Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/361

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STYLE.

ing what he saw after a certain fashion of his own, that when he set himself to compose poetry he composed it as he did. Hence there is a deep meaning in the saying of Milton, that he who would write good poetry must make his life a poem. It is by virtue of a thousand minute traits of character, the gradual deposit of life's experiences, that any one speaks, writes, even walks and moves, as we see him do. For there must be some reason why, if two men set about describing a scene, or giving even a plain, unvarnished account of some event, the mode of their narration differs—differs, too, in such a way that each can be ascribed to its author, as we say, by internal evidence, that is, by its style. While, then, no better explanation appears, that theory of style may perhaps be provisionally accepted which identifies it with character—with unconscious revelations of the hidden self.

This conclusion needs a little further elaboration before it is compared with that view of what is called the philosophy of style, which resolves all the devices of composition into schemes for economizing the reader's attention. It is necessary to point out, and this may be done briefly, how not only is style generally the impress of the author's self, but that there is a correspondence between the distinctive features of any particular passage and the points at which, in the manner just indicated, the writer's personality glides into the discourse. This is not difficult, if what has been already said be accepted. What, indeed, is meant by saying that an author is best where his writing is most natural?

Is it not implied that the happiest touches are those which are original—that those phrases and expressions are most welcome to the reader which set the matter they convey in a new light—and that the light in which the writer himself sees it? If the foregoing passage from the "Odyssey" be reviewed, it will be found that its beauties are coincident with the parts where the presence of the poet seems to be hinted, and this is equally true, though not equally discernible, in all writing that is at all elaborate.

Now, how does all this square with the dictum that "to have a specific style is to be poor in speech?" It will not at first sight appear so very incompatible. In a certain sense, style at all owes its existence to the imperfection of the vehicle of thought. Were language a perfectly adequate means of embodying ideas, what is now to be looked for in the mode of statement would be found directly declared in the statement itself. For the countless devices of language, the gestures and tones of discourse, the thousand rhetorical figures of written composition, are really one and all simple propositions not capable of exact expression in the body of the narrative. They are the lights and shades of the picture, or perhaps rather the finer touches, which are to tickle the imagination of the reader with suggested beauties. And it is exactly in these refinements of expression that the deepest meaning of any author, in other words, his self,