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THE PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE
PRACTICE OF THE BEST AUTHORS.
For Use in Schools and in Private Study.
BY CHARLES WALKER CONNON, M. A.,
English Master of the Western Academy, Glasgow,
OLIVER & BOYD, TWEEDDALE COURT;
AND SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, & CO., LONDON.
(Price Two Shillings and Sixpence.]
It is only within a period comparatively recent, that any attempt has been made to impart, on an extensive and systematic scale, a knowledge of the structure and idiom of the English tongue. The light previously cast upon it was that refracted through the medium of the Greek and Latin languages. Men retained monastic practices in education long after they had discarded them in religion, and vainly endeavoured to train up youth as if they had been born to walk the streets of ancient Athens or of Rome, instead of being destined to think, and speak, and transact business in England, and by the use of their mother tongue.
That in itself the English language is as worthy of study as Greek or Latin,—and I hold it to be neither more nor less so,—and that it now possesses a literature which, for depth and sublimity, as well as copiousness and variety, greatly surpasses them both, are propositions capable, in my opinion, of as complete proof as can be brought forward on such a subject. But whatever be its relative importance, the fact that it is our tongue—the daily companion of our lives, and the very instrument of our thought is sufficient to secure for it our most serious study, and cannot fail, in proportion as prejudice subsides, to make it more and more the great subject-matter of primary education for all English youth. Truly has Locke said, “ There are so many advantages of speaking one's own language well, and being a master of it, that let a man's calling be what it will, it cannot but be worth our taking some pains in it.”
The importance of the study, however, is now generally conceded, and many excellent works have of late
been published, with a view to facilitate and extend it. But, to apply to grammars what Dr Johnson says of dictionaries, “ If the grammars of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed and comprised in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive,” there is no presumption in supposing that the grammar of a living tongue is still susceptible of improvement. The language changes day by day, and the grammar must change along with it. On the field thus at all times open to all I have ventured here to enter, and have surveyed for myself the present state of the English language. In doing this, many different points of view might have been assumed, and each would have required a different treatment; but the object of my work —which was to furnish a text-book for the use of those who wish to make the study of English Grammar conducive at once to the general development of the intellect and the correct utterance of thought-in some measure determined its form, and induced me to make it neither too dogmatical on the one hand, nor too critical on the other. By dealing much in positive assertion, I should, in some respects, have simplified my work, as by entering more fully into disputed points I could easily have enlarged it. But I have endeavoured to adopt a medium course - not being inclined to appeal oftener than necessary to the faith of the pupil, but at the same time not being afraid to differ, with or without assigning a reason, from those who have preceded me, where I considered them in the wrong.
So far as it was thought proper to enter on the doctrines of general grammar, the work will be found consistent with the highest authorities on the subject, and the pupil will have nothing material to unlearn, always a more difficult and vexatious task than to learn, when he advances either to Zumpt, Matthiæ, and the other German grammars which have of late become more or less generally known in this country; to Horne Tooke, Crombie, Key (Penny Cyclopædia), Latham, and others who have brought a knowledge of Saxon, as well as correct general principles, to bear on the present state of the English tongue; or still further, to those portions which treat of philology and the philosophy of language of the works of Locke, Harris, Lord Kames, Adam Smith, Beattie, Blair, Campbell, Dugald Stewart, James Mill, and John S. Mill. I need scarcely add, that in the works of these writers the student will find the great fountains of grammar; and if, besides satisfying minor demands, mine excite in him a thirst for these, my highest wish will be accomplished.
Between this Grammar and the school grammars at present most in use it would be invidious, perhaps presumptuous, in me to draw a comparison ; but I may be permitted to say, that I have attempted to make it strictly accurate in the definitions of the parts of speech ; consistent in the doctrine of inflections; sufficiently full, without being tediously minute, with regard to the derivation and composition of words; and above all, philosophical in its account of the rules by which the structure of our language is regulated. In every part of the work I have taken care to give copious practical exercises, to be done either in school or at home, by the pupils individually. These exercises I have purposely made of different degrees of difficulty, some of them being prescribed merely to test the attention of the pupil, and his apprehension of what he has been taught. But many of them call for reflection, and are intended to deepen his interest in and his knowledge of English Grammar.
In drawing up the part on Syntax, on which I have bestowed much care, I have aimed at three things :-1st, To give as complete an explanation as possible of the principles which regulate the structure of the English tongue, rather than make out a large number of mere rules ; 2d, I have illustrated the principles by extracts from the best authors, showing that they observed the rules; and, still more deeply to impress their truth on the mind of the pupil, I have, 3dly, Selected passages in which the same authors have violated the rules. These sentences he is required—by way of practical exercise—to correct by reference to the rule, and a comparison with the passages from the same authors in which grammatical propriety has been strictly observed. In the first class of exercises the principle of imitation is mostly relied on; and in the second, that of comparison. In both sets, reflection is constantly demanded from the pupil, to understand how every sentence is right, or how wrong, and how it probably came to be wrong. No good writer commits an error but from some partial view of the idea that he meant to express, and to see that partial view is not only satisfactory but highly improving.
With respect to the sentences, whether given as illustrations or violations of the rules of syntax, I have to remark,