To the Right Honourable. Philip Dormer, Earl of

Chesterfield, one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State.


HEN first I undertook to write an Englife

Dictionary, higher Patronage than that of the Proprietors of the Copy, nor Prospect of any other Advantage than the Price of my Labour. I knew that the Work in which I engaged is generally considered as Drudgery for the Blind, as the proper Toil of artless Industry; a Task that requires neither the Light of Learning, nor the Activity of Genius, but may be successfully performed without any higher Quality than that of bearing Burthens with dull Patience, and beating the Track of the Alphabet with sluggil Resolution.

Whether this Opinion, fo long transmitted, and so widely propagated, had its Beginning from Truth and Nature, or from Accident and Prejudice; whether it be decreed by the Authority of Reason, or the Tyranny of Ignorance, that of all the Candi. dates for literary Praise, the unhappy Lexicographer holds the lowest Place, neither Vanity nor Interest incited me to enquire. It appeared that the Province alloued me was, of all the Regions of Learn

ing, generally confessed to be the least delightful, shat it was believed to produce neither Fruits nor Flowers; and that, after a long and laborious Cultivation, not even the barren Laurel had been found

upon it.

Yet on this Province, my Lord, I entered, with the pleasing Hope, that, as it was low, it likewise would be safe. I was drawn forward with the Prospect of Employment, which, though not fplendid, would be useful; and which, though it could not make my Life envied, would keep it innocent; which would awaken no Passion, engage me in no Contention, nor throw in my Way any Temptation to disturb the Quiet of others by Censure, or my own by Flattery.

I had read indeed of Times, in which Princes and Statesmen thought it Part of their Honour to promote the Improvement of their native Tongues ; and in which Dictionaries were written under the Protection of Greatness. To the Patrons of such Undertakings I willingly paid the Homage of believing that they, who were thus solicitous for the Perpetuity of their Language, had Reason to expect that their Actions would be celebrated by. Posterity, and that the Eloquence which they promoted would be employed in their Praise. But I consider such Acts of Beneficence as Prodigies, recorded rather to raise Wonder than Expectation ; and content with the Terms that I had ftipulated, had not suffered my Imagination to flatter me with any other En. couragement, when I found that my Design had been thought by your Lordship of Importance fuffi. cient to attract your Favour.

How far this unexpected Distinction can be rated among the happy Incidents of Life, I am not yet able to determine. Its first Effect has been to make me anxious, lelt it should fix the Attention of the Public too much upon me, and, as it once happened


to an Epic Poet of France, by raising the Reputation of the Attempt, obftruct the Reception of the Work. I imagine what the World will expect from à Scheme, profecuted under your Lordship’s Influence; and I know that Expectation, when her Wings are once expanded, easily reaches Heights which Performance never will attain; and when she has mounted the Summit of Perfection, derides her Follower, who dies in the Pursuit.

Not therefore to raise Expectation, but to repress it, I here lay before your Lordship the Plan of my Undertaking, that more may not be demanded than I intend ; and that, before it is too far advanced to be thrown into a new Method, I may be advertised of its Defects or Superfluities. Such Informations I may justly hope, from the Emulation with which those, who defire the Praise of Elegance or Disce ment, must contend in the Promotion of a Delign that you, my Lord, have not thought unworthy to share your Attention with Treaties and with Wars.

In the first Attempt to methodife my Ideas I found a Difficulty, which extended itself to the whole Work. It was not easy to determine by what Rule of Distinction the Words of this Dictionary were to be chosen. The chief Intent of it is to preserve the Purity, and ascertain the Meaning of our English Idiom; and this seems to require nothing more than that our Language

be considered, so far as it is our own; that the Words and Phrases used in the general Intercourse of Life, or found in the Works of those whom we commonly ftile polite Writers, be selected, without including the Terms of particular Professions ; fince, with the Arts to which they relate, they are generally derived from other Nations, and are very often the fame in all the Languages of this Part of the World. This is, perhaps, the exact and pure Idea of a grammatical Dictionary; but in Lexicography, as in other Arts, naked Science is too delicate for


[ocr errors]

the Purposes of Life. The Value of a Work must be estimated by its Use: It is not enough that a Dictionary delights the Critic, unless, at the fame Time, it instructs the Learner ; as it is to little Purpose that an Engine amuses the Philosopher by the Subtilty of its Mechanism, if it requires so much Knowledge in its Application, as to be of no Advantage to the common Workman.

The Title which I prefix to my Work has long conveyed a very miscellaneous Idea, and they that take a Dictionary into their Hands, have been accustomed to expect from it a Solution of almost every Difficulty. If foreign Words therefore were rejected, it could be little regarded, excepted by Critics, or those who aspire to Criticism; and however it might enlighten those that write, would be all Darkness to them that only read. The Unlearned much oftner consult their Dictionaries for the Mean ing of Words, than for their Structures or Formations; and the Words that moft want Explanation are generally Terms of Art ; which, therefore, Experince has taught my Predecessors to spread with a Kind of pompous Lúxuriance over their Produce tions. It

The Academicians of France, indeed, rejected Terms of Science in their first Effay, but found afterwards a Necessity of relaxing the Rigour of their Determination; and, though they would not naturalize them at once by a single Act, permitted them by Degrees to settle themselves among the Natives, with little Opposition ; and it would surely be no Proof of Judgment to imitate them in an Error which they have now retracted, and deprive the Book of its chief Ufe, by scrupulous Distinctions.

On such Words, however, all are not equally to be considered as Parts of our Language ; for fome of them are naturalized and incoporated, but others still continue Aliens, and are rather Auxiliaries then Vol. II.


Subjects. Subjects. This Naturalization is produced either by an Admission into common Speech, in fome metaphorical Signification, which is the Acquisition of a Kind of Property among us ; as we fay, the Zenith of Advancement, the Meridian of Life, the * Cynofure of neighbouring Eyes ; or it is the Consequence of long Intermixture and frequent Ule, by which the Ear is accustomed to the Sound of Words, till their Original is forgotten, as in Equator, Satellites ; or of the Change of a foreign into an Englify Termination, and a Conformity to the Laws of the Speech into which they are adopted; as in. Catégo ry, Chachexy, Peripneumony.

Of those which Itill continue in the State of Aliens, and have made no Approaches towards Affimilation, some seem necessary to be retained; be cause the Purchasers of the Dictionary will expect to find them., Such are many Words in the Common Law, as Capias, Habeas Corpusý. Præmunire, Nifi Prius : Such are some Terms of Controverfial Di. vinity, as Hypoftafis; and of Phyfick, as the Names of Diseases ; and in general, all Terms which can be found in Books not written profefledly upon pare ticular Arts, or can be supposed necessary to those who do not regularly ftudy them: Thus, when a Reader not skilled in Phyfick happens in Milton upon this Line

pining Atrophy , ... Marasmus, and wide wasting Pestilence, he will, with equal Expectation, look into his Dior tionary for the Word Marasmus, as fór Atrophy, or Pestilense; and will have Reason to complain if he does not find it

It seems neceffary to the Completion of a Dictionary designed not merely, for Critics, but for pod pular Use, that it should comprise in some Degrees

110 Müni

. 1 . the

« ElőzőTovább »