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Sect. III. The Impropriety....Part I. Impropriety in single words.

“ing of a very fine-looking fish, which we caught “here, that their recovery was for a long time doubt“ful. The author of the account of Lord Anson's “Voyage says, that the people on board the Centu“rion, thought it prudent to abstain from fish, as the “few which they caught at their first arrival, surfeit“ed those who eat of them. But, not attending suf“ficiently to this caution, and too hastily taking the “word surfeit in its liberal and common acceptation, “we imagined that those who tasted the fish, when “Lord Anson first came hither, were made sick mere“ly by eating too much; whereas, if it had been the “case, there would have been no reason for totally ' abstaining, but only eating temperately. . We, how“ever, bought our knowledge by experience, which “we might have had cheaper; for though all our “people who tasted this fish, eat sparingly; they were “all soon afterwards dangerously ill”.” I have given this passage entire, chiefly because it serves to show, both that an inaccuracy, apparently trifling, may, by misleading the reader, be productive of very bad consequences; and that those remarks which tend to add precision and perspicuity to our language, are not of so little moment as some, who have not duly considered the subject, would affect to represent them.

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To this class we may reduce the idiotism, or the employing of an English word in a sense which it

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Of grammatical purity.

bears in some provincial dialect, in low and partial use, or which perhaps the corresponding word bears in some foreign tongue, but unsupported by general use in our language. An example of this we have in the word impractibale, when it is used for impassable, and applied to roads; an application which suits the French idiom, but not the English. Of the same kind, are the following gallicisms of Bolingbroke : “ All this was done, at the time, on the occasion, and “by the persons, I intend *,” properly mean. “When “we learn the names of complex ideas and notions, “we should accustom the mind to decompound them, “that we may verify them, and so make them our “own, as well as to learn to compound others f.” Decompound he hath used here for analyse, misled by the meaning of the French word decomposer, which is not only different from the sense of the English word, but contrary to it. To decompound, is to compound of materials already compounded.

THE use made of the verb arrive in the subsequent passage, is also exceptionable in the same way: “I “am a man, and cannot help feeling any Sorrow that “can arrive at man f.” In English, it should be, “happen to man.”

To hold, signifying to use, and applied to language;

* Of the State of Parties. # Phil. Es. i. Sect. 4. f Spectator, No. 502. T.

Sect. III. The Impropriety....Part I. Impropriety in single words.

to give into, signifying to adopt, in the figurative sense of that word; are other expressions frequently employed by our author, and of late by several others, which fall under the same censure. Even our celebrated translator of the Iliad hath not been clear of this charge. Witness the title he hath given to a small dissertation prefixed to that work. “A view,” he calls it, “ of the epic poem,” in which short title there are no less than two improprieties. First, the word poem, which always denotes with us, a particular performance, is here used, agreeably to the French idiom, for poetry in general, or the art which charac

terises the performance; secondly, the definite article

the is employed, which, though it be always given to abstracts in French, is never so applied in English, unless with a view to appropriate them to some subject. And this, by the way, renders the article with

us more determinative than it is in French, or perhaps in any other tongue *. Accordingly, on the

first hearing of the title above mentioned, there is no English reader who would not suppose that it were a critical tract on some particular epic poem, and not on that species of poesy.

ANOTHER error of the same kind is the latinirm. Of this, indeed, the examples are not so frequent.

- * Accordingly Bossu hath styled his performance on the same subject, Traité du poème épique. It is this title, I suppose, which hath misled the English poet.

Of grammatical purity.

Foppery is a sort of folly much more contagious than pedantry; but as they result alike from affectation, they deserve alike to be proscribed. An instance of the latter is the word affection, when applied to things inanimate, and signifying the state of being affected by any cause. Another instance is the word integrity, when used for entireness. But here, I think, distinction ought to be made between the familiar style and that of philosophical disquisition. In the latter, it will be reasonable to allow a greater latitude, especially in cases wherein there may be a penury of proper terms, and wherein, without such indulgence, there would be a necessity of recurring too often to periphrasis. But the less, even here, this liberty is

used, it is the better.

To these properly succeeds, that sort of the vulgarism *, in which only a low and partial use can be pleaded in support of the application that is made of a particular word. Of this you have an example in the following quotation: “”Tis my humble request “ you will be particular in speaking to the following “ points #.” The preposition ought to have been on. Preciscly of the same stamp is the on't for of it, so

* I say that sort of the vulgarism, because, when the word is in no acceptation in good use, it is a sort that partakes of the barbarism; but when a particular application of a good word is current only among the lower classes, it belongs to the improprie

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ty.
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+ Guardian, No. 57.

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Sect. III. The Impropriety....Part I. Impropriety in single words.

much used by one class of writers. The pronoun it is by a like idiom made sometimes to follow neuter verbs, as in the following passage: “He is an assertor “ of liberty and property; he rattles it out against “ popery and arbitrary power, and priestcraft and high “ church #.”

THE auxiliaries should, should have, and should be, are sometimes used in the same improper manner. I am not sensible of the elegance which Dr Priestley seems to have discovered in the expression—“The “general report is that he should have raid”--for “ that he raid.” It appears to me not only as an idiomatical expression, but as chargeable both with pleonasm, and with ambiguity. For what a man said, is often very different from what he should have said.

* I shall finish all that I propose to offer on the idiotism, when I have observed, that these remarks are not to be extended to the precincts of satire and burlesque. There indeed a vulgar, or even what is called a cant expression, will sometimes be more emphatical than any proper term whatsoever. The satirist may plead his privilege. For this reason the following lines are not to be consdered as failing under this criticism,

Whether the charmer sinner it, or saint it,
If folly grows romantic, I must paint it #.

* Swift's Project for the Advancement of Religion. 4 Pope,

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