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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/379

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375
SHORTER ARTICLES AND DISCUSSION.

of application and probable greater certainty of result, the element of word-length was that to which attention was first given. Besides, there is in this another important advantage which will be presently explained.

Now, in spite of an oft-quoted assertion to the contrary, words are used to express ideas, and the particular words used will depend largely, perhaps most largely, on the idea to be expressed; but they will also depend on the person to whom they are addressed; on the conditions under which they are spoken (as in private conversation, public address, etc.) or written (in correspondence, for publication in newspapers, journals or books); especially on the age or period in which their author lived; and perhaps on a thousand other things; but in any or in all of these cases they are determined by the person who uses them. The theory assumes that by combining a sufficiently large number of verbal expressions of any author, variations due to these thousand and one causes may be eliminated and that due to the personality of the author, the only one in fact which is common to them all, may stand revealed.

Moreover it is clear that in selecting from many personal idiosyncrasies of an author that which will best serve for purposes of identification, it will be wise to choose one of which he is himself unconscious, for this would most certainly persist and prevail in everything he wrote, never being either shunned or encouraged. While an author will often give thought to the arrangement of words and sentences and to other features of composition, he will almost never stop to consider the number of letters in the words which he uses, and, therefore, such personal peculiarity as may be shown by word length frequency curves is almost certain to be persistent.

Dr. Moritz is quite right in his belief that 'form of composition' (subject matter, etc.) affects very power fully the form of a word-curve, seeming, at first, to conceal the element of personality, just us in the physical world local, near-at-hand causes seem in their effects to overshadow and conceal those of remote but more constant origin.

But it must never be forgotten that they only conceal, they do not destroy; they may over-shadow, but they can not obliterate. The position of a freely suspended magnetic needle does not, at first sight, appear to be in any way related to the phases of the moon, but a very long series of observations reveals this relation very clearly and certainly, although local happenings affect it to a much greater degree and apparently conceal the more persistent influence of a more remote cause. It is the constancy of this influence, the fact that it is present all the time, which makes it possible to differentiate it from others, often exceeding it in magnitude, but less regular in operation. And so it is in the long run that the personal peculiarities of an author, especially the unconscious peculiarities, will be revealed, and the so-called 'characteristic curve of composition' was suggested as a means of developing and displaying one of them.

The question under discussion includes, therefore, two parts: First, does the personality of an author enter into his composition so as to affect its purely mechanical aspect in a way of which he is quite unconscious?—and, second, does the 'characteristic curve' furnish a means of exhibiting such peculiarities of composition if they exist? It is not likely that anybody, after a little reflection and investigation, will be willing to say 'no!' to the first, although few people fully recognize how steadily and surely one is influenced by a bias of which one is totally unconscious. Although such unrecognized influences are often very feeble, their very persistency, the fact that they 'never sleep,' may give them so large a place in the final summing up of any series of operations that they determine the distinctive character-