notes from edition in 'Essays: Moral, Political and Aesthetic':

'there can be little question that good composition is far less dependent upon acquaintance with its laws, than upon practice and natural aptitude. A clear head, a quick imagination, and a sensitive ear, will all go far towards making all rhetorical precepts needless. He who daily hears and reads well-framed sentences, will naturally more or less tend to use similar ones... Nevertheless, some practical result may be expected from familiarity with the principles of style. The endeavour to conform to laws may tell, though slowly.' (9-10)

'The maxims contained in works on composition and rhetoric, are presented in an unorganized form... That parentheses should be avoided and that Saxon words should be used in preference to those of Latin origin, are established precepts. But, however influential the truths thus dogmatically embodied, they would be much more influential if reduced to something like scientific ordination... [a process best bugun through] comprehension of the general principle from which the rules of composition result' (10)

Notes the greater efficiency of non-verbal communication: 'How truly language must be regarded as a hindrance to thought, though the necessary instrument of it, we shall clearly perceive on remembering the comparative force with which simple ideas are communicated by signs... No phrase can convey the idea of surprise so vividly as opening the eyes and raising the eyebrows.' (11)

Suggests a general rule that shorter Saxon words are more efficient in 'call[ing] up images' than longer Latin ones. (11-14) However, notes that longer words often express greater magnitude of feeling than shorter: 'There seem to be several causes for this exceptional superiority of certain long words. We may ascribe it to the fact that a voluminous, mouth-filling epithet is, by its very size, suggestive of largenessor strength... A further cause may be that a word of several syllables admits of more emphatic articulation... Yet another cause is that a long word... allows the hearer's consciousness a longer time to dwell upon the quality predicated; and where, as in the above cases, it is to this predicated quality that the entire attention is called, an advantage results from keeping it before the mind for an appreciable time.' (14)

Sentence structures are evaluated in relation to their amenability to comprehension with the least 'mental effort'. Eg: 'in some cases it becomes a question whether most mental effort will be entailed by the many and long suspensions [caused by many predicating clauses], or by the correction of successive misconceptions [that may arise from a simple statement or claim].' (24-25)

Not only sentence structure but also expressions and imagery are ideally made as easy as possible to assimilate: 'not only the structure of sentences, and the use of figures of speech, may economy of the recipient's mental energy be assigned as the cause of force; but that in the choice and arrangement of minor images, out of which some larger thought is to be built up, we may trace the same condition to effect.' (34)

On poetry and rhythm: '[poetry] is an idealization of the natural language of strong emotion, which is known to be more or less metrical if the emotion be not too violent; and like each of them it is an economy of the reader or hearer's attention. In the peculiar tone and manner we adopt in uttering versified language, may be discerned its relationship to the feelings; and the pleasure which its measured movement gives us, is ascibable to the comparative ease with which words metrically arranged can be recognized...

... Just as the body, in receiving a series of varying concussions, must keep the muscles ready to meet the most violent of them, as not knowing when such may come; so. the mind in receiving unarranged articulations, must keep its perspectives active enough to recognise the least easily caught sounds. And as, if the concussions recur in a definite order, the body may husband its forces by adjusting the resistance needful for each concussion; so, if the syllables be rhythmically arranged, the mind may economize its energies by anticipating the attention required for each syllable.' (38-39)

'Thus far... we have considered only those causes of force in language which depend upon economy of the mental energies: we have now to glance at those which depend upon economy of the mental sensibilities... besides considering the extent to which any faculty or group of faculties is tasked with receiving a form of words and realizing its contained idea, we have to consider the state in which this faculty or group of faculties is left; and how the reception of subsequent sentences and images will be influenced by that state.' (40)

'Every perception received, and every conception realized, entailing [sic] some amount of waste - or, as Liebig would say, some change of matter in the brain; and the efficiency of the faculties subject to this waste being thereby temporarily, though often but momentarily, diminished; the resulting partial inability must affect the acts of perception and conception that immediately succeed. And hence we may expect that the vividness with which images are realized will, in many cases, depend on the order of their presentation: even when one order is as convenient to the understanding as the other.' (42)

'Improbable as... momentary variations in susceptibility may seem, we cannot doubt their occurrence when we contemplate the analogous variations in the susceptibility of the senses. Referring once more to phenomena of vision, every one knows that a patch of black on a white ground looks blacker, a patch of white on a black ground looks whiter, than elsewhere. As the blackness and the whiteness must really be the same, the only assignable cause for this, is a difference in their actions upon us, dependent upon the different states of our faculties. It is simply a visual antithesis.' (44)

'this extension of the general principles of economy – this further condition to effective composition, that the sensitiveness of the faculties must be continuously husbanded – includes much more than has yet been hinted. It implies not only that certain arrangements and certain juxtopositions of connected ideas are best; but that some mode of dividing and presenting a subject will be more striking than others; and that too, irresective of its logical cohesion.' (44)

'the easiest posture by and by becomes fatiguing, and is with pleasure exchanged for one less easy; so, the most perfectly-constructed sentences will soon weary, and relief will be given by using those of an inferior kind.' (44)