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Classic Authors perverted,
87 the institution of their solar year of 365 days in Chaldea, and the nations adjacent, till the expedition of Cyrus over Gindus, and his taking of Babylon. In Greece, till the days of the seven wise men, and the reign of the Persians and Greeks: and in Italy till the reign of the Latins, and was at length resolved by the Arabians into their lunar year. I meet with no other years among the ancients than such as were either luni-solar, or solar, or lunar, or the calendars of those years. A practical year of 360 days is none of these. The beginning of such a year would have run round the four seasons in seventy years, and such a notable revolution would have been mentioned in history, and is not to be asserted without proving it.
I. NEWTON. 1755, Jan,
XVII. Classic Authors perverted. MR. URBAN, It has been the common practice of authors, not of the lowest class, to quote passages from the ancients, in confirmation of some opinion of their own, though to the
utter perversion of the writer's meaning; some scrap is frequently taken for a motto, which standing alone, or being combined with other words, which are not immediately connected with it in the original
, conveys a sense often very different and sometimes directly opposite to that which was intended by the writer. An author of a tract in defence of Atheism might put as his motto, there is no God, and quote the inspired writer David; but if the whole sentence be taken, the fool hath said in his heart there is no God, a meaning diametrically opposite will be expressed.
Many passages in the Latin Classics have been generally mistaken by their having been thus perverted, possibly by those by whom they were understood. I shall at present only take notice of that celebrated line of Persius,
Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter, which has been generally taken as an encouragement of those who make an ostentatious parade of their learning.
But it is evident by the context, that the meaning of Persius was the contrary; and
that he was censuring what he is generally supposed to recommend.
Quo didicisse, nisi hoc fermentum, et quæ semel intus
Innata est, rupto jecore exiri : Caprificus ? These are the preceding words of Persius's friend, To what purpose is all my learning, if I do not get rid of the modesty which restrains me from publishing it? Tę which Persius answers,
En Pallor, Seniumque! O Mores! usque adeone
Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter? Thou Fool! Is thy learning of no advantage to thee, ercept thou settest it forth to shew? The use of learning is not to procure popular applause, or excite vain admiration, but to make the possessor more virtuous, and his virtue a more conspicuous example to those that are illiterate.
Yours, &c. 1755, Jan.
XVIII. Obscure Phrases explained,
MR. URBAN, SPICK and span new, is an expression, the meaning of which is obvious, though the words want explanation; and which, I presume, are a corruption of the Italian, Spiccata da la Spanna, snatched from the hand; opus ablatum incude ; or according to another expression of our own, fresh from the mint; in all which the same idea is conveyed by a different metaphor. It is well known that our language abounds with Italicisms, and it is probable the expression before us was coined when the English were as much bigotted to Italian fashions, as they now are to those of the French.
There is another expression much used by the vulgar, wherein the sense and words are equally obscure: the expression I mean is, An't please the pigs, in which there is a peculiarity of dialect, a corruption of a word, and a common figure, called a metonymy: for in the first place, an in the midland counties is used for if; and pigs is most assuredly a corruption of Pyr, (from Pyris and Tušus) a vessel in which the host is kept in Roman Catholic countries. In the last place the vessel is substituted for the host itself, by an easy
metonymy, in the same manner as when we speak of the sense of the house, we do not mean to ascribe sense to , bricks and stones, but to a certain number of representatives. The expression, therefore, means no more than Deo volente, or as it is translated into modern English by coachmen and carpiers, God willing. 1755, March,
XIX. Critical Explanations of the word Earing.
And yet there are five years, in the which there shall be neither earing nor harvest.
Gen. xly: 6.
Mr. URBAN, This word earing occurs in other places of scripture, but I have pitched upon this, because this chapter being twice read as a Sunday lesson, in the public service of the church, this passage, it is presumed, may be the best known. The word is grown obsolete, and partly through disuse, but chiefly from its being so like in sound and its present orthography to the ear or spica of the corn, I have observed the sense of it to be sometimes mistaken by writers, from whence I conclude that others who are unacquainted with the learned languages must consequently be liable to the same error.-Thus the Earl of Monmouth, in his translation of Boccalini, p. 11, says, “ The plowers of poetry have seen their fields make a beautiful shew in the spring of their age, and had good reason to expect a rich harvest, but when, in the beginning of July, the season of earing began, they saw their sweat and labours dissolve all into leaves and flowers ;'' where he evidently means by the season of earing, the time when the corn runs into the ear, in opposition to the time of ploughing. Another mistake concerning the sense of this word, incurred by Mr. Theobald, will be mentioned below.
But to ear signifies to plough, and is always used in that sense by our old writers, so Isa. Xxx. 24. The oren likewise and the young asses that ear the ground, shall eat clean provender, &c. So Speed, p. 416, says the Danes, “grieved the poore English, whose service they employed to eare and till the ground, whilst they themselves sat idle, and eate the fruit of their paines.” Dr. Wicliffe, in his New Testament, Lu. xvii. 7. writes, “ Butcho of you hath a servannt eringe, where the vulgate version, from whence the Dr. made his translation, has arantem. The sense is clear, and the word is evidently the Anglo Saxon eriun, which signifies to plough and is plainly derived from the Latin aro, and what we now call arable land, Greenway, in his translation of Tacitus's account of Germany, calls earable land, from the Latin arabilis. In this text therefore, earing and harvest are opposed to one another, as two different extremes, just as seed time and harvest are, Gen. riii. 22, to the former of which it manifestly answers, and the sense consequently is, in the which there shall neither be ploughing nor harvest. However, before I dismiss this subject, I would beg leave to animadvert a little upon a criticism and note of Mr. Theobald, in his Shakespeare, where he too, as was said above, has committed a small error in relation to this worde The line in the author is,
We are to cure such sorrows, not to sow 'em,
Hen. VIII. Act iii. Sc. I.
whereupan this annotator writes, “ There is no antithesis in these terms, nor any consonance of the metaphors; both which
“We are to ear such sorrows, not to sow 'em. that is, to weed them up, harrow them out. This word with us may be derived not only from arare to plow, but the Saxon word, ear to harroxe."
But this consonance of metaphors, which he mentions, and which these critical gentlemen are perpetually hunting after, are not always needful, because metaphors often occur singly; and it is certain that in the present case the antithesis is sufficiently preserved in the other reading, it being unquestionably the business of ecclesiastics, such as Wolsey' was, to heal and cure people's sorrows, and not to occasion them. So before, the Queen says,
'Would I had never trod this English earth,
Or felt the flatteries that grow upon it! where I wonder this editor did not think of correcting
Or reap'd the flatteries that grow upon it!
which, according to him, would be carrying on the metaphor, and be far more consonant to earth, and growing, than the present reading felt is. But, as I said, metaphors may stand single, and were we always to be altering and emending our authors for the sake of maintaining the consonance he talks of, our writers in time would so differ from themselves as hardly to be known. But this itch of correcting is so strongly ridiculed by Martin Scriblerus, in his Virgilius Restauratus, subjoined to the Dunciad, that I need say no more of it.
But what is worst in this emendation of Mr. Theobald's, the word ear does not signify to harrow, but to plough; it neither means to weed up, nor to harrow out, and consequently can have no place here, since thereby the antithesis, which is undoubtedly necessary, is entirely lost. Mr. Theobald knew, that the word ear came from arare, and signified to plough, but, to serve his own purpose, he will have it mean to harrow too, as if there were no difference between them; besides, to harrow does not convey the notion of weeding out, but rather of covering, which absolutely destroys the antithesis. And then lastly, he asserts, in support of this wretched emendation, which ought upon so many accounts to be rejected, that the Saxon word ear signifies to harrow, which is not true; and thus his attempt upon this passage, is not only needless, but also contrary to the sense and meaning of the author, and, lastly, has no ground or foundation to stand upon.
A further explanation of Genesis xly. 6.
MR. URBAN, ADMITTING that Mr. Gemsege has rightly settled the meaning of the word earing in the English version of Gen. xlv. 6, yet, as it seems to me, a difficulty remains in regard to the text itself, which I would here beg leave to propose. The words are these, These two years hath the famine been in the land; and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. Now, from the nature of things, and more especially from the frame and constitution of the human species, which is ever desirous of preserving life, it is most natural, that in a famine people should be trying all they could to procure a crop, especially