« AnteriorContinuar »
Though art may sometimes prolong their duration, it will rarely give them perpetuity; and their changes will be almost always informing us, that language is the work of man, of a being from whom permanence 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 assistance. 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-
And in the loaden vineyard dies for thirst, it is not in our power to have recourse to any esta
blished laws of speech; but we must remark how the writers of former ages have used the same word, and consider 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 she gaz’d,
When the construction of a word is explained, it is necessary to pursue it through its train of phrase· ology, through those forms where it is used in a man
ner peculiar to our language, or in senses 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 persents, to make a doubt, to make out an assertion, 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 phrases with brevity, fulness, and perspicuity; a task of which the extent and intricacy is sufficiently shewn by the miscarriage of those who have generally attempted it. This difficulty is increased by the necessity of explaining the words in the same language ; for there is often only one word for one idea ; and though it be easy to translate the words bright, sweet, salt, bitter, into another language, it is not easy to explain them.
With regard to the interpretation, many other questions have required consideration. It was some time doubted whether it be necessary to explain the things implied by particular words; as under the term baronet, whether, instead of this explanation, a title of honour next in degree to that of baron, it would be better to mention more particularly the creation, privileges, and rank of baronets; and whether, under the word barometer, instead of being satisfied with observing that it is an instrument to discover the weight of the air, it would be fit to spend a few lines upon its invention, construction, and principles. It is not to be expected, that with the explanation of the one the herald should be satisfied, or the philosopher with that of the other; but since it will be required by common readers, that the explications should be sufficient for common use; and since, without some attention to such demands, the Dictionary cannot become generally valuable, I have determined to consult the best writers for explanations real as well as verbal ; and perhaps I may at last have reason to say, after one of the augmenters of Furetier, that my book is more learned than its author.
In explaining the general and popular language, it seems necessary to sort the several senses of each word, and to exhibit first its natural and primitive signification; as,
To arrive, to reach the shore in a voyage: he arrived at a safe harbour.
Then to give its consequential meaning, to arrive, to reach any place, whether by land or sea; as, he arrived at his country seat.
Then its metaphorical sense, to obtain any thing desired; as, he arrived at a peerage.
Then to mention any observation that arises from the comparison of one meaning with another; as, it may be remarked of the word arrive, that, in consequence of its original and etymological sense, it cannot be properly applied but to words signifying something desirable: thus we say, a man arrived at happiness ; but cannot say, without a mixture of irony, he arrived at misery.
Ground, the earth, generally as opposed to the air or water. He swam till he reached ground. The bird fell to the ground.
Then follows the accidental or consequential signification in which ground implies any thing that lies under another; as, he laid colours upon a rough ground. The silk had blue flowers on a red ground.
Then the remoter or metaphorical signification; as the ground of his opinion was a false computation. The ground of his work was his father's manuscript.
After having gone through the natural and figurative senses, it will be proper to subjoin the poetical sense of each word, where it differs from that which is in common use; as wanton, applied to any thing of which the motion is irregular without terror; as,
In wanton ringlets curl'd her hair. To the poetical sense may succeed the familiar; as of toast, used to imply the person whose health is drank; as,
The wise man's passion, and the vain man's toast. Pore. The familiar may be followed by the burlesque ; as of mellow, applied to good fellowship :
In all thy humours, whether grave or mellow. Addison.
Or of bite, used for cheat:
- More a dupe than wit, Sappho can tell you how this man was bit.
And lastly, may be produced the peculiar sense, in which a word is found in any great author: as faculties, in Shakspeare, signifies the powers of authority:
The signification of adjectives may be often ascertained by uniting them to substantives ; as, simple swain, simple sheep. Sometimes the sense of a substantive may be elucidated by the epithets annexed to it in good authors; as, the boundless ocean, the open lawns: and where such advantage can be gained by a short quotation, it is not to be omitted.
The difference of signification in words generally accounted synonimous, ought to be carefully observed; as in pride, haughtiness, arrogance : and the strict and critical meaning ought to be distinguished from that which is loose and popular; as in the word perfection, which, though in its philosophical and exact sense it can be of little use among human beings, is often so much degraded from its