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his health by this laterum contentio, this vehemence of action, with which he used to deliver himself. The Greek orator was likewise so very famous for this particular in rhetoric, that one of his antagonists, whom he had banished from Athens, reading over the oration which had procured his banishment, and seeing his friends admire it, could not forbear asking them, if they were so much affected by the bure reading of it, how much more they would have been alarmed, had they heard him actually throwing out such a storm of eloquence ?
How cold and dead a figure, in comparison of these two great men, does an orator often make at the British bar, holding up his head with the most insipid serenity, and stroking the sides of a long wig that reaches down to his middle ? The truth of it is, there is often nothing more ridiculous than the gestures of an English speaker; you see some of them running their hands into their pockets as far as ever they can thrust them, and others looking with great attention on a piece of paper that has nothing written in it; you may see many a smart rhetorician turning his hat in his hands, moulding it into several different cocks, examining sometimes the lining of it, and sometimes the button, during the whole course of his harangue. A deaf man would think he was cheapening a beaver, when perhaps he is talking of the fate of the British nation. I remember, when I was a young man, and used to frequent Westminster-hall, there was a counsellor who never pleaded without a piece of pack-thread in his hand, which he used to twist about a thumb, or a finger, all the while he was speaking : the wags of those days used to call it the thread of his discourse, for he was not able to utter a word without it. One of his clients, who was more merry than wise, stole it from him one day in the midst of his pleading, but he had better have let it alone, for he lost his cause by his jest.
I have all along acknowledged myself to be a dumb man, and therefore may be thought a very improper person to give rules for oratory; but I believe every one will agree with me in this, that we ought either to lay aside all kinds of gesture, (which seems to be very suitable to the genius of our nation) or at least to make use of such only as are graceful and expressive. 0.
No. 409. THURSDAY, JUNE 19.
Musão contingere cuncta lepore.
GRATIAN very often recommends the fine taste, as the utmost perfection of an accomplished man. As this word arises very often in conversation, I shall endeavour to give some account of it, and to lay down rules how we may know whether we are possessed of it, and how we may acquire that fine taste of writing, which is so much talked of among the polite world.
Most languages make use of this metaphor, to express that faculty of the mind, which distinguishes all the most concealed faults and nicest perfections in writing. We may be sure this metaphor would not have been so general in all tongues, had there not been a very great conformity between that mental taste, which is the subject of this paper, and that sensitive taste which gives us a relish of every different flavour that affects the palate. Accordingly we find, there are as many degrees of refinement in the intellectual faculty, as in the sense, which is marked out by this common denomination.
I knew a person who possessed the one in so great a perfection, that after having tasted ten different kinds of tea, he would
* V. Nos. 293-379. Guard. 24.-C.
distinguish, without seeing the colour of it, the particular sort which was offered him; and not only so, but any two sorts of them that were mixt together in an equal proportion; nay, he has carried the experiment so far, as upon tasting the composition of three different sorts, to name the parcels from whence the three several ingredients were taken. A man of a fine taste in writing will discern, after the same manner, not only the general beauties and imperfections of an author, but discover the several ways of thinking and expressing himself, which diversify him from all other authors, with the several foreign infusions of thought and language, and the particular authors from whom they were borrowed.
After having thus far explained what is generally meant by a fine taste in writing, and shewn the propriety of the metaphor which is used on this occasion, I think I may define it to be that faculty of the soul, which discerns the beauties of an author with pleasure and the imperfections with dislike. If a man would know whether he is possessed of this faculty, I would have him read over the celebrated works of antiquity, which have stood the test of so many different ages and countries; or those works among the moderns, which have the sanction of the politer part of our contemporaries. If upon the perusal of such writings he does not find himself delighted in an extraordinary manner, or if, upon reading the admired passages in such authors, he finds a coldness and indifference in his thoughts, he ought to conclude, not (as is too usual among tasteless readers) that the author wants those perfections which have been admired in him, but that he himself wants the faculty of discovering them.
He should in the second place, be very careful to observe, whether he tastes the distinguishing perfections, or, if I may be allowed to call them so, the specific qualities of the author whom he peruses ; whether he is particularly pleased with Livy for his manner of telling a story, with Sallust for his entering into those internal principles of action which arise from the characters and manners of the persons he describes, or with Tacitus for his displaying those outward motives of safety and interest, which give birth to the whole series of transactions which he relates.
He may likewise consider, how differently he is affected by the same thought, which presents itself in a great writer, from what he is when he finds it delivered by a person of an ordinary genius. For there is as much difference in apprehending a thought clothed in Cicero's language, and that of a common author, as in seeing an object by the light of a taper, or by the light of the sun.
It is very difficult to lay down rules for the acquirement of such a taste as that I am here speaking of. The faculty must in some degree be born with us, and it very often happens, that those who have other qualities in perfection, are wholly void of this. One of the most eminent mathematicians of the
has assured me, that the greatest pleasure he took in reading Virgil, was in examining Æneas his voyage by the map; as I question not but many a modern compiler of history, would be delighted with little more in that divine author, than in the bare matters of fact.
But notwithstanding this faculty must in some measure be born with us, there are several methods for cultivating and improving it, and without which it will be very uncertain, and of little use to the person that possesses it. The most natural method for this purpose is, to be conversant among the writings of the most polite authors. A man who has any relish for fine writing, either discovers new beauties, or receives stronger im.
* Acquirement. We now say acquisition, and not acquirement. It is a good general rule, to avoid all substantives ending in ment or e88.—H.
• A man who has any relish for fine writing. This mystery of fine
pressions from the masterly strokes of a great author every time he peruses him : besides that he naturally wears himself into the same manner of speaking and thinking.
writing (inore talked of than understood) consists chiefly in three things. 1. In a choice of fit terms. 2. In such a construction of them, as agrees to the grammar of the language, in which we write. And 3. In a pleasing order and arrangement of them. By the first of these qualities, a style becomes, what we call, elegant : by the second, exact : and, by the third, harmonious. Each of these qnalities may be possessed, by itself; but they must concur, to form a finished style.
Mr. Addison was the first, and is still, perhaps, the only, English writer, in whom these three requisites are found together, in, almost, an equal degree of perfection. It is, indeed, one purpose of these cursory notes, to shew, that, in some few instances, he has transgressed, or rather, neglected the strict rules of grammar; which yet, in general, he observes with more care than any other of our writers. But, in the choice of his terms, (which is the most essential point of all) and in the numbers of his style, he is almost faultless, or rather, admirable.
It will not be easy for the reader to comprehend the merit of Mr. Addison's prose, in these three respects, if he has not been conversant in the best rhetorical writings of the ancients; and especially in those parts of Cicero's and Quinctilian's works, which treat of what they call composition
But, because the harmony of his style is exquisite, and this praise is peculiar to himself, it may be worth while to consider, in what it chiefly consists.
1. This secret charm of numbers is effected by a certain arrangement of words, in the same sentence : that is, by putting such words together, as read easily, and are pronounced without effort; while, at the same time, they are so tempered by different sounds and measures, as to affect the ear with a sense of variety, as well as sweetness. As, to take the first sentence in the following essay: "Our sight is the most perfect and most delightful of all our senses." If you alter it thus :—" Our sight is the perfectest and most delightful of all our senses.” Though the change be only of one word, the difference is very sensible; perfectest, being a word of difficult pronunciation, and rendered still harsher by the subsequent word most, . which echoes to the termination est.
Or, again, read thus—“Our sight is the most perfect and most pleasing of all our senses," - Here, the predominance of the vowel e, and the alliteration of the two adjectives, perfect and pleasing, with the repetition of the superlative sign “most,” occasions too great a sameness or similarity of sound in the constituent parts of this sentence.
Lastly, read thus :—“Our sight is the mo compleat and ost delightful sense we have.”—But then you hurt the measure or quantity, which, in our language, is determined by the accent: as will appear from observing of what feet either sentence consists.
"Oŭr sight-is the most-complète-and most-dělight-fül sēnse-wě håve." Here, except the second foot, which is an anapæst, the rest are all of one kind, i. e. iambics. Read now with Mr. Addison--"Our sight-is thč mostpërfěct-ånd most delight-fúl of all-oŭr senses."—And you see how the rhythm is varied by the intermixture of other feet, besides that the short redundant syllable, sex, gives to the close, a slight and negligent air, which has a better effect, in this place, than the proper iambic foot.