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The portion of these improvements which be: long to the eighteenth century may, in general, be pronounced to be very great, and to demand particular consideration in tracing the revolutions and the progress of this period. They deserve the more attention on account of their connection not only with the literary and scientific, but also with the social and political interests of the age.
The increased intercourse of men, during the last century, led to important revolutions and improvements in the living languages. By means of this intercourse the learned of different nations have become more acquainted with the idioms and beauties of many other languages than their own; and this acquaintance has caused the respective treasures of each language to become, in a degree, the common property of all. Hence the more cultivated tongues of Europe have been very perceptibly enriched, within a few years, by the adoption of many significant words and phrases from each other, as well as from those which are, in general, less worthy of imitation.
The effects of this extended intercourse have been aided by the great number of translations, by. which modern times are peculiarly distinguished. There never was an age in which the most esteemed literary productions of different nations were so extensively circulated, or exhibited to the world in so many different languages. The unexampled prevalence of this practice has rendered the characteristic peculiarities of vario’s tongues better known, and produced the insensible incorporation of them with others. This is the great source of those “ imported” words and phrases which have sometimes received the approbation of philologists, but of which they have, perhaps, more frequently and justly complained.
The numerous discoveries in science and the arts, during the period under review, also led to the introduction and familiar use of many terms of which the learned of the preceding age were entirely ignorant. Almost the whole dialect of philosophy, both natural and moral, has become new within the period in question. How rich and valuable the stores which language has received from this source, can only be adequately conceived by those who are able to take a distinct view of the improvements in philosophy, and all the arts of life, in the course of the last hundred
years. To the above considerations may be added the numerous instances of the new coinage of words, by popular writers, arising either from necessity, from caprice, from vanity, from affectation, or other causes. Some of these new emissions, however they may fail on the score of authority, must be considered, on the whole, as useful additions to modern languages. From this source the augmentation of our literary treasures is constant; and if due vigilance be exercised to guard against capricious and wanton innovation, substantial advantages to the interests of language may thence be expected to flow.
The influence of all these considerations, taken together, has introduced an amount of modification and improvements into modern languages, within the last century, beyond all doubt, greater than were eyer introduced in any preceding period of equal extent. That large additions have been made to the number of words, no one can for a moment hesitate to admit. But this is by no means all that may be asserted.
The style of composition also, in most of the living languages, has been greatly improved since the commencement of the eighteenth century. Thę style of the best writers, at the present day, though perhaps inferior to the exquisite refinements produced by Grecian and Roman taste, is essentially superior to that which was employed by the most correct models of the preceding age. Modern languages now exhibit more grammatical accuracy, more precision, energy, and polish, and a more graceful, luminous, and philosophic construction, than they could boast at that period. We have thrown off “ the useless load of words which incumbered our predecessors,” and discarded their circuitous and tedious routes to a meaning, which formerly disgusted the literary traveller. In short, the first class of writers of the eighteenth century display a smoothness and force of manner, a taste in the selection of words, and a scientific perspicuity of arrangement, which are no where to be found so admirably united in those who went before them.
These remarks do not apply, with unqualified propriety, to all the living languages of Europe. The Italian language, it is believed, was considerably before
any of the rest, in attaining its highest point of refinement. This was chiefly accomplished before the commencement of the last age, since which time it is not known that any radical or important improvements have taken place in that language. The French language also, if the writer does not mistake, had received by far the greater part of that cultivation which it now exhibits, before the period of this retrospect. Still, however, it is supposed that both these languages, and especially the latter, may with truth be represented as partaking in some degree of the large mass of improvement which has accrued to many others within the last age.
But not to content ourselves with these general remarks, let us descend to the particular consideration of some of those living European lan
guages, which may be supposed to have received the greatest number of improvements during the last century, and to be most worthy of notice.
The English Language has received, during this period, a large portion of the improvements which have been mentioned. From the middle of the sixteenth to the commencement of the eighteenth century, English style had been in a regular course of refinement and general melioration. The great British Lexicographer, Dr. JOHNSON, tells us that the writings of Sir Philip Sidney, who died in 1585, furnish a boundary beyond which he made few excursions in search of the “ wells of English undefiled." After SIDNEY, the important successive improvements conferred on our language by SHAKSPEARE, HOOKER, MILTON, CLARENDON, Temple, Tillotson, SPRAT, DRYDEN, and Locke, are well known, and have been frequently the subjects of eulogium by the literary historian. But still these writers left many defects to be supplied. Their respective styles, though various, were, for the most part, formal, feeble, circuitous, abounding with excrescences, and cumbrous parts, and in many instances perplexed, inaccurate, and inelegant to a very high degree. These charges, indeed, do not equally belong to all that have been mentioned; for few would admit that SHAKSPEARE; Milton, and DRYDEN were feeble writers. But the general application of the character above stated will scarcely be denied. And though it may be allowed, that the most of those writers were free from some faults which have since become fashionable, still they were chargeable with others equally great, and more inconsistent with the philosophy of language.
b In the following sections the intelligent reader will observe that the Italian, the Spanish, the Dutch, and several other important dialects of modern Europe, are omitted. The reason for this omission is the best in the world. It is because the author knows so little of those languages, and is so entirely ignorant of the details of improvement which they have received, that he cannot undertake to state them. It is presumed, however, that the improvements which have lately taken place in most of the cultiyated living languages, respectively, agree in so many respects, that the exhibition of those which belong to one may be considered as applying in a considerable degree to the rest.
• Preface to the Dictionary of the English Language.
The eighteenth century opened with better pros: pects. The writings of ADDISON formed an important era in English literature. In truth, this celebrated author attained, at once, a style of composition so much superior to that of any who had gone before him, that none can peruse the monuments which he has left us of histaste without admiration. He was less faulty in multiplying synonymous words than his predecessors. He displayed also more judgment in the choice, and more precision in the use of terms. The forced metaphor, the dragging clause, the harsh cadence, and the abrupt close, were carefully excluded from his pages. He exhibited, in an eminent degree, that correctness, perspicuity, ease, and harmony, in which preceding writers had been so remarkably deficient. He was the first English prose writer who discovered any thing like distinguished taste in the choice and management of figures.
“ Pure, without scrupulosity, and correct, without apparent elaboration; equally free from studied amplitude, and affected brevity; familiar, but not coarse; and elegant, but not ostentatious,"d he deserves to be ranked among the most meritorious reformers of our language.
While ADDISON was employed in communis cating to English style a new degree of ease and