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The Verbose Style.

151

fit to pass, without correction, from the postoffice into the printer's hands.' In one of Jebb's letters to Knox, in 1805, he says, 'Your letter was a cordial to me, and has actually contributed more to support me through a day of illness than you can, perhaps, well conceive. Will not this be a stimulus to you to write often, though it be but half a page? My temperament is such that a little sound wisdom, thrown in at a needful time, cheers my spirits far more than anything which society can afford. Happy as I am in conversing with you, I doubt whether, in the hour of nervous depression, a letter from you would not tend more to calm and compose my mind than even a whole day of actual conversation with you.'

Another frequent blemish, of a very different character from those already referred to, is what may be termed the verbose or exaggerated style, in which adjectives and adverbs are most profusely and unmeaningly introduced. Letters of this complexion hardly ever proceed from the pens of the humbler grades of society. They are almost entirely the productions of a certain class of young ladies, who believe that they are possessed of a romantic turn of mind,

152

Underlining of Words.

and whose favourite occupation consists in the perusal of sensational' novels.

A favourite author refers to the underlining of words as a common practice among female letter-writers. 'Their consciousness of no-meaning,' he says, 'worries them so, that the meaning, which, they are aware, is not in any words they can use, they try to put into them by scoring them like a leg of pork, which their letters now and then much resemble !' He acknowledges, however, that the practice is not confined to the ladies, and that it is frequently indulged in by certain men of vigorous minds— particularly soldiers and men of science-who are more conversant with things than with words, and who have never studied composition as an art. 'In good prose,' says Frederick Schlegel, 'every word should be underlined ;' 'that is,' continues Archdeacon Hare, 'every word should be the right word, and then no word would be righter than another. We never meet with italics in Plato or Cicero, or indeed in any of the Greek and Roman writers.' A still more aggravating practice is the underlining of the wrong words, in which some thoughtless correspondents-both male and female

Long Sentences.

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are inclined to indulge. In like manner, many a public speaker, on the platform, in the pulpit, and at the bar, loses a large amount of force by the positively painful habit of accentuating the wrong words. On a hearer with any pretension to culture, such a style of delivery produces the same agreeable sensation as a favourite air played or sung out of tune on a musician with an exquisite ear!

Letters, as well as compositions of a more elaborate kind, are often deformed by the continual occurrence of very long sentences. It has been remarked that long sentences form a striking feature in the writings of Sir William Temple, whose style is usually acknowledged to be singularly lucid and melodious; but in his case, as has been said, it will be found, upon close examination, that 'they are not swollen by parenthetical matter, that their structure is scarcely ever intricate, that they are formed merely by accumulation, and that, by the simple process of now and then leaving out a conjunction, and now and then substituting a full stop for a semicolon, they might, without any alteration in the order of the words, be broken up into very short periods, with no sacri

154

Pedantic Punctuation.

fice except that of euphony.'1 I fear, however, that in the cases which I have in view, the most charitable critic would be unable to give any such explanation of the defect in question. Probably the most common offenders are either imperfectly educated or very juvenile correspondents (already referred to), whose epistles not unfrequently consist of a single sentence, embracing a large number of the most heterogeneous subjects. But many letters of a more pretentious kind present examples of the same objectionable feature; and I hope the ladies will excuse me when I take the liberty of stating that their epistolary productions would, in many instances, be materially improved by a more sparing use of conjunctions on the one hand, and a more liberal allowance of full stops on the other.

In ordinary correspondence, too much attention may, of course, be paid to punctuation; and occasionally one meets with a letter in which the writer's anxiety about the stops amounts to something very like pedantry. Ex

1 The reader will probably smile when he gets to the end of this sentence, for the length of which, however, I am not mainly responsible.

Categorical Repetitions.

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empli gratiâ, I have in my collection of autographs a note from a popular living poet to a mutual friend, in the shape of an acceptance of an invitation to dinner, to the following effect:

DEAR MRS. P—,—We shall be very happy. This evening, then, at seven, Mrs. F—, I, and a daughter, will duly appear at your house.-Truly yours, A. B. F.

How such an effusion would have horrified Sarah Jennings, the eccentric Duchess of Marlborough, who is said to have systematically neglected the dotting of her i-s and the stroking of her t-s to save ink!

The last blemish to which I shall venture to allude is the provoking practice, in which some letter-writers indulge, of categorically repeating, in their correspondent's own words, every question propounded before proceeding to furnish a reply. This is said to be a frequent characteristic of a lawyer's letter; and in communications of a strictly business kind, such a mode of treatment is probably better calculated than any other to prevent misunderstandings. But in a familiar correspondence between two intimate friends it is altogether out of place.

Dr. Johnson, in the Rambler, makes some very sensible observations on the importance of

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