ePub 版

Whose manners still our tardy aspish nation
Limps after, in base awkward imitation. *

Hence it proceeds, that we not only adopt their words and idioms, but even imitate their defects, and act as if we thought it presumption to have any words or phrases of our own, to which they have nothing correspondent. I own that this may happen insensibly, without design or affectation on the part of our writers ; and that either from the close intercourse which we have with that nation, or from the great use that we make of their writings, ard the practice now so frequent of translating them. But that I may not be thought unreasonable in imputing to this cause, what is not justly chargeable on it, I shall specify in the margin a few instances, wherein the penury of the French language hath, in the way of which I am speaking, been hurtful to the English.t


[ocr errors]

* Shakspeare, Richard II.

† The local adverbs are very properly classed with us, as in Latin, into three orders, for denoting rest or motion in a place, motion to it, and motion from it. In every one of these orders, there are three adverbs to denote this place, that place, and what, or which place, interrogatively or relatively. In French there are only two orders, the first and second being confounded. See the scheme subjoined.

1 & 2
(Here Hither

Ici D'ici.
There Thither Thence.

#2 La De là.
Where Whither Whence.

Où D'où. Since the Restoration, which I take to be neither the only nor the earliest, but the most successful era, in regard to the introduction of French books, French sentiments, and French modes into this island, the adverbs of the first order have almost always been employed in conversation, and frequently in print, for those of the second. Thus we say, '“Where are you going ?” and sometimes, “Come here,” though the only proper adverbs, in such cases, be whither, and hither. Another instance the above scheme furnishes of the absurd tendency we have to imitate the French, even in their imperfections. The local adverbs of the third order are with them distinguished from those of the first and second only by prefixing the preposition de, which signifies from. This is manifestly the origin of those pleonastic phrases in English, from hence, from thence, and from whence. I shall produce another evidence of the bad effect of this propensity. So many of Nature's works are known to us by pairs, the sexes, for example, and the most of the organs and the members of the human body, and. indeed, of every animal body, that it is natural, even in the simplest state of society, and in the rise of languages, to distinguish the dual number from the plural. And though few languages have made, or, at least, retained this distinction in the declension of nouns, yet most have observed it in the numeral adjectives. The English, in particular, have observed it with great accuracy as appears from the annexed scheme.

When the discourse is of — two; when it is of — several. Collectively . . . - - - Both. - - - - - - All. Distributively - - - • - - Each. - - - - - - Every. Indiscriminately - - - - - Either.

• Any." Exclusively . ..

- Neither.

. - None. Relatively and Interrogatively – Whether.

• — Which. This distinction in French hath been overlooked altogether, and in English is beginning, at least in some instances, to be confounded. Perhaps the word every will not be found in any good writer applied to two; but it is certain, that the word each hath usurped the place of every, and is now used promiscuously by writers of all denominations, whether it be two or more that are spoken of. I shall only subjoin here to these observations, that if the whereunlo's and therewithal's, may be denominated the gouty joints of style, the riz.'s, and the i. e.'s, and the e. gi's, for videlicet, id est, and erempli gratia, may not unfitly be termed its crutches. Like these wretched props, they are not only of foreign materials, but have a foreign aspect. For as a stick can never be mistaken for a limb, though it may in a clumsy manner do the office of one, so these pitiful supplernents can never be made to incorporate with the sentence, which they help in a budgling manner to hobble forwards.

I proceed to exemplify further, in our own language, the general observation made above, that an improvement of taste leads men insensibly to abbreviate those weaker parts of speech, the connexive particles. I have remarked already the total suppression of the conjunction that after because, before, although, and many others of the same stamp, with which it was wont to be inseparably combined. But we have not stopt here. This particle is frequently omitted, when there is no other conjunction to connect the clauses, as in this example, “ Did I not tell you positively, I would go myself?" In order to construe the sentence, we must supply the word that after positively. Concerning this omission I shall just observe, what I would be understood, in like manner, to observe concerning the omission of the relatives, to be mentioned afterwards, that though in conversation, comedy, and dialogue, such an ellipsis is graceful, when, without hurting perspicuity, it contributes to vivacity ; yet, wherever the pature of the composition requires dignity and precision in the style, this freedom is hardly to be risked.

Another remarkable instance of our dislike to conjunctions is a method, for aught I know, peculiar to us ; by which the particles tho' and if, when in construction with any of the tenses, compounded with had, could, would, or should, are happily enough set aside as un

The pronominal adjective whether is now quite obsolete, its place being supplied by which. About a century and a half ago, whether was invariably used of two, as appears from all the writings of that period, and particularly from the translation of the Bible; thus Matt. xxi. 31, 'Whether of them twain did the will of his father ?" and xxiii. 17. Whether is greater, the gold, or the temple ?” The rest of this class have hitherto retained their places amongst us. 'How long they may continue to do so, it will be impossible to say. Indeed the clumsy manner in which these places are supplied in French doth perbaps account for our constancy, as it will prove, I hope, our security against a sudden change in this particular. It would sound extremely awkward in our ears, all the two, or the one or the other, and nor the one nor the other, which is a literal version of tous les deux, ou l'un ou l'autre, and ni l'un ni l'autre, the phrases whereby both either, and neither, are expressed in French. It may be said, custom softens every thing, and what thoughı several words thus fall into disuse, since experience shows us that we can do without them? I answer, first, change itself is bad, unless evidently for the better; secondly, perspicuity is more effectually secured by a greater choice of words, when the meanings are distinct; thirdly, vivacity is promoted both by avoiding periphrasis, and by using words as much as possible limited in signification to the things meant by the speaker; fourthly, in an abundance without confusion, there is always greater scope for variety. And to come to the particular defect which gave rise to these observations, every body must be sensible, that the frequent recurrence in French to these uncouth sounds, quoi que qui quelque, and the like, doth not serve to recommend the language to the ear of a stranger,

necessary. This is effected by a small alteration in the arrangement. The nominative is shisted from its ordinary station before the auxiliary, and is placed immediately after it, as in these words, “ Had I known the danger, I would not have engaged in the business ;” that is, “ If I had known the danger.” “ Should you remonstrate ever so loudly, I would not alter my resolution ;” that is, Tho' you should remonstrate.” The reason that this transposition cannot be admitted in the other tenses is, that in them it would occasion an ambiguity, and give the sentence the appearance of an interrogation, which it scarcely ever hath in the tenses above mentioned. Sometimes, indeed, the preterimperfect admits this idiom, without rendering the expression ambiguous; as in these words, “ Did I but know his intention,” for “ If I did but know his intention.” “Were I present,” for “ If I were present.” The tense, however, in such instances, may more properly be termed an aorist, than a preterit of any kind ; aud the mood is subjunctive.



Now, that I am speaking of the auxiliaries, it may not be amiss to remark, that they too, like the conjunctions, the relatives, and the prepositions, are but words of a secondary order. The signification of the verb is ascertained by the infinitive or the participle which follows the auxiliar in the compound tenses of the active voice, and always by the participle in the passive. The auxiliaries themselves serve only to modify the verb, by adding the circumstances of time, affirmation, supposition, interrogation, and some others. An abridgement in these, therefore, which are but weak, though not the weakest parts of discourse, conduceth to strengthen the expression. But there are not many cases wherein this is practicable. Sometimes had supplies emphatically the place of would have, and were of would be. An instance of the first we have in the words of Martha to our Saviour: “ Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."* The last clause would have been feebler, had it been, “my brother would not have died.” An example of the second is the words of the Israelites on hearing the report of the spies. “Were it not better for us to return into Egypt ?'t for “ Would it not be better ?"

But to come to the consideration of the relatives; the first real improvement which taste hath produced here is, the dismission of the article from its wonted attendance on the pronoun which. The definite article could nowhere be less necessary, as the antecedent always defines the meaning. Another effect of the same cause is the introduction of what instead of that which, as, “I remember what you

[ocr errors][merged small]

told me;" otherwise, “ that which you told me.” Another is the extending of the use of the word whose, by making it serve as the possessive of the pronoun which.

The distinction between who and which is now perfectly established in the language. The former relates only to persons, the latter to things. But this distinction, though a real advantage in point of perspicuity and precision, affects not much the vivacity of the style. The possessive of who is properly whose, the pronoun which, originally indeclinable, had no possessive. This want was supplied in the common periphrastic manner, by the help of the preposition and the article. But as this could not fail to enfeeble the expression, when so much time was given to mere conjunctives, all our best authors, both in prose and in verse, have come now regularly to adopt, in such cases, the possessive of who; and thus have substituted one syllable in the room of three, as in the example following : “ Philosophy, whose end is to instruct us in the knowledge of Nature," for, “ Philosophy, the end of which is to instruct us." — Some grammarians remonstrate. But it ought to be remembered, that use well established must give law to grammar, and not grammar to use. Nor is this acceptation of the word whose of recent introduction into the language. It occurs even in Shakspeare, and almost uniformly in authors of any character since his time. Neither does their appear to be any inconvenience arising from this usage. The connexion with the antecedent is coinmonly so close as to remove all possible ambiguity. If, however, in any instance, the application should appear ambiguous, in that instance, without question, the periphrasis ought to be preferred. But the term thus applied to things could not be considered as improper, any longer than it was by general use peculiarly appropriated to persons, and, therefore, considered merely as an inflection of the pronoun who. Now, that cannot be affirmed to be the case at present.

Though to limit the signification of the pronouns would at first seem conducive to precision, it may sometimes be followed with the conveniences which would more than counterbalance the advantage. That,says Dr. Lowth, " is used indifferently both of persons and things, but perhaps would be more properly confined to the latter,"* Yet there are cases wherein we cannot conveniently dispense with this relative as applied to persons; as first, after who the interrogative, “ Who that has any sense of religion, would have argued thus ?" Secondly, when persons make but a part of the antecedent : “ The men and things that he hath studied, have not contributed to the improvement of his morals.” In neither of these examples could any other relative be used. In the instances specified by Dr. Priestley, f the that, if not necessary, is at least more elegant than the who. The first is after a superlative, as “ He was the fittest person that could then be found ;” the second is after the pronominal adjective the same ; as, “ He is the same man that you saw before." And it is even probable that these are not the only cases.

The possessive its of the neuter personal pronoun it, hath contributed in the same way, though not a relative, both to abbreviate and

* Introduction, Sentences.

| Grammar, Pronouns.

to invigorate the idiom of the present age. It is not above a century and a half since this possessive was brought into use. Accordingly, you will not find it in all the vulgar translation of the Bible. Its place there is always supplied either by the article and the preposition, as in these words : " They are of those that rebel against the light: they know not the ways thereof, nor abide in the paths thereof;"* for “they know not its ways, nor abide in its paths;" or by the possessive of the masculine, as in this verse : “ The altar of burntofferings with all his furniture, and the laver and his foot.”+ The first method is formal and languid ; the second must appear awkward to English ears, because very unsuitable to the genius of the language, which never, unless in the figurative style, as is well observed by Mr. Harris, † ascribes gender to such things as are neither reasonable beings, nor susceptible of sex.

The only other instance of abbreviation which I recollect in the pronouns is, the frequent suppression of the relatives who, whom, and which. This, I imagine, is an ellipsis peculiar to the English, though it may be exemplified from authors of the first note; and that too in all the cases following: first, when the pronoun is the nominative to the verb ; secondly, when it is the accusative of an active verb; and, thirdly, when it is governed by a preposition. Of the first case, which is rather the most unfavourable of the three, you have an example in these words, “ I had several men died in my ship of calentures,”'S for, “ who died.” Of the second, which is the most tolerable, in these, “They who effect to guess at the objects they cannot see,” || for - which they cannot see.” Of the third, in these, “ To contain the spirit of anger is the worthiest discipline we can put ourselves to,"for “ to which we can put ourselves.” Sometimes, especially in verse, both the preposition and the pronoun are omitted, as in the speech of Cardinal Wolsey, after his disgrace: .

[ocr errors]

To complete the construction of this member of the sentence, the words with which must be supplied immediately after“ zeal.” — Concerning this idiom I shall only observe in general, that as it is the most licentious, and therefore the most exceptionable in the language, it ought to be used very cautiously. In some cases it may occasion obscurity ; in others, by giving a maimed appearance to the sentence, it may occasion inelegance. In both these it ought carefully to be avoided.tt

* Job xxiv. 13.

| Exod. xxxi. 9. | Hermes.

§ Gul. Trav. Honyhnhmns. || Bol. Phil. Es. II. i.

1 Spectator, No. 438. T. ** Shakspeare's Henry VIII. ft In French, by an idiom not unlike, the antecedent is often dropt, and the relative retained, as in this example, “Il ne faut pas se fier â qui a beaucoup d'ambition.” “A qui,” for “ à celui qui.” The idiom is not the same in Italian, for though the antecedent is sometimes dropt, there is properly no ellipsis, as the relative is changed; as thus, “Lo stampatore a chi legge,” for a quel che.

« 上一頁繼續 »