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by building up the point on the end. say, and all I need to answer is, “If First I call the thing by one name, it doesn't rain.” or noun, and then I call it by an Inexperienced writers gather from added something, an adjective. the old grammar that the great use
For the purpose of clearness the of subordinate clauses is to vary added something, the adjective, is the sentence form; every now and more important than the noun. The then one should sprinkle in a “when,” older grammar did not tell me so; it an "if,” an “although,” for conlet me think that where both noun trast with simple statements. This and adjective are needed, or verb happy-go-lucky method leads to and adverb, the nouns and verbs indifference as to what goes into are the very backbone of speech, and the subordinate clause; the cheerful adjectives and adverbs are mere scribe will not care whether he writes, decorations or frills. Yet in our “When the sun rose, I got up,” or, natural talk the noun is the more “When I got up, the sun rose.” general sound, having the same re- Such a writer-and the grammarians lation to the adjective that the pro- should refresh their memory of the noun has to the noun; it is the set- orthodox definitions, and then should ting for an image which without meditate on what went into the main the adjective would not be de- and the subordinate clauses of Shakfined.
spere's lines, This principle of noun and ad
“If this be error, and upon me proved, jective controls the structure of the
I never writ, nor no man ever sentence. My old grammar told me
loved.” that the main clause was the one which contained the main idea: it This is great writing and sound was the independent clause; it could grammar-writer's grammar; the stand alone. The subordinate clause main clause, if taken independently, contained the subordinate statement, would be nonsense. which could not stand alone because it depended on the main clause. If grammar dealt with the probWriters have to find out for them- lems of speaker and writer, it would selves that the main clause is the tell us where to take hold of the first noun, and the subordinate clause is idea, and in what order to add the the essential adjective; in other other ideas. In ordinary talk most words, that the less important idea of us have had the ghastly experience must go into the main clause. “We'll of beginning in the middle, and recome to-morrow, if it doesn't rain.” alizing that we must go back and fill
, The promise to come is too general, in. We have probably read more and nothing is further from the in- than one novel which got us nicely tention of the speaker than to let it started in the first pages, and then stand alone, as statements in main doubled on itself to give the life of clauses are said to do. “If it doesn't the hero's grandfather. Something rain" is the heart of the matter. In must be wrong with any method of conversation such clauses are inde- discourse which involves this conpendent. “Will you come?” you tortion. If we happened to join a group of people, strangers to us, the writing in the large. The first senconversation would be fairly intelli- tence in the paragraph is simply the gible from the moment we arrived, preliminary noun to which other and it would become more so as we sentences are added, until that first talked on.
But it would occur to noun is completely sharpened to a nobody to stop for a biographical point. We are then ready for ansketch of all the characters present, other paragraph. And the essay as nor for a summary of previous re- a whole ought to begin with the title marks. In a story well told, one as its first noun, and each paragraph suspects, there should be no slipping should serve as a more vital adjective back; the incidents should march as sharpening the title to its conclusion. they do in life.
Other structural devices are sugThe old grammar had something gested by the grammars, but this to say of the structure known as principle underlies any coherent dis“apposition”; a noun is in apposition course. In spite of much talk of to another noun, we learned, when it relative clauses and grammatical is placed next to it to explain it. agreements, the closest relation is "John Smith, grocer,” would be the between the ideas which fall nearest. illustration. But this is in no re- Proximity and succession are the spect different from the noun-adjec- secret of structure. If we bring to tive structure we have just been de- gether harmonious ideas, the effect scribing; it is that building up to a is clarity; if incongruous ideas, the point which characterizes all well effect is humor. When the unfortudefined thought. When we say, nate merchant put out his sign, “John Smith, grocer,” grocer is the “Don't go elsewhere to be cheated, added noun, the important name come in here,” his grammar in the old which distinguishes this John Smith sense was perfect, but from the point from others of the same family. of view of human discourse it was
The natural structure, then, is ap- humorously incorrect, since he had position. When we talk well we add got the idea of cheating too close to new names to those already uttered, his own premises. and if our discourse grows to a final The only other serious problem of point, without hesitation and with the writer, once he has solved the out temporary retreat, it is because question of order, is to know when we are willing to let verbal bygones to stop-not simply at what point be bygones; if we have come so far, to stop his essay or story, but when we can probably go on. No small to stop each sentence and phrase. amount of practice is needed for a I assume that he has some dramatic fluent use of this organic style, but sense of his audience, that he is the the method itself is simple. We sort of person who, when he sees in have only to sort out the ideas into his listener's face that his point is such an order that they can be stated made, feels some compunction about in sequence, added to each other adding unnecessary words. In without a break.
ordinary talk he would stop the This structure is the key to good moment he saw he was understood; paragraph writing, and to good essay let the rest of the sentence take care of itself. On the page, if he had a modern quickening of our nervous crude sort of courage, he might be system we become more alert to the willing to end his sentences with this general meaning of discourse, and same abruptness, punctuating with less patient with what seem purely a dash. But the written page tyran- grammatical elaborations. In such nizes over us with formal ghosts, a speeding-up process, something, grammatical obligations. The writer of course, is lost. There are those therefore experiments in rearranging who say our present alertness is, his sentence so that the key to it, after all, crude--that we miss the
— the illumination which will show in subtleties of the old lengthy and inthe reader's face, is postponed till voluted style. I do not hold with the end; hence the periodic structure, this opinion myself, but I do think much praised in old grammars, and we miss something else which has very little practised by competent nothing to do with grammar. Speech writers. The objection to this de- has two uses: we can employ words vice is that though it keeps the reader to express definite meanings, or guessing up to the last moment, it meanings as definite as we can make does so, not because the discourse them; we can also enjoy words for is of interest, but because it is, up their sound and texture, for the to that point, comparatively unin- pleasure they give us aside from the telligible. The desire to make a intellectual meaning. Much of the striking effect in the last phrase or older writing gave this pleasure and word sadly interferes with the natural was intended to do so. I doubt if sequence, the method of apposition, in our brisk and staccato modern one essential noun added to another style there is much opportunity for
. A finer kind of technique states in the musical overtones, the harmony their order those ideas which seem and balance of phrase, the long most important, and stops modestly rhythms, which distinguished the whenever the point of illumination prose of such writers as I have here is reached. How shall we recognize named. But I hasten to say also that point? A shrewd writer dis- that this beauty of style was never covers it by trying his manuscript acquired by a study of grammar, on others. For some reason, though and in no essential does it contradict he knows his own ideas in advance, the principles of writers' grammar
, he probably has thought more words which I have here tried to suggest. necessary than his friends are willing Speech is still a maneuvering beto attend to. As he reads, something tween speaker and hearer, an emoin their silence makes him wish he tional and intellectual drama acted had left out this or that.
out in their imaginations, whether If some old writers, like Milton, the purpose of the sounds be to tell or even recent ones like Walter Pater us what time the train leaves, or or Hawthorne, seem elaborate to us whether the sentences we build have now, rather slow and over-weighted, as their chief use to cast upon us a the reason perhaps is that with the glamour and a spell.
We'll Go No MORE A-Roviny: not notice what has happened to Any book-reviewer toughened to his them and go on pouring chloroform trade has to marvel at the bright into print. Every one of them who faces and lifted foreheads with which has a chance should take a whiff of apprentices take it up. I have his own medicine and allow it to have talked with those among them who its way with him. I have the were almost desperate with willing- chance. I therefore now adjust the ness to try the job. They seemed to mask to my willing face and anregard book-reviewing as the natural nounce that the Roving Critic is only spring-board into literature. Per- history, and very little of that. haps it is, but it is a spring-board During my final gasps, however, which comes in time to lose most of so strong are my habits, I want to its elasticity under accustomed feet speak of three American books which and to become water-logged and life- have made my spring a cheerful less. Therefrom results that curse season. of the trade, the formal review, with stereotyped structure and language and opinions, and, worse than all, So This Is AMERICA:First, there without the eager vitality which is “The Rise of American Civilizamarks the few good reviews that tion” (Macmillan), by Charles A. are ever written. Everybody who and Mary R. Beard.
and Mary R. Beard. Ever since I knows a reviewer has heard him talk heard of this book, some months ago, excitedly about some book or other, and saw the proofs of the opening and then has found that the man's chapter, I have looked forward to its review sounded as if he had lost his appearance with an enthusiasm temvoice and had to let a machine do his pered only by respect for the task talking for him. This is the case which the authors had set themwith the best reviewers. And the
And the selves. That was, anybody who honest ones know it. Sooner or knew anything about the Beards later, they all stop reviewing; at could be sure, to hunt out and exleast, stop reviewing books in gen- plain the motives among Americans eral. The advantage is, of course, which have driven them to take the that new writers are thus admitted various courses which have resulted to the trade. The disadvantage is in their special civilization; and also that some of the older reviewers do to exhibit American civilization, with
all its thunder and verve, in a way him, in any company, the fear of which would show that life in Amer- fools and the delight of intelligent ica has always been more varied than persons. Yet the new book is not at its few primary motives would make all a mere series of explosions. It is it if they stood alone. There were, a chronicle superbly organized, adindeed, persons with whom I talked mirably proportioned, and scrupuwho were afraid that this new work lously written. Its heresies would interpret the history of the magnanimous. And unlike many United States too narrowly. They heretical books, it takes account of a a remembered that Mr. Beard had great diversity of human attitudes. looked up the economic interests of Much consultation has gone into it. the men who made the Constitution This is the only general history of the and had hinted that, if those men United States known to me which were men at all, they had probably seems to be aware at every step that not altogether forgotten their own Americans have been women as well interests in safeguarding those of the as men.
men. Furthermore, while emcountry. I had never been shocked phasizing the realistic motives which by those earlier studies of Mr. Beard, have guided Americans in general, it but I did remember that there had finds time to analyze, with an abunbeen a certain dryness in the method dance of sympathy, the romantic which I thought would not go well aspirations which have given Ameriwith a general history of a nation can civilization its color as the realiswhich cannot be written about truth- tic ones have given it its shape. fully unless there is something full- Nothing that has actually happened bodied in the history.
in America is neglected, only the A glance at the two volumes when things which are merely pretended to they reached me showed that this have happened. was as full-bodied a history as any- I have never been able quite to body could want unless he wanted make out why the writing of history mythology as well. Though bulky, so often falls into the hands of those it is rapid. My guess is that Mr. who insist that the record must be Beard himself did the actual writing
writing melodramatic to be interesting. At of most, if not all, of the narrative. one time or another I have thought It is, however, a new Beard who different things. But the Beards writes; a Beard who, having written have put into my head the thought argumentative documentary history that perhaps there is no greater mysand historical text-books, has put all tery about the matter than this: that such pedestrianism behind him and the people with the best gift for has let himself out, as he has occa- reality are absorbed in making hissionally done in his less formal writ- tory, not in writing it, and that conings. Still better, the book suggests, sequently history is ordinarily writon nearly every page, the sound of ten by people who, having made Mr. Beard's voice, speaking with the little of it, marvel at it rather than knowledge and energy and leaping explain it. This is where literature, irony which made him one of the particularly the dramatic element in great teachers of his time, and make literature, comes in. Events are