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SECTION 1.- EXPOSITION.
To expose or expound is to set forth, to lay open. Exposition then is the act of setting forth or laying open to view, the act of unfolding, defining, explaining, interpreting. And whenever this act concerns itself with terms, which denote objects of thought, or with propositions, which express relations between objects of thought, we have rhetorical or literary exposition.
We shall have to go a step further and say that rhetorical exposition concerns itself, not with singular terms, which denote single objects only, but with general terms, which stand for any one of a number of objects having certain qualities in common ; and the same is true of propositions. For example, you cannot expound James White. You can describe him. You can say that he is a tall man with dark eyes and well chiseled features ; and this is description. But it is not exposition. Now notice that in this description a great deal is taken for granted. There is the general term man
which is not explained. To an intelligence which should know nothing of the meaning of the word man, the description would be unintelligible until that word were explained. Such explanation would be technically called exposition.
How shall we set about expounding general terms ? Take the term man. We should not say, as we said of James White, that a man has dark eyes, for that is true of some men only. But we should say, among other things, that a man is a creature with two eyes. That is, we should select only those qualities that are possessed by every normal individual of the class comprehended by the general term. Description deals with individuals, pointing out the features that distinguish one individual from all others; exposition deals with generals, with classes, pointing out the features that are common to all individuals of the class. The need of exposition in the above case may not be so obvious because the term is well understood, but if I say “ Paradise Lost is a sublime epic,” many readers will want the meaning of the term epic expounded.
Of course, from another point of view, these class features are distinctive. That is, the class is only one among other classes, and to be distinguished from them. The possession of two eyes marks off men at once from all creatures possessing more eyes or fewer. Man is but one division of a more comprehensive class, — animal. On the other hand classes may be subdivided, and features that are not common to the whole class may be common to the members of one of the subdivisions. For example, while we cannot say that men are dark-eyed, we may fairly say that Italians are so.
And the Italian race may well be a subject for exposition. It is when we reach the individual in the last analysis that we have a proper subject for description. There are many Italians — the term may be expounded ; there is only one Dante — he may be described. You may expound the meaning of tree and meadow and river, but you describe the landscape about you which has no exact counterpart among all the landscapes of the earth.
Strictly speaking, a subject for exposition is neither a material object nor an actual event. It is merely a mental concept - a concept formed by putting together in thought a certain number of common qualities or actions. Every individual of a class has the common class-qualities, but it has something more than these it has in addition its individual characteristics. If it were possible to strip it of these latter, we should have our concept embodied, so to speak. But it is manifestly impossible to have a rose possessing size without being of any particular size, or possessing color without being of any particular color, although that is just what is contemplated by the concept called up in our mind by the general term rose.
For the present then rhetorical exposition may be defined as the process of defining and explaining the concepts called up in the mind by general terms or propositions.
All that has been said thus far in this exercise may be taken as an example of this process : it is an exposition of the term exposition. Now take one of the two subjects given at the head of this exercise and write a brief expository essay upon it. You must have obtained
from your practice and from the suggestions in the previous part of this book a pretty clear idea of what is comprehended by narrative or by descriptive composition. Expound that idea.
Games of Chance.
Expository composition is not, as might be inferred from the last exercise, limited to dry technical or abstruse subjects. There are multitudes of more or less vague ideas and of imperfectly settled relations in everyday life that open a tempting field to the expositor ; the above list of subjects might be extended indefinitely. Remember only that you are to select general ideas and propositions : not, for instance, Triboulet, court jester to Francis I. of France, but the genus court jester; not the neglect of the United States Government in allowing Robert Morris to die in a debtor's prison, but the ungratefulness of republics.
Moreover, while the primary purpose of exposition is to assist the understanding, this does not forbid presenting it in a popular and interesting shape. Informal essays on these topics were at one time very much in
vogue, and their charm is by no means unappreciated to-day. One needs only to mention the names of Montaigne and Addison to prove this. We call these essays informal because they do not follow any rigid classification nor attempt to exhaust the subject or any phase of it. They are more or less rambling, though a cultivated literary sense will take care that they do not produce too disjointed an effect. Their interest is often heightened by giving them a personal tone, by pitching them in the colloquial key, as if the writer were conversing with his reader face to face instead of trying to reach him at long range.
To write in this style is not difficult, since it involves no very strenuous thought. But whatever the writing may lack, for this reason, in positive value, should be compensated for, if possible, by liveliness and pungency of style. For models, read the essays of Montaigne, of Addison, of Charles Lamb. Among the latter's may be specified The Old and the New Schoolmaster, Grace Before Meat, A Dissertation on Roast Pig, Poor Relations. The essays of Bacon may be referred to, though the familiar tone and the personal element are lacking in them. But they consist for the most part of a series of such detached observations that they can hardly be dignified with the name of formal or scientific essays.
The following model is extracted from A Complaint of the Decay of Beggars, one of the Essays of Elia. The long succession of short sentences and the antiquated forms are not commended for imitation.
Poverty is a comparative thing. ... Its pretences to property are almost ludicrous. Its pitiful attempts to save excite a smile. Every scornful companion can weigh his trifle-bigger purse