When a mind, having the texture and expansibility to become surcharged with magnetic effluence, has moreover that aesthetic gift of rhythmic expression which involves a sense of the beautiful, that is, of the high and exquisite possibilities of created things,—when such a mind, under the pressure of inward needs, betakes it to embodying in verse its imaginations and conceptions, the result is poetry. Poetry is thought so inly warmed by creative sensibility as to overflow in musical cadence. And when we consider that thought is the gathering of loose intellectual activity into a fast focus; that creative sensibility is human feeling refined of its dross, stilled of its tumultuousness in the glow of the beautiful; that musical cadence is heard by him who can hearken with such rapt reverence as to catch some sound of the tread in divine movement, we may apprehend that a genuine poem implies, for its conception, an illuminated plenitude of mind, and involves in its production a beatific visionariness.
Thought, act, and speech are of one substance. Where the best things have been done, the best things have been said. The history of Attica is richer and more significant than that of her sister-states of old Greece, and among them her literature is supreme. So of England in modern Europe. And where good thoughts have been uttered the form of those will be finest which carry the choicest life. The tree gets its texture from the quality of its sap. Were I asked what author is the most profitable to the student of English on account of style, I should answer, study Shakespeare.
Have something to say, and say it in the best and fewest words, were a good recipe for style. In this brief precept there are more ingredients than at first view appear. To have something to say implies that a man must write out of himself, and not chiefly out of his memory; and so to write involves much more than many people are aware of; in order that his style have freshness, which is a primary need of a good style, the writer’s thought must be fresh. Then, to say his thought in the best and fewest words implies faculty of choice in words, and faculty of getting rid of all verbal superfluity; and these two faculties betoken proficiencies and some of the finer aesthetic forces.
Style itself is a gift (or more properly an issue of several gifts), not an acquisition; it cannot be taught. As to teaching style to one with inharmonious or defective natural powers, you might as well attempt to teach a thrush to sing the songs of the nightingale. To be sure, like the poetical, or the scientific, or any mental gift, it requires culture. But style is little helped from without. The most, as to the form of his utterance, that a writer can get from others—whether through study of the best masters or through direct rhetorical instruction—is in the mechanical portion of the art; that is, how