Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

Dleased

accordFord an which

of

er who

words ined of d but

and of the

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 chaotic dialect of heterogeneous phrases; and awaken to the care

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 Cesar, 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 farther, 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

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

all its parts, as not frequently to fail by ignorance. I ex: pect 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 subtilised 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 error 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 publicly,

MY LORD,
your lordship’s most obedient
and most humble servant,

SAM. JOHNSON.*

[merged small][ocr errors]

PREFACE

TO THE

ENGLISH DICTIONARY.

IT is the fate of those who toil at the lower employ. ments 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 miscar.riage, 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 exuberVOL, II.

4

[graphic]

dry, drought, and from high, height, which Milton, in zeal for analogy, writes highth ; Quid te exempta juvat minia 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 errors 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 deprayed 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 domestic

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 primative, as explain and axplanation, repeat, and repetition.

Some combinations of letters having the same power, are used indifferently without any discoverable reason or choice, as in choak, choke ; soap, sope ; 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 fecible. ness 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.

« AnteriorContinuar »