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The nature and characters of the use which gives law to language.

following sheets, taken my prose examples, neither from living authors, nor from those who wrote before the Revolution; not from the first, because an author's fame is not so firmly established in his lifetime ; nor from the last, that there may be no suspicion that the style is superannuated. The vulgar translation of the Bible I must indeed except from this restriction. The continuance and universality of its use throughout the British dominions, affords an obvious reason for the exception.

THUS I have attempted to explain what that use is, which is the sole mistress of language, and to ascertain the precise import and extent of these her essential attributes, reputable, national, and present, and to give the directions proper to be observed in searching for the laws of this empress. In truth, grammar and criticism are but her ministers; and though, like other ministers, they would sometimes impose the dictates of their own humour upon the people, as the commands of their sovereign, they are not so often successful in such attempts, as to encourage the frequent repetition of them.


The nature and use of verbal Criticism, with its principal canons.

THE first thing in elocution that claims our attention, is purity; all its other qualities have their foundation in this. The great standard of purity is use, whose essential properties, as regarding language, have been considered and explained in the preceding chapter. But before I proceed to illustrate and specify the various offences against purity, or the different ways in which it may be violated, it will be proper to enquire so much further into the nature of the subject, as will enable us to fix on some general rules or canons, by which, in all our particular decisions, we ought to be directed. This I have judged the more necessary, as many of the verbal criticisms which have been made on English authors, since the beginning of the present century, (for in this island we had little or nothing of the kind before) seem to have proceeded either from no settled principles at all, or from such as will not bear a near examination. There is this further advantage in beginning with establishing certain canons, that, if they shall be found reasonable, they will tend to make what remains of our road both shorter and clearer, than it would otherwise have been. Much in the way of illustration and eviction may be saved, on the particu

The nature and use of verbal criticism, with its principal canons.

lar remarks. And if, on the contrary, they should not be reasonable, and consequently the remarks raised on them should not be well founded, no way that I can think of, bids fairer for detecting the fallacy, and preventing every reader from being misled. A fluent and specious, but superficial manner of criticising, is very apt to take at first, even with readers whom a deliberate examination into the principles on which the whole is built, would quickly undeceive.

“BUT,” it may be said, “if custom, which is so “capricious and unaccountable, is every thing in lan“guage, of what significance is either the gramma“rian or the critic?” Of considerable significance notwithstanding; and of most then when they confine themselves to their legal departments, and do not usurp an authority that doth not belong to them. The man who, in a country like ours, should compile a succinct, perspicuous, and faithful digest of the laws, though no lawgiver, would be universally acknowledged to be a public benefactor. How easy would that important branch of knowledge be rendered by such a work, in comparison of what it must be, when we have nothing to have recourse to, but a labyrinth of statutes, reports, and opinions. That man also would be of considerable use, though not in the same degree, who should vigilantly attend to every illegal practice that were beginning to prevail, and evince its danger, by exposing its contrariety to law. Of similar benefit, though in a different sphere, are gram

The nature and use of verbal criticism, with its principal canons.

mar and criticism. In language, the grammarian is properly the compiler of the digest; and the verbal critic, the man who seasonably notifies the abuses that are creeping in. Both tend to facilitate the study of the tongue to strangers, and to render natives more perfect in the knowledge of it, to advance general use into universal, and to give a greater stability, at least, if not a permanency, to custom, the most mutable thing in nature. These are advantages which, with a moderate share of attention, may be discovered from what hath been already said on the subject; but they are not the only advantages. From what I shall have occasion to observe afterwards, it will probably appear, that these arts, by assisting to suppress every unlicensed term, and to stigmatize every improper idiom, tend to give greater precision, and consequently more perspicuity and beauty, to our style. + -

THE observations made in the preceding chapter, might easily be converted into so many canons of criticism, by which, whatever is repugnant to reputable, to national, or to present use, in the sense wherein these epithets have been explained, would be condemned as a transgression of the radical laws of the language. But on this subject of use, there arise two cminent questions, the determination of which may lead to the establishment of other canons not less important. The first question is this, Is reputable, national, and prescnt use, which, for brevity’s sake, I

The nature and use of verbal criticism, with its principal canons.

shall hereafter simply denominate good use, always uniform in her decisions 2 The second is, As no term, idiom, or application, that is totally unsupported by her, can be admitted to be good, is every term, idiom, and application that is countenanced by her, to be esteemed good, and therefore worthy to be retained 2

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IN answer to the former of these questions, I acknowledge, that in every case there is not a perfect uniformity in the determinations even of such use as may justly be denominated good. Wherever a considerable number of authorities can be produced in support of two different, though resembling modes of expression for the same thing, there is always a divided use, and one cannot be said to speak barbarously, or to oppose the usage of the language, who conforms to either side *. This divided use hath place some

* The words nowire, noway, and noways, afford a proper instance of this divided use. Yet our learned and ingenious lexicographer hath denominated all those who either write or pronounce the word noways, ignorant barbarians. These ignorant barbarians (but he hath surely not adverted to this circumstance) are only Pope, and Swift, and Addison, and Locke, and several others of our most celebrated writers. This censure is the more astonishing, that even in this form which he has thought fit to repudiate, the meaning assigned to it is strictly conformable to that which etymo


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