Thursday, April 30, 2009

My stylistic heroes were such as Macaulay (of the paragraph-length sentences) and Carlyle ( "O sea-green incorruptible!", but this from Rees-Mogg is right on.

When I was a teenager, I found myself caught up in the styles of two of the greatest prose writers of English literature, Francis Bacon and Edward Gibbon. Bacon's influence was benign; Gibbon's style can be a quicksand for beginners. Written by Gibbon himself, his Latinised style has a symphonic classicism - he really is the English Cicero. At 14 I did not have the ear to be anybody's Cicero. Under the influence of Gibbon, my essays resembled the tragedy of the R101 - the British airship that crashed in France because its engines were too heavy and it had too little gas in its bags. The craft did not have enough lift.
After reading Bacon, my sentences became more pithy, if somewhat staccato. Their brevity made them easier to read. I still operate on a rule that when one is having some difficulty with a sentence, the best thing to do is to cut it in half.
One would have to be a very clumsy writer to find oneself in trouble with a sentence of less than a dozen words. It is his short sentences that make Jonathan Swift so lucid to read.
William Rees-Mogg Times 4/15/09

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