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we should have the pleasure of your company, Gentlemen. You did not answer our invitation.” The College President answered quickly, “We thought, Sire, that the invitation of an Emperor was to be obeyed, not answered." A delay of five minutes to make up the reply would have spoiled it, and any parade of excuses would have been idle. When Dr. Abiel Holmes visited the Shakers and saw their way of worship he quietly remarked, “You know, friend, that the Scripture teaches that bodily exercise profiteth little." “Yea, we know it, and we're going to get that little.” Nothing could be better, but it had to be said on the instant. Anything in the nature of a jest, a witticism, must be taken with the sparkle on.
It may be well to divide this use of words still further. It should be with method. The words should be correctly spoken: sentences should be accurately framed. All should be clear, so that the reading and hearing may be easy. In reading one can turn back and go through the sentences again, although this should not be necessary, unless the thought itself is so abstruse that a single reading cannot bring out the full meaning. There are such thoughts, for which the ordinary reading is not sufficient. But when we are listening this is changed. The speaker goes on; and if we linger to find out what he has said we miss what he is saying. How often after an ad
dress we say that we should like to see it in print, and to read it at our leisure, in the hope of reaching a clear understanding of that which has interested, and perhaps, to some extent, bewildered us! All that the speaker and writer can do should be done, but after that very much depends upon the hearer and reader. Fortunately we do not have frequent occasion to express complex and intricate thoughts. When we do, the utmost pains must be taken to have our words render the utmost service. It is very rarely that obscurity is necessary. Obscurity in words usually betrays obscurity in thought, and this is unpardonable in one who ventures to offer his thoughts to others. There are questions of speculative philosophy which are out of the common range; but these can be left to those who are amused by them. There are very few things which need to be written or said that cannot be given in words which persons of ordinary intelligence will understand, and the most of which they are in the way of using. Certainly in the pulpit, where the larger part of the public speaking is done, all that ought to be said is quite within the compass of the hearers' mind; though it is not difficult to use terms with which they have no call to be familiar. The Poets are accorded license to be obscure; to soar into the fields where the ordinary mind cannot follow them. They enjoy this and their admirers enjoy it after them. I would not in the least restrain the fancy of the Poet. It is one of the charms of Poetry that it takes us out of the commonplace, and even beyond customary phrases, and gives us visions of things which to most persons have been invisible.
“As imagination bodies forth
The words he uses, the blending of words, the imagery which increases their life, should be removed from the prose of every day, and the literalism of the market-place. He has the right to call for our thinking, to appeal to our imagination, and to create in us conceptions we cannot define. In this Poetry is distinguished from versifying and rhyming. It is this which renders Poetry choice and rare, and we are grateful for it while we enjoy it. Still, it is not too much to ask that there shall be meaning which can be reached; a place where we can rest when we have been carried above ourselves. Successful effort to alight in the upper air is a pleasure. But I feel warranted in believing it does not enhance the excellence of Poetry that we cannot discern the thought which is in it. But we owe so much to the Poets that one is disposed to let them do they please. There is a harmless mental exercise in trying to follow them in their graceful flight and overtake their thought. Yet it is quite likely that the meaning which is discovered may not have entered the mind of the Poet. It is probable that no persons are so much surprised by annotations and interpretations of Poetry as the Poets themselves. They cannot find fault with these, if by their manner they have encouraged the search for that which has no existence. A distinguished professor and a simple-minded student differed upon the meaning of a Browning sentence. The question was referred to the Poet, who said that the student was in the right. The professor might fairly have asked why the Poet did not make his meaning clear. While we must pardon a great deal to genius, when it claims the right to be needlessly confused and confusing it passes the bounds of justice. No great harm is done, however, inasmuch as we do not need to read the things which have not been of enough value to the writer to induce him to give them a good setting forth. Here, at least, we are all free. Let men write what they please and as they please, and we will do as we please about the reading. It is foolish to compare faults; yet I suppose that most of us would pardon an ungrammatical sentence sooner than one which was unintelligible. Let it always be borne in mind that life is short, and that we are very busy; then let us practice economy. I am not attempting here to give instruction in rhetoric or composition. But we are all hearing, and many are speaking, and it can hardly be amiss for us to admonish ourselves.
I have in another connection said some things regarding the use of words, and these need not be written here. We are to be accurate and clear. Our thoughts are to be clear in our own minds, and their expression made clear. Simple words are strongest. Simple sentences are most effective. A just proportion among words and phrases is to be observed. The occasion is always to be regarded. What would be stilted and extravagant in some conditions might be less objectionable in others. There are times when we may speak of a conflagration, but not when we are rousing men to save a burning house. What do you wish to accomplish? What is the rational way of achieving it? The sensible writer or speaker considers these things. The lawyer before a jury never forgets them. He does not smother his purpose in his eloquence. It is to be feared that a public speaker sometimes loses sight of his object, if he has anv, and talks more for his own enjoyment than for a predetermined result. There are times and places when a man can talk for his own pleasure in talking, but these must be carefully chosen and the privilege must be paid for. A great change in oratory has taken place within a few years, and, in the main the change is good. The old orator has passed. He