o speak or debate to any advantage, a person must possess some knowledge of the laws of speech. This means a practical idea of grammar—practical in the sense of being on a level with the average capacity of mankind. As I have said elsewhere, no department of knowledge is like grammar. A person may conceal his ignorance of any other art—but every time he speaks he publishes his ignorance of this. Other arts may be practiced occasionally, but the art of speaking must be practiced continually. Is it not strange that what all must do hourly, few care to do correctly? There can be no greater imputation on the intelligence of any man, than that he should talk from the cradle to the tomb, and never talk well.
It is as necessary to get knowledge as to eat and drink. You would not ask another to eat and drink for you. All are as well able to learn as to eat, and it is quite as needful. Lord Herbert, heretofore quoted, tells us that 'between grammar, logic and rhetoric there exists a close and happy connection, which reigns through all science and extends to all the powers of eloquence.'
Everybody knows what representation means in politics. A little thought of this will save a man from ordinary error. To make things plain in speech it only needs that a man makes up his mind as to what he is talking about. If he reasons, let it be not upon hearsay, or rumor or imagination but upon ascertained facts, and he will seldom go wrong. What is called grammar is the same thing as the Franchise Bill. It is simply the full representation of the facts of speech. Daily talk is of a man, or of a woman, or of a thing and of something they do. If when we speak of the man we allude to the man as he, if we refer to a woman we take care to say she, or if we speak of a thing we allude to the thing as it, we accord each fair representation. What a man or woman, or a thing does is expressed by a verb. If one person does a thing we say he does it. If two persons do a thing we say they do it. If it be a thing which acts, as the sun, we say it shines. Just as every voter at the poll says, 'That is my house on the register, and I pay the rent there,' so in grammar all men and women and things have pronouns and verbs and delegate words which belong to them, and by which alone they can be identified and represented, and whoever gives them their proper representation makes his meaning plain to all men. Grammar is but the universal suffrage of common sense.
Inattention to conditions and care is expressed in an epigram of sensible if not elegant lines:—
He started with lect'ring and ended with verse,
And from first to last got gradually worse;
He wrote without spelling, and spoke without rule,
Long declaimed without knowledge, and ended a fool.
How different another, who thinks night and day,
Deciding what will best become him to say,
And how best to say it when he has made up his mind!
A contrast more useful is not easy to find.
The way in which nouns (which signify names) are represented by pronouns (or fonouns) is shown in an admirable sentence of Dr. Johnson's:—
'Pope was not content to satisfy; he desired to excel, and therefore always endeavored to do his best; he did not court the candor, but dared the judgment of his reason, and expecting no indulgence from others, he showed none to himself.'
Without the employment of pronouns the sentence would read, with many unpleasant repetitions, thus:—Pope was not content to satisfy; Pope desired to excel, and therefore always endeavored to do Pope's best; Pope did not court the candor, but dared the judgment of Pope's reader, and expecting no indulgence from others, Pope showed none to Pope's self.
There is the same kind of representation in verbs. Every verb is connected with or actuated by some noun or pronoun, expressed or understood.
Example:—' Hazlitt looked with despairing wonder on Burke's style. Year after year he tried to write a single essay that should please himself.'
If we inquire here who looked? the answer is Hazlitt. Who tried? Hazlitt. Whenever a verb is found, the actor must be found and both examined, to see if the two agree, for every verb must be of the same number, and of the same person, as the noun or pronoun with which it is connected, whether it be expressed or merely understood.
When this representation is observed, a person is said to speak grammatically. Representation is grammar.
There may be good speaking and writing with a moderate knowledge of grammar. One who has authority in these matters asks,—' How would some of our fashionable writers stare if they could read Thucydides or Plato! The best authors had no authority before them. Pascal and Madame de Sevigne" wrote before there was any French grammar, I believe; Demosthenes and Cicero before there was a Greek or a Latin one.'
When I conducted classes at Crutched Friars, about 1845, I wrote and printed an Act of Parliament for enforcing the Queen's English. Its clauses prescribed the rules of representation I have explained.
Nor did I find any difficulty in teaching little children to write little letters to their parents in a week. As soon as a child can make a round O and a straight line it can make all the letters of the alphabet. A is composed of three straight lines, B of a line and two halves of O. A line and half O makes D. G is O left open with a short line. E F H I K L'M N T VW X Y Z are all made of straight lines. J is a line and half an O. P is made the same way. R is two lines and half an O. Q is an O and short line. S is two halves of O up end on end. U is made by half an O and two upright lines. There you have the whole alphabet, from which a child will select DEAR MOTHER in an hour. A Child’s First Writing Book I published, made this plain and easy to hundreds of children fifty years ago. A child will go forward himself as soon as his teacher finds for him a beginning, which the little learner can see, understand, and feel to be within his power. It is the same with older students on the threshold of a new subject.
More from George Jacob Holyoake
- Born April 13, 1817 in Birmingham, UK and died on January 22nd, 1906.
- Was a British secularist, co-operator (The English Leader), and newspaper editor (Reasoner).