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The Grammarian






From: Love Life Work

The best way to learn to write is to write.

Herbert Spencer never studied grammar until he had learned to write. He
took his grammar at sixty, which is a good age for one to begin this
most interesting study, as by the time you have reached that age you
have largely lost your capacity to sin.

Men who can swim exceedingly well are not those who have taken courses
in the theory of swimming at natatoriums, from professors of the
amphibian art--they were just boys who jumped into the ol' swimmin'
hole, and came home with shirts on wrong-side out and a tell-tale
dampness in their hair.

Correspondence schools for the taming of bronchos are as naught; and
treatises on the gentle art of wooing are of no avail--follow
nature's lead.

Grammar is the appendenda vermiformis of the science of pedagogics: it
is as useless as the letter q in the alphabet, or the proverbial two
tails to a cat, which no cat ever had, and the finest cat in the world,
the Manx cat, has no tail at all.

"The literary style of most university men is commonplace, when not
positively bad," wrote Herbert Spencer in his old age.

"Educated Englishmen all write alike," said Taine. That is to say,
educated men who have been drilled to write by certain fixed and
unchangeable rules of rhetoric and grammar will produce similar
compositions. They have no literary style, for style is individuality
and character--the style is the man, and grammar tends to obliterate
individuality. No study is so irksome to everybody, except the sciolists
who teach it, as grammar. It remains forever a bad taste in the mouth of
the man of ideas, and has weaned bright minds innumerable from a desire
to express themselves through the written word.

Grammar is the etiquette of words, and the man who does not know how to
properly salute his grandmother on the street until he has consulted a
book, is always so troubled about the tenses that his fancies break thru
language and escape.

The grammarian is one whose whole thought is to string words according
to a set formula. The substance itself that he wishes to convey is of
secondary importance. Orators who keep their thoughts upon the proper
way to gesticulate in curves, impress nobody.

If it were a sin against decency, or an attempt to poison the minds of
the people, for a person to be ungrammatical, it might be wise enough
to hire men to protect the well of English from defilement. But a
stationary language is a dead one--moving water only is pure--and the
well that is not fed by springs is sure to be a breeding-place
for disease.

Let men express themselves in their own way, and if they express
themselves poorly, look you, their punishment will be that no one will
read their literary effusions. Oblivion with her smother-blanket lies in
wait for the writer who has nothing to say and says it faultlessly.

In the making of hare soup, I am informed by most excellent culinary
authority, the first requisite is to catch your hare. The literary
scullion who has anything to offer a hungry world, will doubtless find a
way to fricassee it.






Previous: The Spirit of the Age



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