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Many are the works of human industry, which to begin and finish are hardly granted to the same man. He that undertakes to compile a Dictionary, undertakes that, which, if it comprehends the full extent of his design, he knows himself unable to perform. Yet his labours, though deficient, may be useful, and with the hope of this inferior praise, he must incite his activity, and solace his weariness.
Perfection is unattainable, but nearer and nearer approaches may be made ; and finding my Dictionary about to be reprinted, I have endeavoured, by a revisal, to make it less reprehensible. I will not deny that I found many parts requiring emendation, and many more capable of improvement. Many faults I have corrected, some superfluities I have taken away, and some deficiencies I have supplied. I have methodised some parts that were disordered, and illuminated some that were obscure. Yet the changes or additions bear a very small proportion to the whole. The critic will now have less to object, but the student who has bought any of the former copies needs not repent; he will not, without nice collation, perceive how they differ; and usefulness seldom depends upon little things.
* Published in folio, 1773.
For negligence or deficience, I have perhaps not need of more apology than the nature of the work will furnish : I have left that inaccurate which never was made exact, and that imperfect which never was completed.
Having been long employed in the study and cultivation of the English language, I lately published a Dictionary like those compiled by the academies of Italy and France, for the use of such as aspire to exactness of criticism, or elegance of style.
But it has been since considered that works of that kind are by no means necessary to the greater number of readers, who, seldom intending to write or presuming to judge, turn over books only to amuse their leisure, and to gain degrees of knowledge suitable to lower characters, or necessary to the common business of life: these know not any other use of a dictionary than that of adjusting orthography, and explaining terms of science, or words of infrequent occurrence, or remote derivation.
For these purposes many dictionaries have been written by different authors, and with different degrees of skill; but none of them have yet fallen into my hands by which even the lowest expectations could be satisfied. Some of their authors wauted industry, and others literature: some knew not their own defects, and others were too idle to supply them.
* Published in 2 vols. 1756.
For this reason a small dictionary appeared yet to be wanting to common readers; and, as I may without arrogance claim to myself a longer acquaintance with the lexicography of our language than any other writer has had, I shall hope to be considered as having more experience at least than most of my predecessors, and as more likely to accommodate the nation with a vocabulary of daily use. I therefore offer to the Public an Abstract or Epitome of my former Work.
In comparing this with other dictionaries of the same kind, it will be found to have several advantages.
I. It contains many words not to be found in any other.
II. Many barbarous terms and phrases by which other dictionaries may vitiate the style, are rejected from this.
III. The words are more correctly spelled, partly by attention to their etymology, and partly by observation of the practice of the best authors.
IV. The etymologies and derivations, whether from foreign languages or from native roots, are more diligently traced, and more distinctly noted.
V. The senses of each word are more copiously enumerated, and more clearly explained.
VI. Many words occurring in the elder authors, such as Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton, which had been hitherto omitted, are here carefully inserted ;
so that this book may serve as a glossary or expository index to the poetical writers.
VII. To the words, and to the different senses of each word, are subjoined from the large dictionary the names of those writers by whom they have been used; so that the reader who knows the different periods of the language, and the time of its authors, may judge of the elegance or prevalence of any word, or meaning of a word; and without recurring to other books, may know what are antiquated, what are unusual, and what are recommended by the best authority.
The words of this Dictionary, as opposed to others, are more diligently collected, more accurately spelled, more faithfully explained, and more authentically ascertained. Of an Abstract it is not necessary to say more; and I hope it will not be found that truth requires me to say less.