segunda-feira, 11 de novembro de 2013

Passages on English Prose Style Excerpts From Readings on Rhetoric and Prose Style By Richard Nordquist

Passages on English Prose Style

Excerpts From Readings on Rhetoric and Prose Style

By Richard Nordquist

Like language itself, prose styles change over time. And yet some of the key principles underlying an effective style have proved remarkably enduring. With this thought in mind, we present these five passages from our growing collection of Readings on Rhetoric and Prose Style.

The mistake that we little people are so prone to make is this: that the more intense the emotional quality of the scene described, the more "vivid," the more exalted, the more richly coloured we suppose should be the language. . . .
But in the master-works of
narrative there is none of this shamming, no shoddyism, no humbug. There is little more than bare outline, but in the care with which it is drawn, how much thought, what infinite pains go to the making of each stroke, so that when it is made it falls just at the right place and exactly in its right sequence. This attained, what need is there for more? Comment is superfluous. If the author make the scene appear terrible to the reader, he need not say in himself or in the mouth of some protagonist, "It is terrible!" If the picture is pathetic so that he who reads must weep, how superfluous, how intrusive should the author exclaim, "It was pitiful to the point of tears." If beautiful, we do not want him to tell us so. We want him to make it beautiful and our own appreciation will supply the adjectives.

An imaginatively written Notice to Mariners would be a deadly thing. I mean it literally. It would be sure to kill a number of people before its imaginative quality had been appreciated and suppressed. That their style must be clear and concise, and the punctuation of the ordinary kind, would not necessarily militate against their being regarded as literature. The maxims of La Rochefoucauld are concise enough. But they open horizons; they plumb the depths; they make us squirm, shudder, smile in turn; and even sigh--at times; whereas the prose of the Notices to Mariners do nothing of the kind.
A mariner detected shuddering or sighing over a Notice to Mariners would simply (to speak in unliterary language) be not fit for his job.

There is, I conceive, no point in which the idea of dishonest artifice is in most people's minds so intimately associated with that of rhetoric, as the address to the feelings or active principles of our nature. This is usually stigmatized as "an appeal to the passions instead of the reason"; as if reason alone could ever influence the will, and operate as a motive; which it no more can, than the eyes, which show a man his road, can enable him to move from place to place; or than a ship provided with a compass, can sail without a wind. It may be said indeed, with truth, that an orator does often influence the will by improper appeals to the passions; but it is no less true that he often imposes on the understanding of his hearers by sophistical arguments: yet this does not authorize us to reprobate the employment of argument. But it seems to be commonly taken for granted, that whenever the feelings are excited they are of course overexcited. Now so far is this from the fact--so far is it from being true, that men are universally, or even generally, in danger of being misled in conduct by an excess of feeling, that the reverse is at least as often the case. The more generous feelings, such as compassion, gratitude, devotion, nay, even rational and rightly-directed self-love, hope, and fear, are oftener defective than excessive: and that, even in the estimation of the parties themselves, if they are well-principled, judicious, reflective, and candid men.

In the best prose, whether narrative or argument, we are so led on as we read that we do not stop to applaud the writer nor do we stop to question him. But we do stop, whether to applaud or to question, at a sentence such as this, which Mr. Pearsall Smith gives us from Carlyle. Brave Sea-captain, Norse Sea-king Columbus, my hero, royalest Sea-king of all! it is no friendly environment this of thine, in the waste deep waters; around thee mutinous discouraged souls, behind thee disgrace and ruin, before thee the unpenetrated veil of Night. If a writer continues long in this style he wearies us like a man talking at the top of his voice; and if he does not continue, the passage distracts us with its incongruity, like a sudden shouting. Carlyle here, and often, yields to a habit of excitement as if he had a right to be indulged in it. He is like a man who will make speeches at the dinner table to show the force of his convictions. These are the manners of egotism, and egotism is the worst of all faults in prose.

[O]f all unfortunates there is one creature (for I will not call him man) conspicuous in misfortune. This is he who has forfeited his birthright of expression, who has cultivated artful intonations, who has taught his face tricks, like a pet monkey, and on every side perverted or cut off his means of communication with his fellow men. The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us. But this fellow has filled his windows with opaque glass, elegantly coloured. His house may be admired for its design, the crowd may pause before the stained windows, but meanwhile the poor proprietor must lie languishing within, uncomforted, unchangeably alone. (1879)
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