Abbildungen der Seite

are, indeed, who seem disposed to extend her authority much farther. But we ought always to remember, that as the principal mode of improving a language, which she is empowered to employ, is by condemning and exploding, there is a considerable danger lest she carry her improvements this way too far. Our mother-tongue, by being too much impaired, may be impoverished, and so more injured in copiousness and nerves than all our refinements will ever be able to compensate. For this reason, there ought, in support of every sentence of proscription, to be an evident plea from the principles of perspicuity, elegance, or harmony.

If so, the want of etymology, whatever be the opinion of some grammarians, cannot be reckoned a sufficient ground for the suppression of a significant term which hath come into good use. For my part, I should think it as unreasonable to reject, on this account, the assistance of an expressive word which opportunely offers its service, when perhaps no other could so exactly answer my purpose, as to refuse the needful aid of a proper person because he could give no account of his family or pedigree. Though what is called cant is generally not necessarily, nor always without etymology, it is not this defect, but the baseness of the use which fixeth on it that disgraceful appellation. No absolute monarch hath it more in his power to nobilitate a person of obscure birth, than it is in the power of good use to ennoble words of low or dubious extraction; such, for instance, as have either arisen, nobody knows how, like fig, banter, bigot, fop, flippant, among the rabble, or, like flimsy, sprung from the cant of manufacturers. It is never from an attention to etymology, which would frequently mislead us, but from custom, the only infallible guide in this matter, that the meanings of words in present use must be learned. And, indeed, if the want in question were material, it would equally affect all those words, no inconsiderable part of our language, whose descent is doubtful or unknown. Besides, in no case can the line of derivation be traced backward to infinity. We must always terminate in some words of whose genealogy no account can be given.*

* Dr. Johnson, who, notwithstanding his acknowledged learning, penetration, and ingenuity, appears sometimes, if I may adopt his own expression, “ lost in lexicography,” hath declared the name punch, which signifies a certain mixed liquor very well known, a cant word, because, being to appearance without etymology, it hath probably arisen from some silly conceit among the people. The name sherbet, which signifies another known mixture, he allows to be good, because it is Arabic ; though, for aught we know, its origin among the Arabs hath been equally ignoble or uncertain. By this way of reckoning, if the word punch, in the sense wherein we use it, should by any accident be imported into Arabia, and come into use there, it would inake good Arabic, though it be but cant English; as their sherbet, though in all likelihood but cant Arabic, makes good English. This, i own, appears to me very capricious.

universal, the art of the grammarian particular. Logician is

It ought, at the same time, to be observed, that what hath been said on this topic relates only to such words as bear no distinguishable traces of the baseness of their source; the case is quite different in regard to those terms which may be said to proclaim their vile and despicable origin, and that either by associating disagreeable and unsuitable ideas, as bellytimber, thorowstitch, dumbfound; or by betraying some frivolous humour in the formation of them, as transmogrify, bamboozle, topsyturvy, pellmell, helterskelter, hurlyburly. These may all find a place in burlesque, but ought never to show themselves in any serious performance. A person of no birth, as the phrase is, may be raised to the rank of nobility, and, which is more, may become it; but nothing can add dignity to that man, or fit him for the company of gentlemen, who bears indelible marks of the clown in his look, gait, and whole behaviour.

CHAPTER III. It was remarked formerly,* that though the grammatical art bears much the same relation to the rhetorical which the art of the mason bears to that of the architect, there is one very memorable difference between the two cases. In architeciure it is not necessary that he who designs should execute his own plans; he may, therefore, be an excellent artist in this way who has neither skill nor practice in masonry ; on the contrary, it is equally incumbent on the orator to design and to execute. He ought, therefore, to be master of the language which he speaks or writes, and to be capable of adding to grammatic purity those higher qualities of elocution which will give grace and energy to his discourse. I propose, then, in the first place, by way of laying the foundation,t to consider that purity which he hath in common with the grammarian, and then proceed to consider those qualities of speech which are peculiarly oratorical.

It was also observed before, I that the art of the



quence, my present subject being language, it is necessary to make choice of some particular tongue, to which the observation to be made will be adapted, and from which the il

* Chap. ii.

† “Solum quidem et quasi fundamentum oratoris, vides locutionem emendatam et Latinam.”—Cic., De Clar. Orat. The same holds, equally of any language which the orator is obliged to use. | Book i., chap. iv.

lustrations to be produced will be taken. Let English be that tongue. This is a preference to which it is surely entitled from those who write in it. Pure English, then, implies three things : first, that the words be English ; secondly, that their construction, under which, in our tongue, arrangement also is comprehended, be in the English idiom ; thirdly, that the words and phrases be employed to express the precise meaning which custom hath affixed to them.

From the definition now given, it will be evident, on reflection, that this is one of those qualities of which, though the want exposes a writer to much censure, the possession hardly entitles him to any praise. The truth is, it is a kind of negative quality, as the name imports, consisting more in an exemption from certain blemishes than in the acquisition of any excellence. It holds the same place among the virtues of elocution that justice holds among the moral virtues. The more necessary each is, and the more blamable the transgression is, the less merit has the observance. Grace and energy, on the contrary, are like generosity and public spirit. To be deficient in these virtues is not treated as criminal, but to be eminent for the practice of them is accounted meritorious. As, therefore, in what regards the laws of purity, the violation is much more conspicuous than the observance, I am under the disagreeable necessity of taking my illustrations on this article solely from the former.

Purity, it was said, implies three things. Accordingly, in three different ways it may be injured. First, the words used may not be English. This fault hath received from grammarians the denomination of barbarism. Secondly, the construction of the sentence may not be in the English idiom. This hath gotten the name of solecism. Thirdly, the words and phrases may not be employed to express the precise meaning which custom hath affixed to them. This is termed impropriety."



The reproach of barbarism may be incurred by three differ ent ways: by the use of words entirely obsolete, by the use of words entirely new, or by new formations and composi. tions from simple and primitive words in present use.

Part I. By the Use of Obsolete Words. Obsolete words, though they once were English, are not so now; though thev were both proper and expressive in the

# Quintilian hath suggested this distribution.—Instit., lib. i., cap. v. “Deprehendat quæ barbara, quæ impropria, quæ contra legem loquendi composita."


days of our forefathers, are become as strange to our ears as many parts of their garb would be to our eyes; and if so, such words have no more title than foreign words to be introduced at present; for though they are not so totally unknown as to occasion obscurity, a fault which I shall consider afterward, their appearance is so unusual, and their form is so antiquated, that, if not perfectly ridiculous, they at least suggest the notion of stiffness and affectation. We ought, therefore, not only to avoid words that are no longer understood by any but critics and antiquaries, such as hight, cleped, uneath, erst, whilom; we must also, when writing in prose and on serious subjects, renounce the aid of those terms which, though not unintelligible, all writers of any name have now ceased to use. Such are behest, fantasy, tribulation, erewhile, whenas, peradventure, selfsame, anon. All these offend more or less against the third criterion of good use formerly given,* that it be such as obtains at present.

Some indulgence, however, on this, as well as on several other articles, as was hinted already, must be given to poets on many accounts, and particularly on account of the peculiar inconveniences to which the laws of versification subject them. Besides, in treating some topics, passages of ancient story for example, there may be found sometimes a suitableness in the introduction of old words. In certain kinds of style, when used sparingly and with judgment, they serve to add the venerable air of antiquity to the narrative. In burlesque, also, they often produce a good effect. But it is admitted on sides, that this species of writing is not strictly subjected to the laws of purity,

Part II. By the Use of New Words. Another tribe of barbarisms much more numerous is constituted by new words. Here, indeed, the hazard is more imminent, as the tendency to this extreme is more prevalent. Nay, our language is in greater danger of being overwhelmed by an inundation of foreign words than any other species of destruction. There is, doubtless, some excuse for borrowing the assistance of neighbours, when their assistance is really wanted—that is, when we cannot do our business without it; but there is certainly a meanness in choosing to be indebted to others for what we can easily be supplied with out of our own stock. When words are introduced by any writer from a sort of necessity, in order to avoid tedious and languid circumlocutions, there is reason to believe they will soon be adopted by others convinced of the necessity, and will at length be naturalized by the public. But it is to be wished that the public would ever reject those which are ob

* Book ii., chap. i., sect. iii,

truded on it merely through a licentious affectation of nov. elty. And of this kind certainly are most of the words and phrases which have, in this century, been imported from France. Are not pleasure, opinionative, and sally, as expressive as volupty, opiniatre, and sortie ? Wherein is the expression last resort inferior to dernier resort ; liberal arts to beaux arts; and polite literature to belles lettres ? Yet some writers have arrived at such a pitch of futility as to imagine that if they can but make a few trifling changes, like aimable for amiable, politesse for politeness, delicatesse for delicacy, and hauteur for haughtiness, they have found so many gems which are capable of adding a wonderful lustre to their works. With such, indeed, it is in vain to argue ; but to others, who are not quite so unreasonable, I beg leave to suggest the following remarks.

First, it ought to be remembered that the rules of pronunciation and orthography in French are so different from those which obtain in English, that the far greater part of the French words lately introduced constitute so many anomalies with us, which, by loading the grammatical rules with exceptions, greatly corrupt the simplicity and regularity of our tongue,

Nor is this the only way in which they corrupt its simplicity; let it be observed farther, that one of the principal beauties of any language, and the most essential to simplicity, results from this : that a few plain and primitive words, called roots, have, by an analogy which hath insensibly established itself, given rise to an infinite number of derivative and compound words, between which and the primitive, and between the former and their conjugates, there is a resemblance in sense, corresponding to that which there is in sound. Hence it will happen that a word may be very emphatical in the language to which it owes its birth, arising from the light that is reflected on it by the other words of the same etymology, which, when it is transplanted into another language, loses its emphasis entirely. The French word eclaircissement, for instance, is regularly deduced thus : Eclaircissement, eclaircisse, eclaircir, eclair, clair, which is the etymon, whence are also descended clairement, clarté, clarifier, clarification, eclairer. The like may be observed in regard to connoisseur, reconnoitre, argrémens, and a thousand others; whereas such words with us look rather like strays than like any part of our own property. They are very much in the condition of exiles, who, having been driven from their families, relations, and friends, are compelled to take refuge in a country where there is not a single person with whom they can claim a connexion, either by blood or by alliance.

But the patrons of this practice will probably plead that, as the French is the finer language, ours must certainly be

« ZurückWeiter »