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since they could remember anything. Perhaps the younger of them supposed that he and the chair had come into the world together, and that both had always been as old as they were now. At this time, however, it happened to be the fashion for ladies to adorn their drawing-rooms with the oldest and oddest chairs that could be found. It seemed to cousin Clara that, if these ladies could have seen Grandfather's old chair, they would have thought it worth all the rest together. She wondered if it were not even older than Grandfather himself, and longed to know all about its history.
In the above selection the first paragraph is purely descriptive; the second is only indirectly so, being a fanciful way of dwelling upon the age and antique appearance of the chair.
MECHANICAL CONTRIVANCES, SCIENTIFIC INSTRU
MENTS, ETC. In the last exercise we handled description in a very general way. There was no attempt to make it exhaustive. Striking features alone were selected, and those perhaps from only one, external point of view. Here the problem is somewhat different. Have the object before you, then try to make your description of it so accurate and complete that any one may get a reasonably clear conception of it, even though he has never seen it. This will necessitate finding distinctive names for the various portions of the object. Such names do not always exist; or if they do, unless we happen to be very well acquainted with the object and its use, they do not readily suggest themselves to us. Notice what frequent use an awkward describer makes
of the words thing, piece, affair, contrivance, etc., words that have no specific meaning and scarcely help the description along at all, since their value for conveying definite ideas is virtually nil. Notice too how such a describer, if he is talking, makes use of any article that may be at hand to illustrate his meaning. If he is at the dinner table, knife and fork, cup and saucer, salt-cellar and tooth-picks, will all be pressed into service to make up for the deficiencies of language.
Indeed in description of the kind here contemplated, a knowledge of technical terms is almost indispensable. For instance, if you have to describe an air-pump, it will simplify the matter very much if you can use, without further explanation, such terms as cylinder, piston, valve. To describe one of the more complex kinds of steam engines or electrical dynamos, requires great familiarity with the terminology of mechanics. But whatever your own knowledge may be, you will still have to take into consideration the ability of your readers or hearers to understand. If they have not your acquaintance with these technical terms, then both they and you must be content with such imperfect conceptions as are to be derived from general terms which are more widely intelligible though necessarily iess exact. Even when both writer and reader have an intimate knowledge of the exact terms, and description reaches its highest perfection, still drawings and photographs are almost indispensable adjuncts. Witness any book or magazine devoted to the special sciences.
There are certain terms, once considered technical perhaps, which to-day should constitute a part of
everyone's vocabulary, whether he be specially educated or
not. Lever, cog, pivot, lens, may be instanced. Familiarize yourself with such as early as possible ; it will make you a more intelligent listener and reader and a more intelligible talker and writer in every department of modern life.
The following are suggested as good objects to be described : A Needle Threader, Carpet Stretcher, Scroll Saw, Bicycle, Violin, Steam Engine, Air Pump, Refracting Telescope, Compound Microscope. Many others will readily occur to you.
BUILDINGS, TOWNS, ETC.
Subjects : My Home.
The Woolen Mills. Grandfather's Ranch.
The Whaleback Steamer. My Birthplace.
The Garden City. The Old Schoolhouse.
A New England Hamlet. The City Waterworks System.
We must recognize two fundamentally different classes of descriptive writing. Roughly speaking we may call the one Scientific, the other Literary. The first aims to give an exact picture of things as they are, the second aims to give a good picture of things as they appear to be. The object of the first is to explain and inform, the object of the second is to interest and please. The first may be compared to a photograph, the second to a more or less idealized painting.
In Exercise XVI. the descriptions were not limited to either kind, though they would probably be rather of the former than of the latter. Naturally many descriptions will partake of the characteristics of both classes. In Exercise XVII. they were strictly of the scientific class. In the present exercise again they will not be limited to either class, though they will lean toward the literary.
Much depends on the subject selected. If you choose a factory or a new schoolhouse, you can do little more than give a detailed description of the building. The subject lends itself only to the plainest kind of treatment. An architect could give a strictly “scientific” description ; one without his knowledge and experience would have to be content with something less exact. On the other hand, if you choose to describe your home or the old schoolhouse in which you have spent many years, a thousand memories and associations will conspire to brighten up the sombre tints and soften the harsh lines and lend beauty and grace to the homeliest features. You can hardly keep your personality from entering into and idealizing such a description. Nor will you be expected to do so. This is one of the characteristics of our best genuine literature. It is not meant that you shall be inaccurate or untruthful, only that you shall not be over-curious for accuracy, and in particular that you shall not strive, to the exclusion of better things, for absolute completeness of detail.
The descriptions may well be made from memory, without having the object before you. Read as an example Hawthorne's description of The Old Manse. In the following model, though the language and construction are not always the best that might be chosen, the expression is sincere and the feeling that inspired it was evidently genuine.
A CABIN. All day we followed a dark winding path which leads into the interior of Wahkiakum County, Washington, with scarcely a gleam of sunlight. At last, while descending one side of a gulch, there opened to us a striking scene.
In the woods below us was a clearing, surrounded by a wall of dense evergreens.
At the bottom of the gulch trickled a stream of sweet mountain water. In the opening on the opposite side of the stream was a bed of grass.
Here and there were old mosscovered logs and brush piles.
Then, as our eyes followed the path which led up the opposite bank, we caught sight of a small cabin which seemed to be standing out from the side of the hill. It was made of boards which had been manufactured without a sawmill, and the eaves came to to the ground so that it looked like a potato house. Above it towered some gigantic firs which with swaying branches threatened to fall on the little cabin and bury it.
As we approached we saw that the cabin had been recently deserted, and we inferred from the axes and saws which were scattered here and there that the desertion had been a hasty one. The loneliness told the story. Perhaps the rancher came into the woods to seek a fortune and went out to seek a wife.
PROCESSES OF MANUFACTURE AND CONSTRUCTION.
a Floral Design ; a Kite; a Mint.
An Improvised Hammock. A Home-Made Aquarium.
How to Put Up a Swing. A Successful Rabbit Trap.
A Visit to the Watch Factory. How Pasteboard Boxes are Made.