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· The PLAN OF A DICTIONARY
To the Right Honourable Philip Dormer, Earl of
Chesterfield, one of His Majesty's Principal Secre. taries of State.
My LORD, TITHEN first I undertook to write an English
VV Dictionary, I had no Expectation of any higher Patronage than that of the Proprietors of the Copy, nor Prospect of any other Advantage than the Price of my Labour. I knew that the Work in which I engaged is generally considered as Drudgery for the Blind, as the proper Toil of artless lndustry; a Task that requires neither the Light of Learning, nor the Activity of Genius, but may be fuccesssuHy performed without any higher Quality than that of bearing Burthens with dull Patience, and beating the Track of the Alphabet with sluggish Resolution.
Whether this Opinion, so long transmitted, and fo widely propagated, had its Beginning from Truth and Nature, or from Accident and Prejudice; whether it be decrced by the Authority of Reason, of the Tyranny of Ignorance, that of all the Candidates for literary Praise, the unhappy Lexicographer holds the lowest Place, neither Vanity nor Interest incited me to enquire. It appeared that the Provipce alloited me was, of all the Regions of Learn. ing, generally confessed to be the least delightful, that it was believed to produce neither Fruits nor Flowers; and that, after a long and laborious Cultivation, not even the barren Laurel had been found upon it.
Yet on this Province, my Lord, I entered, with the pleasing Hope, that, as it was low, it likewise would be safe. I was drawn forward with the Prospect of Employment, which, though not spledid, would be useful; and which, though it could not make my Life envied, would keep it innocent; which would awaken no Passion, engage me in no Contention, nor throw in my Way any Temptation to disturb the Quiet of others by Censure, or my own by Flattery.
I had read indeed of Times, in which Princes and Statesmen thought it Part of their Honour to promote the Improvement of their native Tongues ; and in which Dictionaries were written under the Protection of Greatness. To the Patrons of such Undertakings I willingly paid the Homage of believing that they, who were thus solicitous for the Perpetuity of their Language, had Reason to expect that their actions would be celebrated by Posterity, and that the Eloquence, which they promoted wouls be employed in their Praise. But I consider such Acts of Beneficence as Prodigies, recorded rather to raise Wonder than Expectation ; and content with the Terms that I had stipulated, had not fuffered my Imagination to flatter me with any other Encouragement, when I found that my Design had been thought by your Lordship of Importance sufficient to attract your Favour.
How far this, unexpected Distinction can be rated among the happy Incidents of Life, I am not yet able to determine. Its first Effect has been to make me anxious, left it should fix the Attention of the Public too much upon me, and, as it once happened to an Epic Poet of France, by raising the Reputation of the Attempt, obftruct the Reception of the Work. I imagine what the World will expect from a Scheme, prosecuted under your Lordships Influence; and I know that Expectation, when her Wings are once expanded, easily reaches Heights which Performance never will attain; and when she has mounted the Summit of Perfection, derides her Follower, who dies in the Pursuit.
Not therefore to raise Expectation, but to repress it, I here lay before your Lordship the Plan of my Undertaking, that more may not be demanded than I intend ; and that, before it is too far advanced to be thrown into a new Method, I may be advertised of its Defects or Superfluities. Such Informations I may justly hope, from the Emulation with which those, who desire the Praise of Elegance or Discernment, must contend in the Promotion of a Design that you, my Lord, have not thought unworthy to share your Attention with Treaties and with Wars."
In the first Attempt to methodise my Ideas I found a Difficulty, which extended itself to the whole Work. It was not easy to determine by what Rule of Distinction the Words of this Dictionary were to be chosen. The chief Intent of it is to preserve the Purity, and ascertain the Meaning of our English Idiom; and this seems to require nothing more than that our Language be considered, so far as it is our own; that the Words and Phrases used in the general Intercourse of Life, or found in the Works of those whom we commonly stile polite Writers, be selected, without including the Terms of particular Professions; since, with the Arts to which they relate, they are generally derived from other Nations, and are very often the same in all the Languages of this Part of the "World. This is, perhaps, the exact and pure Idea of a grammatical Dictionary; but in Lexicography, as in other Arts, naked Science is too delicate for
the the Purposes of Life. The Value of a Work muft be estimated by its Use : It is not enough that a Dictionary delights the Critic, unless, at ihe fame Time, it instructs the Learner' ; as it is to little Purpose that an Engine amuses the Philosopher by the Subtilty of its : Mechanism, if it requires so much Knowledge in its Application, as to be of no Advantage to the common Workman.
The Title which I prefix to my Work has long conveyed a very miscellaneous Idea, and they that take a Dictionary into their Hands, have been accustomed to expect from it a Solution of almost every Difficulty. If foreign Words therefore were rejected, it could be little regarded, excepted by Critics, or those who aspire to Criticism ; and however it might enlighten those that write, would be all Darkness to them that only read. The Unlearned much oftner consult their Dictionaries for the Mean ing of Words, than for their Structures or Formations; and the Words that moft want Explanation are generally Terms of Art; which, therefore, Experince has taught my Predecessors to spread with a Kind of pompous Luxuriance over their Productions. ,
The Academicians of France, indeed, rejected Terms of Science in their first Essay, but found afterwards a Necessity of relaxing the Rigour of their Determination ; and, though they would not naturalize them at once by a single Act, permitted them by Degrees to settle themselves among the Natives, with little Opposition ; and it would surely be no Proof of Judgment to imitate them in an Error which they have now retracted, and deprive the Book of its chief Use, by scrupulous Distinctions.
On such Words, however, all are not equally to be considered as Parts of our Language ; for some of them are naturalized and incoporated, but others still continue Aliens, and are rather Auxiliaries then • Vol. II.
Subjects. This Naturalization is produced either by: an Admission into common Speech, in some metaphorical Signification, which is the Acquisition of a Kind of Property among us; as we say, the Zenith of Advancement, the Meridian of Life, the * Cy. nosure of neighbouring Eyes ; or it is the Consequence of long Intermixture and frequent Use, by which the Ear is accustomed to the Sound of Words, till their Original is forgotten, as in Equator, Satel. lites; or of the Change of a foreign into an English Termination, and a Conformity to the Laws of the Speech into which they are adopted; as in Catego ry, Chachexy, Peripncumony.
Of those which still continue in the State of Aliens, and have made no Approaches towards Affi, milation, some scem neceffary to be retained; be, cause the Purchasers of the Dictionary will expect to find them. Such are many Words in the Common Law, as Capias, Habeas Corpus, Pramunire, Nis Prius : Such are some Terms of Controversial Di, vinity, as Hypostasis; and of Physick, as the Names of Diseases ; and in general, all Terms which can be found in Books not written professedly upon particular Arts, or can be supposed necessary to those who do not regularly study them. Thus, when a Reader not skilled in Phyfick happens in Milton up: on this Line,
pining Atrophy, Marafmus, and wide-wasting Pestilence, he will, with equal Expectation, look into his Dic. tionary for the Word Marasmus, as for Atrophy, or Pestilence; and will have Reason to complain if he does not find it.
It seems necessary to the Completion of a Dic. tionary designed not merely for Critics, but for popular Ule, that it should comprise, in some Degree,