Графични страници
PDF файл

at greater selectness, and a more scientific arrangement; and one, at least, we should not hesitate to leave out-that at the end, which exhibits an old woman riding through the air on a broomstick, as the representation of a witch.

Of the table of synonyms it is difficult to speak in too high terms of praise. The synonymous words are treated in groups, and the whole arranged together as a distinct part of the work, rather than dispersed through the vocabulary. Many hundreds of the most important words of the language are thus compared, and their distinctive meanings carefully discriminated. Webster's, we believe, was the first dictionary in which this method of securing clearness and accuracy of definition was formally introduced; and the present excellent treatise by Dr. Goodrich is but the carrying out more completely of this important feature of Dr. Webster's original plan. From what examination we have made of this portion of the volume, we are confident that if it be compared with any existing treatise of the kind, its superiority, both in clearness and conciseness, as well as in thoroughness and accuracy, will be at once apparent. It is much easier to state generally that words differ, or negatively some points in which they are unlike, than to point out precisely in what the difference consists, and develop the leading or characteristic signification. As an illustration of the method of treatment in this work, we may cite from the first page:

"TO ABASE, DEBASE, DEGRADE. These words agree in the idea of bringing down from a higher to a lower state. Abase has reference to a bringing down in condition or feelings; as, to abase the proud, to abase one's self before God. Debase has reference to the bringing down of a thing in purity, or making it base. It is, therefore, always used in a bad sense; as, to debase the coin of the kingdom, to debase the mind by vicious indulgence, to debase one's style by coarse or vulgar expressions. Degrade has reference to a bringing down from some higher grade or degree of elevation. Thus, a priest is degraded from the clerical office. When used in a moral sense, it denotes a bringing down in character and just estimation; as, degraded by intemperance, a degrading employment, &c. In geology, degrade has the sense of bringing down physically; as, the rocks were degraded by the action of the elements."

The treatment of the same words in Crabb is prolix and unsatisfactory, besides occupying more than eight times the space. In the new and enlarged edition of Worcester, in quarto, soon to be published,

which has also adopted the plan of discriminating synonyms, these words are elucidated as follows: "Syn. The proud should be abased, the lofty humbled; the unworthy become degraded; the vicious disgrace and debase themselves by their follies and vices."

For use in schools and academies, as the basis of a regular exercise in the study of the language, a table of synonyms like the one before us is invaluable. Nice discrimination in the use of words, especially of such as are nearly synonymous, and hence liable to be used loosely and interchangeably by the uncritical, is an attainment of the highest importance to all persons of education. Such attainment can only be made by the careful study and comparison of this class of words. The habitual consultation, by any class of persons, of this portion of the new edition of Webster, could not fail to promote accuracy and discrimination in their use of words, and a consequent perspicuity of style; possibly, also, a corresponding clearness of ideas. For ideas take form in words, and according to the plasticity of the vehicle of thought, and the mind's mastery over it, will be, in a measure, the sharpness and distinctness of the thoughts themselves. The systematic study of synonyms, then, should, in our judgment, be made prominent in every wise course of education.

We cannot conclude this notice without a word respecting the “battle of the Dictionaries." So far as there is a disposition either among authors or publishers to strive for preeminence in giving to the public really the best dictionary, relying on its intrinsic merits for success, we have nothing to say. Rivalry and competition are legitimate, when honorably carried on. There is doubtless room for more than one English dictionary; and if the public choose to patronize many, there may perhaps be safety on some points of lexicography in a multitude of counselors; though uniformity of usage would certainly be better promoted by a single standard. But the warfare that has been waged against Webster has had about as little connection, we imagine, with the ostensible grounds of it, or with the real merits or demerits of the work, as the late war in Italy with the reasons assigned for it by Lonis Napoleon. Were there no other ground for decrying Webster than his lexicographical heresies, the opposition doubtless would long since have ceased. So perseveringly, however, has he been denounced as recreant to orthodoxy, especially in matters of spelling, that the world might well believe his great work to be filled full of the most startling and unjustifiable innovations, and wholly unworthy of the confidence of scholars. Men are really astonished when they learn, as they

always do on examination, that the so-called "peculiarities" of Webster, the ostensible cause of so much alarm, instead of being reckoned by thousands and characterizing the work, as would naturally be supposed, are in fact confined to a few dozens of words. Even in regard to the small list which has been so extensively published as exhibiting Webster's faults and innovations, a close scrutiny shows that some of the modes of spelling are not Webster's at all; that many of them accord with that of his critics; that in respect to other words, Webster gives two forms, leaving a choice; and that of the few that remain, his spelling is abundantly defensible on the ground both of usage and the analogies and tendencies of the language. Of a column of twenty words published under the heading, " Webster's Orthography," and set opposite to another column of the same words headed "Correct Orthography," nine have in Webster not the spelling charged to him, but that recognized in the other column as the correct orthography; two are not Webster's at all; to six Webster gives two forms; and as to the remainder he is clearly in the right. None of them are innovations, and some of them were in use centuries before Webster's time, such as plow, mold, hight, embassador, &c.

In respect to another class of words, where Webster is censured for not doubling a consonant, as in leveling, traveling, &c., Webster only follows a plain and excellent rule advocated by Lowth, Ash, Perry, and Walker, and complied with by many good writers long before Webster was born. This rule, indicated by analogy and the best usage, is as follows: Primitives ending with a single consonant preceded by a single vowel, and accented on the last syllable, double the final consonant, as, control, controlling, refer, referring; when not accented on the last syllable, they do not double the final consonant, as, level, leveling, worship, worshiping.

As to a class of words derived from the French, such as niter, center, &c., sometimes written re instead of er, Webster very properly falls in with the natural tendency of the language to anglicize words of foreign origin. What reason is there why such words should come among us and remain without submitting to wholesome laws and forms of naturalization, any more than those who utter the words? As the man must take the oath of allegiance, and among Americans do as Americans do, so let the words, dropping their foreign accent and garb, become truly English, or not be enfranchised; especially as nearly all this class, numbering some hundreds, such as cider, chamber, &c., have already submitted to the change. The word depot, so inappropriate as

applied to a Railway Station, ought either to drop its t, or submit to the pronunciation which English analogy naturally suggests.

The truth of this whole matter seems to be, that certain of Webster's early experimental spellings have been dropped in all his later works and editions, while in respect to others, the tendency of usage, which Webster had the sagacity to discern and fall in with, has in the lapse of time not only amply sustained and justified the steps he took, but in some cases actually left him behind. So great, in fact, have been the changes, that what once was innovation is now no longer such; and they who would go back to cumbrous and antiquated forms of spelling are the real innovators. To declare now-a-days for the restoration of k, as in antick, or of u, as in favour, would be worse treason against usage, than it was thirty years ago to levy war against these and analogous usurpers. At the bar of usage Webster stands acquitted. His Diction ary has, in fact, become the standard, and it is too late to affirm the contrary. A Dictionary which has given law to forty millions of the author's own spelling books, a million and a quarter of which yearly find their way into our schools-which is the adopted standard of ten millions of volumes of school books annually published in this country, and of periodicals with an annual issue of thirty millionswhich has found its way everywhere into schools, offices, and families, received the sanction of the highest names at home and abroad, and proved, probably, the most successful work ever published in America-such a Dictionary we may well look upon as established, and we welcome it in the new edition as better adapted than ever before to add luster to the name it bears, and be at once a blessing and an honor to our literature.

RAMBLES AMONG WORDS.*-Mr. Scribner sends us an attractive book by William Swinton, called "Rambles Among Words: Their Poetry, History, and Wisdom." Mr. Swinton is a Scotchman, and we know it by his use of words, and are confirmed in our judgment by the glowing enthusiasm, as well as by the slightly timid phraseology which he not rarely employs. But he has written a charming book, and we hope he will make all haste to prepare the other which he promises, "On the unworked mines of the English Language." The present volume takes us through twelve Rambles, which are thus

*Rambles Among Words: Their Poetry, History, and Wisdom. By WILLIAM SWINTON. New York: Charles Scribner. 1859. 16mo. pp. 302. Price $1.


named Premonitory, The Work of the Senses, The Idealism of Words, Fossil Poetries, Fossil Histories, Words of Abuse, Fancies and Fantasties, Verbal Ethics, Medals in Names, Synonyms and their Suggestions, The Growth of Words, English in America. The reader who takes the author for his guide will find himself conducted hither and thither, he knows not how, and at the end of the way has been so pleasantly beguiled that he will be surprised to learn that the etymologies of some fifteen hundred words have been explained, not in every instance correctly, perhaps; but in the majority of cases with truth, wisdom and wit. It is an admirable book for the young who are beginning to think; and a delightful book for the old who have thought much and are willing to think more.

LATIN LESSONS AND TABLES.*-This little volume of 128 pages is a valuable contribution, by a teacher of some twenty-five years' experience in his profession, to the already somewhat voluminous literature of classical schools. As embodying the results of so much experience, it commands at once our attention. The author has been long distinguished for his success in thoroughly preparing young men for college, and we have in this little book a specimen of the manner in which he has achieved his success. We will remark here, that no more worthy task can employ the ripe scholar, than to render easy to stammering lips the first devious ways of an unknown tongue.

In tenui labor, at non tenuis gloria, si quem

Numina laeva sinunt.

Of such importance is it to begin right, that we justly hold, with the Ascraean sage, ἀρχὴ δέ τοι ἥμισυ παντός; or in our homely proverb, "Well begun, half done."

In the first nineteen pages of the "Latin Lessons," the author has given selections from Cæsar's Commentaries, and in the next eleven pages, English sentences corresponding, to be rendered back into the Latin. In both of these, the learner is conducted, as rapidly as possible, into connected narration, being kept on short disconnected sentences only so long as is deemed absolutely necessary for the preparatory drill

* Latin Lessons and Tables; combining the Analytic and Synthetic Methods; consisting of selections from Cæsar's Commentaries, with a Complete System of Memorizing the Grammar, Notes, Exercises in Translating from English into Latin, Tables, and a Vocabulary. By CYRUS S. RICHARDS, A. M., Principal of Kimball Union Academy, Meriden, N. H. Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Company. 1859. pp. 128.

[blocks in formation]
« ПредишнаНапред »