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The first principle of style

In his classic On the Art of Writing Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (pronounced more or less “Killer Coosh”) said this:

You have not been left altogether without clue to the secret of what Style is. That you must master teh secret for yourselves lay implicit in our bargain, and you were never promised that a writer’s training would be easy. Yet a clue was certainly put in your hands when, having insisted that literature is a living art, I added that therefore it must be personal and of its essence personal.

This goes very deep: it conditions all our criticism of art. Yet it conceals no mystery. You may see its meaning most easily and clearly, perhaps, by contrasting Science and Art…

Science, he explains, is impersonal and universal. Art is not so.

Style, therefore, must be personal to have value. Yet it cannot put the person at odds with nature and, unless needed, with his community.

That is why we must spend the early years of school laying a solid foundation in the rules of grammar and composition. They will never be able to use the tools to develop and express themselves if our students do not first learn the foundations of shared expression.

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