Page images

sity of referring to an index predicates some deficiency in such familiarity. In the days when no pamphlet or parliamentary speech was complete without a passage from the classics, there was some excuse for perpetually pottering in the Delphine indexes. But it is to be hoped that we have now reached that simplicity and good taste which will tolerate no quotation except for its exceeding aptness, and that can only be felt by one entirely familiar with all its surroundings in its native place.

Hence there is a set of books that ought to be positively drummed out of literature. These are they which profess to supply quotations ready selected and ranged in alphabetical order. Our reason for condemning these is already expressed. We would not, however, desire to extend it to some old books known as anthologies, wherein are collected passages from various quarters, ranged generally in alphabetical order, according to the matter to which they refer. In these one is often introduced to a gem found among the rubbish of some voluminously inaccessible author. The earliest of these which we happen to be acquainted with, called Margarita Poetica,' professes to be compiled by Albertus de Eyb, Doctor of Laws, and is published in the year 1503. The copy presently on the table is in a richly - stamped binding, where the Gothic forms still predominate. It professes to be the property of the monastery of Augustins at Herbepolis or Wurtzburg. It is one of the books in which the capitals were filled in by the old way of illumination, and the monks seem to have gone the length of drawing the outline for an illuminated letter A, but no further-perhaps they had other things to think of. Another of these collections, exceedingly rich and curious, published in a lumbering folio in 1607, is called the 'Polyanthea Nova.'

Passing from mere simple indexes to dictionaries, we enter a field too wide and rich in all sorts of philoso

phy and learning to be dealt with in any other but a casual handling on the present occasion. It is a scene within which a reflective person may form an estimate of the human mind in its greatness and in its littleness. How vast is the ingenuity, the capacity for systematising the actual accumulation of facts in the memory, which have all poured their riches in here; and yet how much preposterous nonsense has been brought into it by etymological vagaries! Some of the wildest flights of the human imagination have been taken in etymology. It has a fascination for intellects of a rambling order, like gambling or other wicked practices, and leads them into thorough intellectual dissipation. Some languages are far more apt to excite it than others. The German is etymological through and through, but with a compact commonplace sort of adjustment which has little relish for the wilder set of devotees. The Celtic is usually the resort of those of them who have not access to the Oriental treasures. They can do almost anything they please with it. Colonel Vallancy resolved to be at the bottom of the words used by the Carthaginian in search of his daughter, in Terence's play. To most people it seemed something of the same kind as the chorus put by Captain Marryat in the mouth of a large Chinese army, who, retreating before a few hundreds of Tartars, sing a song of triumph as they hasten away-"Souchong, polly hong, tee tum, tilly lilly, tee tum tee!" But Colonel Vallancy made out the expressions to be pure Irish-too pure, in fact; for his countrymen reminded him that the kind of Irish he made out of the old Carthaginian's words was not a hundred years old.

Topographical antiquaries bent on giving etymologies are sure to find that the Celtic can accommodate them. The Scotch parish minister almost invariably finds refuge for the name of his parish in that primitive and patriarchal language.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

We remember one curious exception-the parish of Stobo: Sto," Latin for "I stand" beau," French for "beautiful," to be sure! and so exactly applicable! The most cautious and sceptical are sometimes taken off their feet by the magic of concurring sounds. Horne Tooke, who was clever enough in his railings against the weakness of others, was himself led by analogies into very odd verbal companionship. Yet he could play on the etymologists after this fashion: What is required is to derive King Pepin from Hotspur, and the feat is performed thus, to the best of our recollection: "Hotspur, dσnep, Teр, Teр-diaper napkin, Pipken, Pippen King, King Peppen."

[ocr errors]

Yet with a perfect adherence to truth and accuracy, few departments of nature are capable of giving forth more striking phenomena than etymology. No less marvellous than the results, too, is generally the genius that discovers them. It is impossible to describe its nature, impossible also to create it by teaching where it does not exist. It is an instinct in some minds, like the special capacities of the pointer. Words the most unlike are brought from distant regions and united together in family unity, while those which seem almost identical are for ever disconnected. Queen Christina of Sweden happily characterised the acme of etymological accomplishment when she said of Ménage that he knew not only where the winds came from, but where they went to. To take very common examples, among the least doubtful things in all knowledge is that the two words so unlike each other, worm and verse, come from the same Latin root, verto. Stranger comes from extraunus: we can see this pretty well if we go the length of the French half-way house, étranger. On the other hand, while Louis XIV.was persecuting the Huguenots of France with the dragonet, Charles II.'s ministers were persecuting the Covenanters with the drag-net. The two words had no more in common

with each other than a boot-jack has with a boat-hook. The former term applied to the doings of dragoons, the latter to the sweeping character of the method of prosecution, which took in all like a drag-net. Although, then, etymologists have dreamed dreams, and those who have attempted to put the world under the despotism of a universal language of their own self-willed constructiona favourite passion at one timehave utterly failed, yet inch by inch the linguistic philosophers are gaining sure positions, and closing round us with menacing results. From the labours of the later investigators, especially those untiring obstinate Germans, it seems to be coming to this, that all the world shall be subject to what they term philosophical grammar. All of us, "from Greenland's icy mountains to India's coral strand," whatever be the external form of our speech, are compelled to arrange it according to certain subtle laws, which, though invisible, are not the less absolute.

But that is not all. We seem free to differ from each other in the form of our speech, though it all comes under the same law as to its essence; and differed we have from time immemorial-since the building of the Tower of Babel, at all events-making such a variety in the groups of languages, as every one is more or less aware of. But here too we are not following our own free-will, but acting blindly under the law of some despotic rule. Our language undergoes a change to suit it to its shifting surroundings, but we have no more to do with that change than the tree has with its own growing. We steam" up the Rhine, we "coal" our vessels, we "telegraph" to our friends, we "turn off" and "put on" the gas, and so on. Our grandfathers had not these terms because they had no use for them, and they have come to us because we have use for them. But who gave us them? We can point to the men who, step by step, have invented


the improvements which made occasion for the words, but the words themselves grew up under some occult law without any one being their author. Neither by individual effort, nor by a vote of the most powerful collective body, can we adjust our language to our will. The nearest thing to successful dictation in the tenor of language is when an Act of Parliament creates functions, and provides that the person who is to perform them shall be called "the Master of the Rigmarole," or suchlike.

It appears, then, that we follow a blind destiny, and have no more choice in our way of working out a language than bees have in the construction of their cells, or spiders in the weaving of their webs. The utmost achievement which intellect can perform upon the manufacture is the classifying and arranging it long after it is complete, as Linnæus adjusted the proper places respectively of daisies, turnips, and beetroot in his system. It is rather a gloomy look-out this, that our tongues are tied to some absolute law-as absolute as those which rule the material world; and so are our thoughts too, for that matter; for the initial step which led to the exposition of the whole framework of the laws of universal grammar, was the necessity we are all under of framing propositions with their subjects, predicates, and copulas, and of thinking categorically, though it is sometimes cast up against one by way of reproach that he fails to do so. But this is hardly more an affair of constructing language than a father giving names to his children; and notwithstanding the powerful sanction for the protection of the artificially constructed name in both cases, the more powerful hidden law which rules language is apt to break in like the sea through a dike, and substitute a familiar abbreviation or a nick


There are some who exult in this slavery, thinking it a beautiful example of the order of nature. As

suming a less lofty strain, Monsieur Jourdan exulted in that specialty of it that he talked prose-always had and always would; but then Monsieur Jourdan was a goose, and this boast is only given as an instance of his egregious folly.

One comfort in viewing the affair is, that we are all in the same position, high or low. The greatest genius in the world cannot make a new word or a new grammatical term. The world, gathering up new words under the absolute law which directs it, may perhaps find a new word in his writings; but so it may in the kennel, and with far greater probability. Neology, or the use of new words, is a literary crime. The man of genius, if he would be listened to and have influence, must work with the old. They have been constructed and brought into use in the humblest strata of society -they have served the basest and most sordid objects before they are fit for his use as expressive words, the significance of which is felt at once. The highest genius thus, in fact, only plays on words, and is bound to play on them according to certain laws of arrangement. If he endeavour either to make new words or construct methods of arrangement not in conformity with established law, he destroys the conditions on which alone he can obtain a hearing. If one watches the infancy and progress of a new word until it acquires a sure and permanent social position by being incorporated into the language, he will generally find that its origin is of the very humblest. Of authors and polite speakers none but a few very rash people have ventured to acknowledge it. It has been long in obscurity, and in that condition has got somehow familiar to the ear, and is at last supposed to be something of very ancient descent, come of an ancestry buried in the mists of antiquity. If some distinguished author, read by half the world, should make use of it before it is thus ripened, a mark is set upon it at once-the mark of ne

ology-and ten to one but it loses all the chances of advancement it would have retained by continuing to reside in humble obscurity. When an author becomes a standard of style, he generally reaches this eminence by his freedom from the vice of neology. People can find no new word in him. He writes in good old idiomatic English." To have used the commonest words in the commonest manner is the attainment by which he has gained his renown. So little is the power either of genius or of learning in constructing the elements of language.


It is an amiable feature in human nature, that when anything is eminently persecuted or scorned, it is sure to find champions. There seldom come any set of neologies on the stage to be hunted off it, but some champion is found to befriend them, seldom to much effect. Chivalry in this respect has gone so far in France as to produce certain dictionaries of neology. There is this to be said for them, that in that restless country revolutions have necessarily brought new nomenclatures. These, an article of much hardier growth than the efforts of philological philosophers, would in time have really to be incorporated in the language, and an account of them in their infancy would be valuable. One of these lying on the table is French and English, the production, apparently, of a refugee, M. Dupre. It is called 'Lexicographia Neologia Gallica'-the 'Neological French Dictionary, containing words of new creation not to be found in any French and English vocabulary hitherto published, &c. : the whole forming a Remembrancer of the French Revolution.' Here we have "Centralisation," which has taken root in France and come over here, and "Carmagnole," which is pretty well known. We also have, of less use to modern times," Chevalier de la Guillotine," "Chouan," Citoyen actif," "Fraternisation," &c.


[ocr errors]

It would seem that the literary

workman who has the largest influence in bringing new words into a language is the dictionary-maker; and in the exercise of this high prerogative he may be considered as deriving some compensation for the hardness of his lot otherwise. Johnson has reigned supreme in his dictionary as the arbiter, long since the Rambler has ceased to be the model of composition for ambitious essayists. It is true that the maker of a dictionary is of all men least entitled to be a maker of words he is but a classifier and assorter of things made. He is sworn over to impartiality in the selection of those words which have already established their citizenship in the language; and if there were any suspicion of neology against him, he would utterly lose his influence, and would be no better in the eye of literature than some public officer of trust suspected to be in connivance with swindlers.


But, like all people in public trust, the lexicographer can give some influence to his leanings, and, being but a fallible man, he will give it. Like Mr Robert Laneham, Clerk of the Council in the reign of Elizabeth, who so frankly tells the world, If I see a listener or a pryer-in at the chinks or lockhole, I am presently on the bones of him. If a friend comes, I make him sit down with me on a form or chest; the rest may walk in God's name.' So may the dictionary-maker do something for a friend, but he must be cautious, otherwise he may lose. his power. There is a book, long ago forgotten, called 'A Full, Large, and General Phrase-Book,' by William Robertson, A.M. It is a dictionary of the English language, with Latin translations, these translations being affluently accompanied by specimens of the idiomatic method of employing the word in Latin phrases or sentences corresponding with those in common use in England. It is observable that, the author being a native of Scotland, at a period (1681) when

the language even of the polite world then differed a good deal from accepted English, his English phrases are pretty strongly tinged with Scotticisms. Perhaps he could not well help this.

An instance of great influence exercised by the dictionary-maker is to be found in Johann Cristoph Adelung. He took up the position that the dialect of Upper Saxony (his own) was the standard of the German language, and made a large school of supporters for this view. The question is, whether in this he discovered an absolute truth, or gave effect to his own prejudices? In either view his influence was very great. He made war on the principle which was gaining growth, that any terms, though previously unused, if derivations from existing words in conformity with the genius of the German language, have a legitimate place in it. He fortified his opinions by grammars and treatises; and in the recesses of his Leipzic study made himself an established power in Germany.

Notwithstanding their influence, we apprehend, however, that dictionary-makers are on the whole an oppressed race, doomed to more than their due share of obscure drudgery. When one of them has with infinite labour brought his work to a conclusion, he shall see another, who is fortunate enough by a slight improvement to make "the best," get all the honours and emoluments of the project. How often do we see in libraries cumbrous dictionaries made by men who are entirely forgotten! A William Robertson has just been mentioned as the author of a universal phrase-book. There are also two thick quarto dictionaries, a Greek and a Hebrew, bearing his name; but he is utterly disavowed by the biographical dictionaries, and persons asking for him there will find his name not known. Such men as the Stephenses and Ducanges are, to be sure, pretty high in the lists of fame; but every one who looks into what they have

done, feels that they have accomplished monuments of labour and of learning which are absolutely stupendous. Possibly dictionarymakers may not have had so uniform a life as one might suppose from their works, and from all we know of them. They may have had their romance at home-may have been crossed in love, and thence driven to dictionarying; may have been involved in domestic tragedies-who can say? The only instance we can call up at this moment of any one of the tribe coming before the public in any flagrant tragedy is Barnaby Brisson, the author of the ponderous dictionary of the civil and canon law, best known by his Latin name of Brissonius. He was hanged, and under rather remarkable circumstances, when the Catholic League had possession of Paris. He thought, poor man! to propitiate his executioners by requesting life enough to finish a work he was employed in; but if any of them had ever encountered the tough intricacies of his dictionary, it is not likely that they would have felt the appeal to be a softening one.

Johnson is an exception to the class, in having kept up curiosity and wonder while he was at work, and drawn attention to his workshop, as to some great artist's studio. It has been an enigma what made one of his hot, impatient, impulsive temperament write a dictionary, and we offer our solution of the enigma. It was by way of a great mortification of the flesh-a heavy penance to keep down his rebellious temperament. The same thing has been done by many a man of full-blooded, sanguine, impetuous nature, as we read in the histories of the anchorites who have lived on the tops of pillars, or gone into the caves of the desert to feed on pulse, and study, and reflect, and macerate their bodies. So he chained down his restless impetuous spirit to this dictionary. The difference between him and them is, that while they left nothing behind

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »