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Distinguished compiler of an English dictionary; author of “Rasselas, a Tale of Abyssinia; many poems and satires; moral essays in the “Rambler” and
Idler,” periodicals ; "Lives of the Poets." His influence on the literature of the day was very great; and his heavy, classical style is admirably characterized by Goldsmith, who said to him, “ If you were to write a fable about little fishes, doctor, you would make the little fishes talk like whales.”
LETTER TO LORD CIIESTERFIELD.
My Loril, I have been lately informed by the proprietor of “ The World,” that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honor, which, being very little accustomed to favors from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.
When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre, that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it.
When I had once addressed your lordship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess.
I had done all that I could ; man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.
Seven years, my lord, have now passed since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties of which it is useless to complain; and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favor. Such treatment I did not expect; for I never had a patron before.
The shepherd in “ Virgil” grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.
Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached the ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labors, had it been early, had been kind: but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and can
not enjoy it; till I am solitary, and can not impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.
Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favorer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should concludle it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation,
Most obedient servant,
EXTRACT FROM THE PREFACE TO TIIE DICTIONARY.
In hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be immortal, I have devoted this book, the labor of years, to the honor of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology, without a contest, to the nations of the Continent. The chief glory of every people arises from its authors: whether I shall add any thing by my own writings to the reputation of English literature must be left to time. Much of my life has been lost under the pressures of disease ; much has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provision for the day that was passing over me: but I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if, by my assistance, foreign nations and distant ages gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labors afford light to the repositories of science, and add celebrity to Bacon,) to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle.
When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavored well. That it will immediately become popular, I have not promised to myself. A few wild blunders and risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance into contempt. But useful diligence will at last prevail: and there can never be wanting some who distinguish desert, who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue ever can be perfect, since, while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole life can not be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he whose design
includes whatever language can express must often speak of what he does not understand ; that a writer will sometimes be hurried by eagerness to the end, and sometimes faint with weariness under a task which Scaliger compares to the labors of the anvil and the mine; that what is obvious is not always known, and what is known is not always present; that sudden fits of inadvertency will surprise vigilance, slight avocations will seduce attention, and casual eclipses of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer shall often in vain trace his memory at the moment of need for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow.
In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much, likewise, is performed ; and though no book was ever spared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little solicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it condemns, yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it, that “The English Dictionary” was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amid inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow.
It may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to observe, that, if our language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed, and comprised in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive; if the aggregated knowledge and co-operating diligence of the Italian academicians did not secure them from the censure of Beni; if the embodied critics of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its economy, and give their second edition another form, -I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection, which if I could obtain in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave; and success and miscarriage are empty sounds. I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.
THE VOYAGE OF LIFE.
“LIFE,” says Seneca, “is a voyage, in the progress of which we are perpetually changing our
we first leave childhood behind us, then youth, then the years of ripened manhood, then the better and more pleasing part of old age.” The perusal of this passage having incited in me a train of reflections on the state of man, the incessant fluctuation of his wishes, the gradual
change of his disposition to all external objects, and the thoughtlessness with which lie floats along the Stream of Time, I sank into a slumber amidst my meditations, and on a sudden found my ears filled with the tumult of labor, the shouts of alacrity, the shrieks of alarm, the whistle of winds, and the dash of waters.
My astonishment for a time repressed my curiosity; but soon recovering myself so far as to inquire whither we were going, and what was the cause of such clamor and confusion, I was told that they were launching out into the Ocean of Life; that we had already passed the Straits of Infancy, in which multitudes had perished, some by the weakness and fragility of their vessels, and more by the folly, perverseness, or negligence of those who undertook to steer them; and that we were now on the main sea, abandoned to the winds and billows, without any other means of security than the care of the pilot, whom it was always in our power to choose among great numbers that offered their direction and assistance.
I then looked round with anxious eagerness, and, first turning my eyes behind
me, saw a stream Howing through flowery islands, which every one that sailed along seemed to behold with pleasure, but no sooner touched, than the current, which, though not noisy or turbulent, was yet irresistible, bore him away. Beyond these islands, all was darkness; nor could any of the passengers describe the shore at which he first embarked.
Before me, and on each side, was an expanse of waters violently agitated, and covered with so thick a mist, that the most perspicacious eye could see but a little way. It appeared to be full of rocks and whirlpools; for many sank unexpectedly while they were courting the gale with full sails, and insulting those whom they had left behind. So numerous, indeed, were the dangers, and so thick the darkness, that no caution could confer security. Yet there were many, who, by false intelligence, betrayed their followers into whirlpools, or, by violence, pushed those whom they found in their way against the rocks.
The current was invariable and insurmountable; but though it was impossible to sail against it, or to return to the place that was once passed, yet it was not so violent as to allow no opportunities for dexterity or courage, since, though none could retreat back from danger, yet they might often avoid it by oblique direction.
It was, however, not very common to steer with much care or prudence; for, by some universal infatuation, every man appeared to think himself safe, though he saw his consorts every moment sinking round him: and no sooner had the waves closed over them than their fate and misconduct were forgotten; the voyage
was pursued with the same jocund confidence; every man congratulated himself upon the soundness of his vessel, and believed himself able to stem the whirlpool in which his friend was swallowed, or glide over the rocks on which he was dashed. Nor was it often observed that the sight of a wreck made any man change his course : if he turned aside for a moment, he soon forgot the rudder, and left himself again to the disposal of chance.
This negligence did not proceed from indifference, or from weariness of their present condition : for not one of those who thus rushed upon destruction failed, when he was sinking, to call loudly upon his associates for that help which could not now be given him; and many spent their last moments in cautioning others against the folly by which they were intercepted in the midst of their course. Their benevolence was sometimes praised ; but their admonitions were unregarded.
The vessels in which we had embarked, being confessedly unequal to the turbulence of the Stream of Life, were visibly impaired in the course of the voyage; so that every passenger was certain, that how long soever he might, by favorable accidents or by incessant vigilance, be preserved, he must sink at last.
This necessity of perishing might have been expected to sadden the gay, and intimidate the daring, at least to keep the melancholy and timorous in perpetual torments, and hinder them from any enjoyment of the varieties and gratifications which Nature offered them as the solace of their labor. Yet, in effect, none seemed less to expect destruction than those to whom it was most dreadful: they all had the art of concealing their dangers from themselves; and those who knew their inability to bear the sight of the terrors that embarrassed their way took care never to look forward, but found some amusement for the present moment, and generally entertained themselves by playing with Hope, who was the constant associate of the Voyage of Life.
Yet all that Hope ventured to promise, even to those whom she favored most, was, not that they should escape, but that they should sink last; and with this promise every one was satisfied, though he laughed at the rest for seeming to believe it. Hope, indeed, apparently mocked the credulity of her companions; for, in proportion as their vessels grew leaky, she redoubled her assurances of safety: and none were more busy in making provisions for a long voyage than they whom all but themselves saw likely to perish soon by irreparable decay.
In the midst of the Current of Life was the Gulf of Intemperance, a dreadful whirlpool, interspersed with rocks, of which the pointed crags were concealed under water, and the tops covered