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in the same manner as we have come in the language of the present day to understand creature almost exclusively in the sense of a living creature, although it was formerly used freely for everything created, as when Bacon says (Essay of Truth), “ The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense; the last was the light of reason; and his Sabbath work ever since is the illumination of his spirit;" or (Adv. of Learning, B. i.), “The wit and mind of man, if it work upon matter, which is the contemplation of the creatures of God, worketh according to the stuff, and is limited thereby;" or as it is written in our authorized version of the Scriptures (1 Tim. iv. 4), “Every creature of God (Trão xtidua Osol) is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.” We have creature used in this extensive sense even by so late a writer as the Scotch metaphysician Dr. Reid (who died in 1796), in his Inquiry into the Human Mind, ch. I, first published in 1764: “Conjectures and theories are the creatures of men, and will always be found very unlike the creatures of God.” No whit is not anything, nowhat, not at all. And our modern not (anciently nought) is undoubtedly no whit: how otherwise is the t to be accounted for? So that our English “I do not speak,"=I do no whit speak, is an exactly literal translation of the French Je ne parle pas (or point), which many people believe to contain a double negative.
182. Let us not break with him. - That is, Let us not break the matter to him. This is the sense in which the idiom to break with is most frequently found in Shakespeare. Thus, in Much Ado About Nothing (i. I), the Prince, Don Pedro, says to his favorite Don Claudio, “ If thou dost love fair Hero,
cherish it; and I will break with her ;” that is, I will
open the matter to her. And again, in the same scene, 66 Then after to her father will I break.” So in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (iii. 1), “I am to break with thee of some affairs ” [and (i. 3), “ Now will we break with him”]. But when, in The Merry Wives of Windsor (iii. 2), Slender says to Ford, in answer to his invitation to dinner, “We have appointed to dine with Mistress Anne, and I would not break with her for more money than I'll speak of,” he means he would not break his engagement with her. The phrase is nowhere, I believe, used by Shakespeare in the only sense which it now bears, namely, to quarrel with.
186. A shrewd contriver. — The adjective shrewd is generally admitted to be connected with the substantive shrew; and according to Horne Tooke (Div. of Purley, 457-9), both are formations from the Saxon verb syrwan, syrewan, or syrewian, meaning to vex, to molest, to cause mischief to, from which he also deduces sorrow, sorry, sore, and
Bosworth (who gives the additional forms syrwian, syrwyan, searwian, searwan, searian, serian) interprets the old verb as meaning to prepare, endeavor, strive, arm, to lay snares, entrap, take, bruise. A shrew, according to this notion, might be inferred to be one who vexes or molests; and shrewd will mean endowed with the qualities or disposition of a shrew. Shrew, as Tooke remarks, was formerly applied to a male as well as to a female. So, on the other hand, paramour and lover, now only used of males, were formerly also applied to females; and in some of the provincial dialects villain is still a common term of reproach for both sexes alike. [See 259.]
Both to shrew and to beshrew are used by our old writers in the sense of to curse, which latter verb, again (originally cursan or cursian), also primarily and properly signifies to vex or torment. Now, it is a strong confirmation of the derivation of shrewd from the verb to shrew that we find shrewd and curst applied to the disposition and temper by our old writers in almost, or rather in precisely, the same sense. Shakespeare himself affords us several instances. Thus, in Much Ado About Nothing (ii. 1), Leonato having remarked to Beatrice, “By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue,” his brother Antonio adds, assentingly, “In faith, she's too curst.” So, in A Midsummer Night's Dream (iii. 2), Helena, declining to reply to a torrent of abuse from Hermia, says, “I was never curst; I have no gift at all in shrewishness." And in The Taming of the Shrew (i. 2), first we have Hortensio describing Katharine to his friend Petruchio as “intolerable curst, and shrewd, and froward," and then we have Katharine, the shrew, repeatedly designated “Katharine the curst.” At the end of the Play she is called “ curst shrew," that is, as we might otherwise express it, an ill-tempered shrew.
Shrew, by the way, whether the substantive or the verb, always, I believe, and also shrewd very frequently, appear throughout the First Folio with ow as the diphthong, instead of ew; and in The Taming of the Shrew the word shrew is in various places made to rhyme with the sound of 0; so that there can be little doubt that its common pronunciation in Shakespeare's day was shrow, and also that the same vowel sound was given to shrewd or shrowd in at least some of its applications. It is the
reverse of what appears to have happened in the case of the word which probably was formerly pronounced shew (as it is still often spelled), but now always show. Thus Milton, in his 7th Sonnet, —
How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shewth.
Of every star that heaven doth shew,
And every herb that sips the dew. In the case, again, of strew, or strow, neither mode either of spelling or of pronunciation can perhaps be said to have quite gone out, although the dictionaries, I believe, enjoin us to write the word with an e, but to give it the sound of an o. In the passage before us the First Folio has “ a shrew'd contriver.”
As it is in words that ill-temper finds the readiest and most frequent vent, the terms curst and shrew, and shrewd, and shrewish are often used with a special reference to the tongue. But sharpness of tongue, again, always implies some sharpness of understanding as well as of temper. The terms shrewd and shrewdly, accordingly, have come to convey usually something of both of these qualities, - at one time, perhaps, most of the one, at another of the other. The sort of ability that we call shrewdness never suggests the notion of anything very high : the word has always a touch in it of the sarcastic or disparaging. But, on the other hand, the disparagement which it expresses is never without an admission of something also that is creditable or flattering. Hence it has come to pass that a person does not hesitate to use the terms in question even of himself and his own judgments or conjectures. We say, “ I
shrewdly suspect or guess,” or “ I have a shrewd guess, or suspicion," taking the liberty of thus asserting or assuming our own intellectual acumen under cover of the modest confession at the same time of some little ill-nature in the exercise of it.
Even when shrewd is used without any personal reference, the sharpness which it implies is generally, if not always, a more or less unpleasant sharpness. “ This last day was a shrewd one to us,” says one of the Soldiers of Octavius to his comrade, in Antony and Cleopatra, iv. 9, after the encounter in which they had been driven back by Antony near Alexandria. Shrewdness is even used by Chaucer in the sense of evil generally; as in The House of Fame,
Speke of hem harm and shreuednesse,
Instead of gode and worthinesse. And so too Bacon: “An ant is a wise creature for itself; but it is a shrewd thing in an orchard or garden.” Essay 23d, “ Of Wisdom for a Man's Self.”
186. If he improve them. — That is, if he apply them, if he turn them to account. It is remarkable that no notice is taken of this sense of the word either by Johnson or Todd. Many examples of it are given by Webster under both Improve and Improvement. They are taken from the writings, among others, of Tillotson, Addison, Chatham, Blackstone, Gibbon. We all remember
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour. Even Johnson himself, in The Rambler, talks of a
capable of enjoying and improving life,” by which he can only mean turning it to account. The im of improve must be, or must have been taken to be, the preposition or the intensive particle,