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seldom admit such ellipsis * In Italian and Spanish, they are pretty frequent.
OFTEN, indeed, the affectation of conciseness, often the rapidity of thought natural to some writers, will
* The French, I imagine, have gone to the other extreme. They require, in many instances, a repetition of pronouns, prepositions, and articles, which, as they add nothing to the perspicuity, must render the expression languid. There are some cases in which this repetition is consequential on the very construction of their language. For example, we say properly in English, my father and mother ; because the possessive pronoun having no distinction of gender, and so having but one form, is alike applicable to both the case being different with them renders it necessary to follow a different rule, and to say, mon pere et ma mere.
But it is not to instances of this sort that the rule is limited. Custom with them hath extended it to innumerable cases, wherein there is no necessity from construction. With us it is enough to say, " She was robbed of *** her clothes and jewels." With them the preposition and the pronoun must both be repeated, de ses habits et de ses joiaux. Again, with them it is not sufficient to say, 6 The woman whom you know and love," "' but whom
-que vous connoissez et que vous aimez. In like manner, the relatives in French must never be omitted. They often are in English, and when the omission occasions no obscurity, it is not accounted improper. An expression like this would in their tongue be intolerable : “ You
are obliged to say and do all you can.” It must be "10 say and b.to do all that which you can,"--de dire et de faire tout ce que
But though, in several instances, the critics of that nation have refined on their language to excess, and by needless repetitions have sometimes enervated the expression, their criticisms, when useful in assisting us to shun any obscurity or ambiguity, deserve to be adopted.
The obscure....Part I. From defect.
give rise to still more material defects in the expression. Of these I shall produce a few examples : " He “ is inspired,” says an eminent writer, “ with a true
sense of that function, when chosen from a regard to “ the interests of piety and virtue *.” Sense in this passage denotes an inward feeling, or the impression which some sentiment makes upon the mind. Now a function cannot be a sentiment impressed or felt. The expression is therefore defective, and ought to have been,“ He is inspired with a true sense of the dignity, or of the importance of that function.”—“ You ought to contemn all the wit in the world against
you f.” As the writer doth not intend to signify that all the wit in the world is actually exerted against the
person whom he addresses, there is a defect in the expression, though perhaps it will be thought chargeable with redundancy at the same time. More plain
“ You ought to contemn all the wit that can “ be employed against you.”_" He talks all the way
up_stairs to a visit I.” There is here also a faulty omission, which, if it cannot be said to obscure the sense, doth at least withhold that light whereof it is susceptible. If the word visit ever meant person or people, there would be an ambiguity in the sentence, and we should imagine this the object talked to; but as that cannot be the case, the expression is rather to be accounted lame, there being no verb in it with which the words to a visit can be construed. More
* Guardian, No. 13.
+ Ibid, No. 53
I Spect. No. 2
explicitly thus, “ He talks all the way as he walks up * stairs to make a visit.” 66 Arbitrary power," says an elegant writer, " I look upon as a greater evil than a
narchy itself, as much as a savage is a happier state “ of life than a slave at the oar *.” Neither savage nor slave can be denominated a state of life, though the states in which they live may properly be compared. “ This courage among the adversaries of the * court," says the same writer in another piece, was
inspired into them by various incidents, for every
one of which, I think, the ministers, or, if that was " the case, the minister alone, is to answer t." If that was the case, Pray, what is he supposing to have been the case? To the relative that I can find no antecedent, and am left to guess that he means, if there was but one minister. " When a man considers not only “ an ample fortune, but even the very necessaries of
life, his pretence to food itself at the mercy of others, " he cannot but look upon himself in the state of the “ dead, with his case thus much worse, that the last “ office is performed by his adversaries, instead of his “ friends [.” There is a double ellipsis in this sentence. You must first supply as being before the words at the mercy, and insert as before in the state of the dead. “ I beg of you,” says Steele,“ never let the glory of “ our nation, who made France tremble, and yet has
* Sentiments of a Church of England Man.
| Spectator, No. 456. T,
The obscurity... Part II. From bad arrangement.
" the gentleness to be unable to bear opposition from " the meanest of his own countrymen, be calumniated " in so impudent a manner, as in the insinuation that " he affected a perpetual dictatorship *.” At first read. ing, one is at a loss to find an antecedent to the pronouns who, his, and he. On reflection, one discovers that the phrase the glory of our nation is figurative, and denotes a certain illustrious personage. The trope is rather too adventurous, without some softening clause, to suit the idiom of our tongue. The sense would have appeared immediately, had he said, “ Never let the “ man, who may justly be styled the glory of our na" tion"
The instances now given will suffice to specify the obscurities in style which arise from deficiency. The same evil may also be occasioned by excess. But as this almost invariably offends against vivacity, and only sometimes produceth darkness, there will be a more proper occasion of considering it afterwards. Another cause of obscurity is a bad choice of words. When it is this alone which renders the sentence obscure, there is always ground for the charge of impropriety, which hath been discussed already,
PART II....From bad Arrangement,
ANOTHER source of obscurity is a bad arrangement of the words. In this case, the construction is not
* Guardian, No. 53.
sufficiently clear. One often, on first hearing the sentence, imagines, from the turn of it, that it ought to be construed one way, and, on reflection, finds that he must construe it another way. Of this, which is a blemish too common even in the style of our best writers, I shall produce a few examples: “ It contain“ ed,” says Swift, “ a warrant for conducting me and
my retinue to Traldragdubb or Trildrogdrib, for it “it is pronounced both ways, as near as I can remem
ber, by a party of ten horse *.” The words, by a party of ten þorse, must be construed with the participle conducting, but they are placed so far from this word, and so near the verb pronounced, that at first they suggest a meaning perfectly ludicrous. “ I had of several men died in my ship of calentures t." The The preposition of must be construed with the verb died, and not, as the first
suggest, with the noun ship immediately preceding. More clearly thus : “ I had several men in my ship who 4 died of calentures.” I shall remark, by the way, that though the relatives who and which may, agreeably to the English idiom, be sometimes omitted in the oblique cases, to omit them in the nominative, as in the passage last quoted, almost always gives a maimed appearance to the expression. “I perceived " it had been scowered with half an eye 1.” The situation of the last phrase, which is besides a very bad
* Voyage to Laputa. † Guardian, No. 10.
+ Voyage to the Honyhnhnms,