Imágenes de páginas
PDF

justly be censured, did they not gratify the mind, by affording a kind of intellectual history. The various syntactical structures occurring in the examples have been carefully noted; the licence or negligence with which many words have beenhitherto used, has made our style capricious and indeterminate: when the different combinations of the same word are exhibited together, the preference is readily given to propriety, and I have often endeavoured to direct the choice. Thus have I laboured, by settling the orthography, displaying the analogy, regu. lating the structures, and ascertaining the signification of English words, to perform all the parts of a faithful lexicographer: but I have not always executed my own scheme, or satisfied my own expectations. The work, whatever proofs of diligence and attention it may exhibit, is yet capable of many improvements: the orthography which I recommend is still controvertible, the etymology which I adopt is uncertain, and perhaps frequently erroneous; the explanations are sometimes too much contracted, and sometimes too much diffused; the significations are distinguished rather with subtilty than skill, and the attention is harassed with unnecessary miInuteneSS. The examples are too often injudiciously truncated, and perhaps sometimes, l hope very rarely, alleged in a mistaken sense; for in making this collection I trusted more to memory, than, in a state of disquiet and embarrassment, memory can con tain, and purposed to supply at the review what was left incomplete in the firs transcription. Many terms appropriated to particular occupations, though necessary and sign ficant, are undoubtedly omitted; and of the words most studiously considered ar exemplified, many senses have escaped observation. Yet these failures, however frequent, may admit extenuation and apology. T have attempted much is always laudable, even when the enterprise is above t strength that undertakes it: To rest below his own aim is incident to every o whose fancy is actre, and whose views are comprehensive; nor is any man satisf with himself because he has done much, but because he can conceive lit When first I engaged in this work, I resolved to leave neither words nor things examined, and pleased myself with a prospect of the hours which I should re away in feasts of literature, the obscure recesses of northern learning which I sho enter and ransack, the treasures with which I expected every search into those r lected mines to reward my labour, and the triumph with which I should dis my acquisitions to mankind. When I had thus inquired into the original of wo I resolved to show likewise my attention to things; to pierce deep into every scie to enquire the nature of every substance of which I inserted the name, to every idea by a definition strictly logical, and exhibit every production in a nature in an accurate description, that my book might be in place of all other tionaries, whether appellative or technical. But these were the dreams of a doomed at last to wake a lexicographer. I soon found that it is too late to loo instruments, when the work calls for execution, and that whatever abilities brought to my task, with those I must finally perform it. To deliberate whe I doubted, to enquire whenever I was ignorant, would have protracted the u taking without end, and, perhaps, without much improvement; for I did no by my first experiments, that what I had not of my own was easily to be obtained: I saw that one enquiry only gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, that to search was not always to find, and to find was not always to be informed; and that thus to pursue perfection, was like the first inhabitants of Arcadia, to chase the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where he seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same distance from them. I then contracted my design, determining to confide in myself, and no longer to solicit auxiliaries, which produced more incumbrance than assistance: by this I obtained at least one advantage, that I set limits to my work, which would in time be ended, though not completed. Despondency has never so far prevailed as to depress me to negligence; some faults will at last appear to be the effects of anxious diligence and persevering activity. The nice and subtle ramifications of meaning were not easily avoided by a mind intent upon accuracy, and convinced of the necessity of disentangling combinations, and separating similitudes. Many of the distinctions which to common readers appear useless and idle, will be found real and important by men versed in the school of philosophy, without which no dictionary can ever-be accurately compiled, or skilfully examined. Some senses however there are, which, though not the same, are yet so nearly allied, that they are often confounded. Most men think indistinctly, and therefore cannot speak with exactness; and consequently some examples might be indifferently put to either signification: this uncertainty is not to be imputed to me, who do not form, but register the language; who do not teach men how they should think, but relate how they have hitherto expressed their thoughts. The imperfect sense of some examples I lamented, but could not remedy, and hope they will be compensated by innumerable passages selected with propriety, and preserved with exactness; some shining with sparks of imagination, and some replete with treasures of wisdom. The orthography and etymology, though imperfect, are not imperfect for want of care, but because care will not always be successful, and recollection or information come too late for use. That many terms of art and manufacture are omitted, must be frankly acknowledged; but for this defect I may boldly allege that it was unavoidable: I could not visit caverns to learn the miner's language, nor take a voyage to perfect my skill in the dialect of navigation, nor visit the warehouses of merchants, and shops of artificers, to gain the names of wares, tools, and operations, of which no mention is found in books; what favourable accident, or easy enquiry brought within my reach, has not been neglected; but it had been a hopeless labour to glean up words, by courting living information, and contesting with the sullenness of one, and the roughness of another. To furnish the academicians della Crusca with words of this kind, a series of comedies called la Fiera, or the Fair, was professedly written by Buonaroti; but I had no such assistant, and therefore was content to want what they must have wanted likewise, had they not luckily been so supplied. Nor are all words which are not found in the vocabulary, to be lamented as omissions. Of the laborious and mercantile part of the people, the diction is in a great measure casual and mutable; many of their terms are formed for some temporary or local comwenience, and though current at certain times and places, are in others utterly unknown. This fugitive cant, which is always in a state of increase or decay, cannot be regarded as any part of the durable materials of a language, and therefore must be suffered to perish with other things unworthy of preservation. Care will sometimes betray to the appearance of negligence. He that is catching opportunities which seldom occur, will suffer those to pass by unregarded, which he expects hourly to return; he that is searching for rare and remote things, will neglect those that are obvious and familiar: thus many of the most common and cursory words have been inserted with little illustration, because in gathering the authorities, I forbore to copy those which I thought likely to occur whenever they were wanted. It is remarkable that, in reviewing my collection, I found the word SEA unexemplified. Thus it happens, that in things difficult there is danger from ignorance, and in things easy from confidence; the mind, afraid of greatness, and disdainful of littleness, hastily withdraws herself from painful searches, and passes with scornful rapidity over tasks not adequate to her powers; sometimes too secure for caution, and again too anxious for vigorous effort; sometimes idle in a plain path, and sometimes distracted in labyrinths, and dissipated by different intentions. A large work is difficult because it is large, even though all its parts might singly be performed with facility; where there are many things to be done, each must b allowed its share of time and labour, in the proportion only which it bears to th whole; nor can it be expected, that the stones which form the dome of a templ should be squared and polished like the diamond of a ring. Of the event of this work, for which, having laboured it with so much applic: tion, I cannot but have some degree of parental fondness, it is natural to form cor jectures. Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design, will requi that it should fix our language, and put a stop to those alterations which time ar chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition. With ti consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin fear that I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can ju tify. When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after anoth from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, w being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words : phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his 1 guage, and secure it from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to cha sublunary nature, and clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation. With this hope, however, academies have been instituted, to guard the aver of their languages, to retain fugitives, and repulse intruders: but their vigil: and activity have hitherto been vain; sounds are too volatile and subtile for 1 restraints; to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertak of pride, unwilling to measure its desires by its strength. The French language visibly changed under the inspection of the academy; the style of Amelot's tra tion of father Paul is observed by Le Courayer to be un peu passé; and no Italian will maintain that the diction of any modern writer is not perceptibly different from that of Boccace, Machiavel, or Caro. Total and sudden transformations of a language seldom happen; conquests and migrations are now very rare: but there are other causes of change, which, though slow in their operation, and invisible in their progress, are perhaps as much supeñour to human resistance, as the revolutions of the sky, or intumescence of the tide. Commerce, however necessary, however lucrative, as it depraves the manners, corrupts the language; they that have frequent intercourse with strangers, to whom they endeavour to accommodate themselves, must in time learn a mingled dialect, like the jargon which serves the traffickers on the Mediterranean and Indian coasts. This will not always be confined to the exchange, the warehouse, or the port, but will be communicated by degrees to other ranks of the people, and be at list incorporated with the current speech. There are likewise internal causes equally forcible. The language most likely to continue long without alteration would be that of a nation raised a little, and but a little, above barbarity, secluded from strangers, and totally employed in procuring the conveniencies of life; either without books, or, like some of the Mahometan countries, with very few : men thus busied and unlearned, having only such words as common use requires, would perhaps long continue to express the same notions by the same signs. But no such constancy can be expected in a people polished by arts, and classed by subordination, where one part of the community is sustained and accommodated by the labour of the other. Those who have much leisure to think, will always be enlarging the stock of ideas; and every increase of knowledge, whether real or fancied, will produce new words or combinations of words. When the mind is unchained from necessity, it will range after convenience; when it is left at large in the field of speculation, it will shift opinions; as any custom is disused, the words that expressed it must perish with it: as any opinion grows Popular, it will innovate speech in the same proportion as it alters practice. As by the cultivation of various sciences, a language is amplified, it will be more. furnished with words deflected from their original sense; the geometrician will talk of a courtier's zenith, or the eccentrick virtue of a wild hero, and the physician of sanguine expectations and phlegmatick delays. Copiousness of speech will give opportunities to capricious choice, by which some words will be preferred, and others degraded; vicissitudes of fashion will enforce the use of new, or extend the signification of known terms. The tropes of poetry will make hourly encroachments, and the metaphorical will become the current sense: pronunciation will be varied by levity or ignorance, and the pen must at length comply with the tongue; illiterate writers will, at one time or other, by publick infatuation, rise into renown, who, not knowing the original import of words, will use then with colloquial licentiousness, confound distinction, and forget propriety. As politeness increases, some expressions will be considered as too gross and vulgar for the delicate, others as too formal and ceremonious for the gay and airy; new phrases are therefore adopted, which must, for the same reasons, be in time dismissed. Swift, in his petty treatise on the English language, allows that new words must sometimes be introduced, but proposes that none should be suffered to become obsolete. But what makes a word obsolete, more than general agreement to forbear it? and how shall it be continued, when it conveys an offensive idea, or recalled again into the mouths of mankind, when it has once become unfamiliar by disuse, and unpleasing by unfamiliarity ? There is another cause of alteration more prevalent than any other, which yet in the present state of the world cannot be obviated. A mixture of two languages will produce a third distinct from both, and they will always be mixed, where the chief part of education, and the most conspicuous accomplishment, is skill in an cient or in foreign tongues. He that has long cultivated another language, will find its words and combinations crowd upon his memory; and haste and negligence, re. finement and affectation, will obtrude borrowed terms and exotick expressions. The great pest of speech is frequency of translation. No book was ever turne from one language into another, without imparting something of its native idiom this is the most mischievous and comprehensive innovation: single words may ente by thousands, and the fabrick of the tongue continue the same; but new phrasec logy changes much at once; it alters not the single stones of the building, but th order of the columns. If an academy should be established for the cultivation our style, which I, who can never wish to see dependance multiplied, hope th spirit of English liberty will hinder or destroy, let them, instead of compiling gram mars and dictionaries, endeavour, with all their influence, to stop the licence translators, whose idleness and ignorance, if it be suffered to proceed, will redu us to babble a dialect of France. If the changes that we fear be thus irresistible, what remains but to acquies with silence, as in the other insurmountable distresses of humanity? It rema that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cu Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeate tongues, like governments, have a natural tendency to degeneration; we have lo preserved our constitution, let us make some struggles for our language. In hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be immor I have devoted this book, the labour of years, to the honour of my country, that may no longer yield the palm of philology, without a contest, to the nations of the c tinent. The chief glory of every people arises from its authors: whether I s add any thing by my own writings to the reputation of English literature, n be left to time: much of my life has been lost under the pressures of disease ; no has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provision for the that was passing over me; but I shall not think my employment useless or ign if by my assistance foreign nations, and distant ages, gain access to the propag of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labours afford to the repositories of science, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, to Boyle. When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, how defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavo well. That it will immediately become popular I have not promised to myself : wild blunders, and risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wa

« AnteriorContinuar »