« PreviousContinue »
rather to raise wonder than expectation; and, content with the terms that I had stipulated, had not suffered my imagination to flatter me with any other encouragement, when I found that my design had been thought by your Lordship of importance sufficient to attract your favour.
How far this unexpected distinction can be rated among the happy incidents of life, I am not yet able to determine. Its first effect has been to make me anxious, lest it should fix the attention of the public too much upon me, and, as it once happened to an epic poet of France, by raising the reputation of the attempt, obstruct the reception of the work. I imagine what the world will expect from a scheme, prosecuted under your Lordship's influence ; and I know that expectation, when her wings are once expanded, easily reaches heights which performance never will attain : and when she has mounted the summit of perfection, derides her follower, who dies in the pursuit.
Not therefore to raise expectation, but to repress it, I here lay before your Lordship the Plan of my undertaking, that more may not be demanded than I intend ; and that, before it is too far advanced to be thrown into a new method, I may be advertised of its defects or superfluities. Such informations I may justly hope, from the emulation with which those, who desire the praise of elegance or discernment, must contend in the promotion of a design that you, my Lord, have not thought unworthy to share your attention with treaties and with wars. In the first attempt to methodise my ideas, I
found a difficulty, which extended itself to the whole work. It was not easy to determine by what rule of distinction the words of this Dictionary were to be chosen. The chief intent of it is to preserve the purity, and ascertain the meaning of our English idiom; and this seems to require nothing more than that our language be considered, so far as it is our own; that the words and phrases used in the general intercourse of life, or found in the works of those whom we commonly stile polite writers, be selected, without including the terms of particular professions ; since, with the arts to which they relate, they are generally derived from other nations, and are very often the same in all the languages of this part
of the world. This is, perhaps, the exact and pure idea of a grammatical dictionary ; but in lexicography, as in other arts, naked science is too de. licate for the purposes of life. The value of a work must be estimated by its use : it is not enough that a dictionary delights the critic, unless, at the same time, it instructs the learner; as it is to little purpose that an engine amuses the philosopher by the subtilty of its mechanism, if it requires so much knowledge in its application as to be of no advantage to the common workman.
The title which I prefix to my work has long conveyed a very miscellaneous idea, and they that take a dictionary into their hands, have been accustomed to expect from it a solution of almost every difficulty. If foreign words therefore were rejected, it could be little regarded, except by critics, or those who aspire to criticism; and however it might enlighten those that write,
would be all darkness to them that only read. The unlearned much oftener consult their dictionaries for the meaning of words, than for their structures or formations; and the words that most want explanation, are generally terms of art ; which, therefore, experience has taught my predecessors to spread, with a kind of pompous luxuriance, over their productions.
The academicians of France, indeed, rejected terms of science in their first essay, but found afterwards a necessity of relaxing the rigour of their determination ; and, though they would not naturalize them at once by a single act, permitted them by degrees to settle themselves among the natives, with little opposition; and it would surely be no proof of judgment to imitate them in an error which they have now retracted, and deprive the book of its chief use, by scrupulous distinctions.
Of such words, however, all are not equally to be considered as parts of our language ; for some of them are naturalized and incorporated, but others still continue aliens, and are rather auxiliaries than subjects. This naturalization is produced either by an admission into common speech, in some metaphorical signification, which is the acquisition of a kind of property among us ; as we say, the zenith of advancement, the meridian of life, the cynosure * of neighbouring eyes; or it is the
consequence of long intermixture and fre. quent use, by which the ear is accustomed to the sound of words, till their original is forgotten, as
in equator, satellites; or of the change of a foreign into an English termination, and a conformity to the laws of the speech into which they are adopt. ed; as in category, cachexy, peripneumony.
Of those which still continue in the state of aliens, and have made no approaches towards assimilation, some seem necessary to be retained ; because the purchasers of the dictionary will expect to find them. Such are many words in the common law, as capias, habeas corpus, præmunire, nisi prius : such are some terms of controversial divinity, as bypostasis; and of physic, as the names of diseases ; and in general, all terms which can be found in books not written professedly upon particular arts, or can be supposed necessary to those who do not regularly study them. Thus, when a reader not skilled in physic happens in Milton upon this line,
pining atrophy, Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence, he will, with equal expectation, look into his dietionary for the word marasmus, as for atrophy, or pestilence ; and will have reason to complain if he does not find it.
It seems necessary to the completion of a dic. tionary designed not merely for critics, but for popular use, that it should comprise, in some degree, the peculiar words of every profession; that the terms of war and navigation should be inserted, so far as they can be required by readers of tra. vels, and of history; and those of law, merchandize, and mechanical trades, so far as they can be supposed useful in the occurrences of common life.
But there ought, however, to be some distinction made between the different classes of words; and therefore it will be proper to print those which are incorporated into the language in the usual character, and those which are still to be considered as foreign, in the italic letter.
Another question may arise with regard to appellatives, or the names of species. It seems of no great use to set down the words borse, dog, cat, willow, alder, daisy, rose, and a thousand others, of which it will be hard to give an explanation, not more obscure than the word itself. Yet it is to be considered, that, if the names of animals be inserted, we must admit those which are more known, as well as those with which we are, by accident, less acquainted ; and if they are all rejected, how will the reader be relieved from difficulties produced by allusions to the crocodile, the chameleon, the ichneumon, and the hyæna? If no plants are to be mentioned, the most pleasing part of nature will be excluded, and many beautiful epithets be unexplained. If only those which are less known are to be mentioned, who shall fix the limits of the reader's learning ? The importance of such explications appears from the mistakes which the want of them has occasioned. Had Shakespeare had a dictionary of this kind, he had not made the woodbine entwine the honeysuckle ; nor would Milton, with such assistance, have disposed so improperly of his ellops and his scorpion.
Besides, as such words, like others, require that their accents should be settled, their sounds, ascertained, and their etymologies deduced, they