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man and the artist will look upon a stretch of hill and valley with very different eyes. Now no one of us can get these different impressions in their entire vividness, and yet it becomes our duty in describing to consult as far as possible the tastes and views of those whom we are addressing and to emphasize the points which they would care particularly to have emphasized. In like manner, not only the class of readers addressed, but the time and place and circumstances generally, should have much influence in determining our method of treatment. All of this is only another way of saying that in description we should select a definite point of view. The point of view is here taken to mean, in the description of a landscape for instance, not only the topical position of the describer, but also his mental attitude, so to speak. We want to know how he is inclined to look at things. If he describes a meadowlark we want to know whether he does it as a poet or as a naturalist, so that we shall know from what standpoint we are to read and criticise. This point of view should be clearly indicated somewhere in the beginning, and if it is shifted at any time, as of course it may be occasionally, the reader should have full warning.
The following sample description is taken from Olive Schreiner's Story of an African Farm :
The full African moon poured down its light from the blue sky into the wide, lonely plain. The dry, sandy earth with its coating of stunted “ karroo” bushes a few inches high, the low hills that skirted the plain, the milk-bushes with their long fingerlike leaves, all were touched by a weird and almost oppressive beauty as they lay in the white light.
In one spot only was the solemn monotony of the plain broken. Near the centre a small solitary “kopje” rose. Alone it lay there, a heap of round ironstones piled one upon another, as over some giant's grave. Here and there a few tufts of grass or small succulent plants had sprung up among its stones, and on the very summit a clump of prickly pears lifted their thorny arms, and reflected, as from mirrors, the moonlight on their broad fleshy leaves. At the foot of the “kopje” lay the homestead. First, the stone-walled sheep kraals and Kaffir huts ; beyond them the dwelling-house a square red brick building with thatched roof. Even on its bare red walls, and the wooden ladder that led up to the loft, the moonlight cast a kind of dreamy beauty, and quite etherealized the low brick wall that ran before the house, and which enclosed a bare patch of sand and two straggling sunflowers. On the zinc roof of the great open wagon-house, on the roofs of the outbuildings that jutted from its side, the moonlight glinted with a quite peculiar brightness, till it seemed that every rib in the metal was of burnished silver.
Sleep ruled everywhere, and the homestead was not less quiet than the solitary plain.
The farm by daylight was not as the farm by moonlight. The plain was a weary flat of loose, red sand, sparsely covered by dry “ karroo” bushes, that cracked beneath the tread like tinder, and showed the red earth everywhere. Here and there a milk-bush lifted its pale-colored rods, and in every direction the ants and beetles ran about in the blazing sand. The red walls of the farmhouse, the zinc roofs of the outbuildings, the stone walls of the kraals, all reflected the fierce sunlight, till the eye ached and blenched. No tree or shrub was to be seen far or near. The two sunflowers that stood before the door, outstared by the sun, drooped their brazen faces to the sand, and the little cicada-like insects cried aloud among the stones of the “ “kopje.”
The punctuation of the above may not always be the most rational, nor are the relative pronouns managed very skillfully, but as a piece of description it is strong and vivid. Notice how effectively the moonlight is used to soften and blend the artificial with the natural objects, and then how sharply they all stand out in the sunlight. How is the point of view taken at the beginning?
NATURE IN ACTIVITY.
A Sunrise at Sea.
The Johnstown Flood.
These subjects may seem to suggest only the most striking phenomena of nature and the great ravages which her forces effect. Such, it is true, make stronger impressions on the observer and awaken keener interest in the reader, so that they are favorite subjects for description. But do not allow familiarity or indifference to blind you to the striking aspects of nature's changing mood as exhibited about you daily. The sunrise from your window may be as beautiful as any at sea. The storm that breaks fiercely over your head may be little less sublime than that which hurtles about the peaks and careers down the valleys of the Alps.
Descriptions of this class do not often have for their design the mere imparting of information. That is, they are not usually of a scientific character, but rather of a literary or artistic one. The object is to interest and please the reader, to create in his mind, in all its original vividness, the picture which the writer has seen, and to arouse in him the same emotions which the writer has felt. To compass this object in any satisfactory degree requires the use of considerably “heightened” language ; for the strongest words are but weak picture-makers compared with the flying clouds and the everlasting hills. We use this heightened language whenever we introduce words or expressions that seem elevated above or in any way removed from the sphere of sober thought and simple feeling. Among other things, figures of speech, — simile and metaphor, personification, exclamation, apostrophe, antithesis, — are naturally and freely resorted to. We call these ornaments of speech, and say they serve to give the artistic touches that we desire.
Let us see now, if we can, just in what consist true artistic or literary touches, these ornaments of composition. Are we at liberty to adopt anything that is in itself ornamental? Can we always depend upon its giving a happy effect? How is it in art in general ? How is it in life? Why are you not charmed with the savage's paint and feathers? Why does a costly watch chain not displease you, while a pair of diamond earrings does, and even a showy finger ring, in these days when seals are no more, sets you thinking? You say these things offend a cultivated taste. What is a cultivated taste? Shall we say that, whatever else it may be, it is a taste that takes delight in things ornamental only when they at the same time plainly serve some ulterior end? If this is not the truth it is somewhere near it. Thus much we may safely say: that in literature, as in art in general, as in all the avenues of life,
that which is artificial and purely ornamental may be enjoyed and even tolerated only when it does not so much shine with its own beauty as lend luster to that which it is intended to beautify. Every ornament must fit naturally in or appear to spring from what it adorns. You may not with impunity force a figure of speech into a composition ; it must seem to belong there by natural right. There will be the same difference in effect that there is between the paint on the society woman's cheek and the color in the school-girl's. You could not take Wordsworth's ponderous figure,
A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved, and insert it in one of Shelley's delicate descriptions. If your figures help to convey to your readers your own impressions, if your heightened language actually arouses in them the emotions you desire to arouse, well and good. But be chary of ornament for ornament's sake.
Soon the stars are hidden. A light breeze seems rather to tremble and hang poised than to blow. The rolling clouds, the dark wilderness, and the watery waste shine out every moment in the wide gleam of lightnings still hidden by the wood, and are wrapped again in ever-thickening darkness over which thunders roll and jar and answer one another across the sky. Then, like a charge of ten thousand lancers, come the wind and the rain, their onset covered by all the artillery of heaven. The lightnings leap, hiss, and blaze; the thunders crack and roar; the rain lashes; the waters writhe; the wind smites and howls. For five, for ten, for twenty minutes — for an hour, for two hours — the sky and the flood are never for an instant wholly dark, or the thunder for one moment silent; but while the universal roar sinks and swells,