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H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.

Part II


To read his tales is a baptism of optimism.—Times. Sensation is the direct effect of the mode of motion of the sensorium.—Huxley. There have been no periodical general physical catastrophes.—Huxley. It is contended, indeed, that these preparations are intended only…—Times. It is intended to extend the system to this country.—Times. M. Sphakianakis conducted protracted negotiations.—Times. Those inalienable rights of life, liberty and property upon which the safety of society depends.—Choate. He served his apprenticeship to statesmanship.—Bryce. Apparently prepared to hold its ground.—Times. I awaited a belated train.—R. G. White. Hand them on silver salvers to the server.—E. F. Benson. …adjourned the discussion of the question of delation until to-day.—Times. In this house of poverty and dignity, of past grandeur and present simplicity, the brothers lived together in unity.—H. Caine. Their invalidity was caused by a technicality.—Times. …had for consolation the expansion of its dominion.—Spectator. The essential foundation of all the organization needed for the promotion of education.—Huxley. The projects of M. Witte relative to the regulation of the relations between capital and labour.—Times.
The remaining instances are of consecutive adverbs in -ly. Parallel adverbs, qualifying the same word simultaneously, do not result in a jingle; but in all our instances the two adverbs either qualify different words, or qualify the same word at different times. Thus, in the Huxley sentence, unquestionably either qualifies is, or qualifies true only after largely has qualified it: it is not the (universal) truth, but the partial truth, of the proposition that is unquestionable.
When the traffic in our streets becomes entirely mechanically propelled.—Times. He lived practically exclusively on milk.—E. F. Benson. Critics would probably decidedly disagree.—Hutton. The children are functionally mentally defective.—Times. What is practically wholly and entirely the British commerce and trade.—Times. …who answered, usually monosyllabically,…—E. F. Benson. The policy of England towards Afghanistan is, as formerly, entirely friendly.—Times. Money spent possibly unwisely, probably illegally, and certainly hastily.—Times. The deer are necessarily closely confined to definite areas.—Times. We find Hobbes’s view … tolerably effectively combated.—Morley. Great mental endowments do not, unhappily, necessarily involve a passion for obscurity.—H. G. Wells. The proposition of Descartes is unquestionably largely true.—Huxley.
Alliteration is not much affected by modern prose writers of any experience; it is a novice’s toy. The antithetic variety has probably seen its best days, and the other instances quoted are doubtless to be attributed to negligence.
I must needs trudge at every old beldam’s bidding and every young minx’s maggot.—Scott. Onward glided Dame Ursula, now in glimmer and now in gloom.—Scott. I have seen her in the same day as changeful as a marmozet, and as stubborn as a mule.—Scott. Thus, in consequence of the continuance of that grievance, the means of education at the disposal of the Protestants and Presbyterians were stunted and sterilized.—Balfour. A gaunt well with a shattered pent-house dwarfed the dwelling.—H. G. Wells. It shall be lawful to picket premises for the purpose of peacefully persuading any person to…—Times.
The founders of the study of the origin of human culture.—Morley. After the manner of the author of the immortal speeches of Pericles.—Morley. Togo’s announcement of the destruction of the fighting power of Russia’s Pacific squadron.—Times. The necessity of the modification of the system of administration.—Times. An exaggeration of the excesses of the epoch of sentimentalism.—Morley. Hostile to the justice of the principle of the taxing of those values which…—Lord Rosebery. The observation of the facts of the geological succession of the forms of life.—Huxley. Devoid of any accurate knowledge of the mode of development of many groups of plants and animals.—Huxley. One uniform note of cordial recognition of the complete success of the experiment.—Times. The first fasciculus of the second volume of the Bishop of Salisbury’s critical edition of St. Jerome’s Revision of the Latin New Testament.—Times. The appreciation of the House of the benefits derived by the encouragement afforded by the Government to the operations of…—Times. The study of the perfectly human theme of the affection of a man of middle age.—Times. His conviction of the impossibility of the proposal either of the creation of elective financial boards…—Daily Express. Representative of the mind of the age of literature.—Ruskin. Indignation against the worst offenders against…—Times. A belief in language in harmony with…—Daily Telegraph. The opposition … to the submission to the claims.—Times. Taken up with warfare with an enemy…—Freeman. Palmerston wasted the strength derived by England by the great war by his brag.—Granville. Unpropitious for any project for the reduction…—Times. Called upon to decide upon the reduction…—Times.
A garret, in which were two small beds, in one of which she gave me to understand another gentleman slept.—Borrow. Still no word of enlightenment had come which should pierce the thick clouds of doubt which hid the face of the future.—E. F. Benson. The ideal of a general alphabet … is one which gives a basis which is generally acceptable.—H. Sweet. He enjoyed a lucrative practice, which enabled him to maintain and educate a family with all the advantages which money can give in this country.—Trollope. The clown who views the pandemonium of red brick which he has built on the estate which he has purchased.—Borrow. The main thread of the book, which is a daring assault upon that serious kind of pedantry which utters itself in…—L. Stephen. Practical reasons which combine to commend this architectural solution of a problem which so many of us dread…—Times. The teachers, who took care that the weaker, who might otherwise be driven to the wall, had … their fair share.—Times. Let the heads and rulers of free peoples tell this truth to a Tsar who seeks to dominate a people who will not and cannot…—Times. He made a speech … which contained a passage on the conditions of modern diplomacy which attracted some attention.—Times.
There is of course no objection to the recurrence when the relatives are parallel.
Here, as with relatives, the recurrence is objectionable only when one of the clauses is subordinate to the other.
I do not forget that some writers have held that a system is to be inferred.—Balfour. I say that there is a real danger that we may run to the other extreme.—Huxley. It is clear … that the opinion was that it is not incompatible.—Nansen. I find that the view that Japan has now a splendid opportunity … is heartily endorsed.—Times. I must point out that it is a blot on our national education that we have serving…—Times. The Chairman replied to the allegation made by the Radical press to the effect that the statement that the British workman will not work as an unskilled labourer in the mines is inaccurate.—Times. An official telegram states that General Nogi reports that…—Times. The conviction that the Tsar must realize that the prestige of Russia is at stake.—Times. He was so carried away by his discovery that he ventured on the assertion that the similarity between the two languages was so great that an educated German could understand whole strophes of Persian poetry.—H. Sweet. I may fairly claim to have no personal interest in defending the council, although I believe, though I am not certain, that…—Times.
The novice who is conscious of a weakness for the high-flown and the inflated should watch narrowly for metrical snatches in his prose; they are a sure sign that the fit is on him.
Oh, moralists, who treat of happiness / and self-respect, innate in every sphere / of life, and shedding light on every grain / of dust in God’s highway, so smooth below / your carriage-wheels, so rough beneath the tread / of naked feet, bethink yourselves / in looking on the swift descent / of men who have lived in their own esteem, / that there are scores of thousands breathing now, / and breathing thick with painful toil, who in / that high respect have never lived at all, / nor had a chance of life! Go ye, who rest / so placidly upon the sacred Bard / who had been young, and when he strung his harp / was old, … / go, Teachers of content and honest pride, / into the mine, the mill, the forge, / the squalid depths of deepest ignorance, / and uttermost abyss of man’s neglect, / and say can any hopeful plant spring up / in air so foul that it extinguishes / the soul’s bright torch as fast as it is kindled! /—Dickens. But now,—now I have resolved to stand alone,— / fighting my battle as a man should fight, / seeking for neither help nor sympathy, / and trusting not in self…—Corelli. And the gathering orange stain / upon the edge of yonder western peak, / reflects the sunsets of a thousand years.—Ruskin. His veins were opened; but he talked on still / while life was slowly ebbing, and was calm / through all the agony of lingering death.—W. W. Capes. Can I then trust the evidence of sense? / And art thou really to my wish restored? / Never, oh never, did thy beauty shine / with such bewitching grace, as that which now / confounds and captivates my view! / …Where hast thou lived? where borrowed this perfection? / …Oh! I am all amazement, joy and fear! / Thou wilt not leave me! No! we must not part / again. By this warm kiss! a thousand times / more sweet than all the fragrance of the East! / we never more will part. O! this is rapture! / ecstasy! and what no language will explain!—Smollett.
It is only necessary to read aloud any one of the sentences quoted below, to perceive at once that there is something wrong with its accentuation. To lay down rules on this point would be superfluous, even if it were practicable; for in all doubtful cases the ear can and should decide. A writer who cannot trust himself to balance his sentences properly should read aloud all that he writes. It is useless for him to argue that readers will not read his work aloud, and that therefore the fault of which we are speaking will escape notice. For, although the fault may appear to be exclusively one of sound, it is always in fact a fault of sense: unnatural accentuation is only the outward sign of an unnatural combination of thought. Thus, nine readers out of ten would detect in a moment, without reading aloud, the ill-judged structure in our first example: the writer has tried to do two incompatible things at the same time, to describe in some detail the appearance of his characters, and to begin a conversation; the result is that any one reading the sentence aloud is compelled to maintain, through several lines of new and essential information, the tone that is appropriate only to what is treated as a matter of course. The interrogative tone protests more loudly than any other against this kind of mismanagement; but our examples will show that other tones are liable to the same abuse. The accentuation of each clause or principal member of a sentence is primarily fixed by its relation to the other members: when the internal claims of its own component parts clash with this fixed accentuation—when, for instance, what should be read with a uniformly declining accentuation requires for its own internal purposes a marked rise and fall of accent—reconstruction is necessary to avoid a badly balanced sentence. The passage from Peacock will illustrate this: after pupils, and still more after counterpoint, the accentuation should steadily decline to the end of the passage; but, conflicting with this requirement, we have the exorbitant claims of a complete anecdote, containing within itself an elaborately accented speech. To represent the anecdote as an insignificant appendage to pupils was a fault of sense; it is revealed to the few who would not have perceived it by the impossibility of reading the passage naturally.
‘Are Japanese Aprils always as lovely as this?’ asked the man in the light tweed suit of two others in immaculate flannels with crimson sashes round their waists and puggarees folded in cunning plaits round their broad Terai hats.—D. Sladen. ‘Here we are’, he said presently, after they had turned off the main road for a while and rattled along a lane between high banks topped with English shrubs, and looking for all the world like an outskirt of Tunbridge Wells.—D. Sladen. I doubt if Haydn would have passed as a composer before a committee of lords like one of his own pupils, who insisted on demonstrating to him that he was continually sinning against the rules of counterpoint; on which Haydn said to him, ‘I thought I was to teach you, but it seems you are to teach me, and I do not want a preceptor’, and thereon he wished his lordship a good morning.—Peacock. She wondered at having drifted into the neighbourhood of a person resembling in her repellent formal chill virtuousness a windy belfry tower, down among those districts of suburban London or appalling provincial towns passed now and then with a shudder, where the funereal square bricks-up the church, that Arctic hen-mother sits on the square, and the moving dead are summoned to their round of penitential exercise by a monosyllabic tribulation-bell.—Meredith.
The verb wonder presupposes the reader’s familiarity with the circumstance wondered at; it will not do the double work of announcing both the wonder and the thing wondered at. ‘I wondered at Smith’s being there’ implies that my hearer knew that Smith was there; if he did not, I should say ‘I was surprised to find…’. Accordingly, in this very artificial sentence, the writer presupposes the inconceivable question: ‘What were her feelings on finding that she had drifted … tribulation-bell?’. To read a sentence of minute and striking description with the declining accentuation that necessarily follows the verb wondered is of course impossible.
How doth the earth terrifie and oppress us with terrible earthquakes, which are most frequent in China, Japan, and those eastern climes, swallowing up sometimes six cities at once!—Burton.
Of the many possible violations of sentence accent, one—common in inferior writers—is illustrated in the next section.
There are two admissible kinds of causal ‘as’ clauses—the pure and the mixed. The pure clause assigns as a cause some fact that is already known to the reader and is sure to occur to him in the connexion: the mixed assigns as a cause what is not necessarily known to the reader or present in his mind; it has the double function of conveying a new fact, and indicating its relation to the main sentence. Context will usually decide whether an as clause is pure or mixed; in the following examples, it is clear from the nature of the two clauses that the first is pure, the second mixed:
I have an edition with German notes; but that is of no use, as you do not read German. I caught the train, but afterwards wished I had not, as I presently discovered that my luggage was left behind.
The second of these, it will be noticed, is unreadable, unless we slur the as to such an extent as practically to acknowledge that it ought not to be there. The reason is that, although a pure clause may stand at any point in the sentence, a mixed one must always precede the main statement. The pure clause, having only the subordinate function normally indicated by as, is subordinate in sense as well as in grammar; and the declining accentuation with which it is accordingly pronounced will not be interfered with wherever we may place it. But the mixed clause has another function, that of conveying a new fact, for which as does not prepare us, and which entitles it to an accentuation as full and as varied as that of the main statement. To neutralize the subordinating effect of as, and secure the proper accentuation, we must place the clause at the beginning; where this is not practicable, as should be removed, and a colon or semi-colon used instead of a comma. Persistent usage tends of course to remove this objection by weakening the subordinating power of conjunctions: because, while, whereas, since, can be used where as still betrays a careless or illiterate writer. There is the same false ring in all the following sentences:
I myself saw in the estate office of a large landed proprietor a procession of peasant women begging for assistance, as owing to the departure of the bread-winners the families were literally starving.—Times.
Remove as, and use a heavier stop.
Very true, Jasper; but you really ought to leans to read, as, by so doing, you might learn your duty towards yourselves.—Borrow.
To read; by so doing,…
There was a barber and hairdresser, who had been at Paris, and talked French with a cockney accent, the French sounding all the better, as no accent is so melodious as the Cockney.—Borrow.
Use a semicolon and ‘for’; the assertion requires all the support that vigorous accentuation can lend.
One of the very few institutions for which the Popish Church entertains any fear, and consequently respect, as it respects nothing which it does not fear.—Borrow.
For instead of as will best suit this illogical and falsely coordinated sentence.
Everybody likes to know that his advantages cannot be attributed to air, soil, sea, or to local wealth, as mines and quarries,… but to superior brain, as it makes the praise more personal to him.—Emerson.
Again the clause is a mixed one. The point of view it suggests is, indeed, sufficiently obvious; but (unlike our typical pure clause above—’you do not know German’) it depends for its existence upon the circumstances of the main sentence, which may or may not have occurred to the reader before. The full accentuation with which the clause must inevitably be read condemns it at once; use a colon, and remove as. Pure clauses, being from their nature more or less otiose, belong rather to the spoken than to the written language. It follows that a good writer will seldom have a causal as clause of any kind at the end of a sentence. Two further limitations remain to be noticed:
  1. When the cause, not the effect, is obviously the whole point of the sentence, because, not as, should be used; the following is quite impossible English:
    I make these remarks as quick shooting at short ranges has lately been so strongly recommended.—Times.
  2. As should be used only to give the cause of the thing asserted, not the cause of the assertion, nor an illustration of its truth, as in the following instances:
    You refer me to the Encyclopaedia: you are mistaken, as I find the Encyclopaedia exactly confines my view. The Oxford Coxswain did not steer a very good course here, as he kept too close in to the Middlesex shore to obtain full advantage of the tide; it made little difference, however, as his crew continued to gain.—Times.
    My finding the Encyclopaedia’s confirmation was not the cause of mistake, nor the keeping too close the cause of bad steering.
No sentence is to be condemned for mere length; a really skilful writer can fill a page with one and not tire his reader, though a succession of long sentences without the relief of short ones interspersed is almost sure to be forbidding. But the tiro, and even the good writer who is not prepared to take the trouble of reading aloud what he has written, should confine himself to the easily manageable. The tendency is to allow some part of a sentence to develop unnatural proportions, or a half parenthetic insertion to separate too widely the essential parts. The cure, indispensable for every one who aims at a passable style, and infallible for any one who has a good ear, is reading aloud after writing.
  1. Disproportionate insertions.
    Some simple eloquence distinctly heard, though only uttered in her eyes, unconscious that he read them, as, ‘By the death-beds I have tended, by the childhood I have suffered, by our meeting in this dreary house at midnight, by the cry wrung from me in the anguish of my heart, O father, turn to me and seek a refuge in my love before it is too late!’ may have arrested them.—Dickens. Captain Cuttle, though no sluggard, did not turn so early on the morning after he had seen Sol Gills, through the shopwindow, writing in the parlour, with the Midshipman upon the counter, and Rob the Grinder making up his bed below it, but that the clocks struck six as he raised himself on his elbow, and took a survey of his little chamber.—Dickens. A perpetual consequent warfare of her spirit and the nature subject to the thousand sensational hypocrisies invoked for concealment of its reviled brutish baseness, held the woman suspended from her emotions.—Meredith. Yesterday, before Dudley Sowerby’s visit, Nataly would have been stirred where the tears which we shed for happiness or repress at a flattery dwell when seeing her friend Mrs. John Cormyn enter…—Meredith. ‘It takes’, it is said that Sir Robert Peel observed, ‘three generations to make a gentleman’.—Bagehot. Behind, round the windows of the lower story, clusters of clematis, like large purple sponges, blossomed, miraculously fed through their thin, dry stalks.—E. F. Benson. It is a striking exhibition of the power which the groups, hostile in different degrees to a democratic republic, have of Parliamentary combination.—Spectator. Sir,—With reference to the custom among some auctioneers and surveyors of receiving secret commissions, which was recently brought to light in a case before the Lord Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy and Ridley (King’s Bench Division), when the L. C. J. in giving judgment for the defendants said:—Unfortunately in commercial circles, in which prominent men played a part, extraordinary mistakes occurred. But a principal who employed an agent to do work for him employed him upon terms that the agent was not liable to get secret commissions. The sooner secret commissions were not approved by an honourable profession, the better it would be for commerce in all its branches. I desire to take this opportunity…—Times. In the course of a conversation with a representative of the Gaulois, Captain Klado, after repeating his views on the necessity for Russia to secure the command of the sea which have already appeared in the Times, replied as follows to a question as to whether, after the new squadron in the course of formation at Libau has reinforced Admiral Rozhdestvensky’s fleet, the Russian and Japanese naval forces will be evenly balanced: [here follows reply]—Times.
  2. Sentences of which the end is allowed to trail on to unexpected length.
    But though she could trust his word, the heart of the word went out of it when she heard herself thanked by Lady Blachington (who could so well excuse her at such a time for not returning her call, that she called in a friendly way a second time, warmly to thank her) for throwing open the Concert Room at Lakelands in August, to an entertainment in assistance of the funds for the purpose of erecting an East London Clubhouse, where the children of the poor by day could play, and their parents pass a disengaged evening.—Meredith. How to commence the ceremony might have been a difficulty, but for the zeal of the American Minister, who, regardless of the fact that he was the representative of a sister Power, did not see any question of delicacy arise in his taking a prominent part in proceedings regarded as entirely irregular by the representatives of the Power to which the parties concerned belonged.—D. Sladen. The style holds the attention, but perhaps the most subtle charm of the work lies in the inextricable manner in which fact is interwoven with something else that is not exactly fiction, but rather fancy bred of the artist’s talent in projecting upon his canvas his own view of things seen and felt and lived through by those whose thoughts, motives, and actions, he depicts.—Times. The cock-bustard that, having preened himself, paces before the hen birds on the plains that he can scour when his wings, which are slow in the air, join with his strong legs to make nothing of grassy leagues on leagues.—Times. I don’t so much wonder at his going away, because, leaving out of consideration that spice of the marvellous which was always in his character, and his great affection for me, before which every other consideration of his life became nothing, as no one ought to know so well as I who had the best of fathers in him—leaving that out of consideration, I say, I have often read and heard of people who, having some near and dear relative, who was supposed to be shipwrecked at sea, have gone down to live on that part of the seashore where any tidings of the missing ship might be expected to arrive, though only an hour or two sooner than elsewhere, or have even gone upon her track to the place whither she was bound, as if their going would create intelligence.—Dickens. What he had to communicate was the contents of despatches from Tokio containing information received by the Japanese Government respecting infringements of neutrality by the Baltic Fleet in Indo-Chinese waters outside what are, strictly speaking, the territorial limits, and principally by obtaining provisions from the shore.—Times.
  3. Decapitable sentences.Perhaps the most exasperating form is that of the sentence that keeps on prolonging itself by additional phrases, each joint of which gives the reader hopes of a full stop.
    It was only after the weight of evidence against the economic success of the endeavour became overwhelming that our firm withdrew its support /, and in conjunction with almost the entire British population of the country concentrated its efforts on endeavouring to obtain permission to increase the coloured unskilled labour supply of the mines / so as to be in a position to extend mining operations /, and thus assist towards re-establishing the prosperity of the country /, while at the same time attracting a number of skilled British artisans / who would receive not merely the bare living wage of the white unskilled labourer, but a wage sufficient to enable these artisans to bring their families to the country / and to make their permanent home there.—Westminster Gazette. Here may still be seen by the watchful eye the Louisiana heron and smaller egret, all that rapacious plume-hunters have left of their race, tripping like timid fairies in and out the leafy screen / that hides the rank jungle of sawgrass and the grisly swamp where dwells the alligator /, which lies basking, its nostrils just level with the dirty water of its bath, or burrows swiftly in the soft earth to evade the pursuit of those who seek to dislodge it with rope and axe / that they may sell its hide to make souvenirs for the tourists / who, at the approach of summer, hie them north or east with grateful memories of that fruitful land.—F. G. Aflalo. Running after milkmaids is by no means an ungenteel rural diversion; but let any one ask some respectable casuist (the Bishop of London, for instance), whether Lavengro was not far better employed, when in the country, at tinkering and smithery than he would have been in running after all the milkmaids in Cheshire /, though tinkering is in general considered a very ungenteel employment /, and smithery little better /, notwithstanding that an Orcadian poet, who wrote in Norse about 80c years ago, reckons the latter among nine noble arts which he possessed /, naming it along with playing at chess, on the harp, and ravelling runes /, or as the original has it, ‘treading runes’ / —that is, compressing them into small compass by mingling one letter with another /, even as the Turkish caligraphists ravel the Arabic letters /, more especially those who write talismans.—Borrow.
Conscious repetition of a word or phrase has been discussed in Part I (Airs and Graces): in the following examples the repetition is unconscious, and proves only that the writer did not read over what he had written.
…a man … who directly impresses one with the impression…—Times. For most of them get rid of them more or less completely.—H. Sweet. The most important distinction between dialogue on the one hand and purely descriptive and narrative pieces on the other hand is a purely grammatical one.—H. Sweet. And it may be that from a growing familiarity with Canadian winter amusements may in time spring an even warmer regard…—Times. It may well induce the uncomfortable reflection that these historical words may prove…—Times. The inclusion of adherents would be adhered to.—Times. The remainder remaining loyal, fierce fighting commenced.—Spectator. Every subordinate shortcoming, every incidental defect, will be pardoned. ‘Save us’ is the cry of the moment; and, in the confident hope of safety, any deficiency will be overlooked, and any frailty pardoned.—Bagehot. They were followed by jinrikshas containing young girls with very carefully-dressed hair, carrying large bunches of real flowers on their laps, followed in turn by two more coolies carrying square white wooden jars, containing huge silver tinsel flowers.—D. Sladen. It can do so, in all reasonable probability, provided its militia character is maintained. But in any case it will provide us at home with the second line army of our needs.—Times. Dressed in a subtly ill-dressed, expensive mode.—E. F. Benson. Toodle being the family name of the apple-faced family.—Dickens. Artillery firing extends along the whole front, extending for eighty miles.—Times. I regard the action and conduct of the Ministry as a whole as of far greater importance.—Times. The fleet passed the port on its way through the Straits on the way to the China Sea.—Times. Much of his popularity he owed, we believe, to that very timidity which his friends lamented. That timidity often prevented him from exhibiting his talents to the best advantage. But it propitiated Nemesis. It averted that envy which would otherwise have been excited…—Macaulay. I will lay down a pen I am so little able to govern.—And I will try to subdue an impatience which… may otherwise lead me into still more punishable errors.—I will return to a subject which I cannot fly from for ten minutes together.—Richardson. At the same time it was largely owing to his careful training that so many great Etonian cricketers owed their success.—Times.