Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]

calion to many curious Disquisitions, and sometimes perhaps to Conjectures, which to Readers unacquainted with this kind of Study, cannot but appear improbable and capricious. But it may be reasonably imagined, that what is so much in the Power of Men as Language, will very often be capriciously conducted. Nor are these Disquistions and Conje&tures to be considered altogether as wanton Sports of Wit, or vain Shews of Learning; our Language is well known not to be primitive or self-originated, but to have adopted Words of every Generation, and, either for the Supply of its Necessities, or the Encrease of its Copiousness, to have received Additions from very distant Regions ; so that in Search of the Progenitors of our Speech, we may wander from the Tropic to the Frozen Zone, and find some in the Valleys of Palestine, and some upon the Rocks of Norway.

Besides the Derivation of particular Words, there is likewise an Etymology of Phrases. Expressions are often taken from other Languages; fome apparently, as to run a Risque, courier un Risque; and some even when we do not seem to borrow their Words ; thus, to bring about or accomplish, appears an English Phrafe, but in Reality our native Word about has no such Import, and is only a French Expression, of which we have an Example in the common Phrases venir à bout d'une affaire.

In exhibiting the Descent of our Language, our Etymologists seem to have been too lavish of their Learning, having traversed almost every Word. through various Tongues, only to fhew what was shewn sufficiently by the first Derivation. This Practice is of great Ufein fynoptical Lexicons, where mutilated and doubtful Languages are explained by their Affinity to others more certain and extensive, but is generally superfluous in English Etymologies. When the Word is easily deduced from a Saxon


[ocr errors]

Original, I shall not often enquire further, since we know not the Parent of the Saxon Dialect ; but when it is borrowed from the French, I shall shew whence the French is apparently derived. Where a Saxon Root cannot be found, the Defect may be supplied from kindred Languages, which will be generally furnished with much Liberality by the Writers of our Gloffaries ; Writers who deserve often the highest Praise, both of Judgment and Industry, and may expect at least to be mentioned with Honour by me, whom they have freed from the greatest Part of a very laborious Work, and on whom they have imposed, at worst, only the easy Talk of rejecting Superfluities.

By tracing in this Manner every Word to its Original, and not admitting, but with great Caution, any of which no Original can be found, we shall see cure our Language from being over-run with Cant, from being crouded with low Terms, the Spawn of Folly or Affectation, which arise from no juft Principles of Speech, and of which therefore no legitimate Derivation can be shewn.

When the Etymology is thus adjusted, the Analogy of our Language is next to be considered; when we have discovered whence our Words are derived, we are to examine by what Rules they are governed, and how they are inflected through their various Terminations. The Terminations of the English are few, but chose few have hitherto remained unregarded by the. Writers of our Dictionaries. Our Substantives are declined only by the plural Termination, our Adjectives admit no Variation but in the Degrees of Comparison, and our Verbs are conjugated by auxiliary Words, and are only changed in the Preter Tense.

To our Language may be with great Justness applied the Obfervation of Quintilian, that Speech was not formed by an Analgoy sent from heaven. It did


not descend to us in a State of Uniformity and Pers fection, but was produced by Necessity, and enJarged by Accident; and is therefore composed of diffimilar Parts; thrown together by Negligence, by Affectation, by Learning, or by Ignorance. ... Our Inflections therefore are by no Means con. stant, but admit of numberless Irregularities, which in this Dictionary will be diligently noted. Thus Fox makes in the Plural Foxes, but Ox makes Oxen. Sheep is the same in both Numbers. Adjectives are sometimes compared by changing the last Syllable, -as proud, prouder, proudeft ; and sometimes by Particles prefixed, as ambitious, more ambitious, most ambitious. The Forms of our Verbs are subject to great Variety ; fome end their Preter Tense in ed, as I love, I loved, I have loved; which may be called the regular Form, and is followed by most of our Verbs of southern Original. But many depart from this Rule, without agreeing in any other ; as I Joake, I shook, I have haken, or hook, as it is fometimes written in Poetry; I make, I made, I have made ; I bring, I brought, I wring, I wrung, and many others, which, as they cannot be reduced to Rules, must be learned from the Dictionary rather than the Grammar.

The Verbs are likewise to be distinguished according to their Qualities, as Actives from Neuters ; the Neglect of which has already introduced fome Barbarities in our Conversation, which if not obviated by juft Animadverlions, may in Time creep into our Writings.

Thus, my Lord, will our Language be laid down, distinct in its minutest Subdivisions, and refolved into its elemental Principles. And who upon this Survey can forbear to wish, that these fundamental Atoms of our Speech might obtain the Firmness and Immutability of the primogenial and constituent Particles of Matter, that they might retain their Subftance while they alter their Appearance, and be varied and compounded, yet not destroyed.

But this is a Privilege which Words are scarcely to expect: for, like their Author, when they are not gaining Strength, they are generally losing it. Tho' Art 'may sometimes prolong their Duration, it will rarely give them Perpetuity; and iheir Changes will be almost always informing us, that Language is the Work of Man, of a Being from whom Perinanence and Stability cannot be derived.

Words having been hitherto considered as separate and unconnected, are now to be likewise examined as they are ranged in their various Relations to others by the Rules of Syntax or Construction, to which I do not know that any Regard has been yet

shewn in English Dictionaries, and in which the Grammarians can give little Allistance. The Syntax of this Language is too inconstant to be reduced to Rules, and can be only learned by the distinct Consideration of particular Words as they are used -- by the best Authors. Thus, we say, according to the present Modes of Speech, The Soldier died of his Wounds, and the Sailor perished with Hunger : and every Man acquainted with our Language would be offended by a Change of these Particles, which yet seem originally assigned by Chance, there being no Reason to be drawn from Grammar why a Man may not, with equal Propriety, be said to die with a Wound, or perish of Hunger.

Our Syntax therefore is not to be taught by general Rules, but by special Precedents; and in examining whether Addison has been with Justice accused of a Solecism in this Passage,

The poor Inhabitant
Starves in the midst of Nature's Bounty curst,
And in the loaden Vineyard dies for Thirl,

it is not in our Power to have recourse to any eltaa blished Laws of Speech ; but we must remark how the Writers of former Ages have used the same Word, and confider whether he can be acquitted of Impropriety, upon the Testimony of Davies, given in his Favour by a similar Passage.

She loaths the wat'ry Glass wherein the gaz'd,
And shuns it ftill, although for Thir! lhe dye.

When the Construction of a Word is explained, it is neceffary to pursue it through its Train of Phrafeology, through those Forms where it is used in a Manner peculiar to our Language, or in Senfes not to be comprised in the general Explanations; as from the Verb make arise these Phrases, to make Love, to make an End, to make Way; as, He made Way for his Followers, The Ship made Way before the Wind; to make a Bed, to make merry, to make a Mock, to make Presents, to make a Doubt, to make out an Af fertion, to make good a Breach, to make good a Cause, to make nothing of an Attempt, to make Lamentation, to make a Merit, and many others which will occur in reading with that View, and which only their Frequency hinders from being generally remarked.

The great Labour is yet to come, the Labour of interpreting these Words and Phrafes with Brevity, Fullness, and Perspicuity; a Tafk of which the Extent and Intricacy is sufficiently fhewn by the Mifcarriage of those who have generally attempted it. This Difficulty is increased by the Neceflity of explaining the Words in the fame Language ; for there is often only one Word for one Idea ; and though it be easy to translate the Words bright, sweet, falt, bitter, into another Language, it is not easy to explain them.

With regard to the Interpretation, many other Questions have required Confideration,


It was

« ZurückWeiter »