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Barrett Wendell has pointed out (English Composition, p. 117), the sentence is properly a subject of revision, not of prevision, - good sentences are produced by criticising them after they are written rather than by planning them beforehand. Putting the sentence aside, then, what shall be said of the paragraph and the essay ? Of the two the essay is theoretically the more proper unit of discourse. But is it always so in practice ? Is it not true that for students at a certain stage of their progress the essay is too complex and too cumbersome to be appreciated as a whole ? Aristotle long ago laid down the psychological principle which should govern the selection of a structural unit: “ As for the limit fixt by the nature of the case, the greatest consistent with simultaneous comprehension is always the best." If students who have written essays for years have with all their labor developed but a feeble sense for structural unity, may the reason not lie in the fact that the unit of discourse employed has been so large and so complex that it could not be grasped with a single effort of the mind ?
If there is a measure of truth in what has here been urged, it would appear that for certain periods in the student's development the paragraph, as an example of structural unity, offers peculiar advantages. The nature of these advantages has already been suggested. They are, in brief, as follows: The paragraph, being in its method practically identical with the essay, exemplifies identical principles of structure. It exemplifies these principles in small and convenient compass so that they are easily appreciable by the beginner. Further, while the writing of the paragraph exercises the student in the same elements of structure which would be brought to his attention were he drilled in the writing of essays, he can write more paragraphs than he can write essays in the same length of time; hence the character of the work may be made for him more varied,
progressive, and interesting. If the paragraph thus suits the needs of the student, it has even greater advantages from the point of view of the teacher. The bugbear of the teacher of Rhetoric is the correcting of essays. When the compositions are long and crude and errors abound, the burden sometimes becomes almost intolerable. In many cases it is a necessary burden and must be borne with patience, but this is not always so. Since the student within the limits of the paragraph makes the same errors which he commits in the writing of longer compositions, in the greater part of the course the written work may profitably be shortened from essays to paragraphs. Paragraph-writing has the further advantage that, if necessary, the composition may be re-written from beginning to end, and, most important of all, when completed is not too long for the teacher to read and criticise in the presence of the class.
Finally, the paragraph furnishes a natural introduction to work of a more difficult character. When the time comes for the writing of essays, the transition from the smaller unit to its larger analogue is made with facility.
To this fundamental idea the authors in the work of revision and enlargement have chosen to adhere, being convinced both of its theoretical soundness and its practical utility. In adapting the work, however, to the present needs of college and university classes, they have made so many modifications in general plan and in detail that the result is virtually a new book. Among the changes and additions which will be of special interest to teachers may be mentioned the following:
1. The scope of the theoretical part has been extended to embrace all pure types of compositions. In accordance with this plan, the book opens with a discussion of the Art of Composition and the Organic Structure of Discourse, after which the two leading structural forms, the Paragraph and the Whole Composition, are taken up in turn. This order makes possible a treatment at once more inclusive and more logical than that of previous editions.
2. The types of composition, so called, that is, description, narrative, exposition, and argument, are treated at a length and with a thoroughness more nearly corresponding to their present importance in college and university classes.
3. The assignments have been removed from the text, where they are an encumbrance to the university student, and placed in a division by themselves. This arrangement permits the continuity of the text to appear more plainly, and at the same time gives space for a greatly extended series of progressive exercises offering a wide choice to instructor and student. It is believed that many of the assignments that have been added are novel both in method and in subject-matter, and that all of them tend to keep the student in the right attitude towards his work.
4. The illustrative matter of former editions, from long use somewhat too familiar to both teacher and student, has been replaced by fresh materials from a great variety of sources, all of them worthy and thought-compelling. In amount the material for illustration, study, and practice has been inore than doubled.
5. The authors have endeavored to avoid the fault perhaps more common in text-books on Composition than in those on other subjects — of unnecessarily “affirming the obvious." Nothing of theory has been admitted which the diligent student cannot make his own by a reasonable amount of practice. With these ends in view, the authors have taken the advice of experienced instructors who have used the book, both on questions of curtailment and of expansion. To all who have been so kind as to offer suggestions, the authors wish to make here a general acknowledgment of obligation.