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As this science (whatever profound philosophers may think) is, to the rest, in things; so, in words (whatever supercilious pedants may talk), every one's mother tongue is to all other languages. This hath still been the sentiment of nature and true wisdom. Hence, the greatest men of antiquity never thought themselves better employed than in cultivating their own country idiom. So, Lycurgus did honour to Sparta in giving the first complete edition of Homer; and Cicero to Rome, in correcting the works of Lucretius. Nor do we want examples of the same good sense in modern times, even amidst the cruel inroads that art and fashion have made upon nature and the simplicity of wisdom. Menage, the greatest name in France for all kinds of philologick learning, prided himself in writing critical notes on their best lyrick poet, Malherbe; and our greater Selden, when he thought it might reflect credit on his country, did not disdain even to comment a very ordinary poet, one Michael Drayton. But the English tongue, at this juncture, deserves and demands our particular regard. It hath, by means of the many excellent works of different kinds composed in it, engaged the notice and became the study of almost every curious and learned foreigner, so as to be thought even a part of literary accomplishment. This must needs make it deserving of a critical attention; and its being yet destitute of a test or standard to apply to in cases of doubt or difficulty, shows how much it wants that attention. For we have neither Grammar nor Dictionary, neither chart nor compass, to guide us through this wide sea of words. And indeed, how should we? since both are to be composed and finished on the authority of our best established writers. But their authority can be of little use till the text hath been correctly settled, and the phraseology critically examined. As, then, by these aids, a Grammar and Dictionary planned upon the best rules of logick and philosophy (and none but such will deserve the name) are to be procured, the forwarding of this will be a general concern; for, as Quintillian observes, “ Verborum proprietas ac differentia omnibus, qui ser. monem curæ habent, debet esse communis.” By this way, the Italians have brought their tongue to a degree of purity and stability which no living language ever attained unto before. It is with pleasure I observe that these things now begin to be understood among ourselves, and that I can acquaint the publick we may soon expect very elegant editions of Fletcher and Milton's “Paradise Lost," from gentlemen of distinguished abilities and learning. But this interval of good sense, as it may be short, is indeed but new. For I remember to have heard of a very learned man who, not long since, formed a design of giving a more correct edition of Spenser, and, without doubt, would have performed it well; but he was dissuaded from his purpose by his friends, as beneath the dignity of a professor of the occult sciences. Yet these very friends, I suppose, would have thought it added lustre to his high station to have new-furnished out some dull northern chronicle, or dark Sibylline ænigma. But let it not be thought that what is here said insinuates anything to the discredit of Greek and Latin criticism. If the follies of particular men were sufficient to bring any branch of learning into disrepute, I do not know any that would stand in a worse situation than that for which I now apologise. For I hardly think there ever appeared, in any learned language, so execrable a heap of nonsense, under the name of commentaries, as hath been lately given us on a certain satyrick poet, of the past age, by his editor and coadjutor."
I am sensible how unjustly the very best classical criticks have been treated. It is said that our great philosopher 6 spoke with much contempt of the two finest scholars of this age, Dr. Bentley and Bishop Hare, for squabbling, as he expressed it, about an old play-book; meaning, I suppose, Terence's comedies. But this story is unworthy of him, though well enough suiting the fanatick turn of the wild writer that relates it. Such censures are amongst the follies of men immoderately given over to one science, and ignorantly undervaluing all the rest. Those learned criticks might, and perhaps did, laugh in their turn (though still, sure, with the same indecency and indiscretion) at that incomparable man, for wearing out a long life in poring through a telescope. Indeed, the weaknesses of such are to be mentioned with reverence. But who can bear, without indignation, the fashionable cant of every trifling writer, whose insipidity passes, with himself, for politeness, for pretending to be shocked, forsooth, with the rude and savage air of vulgar criticks; meaning such as Muretus, Scaliger, Casaubon, Salmasius, Spanheim, Bentley! When, had it not been for the deathless labours of such as these, the western world, at the revival of letters, had soon fallen back again into a state of ignorance and barbarity as deplorable as that from which Providence had just redeemed it.
To conclude with an observation of a fine writer and
• Reed notes this reference as belonging to Dr. Grey's edition of Hudibras, 1744. • Sir Isaac Newton
great philosopher of our own, which I would gladly bind, though with all honour, as a phylactery, on the brow of every awful grammarian, to teach him at once the use and limits of his art: Words are the money of fools, and the counters of wise men.?
*"For words are wise men's counters,—they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools.”—Thos. Hobbes, “The Leviathan.” Part 1., chap. Iv.
1709-1784 OHNSON, the great leviathan of English
letters in the eighteenth century, lexicographer and author of “Rasselas," was born
September 18, 1709, the son of a bookseller of moderate means, in Lichfield, and died full of honours in London, December 13, 1784.
Prepared at various small schools, he entered Pembroke College at Oxford, and left after a stay of nearly three years without a degree. Married to a woman twenty years older than himself, a widow, Mrs. Porter, he tried school-keeping and failed. In 1737 he emigrated from the provinces to London, and beginning as a contributor to the “ Gentleman's Magazine," embarked upon his half century career as the “great Cham” of English literature.
Passing over the works which have given him his fame, we note that his first contribution to the elucidation of Shakespeare was a pamphlet, “ Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth” (1745). It was not until twenty years later (1765), that his edition of the Plays, in association with George Steevens, was published. The most valuable part of this work was the Introduction, which is, perhaps, the most famous of all contributions of a like character. His textual criticism did not add much to his reputation. His Shakespearean work was but a by-product of his most fruitful genius.