Pembroke,” 226.

  Personification, 105.

  Persuasion, 123, 124.

  “Phormio,” translation of, 278.

  “Pilgrim’s Progress,” 68.

  Plan, 132-134.

  Plot, 238.

  Point of View, 90-96;
    in dialogue, 252.

  Programme music, 212.

  Progression, 132, 141.

  Proportion, 40, 136-141, 227.

  Proposition, defined, 167.

  Province, laws of, 290.

  Putnam, Eleanor, quoted, 270.

  Quality, principles of, 33, 59-88.

  Reading, effect on style, 307-309.

  Realism, 75.

  Reality, in narrative, 75.

  Reed, Prof., quoted, 52.

  Rembrandt, “Lesson in Anatomy,” 210.

  Revision, 27.

  Reynolds, Sir J., quoted, 313.

  “Rob Roy,” 243.

  Ruskin, John, 129;
    “Modern Painters,” 159.

  Sainte-Beuve, 296.

  Saintsbury, George, use of loose and periodic sentences, 57;
    quoted, 311.

  “Scarlet Letter, The,” 80, 243.

  Scott, Sir Walter, “Rob Roy,” 243;
    use of dialect, 246, 250.

  Self-consciousness, 236, 298.

  Sensational books, 18, 19;
    why effective, 74.

  Sentences, long and short, 55;
    loose and periodic, 56-58;
    structure of, 30.

  Shading, 77.

  Shakespeare, 206, 266;
    epithets of, 197;
    great effects by simple means, 70;
    Jeffrey on, 40;
    “Romeo and Juliet,” 252;
    use of dialect, 250;
    wrote for pit, 68.

  Shakespeare-Bacon controversy, 303, 304.

  Shelley, P. B., on “Faust,” 275;
    quoted, 189.

  Sidney, Sir Philip, quoted, 81.

  Significance, 227, 231.

  Simile, 98;
    description by, 204.

  Sincerity, 238.

  Smoothness, 77.

  Socratic method, 158, 159.

  Spenser, Edmund, quoted, 95.

  Stephen, Leslie, 130, 296.

  Stevenson, R. L., 130;
    “Kidnapped,” 207;
    use of loose and periodic sentences, 57;
    of physical sensations, 207;
    quoted, 25, 52, 79, 107, 109, 110, 113, 145, 175, 191, 193,
      215, 256, 259.

  Story, how begun, 232.

  Stowe, Mrs. H. B., “Oldtown Folks,” 252;
    “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” 263, 290.

  Structure, principles of, 33-42, 60.

  Study of art, what it is, 2.

  Style, 299-318;
    ease of, 77.

  Syllogism, defined, 168.

  Taine, H. A., 296.

  Taj Mahal, 59, 69.

  Taste, 294, 295.

  Teaching, of language, 282-284;
    need of using language of students, 66, 67.

  Technique, best learned on dull themes, 26;
    defined, 2;
    how acquired, 23.

  Tennyson, Alfred, quoted, 16.

  Term, defined, 167.

  Thackeray, W. M., 239, 261;
    “Henry Esmond,” 210;
    study of dictionary, 46;
    use of dialect, 250;
    “Vanity Fair,” 80.

  Translation, 123, 269-284.

  “Trilby,” 140.

  Trollope, Anthony, quoted, 214, 253, 258.

  Truth, in fiction, 229;
    unadapted to fiction, 228.

  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” 263, 290.

  Unity, 33, 34, 61;
    in exposition, 132.

  “Vanity Fair,” 80, 261.

  Variety, 107-110, 233;
    in dialogue, 256.

  Villon, François, 317.

  Vocabulary, 43;
    means of increasing, 46-48;
    personal, 305, 306.

  Ward, Mrs. Humphry, “Robert Elsmere,” 264, 265.

  Wendell, Barrett, quoted, 36, 72, 84, 271.

  Weyman, S. J., “A Gentleman of France,” 37;
    “My Lady Rotha,” 37.

  Whitman, Walt, 160, 161;
    quoted, 111.

  Wilkins, Mary E., 213, 244;
    “Pembroke,” 226.

  Wister, Mrs. A. L., 279, 280.

  “Wooing, A Woodland,” 270.

  Words, connotation of, 45;
    denotation of, 45;
    estimating by number of, 135-137;
    Latin _vs._ Anglo-Saxon, 43, 44;
    long and short, 44, 45;
    specific and general, 75.

  Wordsworth, William, quoted, 45, 99.

  Wormeley, Katherine, 269;
    translation of Molière, 281.

The Riverside Press
U . S . A

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Talks on Writing English - First Series" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.