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II. Dr. Johnson ; full extracts from his English Dictionary, under
the heads Punctuation,-Point,-To Point,—To Stop,-Stop,
VI. As to Hebrew Points,
IX. Proportions of the common points, in founts of letters, one
AN ESSAY ON PUNCTUATION.
Pointing or Punctuation is the art of placing, in a written or printed work, certain points, marks, notes, or signs; whereby the author hopes to make his sentences more easily to be understood by his readers and their hearers ; and consequently more correctly to convey his ideas to them. Perhaps there is no department in literature, so generally attempted to be practised, and so generally presumed to be of utility, of which so little knowledge is to be acquired from books, ancient or modern, as Punctuation.
It is proposed to treat the subject in four sections ; 1st, the practice of the art of Punctuation before the
invention of the art of printing ; 2ndly, Its history in the early stages of the art of print
ing and its progress to the present time; 3rdly, The period, colon, semi-colon, comma, parenthe
sis, and interrogation, and their several points; also of the interjection and its note, sometimes called the note of admiration, and the point or mark first called
the break and now the dash; 4thly, The general conclusion.
Before entering on the first section of this essay, one of the principal propositions intended to be maintained, will be stated; it is this, that the several parts of a composition are not formed by the points, which commonly bear the names of periods, colons, semi-colons, commas, parentheses, and interrogations; the office of these points being only to point out to the eye of the reader, the periods and members and fragments, whose names they bear. The distinction between periods, members, and fragments, and their points is not a new one: Gerard J. Vossius says, that Grammarians look to periods, colons, and commas, as the means of good pointing; but Rhetoricians, in order to render their compositions pleasing and perspicuous. In the article Punctuation, in the Introduction to English Grammar, Bishop Lowth drew the distinction between periods, members, and fragments, and their points, as follows ;
“ The several degrees of Connexion between Sentences, and between their principal constructive parts, Rhetoricians have considered under the following distinctions, as the most obvious and remarkable: the Period, Colon, Semicolon, and Comma.
“The Period is the whole Sentence, complete in itself, wanting nothing to make a full and perfect sense, and not connected in construction with a subsequent Sentence.
“The Colon, or Member, is a chief constructive part, or greater division, of a Sentence. The Semicolon, or
Half-member, is a less constructive part, or subdivision, of a Sentence or Member.
“A Sentence or Member is again subdivided into Commas, or Segments; which are the least constructive parts of a Sentence or Member, in this way of considering it; for the next subdivision would be the resolution of it into Phrases and Words.
“The Grammarians have followed this division of the Rhetoricians, and have appropriated to each of these distinctions its mark, or Point; which takes its name from the part of the Sentence, which it is employed to distinguish; as follows;—The Period [.]; the Colon [:]; the Semicolon (;]; and the Comma (,)."2 Campbell is another authority for the distinction between periods, members, and fragments, and their points : in his Philosophy of Rhetoric he quotes, for another purpose, the following sentence; · For
as, if any of those had then been condemned, you would not now have transgressed ; so if you should now be condemned, others will not hereafter transgress ;” but he adds;
the sentence is a perfect period, consisting of two members, each of which is subdivided into two clauses.'
SECTION THE FIRST.
The History of Pointing before the invention of the
Art of Printing.
To the Grecian writers of the highest antiquity, points were unknown; but nevertheless, that a complex period was considered by them, to be divided into several members, is an undisputed fact.
When points were first invented is not a settled question: the full point is found in inscriptions, of a date four hundred years before the Christian era; and is said to have been inserted in manuscripts of the Scriptures, as early as the fourth century; certainly it is to be found in those of the seventh.
The learned German, Augustus Matthæi, in his Greek Grammar, says, that it was not until the great influx of strangers to Alexandria, had impaired the purity of the Greek language, that the art of pointing became an object with the learned. Matthæi further states that Aristophanes of Byzantium, the Grammarian, who was born about the year 240, invented three marks, by which to distinguish the divisions of a discourse:-upon the authority of the Port Royal Latin Grammar, and from what is further stated by Matthæi, it appears
that his statement, that there were three marks is too large : in fact there was only one mark, a point, serving three different offices; each office being distinguished by the situation of the point;—for instance, if the position of the point was over the last letter of a word, it performed the part of our full-point, and denoted the end of a period or complete close of the sentence ;-if placed in or at the middle of a letter, it served for our colonpoint, perhaps also for our semi-colon-point, and denoted that the proposition was only partly finished, that another member, beginning with a pronoun or conjunction was necessary or about to be added, and from its position it was by the Latins termed media distinctio ; -if placed at the bottom of the last letter of a word, from its position it was by the Latins called subdistinctio, and denoted that the sense was altogether incomplete or suspended. Afterwards, when pointing came into more