Hesperian student / (Lincoln [Neb.]) 1872-1885, March 15, 1888, Page 2, Image 2

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firmly established, there was a complete change. No
one then spoke Latin, but the influence of the former
condition of affairs still remained to hamper the pens
of writers. The old language of literature was, in
part, abandoned, but only in part, for the substituted
English was but Latin-English. Now, if Latin were
to be engrafted upon Italian or Spanish, the result
would not be great, and it might even be for the
better. There would be no trouble about assimilation.
But with English the case was vastly different. Giv
ing the gloss of Latin construction to our rough and
harsh, but strong, English, was like coating an iron
chain with quicksilver. The quicksilver alone
possesses weight and adaptability to surroundings; the
iron alone is comparatively light, and is strong and
firm; the mixture is clumsier then either, and lessens
the effect of both.
It is by no means strange, then, that our best mod
ern writers of English have come to look upon clas
sicism as the root of almost all literary evil, and that
they are making a great and successful effort to free
themselves from its influence. Notwithstanding the
faet that Latin derivatives have become an essential
part of our every-day speech, that they are freely and
correctly used by mechanics and day-laborers, and
that they form a preponderating element in the lan
guage of our daily newspapers, yet our most prominent
writers are making an enormous effort to eliminate
them from their writings. One can find page after
page of the magazine literature of the day, that
is held up to us as the model for style, in which the
strictest kind of searching is necessary if one wishes
to find a Latin derivative.
Now, it seems reasonable to suppose that a con
scious striving after words and forms ot expression
will destroy naturalness of style. It is generally
admitted that it was this striving that was the most
prominent fault in the writers of the Renaissance.
They tried to construe English as Latin, and neces
sarily failed. It is a well-known fact in language
that foreign constructions cannot be assimilated with
ease, but that foreign words can. The union of
Latin and Greek with Anglo-Saxon has taken place
as might have been expected. We have Anglo-Saxon
constructions almost pure, but more than half of our
words are derived, and many.of these derived words
are used as readily as words that have been in our
language from its beginning. When a writer
attempts to do without these he cannot help encoun
tering difficulties continually. Many of the common
words of the Anglo-Saxon language have been drop
ped; and it is to be hoped that our requirements of
expression are much greater than were those of our
semi-barbarous ancestors. Then surely it is follv to
language. We could not tolerate Latin constructions,
but we shall find it difficult to do without the Greek
and Latin derivatives to which we have become
Our professional critics and men of letters are
narrowing the limits of their own best style by their
self-consciousness in language, but aside from this
they are doing little damage. The public keeps on
assimilating, taking the good from all the languages,
ancient and modern. Every year our vocabulary is
There is one late arrival that may be mentioned as
particularly welcome, the hoi polloioi the Greek. It
is quite commonly understood and used, and is des
tined to become even more so. No amount of Eng
lish can give its exact force. We shall make two
suggestions as to words that deserve to be adopted,
and then leave the subject. Both words, expressions
rather, are from the Greek. If we are speaking of
students, say, and wish .to indicate separately those
who are here at the present time and those of former
years, it requires a long and awkward clause to
express our thought with the proper clearness. The
Greeks would have said hoi nun for the one division
and hoi palai for the other, and no one would have
Perhaps it is not best to start reading Tolstoi with Anna
Karcnina. One has, in a measure to be educated up to any
new style before he becomes able to appreciate it fully, and
Anna Karcnina will make a better impression upon one who
who is already acquainted with Tolstoi than upon one read
ng him for the first time. "Ivan Ilyitch" would perhaps be
a good introduction. It is quite short only one hundred
papes, and yet presents Tolstoi, iu many features, at his best.
It is useless to deny that he carries realistic description, in
places to an extent, that, whatever may be the Russian or
French canons, is certainly not in keeping with the best
American taste. It is a little surprising that Tolstoi, who
shows so much of the true artistic feeling in part of his work
should lack that delicate sense which dictates what should be
omitted. Hut, after all so much of our alleged exquisite
taste is the most flagrant prudery that, perhaps, in censuring
Tolstoi we only make an exhibition of our own imbecile
The feelings of a man who is dying by degrees have seldom
been more strongly drawn than in "Ivan Ilyitch." He sus
tains a slight rupture of the liver by a fall, but pays no
attention to it at the time. Soon, however his illness in
creases and he goes to see a doctor. The following extract
well illustrates, what to me is the most enjoyable trait in
Tolstoi his delicates touches. "He went. Everything was
as expected; everything was done according to the usual way
the having to wait; and the pompous doctorial air of im
portance, so familiar to him, the same as he himself assumed
in court; and the tapping and the auscultation; and the lead
ing nilPfitinnc rniiirinrr nticu.'rcc nrr1tftrminrl finrl flnnaf-
thrdw away any generally understood word of our J ently not heard; and the look of superlative wisdom which