Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

In certain kinds of writing, this mere arrangement will assure all the coherence that is necessary. In a novel, for example, or a simple historical narrative, it is often enough to arrange the parts that make up the whole in such order that each naturally leads from the last to the next; but whenever one gets into a kind of composition where one cannot move straight ahead, — where one must gather together more than one thread of discourse, - other devices become necessary.

The device of parallel construction is at once less useful and more dangerous in whole compositions than in paragraphs. It is less useful because it is not nearly so perceptible; more dangerous because, if it is perceptible, it is apt to be more palpably artificial. And yet complete disregard of it may be decidedly confusing in effect. An article in a magazine that I lately glanced through will show what I mean. On the page where I happened to open the book I observed two paragraphs : “ Thirdly,” began one, “we believe this to be the case because,” - and so on. “Fourthly," and so on, began the next. Something in the text caught my attention. I turned back a page or two, in hopes of finding what the first and second headings were. But though beyond doubt there were first and second headings some. where, they were never so described, nor, if there were such things in the article in question, were any headings after the fourth. These two paragraphs on which my eye happened first to fall chanced to stand

in just the same relation to the main proposition, and so were cast in a form superficially similar, and so were coherent in construction. But there were other paragraphs that by the very terms that demonstrated the coherence of these — "thirdly” and" fourthly” – must inevitably stand in just their relation to the main proposition; and the very change of construction which made them hard to find when I looked back to them made them hard to recognize in exactly their true character when I read the article straight forward. In such a series as I suggest here, perhaps the value of coherence in the constructions of whole compositions is most apparent. To phrase each of these separate headings in a notably similar way might well have been to grow palpably monotonous. To introduce each of them by its regular title “first,” “secondly," and so on-would certainly have

, gone a long way to obviate any other device for the securing of coherence.

And yet in the most finished models of composition such coherence as I have just suggested is discarded as too palpable. One of the most finished bits of composition I know is the passage from Burke's speech on Conciliation with America, which discusses the temper and character of America. At this point, it is worth analyzing in some detail: “In this character of the Americans," it begins, “a love of freedom is the predominating feature, . . . and this from a great variety of powerful causes.” “ First,” begins the next paragraph, “ the people of the colonies are de

“ They

scendants of Englishmen. England, sir, is a nation which still, I hope, respects, and formerly adored her freedom," and so on for more than a page. were further confirmed in this pleasing error,” begins the next paragraph, — which might have begun “secondly,” — “by the form of their provincial legislative assemblies. Their governments are popular in a high

. degree.” And this, too, he develops a little. “ If

. anything were wanting to this necessary operation of the form of government," comes instead of “thirdly,” “ religion would have given it a complete effect. . . . The religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion.” And there is well on to a page of this. “Sir,” begins the next paragraph, — which might have begun “fourthly,” “I can perceive that some gentlemen object to the latitude of this description, because in the southern colonies the Church of England forms a large body, and has a regular establishment. ... There is, however, a circumstance attending these colonies which, in my opinion, fully counterbalances this difference. It is that in Virginia and the Carolinas they have a vast multitude of slaves. . . . Freedom is to them not only an enjoyment, but a kind of rank and privilege." And so on for half a page more.

66 Permit me, sir,” — instead of “fifthly," — begins the next para. graph, “ to add another circumstance in our colonies, which contributes no mean part towards the growth

.

and effect of this intractable spirit. I mean their education. In no country, perhaps, in the world is the law so general a study.” “ They augur misgovernment at a distance,” the paragraph closes, “ and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.” “ The last cause of this disobedient spirit in the colonies,” begins the sixth paragraph,“ is hardly less powerful than the rest, as it is not merely moral, but laid deep in the natural constitution of things. Three thousand miles of ocean lie between you and them.' And so on for a page more.

His enumeration of the causes of American love of freedom is now complete.

Burke's business now is to proceed further in his speech, — to discuss what conduct should be pursued toward a people whose chief characteristic he has thus defined and explained. But this definition and explanation, which, even as I have mutilated it, is not precisely brief, has filled, in the edition from which I quote, almost six closely printed pages. And it is highly desirable that it should be finally presented in a form so compact that a reasonably attentive listener may rationally be hoped to keep it completely in mind. Before proceeding with his discourse, then, Burke gives a short paragraph to a deliberate summary of these last six.

“ Then, sir," he says, “ from these six capital sources, – of descent; of form of government; of religion in the northern provinces ; of manners in the southern; of education; of remoteness of situation from the first source of govern

a

ment,- from all these causes a fine spirit of liberty has grown up."

Mutilated as my citations from this passage have inevitably been, they are enough, I hope, to show pretty clearly two of the devices by which Burke one of the most coherent writers in English literature -gives coherence to his style. From point to point of the six heads by which he accounts for the fine spirit of American liberty that just four weeks later burst into open rebellion at Lexington and Concord, he marks his transitions with a care which makes impossible the slightest misapprehension of their nature. Though we may sometimes forget whence we have come or whither we are going, there is never a moment when we can doubt where we are. Every transition is as carefully defined as every point. In the second place, when he has reached a point where a summary is practicable, he summarizes what he has said in the order in which he has said it; and his summary, gathering up in a single sentence the matter that he has impressed on our minds by expanding it into six full paragraplıs, leaves it with us in a form where we can finally grasp it as a whole, and in full possession of it proceed to a consideration of the further matter that he must lay before us.

In coherence of whole compositions these two devices - definitely marked transitions and carefully placed summaries — do precisely what in the cohe.

. rence of shorter compositions is done by simple

« ZurückWeiter »