« PreviousContinue »
Τ Η Ε
P R E F
HE English Language hath been much cultivated
during the last two hundred years. It hath been considerably polished and refined; its bounds have been greatly enlarged; its energy, variety, richness, and elegance, have been abundantly proved, by numberless trials, in verse and in prose, upon all subjects, and in
every kind of style: but, whatever other improvements it may have received, it bath made no advances in Grammatical Accuracy. Hooker is one of the earlieft writers, of considerable note, within the period abovementioned : let his writings be compared with the best of those of modern date; and, I believe, it will be found, that, in correEiness, propriety, and purity of English style, he hath hardly been furpassed, or even equaled, by any of his fucceffors.
It is now about fifty years, since Doctor Swift made public remonftrance, addressed to the Earl of Oxford, then Lord Treasurer, concerning the imperfec? A.2
State of our Language ; alleging in particular, " that s in many instances it offended against every part of " Grammar.” Swift must be allowed to have been a good judge of this matter; to which he was himself very attentive, both in his own writings, and in his remarks upon those of his friends : he is one of the most correct, and perhaps the best, of our prose writers.
Indeed the jusiness of this complaint, as far as I can find, bath never been questioned; and yet no effe&tual method hath hitherto been taken to redress the grievance, which was the object of it.
But let us consider, how, and in what extent, we are to understand this charge brought against the English Language: for the Author seems not to have explained himself with fufficient clearness and precision on this bead. Does it mean, that the English Lana guage, as it is spoken by the politejl part of the nation, and as it stands in the writings of our most approved authors, often offends against every part of Grammar ? Thus far, Tam afraid, the charge is true. Or does it further imply, that our Language is in its nature irregular and capricious ; not hitherto fubject, nor eafily reducible, to a System of rules? In this respect, I am persuaded, the charge is wholly without foundation,
The English Language is perhaps of all the present European Languages “ bị much the most simple in its
form and construction. Of all the antient Languages extant That is the most simple, which is undoubtedly the most antient; but even that Language itself does not equal the English in fimplicity.
The words of the English Language are perhaps subject to fewer variations from their original form, than those of any other. Its Subfiantives have but one variation of Cafe; nor have they any distinction of Gender, beside that which nature hath made. Its Adjece tives admit of no change at all
, except that which expreffes the degrees of comparison. All the poffible variations of the original form of the Verb are not above fix or seven ; whereas in many Languages they amount to fone hundreds : and almost the whole business of Modes, Times, and Voices, is managed with great ease by the asistance of eight or nine commodious little Verbs, called from their use Auxiliaries. The Construction of this Language is so easy and obvious, that our Grammarians have thought it hardly worth while to give us any thing like a regular and systematical Syntax. The English Grammar, which bath been last presented to the public, and by the Person best qualified to have given us a perfect one, comprises the whole Syntax in ten lines : for this reafon ; because our Language has “ so little inflexion, that its construction neither
requires nor admits many rules.” In truth, the easier any subject is in its own nature, the harder
is it to make it more easy by explanation ; and nothing is more unnecessary, and at the same time commonly more difficult, than to give a demonstration in form of a proposition almost self-evident.
It doth not then proceed from any peculiar irregularity or difficulty of our Language, that the general prace tice bath of speaking and writing it is chargeable with inaccuracy. It is not the Language, but the practice, that is in fault. The truth is, Grammar is very much neglected among us: and it is not the difficulty of the Language, but on the contrary the fimplicity and facility of it, that occafions this neglect. IVere the Language lefs easy and simple, we should find ourselves under a necessity of studying it with more care and attention. But as it is, we take it for granted, that we have a competent knowledge and skill, and are able to acquit ourselves properly, in our own native tongue : à faculty, solely acquired by us, conducted by habit, and tried by the ear, carries us on without reflexion ; we meet with no rubs or dificulties in our way, or we do not perceive them ; we find ourselves able to go on without rules, and we do not so much as suspect, that we fiand in need of them.
A Grammatical Study of our own Language makes no part of the ordinary method of inflruclion, which we pass through in our childhood; and it is very seldom that we apply ourselves to it afterwards. Yet the want
of it will not be effectually supplied by any other advántages whatsoever. Much practice in the polite world, and a general acquaintance with the best authors, are good helps ; but alone will hardly be fufficient : we have writers, who have enjoyed these advantages in their full extent, and yet cannot be recommended as models of an accurate style. Much less then will what is commonly called Learning serve the purpose; that is, a critical knowledge of antient Languages, and much reading of antient authors; the greatest Critic and most able Grammarian of the left age, wken he came to apply his Learning and his Criticism to an English Author, was frequently at a loss in matters of ordinary use and common construction in his own Vernacular Idiom.
But perhaps the Notes subjoined to the following pages will furnish a more convincing argument, than any thing that can be said here, both of the truth of the charge of Inaccuracy brought against our Language, as it fubfifts in Practice; and of the necessity of investigating the Principles of it, and studying it Grammatically, if we would attain to a due degree of skill in it. It is with reason expected of every perfon of a liberal education, and it is indispensably required of every one wbo undertakes to inform or entertain the public, that be should be able to express himself with propriety and