Personal style

…he who has something to assert will go as far in power of style as its momentousness and his conviction will carry him. Disprove his assertion after it is made, yet his style remains. Darwin no more destroyed the style of Job or Handel than Martin Luther destroyed the style of Giotto. All the assertions get disproved sooner or later; and so we find the world full of a magnificent debris of artistic fossils, with the matter-of-fact credibility gone clean out of them, but the form still splendid. – Shaw, Man And Superman, Preface

When we say of a new thing that it “has style,” we mean that it is done as we have seen things done before. Bunyan, De Foe, or Charles Lamb were to their contemporaries men without style. The English, to this day, complain of Emerson that he has no style.

If a man writes as he talks, he will be thought to have no style, until people get used to him, for literature means what has been written. As soon as a writer is established, his manner of writing is adopted by the literary conscience of the times, & you may follow him & still have “style.” You may to-day imitate George Meredith, & people, without knowing exactly why they do it, will concede you “style.” Style means tradition. – JJ Chapman, Robert Louis Stevenson

A really great & original writer is like nobody but himself. In one sense, Sterne was not a wit, nor Shakespear a poet. It is easy to describe second-rate talents, because they fall into a class & enlist under a standard: but first-rate powers defy calculation or comparison, & can be defined only by themselves. They are sui generis, & make the class to which they belong. I have tried half-a-dozen times to describe Burke’s style without ever succeeding: its severe extravagance, its literal boldness, its matter-of-fact hyperboles, its running away with a subject & from it at the same time; but there is no making it out, for there is no example of the same thing any where else. We have no common measure to refer to; & his qualities contradict even themselves. – Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age, Mr Cobbett

What was to be done in the world in Shakespeare’s way Shakespeare has for the most part done. – Lichtenberg

One might almost establish the axiom that there is no such thing as subject. Style in itself being an absolute manner of seeing things. – Flaubert

Not so much matter what as how men do & speak. …Style not matter gives immortality. – Emerson, journals, 1823

A man’s style is his mind’s voice. Wooden minds have wooden voices. Truth is shrill as a fife, various as a panharmonicon. – Emerson, journals, 1832

The abstract thinker differs from the concrete thinker in his choice of terms; the analytical from the synthetic; the ratiocinative from the intuitive; the logical from the imaginative; the scientific from the poetical. One man thinks in images, another in formal propositions. One is diffuse, & gets his thought out by reiterated statement. Another makes epigrams, & finds some difficulty in expanding their sense or throwing light upon them by illustrations. One arrives at conclusions by the way of argument. Another clothes assertion with the tropes & metaphors of rhetoric.

…The sedentary student does not use the same figures of speech as come naturally to the muscular & active lover of field sports. According as the sense for colour, or for sound, or for light, or for form shall preponderate in a writer’s constitution, his language will abound in references to the world, viewed under conditions of colour, sound, light, or form. He will insensibly dwell upon those aspects of things which stimulate his sensibility & haunt his memory. …

…A man’s vocabulary marks him out as of this sort or that sort – his preference for certain syntactical forms, for short sentences or for periods, for direct or inverted propositions, for plain or figurative statement, for brief or amplified illustrations. Some compose sentences, but do not build paragraphs – like Emerson; some write chapters, but cannot construct a book. – JA Symonds, Personal Style



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