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I shall proceed now to an exposition of my plan :
When I first embarked in this undertaking, I was firmly persuaded that the undoubted chief of philosophical grammarians had not spoken either idly or untruly, when he asserted that a New Dictionary ought to be written, and of a very different kind indeed from “ any thing yet attempted any where." I felt satisfied that this was not the solitary dictum of one man,
that the opinion had penetrated into our schools and colleges, and that it prevailed very generally among the various intelligent and inquiring classes of my countrymen. I further felt that the volumes of Horne Tooke had developed a new theory of language ; that the principles of that theory had, in the main, been well received; that they had settled deeply in the minds of literary men, both abroad and at home; and that, upon those principles, I must compose my work. The great first principle upon which I have proceeded, in the department of the Dictionary which embraces the explanation, is that so clearly evolved, and so incontrovertibly demonstrated in the “ Diversions of Purley;" namely, that a word has one meaning, and one only; that from it all usages must spring and be derived; and that in the Etymology of each word must be found this single intrinsic meaning, and the cause of the application in
That each one word has one radical meaning, and one only, is not a dogma of which very modern writers have the sole right to boast. Scaliger asserts it in most explicit terms : “ Unius namque vocis una tantum sit significatio propria, ac princeps."* It is one of those many sound principles which have been met with in the writings of learned and sagacious scholars, and
passed the not uncommon routine of being recognised and admired—neglected and forgotten. It is one of those, which they themselves have employed to very little of which we are not warranted in concluding that they saw the tendency with sufficient distinctness to appreciate justly the real value and importance.
It is approached in more recent times, but not boldly seized, by Lennep :—“Ut adeo appareat paucissimas revera esse proprias verborum significationes ;" † are the uncertain terms in which he expresses himself.
That this one, or these very few significations, are to be traced to sensible objects, is affirmed by Lennep, and not doubted by Locke
Spirit,” says the philosopher, “ in its primary signification, is breath ; angel, a messenger; and I doubt not, but if we could trace them to their sources, we should find, in all languages, the names that stand for things that fall not under our senses, to have had their first rise from sensible objects.*
“ Notiones verborum (says the philologer) propriæ omnes sunt corporeæ, sive ad res pertinentes, quæ sensus nostros feriunt;"† and again,“ Nec alias esse (verborum significationes) nisi corporeas, sive eas, quibus res, sensibus externis exposita, designantur.”
Tooke is most distinct in the assertion and maintenance of these principles, (the one-ness or singleness, and the source, of the meaning of words); he adopted them as the sole sure foundation upon which philological inquiry could proceed; he, and he alone, has adhered to them consistently, and he has raised upon them an edifice, to which all must look as a model, when devising the ground-plot for a superstructure of their own. His name will frequently catch the
pages of the New Dictionary; not, indeed, because he is an authority whom I never question, and from whom I allow no appeal; but I have done to him that scrupulous justice which I have done to all, to whose labours I have been indebted. Of not one borrowed feather, unacknowledged, would I wittingly permit myself the use.ỹ Time, however, will assuage the rancour of political hostility ;-the mists of ignorance, the fumes of conceit, will dissipate in time; and the immortal author of the EIIEA IITEPOENTA will stand forth untarnished and unobscured ; as the philosophical grammarian, who alone was entitled to the name of a Discoverer—a name, which “ every man, knowing any thing of human nature, will always be backwards in believing himself to deserve.'|| Of him, then, I will now only add, in words scored by his own hand, in the very book from which I transcribe them, and thus intimating how emphatically characteristic he deemed them of himself :
You cannot shake him,
The Pilgrim, a. 2, s. 2.
I shall be freely pardoned this slight ebullition of grateful feeling towards an author, who,
* On Human Understanding. B. 3, c. 1.
+ Lennep, Etymol. p. 7. | Id. Anal. p. 41. And see Wakefield's Letter to Mr. Fox, March 13, 1800.
Neque enim ex alienis spoliis nominis nostri munimenta exædificare in animo unquam habuimus : sed aliorum bonam famam laborum potius nostrorum accessione capere incrementum. Scaliger. De Causis. Pref.
|| Diversions of Purley, part 1, c. 7.
by his writings, conferred upon me two signal benefits: they first cleared my intellects of an accumulated store, which I misprized as philosophy : they, in the second place, taught me sounder doctrine ; and the better tenets of that doctrine have grown and ripened into the New English Dictionary.
To proceed. The lexicographer can never assure himself that he has attained the meaning of a word, until he has discovered the thing, the sensible object-res, quæ nostros sensus feriunt ;—the sensation caused by that thing or object (for language cannot sever them), of which that word is the name. To this, the term meaning should be strictly and exclusively appropriated; and this, too, may be called the literal meaning.
The first extension of the use of words from this literal denomination of sensible objects, or actions, or operations, is to supposed or assumed similar or correspondent objects or actions, or operations, in the human mind. This-the metaphorical application of the literal meaning may, for the sake of brevity, be termed the metaphorical signification. It is a meaning transferred; and here commences the broad distinction of literal and metaphorical language.
From this literal meaning, and metaphorical signification, the next step may be named, the consequential ; and hence descend, in wide and rapid course, the applications of words in all their multitude and variety. These appear to be what Lennep intends to denote by translatæ significationes ;-he has told us, “paucissimas esse proprias verborum significationes ;” and he adds : “ e contrario autem, translatarum significationum copiam immensam, quæ ex propria notione, tanquam ex trunco arboris rami, quaquaversum pateant.” *
To Etymology, then, the lexicographer must first resort ; but he must be cautious and reserved in the pursuit of it. Its use for the purpose of a dictionary of a particular language is barely to ascertain the origin, and hence the radical meaning of each individual term in the vocabulary—and though further inquiry will be indispensable in philological researches to trace the origin and formation of tongues, and the dialects of tongues ; yet, when the intrinsic meaning is fixed, every lexicographical object is firmly secured.
Etymology, indeed, seems to admit of two main divisions ; first, that which decomposes words into their primal, literal roots ; and this is peculiarly the province of the philosophical grammarian or linguist;and secondly, that which (in our own mingled speech more especially) traces their lineal and co-lineal descent from a radical meaning to their present form and use. To this latter, the researches of the Dictionary have been generally limited.
I have judged it the safer, and in every respect more prudent and becoming, course to state
with brevity, and yet with clearness, the opinions of preceding Etymologists, among whom the name of Wachter ought to be most gratefully reported; not so much, perhaps, for the soundness of his decisions, in particular instances, as for the value of the materials, which his learned industry has brought together for the benefit of succeeding labourers. I have adopted or rejected his and their opinions, according to the best of my own judgment upon their merits; where I had
any conclusion of my own, that I preferred, I have not hesitated to advance it; where I had not, I have left the reader in full possession of all that knowledge which I had collected for myself. I have rather wished to remain exposed to the charge of timidity than of rashness.
While investigating, then, the meaning and consequent usage or application of words, I have considered it a duty incumbent upon the lexicographer to direct his view,—Ist, To the etymology and literal meaning ;-2nd, To the metaphorical application of this meaning—to the mind ;-3rd, To the application consequent or inferred from the literal meaning ;—and 4th, To the application consequent or inferred from that which is metaphorical.
In works of general literature (it will be obvious), the metaphorical usage must be of more frequent occurrence than the literal ; but the metaphor is in general so palpable, that the greater portion of the language has, in the task of explanation, unconstrainedly submitted to this comprehensive, yet simple, compendious, and adequately explanatory formulary, viz., the etymology, and the literal meaning ; literally, metaphorically, and consequentially, employed,with the words of similar application. And I have occasionally fancied that I had some reason to congratulate myself upon the success with which I laboured to deduce, from this literal or intrinsic meaning, the graduated and connected progression or series of the various and extensive applications of words.
It is, however, only when Etymology shall have furnished these meanings, that we can commence with confidence (to adopt the figure of Dr. Sharpe) the construction of our chain; link after link may be appended in direct succession, to keep commensurate with the enlargement of knowledge and the movements of human thought; and by-chains may be collaterally attached to different links of the main connection, as need may dictate or convenience suggest.
If we cannot enlist the strength of Etymology, we may, in the next place, conjecture the meaning of a word by discriminating some one signification contained in its multitude of usages; and hence presume that we have discovered the reason upon which their propriety is founded. If these usages present so discordant and incongruous a diversity, that no such uniform signification can be discerned, and consequently no such reason be enforced into our service, we have still left, in the third place, the expedient of arranging in some order the terms equivalent in their employment, or nearly so, to that which we may be endeavouring to interpret.
This last effort—even this, the only resource of unavailing erudition and baffled industry, has not been made (as I have already noticed) in the composition of those volumes, upon which the fame of Johnson is said to rest. I use the expression said to rest,' because I am satisfied taat for whatever fame he may possess—and great, undoubtedly, it is, and deserves to be,-he is not indebted to his Dictionary. Had he, however, made this effort in the construction of his work, he might have escaped, in some measure at least, the censure urged so justly by a very learned and a very sensible writer of his own time * against lexicographers in general, who remove the primary sense out of its place, and break that chain of significations, so necessary to preserve consistency, and relieve the burthen of remembrance. But (and it cannot be too strongly insisted upon) he pursues a course, or rather runs into various courses, of different tendency: he seizes—not the meaning, he does not look for it—there is no etymology; but he seizes, or endeavours to seize the present most popular usage; which may be of ancient, or
be of modern introduction : the explanation stands single, and disconnected—so do its successors, without a base to rest upon : the signification of the context ascribed to the word: the number of distinct explanations continued without restriction, to suit the quotations, where any seeming diversity of application may be fancied ;—And thus though it may, to those who still preserve undiminished their reverence for the authority of this extraordinary man, appear the Very
extreme of hardihood and temerity, I will venture to repeat that he rarely, if ever, even attempts to give the primary sense—the intrinsic meaning of the word, and thence to draw a chain of significations, or, more correctly speaking, to trace the applications in which
it has been employed.
Though examples of the practical adaptation of general rules to particular instances, supply undoubtedly the most intelligible and unerring evidence of their truth; yet in the selection of those instances, there is a hazard of appearing laboriously trifling; and in the repetition, of wearying the exertions even of diligence and goodwill. I will endeavour to escape as blameless as I can; but I know not how I can do full justice to my work, unless I afford some further means of comparison with that of Dr. Johnson.
Let us then take first the common word SAD. Dr. J. tells us, that “ the etymology of Sad is unknown," but that it means
1. Sorrowful; full of grief.
* Dr. Gregory Sharpe.