Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/105

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THE

 

POPULAR SCIENCE

 

MONTHLY



DECEMBER, 1901.



A MECHANICAL SOLUTION OF A LITERARY PROBLEM.
By Dr. T. C. MENDENHALL.

THE title given to this paper, chosen after much hesitation and with no little reluctance, is not to be looked upon as an assumption of the definite and final solution of the principal problem to which attention has been directed. As a matter of fact I have hoped to conceal, for at least a page or two, the identity of this principal problem, in order that no well intentioned and good natured reader might be driven away by what is a very general, not altogether reasonable, but quite natural, prejudice. Whatever may be thought of the problem or of the importance of its solution, it is believed that the method here suggested and applied will be found to be of interest and, possibly, of considerable value in certain linguistic studies.

Nearly twenty years ago I devised a method for exhibiting graphically such peculiarities of style in composition as seemed to be almost purely mechanical and of which an author would usually be absolutely unconscious. The chief merit of the method consisted in the fact that its application required no exercise of judgment, accurate enumeration being all that was necessary, and by displaying one or more phases of the mere mechanism of composition characteristics might be revealed which the author could make no attempt to conceal, being himself unaware of their existence. It was further assumed that, owing to the well-known persistence of unconscious habit, personal peculiarities in the construction of sentences, in the use of long or short words, in the number of words in a sentence, etc., will in the long run manifest themselves with such regularity that their graphic representation may become a means of identification, at least by exclusion. In the present