Page images



Elegance constitutes the charm of language. It is the quality which pleases, as distinguished from that which instructs (Clearness), or that which impresses (Strength). As the professed object of poetry is to please, Elegance is its appropriate excellence; yet, since beauty always gives effectiveness to language, Elegance holds no unimportant place in prose.

How Attained. - In seeking to attain Elegance, which is really the outcome of good taste, the beginner may gain something by giving attention to Melody, Harmony, the Avoidance of Fine Writing, and Keeping.


Elegance requires Melody in language; that is, it requires the choice of such words as are agreeable to the ear, the taste, and the imagination.

Melody may be promoted by the use of:

1. Euphonious Words. The sound of some words is much more agreeable to the ear than that of others. The following are harsh :

a. Derivatives from long compounds; as, unsuccessfulness, wrongheadedness.

b. Words that contain a succession of consonants; as, pleaded''st, pledged'st, disrespect.

c. Words that contain a succession of unaccented syllables ; as, derogatorily, peremptoriness.

d. Words that contain vowels of the same, or nearly the same sound; as, holily. e. A succession of words having the same or a similar sound; “The party departed in the early part of the evening.


On the other hand, it may be noted that:

a. A preponderance of vowels and liquids gives ease and softness to the sound; as, elimination, moderation.

b. An alternation of vowels and consonants heightens the melody; as, celerity, a lonely day.

C. A due alternation of long and short, of accented and unaccented syllables, is an essential condition of melody; as, “The pomp and circumstance of glorious war.”

d. A difficult and harsh combination of letters may produce an agreeable variety, if made to follow a succession of smooth and liquid sounds.

2. Euphonious Arrangement. — Words may be well-chosen, and may be euphonious in themselves, yet if they are not skilfully arranged, the musical flow, or rhythm, of the sentence will be broken.

a. Euphonious words sometimes produce an unpleasing effect when placed in an order that causes unpleasant consonantal combinations, or a repetition of the same sounds in close succession ; as, “ up by"; "I can candidly tell you”; “He will wilfully wander from the way.

These combinations may be avoided by using synonyms; as, “ up near”; “I can frankly tell you”; “He will purposely wander from the path.”

b. A succession of words of the same number of syllables is seldom conducive to harmony; as, “No kind of joy can long please us” is improved by writing, “No species of joy can long delight us."

c. The melody of a sentence may be heightened by arranging the words so that the accents fall with some sort of regularity and on important words. In the following beautiful sentence from George Eliot, the rhythm of the latter part is almost poetic: “The boat re-appeared, but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted; living through again, in one supreme moment, the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together.”

Euphonious Endings. — It it important to have a pleasing cadence at the end of a sentence, and, when possible, so to arrange the words and clauses that the sound may swell to the close. The following beautiful sentence from Sterne is an admirable example of the pleasing effect produced in this way: “The accusing spirit which flew up to Heaven's chancery with the oath, blushed as he gave it in ; and the recording angel dropped a tear upon it and blotted it out forever.”

Good endings may be formed by concluding with :

a. A long syllable, especially if that syllable ends with a continuing consonant; as, appear, supreme.

b. With one or more unaccented syllables ; as, country, freedom, liberty.

Very long words, or words with the accent far from the end, do not make a pleasing close ; as, peremptorily, irresistibly.


Lastly, there is a kind of Harmony that arises from having the sound of the words and of the sentence an echo of the sense. So far we have spoken of the use of euphonious words only, but words of every variety of sound have their place, and Harmony is promoted by the selection of such as are adapted to the sense. Words of harsh and unpleasant sound may be employed with advantage to express something disagreeable; words of slow and measured sound are adapted to grave and serious thoughts; and those of soft and flowing sounds, to gentle and benignant feelings. The expression of motion, too, may be made more effective by the use of suitable words and combinations : rapid and easy motion, by short, easily-pronounced syllables, or by those of soft and flowing smoothness; slow and laborious movement, by a series of long syllables, of accented words, or of words that have so many difficult consonants that they cannot be rapidly pronounced.



DIRECTION. — Improve the Melody and Harmony of these sentences. 1. They were all the children of whim, and satire, and wit.

2. They had already reached the road that runs round to Sleepy Hollow

3. This difficulty was at last got rid of.

4. The man who lived there last year has made up his mind to move to the city.

5. He was much pleased with the way the boys and girls said their tasks.

6. He was just as just as his neighbors. 7.

The leaves of the trees fall in the fall. 8. He described it in an uninteresting manner. 9.

Sketch Scott's early education in Edinburgh. 10. Boys are apt, too, to attribute ridicule to wrong motives. 11. His employer peremptorily dismissed him. 12. All men do not seem to have the same mind as this man. 13. The passing bell tolled the knell when the hero fell. 14. The standard to which all form must conform is usage.

15. The master is placed there specially to influence — intellectually only, many think, but as truly morally.

16. He excelled in keen satire, and in broad humor, too.

17. The principal explained the principle on which he governed.

18. These impecunious, characterless adventurers, for weeks and weeks, haunted the parliamentary buildings.

19. There will be willing parents who will wish to water the seed scattered by me.

20. Such a thing was not to be thought of, or if it was, it was only to gratify my selfishness.

21. The night is past and the morning is coming. 22. Lazy people seldom gather riches.

and story,

upon the

23. A beautiful island, famous in


lies other side of the wide Atlantic. (There lies . . . song.)

24. Of genius and greatness, it has given to the world more than its share.

25. Let us consider the ambitious; and both in their progress to greatness, and after the attaining of it.

26. Her constant connection with the family as a fast friend of the fastidious little Miss H., left an indelible impression on her mind.

27. A few rough logs laid side by side served for a bridge to

Cross on.

28. On approaching the home of his childhood he saw the leaves searing, for winter was nearing, and the birds were about disappearing

29. The separate casts of the arm look immense, but in its place the limb looks light.

30. The raging waters rolled over his child, and he was left sorrowing. (Campbell.)

31. Up the lofty hill he raises a large, round stone. (Pope.)

32. A great many things seemingly relatively perfectly plain, are very difficult to unravel.

33. Walled round with rocks as is an inland island. 34. Their ghosts circle thee in an endless confusion. 35. We live in an enlightened age.

36. The qualities necessary to save the popular party in the hour of danger, others might possess; both the power and the inclination to restrain its excesses in the hour of triumph, Hampden alone had. (Others ... danger; Hampden . . . triumph.)

37. While leaning on a post he told me that, when at the military post, he obtained a post of great honor and trust, in which it was his duty not only to post the general's letters, but also to post his private ledger.

« PreviousContinue »