« PreviousContinue »
which had gone before it; and taking into the account also, that it was written "with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow,” it must be regarded as a wonderful monument of philological taste, erudition, and labour.
The English dictionaries which have been given to the public since that of Dr. Johnson, are numerous. They have, in general, however, contented themselves with servilely copying that great lexicographer, and have made few important additions to his labours. To this general character Dr. Ash is an exception : considering his dictionary as a collection of all kinds of words, scientific, technical, obsolete, colloquial, decent, or otherwise, it is doubtless the most complete extant; and so far as the mere number of words is an excellence, his work must be pronounced much superior to that of Johnson. It may fairly be questioned, however, whether such an indiscriminate admission of words as Dr. Ash has thought proper to adopt, be not more injurious than useful. The dictionaries of KENRICK, SHERIDAN, WALKER, with a comparative view of their respective merits, were before noticed. But as these were designed rather to promote English Orthoepy than the general interests of our language, the further consideration of them will not be attempted in this place.
It is worthy of remark, that the eighteenth century, has produced a great extension of the knowledge and use of the English language. Within the last forty or fifty years this language has been gradually becoming more known among the learned of other countries, and its best models of composition more studied. Mr. Pope is said to have lamented that his writings were not likely to be much read, excepting by the inhabitants of one small Island. Had he lived till the present day he would have seen better prospects opening to his literary ambition. To say nothing of the immense continent of North-America, where the productions of that great Poet will probably long be perused by many millions; and to place also out of the account, the extensive foreign dependences of Great-Britain, where English literature is likely, in time, to flourish; it is an undoubted fact, that the language in which he wrote is incomparably more read and spoken on the continent of Europe, since his day, than ever before.
The French language, during the last century, received modifications and improvements in a considerable degree similar to those which have already been noticed as belonging to the English. It was before remarked that this language was some time before the English in the progress of improvement, Thereign of Louis
XIV. has been commonly called the golden age of French literature, and the period of perfection in French style. It is probable that this opinion is rather better founded than that which assigns the reign of Queen Anne as furnishing the highest grade of refinement in English composition. The publication of the famous Dictionnaire de l'Academie Française, a great and splendid work in its day, formed an important æra in the history of the French language.' The grand object of the Association which compiled this Dictionary, and presented it to the world, was to improve and fix their language; and there can be no doubt that the publication was, in a considerable degree, subservient to these purposes.
But to expect a living language to be absolutely stationary, is to expect that which borders on the region of impossibility. Accordingly, since the completion of the great national dictionary. just mentioned, the French language has gained large accessions of words and phrases, and has received yarious kinds of melioration. The work of the Academy has long been superseded by the private and better Dictionary of M. RICHELET, which has been honoured with high and general praise. But even this latter is far from embracing the numerous additional words with which learned philologists of that country have endowed their language.
The large work of M. COURT DE GEBELIN, on language, published a few years ago, contains an extensive and learned investigation of French Etymology, which has thrown new light on the structure and genius of that language. Indeed, within the last thirty years of the century under consideration, several writers of high reputation, but of whom the author has too little knowledge to speak distinctly, have undertaken, with considerable success, to exhibit the beauties and defects of their native tongue, and to point out the means for its further refinement.
The list of those writers who contributed, in the course of the last century, to enrich and polish the French language, is too large to be given at length, even if the information requisite for this purpose were possessed. Out of the great number, FONTENELLE, VOLTAIRE, Rousseau, and Buffon, deserve to be selected, as standing in the first rank, Since the date of their writings it may be doubted whether the language has gained any real refinements. If an air of metaphysical abstraction, and antithetic point, be more prevalent among some late popular writers of that country than formerly, it is believed no substantial improvements have been made in the vigour, the polish, the precision, and the chaste ornaments of French style.
At the commencement of the eighteenth century, it is probable that there was no living language so generally understood, and so correctly spoken,
among the learned of all civilized countries, as the French. It was then spoken as the most polite medium of intercourse at several of the courts of Europe, and the acquisition of it considered as an important part of liberal education, Since that time the knowledge and use of this language have greatly extended. It has, in fact, almost become, what the Latin once was, an universal language. Perhaps it may be asserted that a larger portion of mankind, at the present day, understand and speak this language, than were ever before known to be acquainted with a living tongue,'
The German Language, in the course of this century, has been greatly enriched and refined, Until the middle of the century it remained in a rude and unpolished state. Such of the learned men of that country as had then devoted themselves to philology, chiefly studied the ancient languages, to the neglect of their own. Most of their scientific publications then made were in Latin. Since that time more has been done to promote the interests of German literature, and especially to cultivate the German language, than had been done for several centuries before. One of the first steps in this course of cultivation was the publication of the Messiah, by KLOPSTOCK. When that celebrated poem made its appearance, the many new combinations of words, and the various licences of language with which it abounded, excited much complaint among the countrymen of the author; but these innovations soon became familiar, gradually gained admirers, and at no great distance of time were generally adopted, by the best German writers. KLOPSTOCK was particularly successful in improving the versification of his native language. He introduced a new style of poetry into his country; and has been generally followed as one of the best authorities in polite literature. This celebrated poet has also done much to improve the orthography of his language. He first suggested, and by his own example enforced, the propriety and necessity of reform in this department of the German tongue. His proposals, indeed, were not adopted in their full extent; but they led others to direct their attention towards this object; and to him therefore is due a large share of the credit arising from the improvements which have since taken place.
o Some remarks on modern improvements, in the Spanish language, would naturally follow this section, if the author were sufficiently acquainted with the nature and amount of these improvements to make even general remarks on them. It may not be improper, however, to mention, that the Royal Spanish Academy of Madrid, founded in 1913, was instituted for the express purpose of cultivating and improving the national language. With this view, after spending many years in the requisite preliminary investigations; after devoting much attention to the selection of such words and phrases as were used by the best writers, and noting those which were either low, corrupt or obsolete, that learned Society published, in 1783, the Diccionario de la Lengua Castellana ; a which,
ugh defective in etymological inquiries, and in several other respects, is yet by far the