This section is from the book "Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: A Guide To Correct Writing", by Thos. E. Hill. Also available from Amazon: Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: The How-To-Do-Everything Book Of Victorian America.
It is a public occasion. Coming- to the front, upon the stage, confident, easy and natural, with manuscript held in the left hand, that the right may be free for gesture if required, the lady reads her essay; the exercise being effective by originality of composition, fitting words, new and important thoughts, appropriateness, ease, and clearness of enunciation. Self-possession is manifest in every tone and gesture.
The use of compositions in village lyceums, or debating clubs, is productive not only of much genuine recreation, but is really a beneficial practice, especially if each paper is submitted to honest criticism as to its construction, after it has been read. Errors are thus corrected, and suggestions are made that tend greatly to improvement in all future productions.
Those who desire to excel in the composition of an essay, which is one of the noblest forms of literary production, will find the works of Joseph Addison, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and Lord Macaulay excellent models to study. Their clear-cut sentences, breathing wit, humor, sentiment and elevated thought, are delightful reading, and in beauty of construction cannot be surpassed.
Probably, for discipline in forming a series of connected thoughts, all tending to the establishment of some important truth, the best is the sermon. This species of composition may be as systematically constructed as a house, which has a basement, first floor, chambers, attic and cupola. The foundation of the sermon is a well-chosen text, indicating the principal topic to be discussed. Following this is the exordium, or introduction, the object of which is to interest the hearer or reader in the subject by a few choice sentences and happy allusions to matters more or less intimately connected with the topical discussion. A good beginning is a great point gained. The next step is the division of the subject into two or more heads, suggested by the text, each affording a fine field for the exercise of the intellect in creating and gathering pleasing and appropriate sentiments,and advancing arguments leading to the one great truth to be impressed upon the mind of the reader. This portion of the composition requires skill in placing the arguments properly, and clinching them with logical force and appropriate drafts upon the writings of eminent authors. The arguments finished, their strong points are briefly recounted and accompanied by a direct appeal to the feelings of the reader, so that not only his intellect is convinced, but his better nature is affected. Finally comes the peroration, or closing summing-up of the whole; and here is afforded one of the finest opportunities possible for a skillful and touching display of literary ability.
Next to the sermon, the platform lecture demands great care and skill, and thus affords a profitable discipline for a youthful writer. The selection of the subject is all-important, for it should be one of general interest - not a trivial one, even if the object is simply to amuse. "Artemus Ward's " best effort was named "The Babes in the Wood," but this title was only a fictitious one, on which to string choice bits of humor for two hours. In that connection any other title would have been as relevant, but, perhaps not so "taking." The subject having been chosen, the next object is to obtain, from sources at hand, all the information possible concerning it. From the mass of matter thus gathered, literary talent is taxed to make such selections as seem best suited in every way to form attractive features, and exhibit them in the most fascinating manner possible. There should be an exordium and a peroration to each lecture, and if the subject is argumentative, or explanatory, it should be systematically and logically presented.
The newspaper article differs from most examples of composition. It is usually written under the pressure of business and in haste, relates to some current topic or event, and should be brief, concise and pointed. A long, dry, argumentative essay, however learned and valuable as a literary effort, would not be suitable for an editor's column in a daily journal. The paragraph style is most commonly esteemed. For instance:
"Garfield is dead; but as he once said, upon another important occasion, 'God reigns, and the republic still lives.' "
- " Chicago may have all the national conventions, but she can't fill all the offices."
- "The price of this paper is two dollars a year, but this sum does not include the editor."
- " We are in favor of the constitution as it is, until it shall be constitutionally amended."
A few suggestions as to the composition of fiction - by which is meant novels, tales, sketches and incidents originating in the writer's own brain, and having no foundation except in his imagination, - may be appropriate here. Such reading-matter is more sought for, and more abundant, than any other. The tendency to write it is a common one, and when the laws of language, the purity of morals, and the probabilities of real existence are not outraged in such works, as too frequently they are, fiction can be made the pleasing vehicle of valuable instruction. It is, perhaps, the easiest to write of all literature, and, too often, is made to bring the largest profits to author and publisher. Poetry is a peculiar gift, and unless it flows naturally and brilliantly from the mind and heart, should seldom be attempted.
The engraving on this page is significant, and carries with it a powerful lesson. The gentleman on the right may be in every respect the equal of the one on the left - may be quite as learned, quite as witty, quite as strong in real argument - but he is a slave to his manuscript. He dare not lift up his head to speak two consecutive sentences without its aid, and if he takes his eyes from it, he is almost sure to skip words and stumble in his discourse. The speaker on the left hand, standing firmly on his feet, erect in form, graceful in gesture, and with his well-balanced mind filled with the importance of his subject, overflows with spontaneous expressions that instruct and delight his audience. Perhaps he has never written a single paragraph of the splendid discourse that falls from his lips, but every word is weighed, every sentence abounds with earnest argument and sentiment, and the impressions that he makes as his eloquence reaches throughout the hall will be felt for years.
Confined to Manuscript.
Two speakers are seen above. One makes no show of written notes, and speaks so independently as to create the favorable impression which comes from a powerful, extemporaneous address. The other handles his papers and makes such a display of his manuscript, and is so closely confined to its reading, as to greatly weaken the power of the discourse, and thus much of his influence is lost.