Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/358

This page has been validated.

on the numerous and tolerably obvious reservations which make it impossible to convert the proposition—in other words, to infer unusual power from singularity; the broad fact remains that where there is that marked originality called genius, it is an originality not of thought, emotion, or pursuits, but of the man.

The application of this to literary style is easy, and will be found to lead to some interesting results.

In its powers of direct expression, language is tolerably efficient, and were there nothing but facts, considered objectively, to be conveyed, even a simpler vehicle would suffice. Swift, in one of the most humorous passages of "Gulliver's Travels," describes a set of philosophers, who, disdaining language as the ordinary means of expressing their thoughts, preferred to carry with them a pack of the things most commonly referred to in every-day parlance, by the dexterous manipulation of which they contrived to carry on long conversations. Now this represents, with the necessary freedom of caricature, a real truth with regard to a certain class of discourse. In any written composition, the less the author's personality is involved in the matter treated, the simpler the language which suffices. The extreme form of this truth is found in the case of algebra, where the discourse is, so to speak, perfectly dispassionate, and the symbolism perfectly adequate. Similarly, the language employed in mathematical proof is found adequate in proportion as the statements are purely objective. As we ascend in the scale of literary composition the author's personality creeps in, and brings with it a corresponding complexity of language, not merely the complexity of structure of sentences, but of choice of words, use of figures of speech, and all the refinements of elaborate writing. It is true that much more than this has to be taken into consideration; the subjects themselves are infinitely more complex as the scale is ascended, the distinctions are more delicate, the contrasts present more sides to view, the gradations are subtiler. But is not this a corollary from the main principle? Is it not because we are then dealing either with facts of our own or the general consciousness; with ideas, emotions, desires, and so forth; or at any rate with external facts looked at from the point of view of an interested and questioning observer, that there is this increase in complexity, or, in other words, decrease in adequacy of language?

But this idea admits of yet further development. The facts perfectly expressed in algebraical symbols receive a nearly perfect expression in mathematical language. The terminology of science is found very tolerably sufficient, if strictly adhered to, and mostly where expository and descriptive. In history and biography what we may call the subjective element is strong, and there we find all the refinements of composition. These express, not only facts and aspects of facts, not only are there delicate implications of expression, embodied in all the recognized figures of rhetoric, the trope, the simile, and the