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Sect. I.

The obscurity.... Part II. From bad arrangement.

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one, is liable to the same exception. “ I have hopes " that when Will confronts him, and all the ladies in whose behalf be engages him, cast kind looks and " wishes of success at their champion, he will have

some shame *.” It is impossible not to imagine, on hearing the first part of the sentence, that Will is to confront all the ladies, though afterwards we find

it necessary to construe this clause with the following verb. This confusion is removed at once, by repeating the adverb when, thus : “ I have hopes that when " Will confronts him, and when all the ladies cast “ " kind looks." The subsequent sentence is liable to the same exception : " He advanced against " the fierce ancient, imitating his address, his pace " and career, as well as the vigour of his horse, and “ his own skill would allow t.” The clause, as well as the vigour of his horse, appears at first to belong to the former part of the sentence, and is afterwards found to belong to the latter. In all the above instances of bad arrangement, there is what may be justly termed a constructive ambiguity; that is, the words are so disposed in point of order, as would render them really ambiguous, if, in that construction which the expression first suggests, any meaning were exhibited. As this is not the case, the faulty order of the words cannot properly be considered, as rendering the sentence ambiguous, but obscure.

* Spectator, No. 20.

+ Battle of the books,

Of perspicuity.

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 borse *.” The words, by a party of ten horse, 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 “ 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 appearance would suggest, with the noun ship immediately preceding. More clearly thus: “ I had several men in my ship who. “ 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 quotęd, almost always gives a maimed appearance to the expression. “I perceived 16 it had been scowered with half an eye I.”. The situation of the last phrase, which is besides a very bad

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Sect. I.

The obscurity... Part II. From bad arrangement.

one, is liable to the same exception. “ I have hopes " that when Will confronts him, and all the ladies in " whose behalf he engages him, cast kind looks and " wishes of success at their champion, he will have “ some shame *.” It is impossible not to imagine, on hearing the first part of the sentence, that Will is to confront all the ladies, though afterwards we find it necessary to construe this clause with the following verb. This confusion is removed at once, by repeating the adverb when, thus : “ I have hopes that when

Will confronts him, and when all the ladies cast “ kind looks." The subsequent sentence is liable to the same exception : " He advanced against " the fierce ancient, imitating his address, his pace " and career, as well as the vigour of his horse, and “ his own skill would allow t." The clause, as well as the vigour of his horse, appears at first to belong to the former part of the sentence, and is afterwards found to belong to the latter. In all the above in- . stances of bad arrangement, there is what may be justly termed a constructive' ambiguity; that is, the words are so disposed in point of order, as would render them really ambiguous, if, in that construction which the expression first suggests, any meaning were exhibited. As this is not the case, the faulty order of the words cannot properly be considered, as rendering the sentence ambiguous, but obscure.

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* Spectator, No. 20.

+ Battle of the books,

Of perspicuity.

It may indeed be argued, that, in these and the like examples, the least reflection in the reader will quickly remove the obscurity. But why is there any obscurity to be removed? Or why does the writer require more attention from the reader, or the speaker from the hearer, than is absolutely necessary? It ought to be remembered, that whatever application we must give to the words, is, in fact, so much deducted from what we owe to the sentiments. Besides, the effort that is exerted in a very close attention to the language, always weakens the effect which the thoughts were intended to produce in the mind. * By perspicuity," as Quintilian justly observes, “ care “ is taken, not that the hearer may understand, if he " will; but that he must understand, whether he will " or not *.” Perspicuity originally and properly implies transparency, such as may be ascribed to air, glass, water, or any other medium, through which material objects are viewed. From this original and proper sense it hath been metaphorically applied to language, this being, as it were, the medium, through which we perceive the notions and sentiments of a speaker. Now, in corporeal things, if the medium through which we look at any object be perfectly transparent, our whole attention is fixed on the object; we are scarce sensible that there is a medium

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* Non ut intelligere possit, sed ne omnino possit non intelligere curandum. Inst. Lib. viii. Cap. 2.

Sect. I.

The obscurity.... Part II. Form bad arrangement.

which intervenes, and can hardly be said to perceive it. But if there be any flaw in the medium, if we see through it but dimly, if the object be imperfectly represented, or if we know it to be misrepresented, our attention is immediately taken off the object, to the medium. We are then desirous to discover the cause, either of the dim and confused representation, or of the misrepresentation of things which it exhibits, that so the defect in vision may be supplied by judgment. The case of language is precisely similar. A discourse, then, excels in perspicuity, when the subject engrosses the attention of the hearer, and the diction is so little minded by him, that he can scarce be said to be conscious that it is through this medium he sees into the speaker's thoughts. On the contrary, the least obscurity, ambiguity, or confusion in the style, instantly removes the attention from the sentiment to the expression, and the hearer endeavours, by the aid of reflection, to correct the imperfections of the speaker's language.

So much for obviating the objections which are frequently raised against such remarks -as I have already made, and shall probably hereafter make, on the subject of language. The elements which enter into the composition of the hugest bodies are subtile and inconsiderable. The rudiments of every art and science exhibit at first, to a learner, the appearance of littleness and insignificancy. And it is by attending to

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