Oxford English Classics
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DR. JOHNSON'S WORKS.
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THE WORKS OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
IN NINE VOLUMES.
VOLUME THE FIFTH.
CONTENTS OF THE FIFTH VOLUME.
The plan of an English dictionary
Preface to the English dictionary
Advertisement to the fourth edition of the English dictionary
Preface to the octavo edition of the English dictionary
Observations on the tragedy of Macbeth
Proposals for printing the works of Shakespeare
Preface to Shakespeare
General observations on the plays of Shakespeare
Account of the Harleian library
Essay on the importance of small tracts
Preface to the catalogue of the Harleian library, vol. iii
Controversy between Crousaz and Warburton
Preliminary discourse to the London Chronicle
Introduction to the World Displayed
Preface to the Preceptor, containing a general plan of education
——to Rolt's dictionary
——to the translation of father Lobo's voyage to Abyssinia
An essay on epitaphs
Preface to an Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns in his Paradise Lost
Letter to the Rev. Mr. Douglas, occasioned by his vindication of Milton, &c. By William Lauder, A.M.
Testimonies concerning Mr. Lauder
Account of an attempt to ascertain the longitude
Considerations on the plans offered for the construction of Blackfriars bridge
Some thoughts on agriculture, both ancient and modern; with an account of the honour due to an English farmer
Further thoughts on agriculture
Considerations on the corn laws
A complete vindication of the licensers of the stage from the malicious and scandalous aspersions of Mr. Brooke
Preface to the Gentleman's Magazine, 1738
An appeal to the publick. From the Gentleman's Magazine, March, 1739
Letter on fire-works
Proposals for printing, by subscription, Essays in Verse and Prose, by Anna Williams
A project for the employment of authors
Preface to the Literary Magazine, 1756
A dissertation upon the Greek comedy, translated from Brumoy
General conclusion to Brumoy's Greek theatre
Preface to Payne's New Tables of Interest
Thoughts on the coronation of his majesty king George the third
Preface to the Artists' Catalogue for 1762
OPINIONS ON QUESTIONS OF LAW
Considerations on the case of Dr. T[rapp]'s [Transcriber's note: sic]
On school chastisement
On vitious intromission
On lay patronage in the church of Scotland
On pulpit censure
THE PLAN OF AN ENGLISH DICTIONARY.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE PHILIP DORMER, EARL OF CHESTERFIELD, One of his Majesty's principal Secretaries of State.
When first I undertook to write an English Dictionary, I had no expectation of any higher patronage than that of the proprietors of the copy, nor prospect of any other advantage than the price of my labour. I knew that the work in which I engaged is generally considered as drudgery for the blind, as the proper toil of artless industry; a task that requires neither the light of learning, nor the activity of genius, but maybe successfully performed without any higher quality than that of bearing burdens with dull patience, and beating the track of the alphabet with sluggish resolution.
Whether this opinion, so long transmitted, and so widely propagated, had its beginning from truth and nature, or from accident and prejudice; whether it be decreed by the authority of reason or the tyranny of ignorance, that, of all the candidates for literary praise, the unhappy lexicographer holds the lowest place, neither vanity nor interest incited me to inquire. It appeared that the province allotted me was, of all the regions of learning, generally confessed to be the least delightful, that it was believed to produce neither fruits nor flowers; and that, after a long and laborious cultivation, not even the barren laurel had been found upon it.
Yet on this province, my Lord, I entered, with the pleasing hope, that, as it was low, it likewise would be safe. I was drawn forward with the prospect of employment, which, though not splendid, would be useful; and which, though it could not make my life envied, would keep it innocent; which would awaken no passion, engage me in no contention, nor throw in my way any temptation to disturb the quiet of others by censure, or my own by flattery.
I had read, indeed, of times, in which princes and statesmen thought it part of their honour to promote the improvement of their native tongues; and in which dictionaries were written under the protection of greatness. To the patrons of such undertakings I willingly paid the homage of believing that they, who were thus solicitous for the perpetuity of their language, had reason to expect that their actions would be celebrated by posterity, and that the eloquence which they promoted would be employed in their praise. But I considered such acts of beneficence as prodigies, recorded 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 publick too much upon me; and, as it once happened to an epick 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 style 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 delicate 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 critick, 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 criticks, 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 errour 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 frequent 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 to an English termination, and a conformity to the laws of the speech into which they are adopted; 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, praemunire, nisi prius: such are some terms of controversial divinity, as hypostasis; and of physick, 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 physick happens in Milton upon this line,
—pining atrophy, Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence,
he will, with equal expectation, look into his dictionary 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 dictionary, designed not merely for criticks, 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 travels, and of history; and those of law, merchandise, 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 Italick 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 horse, 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 hyaena? 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 cannot be properly omitted in the Dictionary. And though the explanations of some may be censured as trivial, because they are almost universally understood, and those of others as unnecessary, because they will seldom occur, yet it seems not proper to omit them; since it is rather to be wished that many readers should find more than they expect, than that one should miss what he might hope to find.
When all the words are selected and arranged, the first part of the work to be considered is the orthography, which was long vague and uncertain; which at last, when its fluctuation ceased, was in many cases settled but by accident; and in which, according to your Lordship's observation, there is still great uncertainty among the best criticks; nor is it easy to state a rule by which we may decide between custom and reason, or between the equiponderant authorities of writers alike eminent for judgment and accuracy.
The great orthographical contest has long subsisted between etymology and pronunciation. It has been demanded, on one hand, that men should write as they speak; but, as it has been shown that this conformity never was attained in any language, and that it is not more easy to persuade men to agree exactly in speaking than in writing, it may be asked, with equal propriety, why men do not rather speak as they write. In France, where this controversy was at its greatest height, neither party, however ardent, durst adhere steadily to their own rule; the etymologist was often forced to spell with the people; and the advocate for the authority of pronunciation found it sometimes deviating so capriciously from the received use of writing, that he was constrained to comply with the rule of his adversaries, lest he should lose the end by the means, and be left alone by following the crowd.
When a question of orthography is dubious, that practice has, in my opinion, a claim to preference which preserves the greatest number of radical letters, or seems most to comply with the general custom of our language. But the chief rule which I propose to follow is, to make no innovation without a reason sufficient to balance the inconvenience of change; and such reasons I do not expect often to find. All change is of itself an evil, which ought not to be hazarded but for evident advantage; and as inconstancy is in every case a mark of weakness, it will add nothing to the reputation of our tongue. There are, indeed, some who despise the inconveniencies of confusion, who seem to take pleasure in departing from custom, and to think alteration desirable for its own sake; and the reformation of our orthography, which these writers have attempted, should not pass without its due honours, but that I suppose they hold singularity its own reward, or may dread the fascination of lavish praise.
The present usage of spelling, where the present usage can be distinguished, will, therefore, in this work, be generally followed; yet there will be often occasion to observe, that it is in itself inaccurate, and tolerated rather than chosen; particularly when, by the change of one letter or more, the meaning of a word is obscured, as in farrier for ferrier, as it was formerly written, from ferrum, or fer; in gibberish for gebrish, the jargon of Geber, and his chymical followers, understood by none but their own tribe. It will be likewise sometimes proper to trace back the orthography of different ages, and show by what gradations the word departed from its original.
Closely connected with orthography is pronunciation, the stability of which is of great importance to the duration of a language, because the first change will naturally begin by corruptions in the living speech. The want of certain rules for the pronunciation of former ages, has made us wholly ignorant of the metrical art of our ancient poets; and since those who study their sentiments regret the loss of their numbers, it is surely time to provide that the harmony of the moderns may be more permanent.
A new pronunciation will make almost a new speech; and, therefore, since one great end of this undertaking is to fix the English language, care will be taken to determine the accentuation of all polysyllables by proper authorities, as it is one of those capricious phaenomena which cannot be easily reduced to rules. Thus there is no antecedent reason for difference of accent in the two words dolorous and sonorous; yet of the one Milton gives the sound in this line,
He pass'd o'er many a region dolorous;
and that of the other in this,
Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds.
It may be likewise proper to remark metrical licenses, such as contractions, generous, gen'rous; reverend, rev'rend; and coalitions, as region, question.
But still it is more necessary to fix the pronunciation of monosyllables, by placing with them words of correspondent sound, that one may guard the other against the danger of that variation, which, to some of the most common, has already happened; so that the words wound and wind, as they are now frequently pronounced, will not rhyme to sound and mind. It is to be remarked, that many words written alike are differently pronounced, as flow, and brow: which may be thus registered, flow, woe; brow, now; or of which the exemplification may be generally given by a distich: thus the words tear, or lacerate and tear, the water of the eye, have the same letters, but may be distinguished thus, tear, dare; tear, peer.
Some words have two sounds, which may be equally admitted, as being equally defensible by authority. Thus great is differently used:
For Swift and him despised the farce of state, The sober follies of the wise and great. POPE.
As if misfortune made the throne her seat, And none could be unhappy but the great. ROWE.
The care of such minute particulars may be censured as trifling; but these particulars have not been thought unworthy of attention in more polished languages.
The accuracy of the French, in stating the sounds of their letters, is well known; and, among the Italians, Crescembeni has not thought it unnecessary to inform his countrymen of the words which, in compliance with different rhymes, are allowed to be differently spelt, and of which the number is now so fixed, that no modern poet is suffered to increase it.
When the orthography and pronunciation are adjusted, the etymology or derivation is next to be considered, and the words are to be distinguished according to the different classes, whether simple, as day, light, or compound, as day-light; whether primitive, as, to act, or derivative, as action, actionable; active, activity. This will much facilitate the attainment of our language, which now stands in our dictionaries a confused heap of words without dependence, and without relation.
When this part of the work is performed, it will be necessary to inquire how our primitives are to be deduced from foreign languages, which may be often very successfully performed by the assistance of our own etymologists. This search will give occasion to many curious disquisitions, and sometimes, perhaps, to conjectures, which to readers unacquainted with this kind of study, cannot but appear improbable and capricious. But it may be reasonably imagined, that what is so much in the power of men as language, will very often be capriciously conducted. Nor are these disquisitions and conjectures to be considered altogether as wanton sports of wit, or vain shows of learning; our language is well known not to be primitive or self-originated, but to have adopted words of every generation, and, either for the supply of its necessities, or the increase of its copiousness, to have received additions from very distant regions; so that in search of the progenitors of our speech, we may wander from the tropick to the frozen zone, and find some in the valleys of Palestine, and some upon the rocks of Norway.
Beside the derivation of particular words, there is likewise an etymology of phrases. Expressions are often taken from other languages; some apparently, as to run a risk, courir un risque; and some even when we do not seem to borrow their words; thus, to bring about, or accomplish, appears an English phrase, but in reality our native word about has no such import, and is only a French expression, of which we have an example in the common phrase venir a bout d'une affaire.
In exhibiting the descent of our language, our etymologists seem to have been too lavish of their learning, having traced almost every word through various tongues, only to show what was shown sufficiently by the first derivation. This practice is of great use in synoptical lexicons, where mutilated and doubtful languages are explained by their affinity to others more certain and extensive, but is generally superfluous in English etymologies. When the word is easily deduced from a Saxon original, I shall not often inquire further, since we know not the parent of the Saxon dialect; but when it is borrowed from the French, I shall show whence the French is apparently derived. Where a Saxon root cannot be found, the defect may be supplied from kindred languages, which will be generally furnished with much liberality by the writers of our glossaries; writers who deserve often the highest praise, both of judgment and industry, and may expect at least to be mentioned with honour by me, whom they have freed from the greatest part of a very laborious work, and on whom they have imposed, at worst, only the easy task of rejecting superfluities.
By tracing in this manner every word to its original, and not admitting, but with great caution, any of which no original can be found, we shall secure our language from being overrun with cant, from being crowded with low terms, the spawn of folly or affectation, which arise from no just principles of speech, and of which, therefore, no legitimate derivation can be shown.
When the etymology is thus adjusted, the analogy of our language is next to be considered; when we have discovered whence our words are derived, we are to examine by what rules they are governed, and how they are inflected through their various terminations. The terminations of the English are few, but those few have hitherto remained unregarded by the writers of our dictionaries. Our substantives are declined only by the plural termination, our adjectives admit no variation but in the degrees of comparison, and our verbs are conjugated by auxiliary words, and are only changed in the preter tense.
To our language may be, with great justness, applied the observation of Quintilian, that speech was not formed by an analogy sent from heaven. It did not descend to us in a state of uniformity and perfection, but was produced by necessity, and enlarged by accident, and is, therefore, composed of dissimilar parts, thrown together by negligence, by affectation, by learning or by ignorance.
Our inflections, therefore, are by no means constant, but admit of numberless irregularities, which in this Dictionary will be diligently noted. Thus fox makes in the plural foxes, but ox makes oxen. Sheep is the same in both numbers. Adjectives are sometimes compared by changing the last syllable, as proud, prouder, proudest; and sometimes by particles prefixed, as ambitious, more ambitious, most ambitious. The forms of our verbs are subject to great variety; some end their preter tense in ed, as I love, I loved, I have loved; which may be called the regular form, and is followed by most of our verbs of southern original. But many depart from this rule, without agreeing in any other, as I shake, I shook, I have shaken or shook, as it is sometimes written in poetry; I make, I made, I have made; I bring, I brought; I wring, I wrung; and many others, which, as they cannot be reduced to rules, must be learned from the dictionary rather than the grammar.
The verbs are likewise to be distinguished according to their qualities, as actives from neuters; the neglect of which has already introduced some barbarities in our conversation, which, if not obviated by just animadversions, may in time creep into our writings.
Thus, my Lord, will our language be laid down, distinct in its minutest subdivisions, and resolved into its elemental principles. And who upon this survey can forbear to wish, that these fundamental atoms of our speech might obtain the firmness and immutability of the primogenial and constituent particles of matter, that they might retain their substance while they alter their appearance, and be varied and compounded, yet not destroyed?
But this is a privilege which words are scarcely to expect: for, like their author, when they are not gaining strength, they are generally losing it. Though art may sometimes prolong their duration, it will rarely give them perpetuity; and their changes will be almost always informing us, that language is the work of man, of a being from whom permanence and stability cannot be derived.
Words having been hitherto considered as separate and unconnected, are now to be likewise examined as they are ranged in their various relations to others by the rules of syntax or construction, to which I do not know that any regard has been yet shown in English dictionaries, and in which the grammarians can give little assistance. The syntax of this language is too inconstant to be reduced to rules, and can be only learned by the distinct consideration of particular words as they are used by the best authors. Thus, we say, according to the present modes of speech, The soldier died of his wounds, and the sailor perished with hunger; and every man acquainted with our language would be offended with a change of these particles, which yet seem originally assigned by chance, there being no reason to be drawn from grammar why a man may not, with equal propriety, be said to die with a wound or perish of hunger.
Our syntax, therefore, is not to be taught by general rules, but by special precedents; and in examining whether Addison has been with justice accused of a solecism in this passage,
The poor inhabitant— Starves in the midst of nature's bounty curst, And in the loaden vineyard dies for thirst—.
it is not in our power to have recourse to any established laws of speech; but we must remark how the writers of former ages have used the same word, and consider whether he can be acquitted of impropriety, upon the testimony of Davies, given in his favour by a similar passage:
She loaths the wat'ry glass wherein she gaz'd, And shuns it still, although for thirst she dye.
When the construction of a word is explained, it is necessary to pursue it through its train of phraseology, through those forms where it is used in a manner peculiar to our language, or in senses not to be comprised in the general explanations; as from the verb make arise these phrases, to make love, to make an end, to make way; as, he made way for his followers, the ship made way before the wind; to make a bed, to make merry, to make a mock, to make presents, to make a doubt, to make out an assertion, to make good a breach, to make good a cause, to make nothing of an attempt, to make lamentation, to make a merit, and many others which will occur in reading with that view, and which only their frequency hinders from being generally remarked.
The great labour is yet to come, the labour of interpreting these words and phrases with brevity, fulness, and perspicuity; a task of which the extent and intricacy is sufficiently shown by the miscarriage of those who have generally attempted it. This difficulty is increased by the necessity of explaining the words in the same language; for there is often only one word for one idea; and though it be easy to translate the words bright, sweet, salt, bitter, into another language, it is not easy to explain them.
With regard to the interpretation, many other questions have required consideration. It was some time doubted whether it be necessary to explain the things implied by particular words; as under the term baronet, whether, instead of this explanation, a title of honour next in degree to that of baron, it would be better to mention more particularly the creation, privileges, and rank of baronets; and whether, under the word barometer, instead of being satisfied with observing that it is an instrument to discover the weight of the air, it would be fit to spend a few lines upon its invention, construction, and principles. It is not to be expected, that with the explanation of the one the herald should be satisfied, or the philosopher with that of the other; but since it will be required by common readers, that the explications should be sufficient for common use; and since, without some attention to such demands, the Dictionary cannot become generally valuable, I have determined to consult the best writers for explanations real as well as verbal; and, perhaps, I may at last have reason to say, after one of the augmenters of Furetier, that my book is more learned than its author.
In explaining the general and popular language, it seems necessary to sort the several senses of each word, and to exhibit first its natural and primitive signification; as,
To arrive, to reach the shore in a voyage: he arrived at a safe harbour.
Then to give its consequential meaning, to arrive, to reach any place, whether by land or sea; as, he arrived at his country-seat.
Then its metaphorical sense, to obtain any thing desired; as, he arrived at a peerage.
Then to mention any observation that arises from the comparison of one meaning with another; as, it may be remarked of the word arrive, that, in consequence of its original and etymological sense, it cannot be properly applied but to words signifying something desirable; thus we say, a man arrived at happiness; but cannot say, without a mixture of irony, he arrived at misery.
Ground, the earth, generally as opposed to the air or water. He swam till he reached ground. The bird fell to the ground.
Then follows the accidental or consequential signification in which ground implies any thing that lies under another; as, he laid colours upon a rough ground. The silk had blue flowers on a red ground.
Then the remoter or metaphorical signification; as, the ground of his opinion was a false computation. The ground of his work was his father's manuscript.
After having gone through the natural and figurative senses, it will be proper to subjoin the poetical sense of each word, where it differs from that which is in common use; as wanton, applied to any thing of which the motion is irregular without terrour; as,
In wanton ringlets curl'd her hair.
To the poetical sense may succeed the familiar; as of toast, used to imply the person whose health is drunk; as,
The wise man's passion, and the vain man's toast. POPE.
The familiar may be followed by the burlesque; as of mellow, applied to good fellowship:
In all thy humours, whether grave or mellow. ADDISON.
Or of bite, used for cheat:
—More a dupe than wit, Sappho can tell you how this man was bit. POPE.
And, lastly, may be produced the peculiar sense, in which a word is found in any great author: as faculties, in Shakespeare, signifies the powers of authority:
—This Duncan Has borne his faculties so meek, has been So clear in his great office, that, &c.
The signification of adjectives may be often ascertained by uniting them to substantives; as, simple swain, simple sheep. Sometimes the sense of a substantive may be elucidated by the epithets annexed to it in good authors; as, the boundless ocean, the open lawns: and where such advantage can be gained by a short quotation, it is not to be omitted.
The difference of signification in words generally accounted synonymous, ought to be carefully observed; as in pride, haughtiness, arrogance: and the strict and critical meaning ought to be distinguished from that which is loose and popular; as in the word perfection, which, though in its philosophical and exact sense it can be of little use among human beings, is often so much degraded from its original signification, that the academicians have inserted in their work, the perfection of a language, and, with a little more licentiousness, might have prevailed on themselves to have added the perfection of a dictionary.
There are many other characters of words which it will be of use to mention. Some have both an active and passive signification; as fearful, that which gives or which feels terrour; a fearful prodigy, a fearful hare. Some have a personal, some a real meaning; as, in opposition to old, we use the adjective young of animated beings, and new of other things. Some are restrained to the sense of praise, and others to that of disapprobation; so commonly, though not always, we exhort to good actions, we instigate to ill; we animate, incite and encourage indifferently to good or bad. So we usually ascribe good, but impute evil; yet neither the use of these words, nor, perhaps, of any other in our licentious language, is so established as not to be often reversed by the correctest writers. I shall, therefore, since the rules of style, like those of law, arise from precedents often repeated, collect the testimonies on both sides, and endeavour to discover and promulgate the decrees of custom, who has so long possessed, whether by right or by usurpation, the sovereignty of words.
It is necessary, likewise, to explain many words by their opposition to others; for contraries are best seen when they stand together. Thus the verb stand has one sense, as opposed to fall, and another, as opposed to fly; for want of attending to which distinction, obvious as it is, the learned Dr. Bentley has squandered his criticism to no purpose, on these lines of Paradise Lost:
—In heaps Chariot and charioteer lay overturn'd, And fiery foaming steeds. What stood, recoil'd O'erwearied, through the faint Satanic host, Defensive scarce, or with pale fear surpris'd, Fled ignominious.—
"Here," says the critick, "as the sentence is now read, we find that what stood, fled:" and, therefore, he proposes an alteration, which he might have spared, if he had consulted a dictionary, and found that nothing more was affirmed than, that those fled who did not fall.
In explaining such meanings as seem accidental and adventitious, I shall endeavour to give an account of the means by which they were introduced. Thus, to eke out any thing, signifies to lengthen it beyond its just dimensions, by some low artifice; because the word eke was the usual refuge of our old writers, when they wanted a syllable. And buxom, which means only obedient, is now made, in familiar phrases, to stand for wanton; because in an ancient form of marriage, before the Reformation, the bride promised complaisance and obedience, in these terms: "I will be bonair and buxom in bed and at board."
I know well, my Lord, how trifling many of these remarks will appear, separately considered, and how easily they may give occasion to the contemptuous merriment of sportive idleness, and the gloomy censures of arrogant stupidity; but dulness it is easy to despise, and laughter it is easy to repay. I shall not be solicitous what is thought of my work, by such as know not the difficulty or importance of philological studies; nor shall think those that have done nothing, qualified to condemn me for doing little. It may not, however, be improper to remind them, that no terrestrial greatness is more than an aggregate of little things; and to inculcate, after the Arabian proverb, that drops added to drops constitute the ocean.
There remains yet to be considered the distribution of words into their proper classes, or that part of lexicography which is strictly critical.
The popular part of the language, which includes all words not appropriated to particular sciences, admits of many distinctions and subdivisions; as, into words of general use; words employed chiefly in poetry; words obsolete; words which are admitted only by particular writers, yet not in themselves improper; words used only in burlesque writing; and words impure and barbarous.
Words of general use will be known by having no sign of particularity, and their various senses will be supported by authorities of all ages.
The words appropriated to poetry will be distinguished by some mark prefixed, or will be known by having no authorities but those of poets.
Of antiquated or obsolete words, none will be inserted, but such as are to be found in authors, who wrote since the accession of Elizabeth, from which we date the golden age of our language; and of these many might be omitted, but that the reader may require, with an appearance of reason, that no difficulty should be left unresolved in books which he finds himself invited to read, as confessed and established models of style. These will be likewise pointed out by some note of exclusion, but not of disgrace.
The words which are found only in particular books, will be known by the single name of him that has used them; but such will be omitted, unless either their propriety, elegance or force, or the reputation of their authors, affords some extraordinary reason for their reception.
Words used in burlesque and familiar compositions, will be likewise mentioned with their proper authorities; such as dudgeon, from Butler, and leasing, from Prior; and will be diligently characterised by marks of distinction. Barbarous, or impure, words and expressions, may be branded with some note of infamy, as they are carefully to be eradicated wherever they are found; and they occur too frequently, even in the best writers: as in Pope,
—in endless error hurl'd. 'Tis these that early taint the female soul.
Attend to what a lesser muse indites.
And in Dryden:
A dreadful quiet felt, and worser far Than arms.—
If this part of the work can be well performed, it will be equivalent to the proposal made by Boileau to the academicians, that they should review all their polite writers, and correct such impurities as might be found in them, that their authority might not contribute, at any distant time, to the depravation of the language.
With regard to questions of purity or propriety, I was once in doubt whether I should not attribute too much to myself, in attempting to decide them, and whether my province was to extend beyond the proposition of the question, and the display of the suffrages on each side; but I have been since determined, by your Lordship's opinion, to interpose my own judgment, and shall, therefore, endeavour to support what appears to me most consonant to grammar and reason. Ausonius thought that modesty forbad him to plead inability for a task to which Caesar had judged him equal:
Cur me posse negem posse quod ille putat?
And I may hope, my Lord, that since you, whose authority in our language is so generally acknowledged, have commissioned me to declare my own opinion, I shall be considered as exercising a kind of vicarious jurisdiction, and that the power which might have been denied to my own claim, will be readily allowed me as the delegate of your Lordship.
In citing authorities, on which the credit of every part of this work must depend, it will be proper to observe some obvious rules; such as of preferring writers of the first reputation to those of an inferiour rank; of noting the quotations with accuracy; and of selecting, when it can be conveniently done, such sentences, as, besides their immediate use, may give pleasure or instruction, by conveying some elegance of language, or some precept of prudence or piety.
It has been asked, on some occasions, who shall judge the judges? And since, with regard to this design, a question may arise by what authority the authorities are selected, it is necessary to obviate it, by declaring that many of the writers whose testimonies will be alleged, were selected by Mr. Pope; of whom I may be justified in affirming, that were he still alive, solicitous as he was for the success of this work, he would not be displeased that I have undertaken it.
It will be proper that the quotations be ranged according to the ages of their authors; and it will afford an agreeable amusement, if to the words and phrases which are not of our own growth, the name of the writer who first introduced them can be affixed; and if, to words which are now antiquated, the authority be subjoined of him who last admitted them. Thus, for scathe and buxom, now obsolete, Milton may be cited:
—The mountain oak Stands scath'd to heaven.— —He with broad sails Winnow'd the buxom air.—
By this method every word will have its history, and the reader will be informed of the gradual changes of the language, and have before his eyes the rise of some words, and the fall of others. But observations so minute and accurate are to be desired, rather than expected; and if use be carefully supplied, curiosity must sometimes bear its disappointments.
This, my Lord, is my idea of an English dictionary; a dictionary by which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment facilitated; by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained, and its duration lengthened. And though, perhaps, to correct the language of nations by books of grammar, and amend their manners by discourses of morality, may be tasks equally difficult, yet, as it is unavoidable to wish, it is natural likewise to hope, that your Lordship's patronage may not be wholly lost; that it may contribute to the preservation of ancient, and the improvement of modern writers; that it may promote the reformation of those translators, who, for want of understanding the characteristical difference of tongues, have formed a chaotick dialect of heterogeneous phrases; and awaken to the care of purer diction some men of genius, whose attention to argument makes them negligent of style, or whose rapid imagination, like the Peruvian torrents, when it brings down gold, mingles it with sand.
When I survey the Plan which I have laid before you, I cannot, my Lord, but confess, that I am frighted at its extent, and, like the soldiers of Caesar, look on Britain as a new world, which it is almost madness to invade. But I hope, that though I should not complete the conquest, I shall, at least, discover the coast, civilize part of the inhabitants, and make it easy for some other adventurer to proceed further, to reduce them wholly to subjection, and settle them under laws.
We are taught by the great Roman orator, that every man should propose to himself the highest degree of excellence, but that he may stop with honour at the second or third: though, therefore, my performance should fall below the excellence of other dictionaries, I may obtain, at least, the praise of having endeavoured well; nor shall I think it any reproach to my diligence, that I have retired without a triumph, from a contest with united academies, and long successions of learned compilers. I cannot hope, in the warmest moments, to preserve so much caution through so long a work, as not often to sink into negligence, or to obtain so much knowledge of all its parts, as not frequently to fail by ignorance. I expect that sometimes the desire of accuracy will urge me to superfluities, and sometimes the fear of prolixity betray me to omissions; that in the extent of such variety, I shall be often bewildered, and, in the mazes of such intricacy, be frequently entangled; that in one part refinement will be subtilized beyond exactness, and evidence dilated in another beyond perspicuity. Yet I do not despair of approbation from those who, knowing the uncertainty of conjecture, the scantiness of knowledge, the fallibility of memory, and the unsteadiness of attention, can compare the causes of errour with the means of avoiding it, and the extent of art with the capacity of man: and whatever be the event of my endeavours, I shall not easily regret an attempt, which has procured me the honour of appearing thus publickly,
Your Lordship's most obedient, and most humble servant,
 Lord Orrery, in a letter to Dr. Birch, mentions this as one of the very few inaccuracies in this admirable address, the laurel not being barren in any sense, but bearing fruits and flowers. Boswell's Life, vol. i. p. 160. EDIT. 1804.
 Written in the year 1747.
PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH DICTIONARY.
It is the fate of those, who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.
Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom mankind have considered, not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from the paths, through which Learning and Genius press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative recompense has been yet granted to very few.
I have, notwithstanding this discouragement, attempted a Dictionary of the English language, which, while it was employed in the cultivation of every species of literature, has itself been hitherto neglected; suffered to spread, under the direction of chance, into wild exuberance; resigned to the tyranny of time and fashion; and exposed to the corruptions of ignorance, and caprices of innovation.
When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity; and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority.
Having, therefore, no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to the perusal of our writers; and, noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I reduced to method, establishing to myself, in the progress of the work, such rules as experience and analogy suggested to me: experience, which practice and observation were continually increasing; and analogy, which, though in some words obscure, was evident in others.
In adjusting the ORTHOGRAPHY, which has been to this time unsettled and fortuitous, I found it necessary to distinguish those irregularities that are inherent in our tongue, and, perhaps, coeval with it, from others, which the ignorance or negligence of later writers has produced. Every language has its anomalies, which, though inconvenient, and in themselves once unnecessary, must be tolerated among the imperfections of human things; and which require only to be registered, that they may not be increased, and ascertained, that they may not be confounded: but every language has likewise its improprieties and absurdities, which it is the duty of the lexicographer to correct or proscribe.
As language was at its beginning merely oral, all words of necessary or common use were spoken, before they were written; and while they were unfixed by any visible signs, must have been spoken with great diversity, as we now observe those, who cannot read, catch sounds imperfectly, and utter them negligently. When this wild and barbarous jargon was first reduced to an alphabet, every penman endeavoured to express, as he could, the sounds which he was accustomed to pronounce or to receive, and vitiated in writing such words as were already vitiated in speech. The powers of the letters, when they were applied to a new language, must have been vague and unsettled, and, therefore, different hands would exhibit the same sound by different combinations.
From this uncertain pronunciation arise, in a great part, the various dialects of the same country, which will always be observed to grow fewer and less different, as books are multiplied; and from this arbitrary representation of sounds by letters proceeds that diversity of spelling, observable in the Saxon remains, and, I suppose, in the first books of every nation, which perplexes or destroys analogy, and produces anomalous formations, that being once incorporated, can never be afterwards dismissed or reformed.
Of this kind are the derivatives length from long, strength from strong, darling from dear, breadth from broad, from dry, drought, and from high, height, which Milton, in zeal for analogy, writes highth: "Quid te exempta juvat spinis de pluribus una?" to change all would be too much, and to change one is nothing.
This uncertainty is most frequent in the vowels, which are so capriciously pronounced, and so differently modified, by accident or affectation, not only in every province, but in every mouth, that to them, as is well known to etymologists, little regard is to be shown in the deduction of one language from another.
Such defects are not errours in orthography, but spots of barbarity impressed so deep in the English language, that criticism can never wash them away: these, therefore, must be permitted to remain untouched: but many words have likewise been altered by accident, or depraved by ignorance, as the pronunciation of the vulgar has been weakly followed; and some still continue to be variously written, as authors differ in their care or skill: of these it was proper to inquire the true orthography, which I have always considered as depending on their derivation, and have, therefore, referred them to their original languages: thus I write enchant, enchantment, enchanter, after the French, and incantation after the Latin; thus entire is chosen rather than intire, because it passed to us not from the Latin integer, but from the French entier.
Of many words it is difficult to say, whether they were immediately received from the Latin or the French, since at the time when we had dominions in France, we had Latin service in our churches. It is, however, my opinion, that the French generally supplied us; for we have few Latin words, among the terms of domestick use, which are not French; but many French, which are very remote from Latin.
Even in words of which the derivation is apparent, I have been often obliged to sacrifice uniformity to custom; thus I write, in compliance with a numberless majority, convey and inveigh, deceit and receipt, fancy and phantom; sometimes the derivative varies from the primitive, as explain and explanation, repeat and repetition.
Some combinations of letters, having the same power, are used indifferently without any discoverable reason of choice, as in choak, choke; soap, sape; fewel, fuel, and many others; which I have sometimes inserted twice, that those, who search for them under either form, may not search in vain.
In examining the orthography of any doubtful word, the mode of spelling by which it is inserted in the series of the Dictionary, is to be considered as that to which I give, perhaps, not often rashly, the preference. I have left, in the examples, to every author his own practice unmolested, that the reader may balance suffrages, and judge between us: but this question is not always to be determined by reputed or by real learning: some men, intent upon greater things, have thought little on sounds and derivations; some, knowing in the ancient tongues, have neglected those in which our words are commonly to be sought. Thus Hammond writes fecibleness for feasibleness, because, I suppose, he imagined it derived immediately from the Latin; and some words, such as dependant, dependent, dependance, dependence, vary their final syllable, as one or another language is present to the writer.
In this part of the work, where caprice has long wantoned without control, and vanity sought praise by petty reformation, I have endeavoured to proceed with a scholar's reverence for antiquity, and a grammarian's regard to the genius of our tongue. I have attempted few alterations, and among those few, perhaps, the greater part is from the modern to the ancient practice; and, I hope, I may be allowed to recommend to those, whose thoughts have been, perhaps, employed too anxiously on verbal singularities, not to disturb, upon narrow views, or for minute propriety, the orthography of their fathers. It has been asserted, that for the law to be known, is of more importance than to be right. "Change," says Hooker, "is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better." There is in constancy and stability a general and lasting advantage, which will always overbalance the slow improvements of gradual correction. Much less ought our written language to comply with the corruptions of oral utterance, or copy that which every variation of time or place makes different from itself, and imitate those changes which will again be changed, while imitation is employed in observing them.
This recommendation of steadiness and uniformity does not proceed from an opinion, that particular combinations of letters have much influence on human happiness; or that truth may not be successfully taught by modes of spelling fanciful and erroneous: I am not yet so lost in lexicography, as to forget that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven. Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas: I wish, however, that the instrument might be less apt to decay, and that signs might be permanent, like the things which they denote.
In settling the orthography, I have not wholly neglected the pronunciation, which I have directed, by printing an accent upon the acute or elevated syllable. It will sometimes be found, that the accent is placed, by the author quoted, on a different syllable from that marked in the alphabetical series; it is then to be understood, that custom has varied, or that the author has, in my opinion, pronounced wrong. Short directions are sometimes given, where the sound of letters is irregular; and if they are sometimes omitted, defect in such minute observations will be more easily excused, than superfluity.
In the investigation both of the orthography and signification of words, their ETYMOLOGY was necessarily to be considered, and they were, therefore, to be divided into primitives and derivatives. A primitive word is that which can be traced no further to any English root; thus circumspect, circumvent, circumstance, delude, concave, and complicate, though compounds in the Latin, are to us primitives. Derivatives are all those that can be referred to any word in English of greater simplicity.
The derivatives I have referred to their primitives, with an accuracy sometimes needless; for who does not see that remoteness comes from remote, lovely from love, concavity from concave, and demonstrative from demonstrate? But this grammatical exuberance the scheme of my work did not allow me to repress. It is of great importance, in examining the general fabrick of a language, to trace one word from another, by noting the usual modes of derivation and inflection; and uniformity must be preserved in systematical works, though sometimes at the expense of particular propriety.
Among other derivatives, I have been careful to insert and elucidate the anomalous plurals of nouns and preterites of verbs, which in the Teutonick dialects are very frequent, and, though familiar to those who have always used them, interrupt and embarrass the learners of our language.
The two languages from which our primitives have been derived are the Roman and Teutonick: under the Roman I comprehend the French and provincial tongues; and under the Teutonick range the Saxon, German, and all their kindred dialects. Most of our polysyllables are Roman, and our words of one syllable are very often Teutonick.
In assigning the Roman original, it has, perhaps, sometimes happened that I have mentioned only the Latin, when the word was borrowed from the French; and, considering myself as employed only in the illustration of my own language, I have not been very careful to observe whether the Latin word be pure or barbarous, or the French elegant or obsolete.
For the Teutonick etymologies, I am commonly indebted to Junius and Skinner, the only names which I have forborne to quote when I copied their books; not that I might appropriate their labours or usurp their honours, but that I might spare a perpetual repetition by one general acknowledgment. Of these, whom I ought not to mention but with the reverence due to instructers and benefactors, Junius appears to have excelled in extent of learning, and Skinner in rectitude of understanding. Junius was accurately skilled in all the northern languages; Skinner probably examined the ancient and remoter dialects only by occasional inspection into dictionaries; but the learning of Junius is often of no other use than to show him a track, by which he may deviate from his purpose, to which Skinner always presses forward by the shortest way. Skinner is often ignorant, but never ridiculous: Junius is always full of knowledge, but his variety distracts his judgment, and his learning is very frequently disgraced by his absurdities.
The votaries of the northern muses will not, perhaps, easily restrain their indignation, when they find the name of Junius thus degraded by a disadvantageous comparison; but whatever reverence is due to his diligence, or his attainments, it can be no criminal degree of censoriousness to charge that etymologist with want of judgment, who can seriously derive dream from drama, because life is a drama, and a drama is a dream; and who declares with a tone of defiance, that no man can fail to derive moan from [Greek: monos], (monos,) single or solitary, who considers that grief naturally loves to be alone.
Our knowledge of the northern literature is so scanty, that of words undoubtedly Teutonick, the original is not always to be found in any ancient language; and I have, therefore, inserted Dutch or German substitutes, which I consider not as radical, but parallel, not as the parents, but sisters of the English.
The words, which are represented as thus related by descent or cognation, do not always agree in sense; for it is incident to words, as to their authors, to degenerate from their ancestors, and to change their manners when they change their country. It is sufficient, in etymological inquiries, if the senses of kindred words be found such as may easily pass into each other, or such as may both be referred to one general idea.
The etymology, so far as it is yet known, was easily found in the volumes, where it is particularly and professedly delivered; and, by proper attention to the rules of derivation, the orthography was soon adjusted. But to COLLECT the WORDS of our language was a task of greater difficulty: the deficiency of dictionaries was immediately apparent; and when they were exhausted, what was yet wanting must be sought by fortuitous and unguided excursions into books, and gleaned as industry should find, or chance should offer it, in the boundless chaos of a living speech. My search, however, has been either skilful or lucky; for I have much augmented the vocabulary.
As my design was a dictionary, common or appellative, I have omitted all words which have relation to proper names; such as Arian, Socinian, Calvinist, Benedictine, Mahometan; but have retained those-of a more general nature, as Heathen, Pagan.
Of the terms of art I have received such as could be found either in books of science or technical dictionaries; and have often inserted, from philosophical writers, words which are supported, perhaps, only by a single authority, and which, being not admitted into general use, stand yet as candidates or probationers, and must depend for their adoption on the suffrage of futurity.
The words which our authors have introduced by their knowledge of foreign languages, or ignorance of their own, by vanity or wantonness, by compliance with fashion or lust of innovation, I have registered as they occurred, though commonly only to censure them, and warn others against the folly of naturalizing useless foreigners to the injury of the natives.
I have not rejected any by design, merely because they were unnecessary or exuberant; but have received those which by different writers have been differently formed, as viscid, and viscidity, viscous, and viscosity. Compounded or double words I have seldom noted, except when they obtain a signification different from that which the components have in their simple state. Thus highwayman, woodman, and horsecourser, require an explanation; but of thieflike or coachdriver, no notice was needed, because the primitives contain the meaning of the compounds.
Words arbitrarily formed by a constant and settled analogy, like diminutive adjectives in ish, as greenish, bluish; adverbs in ly, as dully, openly; substantives in ness, as vileness, faultiness; were less diligently sought, and sometimes have been omitted, when I had no authority that invited me to insert them; not that they are not genuine and regular offsprings of English roots, but, because their relation to the primitive being always the same, their significations cannot be mistaken.
The verbal nouns in ing, such as the keeping of the castle, the leading of the army, are always neglected, or placed only to illustrate the sense of the verb, except when they signify things as well as actions, and have, therefore, a plural number, as dwelling, living; or have an absolute and abstract signification, as colouring, painting, learning.
The participles are likewise omitted, unless, by signifying rather habit or quality than action, they take the nature of adjectives; as a thinking man, a man of prudence; a pacing horse, a horse that can pace: these I have ventured to call participial adjectives. But neither are these always inserted, because they are commonly to be understood without any danger of mistake, by consulting the verb.
Obsolete words are admitted, when they are found in authors not obsolete, or when they have any force or beauty that may deserve revival.
As composition is one of the chief characteristicks of a language, I have endeavoured to make some reparation for the universal negligence of my predecessors, by inserting great numbers of compounded words, as may be found under after, fore, new, night, fair, and many more. These, numerous as they are, might be multiplied, but that use and curiosity are here satisfied, and the frame of our language and modes of our combination amply discovered.
Of some forms of composition, such as that by which re is prefixed to note repetition, and un to signify contrariety or privation, all the examples cannot be accumulated, because the use of these particles, if not wholly arbitrary, is so little limited, that they are hourly affixed to new words, as occasion requires, or is imagined to require them.
There is another kind of composition more frequent in our language than, perhaps, in any other, from which arises to foreigners the greatest difficulty. We modify the signification of many verbs by a particle subjoined; as to come off, to escape by a fetch; to fall on, to attack; to fall off, to apostatize; to break off, to stop abruptly; to bear out, to justify; to fall in, to comply; to give over, to cease; to set off, to embellish; to set in, to begin a continual tenour; to set out, to begin a course or journey; to take off, to copy; with innumerable expressions of the same kind, of which some appear wildly irregular, being so far distant from the sense of the simple words, that no sagacity will be able to trace the steps by which they arrived at the present use. These I have noted with great care; and though I cannot flatter myself that the collection is complete, I believe I have so far assisted the students of our language, that this kind of phraseology will be no longer insuperable; and the combinations of verbs and particles, by chance omitted, will be easily explained by comparison with those that may be found.
Many words yet stand supported only by the name of Bailey, Ainsworth, Philips, or the contracted Dict, for Dictionaries subjoined; of these I am not always certain, that they are read in any book but the works of lexicographers. Of such I have omitted many, because I had never read them; and many I have inserted, because they may, perhaps, exist, though they have escaped my notice: they are, however, to be yet considered as resting only upon the credit of former dictionaries. Others, which I considered as useful, or know to be proper, though I could not at present support them by authorities, I have suffered to stand upon my own attestation, claiming the same privilege with my predecessors, of being sometimes credited without proof.
The words, thus selected and disposed, are grammatically considered; they are referred to the different parts of speech; traced, when they are irregularly inflected, through their various terminations; and illustrated by observations, not, indeed, of great or striking importance, separately considered, but necessary to the elucidation of our language, and hitherto neglected or forgotten by English grammarians.
That part of my work on which I expect malignity most frequently to fasten is, the Explanation; in which I cannot hope to satisfy those, who are, perhaps, not inclined to be pleased, since I have not always been able to satisfy myself. To interpret a language by itself is very difficult; many words cannot be explained by synonymes, because the idea signified by them has not more than one appellation; nor by paraphrase, because simple ideas cannot be described. When the nature of things is unknown, or the notion unsettled and indefinite, and various in various minds, the words by which such notions are conveyed, or such things denoted, will be ambiguous and perplexed. And such is the fate of hapless lexicography, that not only darkness, but light, impedes and distresses it; things may be not only too little, but too much known, to be happily illustrated. To explain, requires the use of terms less abstruse than that which is to be explained, and such terms cannot always be found; for as nothing can be proved but by supposing something intuitively known, and evident without proof, so nothing can be defined but by the use of words too plain to admit a definition.
Other words there are, of which the sense is too subtile and evanescent to be fixed in a paraphrase; such are all those which are by the grammarians termed expletives, and, in dead languages, are suffered to pass for empty sounds, of no other use than to fill a verse, or to modulate a period, but which are easily perceived in living tongues to have power and emphasis, though it be sometimes such as no other form of expression can convey.
My labour has likewise been much increased by a class of verbs too frequent in the English language, of which the signification is so loose and general, the use so vague and indeterminate, and the senses detorted so widely from the first idea, that it is hard to trace them through the maze of variation, to catch them on the brink of utter inanity, to circumscribe them by any limitations, or interpret them by any words of distinct and settled meaning; such are bear, break, come, cast, fall, get, give, do, put, set, go, run, make, take, turn, throw. If of these the whole power is not accurately delivered, it must be remembered, that while our language is yet living, and variable by the caprice of every one that speaks it, these words are hourly shifting their relations, and can no more be ascertained in a dictionary, than a grove, in the agitation of a storm, can be accurately delineated from its picture in the water. The particles are among all nations applied with so great latitude, that they are not easily reducible under any regular scheme of explication: this difficulty is not less, nor, perhaps, greater, in English, than in other languages. I have laboured them with diligence, I hope with success; such at least as can be expected in a task, which no man, however learned or sagacious, has yet been able to perform.
Some words there are which I cannot explain, because I do not understand them; these might have been omitted very often with little inconvenience, but I would not so far indulge my vanity, as to decline this confession; for when Tully owns himself ignorant whether lessus, in the twelve tables, means a funeral song, or mourning garment; and Aristotle doubts whether [Greek: oureus] in the Iliad, signifies a mule, or muleteer, I may surely, without shame, leave some obscurities to happier industry, or future information.
The rigour of interpretative lexicography requires that the explanation, and the word explained, should be always reciprocal; this I have always endeavoured, but could not always attain. Words are seldom exactly synonymous; a new term was not introduced, but because the former was thought inadequate: names, therefore, have often many ideas, but few ideas have many names. It was then necessary to use the proximate word, for the deficiency of single terms can very seldom be supplied by circumlocution; nor is the inconvenience great of such mutilated interpretations, because the sense may easily be collected entire from the examples.
In every word of extensive use, it was requisite to mark the progress of its meaning, and show by what gradations of intermediate sense it has passed from its primitive to its remote and accidental signification; so that every foregoing explanation should tend to that which follows, and the series be regularly concatenated from the first notion to the last.
This is specious, but not always practicable; kindred senses may be so interwoven, that the perplexity cannot be disentangled, nor any reason be assigned why one should be ranged before the other. When the radical idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can a consecutive series be formed of senses in their nature collateral? The shades of meaning sometimes pass imperceptibly into each other, so that though on one side they apparently differ, yet it is impossible to mark the point of contact. Ideas of the same race, though not exactly alike, are sometimes so little different, that no words can express the dissimilitude, though the mind easily perceives it, when they are exhibited together; and sometimes there is such a confusion of acceptations, that discernment is wearied and distinction puzzled, and perseverance herself hurries to an end, by crowding together what she cannot separate.
These complaints of difficulty will, by those that have never considered words beyond their popular use, be thought only the jargon of a man willing to magnify his labours, and procure veneration to his studies by involution and obscurity. But every art is obscure to those that have not learned it: this uncertainty of terms, and commixture of ideas, is well known to those who have joined philosophy with grammar; and, if I have not expressed them very clearly, it must be remembered that I am speaking of that which words are insufficient to explain.
The original sense of words is often driven out of use by their metaphorical acceptations, yet must be inserted for the sake of a regular origination. Thus I know not whether ardour is used for material heat, or whether flagrant, in English, ever signifies the same with burning; yet such are the primitive ideas of these words, which are, therefore, set first, though without examples, that the figurative senses may be commodiously deduced.
Such is the exuberance of signification which many words have obtained, that it was scarcely possible to collect all their senses; sometimes the meaning of derivatives must be sought in the mother term, and sometimes deficient explanations of the primitive may be supplied in the train of derivation. In any case of doubt or difficulty, it will be always proper to examine all the words of the same race; for some words are slightly passed over to avoid repetition; some admitted easier and clearer explanation than others; and all will be better understood, as they are considered in greater variety of structures and relations.
All the interpretations of words are not written with the same skill, or the same happiness: things, equally easy in themselves, are not all equally easy to any single mind. Every writer of a long work commits errours, where there appears neither ambiguity to mislead, nor obscurity to confound him: and, in a search like this, many felicities of expression will be casually overlooked, many convenient parallels will be forgotten, and many particulars will admit improvement from a mind utterly unequal to the whole performance.
But many seeming faults are to be imputed rather to the nature of the undertaking, than the negligence of the performer. Thus some explanations are unavoidably reciprocal or circular, as hind, the female of the stag; stag, the male of the hind: sometimes easier words are changed into harder, as burial into sepulture, or interment, drier into desiccative, dryness into siccity or aridity, fit into paroxysm; for the easiest word, whatever it be, can never be translated into one more easy. But easiness and difficulty are merely relative; and, if the present prevalence of our language should invite foreigners to this Dictionary, many will be assisted by those words, which now seem only to increase or produce obscurity. For this reason I have endeavoured frequently to join a Teutonick and Roman interpretation, as to cheer, to gladden or exhilarate, that every learner of English may be assisted by his own tongue.
The solution of all difficulties, and the supply of all defects, must be sought in the examples, subjoined to the various senses of each word, and ranged according to the time of their authors.
When I first collected these authorities, I was desirous that every quotation should be useful to some other end than the illustration of a word; I, therefore, extracted from philosophers principles of science; from historians remarkable facts; from chymists complete processes; from divines striking exhortations; and from poets beautiful descriptions. Such is design, while it is yet at a distance from execution. When the time called upon me to range this accumulation of elegance and wisdom into an alphabetical series, I soon discovered that the bulk of my volumes would fright away the student, and was forced to depart from my scheme of including all that was pleasing or useful in English literature, and reduce my transcripts very often to clusters of words, in which scarcely any meaning is retained: thus to the weariness of copying, I was condemned to add the vexation of expunging. Some passages I have yet spared, which may relieve the labour of verbal searches, and intersperse with verdure and flowers the dusty deserts of barren philology.
The examples, thus mutilated, are no longer to be con sidered as conveying the sentiments or doctrine of their authors; the word, for the sake of which they are inserted, with all its appendant clauses, has been carefully preserved; but it may sometimes happen, by hasty detruncation, that the general tendency of the sentence may be changed: the divine may desert his tenets, or the philosopher his system.
Some of the examples have been taken from writers who were never mentioned as masters of elegance, or models of style; but words must be sought where they are used; and in what pages, eminent for purity, can terms of manufacture or agriculture be found? Many quotations serve no other purpose, than that of proving the bare existence of words, and are, therefore, selected with less scrupulousness than those which are to teach their structures and relations.
My purpose was to admit no testimony of living authors, that I might not be misled by partiality, and that none of my contemporaries might have reason to complain; nor have I departed from this resolution, but when some performance of uncommon excellence excited my veneration, when my memory supplied me from late books with an example that was wanting, or when my heart, in the tenderness of friendship, solicited admission for a favourite name.
So far have I been from any care to grace my pages with modern decorations, that I have studiously endeavoured to collect examples and authorities from the writers before the Restoration, whose works I regard as the wells of English undefiled, as the pure sources of genuine diction. Our language, for almost a century, has, by the concurrence of many causes, been gradually departing from its original Teutonick character, and deviating towards a Gallick structure and phraseology, from which it ought to be our endeavour to recall it, by making our ancient volumes the ground-work of style, admitting among the additions of later times only such as may supply real deficiencies, such as are readily adopted by the genius of our tongue, and incorporate easily with our native idioms.
But as every language has a time of rudeness antecedent to perfection, as well as of false refinement and declension, I have been cautious lest my zeal for antiquity might drive me into times too remote, and crowd my book with words now no longer understood. I have fixed Sidney's work for the boundary, beyond which I make few excursions. From the authors which rose in the time of Elizabeth, a speech might be formed adequate to all the purposes of use and elegance. If the language of theology were extracted from Hooker and the translation of the Bible; the terms of natural knowledge from Bacon; the phrases of policy, war, and navigation from Raleigh; the dialect of poetry and fiction from Spenser and Sidney; and the diction of common life from Shakespeare, few ideas would be lost to mankind, for want of English words, in which they might be expressed.
It is not sufficient that a word is found, unless it be so combined as that its meaning is apparently determined by the tract and tenour of the sentence; such passages I have, therefore, chosen, and when it happened that any author gave a definition of a term, or such an explanation as is equivalent to a definition, I have placed his authority as a supplement to my own, without regard to the chronological order, that is otherwise observed.
Some words, indeed, stand unsupported by any authority, but they are commonly derivative nouns or adverbs, formed from their primitives by regular and constant analogy, or names of things seldom occurring in books, or words of which I have reason to doubt the existence.
There is more danger of censure from the multiplicity than paucity of examples; authorities will sometimes seem to have been accumulated without necessity or use, and, perhaps, some will be found, which might, without loss, have been omitted. But a work of this kind is not hastily to be charged with superfluities: those quotations, which to careless or unskilful perusers appear only to repeat the same sense, will often exhibit, to a more accurate examiner, diversities of significations, or, at least, afford different shades of the same meaning: one will show the word applied to persons, another to things; one will express an ill, another a good, and a third a neutral sense; one will prove the expression genuine from an ancient author; another will show it elegant from a modern: a doubtful authority is corroborated by another of more credit; an ambiguous sentence is ascertained by a passage clear and determinate: the word, how often soever repeated, appears with new associates, and in different combinations, and every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language. When words are used equivocally, I receive them in either sense; when they are metaphorical, I adopt them in their primitive acceptation.
I have sometimes, though rarely, yielded to the temptation of exhibiting a genealogy of sentiments, by showing how one author copied the thoughts and diction of another: such quotations are, indeed, little more than repetitions, which might 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 license or negligence, with which many words have been hitherto 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 I have laboured, by settling the orthography, displaying the analogy, regulating 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 minuteness.
The examples are too often injudiciously truncated, and perhaps sometimes, I 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 contain, and purposed to supply, at the review, what was left incomplete in the first transcription.
Many terms, appropriated to particular occupations, though necessary and significant, are undoubtedly omitted; and, of the words most studiously considered and exemplified, many senses have escaped observation.
Yet these failures, however frequent, may admit extenuation and apology. To have attempted much is always laudable, even when the enterprise is above the strength that undertakes it: To rest below his own aim is incident to every one whose fancy is active, and whose views are comprehensive; nor is any man satisfied with himself, because he has done much, but because he can conceive little. When first I engaged in this work, I resolved to leave neither words nor things unexamined, and pleased myself with a prospect of the hours which I should revel away in feasts of literature, with the obscure recesses of northern learning which I should enter and ransack, the treasures with which I expected every search into those neglected mines to reward my labour, and the triumph with which I should display my acquisitions to mankind. When I had thus inquired into the original of words, I resolved to show likewise my attention to things; to pierce deep into every science, to inquire the nature of every substance of which I inserted the name, to limit every idea by a definition strictly logical, and exhibit every production of art or nature in an accurate description, that my book might be in place of all other dictionaries, whether appellative or technical. But these were the dreams of a poet, doomed at last to wake a lexicographer. I soon found that it is too late to look for instruments, when the work calls for execution, and that whatever abilities I had brought to my task, with those I must finally perform it. To deliberate whenever I doubted, to inquire whenever I was ignorant, would have protracted the undertaking without end, and, perhaps, without much improvement; for I did not find by my first experiments, that what I had not of my own was easily to be obtained: I saw that one inquiry 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.