Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

satellites ; or of the change of a foreign into an English termination, and a conformity to the laws of the speech into which they are adopted; as in category, cachexy, peripneumony.

Of those which still continue in the state of aliens, and have made no approaches towards assimilation, some seem necessary to be retained; because the purchasers of the Dictionary will expect to find them. Such are many words in the common law, as capias, habeas corpus, præmunire, nisi prius : such are some terms of controversial divinity, as hypostasis; and of physick, as the names of diseases; and in general, all terms which can be found in books not written professedly upon particular arts, or can be supposed necessary to those who do not regularly study them. Thus, when a reader not skilled in physick happens in Milton upon this line,

pining atrophy, Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence, he will, with equal expectation, look into his dictionary for the word marasmus, as for atrophy, or pestilence; and will have reason to complain if he does not find it.

It seems necessary to the completion of a dictionary designed not merely for criticks, but for popular use, that it should comprise, in some degree, the peculiar words of every profession; that the terms of war and navigation should be inserted, so far as they can be required by readers of travels, and of history; and those of law, merchandise, and mechanical trades, so far as they can be supposed useful in the occurrences of common life.

But there ought, however, to be some distinc

tion made between the different classes of words ; and therefore it will be proper to print those which are incorporated into the language in the usual character, and those which are still to be considered as foreign, in the italick letter.

Another question may arise with regard to appellatives, or the names of species. It seems of no great use to set down the words horse, dog, cat, willow, alder, daisy, rose, and a thousand others, of which it will be hard to give an explanation, not more obscure than the word itself. Yet it is to be considered, that, if the names of animals be inserted, we must admit those which are more known, as well as those with which we are, by accident, less acquainted; and if they are all rejected, how will the reader be relieved from difficulties produced by allusions to the crocodile, the chameleon, the ichneumon, and the hyæna ? If no plants are to be mentioned, the most pleasing part of nature will be excluded, and many beautiful epithets be unexplained. If only those which are less known are to be mentioned, who shall fix the limits of the reader's learning ? The importance of such explications appears from the mistakes which the want of them has occasioned. Had Shakespeare had a dictionary of this kind, he had not made the woodbine entwine the honeysuckle; nor would Milton, with such assistance, have disposed so improperly of his ellops and his scorpion.

Besides, as such words, like others, require that their accents should be settled, their sounds ascertained, and their etymologies deduced, they cannot be properly omitted in the dictionary. And though

the explanations of some may be censured as trivial, because they are almost universally understood; and those of others as unnecessary, because they will seldom occur; yet it seems not proper to omit them, since it is rather to be wished that many readers should find more than they expect, than that one should miss what he might hope to find.

When all the words are selected and arranged, the first part of the work to be considered is the orthography, which was long vague and uncertain ; which at last, when its fluctuation ceased, was in many cases settled but by accident; and in which, according to your Lordship’s observation, there is still great uncertainty among the best criticks: nor is it easy to state a rule by which we may decide between custom and reason, or between the equiponderant authorities of writers alike eminent for judgment and accuracy.

The great orthographical contest has long subsisted between etymology and pronunciation. It has been demanded, on one hand, that men should write as they speak; but as it has been shewn that this conformity never was attained in any language, and that it is not more easy to persuade men to agree exactly in speaking than in writing, it may be asked with equal propriety, why men do not rather speak as they write. In France, where this controversy was at its greatest height, neither party, however ardent, durst adhere steadily to their own rule; the etymologist was often forced to spell with the people; and the advocate for the authority of pronunciation found it sometimes deviating so capriciously from the received use of writing, that he was constrained to

SO

comply with the rule of his adversaries, lest he should lose the end by the means, and be left alone by following the crowd.

When a question of orthography is dubious, that practice has, in my opinion, a claim to preference which preserves the greatest number of radical letters, or seems most to comply with the general custom of our language. But the chief rule which I propose to follow is, to make no innovation, without a reason sufficient to balance the inconvenience of change ; and such reasons I do not expect often to find. All change is of itself an evil, which ought not to be hazarded but for evident advantage; and as inconstancy is in every case a mark of weakness, it will add nothing to the reputation of our tongue. There are, indeed, some who despise the inconveniences of confusion, who seem to take pleasure in departing from custom, and to think alteration desirable for its own sake; and the reformation of our orthography, which these writers have attempted, should not pass without its due honours, but that I suppose they hold a singularity its own reward, or may dread the fascination of lavish praise.

The present usage of spelling, where the present usage can be distinguished, will, therefore, in this work be generally followed ; yet there will be often occasion to observe, that it is in itself inaccurate, and tolerated rather than chosen ; particularly when, by a change of one letter, or more, the meaning of a word is obscured; as in farrier, or ferrier, as it was formerly written, from ferrum, or fer; in gibberish, for gebrish, the jargon of Geber, and his chymical followers, understood by none but their own tribe. It

[ocr errors]

will be likewise sometimes proper to trace back the orthography of different ages, and shew by what gradations the word departed from its original.

Closely connected with orthography is pronunciation, the stability of which is of great importance to the duration of a language, because the first change will naturally begin by corruptions in the living speech. The want of certain rules for the pronunciation of former ages, has made us wholly ignorant of the metrical art of our ancient poets; and since those who study their sentiments regret the loss of their numbers, it is surely time to provide that the harmony of the moderns may be more permanent.

A new pronunciation will make almost a new speech; and therefore, since one great end of this undertaking is to fix the English language, care will be taken to determine the accentuation of all polysyllables by proper authorities, as it is one of those capricious phænomena which cannot be easily reduced to rules. Thus there is no antecedent reason for difference of accent in the words dolorous and sonorous ; yet of the one Milton gives the sound in this line :

He pass'd o'er many a region dolorous ; and that of the other in this,

Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds. It may likewise be proper to remark metrical licenses, such as contractions, generous, gcn'rous ; reverend, rev'rend; and coalitions, as region, question.

But it is still more necessary to fix the pronunciation of monosyllables, by placing with them

Pas

« AnteriorContinuar »