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ple of Coherence is that which applies chiefly to matters of detail. To distinguish it from the principle of Mass, indeed, detail might have been a better name for it.
For this very reason, the principle of Coherence is far more difficult to discuss in a few minutes than either of the others. Examples of the observance and the violation of it take so many and such varied forms that at first sight the whole matter seems almost hopeless. I believe, however, that coherence of sentence is dependent on one of three pretty simple general devices; that all the rules I have found to guide us toward it will fall under one of three broadly general ones. By stating these and briefly discussing each in turn, I can certainly treat the subject with more deci. sion than otherwise.
The general principle, we may remember, is this: in a sentence the relation of each word and each clause to the context should be unmistakable. Now, the mutual relations of words and clauses, indicated primarily in our uninflected language by order of words, may be made evident in three ways: by the actual order of words in detail, by the grammatical forms into which we throw our clauses, and by the use of connectives. Three subordinate rules or principles have therefore phrased themselves in my mind : The first, which concerns coherence in the order of words, is this, - words closely related in thought should be placed together, words distinct in thought kept apart. The second, which concerns coherence in constructions, is this, - phrases that are similar in significance should be similar in form. The third, which concerns coherence in the use of connectives, is this, - when the order of words and the form of constructions prove insufficient to define the relation of a word or a clause to the context, connectives should denote that relation with precision. These three subordinate rules of coherence I propose to discuss in turn. They may be discussed most conveniently by means of broadly typical examples.
The example which first occurs to me of coherence in the order of words is one from my own experience. Writing a lecture on a part of our subject, — para
graphs, - which will be before us later, I put down the following sentence: “A glance at any printed page will show that the points in paragraphs which most readily catch the eye are -- even more notably than in sentences -- the beginning and the end.” On revision I found this sentence unsatisfactory. It had unity; it was tolerably massed; so far as the principles of composition went, then, the trouble must fall under the head of coherence. Under this head my first question was whether the trouble lay in the actual order of the words. So far as good use permits, I reminded myself, words connected in thought should be kept together, words distinct in thouglīt kept apart. In this troublesome sentence what words belonged together in thought, which were not together in fact ? At a glance I saw that “in paragraphs' kept apart two words — “points” and “which ” —
that in thought belonged together; at another glance I saw that the clause, “even more notably than in sentences," not only separated words -— “are “the beginning" — that in thought belonged together, but that in thought this clause belonged with the other words, — “in paragraphs,” – which had likewise proved out of place. “In paragraphs even more notably than in sentences,” then, formulated itself as a distinct clause which demanded insertion in a sentence that without it ran thus: “A glance at any printed page will show that the points which most readily catch the eye are the beginning and the end.” Where did the qualifying clause, without which the meaning was obviously incomplete, belong? Obviously between the main verb — “show” — and its object; for in some degree it qualified both verb and object. So the sentence fell into this far more coherent form : “ A glance at any printed page will show that in paragraphs, even more notably than in sentences, the points which most readily catch the eye are the beginning and the end.”
In this single example, then, we may see how to apply a general principle of coherence commonly stated in a number of apparently independent rules : Qualifying words should be close to words they qualify and carefully separated from words they might qualify, but do not; Parenthesis is undesirable; and so on. Words closely related in thought should be kept together, words distinct in thought kept apart, – that sums up the whole story.
To turn to coherence in constructions, I think of no better example of it than the passage from Ralegh already before us. What preserves its looseness from incoherence is simply and solely the admirable uniformity of its constructions. First comes the apostrophe; then three perfectly independent clauses all constructed exactly alike, each admirably balanced and notably antithetical: this identity of construction instantly groups them — where they belong — together in the mind of any reader. Finally comes the long clause explanatory of the three preceding: slightly different in significance, it demands a slight alteration of construction, that it may stand sufficiently apart; but not varying from the others in mood or in general character, it preserves, like them, careful balance and antithesis. This example, of course, is old-fashioned; it applies the principle in a form rather exaggerated for modern style. But it shows more distinctly than less exaggerated examples the value, in coherence, of balance and antithesis, and of parallel constructions. A very modern example of incoherence
a sentence from a college theme may serve to show, in very few words, how the principle that
, Ralegh so carefully observed is nowadays commonly violated. An undergraduate dabbler in fiction was engaged in telling a story where he assumed the character of a young and beautiful woman assaulted by a spider : “I started up,” he wrote, “and a scream was heard.” Now, in the context there was no considerable company within hearing, to be startled by the scream; and except for the purpose of calling attention to the hearers of the scream there could have been no possible reason for changing the construction to the passive voice, and for shifting the subject. What he meant was not what he wrote: it was one of two other things, –“I started up and screamed,” or 6 I started
with a scream." In short, he managed, in eight words, to commit the two most common and needless offences against coherence in constructions. He shifted his subject, and altered the voice of his verb from active to passive.
In considering how to improve this incoherent little sentence, we are brought face to face with the third subordinate principle of coherence. When the order of words and the form of constructions prove insufficient to define the relation of a word or a clause to the context, connectives should denote that relation with precision. At first, I dare say, you were surprised to have me say that he meant one of two different things: either, “ I started up and screamed,” or, 6 I started up with a scream.” Off-hand there appears here little if any difference in meaning; but really there is a difference which I believe to be very profound. In the first sentence — “I started up and screamed” — the two actions, starting and screaming, are co-ordinate: the function of and is to assert that the facts or the words it connects are of precisely equal value. Take the name of a firm, for example, Brown and Jones: the and signifies that Brown's signature or Jones's is equally binding on both parties.