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by all good authors for a longer period than the age of man extends to. It is not by ancient, but by present use, that our style must be regulated. And that use can never be denominated present which hath been laid aside time immemorial, or, which amounts to the same thing, falls not within the knowledge or remembrance of any now living. *

This remark not only affects terms and phrases, but also the declension, combination, and construction of words. Is it not, then, surprising to find that one of Lowth's penetration should think a single person entitled to revive a form of inflection in a particular word which had been rejected by all good writers, of every denomination, for more than a hundred and fifty years ?+ But if present use is to be renounced for ancient, it will be necessary to determine at what precise period antiquity is to be regarded as a rule. One inclines to remove the standard to the distance of a century and a half; another may, with as good reason, fix it three centuries backward, and another six. And if the language of any of these periods is to be judged by the use of any other, it will be found, no doubt, entirely barbarous. To me it is so evident either that the present use must be the standard of the present language, or that the language admits no standard whatsoever, that I cannot conceive a clearer or more indisputable principle from which to bring an argument to support it.

Yet it is certain that even some of our best critics and grammarians talk occasionally as if they had a notion of some other standard, though they never give us a single hint to direct us where to search for it. Doctor Johnson, for example, in the preface to his very valuable Dictionary, acknowledges properly the absolute dominion of custom over language, and yet, in the explanation of particular words, expresseth himself sometimes in a manner that is inconsistent with this doctrine: “This word,” says he, in one place, “ though common, and used by the best writers, is perhaps barbarous.”I I have always understood a barbarism in speech to be a term or expression totally unsupported by the

* “Nam fuerit pene ridiculum malle sermonem quo locuti sunt homines, quam quo loquantur.”—Quint., Inst., 1. i., c. vi.

+ Introd., &c. In a note on the irregular verb sit, he saỹs, “Dr. Middleton hath, with great propriety, restored the true participle sitten.” Would he not have acted with as great propriety had he restored the true participles pight for pitched, raught for reached, blent for blended, and shright for shrieked, on full as good authority, the authority of Spenser, one of the sweetest of our ancient bards ? And why might not Dr. Lowth himself have, with great propriety, restored the true participles hitten, casten, letten, pulten, setten, shutten, slitten, splitten, founden, grounden, of the verbs hit, cast, let, put, set, shut, slit, split, find, grind? for it would not be impossible to produce antiquated authors in support of all these. Besides, they are all used to this day in some provincial dialects. | See the word Nowadays

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present usage of good writers in the language. A meaning very different is suggested here, but what that meaning is it will not be easy to conjecture. Nor has this celebrated wri. ter given us, on the word barbarous, any definition of the term which will throw light on his application of it in the passage quoted. I entirely agree with Dr. Priestley, that it will never be the arbitrary rules of any man, or body of men whatever, that will ascertain the language,* there being no other dictator here but use.

It is, indeed, easier to discover the aim of our critics in their observations on this subject than the meaning of the terms which they employ. These are often employed without precision ; their aim, however, is generally good. It is as much as possible to give a check to innovation. But the means which they use for this purpose have sometimes even a contrary tendency. If you will replace what hath been long since expunged from the language, and extirpate what is firmly rooted, undoubtedly you yourself become an innovator. If you desert the present use, and by your example, at least, establish it as a maxim that every critic may revive at pleasure oldfashioned terms, inflections, and combinations, and make such alterations on words as will bring them nearer to what he supposeth to be the etymon, there can be nothing fixed or stable on the subject. Possibly you prefer the usage that prevailed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth ; another may, with as good reason, have a partiality for that which subsisted in the days of Chaucer. And with regard to etymology, about which grammarians make so much useless bustle, if every one hath a privilege of altering words according to his own opinion of their origin, the opinions of the learned being on this subject so various, nothing but a general chaos can ensue.

On the other hand, it may be said, “ Are we to catch at every newfashioned term and phrase which whim or affectation may invent, and folly circulate ? Can this ever tend to give either dignity to our style or permanency to our language ?” It cannot, surely. This leads to a farther explanation and limitation of the term present use, to prevent our being misled by a mere name. It is possible, nay, it is common, for men, in avoiding one error, to run into another and a worse. There is a mean in everything. I have purposely avoided the expressions recent use and modern use, as those seem to stand in direct opposition to what is ancient. But I used the word present, which, in respect of place, is always opposed to absent, and in respect of time, to past or future, that now have no existence. When, therefore, the word is used of language, its proper contrary is not ancient, but obso

* Preface to his Rudiments of English Grammar.
+ “In vitium ducit culpæ fuga, si caret arte.”—HoR., De Arte Poet.

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lete. Besides, though I have acknowledged language to be a species of mode or fashion, as doubtless it is, yet, being much more permanent than articles of apparel, furniture, and the like, that, in regard to their form, are under the dominion of that inconstant power, I have avoided also using the words fashionable and modish, which but too generally convey the ideas of novelty and levity. Words, therefore, are by no means to be accounted the worse for being old, if they are not obsolete ; neither is any word the better for being new. On the contrary, some time is absolutely necessary to constitute that custom or use on which the establishinent of words depends.

If we recur to the standard already assigned, namely, the writings of a plurality of celebrated authors, there will be no scope for the comprehension of words and idioms which can be denominated novel and upstart. It must be owned that we often meet with such terms and phrases in newspapers, periodical pieces, and political pamphlets. The writers to the times rarely fail to have their performances studded with a competent number of these fantastic ornaments. lar orator in the House of Commons hath a sort of patent from the public, during the continuance of his popularity, for coining as many as he pleases; and they are no sooner issued than they obtrude themselves upon us from every quarter, in all the daily papers, letters, essays, addresses, &c. But this is of no significancy. Such words and phrases are but the insects of a season at the most. The people, always fickle, are just as prompt to drop them as they were to take them up; and not one of a hundred survives the particular occasion or party struggle which gave it birth. We may justly apply to them what Johnson says of a great number of the terms of the laborious and mercantile part of the people: “ This fugitive cant 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."*

· As use, therefore, implies duration, and as even a few years are not sufficient for ascertaining the characters of authors, I have, for the most part, in the following sheets, taken my prose examples neither from living authors nor from those who wrote before the Revolution; not from the first, because an author's fame is not so firmly established in his lifetime; nor from the last, that there may be no suspicion that the style is superannuated. The vulgar translation of the Bible I must, indeed, except from this restriction. The continuance and universality of its use throughout the British dominions affords an obvious reason for the exception.

Thus I have attempted to explain what that use is which is

* Preface to his Dictionary.

the sole mistress of language, and to ascertain the precise import and extent of these her essential attributes, reputable, national, and present, and to give the directions proper to be observed in searching for the laws of this empress. In truth, grammar and criticism are but her ministers ; and though, like other ministers, they would sometimes impose the dictates of their own humour upon the people as the commands of their sovereign, they are not so often successful in such attempts as to encourage the frequent repetition of them.

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THE NATURE AND USE OF VERBAL CRITICISM, WITH ITS PRINCI

PAL CANONS. The first thing in elocution that claims our attention is purity; all its other qualities have their foundation in this. The great standard of purity is use, whose essential properties, as regarding language, have been considered and explained in the preceding chapter. But before I proceed to illustrate and specify the various offences against purity, or the different ways in which it may be violated, it will be proper to inquire so much farther into the nature of the subject as will enable us to fix on some general rules or canons by which, in all our particular decisions, we ought to be directed. This I have judged the more necessary, as many of the verbal criticisms which have been made on English authors since the beginning of the present century (for in this island we had little or nothing of the kind before) seem to have proceeded either from no settled principles at all, or from such as will not bear a near examination. There is this farther advantage in beginning with establishing certain canons, that if they shall be found reasonable, they will tend to make what remains of our road both shorter and clearer than it would otherwise have been. Much in the way of illustration and eviction may be saved on the particular remarks. And if, on the contrary, they should not be reasonable, and, consequently, the remarks raised on them should not be well founded, no way that I can think of bids fairer for detecting the fallacy, and preventing every reader from being misled. A fluent and specious, but superficial manner of criticising, is very apt to take at first, even with readers whom a deliberate examination into the principles on which the whole is built would quickly undeceive.

“But,” it may be said, “ if custom, which is so capricious and unaccountable, is everything in language, of what signifi

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cance is either the grammarian or the critic?" of considerable significance notwithstanding; and of most, then, when they confine themselves to their legal departments, and do not usurp an authority that doth not belong to them. The man who, in a country like ours, should compile a succinct, perspicuous, and faithful digest of the laws, though no lawgiver, would be universally acknowledged to be a public benefactor. How easy would that important branch of knowledge be rendered by such a work, in comparison of what it must be when we have nothing to have recourse to but a labyrinth of statutes, reports, and opinions. That man, also, would be of considerable use, though not in the same degree, who should vigilantly attend to every illegal practice that were beginning to prevail, and evince its danger by exposing its contrariety to law. Of similar benefit, though in a different sphere, are grammar and criticism. In language, the grammarian is properly the compiler of the digest ; and the verbal critic, the man who seasonably notifies the abuses that are creeping in. Both tend to facilitate the study of the tongue to strangers, and to render natives more perfect in the knowledge of it, to advance general use into universal, and to give a greater stability, at least, if not a permanency, to custom, the most mutable thing in nature. These are advantages which, with a moderate share of attention, may be discovered from what hath been already said on the subject; but they are not the only advantages. From what I shall have occasion to observe afterward, it will probably appear that these arts, by assisting to suppress every unlicensed term, and to stigmatize every improper idiom, tend to give greater precision, and, consequently, more perspicuity and beauty to our style.

The observations made in the preceding chapter might easily be converted into so many canons of criticism, by which whatever is repugnant to reputable, to national, or to present use, in the sense wherein these epithets have been explained, would be condemned as a transgression of the radical laws of the language. But on this subject of use there arise two eminent questions, the determination of which may lead to the establishment of other canons not less important. The first question is this : “Is reputable, national, and present use, which, for brevity's sake, I shall hereafter simply denominate good use, always uniform in her decisions ?' The second is, “ As no term, idiom, or application that is totally unsupported by her can be admitted to be good, is every term, idiom, and application that is countenanced by her to be esteemed good, and therefore worthy to be retained ?".

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