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cannot be properly omitted in the dictionary. And though the explanations of some may be censured as trivial, because they are almost uni. versally understood; and those of others as unnecessary, because they will seldom occur ; yet it seems not proper to omit them, since it is rather to be wished that many readers should find more than they expect, than that one should miss what he might hope to find.
When all the words are selected and arranged, the first part of the work to be considered is the orthography, which was long vague and uncertain ; which at last, when its Auctuation ceased, was in many cases settled but by accident ; and in which, according to your Lordship's observation, there is still great uncertainty among the best critics : nor is it easy to state a rule by which we may decide between custom and reason, or between the equiponderant authorities of writers alike eminent for judgment and accuracy.
The great orthographical contest has long subsisted between etymology and pronunciation. It has been demanded, on one hand, that men should write as they speak; but as it has been shewn that this conformity never was attained in any language, and that it is not more easy to persuade men to agree exactly in speaking than in writing, it may be asked with equal propriety, why men do not rather speak as they write. In France, where this controversy was at its greatest height, neither party, however ardent, durst adhere steadily to their own rules ; the etymologist was often forced to spell with the people ; and the ad. vocate for the authority of pronunciation found it sometimes deviating so capriciously from the received use of writing, that he was constrained to comply with the rule of his adversaries, lest he should lose the end by the means, and be left alone by following the crowd.
When a question of orthography is dubious, that practice has, in my opinion, a claim to preference which preserves the greatest number of radical letters, or seems most to comply with the general custom of our language. But the chief rule which I propose to follow is, to make no innovation, without a reason sufficient to balance the inconvenience of change ; and such reasons I do not expect often to find. All change is of itself an evil, which ought not to be hazarded but for evident advantage ; and as inconstancy is in every case a mark of weakness, it will add nothing to the reputation of our tongue. There are, indeed, some who despise the inconveniences of confusion, who seem to take pleasure in departing from custom, and to think alteration de sirable for its own sake; and the reformation of our orthography, which these writers have attempted, should not pass without its due honours, but that I suppose they hold a singularity its own reward, or may dread the fascination of la. vish praise.
The present usage of spelling, where the present usage can be distinguished, will therefore, in this work, be generally
followed ; yet there will be often occasion to observe, that it is in itself inaccurate, and tolerated rather than chosen ; particularly when, by a change of one letter, or more, the meaning of a word is obscured; as in
farrier, or ferrier, as it was formerly written, from ferrum, or fer ; in gibberish, for gebrish, the jargon of Geber and his chymical followers, understood by none but their own tribe. It will be likewise sometimes proper to trace back the orthography of different
ages, and shew by what gradations the word departed from its original.
Closely connected with orthography is pronunciation, the stability of which is of great importance to the duration of a language, because the first change will naturally begin by corruptions in the living speech. The want of certain rules for the pronunciation of former ages, has made us wholly ignorant of the metrical art of our ancient poets; and since those who study their sentiments regret the loss of their numbers, it is surely time to provide that the harmony of the moderns may be more permanent.
A new pronunciation will make almost a new speech; and therefore, since one great end of this undertaking is to fix the English language, care will be taken to determine the accentuation of all polysyllables by proper authorities, as it is one of those capricious phænomena which cannot be easily reduced to rules. Thus there is no antecedent reason for difference of accent in the words dolorous and sonorous ; yet of the one Milton gives the sound in this line :
He pass’d o'er many a region dolorois ; and that of the other in this,
Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds.
ise of he
inirt. the 1Dain has
to remark metrical licences, such as contractions, generous, gen'rous ; reverend, reu'rend; and coalitions, as region, question.
But it is still more necessary to fix the ciation of monosyllables, by placing with them words of correspondent sound, that one may guard the other against the danger of that variaiion, which, to some of the most common, has already happened ; so that the words wound and wind, as they are now frequently pronounced, will not rhyme to sound and mind. It is to be remarked, that many words written alike are differently pronounced, as flow, and brow: which may be thus registered, flow, woe ; brow, now ; or of which the exemplification may be generally given by a distich: thus the words tear, or lacerate, and tear, the water of the eye, have the same letters, but may be distinguished thus, tear, dare; tear, peer.
Some words have two sounds, which may be equally admitted, as being equally defensible by authority. Thus great is differently used.
For Swift and him despis’d the farce of state,
As if misfortune made the throne her seat,
The care of such minute particulars may
sounds of their letters, is well known; and, among the Italians, Crescembeni has not thought it u nnecessary to inform his countrymen of the words which, in compliance with different rhymes, are allowed to be differently spelt, and of which the number is now so fixed, that no modern poet is suffered to increase it.
When the orthography and pronunciation are adjusted, the etymology, or derivation, is next to be considered, and the words are to be distinguished according to the different classes, whether simple, as day, light, or compound, as day-light ; whether primitive, as, to act, or derivative, as action, actionable, active, activity. This will much facilitate the attainment of our language, which now stands in our dictionaries a confused heap of words without dependence, and without relation.
When this part of the work is performed, it will be necessary to enquire how our primitives are to be deduced from foreign languages, which may be often very successfully performed by the assistance of our own etymologists. This search will give occasion to many curious disquisitions, and sometimes perhaps to conjectures, which to readers unacquainted with this kind of study, cannot but appear improbable and capricious. But it may be reasonably imagined, that what is 80 much in the power of men as language, will very often be capriciously conducted. Nor are these disquisitions and conjectures to be considered altogether as wanton sports of wit, or rain shews of learning : our language is well-known not to be primitive or self-originated, but to have adopted words of every generation, and, either