A view of Edinburgh, by Samuel Dukinfield Swarbreck.
THE fundamental rule of the construction of sentences, and into which all others might be resolved, undoubtedly is, to communicate, in the clearest and most natural order, the ideas which we mean to transfuse into the minds of others. Every arrangement that does most justice to the sense, and expresses it to most advantage, strikes us as beautiful. To this point have tended all the rules I have given.
And, indeed, did men always think clearly, and were they, at the same time, fully masters of the language in which they write, there would be occasion for few rules. Their sentences would then, of course, acquire all those properties of precision, unity, and strength, which I have recommended. For we may rest assured, that, whenever we express ourselves ill, there is, besides the mismanagement of language, for the most part, some mistake in our manner of conceiving the subject. Embarrassed, obscure, and feeble sentences, are generally, if not always, the result of embarrassed, obscure, and feeble thought. Thought and language act and react upon each other mutually. Logic and rhetoric have here, as in many other cases, a strict connexion; and he that is learning to arrange his sentences with accuracy and order, is learning, at the same time, to think with accuracy and order; an observation which alone will justify all the care and attention we have bestowed on this subject.
In one of his acclaimed lectures on rhetoric, Hugh Blair (who had retired that same year, 1783, after a distinguished career at Edinburgh University) urged readers to pay close attention to the way they expressed themselves. Sloppy grammar or ill-chosen vocabulary betrays sloppy thinking; likewise, a habit of arranging one’s words with care can help foster a more orderly mind. (59 / 60 words)