Writing: Worst sentence ever

In Nuce--Writing: Worst sentence ever
Every sentence needs a main branch
According to William Minto, it's not enough to say a sentence should express a complete thought. A beginning writer might not understand what a complete thought, or unity of thought, is.

He contends instead that every good sentence should have "one principal affirmation," or one main branch, and the rest of the sentence, the leaves and the fruit, adorn it.

In other words, every part of the sentence should embellish its main idea. And there had better be a main idea.

Says Minto:
Perhaps the best way of illustrating a rule is to produce extreme cases of breaking it. The following sentence is from Thomas Hearne. I will not say it is the worst sentence in the English language, but it is the worst that I happen to have remarked:—
"Just after I had published ' Robert of Gloucester,' I had the good fortune to see and converse with a learned, modest, and honest Friend of Herefordshire (the same, I mean, that besides his other great assistance in the work, drew up the indexes to the celebrated Dr Hickes' 'Thesaurus Linguarum Septentrionalium,' and is so excellently well qualified to compile the antiquities of that county, about which he hath many curious materials), at which time he was pleased to lend me the Life of St Thomas Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford, which, tho' a printed Book, yet is rare and seldom to be seen, as many books of the same kind are also very scarce, and therefore greedily and industriously picked up by such curious collectors as was the famous Mr Richard Smith, that writ about Christ's Descent into Hell, and collected most of his Rarities out of the Library of H. Dyson, a person of a very strange, prying, and inquisitive genius in the matter of Books, as may appear from many Libraries, there being Books (chiefly in Old English), almost in every Library, that belonged to him, with his name upon them."
What is the principal affirmation here? There is none. The sentence merely illustrates the tendency of a garrulous man, stored with facts and pleased with the store, to pour them out as they occur, rambling along in pleasant gossip without regard to any pressing central purpose. The order is not logical or rational but personal, obeying the chance suggestions of memory, easy to write, but confusing to read. It is an extreme case, but all of us are apt to err in the same way, though not so flagrantly; and many discourses, though the separate sentences are neater and not quite so artless, are seen to be equally rambling when viewed as wholes.
Minto calls his extreme example an "overcrowded sentence." Such self-indulgence is easy to detect in other people's writing, but harder to see in our own, because we already know what we're trying to say and don't have to "take it in."
Let the beginner recognize this, and acquire the habit, if he has not the instinct, of looking at his sentences from the reader's point of view. It may embarrass him at first and make him self-conscious, but it is a duty that he owes to others; and self-consciousness is a less sin than unintelligibility.
 Source: Minto.

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