You know not what hurt you do to learning that care not for words, but for matter, and so make a divorce betwixt the tongue and the heart. (Roger Ascham)
I am thirteen. Almost every afternoon I shove a book in my pocket, a hat on my head, and I wander out into the scurry-flurry of a Pennsylvania day. By the gardener's shed in the cemetery I listen to the wind whistle round perversely tuneful headstones. Later I wander through Nazirite fields whose grassy hair no razor ever touched. Eventually, I find my favorite little stream and stretch out on the cool moss. I pull the book from my pocket, open it, and begin to read aloud. Here is a music preserved, a music shared with the rest of literate humanity through time and over space, as beautiful as the here-and-gone recital of elements and animals but far more lasting.
I have discovered in days like this, throughout my life, what should not be a secret: prose has purposes beyond persuasion.
[...] The upward mobility of the expanding middle class focused attention more on acquiring status and material wealth than patronizing culture or cultivating spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth. Time came to equal money. The average attention span diminished. As Thomas De Quincey wrote, read therefore habitually by hurried installments has this bad tendency—that it is likely to found a taste for modes of composition too artificially irritating, and to disturb the equilibrium of the judgment in relation to the colorings of style” (406). [...]
[...] And that error is the fact that the history of style is a history of struggle. Writers pontificating on style love to throw out magisterial pronouncements on the way prose ought to be that chiefly mirror the way prose is for them. I will not even bother dealing with the profusion of such pronouncements in pedagogical writing books, because I have discovered, from a childhood of striving to learn from them, that H.L. Mencken is sadly correct when he says, “With precious few exceptions, all the books on style in English are by writers quite unable to write. [...]
[...] "Preface to Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners." Style in English Prose. Ed. Carl H. Klaus. New York: University of Iowa Croll, Morris W. Style, Rhetoric and Rhythm: Essays by Morris W. Croll. Eds. J M. Patrick Robert O. Evans, John M. Wallace, and R J. Schoek. Princeton: Princeton University Press De Quincey, Thomas. "Disontinuity in Hazlitt and Lamb." Style in English Prose. Ed. Carl H. Klaus. New York: University of Iowa Gill, John. An Exposition of the Old and New Testament. [...]
[...] New York: University of Iowa The names he uses come from the fact that the roman orator Cicero seems to be the best representation of the style referring to him—but since we find examples of it before Cicero, and because of the unfamiliarity of the works of Cicero to modern readers, let us call the distinction by another name. The ancient writers themselves called the two styles “genus grande,” which we will translate “high style,” and “genus humile,” which we will translate “plain style.” According to Croll, history of Greek and Roman style is chiefly the story of the relations of the genus grande and the genus humile,” and he goes on to show that the ensuing history of style right down to our day is basically the story of the same relation (61). [...]
[...] Therefore, the abundance of style is a moral concern, the pleasant task of righteousness. We must learn to say with John Bunyan, did not play in convincing of me; the Devil did not play in tempting of me; neither did I play when I sunk as into a bottomless pit, when the pangs of hell caught hold upon me: wherefore I may not play in my relating of them . Works Cited: Adolph, Robert. The Rise of the Modern Prose Style. [...]
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