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OF THE CONSTRUCTION, OR ARRANGEMENT,
Hitherto we have been employed about the choice of words; we now come to what is more properly termed Construction,-the arrangement of those words into sentences. A simple sentence (Latin sententia, from sentire, to feel, or think,) is an indication of a detached feeling of the mind, or of a single action, which, in grammar, is expressed by two or more words. Thus, I think,' 'I stand,' 'I am beloved,' He will walk,' &c. are simple sentences. There are then two words indispensable in an assertion,-a Noun (or a Pronoun) and a Verb; and if the Verb be transitive, there must be three,-the Nominative, or Agent; the Verb; and its Accusative, or Object. Thus, 'Peter loves Mary,' in which Peter is the Nominative, loves the Verb, and Mary is the Accusative, or Object of the love.
In some languages the accusative has a different termination to distinguish it from the nominative; as in the Latin Petrus amat Mariam,' Peter loves Mary; or Maria amat Petrum,' Mary
loves Peter. Petrus and Maria are nominatives, and Petrum and Mariam are accusatives. In that language, the arrangement of the three words is of no consequence to the sense, the agent and object being known from their terminations. Thus, whether we write Petrus amat Mariam, Mariam Petrus amat, Petrus Mariam amat, Amat Petrus Mariam, or, Mariam amat Petrus, Amat Mariam Petrus, the meaning, Peter loves Mary' would be still equally well understood; but whether or not they would have been all equally agreeable to a Roman ear we cannot now determine. Cicero writes indifferently, Accepi litteras tuas; Tuas accepi litteras," and Litteras accepi tuas," "I have received your letter." In English, the circumstance of Peter being placed before and Mary after the verb loves is the only means of distinguishing the lover from the beloved. The cases of the Pronouns enable us to give some variety to our arrangements; for instance we may say, with equal propriety, Mary loves him,' or, Him Mary loves:' the one is the language of prose and the other of verse. We should not, however, venture the counterpart Her Peter loves;' because, the pronoun her being a Genitive as well as an Accusative, the phrase would be ambiguous. It asserts that Her Peter is in love, but does not fix
the object: he may love another. Peter loves her,' is definite; but add the word sister and the word her becomes again a Genitive.
For the sake of perspicuity, we have generalized the preceding examples; but the simple sentence' is not necessarily confined to two, or to three, words. The Nominative and the Accusative (or Objective) may have each their qualities, designated by Adjectives; and the Verb its modifications, denoted by Auxiliaries and Adverbs. For example:
The rich farmer Peter passionately loves the beautiful shepherdess Mary.'
Here we have ten words instead of the three, (Peter loves Mary'): but it is, nevertheless, still a simple sentence. It has only one agent, one verb, and one object.
In the preceding arrangement Peter is the first and prominent figure on the canvas; but we may transfer this place to Mary, by putting the sentence in the passive voice, thus, Mary is loved by Peter.' Mary is still the object of the active verb to love, but she is the nominative to the verb is, which declares the state of being loved, in which she is placed,―by Peter. Peter is the cause of that state; and, in the Latin language, Petrus, instead of being distinguished solely by a preposition, as in the English by, would have a change
of orthography and be written, in the ablative case, Petro. That case does not belong to English Nouns, but were we to use the Pronoun, we should say, 'Mary is loved by him.'
The different forms of Construction which depend on the power of varying the arrangement have a material effect upon the precision and harmony of the expression; and, in this respect, the learned languages possessed an evident superiority. The ties that bound the Noun to its cases, and the Verb to its moods and tenses, facilitated the transpositions of clauses, which, in the modern tongues, contain so many separate particles that they are apt to be confounded, or lost, in the hands of a careless compositor. Nevertheless, the English has more power, of this kind, than is generally supposed; for, even in the simplest sentence, we, frequently, can choice among several changes. As an example, let us take the words 'Was John buried here?' and note the combinations which might be adopted both by the querist and the answerer, without rendering the idea ambiguous. The whole number of changes on four words is twenty-four, which we shall here exhibit. The first six are questions and the other eighteen are answers. Was John buried here? Was buried John here?
Was John here buried?
Was here John buried? Was here buried John?
Buried John was here.
Buried John here was.
Here buried was John.
However uncommon many of the preceding arrangements may appear, there are few of which the meaning is either different or doubtful; and had we added another word, such as, ' Was John buried here yesterday?' we might have made one hundred and twenty changes. To some persons these things may seem trifling, but a power over the arrangement of words and phrases is the great secret of elegant and luminous composition. Every sentence has its natural emphasis, as every polysyllable has its accent; and the art of writing is to make this emphasis fall, where it is, not only most expressive of meaning, but, at the same time, most harmonious. In poetry, the propriety of this Rule is acknowledged by every one:-why should it not be so prose?