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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 commonly gives the original, whether simple or compound. Among the omissions in this particular we notice aesthetics. 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 to 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
good proof that he ought to be neglected. He may become fashionable with a certain class, the idol of a particular school, the bard of a clique or a coterie; but he is no true poet, unless he can excite the imaginations and move the feelings of all men. It is his business to strike chords which find a response in every bosom, to present analogies which are perceptible to every mind, to command the passions which are the universal attribute of human nature. If his verse needs explanation or comment, if one must be educated before he can understand it, or go through a particular training before he can appreciate it, the busy world will pass it by, and will lose very little by its neglect.
Of course, we exclude the cases of factitious and shortlived popularity, where an audience is gained by an appeal to casual associations or temporary prejudices, or perhaps by the arts of a mountebank. The favor of the public, which is at once the test and the reward of excellence, cannot be acquired by humoring the weakness or flattering the prejudices of the multitude. These peccant humors are transitory in their very nature; and when they die out, the good-will which was conciliated only by attention to them must also disappear. To found one's claim to notice upon these momentary follies or excitements is as much a violation of the catholic character of true poetry, as to write in a manner which can be understood and relished only by a few persons of unusual learning and abilities, or of peculiar tastes. Aristocratic and gentlemanly poetry is the least endurable of all fashionable follies. The euphuisms of Queen Elizabeth's time, the rhymed tragedies imitated from the French after the Restoration, the Della Cruscan school of the last century, and the forced raptures and mystical babblings of sundry inspired bards in our own day are among the choicest fruits of this narrow and exclusive spirit. They are received with great clapping of hands by the "select few"; but the people stare and ignore them altogether.
Poetry was eminently popular in its origin. Wandering bards sang their metrical legends and hymns in honor of the gods at great public festivals, or at solemn entertainments held by chiefs and kings. The earliest poetry of almost every nation in Europe is in the form of songs and ballads, many of which embody the historical traditions of the country, or give expression to the religious ideas of the people. These rude
verses were sung in every hut, and by the groups around the watchfires in every warlike expedition. They were preserved only in the memory, but there they found a safe restingplace, and were handed down uninjured from father to son, through many successive generations. They had more influence than laws or governments in forming the customs and determining the characters of a whole people. Their peculiar charms, their simplicity and directness, their force and pathos, can be appreciated even now by any taste that is not morbidly refined. It is more than probable that rhyme, assonance, and metre were first contrived as aids to the memory, or as a system of mnemonics, before writing was invented or introduced, and while poetry, religious dogmas, and laws existed only as they were remembered by the multitude. The drama, too, the second great source of poetry, was contrived for the entertainment of the great body of the people, and was carefully adapted to their tastes. Vast crowds filled those immense amphitheatres which no roof could cover, and pronounced judgment from which there was no appeal on the merits of poet and player both. The same plays, which now tax the learning and the patience of the most accomplished scholars, were once the daily entertainment of the populace of Athens.
The progress of civilization and refinement changes all this, and poetry, which was designed to be the daily food of the multitude, becomes the exclusive prerogative of the few. And just in proportion as its audience is diminished and its scope narrowed, its simplicity, vigor, and freshness begin to pass away. It lapses into spasmodic and unnatural effort, feeble imitation, or sickly refinement. It glitters with cold conceits, is varnished over with tame elegance, and chastened into a languid conformity with rules. False sentiment, vagaries in taste, and absurdities in speculation are faults to which classes and small circles of men are prone; they gain no foothold in the intellect of a whole people. There is a corrective power in numbers; when several thousand children sing in unison, as at the yearly meeting in St. Paul's cathedral, the discords are all absorbed in the flood of sound, and the effect upon the ear is that of perfect accord. So in matters of taste and opinion; opposite errors balance each other, and the resultant is more likely to lie in the true direction than either of the component forces. Plain good sense, an ear for