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they certainly show that his mind is not prejudiced against them, and that it hath a capacity of attaining them."
Under this head I might consider that impropriety which results from the use of metaphors, or other tropes, wherein the similitude to the subject, or connexion with it, is too remote; also, that which results from the construction of words with any trope, which are not applicable in the literal sense. The former errs chiefly against vivacity, the latter against elegance. Of the one, therefore, I shall have occasion to speak, when I consider the catachresis, of the other when I treat of mixed metaphor.
I have now finished what was intended on the subject of grammatical purity; the first, and, in some respect, the most essential of all the virtues of elocution. I have illustrated the three different ways in which it may be violated; the barbarism, when the words employed are not English ; the solecism, when the construction is not English; the impropriety, when the meaning in which any English word or phrase is used, by a writer or speaker, is not the sense which good use hath assigned to it.
SOME GRAMMATICAL DOUBTS IN REGARD TO ENGLISH CONSTRUG
·TION STATED AND EXAMINED.
BEFORE I dismiss this article altogether, it will not be amiss to consider a little some dubious points in construction, on which our critics appear not to be agreed.
One of the most eminent of them makes this remark upon the neuter verbs : " A neuter verb cannot become a passive. In a neuter verb the agent and the object are the same, and cannot be separated even in imagination ; as in the examples to sleep, to walk ; but when the verb is passive, one thing is acted upon by another, really or by supposition different from it."* To this is subjoined in the margin the following note : “ That some neuter verbs take a passive form, but without a passive signification, has been observed above. Here we speak of their becoming both in form and signification passive, and shall endeavour further to illustrate the rule by example. To split, like many other English verbs, hath both an active and a neuter signification ; according to the former we say, The force of gunpowder split the rock; according to the latter, the ship split upon the rock : — and converting the verb active into a passive, we may say, The rock was split by the force of gunpowder ; or, the ship was split upon the rock. But we cannot say with any propriety, turning the verb neuter into a passive, The rock was split upon by the ship.”
This author's reasoning, so far as concerns verbs properly neuter, is so manifestly just, that it commands a full assent from every one that understands it. I differ from him only in regard to the application. In my apprehension, what may grammatically be named the neuter verbs, are not near so numerous in our tongue as he imagines. I do not enter into the difference between verbs absolutely neuter, and intransitively active. I concur with him in thinking, that this distinction holds more of metaphysics than of grammar. But by verbs grammatically neuter, I mean such as are not followed either by an accusative, or by a preposition and a noun : for I take this to be the only grammatical criterion with us. Of this kind is the simple and primitive verb to laugh; accordingly, to say, he was laughed, would be repugnant alike to grammar and to sense. But give this verb a regimen, and say, To laugh at, and you alter its nature, by adding to its signification. It were an abuse of words to call this a neuter, being as truly a compound active verb in English, as deridere is in Latin, to which it exactly corresponds in meaning. Nor doth it make any odds that the preposition in the one language precedes the
* Short Introduction, &c. Sentences,
verb, and is conjoined with it, and in the other follows it, and is detached from it. The real union is the same in both. Accordingly he was laughed at is as evidently good English, as derisus fuit is good Latin.
Let us hear this author himself, who, speaking of verbs compounded with a preposition, says expressly, “ In English the preposition is more frequently placed after the verb, and separate from it, like an adverb ; in which situation it is no less apt to affect the sense of it, and to give it a new meaning; and may still be considered as belonging to the verb, and a part of it. As, to cast is to throw; but to cast up, or to compute, an account, is quite a different thing : thus, to fall on, to bear out, to give over, &c." Innumerable examples might be produced, to show that such verbs have been always used as active or transitive compounds, call them which you please, and therefore as properly susceptible of the passive voice. I shall produce only one authority, which, I am persuaded, the intelligent reader will admit to be a good one. It is no other than this ingenious critic himself, and the passage of his which I have in view will be found in the very quotation above made. “When the verb is passive, one thing is acted upon by another." Here the verb to act upon is undoubtedly neuter, if the verb to split upon be neuter in the expression censured ; and, conversely, the verb to split upon is undoubtedly active, if the verb to act upon be active in the passage quoted. Nor can any thing be more similar than the construction : “ One thing is acted upon by another.” The rock is split upon by the ship.
After all, I am sensible that the latter expression is liable to an exception, which cannot be made against the former. I therefore agree with the author in condemning it, but not in the reason of pronouncing this sentence. The only reason that weighs with me is this : The active sense of the simple verb to split, and the sense of the compound to split upon, are, in such a phrase as that above mentioned, apt to be confounded. Nay, what is more, the false sense is that which is first suggested to the mind, as if the rock and not the ship had been split. And though the subsequent words remove the ambiguity, yet the very hesitancy which it occasions renders the expression justly chargeable, though not with solecism, with what is perhaps worse, obscurity and inelegance.
That we may be satisfied, that this and no other is the genuine cause of censure, let us borrow an example from some verb, which in the simple form is properly univocal. To smile is such a verb, being a neuter, which, in its primitive and uncompounded state, never receives an active signification ; but to smile or is with us, according to the definition given above, a compound active verb, just as arridere* (to which it corresponds alike in etymology and meaning) is in Latin. Accordingly, we cannot say, he was smiled, in any sense. But to say, he was smiled on, as in the following example, “He was
* I know that the verb arideo is accounted neuter by Latin lexicographers. The reason lies not in the signification of the word, but purely in the circumstance, that it governs the dative and not the accusative. But with this distinction we have no concern. That it is active in its import is evident from this, that it is used by good authors in the passive.
smiled on by fortune in every stage of life,” is entirely unexceptionable. Yet the only difference between this and the phrase above criticised ariseth hence, that there is something ambiguous in the first appearance of the one, which is not to be found in the other. And, indeed, when the simple and primitive verb has both an active signification and a neuter, (as is the case with the verb split,) such an ambiguous appearance of the compound in the passive is an invariable consequence.
I shall observe further, in order to prevent mistakes on this subject, that there are also in our language compound neuter, as well as compound active verbs. Such are, to go up, to come down, to fall out. These properly have no passive voice ; and though some of them admit a passive form, it is without a passive signification. Thus, he is gone up, and he has gone up, are nearly of the same import. Now the only distinction in English between the active compound and the neuter compound is this; the preposition in the former, or more properly the compound verb itself, hath a regimen; in the latter it hath none. Indeed, these last may be further compounded, by the addition of a preposition with a noun, in which case they also become active or transitive verbs : as in these instances, “ He went up to her;" "She fell out with them.” Consequently, in giving a passive voice to these, there is no solecism. We may say, “ She was gone up to by him ;" “ They were fallen out with by her.” But it must be owned, that the passive form, in this kind of decomposite verbs, ought always to be avoided as inelegant, if not obscure. By bringing three prepositions thus together, one inevitably creates a certain confusion of thought; and it is not till after some painful attention, that the reader discovers two of the prepositions to belong to the preceding verb, and the third to the succeeding noun. The principal scope of the foregoing observations on the passage quoted from Dr. Lowth is, to point out the only characteristical distinction between verbs neuter and verbs active, which obtains in our language.
To these I shall subjoin a few things, which may serve for ascertaining another distinction in regard to verbs. When a verb is used impersonally, it ought undoubtedly to be in the singular number, whether the neuter pronoun be expressed or understood ; and when no nominative in the sentence can regularly be construed with the verb, it ought to be considered as impersonal. For this reason, analogy as well as usage favour this mode of expression, “ The conditions of the agreement were as follows ;” and not as follow. A few late writers have inconsiderately adopted this last form through a mistake of the construction. For the same reason we ought to say, “I shall consider his censures so far only as concerns my friend's conduct;" and not “ so far as concern." It is manifest that the word conditions in the first case, and censures in the second, cannot serve as nominatives. If we give either sentence another turn, and instead of as, say such as, the verb is no longer impersonal. The pronoun such is the nominative, whose number is determined by its antecedent. Thus we must say, “ They were such as follow," "such of his censures only as concern my friend." In this I entirely con. cur with a late anonymous remarker on the language.
I shall only add on this subject, that the use of impersonal verbs was much more frequent with us formerly than it is now. Thus, it pleaseth me, it grieveth me, it repenteth me, were a sort of impersonals, for which we should now say, I please, 1 grieve, I repent. Methinks and methought at present, as ineseemeth and meseemed anciently, are, as Johnson justly supposes, remains of the same practice.* It would not be easy to conjecture what hath misled some writers so far as to make them adopt the uncouth term methoughts, in contempt alike of usage and of analogy, and even without any colourable pretext that I can think of, for thoughts is no part of the verb at all.
I shall now consider another suspected idiom in English, which is the indefinite use sometimes made of the pronoun it, when applied in the several ways following : first, to persons as well as to things ; second, to the first person and the second, as well as to the third ; and thirdly, to a plural as well as to a singular. Concerning the second application and the third, Dr. Johnson says in his Dictionary, “ This mode of speech, though used by good authors, and supported by the il y a of the French, has yet an appearance of barbarism." Dr. Lowth doubts only of the third application. "The phrase," says he," which occurs in the following examples, though pretty common, and authorized by custom, yet seems to be somewhat defective in the same way.” He had been specifying inaccuracies arising from disagreement in number. The examples alluded to are,
'Tis these that early taint the female soul.
Against the first application, to persons as well as to things, nei. ther of these critics seems to have any objection; and it must be owned, that they express themselves rather skeptically than dogmatically about the other two. Yet, in my judgement, if one be censurable, they all are censurable ; and if one be proper, they all are proper. The distinction of genders, especially with us, is as essential as the distinction of persons or that of numbers. I say, especially with us, because, though the circumstances be few wherein the gender can be marked, yet, in those few, our language, perhaps more than any other tongue, follows the dictates of pure Nature. The masculine pronoun he it applies always to males, or at least to persons (God and angels, for example) who in respect of dignity are conceived as males; the feminine shc to fernales; and, unless where the style is figurative, the neuter it to things either not susceptible of sex, or in which the sex is unknown. Besides, if we have recourse to the Latin syntax, the genuine source of most of our grammatical
* The similar use of impersonal verbs, and the il me semble of the French, render this hypothesis still more probable. Pope. | Prior.