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TWO YEARS' COURSE IN
THE VALUE OF COMPOSITION
1. Oral Composition. On the street, in our homes, in the history recitation, from morning till night, we are composing sentences, whether in conversation or in more carefully prepared talks, called oral compositions. We should be constantly on the alert to improve our speech and to put words together in such a way that our hearers shall get the thought or the feeling we wish to give them.
2. Written Composition. At the same time we must be able to compose in writing. As by talking a man learns to talk readily, so by writing he learns to express himself with accuracy. For all of us, some form of writing is a part of the day's work, and it is for the sake of gaining the ability to write well such notes, letters, reports, and other papers as we shall be called on to prepare from time to time, that we study written composition.
3. The Practical Value of Composition. Fortunately us have to work for a living, and all those who may some day be clerks in a department store, salesmen on the road, physicians, lawyers, or toilers in any one of
hundreds of employments, should consider carefully the practical value of being able to say just what one means, and to say it in an agreeable way. Who will not need, on countless occasions, to write an orderly letter? It often happens that a pupil is compelled to withdraw from school before the end of the course in order to go to work. In many cases employment is obtained largely through one's ability to write a letter. For example, a letter written by a first year high-school boy, who was suddenly obliged to leave school, secured him a position for which there were forty competitors.
The study of composition should do much more, however, than help us to earn our living. It should go far toward making us interesting human beings. We all know persons who have traveled but cannot tell acceptably what they have seen. We all find it pleasant to hear a story told in an agreeable way. To listen to a lively conversation between men and women who know life and books is both entertaining and instructive. And we should understand that the studies in this book are to keep us from being like tongue-tied travelers, that they are to enable us to take our places among those whose conversation is worth while.
4. Learning to talk and to write. Boys and girls sometimes hesitate to talk or to write because their experiences do not seem to be worth sharing with others. They often fail to understand that teachers and classmates will be interested in whatever interests them. This is an unfortunate mistake. They should look forward eagerly to their turn to talk or to write, knowing full well that the practice and the training will mean a gain in power.
Whatever your subject, think for yourself. Then, and
then only, will your writing be your own; it will have individuality; it will be different from the work of anybody else. Honest attempts to give the best expression to your own thoughts will call out the most helpful criticisms from your teacher. It is always a pleasure, and often an inspiration, to work with a young writer who is eager to be himself not an echo of another person.
The composition entitled "In Franklin Park" (p. 186) was a good exercise for the pupil who wrote it, because it was a record of his own experience. Many pupils have found it stimulating because they, too, have had similar outings.
A friend of yours can tell stories by the hour, but it may be that he cannot easily write them. You eagerly tell your experiences to your brother, but you would be slow about putting them on paper. Writing is largely a matter of habit. Some of you who talk readily have not been accustomed to writing. The words that come so eagerly when you let the story tell itself halt on their way down the penholder, lag behind, and fail to put in an appearance. This you must not allow. Forget that you ever saw a grammar, or any other book about English. Write. Write for the sake of forming the habit of writing, and don't let your pencil interfere with the torrent of words. Not until you have finished what you have to say, should you take time for revising your work.
5. Reading a Help to Writers. Usually we read books for the entertainment they give us, but as students of composition we turn to them for help. We still enjoy an exciting story, but we begin to study the writer's way of putting things. We begin to distinguish between poor books and
good books, and gradually come to appreciate little touches that make the difference between the commonplace and the beautiful. This development of taste means everything to one who would speak and write well.
6. The Importance of reading aloud. A sure way of developing a taste for good books is through reading aloud. If you can have the pleasure of listening for half an hour a day to some of the best sentences of good writers, you will soon be able to criticize your own sentences as you hear them read. Your ear will rapidly grow sensitive to tiresome repetitions, to unnecessary words, and to awkward constructions. But oral reading, to be effective, must be well done. To accomplish its purpose your reading should be smooth, sympathetic, and musical.
1. Before coming to class, read aloud the following composition. Send the eye ahead of the voice. If you stumble over a word, or pause in the wrong place, read the sentence till you can give it smoothly.
MY FATHER'S FRIEND
While my father was an officer of the English army in South Africa, we occupied a large cabin, which, unlike the other bungalows, had two stories. One evening when my father and sister and I were sitting together, I noticed that father, who was sitting facing the window, turned very pale. Being a soldier's daughter and fearing to alarm my invalid sister, I sat still, waiting for my father's orders. Soon he said in a steady voice: "Edith and Florence, a friend of mine is coming here to see me this evening, and I wish to be alone with him. Therefore I wish you to go up to your own room." We obeyed immediately; and going to our room, closed the door.
Soon I heard a sound like that of a door bursting in, and then a