This is writing!

 

Just by the red-roofed town the tributary Ripple flows with a lively current into the Floss. How lovely the little river is, with its dark changing wavelets! It seems to me like a living companion while I wander along the bank, and listen to its low, placid voice, as to the voice of one who is deaf and loving. I remember those large dipping willows. I remember the stone bridge.

And this is Dorlcote Mill. I must stand a minute or two here on the bridge and look at it, though the clouds are threatening, and it is far on in the afternoon. Even in this leafless time of departing February it is pleasant to look at,—perhaps the chill, damp season adds a charm to the trimly kept, comfortable dwelling-house, as old as the elms and chestnuts that shelter it from the northern blast. The stream is brimful now, and lies high in this little withy plantation, and half drowns the grassy fringe of the croft in front of the house. As I look at the full stream, the vivid grass, the delicate bright-green powder softening the outline of the great trunks and branches that gleam from under the bare purple boughs, I am in love with moistness, and envy the white ducks that are dipping their heads far into the water here among the withes, unmindful of the awkward appearance they make in the drier world above.

The rush of the water and the booming of the mill bring a dreamy deafness, which seems to heighten the peacefulness of the scene. They are like a great curtain of sound, shutting one out from the world beyond. And now there is the thunder of the huge covered wagon coming home with sacks of grain. That honest wagoner is thinking of his dinner, getting sadly dry in the oven at this late hour; but he will not touch it till he has fed his horses,—the strong, submissive, meek-eyed beasts, who, I fancy, are looking mild reproach at him from between their blinkers, that he should crack his whip at them in that awful manner as if they needed that hint! See how they stretch their shoulders up the slope toward the bridge, with all the more energy because they are so near home. Look at their grand shaggy feet that seem to grasp the firm earth, at the patient strength of their necks, bowed under the heavy collar, at the mighty muscles of their struggling haunches! I should like well to hear them neigh over their hardly-earned feed of corn, and see them, with their moist necks freed from the harness, dipping their eager nostrils into the muddy pond. Now they are on the bridge, and down they go again at a swifter pace, and the arch of the covered wagon disappears at the turning behind the trees.

— George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  December 2022

how not to do footnotes

 

Scholars who visit this site may be interested in a post of mine on footnoting on my personal site, rogersgleanings.com, at

how NOT to do footnotes

I can’t understand why the topic does not engage more readers of scholarly works. Word processing software makes footnote and endnote formatting a breeze — so why can’t they be done to make consulting them less of a chore? — and, in the examples I have given, it is more than a chore, it’s enough to drive a scholar who wants to find a source mad with frustration.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  December 2022

Emerson

 

I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe our own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,–and our first thought, is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays, First Series (1841)

Those who are esteemed umpires of taste, are often persons who have acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether they are beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures, you learn that they are selfish and sensual. Their cultivation is local, as if you should rub a log of dry wood in one spot to produce fire, all the rest remaining cold. Their knowledge of the fine arts is some study of rules and particulars, or some limited judgment of color or form which is exercised for amusement or for show. It is a proof of the shallowness of the doctrine of beauty, as it lies in the minds of our amateurs, that men seem to have lost the perception of the instant dependence of form upon soul. There is no doctrine of forms in our philosophy. We were put into our bodies, as fire is put into a pan, to be carried about; but there is no accurate adjustment between the spirit and the organ, much less is the latter the germination of the former. So in regard to other forms, the intellectual men do not believe in any essential dependence of the material world on thought and volition. Theologians think it a pretty air-castle to talk of the spiritual meaning of a ship or a cloud, of a city or a contract, but they prefer to come again to the solid ground of historical evidence; and even the poets are contented with a civil and conformed manner of living, and to write poems from the fancy, at a safe distance from their own experience. But the highest minds of the world have never ceased to explore the double meaning, or, shall I say, the quadruple, or the centuple, or much more manifold meaning, of every sensuous fact: Orpheus, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Plato, Plutarch, Dante, Swedenborg, and the masters of sculpture, picture, and poetry. For we are not pans and barrows, nor even porters of the fire and torch-bearers, but children of the fire, made of it, and only the same divinity transmuted, and at two or three removes, when we know least about it. And this hidden truth, that the fountains whence all this river of Time, and its creatures, floweth, are intrinsically ideal and beautiful, draws us to the consideration of the nature and functions of the Poet, or the man of Beauty, to the means and materials he uses, and to the general aspect of the art in the present time.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Poet,” Essays: Second Series (1844)

*****************************************************

Emerson

he “throws his thoughts out”

pell-mell, into the air

they are interesting and provocative

But you, the reader, have to figure out what he is saying

This is a violation of what I consider to be fundamental principles of good writing

one of which is that an accomplished writer does the work for the reader … makes his meaning and the thrust of the piece clear … makes clear, through organization and coherence, whatever are the key points and which ones are ancillary

An essayist such as Samuel Johnson does this, while writing dense prose with long sentences

On the surface, one would be inclined to think Emerson’s prose is clear

It is not

*****************************************************

What the writer is saying should be apparent

The reader should not have to extract “buried” meaning from oracular, gnomic prose

Clarity is not inimical to depth or profundity of thought

Emerson’s writing is (on the surface) simple: too simple

He does not take the pains to make his meaning clear

He is saying something

in a roundabout, allusive way that frustrates the reader

*****************************************************

An often neglected feature – a desideratum – of good writing is what my high school English teacher specified as emphasis

the weight of a piece has to fall somewhere: key points at the beginning, In certain places

a skillful writer can do this subtly …one does not need to hit the reader over the head with sledgehammer (I begin my essay: “Capital punishment is wrong!”) .. the key, salient points can emerge

But …

What are Emerson’s key points? … he does make them, implicitly, and some would say, strongly and effectively … but, I would say that the reader has to extract them … the writing is a mishmash of thoughts

*****************************************************

Is spontaneity a virtue in writing?

Yes

Samuel Johnson urged would be writers to get their thoughts down fast. This he himself did. Many of his essays were written within a very tight time frame.

I find that some of my best and original. writing is done this way. Something occurs to me; and I think, get it down on paper (or, in my case, it is often in the form of an email written to myself on my cell phone … I do a fair amount of writing on park benches and in subway cars and taverns).

But, even in this case, as an experienced writer, I have a sixth sense about where I am going with a piece. I am very focused on maintaining a logical, coherent flow.

I have been praised by no less a critic than my wife for my readability and (as she puts it) the fact that it is always eminently clear what I am saying.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  December 2022

“The tone is college admissions essay.”

 

“The tone is college admissions essay. Typical sentence: ‘In an environment of maximum pressure, I learned to ignore the noise and distractions and instead to push for results that would improve lives.’ ”

“Every political cliché gets a fresh shampooing. ‘Even in a starkly divided country, there are always opportunities to build bridges,’ Kushner writes.”

— Dwight Garner, review of Breaking History: A White House Memoir, By Jared Kushner, The New York Times, August 17,. 2022

Generic writing, aka boilerplate.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2022

Walt Whitman, ‘Slang in America”

 

Walt Whitman, ‘Slang in America’ – North American Review, November 1885

 

Posted here (PDF file above):

Walt Whitman, ‘Slang in America”

North American Review

November 1885

 

“Language, be it remembered, is not an abstract construction of the learned, of of dictionary-makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity. ….”

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2022

 

 

pedantic words and phrases (an authorial “sin”? I would say, it depends on the author)

 

Another of Gissing’s stylistic quirks — the pedantic term imported from Latin or Greek — appears near the climax of “Too Wretched to Live”*: “As he glanced at the handwriting, a woman’s delicate chirography . … ” From the Greek root kheirographon, that bookish final word intrudes upon a scene of supposedly high emotion. The former classics student from Owens College, Manchester, never lost his taste for ink-horn phrases. To the end of his writing career, he retained a preference for erudite words over plain ones — for visage or physiognomy over simply face. Even in Born in Exile (1892), one of his finest novels, we find a broad sprinkling of learned expressions: “susurration,” “sequaciousness,” “intenerates.” Thus the fancy word chirography in the Daily News story provides further evidence of George Gissing’s authorship.

— Robert L. Selig, “An Unknown Gissing Story from the Chicago Daily News,” Studies in Bibliography, 36 (1983), pp. 208-209.

*An early story by George Gissing, published in the Chicago Daily News  during the period Gissing spent in the United States during the late 1870s.

 

Stylistic peculiarities in “A Game of Hearts” also suggest Gissing’s youthful handiwork. The story’s prose contains the same stilted diction that frequently shows up in his signed early tales: “albeit” as a variant for although, “peradventure” for the noun doubt, “metropolis” for city, the high-flown “missives” for letters, and the pedantic “contained therein” rather than simply in it. Similar pompous usages occur, for example, in Gissing’s early story “My First Rehearsal.” “Be it premised that” for assume that; “the moon, which luminary” for the moon, which; “I doubted not” for I felt sure that; and “a trifle hot for pedestrian exertion” rather than just walking. The stiffly learned style appears to reflect the social unease of the youthful George Gissing–a wish to show off his bookish education and distinguish himself from the unlettered masses.

— Robert L. Selig, George Gissing: Lost Stories from America (Edwin Mellen Press, 1992)

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2022

TOO MANY words

 

When asked by a student once, how long should a composition be, my high school English teacher replied: as long as required to cover the subject; no more or less.

 

*****************************************************

 

The following is an essay about the invasion of Ukraine by Patrick Le Hyaric, a French journalist, politician, member of the European Parliament, and a director of the newspaper L’Humanité.

“Le monde peut basculer dans le pire d’un instant à l’autre”

By Patrick Le Hyaric

Le monde peut basculer dans le pire d’un instant à l’autre

This opinion piece is far too long. The author says far too much. Which is to say, in other words, he tries to say everything he or one can conceivably think about the subject of his essay. Whereby he ends up confusing the reader and not conveying anything clearly, really. His key points — whatever they are — get lost in a muddle.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    March 1, 2022