« ZurückWeiter »
unaccented syllables generally his system of notation, which is much more comprehensive than Walker's, or any other that we have seen, containing all the legitimate vowel sounds, he would, if he had failed to satisfy himself, have succeeded far better than his predecessors in accomplishing the undertaking. Walker, in this particular, may often lead astray those who trust to his guidance without exercising their own judgment. Mr. Worcester, in the same particular, not professing to be an infallible guide, leaves what is necessarily obscure to be learned by imitation and experience.
Orthography, according to the full grammatical import of the word, should correspond exactly to pronunciation. That it falls far short of this in the English language is well known, and is lamented by all who have given any attention to the subject; but it is now the sole duty of lexicographers and good writers to preserve the orthography as it is, in all cases where it is established by general usage, and in case of diversity to regard analogy ; and to be consistent, so far as they are not overruled by custom, with their own principles. No dictation on this subject, which aims at radical changes, can succeed. We can make no essential alterations in order to adapt orthography to the true sounds, which of themselves are not in all cases fixed by custom, but on the contrary are still fluctuating from accident or diversity of taste. London, says Mr. Worcester, the great metropolis of English literature, has incomparably greater influence than any other city in giving law to pronunciation. But in that great Babel, the concert must be very imperfect. The court, parliament, coteries of the fashionable and of the literate, though in some respects independent, yet acting upon each other indirectly, tend to produce diversity and change. It was in the early part of the last century, during the last days of Queen Anne, or soon after, that Swist said, “In London, they clip their words after one manner about the court, another in the city, and a third in the suburbs ; all which, reduced to writing, would entirely confound orthography.” The great object should now be to hold fast what we have gained.
It was a favorite notion of Dr. Webster, that “ such gradual changes should be made in orthography, as shall accommodate the written to the spoken language, when they do not violate established principles, and especially when they purify words from corruptions, improve the regular
analogies of a language, and illustrate etymology." This he said when he published his Compendious Dictionary, in 1806. In his quarto dictionary (1828), he made some changes, and suggested many others ; but in general to little purpose. He went far enough to create distrust, without effecting much as a reformer. Whoever has the curiosity to see wherein he made improvements, and in how many instances he failed in regard to consistency with his own principles, may be gratified by examining a review of this dictionary by Lyman Cobb (1831). It exhibits the proofs of the most thorough
( examination into a minute subject that we have ever met with. We trust that it has been in the hands of the learned editor who is about to publish a revised edition of the dictionary. Fas est et ab hoste doceri. .
Mr. Worcester has made no arbitrary changes in the orthography. In regard to words of various or doubtful orthography, which are few compared with the whole number, he has taken into account the manner in which they are affected by etymology, analogy, the authority of dictionaries, and general usage, before forming his judgment. So far as we have been able to examine the vocabulary, we find that he has preserved great consistency in the orthography of words that fall into the same class in their respective formations. In his introductory essay on orthography, he has inserted a list of about fourteen hundred words, which are variously spelt. A considerable portion consists of such as are not in common use. Of such as are in daily use, — daily, dayly, is one of them, the difference consists, in many words, in the first syllable being either em or im; as empower, impower ; en or in ; enquire, inquire ; and in the commutation of c and s, and of s and z, in the final syllables and the derivative formations from them. The list is of frightful length, when first looked upon ; but when examined, the alarm diminishes, and the tendency, we think, is rather towards uniformity than increasing variety.
Whoever has felt the pains and pleasures of severe study must look with admiration upon the indefatigable etymologist, who devotes his days and nights to hunting up the pedigree of a word in an unbroken line from this age back to the time of Moses. " I am no herald to inquire of men's pedigrees, it sufficeth me that I know their virtues”; so wrote a distinguished English patriot nearly two centuries ago. It is so with the bulk of readers. They care not for the lineal succesNO. 134.
sion of their words; they wish to know their virtues, and how they are used; and a few illustrations taken from good writers are of more value to them than all the speculations of the learned philologists who hunt them in the dark through all their peregrinations.
We cannot read without commiseration, mingled with respect, the account which the learned Noah Webster gave of his toils in the study of etymology. The pursuit seems, in his case, for a long time to have amounted almost to a proof of monomania, which caused him to throw aside the vast pile of philological stores he had accumulated, as if they were nothing worth. Soon after he published his Compendious Dictionary (1806), he began to make preparations for a larger work. He commenced writing it, and went through two letters of the alphabet, before he found out that his work was labor lost. He began to be conscious of his ignorance of the origin of words, on which Bailey and Johnson, Junius and Skinner, had shed no light. He then put himself to the rack, and submitted to self-torture paralleled only in the example of the most distinguished saints of the Romish church in the Dark Ages. He thus describes the process : "Laying aside my manuscripts, and all books treating of language, except lexicons and dictionaries, I endeavoured, by a diligent comparison of words having the same or cognate radical letters, in about twenty languages, to obtain a more correct knowledge of the primary sense of original words, of the affinities between the English and many other languages, and thus to enable myself to trace words to their source. But, alas! here were three or four years lost; and not only so, but he was obliged to begin, as Quintilian says of those taught in the ancient arts by incompetent masters, with the harder part; that is, by unlearning what was faultily acquired. He went back, he says, to the first rudiments of a branch of erudition, which he had before cultivated, as he had supposed, with success. Ten years more were spent in comparing the radical words; and after completing the task, he says, "The result has been to open what are to me new views of language, and to unfold what appear to be the genuine principles on which these languages are constructed." Happy is the man who feels, after approaching so near to martyrdom, that he has gained so rich a reward of his persevering labors. Richardson is an etymological antiquary of a different
sort. He goes back to the earliest remains of English writers, of whom Robert of Gloucester, who lived in the time of Henry the Second, and wrote in the latter part of the twelfth century, is the most remote. Next come Gower and Wiclif, about the middle of the fourteenth century. From these he traced down such words as he could find, in their primitive, derivative, and altered forms, to the present time, aiming to give an historical view of their radical, consequential, and metaphorical senses.
Mr. Worcester has generally omitted the Saxon etymons in the etymological department of his dictionary, and noted only those derived from other northern dialects, and in general all of strictly foreign origin, from the ancient and modern languages. Of technical and scientific words, derived in great part from the Greek, he coinmonly gives the original, whether simple or compound. Among the omissions in this particular we notice æsthetics. He gives the original of dynamics, and the compound hydrodynamics, but omits that of aerodynamics and dynameter. Of the compounds, aerostatics, aerolite, and lithoxyle are omitted. The original words in these examples are indeed all Greek, which the learned can supply, and which the mere English reader does not want. The clear definitions given by Mr. Worcester of these and other scientific words are all that the common reader needs. Still, we should have been pleased to see the original etymons inserted.
Besides the new words introduced into his dictionary, with their pronunciation and exact definitions, Mr. Worcester has carefully revised the definitions in the vocabulary of his own edition of Todd's Johnson, and many of them, particularly the technical and scientific terms, have been defined anew. So far as we have been able to examine the definitions in different parts of the vocabulary, we have found them very exact and intelligible, and those pertaining to the arts and sciences are exceedingly valuable. Of words that are used in a sense or idiom peculiar to the United States, not very numerous, Mr. Worcester, so far as we have looked for them, has barely stated the peculiarity, and has not given them notes of approbation or of apology, or of a claim to a meaning that approximates to that which is sanctioned by general usage.
For no inconsiderable period of coming time, this dictionary, carefully and judiciously elaborated by the author, and in the mechanical execution and the revision of the press remarkably correct, even as to the minute diacritical marks, cannot fail io be received with wide acceptance. Mr. Worcester is already known and valued as the author of the Comprehensive Dictionary, published sixteen years ago, a convenient manual, approved by all who have used or examined it. A large portion of the intermediate time has been devoted by him to preparation for this larger work, which is far more complete than any other of the kind ; and although, in the progress of the arts and sciences, of invention, and it may be, of intellectual philosophy, it is doubtless destined at some time beyond our ken to be superseded, we may confidently predict that it will survive one generation.
ART. VII.- Urania, a Rhymed Lesson, pronounced before
the Mercantile Library Association, October 14, 1846. By OLIVER Wendell Holmes. Second Edition. Boston : W. D. Ticknor & Co. 8vo. pp. 32.
This is the modest and rather enigmatical title of a very lively and beautiful poem. The public have anticipated our favorable verdict upon it; though less than three months have elapsed since its delivery, it has already passed to a second edition. It may have attained a third for aught that we know, as the first issue was exhausted almost as soon as it was announced. In these prosaic times, when quite good poetry is absolutely a drug in the market, and fugitive rhymes are so very fugitive that they are forgotten about as quickly as they are uttered, that a poet should so speedily acquire and retain the ear of the public is an indication either of remarkable ability, or of still more remarkable good fortune. In the present state of the reading world, immediate popularity, we believe, is no bad proof of the excellence of poetry, though it would certainly be a very insufficient test of merit in the case of philosophy or science. He who sings for the public, and cannot find a grateful audience, would do better to keep his music to himself. If the multitude neglect him, it is pretty