Story type: Essay
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.
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