Archive for November 21st, 2010


The art of the run-on sentence

Back when we were discussing The Isle Of Pines, blog visitor Supersonic Man exclaimed, “Holy crap, that thing has a 397 word sentence immediately followed by a 340 word one” – prompting me to the facetious observation that, “Historians generally agree that the late 17th and early 18th centuries were the Golden Age of the run-on sentence.” Well, many a true word is spoken in throwaway facetious remark. In The Perplex’d Prince, the anonymous author gives Henry Neville a run for his money by concluding with a sentence of some 268 words, which in its original formatting ran for over two pages.

And I quote:

Very well, replyed the Prince, I think I never slept sounder in my life: the Country man expressed abundance of Joy thereat, intreating him that since he had been so happily directed to his house, he would do him the honour to stay and dine with him, the King desired to be excused, but yet upon his importunity he consented, and found his entertainment very much to exceed his expectation; dinner being over, and his Horse and all things being got ready and having taken his leave, he mounted and Rode towards Carmanio, until he came to a pleasant Path way that led unto a delightful Shady Grove situated upon an hill, from whence he might take a view of the neighbouring Vallies, and having viewed it he dismounted and entered the Grove, and being very much delighted with the umbrage, sat himself down beneath the spreading Boughs on the flowery Bank of a Christal Spring, whose murmuring Streams in Silver Trills discharged themselves into a neighbouring Brook, and with much admiration took a delightful view of the out spread Plaines and Vallies, which were curiously fringed with Trees and Blossom Shrubs, nor was he less delighted to see the careful Shepherds Feeding their Numerous Flocks, whose pritty bleatings answered still those rural Songs which they on Slender Reeds Tuned, Harmonious as the Musick of the Spheres; nor was there any other Rustick Exercise or Pleasing Object wanting to his sight, which had been hitherto been represented to his View in Land-skips dextrously drawn by the most curious Pencils, where we at present leave him to his Contemplations.

Reading that sentence in context was an almost hypnotic experience. It’s all in the punctuation, of course. I guess you could cut it off at “the Country man”, or even at “dinner being over”; but I prefer the strict interpretation of fullstop to fullstop.

I also love the way that, as a piece of closure to a tale of deceit, conspiracy and danger, it builds to such a marvellous anticlimax.