Page images

Saxon was displaced by it. In consequence of this unsettled state of the English language, the writers of the ages of change and transition contain a very large number of words belonging to the Anglo-Saxon as well as to the Anglo-Norman, which are no longer contained in the English tongue.

Such was the first process of the formation of the English language. The limitation of the Anglo-Norman element seems to have taken place in the fifteenth century, when a considerable portion of the Anglo-Norman words used by previous English writers were rejected from the English language, and were never seen in it again. But as these disappeared, they were succeeded by a new class of intruders. The scholastic system of the age of the Reformation, had caused a very extensive cultivation and knowledge of the Latin language, and it is probable that the great mass of the reading public at that time were almost as well acquainted with Latin as with their own mother tongue. In consequence of this universal knowledge of Latin, the writers of the sixteenth century, without any sensible inconvenience, used just as many Latin words as they liked in writing English, merely giving them an English grammatical form. The English language thus became suddenly encumbered with Latin words, until, at the end of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth, the practice of thus using Latin words was carried to such a degree of pedantic affectation, that it effected its own cure. A popular writer of this period, Samuel Rowlands, in a satirical tract published in 1611, under the title of “The Knave of Clubbs," has the following lines upon this fashion, which had at that date reached its culminating point:



As on the way I Itenerated,
A Rurall person I Obviated,
Interrogating time's

And of the passage Demonstration.
My apprehension did Ingenious scan,
That he was meerely a Simplitian,
So when I saw he was Extravagant,
Unto the obscure vulgar Consonant,
I bad him vanish most Promiscuously,

And not Contaminate my company.
A few of these Latin words bave held their place in the language

but our writers, from the latter part of the fifteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth, abound in words adopted from the Latin which modern English dictionaries do not recognize.

From these and other causes it happens, that of a very large portion of English literature, one part would be totally unintelligible to the general reader, and the other would present continual difficulties, without a dictionary especially devoted to the obsolete words of our language. It is the object of the volumes now offered to the public, to furnish a compendious and useful work of this kind, which shall contain the obsolete Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman words used by the English writers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, many of the obsolete Latin words introduced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as words which have been adopted temporarily at various times according to prevailing fashions from other languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish, or Dutch, or which belonged to sentiments, manners, customs, habits, and modes, that have existed at particular periods and disappeared.

There is another class of words, forming at least an interesting portion of the English language, and coming especially within the objects of a work of this kind, those of the provincial dialects. There can be no doubt that the peculiar characteristics, or, we may say, the organic differences of dialect, are derived more or less from a diversity of tribe among the Anglo-Saxon settlers in our island; for, as far as our materials allow us to go, we can trace these diversities in AngloSaxon times. As, however, during the middle ages, and, in fact, down to very recent times, the intercommunication between different parts of the country was very imperfect, progress, of whatever kind was by no means uniform throughout the kingdom, and we find in the provincial dialects not only considerable numbers of old AngloSaxon and even Anglo-Norman words, which have not been preserved in the language of refined society, and which, in many cases, as far as regards the Anglo-Saxon, are not even found in the necessarily imperfect vocabulary of the language in its pure state which we are enabled to form from its written monuments; but also numerous words, in general use at a much later period, but which, while they became obsolete in the English language generally, have been preserved orally in particular districts. The number and character of

these words is very remarkable, and instances will be continually found, in the following pages, where a word which is now considered as peculiarly characteristic of the dialect of some remote district, occurs as one in general use among the popular, and especially the dramatic, writers, of the age which followed the Restoration.

Words of this description are a necessary part of a dictionary like the present, and they have been collected with as much care as possible. On the other hand, the mere organic differences of dialect, as well as the differences of orthography in words as found in different medieval manuscripts and early printed books, have been inserted sparingly, as belonging rather to a Comparative Grammar or to a philological treatise, than to a dictionary. In fact, to give this class of variations fully, would be simply to make a dictionary of each particular dialect, and of each medieval manuscript, and to combine these altogether, which could not be done within any moderate limits, and if done, with regard to the manuscripts especially, the first new manuscript that turned up would only show its imperfection. It has, therefore, been considered advisable not to insert mere orthographical variations of words, unless where they appeared for some reason or other sufficiently important or interesting. There are, moreover, certain letters and combinations of letters which are in the older forms of the English language interchangeable, so that we constantly find the same word occurring, even in the same manuscript, under two or three different forms, none of which are to be regarded as corruptions. To insert all these forms, would be to increase the dictionary twofold or threefold, for the words in which those letters occur, without any proportionate advantage; I have therefore in general given the word only under the form in which it occurs most usually, or which seems most correct; but, to facilitate the reference, I add at the end of this preface a list of the more common interchanges of this kind, so that if a word be not found under one form, it may be sought for under another.

Various and indeed numerous glossaries have been already published, both of provincial and of Archaic English, but most of them have been special rather than general. We may mention among these the valuable work of Archdeacon Nares, which, however, was devoted only to the writers of a particular period; the extensive under


taking of Boucher, which was not continued beyond the latter B; and the numerous glossaries of particular dialects, among which one of the last and best is that of Northamptonshire by Miss Baker. The

Dictionary" by Mr. Halliwell, when we consider that it was almost new in its class, and that the author had many difficulties to contend with, which would not, perhaps, have existed now, was in every respect an extraordinary work.

In compiling the following pages, I have taken all the advantage I could honestly of the labours of my predecessors, in addition to a large quantity of original material which was placed in my hands, and I have added to this numerous collections of my own, especially from the dramatic and popular writers of the latter half of the seventeenth century, and of the earlier part of the eighteenth. I have also profited by lists of local words communicated from various parts of the kingdom, and among those who have contributed in this manner, I have especially to acknowledge the services of the Rev. E. Gillet, of Runham, in Norfolk. To make such a work perfect is impossible ; but I hope that, on the whole, the present will be found one of the most generally useful works of the kind that has yet appeared.


[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »