But Mr. Spencer does not rest content with deducing what may be called the adventitious charms of poetry from this principle; he even thinks that its distinctive characteristic—the restrictions of metre—may be explained by the same law. "The pleasure," he says, "which its measured movement gives us is ascribable to the comparative ease with which words metrically arranged can be recognized." Most people will be startled at the first sight of this bold dictum, but Mr. Spencer is not the man to shrink from the logical consequences of his principles, and they lead to more than this.
Any one who has attentively read the article, or even the brief résumé, of it just given, will have seen that the theory furnishes a canon for determining, with some degree of certainty, which of two styles is the better. To quote again: "The relative goodness of any two modes of expressing an idea may be determined by observing which requires the shortest process of thought for its comprehension."
Clearly, then, there must, in every case, be some form of expression which is absolutely the best; in other words, there is such a thing as an ideal style. Mr. Spencer accepts the conclusion, but at the same time reminds us that style must vary with its subject-matter.
"The perfect writer will express himself as Junius, when in the Junius frame of mind; when he feels as Lamb felt, will use a like familiar speech; and will fall into the ruggedness of Carlyle when in a Carlylean mood."
The reservation is a proper one, and with it the argument seems unimpeachable. Yet when Mr. Spencer throws the conclusion into the form of an epigram, and tells us that "to have a specific style is to be poor in speech," he makes the utmost possible demand upon our loyalty to exact reasoning. Like Adeimantus in "The Republic," we are "confounded by this novel kind of draughtsplaying, played with words for counters."
But if the foregoing theory be carefully reviewed, it will be seen that throughout it the treatment is what may be described as objective rather than subjective. Or, to avoid words in which there is a degree of ambiguity, the definite product language is more or less isolated
- "Philosophy of Style," p. 34.
- Ibid., p. 39.
- Ibid., p. 33.
- Ibid., p. 48.
- Ibid., p. 47.