« AnteriorContinuar »
supplied. Thus I should say rightly, “ It is the opi“nion of all good and wise men, that a vicious person “ cannot enjoy true happiness ;” because I mean to signify, that this is the opinion of those to whom both qualities, goodness, and wisdom, are justly attributed. But the following passage in our version of the sacred text, is not so proper : “ Every scribe instructed into “ the kingdom of heaven, is like an householder, who
bringeth out of his treasure things new and old *." Both epithets cannot belong to the same things. Make but a small alteration in the order, and say new thing's and old, and you will add greatly both to the perspicuity and to the propriety of the expression. In cases similar to the example last quoted, if a preposition be necessary to the construction of the sentence, it ought to be repeated before the second adjective. Thus, “ Death is the common lot of all, of good men and of “ bad.” But when both adjectives express the qualities of an identical subject, it is better not to repeat the preposition. “ The prince gave encouragement “ to all honest and industrious artificers of neighbour
ing nations to come and settle amongst his subjects.” Here both qualities, honesty and industry, are required in every artificer encouraged by the prince. I shall observe lastly, on this article, that though the adjectives relate to different things, if no substantive be expressed, it is not necessary to repeat the preposition. The reason is, that in such cases the adjectives are
* Matthew xiii. 52.
The double meaning....Part II. Ambiguity.
used substantively, or, to speak more properly, are real substantives. Thus we may say either, “ Death " is the inevitable fate of good and bad, rich and poor; “ wise and foolish,” or, “ of good and of bad, of rich " and of poor.” When the definite article is prefixed to the first adjective, it ought to be repeated before the second, if the adjectives are expressive of qualities belonging to different subjects; but not if they refer to the same subject. Thus we say rightly, “ How " immense the difference between the pious and the
profane." “ I address myself only to the intelligent " and attentive.” In the former, the subjects referred to are manifestly different ; in the latter, they coincide, as both qualities are required in every hearer. The following passage is by consequence justly cena sureable. The exceptionable phrases are distinguished by the character: “ Wisdom and folly, the vir
tuous and the vile, the learned and ignorant, the tem“perate and debauched, all give and return the jest *." For the same reason, and it is a sufficient reason, that he said, “ the virtuous and the vile,” he ought to have said, “ the learned and the ignorant, the temperate " and the debauched."
I PROCEED to give examples in some of the other parts of speech. The construction of substantive nouns is sometimes ambiguous. Take the following instance:
You shall seldom find a dull fellow of good educa
* Brown on the Characteristics, Ess. i. Sect. 5. VOL. II.
" tion, but (if he happen to have
his hands) will turn his head to one of those two amuse“ments for all fools of eminence, politics or poetry t." The position of the words politics or poetry makes one at first imagine, that, along with the term eminence, they are affected by the preposition of, and construed with fools. The repetition of the to after eminence would have totally removed the ambiguity. A frequent cause of this fault in the construction of substantives, especially in verse, is when both what we call the nominative case and the accusative are put before the verb. As in nouns those cases are not distinguished either by inflection or by prepositions, so neither can they be distinguished in such instances by arrangement.
'The rising tomb a lofty column bore *. Did the tomb bear the column, or the column the tomb?
And thus the son the fervent sire addrest t.
This, though liable to the same objection, may be more easily rectified, at least in a considerable measure. As the possessive pronoun is supposed to refer to some preceding noun, which, for distinction's sake, I have here called the antecedent, though the term is not often used in so great latitude, it is always better to be construed with the accusative of the verb, and
† Spectator, No. 43. * Pope's Odyssey, Book 12.
+ Ibid. Book 19.
The double meaning... Part Il. Ambiguity.
to refer to the nominative as its antecedent. The reason is, the nominative, to which it most naturally refers, whether actually preceding or not, is always conceived in the order of things to precede. If theri it was the son who spoke, say,
And thus the son his fervent sire addrest.
And thus his son the fervent sire addrest.
in which we should express ourselves in plain prose, without any transposition of words. For the first, “ Thus the son addressed his father;" for the second, * Thus the father addressed his son ;" are undoubtedly good: whereas, to say, in lieu of the first, “ Thus " his son addressed the father;" and, in lieu of the second, “ Thus his father addressed the son,” are not English. By the English idiom, therefore, the possessive pronoun is, in such instances, more properly joined to the regimen of the verb than to the nominative. If this practice were universal, as it is both natural and suitable to the genius of our tongue, it would always indicate the construction wherever the possessive pronoun could be properly introduced. For this reason I consider the two following lines as much clearer of the charge of ambiguity than the former quotation from the same work :
Young Itylus, his parent's darling joy,
* Pope's Odyssey, Book 19.
For though the words whom and the mother are both in the accusative, the one as the regimen of the active verb misled, the other as the regimen of the active verb destroy, yet the destroyer or agent is conceived in the natural order as preceding the destroyed or patient. If, therefore, the last line had been,
Whom chance misled his mother to destroy ; it would have more naturally imported, that the son destroyed his mother; as it stands, it more naturally imports, agreeably to the poet's design, that the mother destroyed her son ; there being in this last case no access for the possesive pronoun. I acknowledge, however, that uniform usage cannot (though both analogy and utility may) be pleaded in favour of the distinction now made. I therefore submit entirely to the candid and judicious, the propriety of observing it for the future.
The following is an example of ambiguity in using conjunctions: “ At least my own private letters leave
room for a politician, well versed in matters of this “ nature, to suspect as much, as a penetrating friend " of mine tells me *.” The particle as, which in this sentence immediately precedes the word a penetrating friend, makes frequently a part of these compound conjunctions, as much as, as well as, as far as.--It will therefore naturally appear at first to belong to the words as much, which immediately precede it.
* Spectator, No. 43.