Monthly Archives: January 2020

how to make things admirably clear

 

 

Re:

 

“A Deal That Has Two Elections, Rather Than Mideast Peace, as Its Focus; The Israeli-Palestinian peace plan unveiled by President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounds more like a road map for their own futures than for the Middle East.”

by David E. Sanger

The New York Times. January 28, 2020

 

 

 

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My English teacher, Mr. Tighe, would be proud of a paper as well written as this. It exhibits masterful observance of the three core principles of expository writing: unity, coherence, and emphasis (meaning that the key points emerge clearly).

The details and quotes are stitched together with consummate skill. The organization and logic are impeccable, and the thrust of the piece is admirably clear.

I once wrote a reference book article on the British historian A. J. P. Taylor. It was approximately 2,600 words long. My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., who was always eager to read my writings (he was a writer himself), said that there was not “a single wasted word” in the article. Without comparing myself to Mr. Sanger, I would say that the same is true of his piece.

This may seem like a routine job of reporting. It was written on the spot–at the moment. It could serve as a model for students of journalism and in English classes as well.

 

Roger W. Smith

   January 2020

I am continually instructed in writing by the example as well as the writings of Samuel Johnson.

 

 

THE TELLING EXAMPLE

 

The kind partiality with which every man looks upon his own fraternity, is generally discovered in his acts of munificence. The merchant seldom founds hospitals for the soldier; nor the sailor endow colleges for the student. [italics added] Every man has had most opportunities of knowing the calamities incident to his own course of life: And who can blame him for pitying those miseries which he has most observed?

It is with the same kind of propension that I have always rejoiced to see the theatres made instrumental to the relief of literature in distress; and though I would not willingly oppose any act of charity, I cannot but confess a higher degree of pleasure, in contributing to the support of those, who have themselves contributed to the advancement of learning; and therefore take, with uncommon satisfaction, this opportunity of informing the town, that next Tuesday will be acted, at Covent Garden, The Way of the World, for the benefit of an unfortunate bookseller [James Crokatt]; a person, who, in his happier state, was little guilty of refusing his assistance to men of letters; whose purse often relieved them, and whose fertility of schemes often supplied them with opportunities of relieving themselves.

 

 

PARALLELISM

 

Many of the most voluminous and important works, which the industry of learning has lately produced, were projected by his [Crokatt’s] invention, undertaken by his persuasion, and encouraged by his liberality. The time is now come when he calls, in his turn, for assistance; and it is surely the duty of the publick to reward, by uncommon generosity, the benefits which he has conferred upon them, without the usual advantage to himself. (italics added)

— Samuel Johnson, Letter to the Daily Advertiser Concerning James Crokatt (1751), IN Johnson on Demand: Reviews, Prefaces, and Ghost-Writings, edited by O M Brack, Jr., and Robert DeMaria, Jr. (The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume XX; Yale University Press, 2019), pg. 221

 

This letter was written by on behalf of the London book trade entrepreneur James Crokatt, who having experienced business and financial difficulties, was in debtors’ prison.

 

 

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From immersion in the works of a writer of Johnson’s stature, I would be inclined to say that:

Anecdotes from the early chapters of Boswell’s Life of Johnson show that Johnson at a very young age was what we would today call a gifted child and that he was intellectually precocious.

It is also apparent from Johnson’s own accounts (and those of schoolmates) that his grammar school instruction was very rigorous in the area of rhetoric, including instruction in Latin. (I believe that his fluency in Latin along with his mastery of the king’s English contributed to, and in fact resulted in, his knowledge of and proficiency in rhetoric and mastery of the rules of exposition and grammar, whereby the “operating principles,” so to speak, of verbal expression were ingrained in him — at his command.) *

Ergo, Johnson wrote as well as he did because he was a born writer and also because he worked so hard at achieving mastery.
* The following quote is apropos. I can relate it to my own experience of foreign language study.

 

“Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen.” (He who is ignorant of foreign languages, knows not his own.)

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,   Maximen und Reflexionen (1833)

 

 

Roger W. Smith

    January 2020

a deft turn of phrase

 
By any modern standard, Kyle Juszczyk shouldn’t be playing in the NFL. He went to Harvard, a school that was important in football about a century ago. And he plays fullback, a position that was important when teams ran the wishbone toward goal posts that were planted at the front of the end zone. (italics added)

 
— “The NFL’s Unlikeliest Millionaire: He Went to Harvard and Plays Fullback,” by Andrew Beaton, The Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2020

 

 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-nfls-unlikeliest-millionaire-he-went-to-harvard-and-plays-fullback-11579178793?mod=mhp

 

 

 

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Sometimes with a deft turn of phrase you can say something economically and tellingly that most writers would need a sentence or two to do.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    January 2020

the danger of fatuous overstatement

 

 

“Every sport has a supreme chronicler,” The Philadelphia Inquirer said in 1994. “Nobody has written about baseball like Roger Angell. Nobody has written about golf like Bernard Darwin. Nobody has written about boxing like A.J. Liebling. Nobody has written about
the outdoors like Nelson Bryant.”

 

— Nelson Bryant, ‘Supreme Chronicler’ of Outdoor Life, Dies at 96, by Robert D. McFadden, The New York Times, January 13, 2020

 

 

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A set of sweeping generalizations. Sounds good. But are they true?

When it comes to baseball writing, about which I know something, Roger Angell is very good. But he is nowhere near to being the best baseball writer, journalistic or otherwise, of all time.

Beware of the fatuous overstatement, designed to knock the reader’s socks off:

No American writer can match Faulkner.

Pop music was never the same after “Yesterday.”

The Nobel Prize is the greatest honor an individual can achieve.

The moon landing was the defining moment of the Sixties.

9/11 was the greatest calamity mankind has ever known.

Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is the most inspiring music ever written.

The Declaration of Independence is the most profound political statement ever penned.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    January 2020