Talks on Writing English

Front Cover
Houghton, Mifflin, 1896 - English language - 123 pages

These talks were given in the autumn of 1894 as a course on Advanced English Composition in the Lowell Free Classes, and that they are now printed is largely due to the fact that they were so well received by those who then heard them. In preparing them, I consulted whatever books upon composition came to my hand. I examined some with profit, some with pleasure, and some, it must be confessed, not wholly without amusement, or even impatience. Doubtless, I owe something to many of these books; but I am not conscious of much obligation to any save the “Principles of Rhetoric,” by Professor A. S. Hill, “English Composition,” by Professor Barrett Wendell, and “English Prose,” by Professor John Earle.

I have conscientiously endeavored to make the lectures as practical as possible, stating as clearly as I could those things which would have been most helpful to me had I read and heeded them twenty years ago. The necessity of holding an audience made fitting some effort to render the talks entertaining; but I have never consciously said anything for the mere purpose of being amusing, and I have never been of the opinion that a book gains either in dignity or in usefulness by being dull. My purpose has throughout been sincerely serious, and if the book shall prove helpful, I shall have attained the object for which it was written.


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Page 300 - The figure of that first ancestor, invested by family tradition with a dim and dusky grandeur, was present to my boyish imagination as far back as I can remember. It still haunts me, and induces a sort of home-feeling with the past, which I scarcely claim in reference to the present phase of the town.
Page 173 - The conjurer juggles with two oranges, and our pleasure in beholding him springs from this, that neither is for an instant overlooked or sacrificed. So with the writer. His pattern, which is to please the supersensual ear, is yet addressed, throughout and first of all, to the demands of logic. Whatever be the obscurities, whatever the intricacies of the argument, the neatness of the fabric must not suffer, or the artist has been proved unequal to his design. And, on the other hand, no form of words...
Page 187 - Blanc! The Arve and Arveiron at thy base Rave ceaselessly; but thou, most awful form ! Risest from forth thy silent sea of pines, How silently! Around thee and above Deep is the air, and dark, substantial, black, An ebon mass : methinks thou piercest it, As with a wedge ! But when I look...
Page 25 - All through my boyhood and youth I was known and pointed out for the pattern of an idler ; and yet I was always busy on my own private end, which was to learn to write.
Page 114 - The Puritan hated bearbaiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.
Page 256 - This he can never do unless he know those fictitious personages himself, and he can never know them unless he can live with them in the full reality of established intimacy. They must be with him as he lies down to sleep, and as he wakes from his dreams. He must learn to hate them and to love them. He must argue with them, quarrel with them, forgive them, and even submit to them.
Page 80 - No more firing was heard at Brussels — the pursuit rolled miles away. Darkness came down on the field and city : and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.
Page 80 - Yet one tombstone served for both. All around, there were monuments carved with armorial bearings ; and on this simple slab of slate — as the curious investigator may still discern, and perplex himself with the purport — there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald's wording of which might serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend ; so sombre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow : —...
Page 54 - A close reasoner and a good writer in general may be known by his pertinent use of connectives. Read that page of Johnson ; you cannot alter one conjunction without spoiling the sense. It is a linked strain throughout. In your modern books, for the most part, the sentences in a page have the same connection with each other that marbles have in a bag ; they touch without adhering.
Page 300 - I seem to have a stronger claim to a residence here on account of this grave, bearded, sable-cloaked and steeple-crowned progenitor, who came so early, with his Bible and his sword, and trod the unworn street with such a stately port, and made so large a figure, as a man of war and peace, a stronger claim than for myself, whose name is seldom heard and my face hardly known.

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