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Those, who are employed in what they call abstract speculations, most commonly have recourse to this method. Their dissertations are naturally expected to illustrate and explain; but this is sometimes a task above their abilities: and when they have led the reader into a maze from which they cannot deliver him, they very wisely bewilder him the more. This
is the case with those profound writers, who have treated concerning the essence of matter, who talk very gravely of cuppeity, tableity, tallow-candleity, and twenty other things with as much sound and as little signification. Of these we may very well say with the poet,
Such labour'd nothings in so strange a style,
Amaze th' unlearn'd, and make the learned smile.
No mode of expression throws such an impenetrable mist over a work, as an unnecessary profusion of technical terms. This will appear very plainly to those, who will turn over a few pages of any modern collection of voyages. Descriptions of a storm make some of the finest and most striking passages in the best poets; and it is for these in particular that Longinus admires the Odyssey. The real circumstances of a storm are in themselves, without the aid of poetical ornaments, very affecting; yet, whoever reads an account of them in any of our writers of voyages, will be so puzzled and perplexed with starboard and larboard, the main-mast and mizen-mast, and a multitude of sea-terms, that he will not be the least moved at the distress of the ship's crew. The absurdity of this did not escape Swift, who has ridiculed it by a mock description of the same kind in his Gulliver. Those, who treat military subjects, are equally ridiculous: they overwhelm you with counterscraps, palisades, bastions, &c. and so fortify their no-meaning with hard words, that it is absolutely impossible
to beat them out of their intrenchments. Such writers, who abound in technical terms, always put me in mind of Ignoramus in the play, who courts his mistress out of the law-dictionary, runs over à long catalogue of the messuages, lands, tenements, barns, out-houses, &c. of which he will put her in possession, if she will join issue with him, and manifests his passion, in the same manner that he would draw up a lease.
This affectation is never more offensive, than when it gets into the pulpit. The greater part of almost every audience that sits under our preachers are ignorant and illiterate, and should therefore have every thing delivered to them in as plain, simple, and intelligible a manner as possible. Hard words, if they have any meaning, can only serve to make them stare; and they can never be edified by what they cannot understand. Young clergymen, just come from the university, are proud of shewing the world, that they have been reading the Fathers, and are fond of entering on the most abstruse points of divinity. But they would employ their time more to their own credit, as well as the improvement of their hearers, if they would rather endeavour to explain and inforce the precepts of the Apostles and Evangelists, than retail the confused hypotheses of crabbed metaphysicians.
As to Essays, and all other pieces that come under the denomination of familiar writings, one would imagine, that they must necessarily be written in the easy language of nature and common sense. No writer can flatter himself, that his productions will be an agreeable part of the equipage of the tea-table, who writes almost too abstrusely for the study, and involves his thoughts in hard words and affected latinisms. Yet this has been reckoned by many the standard style for these loose detached pieces. Addison was proud that he could boast, of having drawn
learning out of schools and colleges into clubs and coffee-houses, as Socrates was said to draw morality from the clouds to dwell among men: but these people (as Lord Bolingbroke pretends to say of the same Socrates) mount the clouds themselves. This newfangled manner of delivering our sentiments is called writing sound sense: and if I find this mode seems likely to prevail, I shall certainly think it expedient to give into it, and very suddenly oblige the world with a CONNOISSEUR so sensible, that it will be impossible to understand it.
But hard words and uncouth ways of expressing ourselves never appear with so ill a grace, as in our common conversation........In writing we expect some degree of exactness and precision; but if even there they seem harsh and disagreeable, when they obstruct the freedom of our familiar chat, they either make us laugh, or put us out of patience. It was imagined by the ancients, that things were called by one name among mortals, and by another among the Gods in like manner some gentlemen, who would be accounted fine-spoken persons, disdain to mention the most trivial matters in the same terms with the rest of the world; and scarce enquire how you do, or bid you good-morrow, in any phrase that is intelligible. It always puts me in pain to find a lady give into this practice: if she makes no blunder, it sits very ungracefully upon her; but it is ten to one, that the rough uncouth syllables, that form these words, are too harsh and big for the pretty creature's mouth; and then she maims them and breaks them to her use so whimsically, that one can scarce tell whether she is talking French or English. I shall make no more reflections on this subject at present, but conclude my paper with a short story.
A merry fellow, who was formerly of the university, going through Cambridge on a journey, took it into his head to call on his old tutor. As it is no great
wonder, that pedantry should be found in a college, the tutor used to lard his conversation with numberless hard words and forced derivations from the Latin. His pupil, who had a mind to banter the old gentleman on his darling foible, when he visited him, entered his chambers with an huge dictionary under his arm. The first compliments were scarce over, before the tutor bolted out a word big enough for the mouth of Garagantua. Here the pupil begged that he would stop a little; and after turning over his dictionary desired him to proceed. The learned gentleman went on, and the pupil seemed to listen with great attention, till another word came out as hard as the former, at which he again interrupted him, and again had recourse to his dictionary.....This appears to me the only way of conversing with persons of so pompous an elocution; unless we convert the orators themselves into Lexicons to interpret their own phrases, by troubling them to reduce the meaning of their fine speeches into plain English.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 8.
..........Sequar atris ignibus absens,
Omnibus umbra locis adero, dabis improbe poenas.
Thou to thy crimes shalt feel the vengeance due;
TOM Dare-Devil, who was so much superior to the rest of our bucks that he gained the appellation of Stag, finished a course of continual debaucheries, and was carried off last week by a phrenetic fever. I happened to be present at his last moments; and the remembrance of him still dwells so strongly on my mind, that I see him, I hear him, in all the agonies of despair, starting, trembling, and uttering the most horrid execrations. His conscience at the approach of death had conjured up before him "ten thousand devils with their red hot spits," who assumed the shapes of all those whom he had injured, and "came hissing on him,” to retaliate their wrongs. "Save me, save me," he would cry, " from that bleeding form.....He was my friend....but I run him through the heart in a quarrel about a whore."........ "Take away that old fellow....He would have carried us to the round-house....I knocked him down with his own staff,........but I did not think the poor dog would have died by it." When the nurse offered him a draught to take, "Why, said he, will you ply me with Champaign ?....'tis a damnable liquor, and I'll drink no more of it." In one of his lucid intervals he grasped my hand vehemently, and bursting into tears, "Would to God, said he, I had died twenty years ago." At length his unwilling soul parted from the body; and the last words we heard from him were