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passage from Muir, although chronological in arrangement, refers to a mountain lake in general, and is applicable to any and all mountain lakes of a certain character. The purpose of the paragraph is to explain the term "mountain lake,” to elucidate the process of formation. In view, then, of the fact that the passage from Macaulay concerns itself with a specific event, that its main purpose is not to explain, not to interpret the subject into more intelligible terms, but rather to chronicle the details that constitute the event in question, one does not hesitate to class it as narration. And as the passage from Muir, although seemingly specific in application, is in reality general; as, although it seems to concern itself with the details of an occurrence, it in fact sets forth a process true of each member of a class; as it is merely a rather dramatic method of explanation, one does not hesitate to call it exposition. In the end, the question of ultimate purpose determines the rhetorical classification.
II. Narration and Argumentation Between narration and argumentation there is less likelihood of confusion than between narration and exposition. Argument has to do with demonstrating the truth or falsity of a given proposition, and between this process and the orderly arrangement of the temporal details that constitute an event there is little in common. Yet it is clear that narration will often serve as an effective method of establishing the premises that lead to a conclusion. To show the guilt of an accused person it may be necessary to narrate the incidents
which the charge is based; to demonstrate the futility of a proposed act of legislation the citation of the instances in which similar legislation has in the past proved ineffect
ive may furnish the surest kind of evidence. In all such cases, however, one will do well to bear in mind that the ultimate purpose of the forensic or of the appeal is to establish the proposition at issue, and that, in consequence, although the means may be narrative in character, the end is argumentative.
Illustrations of this narrative form for argumentative ends abound in forensic literature. For example, in his famous Defence of Lord Gordon Lord Erskine follows in detail the actions of John Hay from one day to another during the disturbances in London, chronicling incident after incident, but all for the purpose of proving that the witness was a popish spy, that his statements were thoroughly self-contradictory, that his testimony should be rejected. Added effect results from the narrative presentation, but the end in view is conviction by means of refutation; in other words, it is ultimately argumentative.
III. Narration and Description Exposition and argumentation have been grouped together as constituting “logical composition" on the ground that each appeals to the laws of thought rather than to the æsthetic or appreciative sense. Descrip- 1 tion, on the other hand, has with narration been termed "the literature of feeling," in that “personal experience of individual people is the subject matter of all this kind of writing.” 1 It does not matter whether the writer is narrating his own experiences or spinning a yarn of adventure in search of treasure hidden in some imaginary island in the Spanish Main; whether he is picturing the house of his neighbor across the way or essaying to phrase in words his vision of some Castle Perilous, some
1 Forms of Prose Literature: Gardiner, p. 106.
chamber-tower in Astolat; - in any case, he finds his material in the constant stream of consciousness that we call experience. But for another reason, too, narration comes into closer relations with description than with the other literary forms. Narration, presenting the various details of an event, gains in effectiveness if these details can be projected against suitable background. Such background description provides, and, in consequence, is in almost constant attendance upon narration. It is true, we can find examples of pure description, of description drawn solely for the sake of aesthetic delight in a picture presented with no thought of rendering more effective an expository, an argumentative, or a narrative idea. The following lines present a good instance of pure description,-a picture and nothing else, for the selection is complete in itself: –
THE SWEAT SHOP
Low ceilings, mildewed with the reeking damp,
The walls hung thick with ill-assorted clothes;
Small, sputtering gas-lights, bracketed in rows.
That turn incessantly. The snap of shears
And through the door, to straining, eager ears,
And all about, packed almost back to back,
- LURANA W. SHELDON in the N. Y. Times.
Brander Matthews's Vignettes of Manhattan are, as the title implies, primarily descriptive, and the narrative thread that runs through each is not essential. But liter
2 For a full consideration of this topic see Gardiner's Forms of Prose Literature, pp. 105–113.
ature of this sort is unusual. The principal function of description is to serve as an accessory to other forms of discourse.
Subordinate to narration as description usually is, however, we note, before leaving the consideration of these general relations, that description, for its own greater effectiveness, often takes the narrative form; the details of a scene, instead of being conceived of as mere data of form and space, become instinct with life, engage in action, progress on towards the completion of some occurrence. For example:
I was coming home from some place at the end of the world, about three o'clock of a black winter morning, and my way lay through a part of the town where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps. Street after street, and all the folks asleep – street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church till at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman. All at once, I saw two figures: one a little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of may be eight or ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street. Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner; and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child's body and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see. It was n't like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut. I gave a view halloa, took to my heels, collared my gentleman, and brought him back to where was already quite a group about the screaming child. He was perfectly cool and made no resistance, but gave me one look, so ugly that it brought out the sweat on me like running. The people who had turned out were the girl's own family; and pretty soon the doctor, for whom she had been sent, put in an appearance. Well, the child was not much the worse, more frightened, according to the Sawbones, and there you might have supposed would have been an end to it. But there was one curious circumstance. I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight. So had the child's family, which was only natural. But the doctor's case was what struck me. He was the usual cut-and-dried apothecary, of no particular age and color, with a strong Edinburgh accent, and about as emotional as a bagpipe. Well, sir, he was like the rest of us; every time he looked at my prisoner I saw that Sawbones turn sick and white with the desire to kill him.
In this passage it is not difficult to discover two wholly different rhetorical elements: on the one hand, the orderly arrangement of the narrator's experiences in the early morning, the sudden glimpse of the two figures, the collision, the capture, the arrival of the doctor, -- all prosaic elements of the typical narrative; on the other hand, the impression left on the reader's imagination the impression of the hellish brutality that characterized Hyde, that produced loathing and murderous hate in the beholder. Nor can there be any doubt that to create this impression of loathing was Stevenson's ultimate purpose. The episode has no value save as a picture of Hyde, disgusting, loathsome. To make his picture effective, the author elects to cast it into narrative form, but it is in essence description.
Another example of the same principle may be found in the famous chapter in Dickens's Tale of Two Cities, entitled “The Grindstone,” where the gruesome picture of blood and frenzy is cast in the form of a detailed incident. Just as Muir found the mood of narration best suited to the clear exposition of how mountain lakes come into being, just as Erskine could make his proof more
1 Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.