Type of Suggestions in English Page 1


How to Write, What to Write Correct Speaking and Speakers

Rules of grammar and rhetoric are good in their own place; their laws must be observed in order to express thoughts and ideas in the right way so that they shall convey a determinate sense and meaning in a pleasing and acceptable manner. Hard and fast rules, however, can never make a writer or author. That is the business of old Mother Nature and nothing can take her place. If nature has not endowed a man with faculties to put his ideas into proper composition he cannot do so. He may have no ideas worthy the recording. If a person has not a thought to express, it cannot be expressed. Something cannot be manufactured out of nothing. The author must have thoughts and ideas before he can express them on paper. These come to him by nature and environment and are developed and strengthened by study. There is an old Latin quotation in regard to the poet which says “Poeta nascitur non fit” the translation of which is—the poet is born, not made. To a great degree the same applies to the author. Some men are great scholars as far as book learning is concerned, yet they cannot express themselves in passable composition. Their knowledge is like gold locked up in a chest where it is of no value to themselves or the rest of the world.

The best way to learn to write is to sit down and write, just as the best way how to learn to ride a bicycle is to mount the wheel and pedal away. Write first about common things, subjects that are familiar to you. Try for instance an essay on a cat. Say something original about her. Don’t say “she is very playful when young but becomes grave as she grows old.” That has been said more than fifty thousand times before. Tell what you have seen the family cat doing, how she caught a mouse in the garret and what she did after catching it. Familiar themes are always the best for the beginner. Don’t attempt to describe a scene in Australia if you have never been there and know nothing of the country. Never hunt for subjects, there are thousands around you. Describe what you saw yesterday—a fire, a runaway horse, a dog-fight on the street and be original in your description. Imitate the best writers in their style, but not in their exact words. Get out of the beaten path, make a pathway of your own.

Know what you write about, write about what you know; this is a golden rule to which you must adhere. To know you must study. The world is an open book in which all who run may read. Nature is one great volume the pages of which are open to the peasant as well as to the peer. Study Nature’s moods and tenses, for they are vastly more important than those of the grammar. Book learning is most desirable, but, after all, it is only theory and not practice. The grandest allegory in the English, in fact, in any language, was written by an ignorant, so-called ignorant, tinker named John Bunyan. Shakespeare was not a scholar in the sense we regard the term to-day, yet no man ever lived or probably ever will live that equalled or will equal him in the expression of thought. He simply read the book of nature and interpreted it from the standpoint of his own magnificent genius.

Don’t imagine that a college education is necessary to success as a writer. Far from it. Some of our college men are dead-heads, drones, parasites on the body social, not alone useless to the world but to themselves. A person may be so ornamental that he is valueless from any other standpoint. As a general rule ornamental things serve but little purpose. A man may know so much of everything that he knows little of anything. This may sound paradoxical, but, nevertheless, experience proves its truth.

If you are poor that is not a detriment but an advantage. Poverty is an incentive to endeavor, not a drawback. Better to be born with a good, working brain in your head than with a gold spoon in your mouth. If the world had been depending on the so-called pets of fortune it would have deteriorated long ago.

From the pits of poverty, from the arenas of suffering, from the hovels of neglect, from the backwood cabins of obscurity, from the lanes and by-ways of oppression, from the dingy garrets and basements of unending toil and drudgery have come men and women who have made history, made the world brighter, better, higher, holier for their existence in it, made of it a place good to live in and worthy to die in,—men and women who have hallowed it by their footsteps and sanctified it with their presence and in many cases consecrated it with their blood. Poverty is a blessing, not an evil, a benison from the Father’s hand if accepted in the right spirit. Instead of retarding, it has elevated literature in all ages. Homer was a blind beggarman singing his snatches of song for the dole of charity; grand old Socrates, oracle of wisdom, many a day went without his dinner because he had not the wherewithal to get it, while teaching the youth of Athens. The divine Dante was nothing better than a beggar, houseless, homeless, friendless, wandering through Italy while he composed his immortal cantos. Milton, who in his blindness “looked where angels fear to tread,” was steeped in poverty while writing his sublime conception, “Paradise Lost.” Shakespeare was glad to hold and water the horses of patrons outside the White Horse Theatre for a few pennies in order to buy bread. Burns burst forth in never-dying song while guiding the ploughshare. Poor Heinrich Heine, neglected and in poverty, from his “mattress grave” of suffering in Paris added literary laurels to the wreath of his German Fatherland. In America Elihu Burritt, while attending the anvil, made himself a master of a score of languages and became the literary lion of his age and country.

In other fields of endeavor poverty has been the spur to action. Napoleon was born in obscurity, the son of a hand-to-mouth scrivener in the backward island of Corsica. Abraham Lincoln, the boast and pride of America, the man who made this land too hot for the feet of slaves, came from a log cabin in the Ohio backwoods. So did James A. Garfield. Ulysses Grant came from a tanyard to become the world’s greatest general. Thomas A. Edison commenced as a newsboy on a railway train.

The examples of these men are incentives to action. Poverty thrust them forward instead of keeping them back. Therefore, if you are poor make your circumstances a means to an end. Have ambition, keep a goal in sight and bend every energy to reach that goal. A story is told of Thomas Carlyle the day he attained the highest honor the literary world could confer upon him when he was elected Lord Rector of Edinburgh University. After his installation speech, in going through the halls, he met a student seemingly deep in study. In his own peculiar, abrupt, crusty way the Sage of Chelsea interrogated the young man: “For what profession are you studying?” “I don’t know,” returned the youth. “You don’t know,” thundered Carlyle, “young man, you are a fool.” Then he went on to qualify his vehement remark, “My boy when I was your age, I was stooped in grinding, gripping poverty in the little village of Ecclefechan, in the wilds of [Transcriber’s note: First part of word illegible]-frieshire, where in all the place only the minister and myself could read the Bible, yet poor and obscure as I was, in my mind’s eye I saw a chair awaiting for me in the Temple of Fame and day and night and night and day I studied until I sat in that chair to-day as Lord Rector of Edinburgh University.”

Another Scotchman, Robert Buchanan, the famous novelist, set out for London from Glasgow with but half-a-crown in his pocket. “Here goes,” said he, “for a grave in Westminster Abbey.” He was not much of a scholar, but his ambition carried him on and he became one of the great literary lions of the world’s metropolis.

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