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original signification, that the academicians have inserted in their work, the perfection of a language, and, with a little more licentiousness, might have prevailed on themselves to have added the perfection of a dictionary.
There are many other characters of words which it will be of use to mention. Some have both an active and passive signification; as fearful, that which gives or which feels terror; a fearful prodigy, a fearful hare. Some have a personal, some a real meaning; as in opposition to old, we use the adjective young, of animated beings, and new of other things. Some are restrained to the sense of praise, and others to that of disapprobation; so commonly though not always, we exhort to good actions, we instigate to ill; we animate, incite, and encourage indifferently to good or bad. So we usually ascribe good but impute evil; yet neither the use of these words, nor, perhaps, of any other in our licentious language, is so established as not to be often reversed by the correctest writers. I shall therefore, since the rules of stile, like those of law, arise from precedents often repeated, collect the testimonies on both sides, and endeavour to discover and promulgate the decrees of custom, who has so long possessed, whether by right. or by usurpation, the sovereignty of words.
It is necessary likewise to explain many words by their opposition to others; for contraries are best seen when they stand together. Thus the verb stand has one sense, as opposed to fall, and another as opposed to fly; for want of attending to which distinction, obvious as it is, the learned Dr. Bentley has squan
dered his criticism to no purpose, on these lines of Paradise Lost:
Fled ignominious “ Here,” says the critic, “ as the sentence is now read, we find that what stood, fled:” and therefore he proposes an alteration, which he might have spared if he had consulted a dictionary, and found that nothing more was affirmed than that those fled who did not fall.
In explaining such meanings as seem accidental and adventitious, I shall endeavour to give an account of the means by which they were introduced. Thus, to eke out any thing, signifies to lengthen it beyond its just dimensions, by some low artifice; because the word eke was the usual refuge of our old writers, when they wanted a syllable. And buxom, which means only obedient, is now made, in familiar phrases, to stand for wanton ; because in an ancient form of marriage, before the Reformation, the bride promised complaisance and obedience, in these terms: “ I will be bonair and buxom in bed and at board.”
I know well, my Lord, how trifling many of these remarks will appear separately considered, and how easily they may give occasion to the contemptuous merriment of sportive idleness, and the gloomy censures of arrogant stupidity; but dulness it is easy to despise, and laughter it is easy to repay. I shall not be solicitous what is thought of my work by such as know not the difficulty or importance of philological studies ; nor shall think those that have done nothing, qualified to condemn me for doing little. It may not, however, be improper to remind them, that no terrestrial greatness is more than an aggregate of little things; and to inculcate, after the Arabian proverb, that drops, added to drops, constitute the ocean.
There remains yet to be considered the distribution of words into their proper classes, or that part of lexicography which is strictly critical.
The popular part of the language, which includes all words not appropriated to particular sciences, admits of many distinctions and . subdivisions ; as, into words of general use, words employed chiefly in poetry, words obsolete, words which are admitted only by particular writers, yet not in themselves improper; words used only in burlesque writing; and words impure and barbarous.
Words of general use will be known by having no sign of particularity, and their various senses will be supported by authorities of all ages.
The words appropriated to poetry will be distinguished by some mark prefixed, or will be known by having no authorities but those of poets.
Of antiquated or obsolete words, none will be inserted but such as are to be found in authors who wrote since the accession of Elizabeth, from which we date the golden age of our language; and of these many might be omitted, but that the reader may require, with an appearance of reason, that no difficulty should be left unresolved in books which he finds himself invited to read, as confessed
and established models of stile. These will be likewise pointed out by some note of exclusion, but not of disgrace..
The words which are found only in particular books, will be known by the single name of him that has used them; but such will be omitted, unless either their propriety, elegance, or force, or the reputation of their authors, affords some extraordinary reason for their reception.
Words used in burlesque and familiar compositions, will be likewise mentioned with their proper authorities; such as dudgeon, from Butler, and leasing, from Prior; and will be diligently characterised by marks of distinction.
Barbarous, or impure words and expression s,may be branded with some note of infamy, as they are carefully to be eradicated wherever they are found; and they occur too frequently even in the best writers : as in Pope,
- in endless error hurld. 'Tis these that early taint the female soul. In Addison :
Attend to what a lesser muse indites. And in Dryden,
A dreadful quiet felt, and worser far
Than armsIf this part of the Work can be well performed, it, will be equivalent to the proposal made by Boileau to the academicians, that they should review all their polite writers, and correct such impurities as might be found in them, that their authority might not contribute, at any distant time, to the depravation of the language.
With regard to questions of purity or propriety, I was once in doubt whether I should not attribute too much to myself, in attempting to decide them, and whether my province was to extend beyond the proposition of the question, and the display of the suffrages on each side; but I have been since determined, by your Lordship's opinion, to interpose my own judgment, and shall therefore endeavour to support what appears to me most consonant to grammar and reason. Ausonius thought that modesty forbad him to plead inability for a task to which Cæsar had judged him equal.
Cur me posse negem, posse quod ille putat ? And I may hope, my Lord, that since you, whose authority in our language is so generally acknowledged, have commissioned me to declare my own opinion, I shall be considered as exercising a kind of vicarious jurisdiction, and that the power which might have been denied to my own claim, will be readily allowed me as the delegate of your Lordship.
In citing authorities, on which the credit of every part of this Work must depend, it will be proper to observe some obvious rules; such as of preferring writers of the first reputation to those of an inferior rank; of noting the quotations with accuracy; and of selecting, when it can be conveniently done, such sentences, as, besides their immediate use, may give pleasure or instruction, by convey. ing some elegance of language, or some precept of prudence, or piety.
It has been asked, on some occasions, who shall judge the judges ? And since, with regard to this design, a question may arise by what authority the