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comply with the rule of his adversaries, lest he should lose the end by the means, and be left alone by following the crowd.
When a question of orthography is dubious, that practice has, in my opinion, a claim to preference which preserves the greatest number of radical letters, or seems most to comply with the general custom of our language. But the chief rule which I propose to follow is, to make no innovation, without a reason sufficient to balance the inconvenience of change; and such reasons I do not expect often to find. All change is of itself an evil, which ought not to be hazarded but for evident advantage; and, as inconstancy is in every case a mark of weakness, it will add nothing to the reputation of our tongue. There are, indeed, some who despise the inconveniences of confusion, who seem to take pleasure in departing from custom, and to think alteration desirable for its own sake; and the reformation of our orthography, which these writers have attempted, should not pass without its due honours, but that I suppose they hold a singularity its own reward, or may dread the fascination of lavish praise.
The present usage of spelling, where the present usage can be distinguished, will, therefore, in this work be generally followed; yet there will be often occasion to observe, that it is in itself inaccurate, and tolerated rather than chosen ; particularly when, by a change of one letter, or more, the meaning of a word is obscured; as in farrier, or ferrier, as it was formerly written, from ferrum, or fer; in gibberish, for gebrish, the jargon of Geber, and his chymical followers, understood by none but their own tribe. It will be likewise sometimes proper to trace back the orthography of different ages, and shew by what gradations the word departed from its original.
Closely connected with orthography is pronunciation, the stability of which is of great importance to the duration of a language, because the first change will naturally begin by corruptions in the living speech. The want of certain rules for the pronunciation of former ages, has made us wholly ignorant of the metrical art of our ancient poets; and since those who study their sentiments regret the loss of their numbers, it is surely time to provide that the harmony of the moderns may be more permanent.
A new pronunciation will make almost a new speech ; and therefore, since one great end of this undertaking is to fix the English language, care will be taken to determine the accentuation of all polysyllables by proper authorities, as it is one of those capricious phænomena which cannot be easily reduced to rules. Thus there is no antecedent reason for difference of accent in the words dolorous and sonorous; yet of the one Milton gives the sound in this line :
He pass'd o'er many a region dolorous ; and that of the other in this,
Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds. It may likewise be proper to remark metrical licenses, such as contractions, generous, gen'rous; reverend, rev'rend; and coalitions, as region, question.
But it is still more necessary to fix the pronun- . ciation of monosyllables, by placing with them
words of correspondent sound, that one may guard the other against the danger of that variation, which, to some of the most common, has already happened; so that the words wound and wind, as they are now frequently pronounced, will rot rhyme to sound and mind. It is to be remarked, that many words written alike are differently pronounced, as flow and brow: which may be thus registered, flow, woe : brow, now; or of which the exemplification may be generally given by a distich : thus the words tear, or lacerate, and tear, the water of the eye, have the same letters, but may be distinguished thus, tear, dare; tear, peer.
Some words have two sounds which may be equally admitted, as being equally defensible by authority. Thus great is differently used.
For Swift and him despised the farce of state,
As if misfortune made the throne her seat,
The care of such minute particulars may be censured as trifling; but these particulars have not been thought unworthy of attention in more polished languages.
The accuracy of the French, in stating the sounds of their letters, is well known; and, among the Italians, Crescembeni has not thought it unnecessary to inform his countrymen of the words which, in compliance with different rhymes, are allowed to be differently spelt, and of which the number is now so fixed, that no modern poet is suffered to increase it.
When the orthography and pronunciation are adjusted, the etymology or derivation is next to be considered, and the words are to be distinguished according to the different classes, whether simple, as day, light, or compound, as day-light; whether primitive, as, to act, or derivative, as action, actionable, active, activity. This will much facilitate the attainment of our language, which now stands in our dictionaries a confused heap of words without dependence, and without relation.
When this part of the work is performed, it will be necessary to enquire how our primitives are to be deduced from foreign languages, which may be often very successfully performed by the assistance of our own etymologists. This search will give occasion to many curious disquisitions, and sometimes perhaps to conjectures, which to readers unacquainted with this kind of study, cannot but appear improbable and capricious. But it may be reasonably imagined, that what is so much in the power of men as language, will very often be capriciously conducted. Nor are these disquisitions and conjectures to be considered altogether as wanton sports of wit, or vain shews of learning; our language is well-known not to be primitive or self-originated, but to have adopted words of every generation, and, either for the supply of its necessities, or the encrease of its copiousness, to have received additions from very distant regions; so that in search of the progenitors of our speech, we may wander from the tropick to the frozen zone, and find some in the vallies of Palestine, and some upon the rocks of Norway.
Beside the derivation of particular words, there is likewise an etymology of phrases. Expressions are often taken from other languages ; some apparently, as to run a risque, courir un risque; and some even when we do not seem to borrow their words; thus, to bring about or accomplish, appears an English phrase, but in reality our native word about has no such import, and is only a French expression, of which we have an example in the common phrase venir à bout d'une affaire.
In exhibiting the descent of our language, our etymologists seem to have been too lavish of their learning, having traced almost every word through various tongues, only to shew what was shewn sufficiently by the first derivation. This practice is of great use in synoptical lexicons, where mutilated and doubtful languages are explained by their affinity to others more certain and extensive, but is generally superfluous in English etymologies. When the word is easily deduced from a Saxon original, I shall not often enquire further, since we know not the parent of the Saxon dialect; but when it is borrowed from the French, I shall shew whence the French is apparently derived. Where a Saxon root cannot be found, the defect may be supplied from kindred languages, which will be generally furnished with much liberality by the writers of our glossaries; writers who deserve often the highest praise, both of judgment and industry, and may expect at least to be mentioned with honour by me, whom they have freed from the greatest part of a very laborious work, and on whom they have imposed, at worst, only the easy task of rejecting superfluities.