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this will do,' meaning this will answer the purpose,” he considers the word do wholly different from do = act.
1. The word .in common use do, meaning to act,' is
from the A.-S. dón, and corresponds to the German
thum. 2. The word do, meaning to answer the purpose,' is
from the A.-S. dugan, and corresponds to the German
taugen. He quotes the following passages in illustration of the second meaning. The past tense deih occurs in these lines :
Philip of Flaundres fleih, and turned sonne the bak;
Robert of Bourne, 133.
Robert of Bourne, 159.
All that time he prospered not.)
I'll laugh, an' sing, an' shake my leg
See Latham, English Language, § 593.
391. When a verb is used without any apparent subjectnominative it is called an Impersonal Verb.
Some grammarians contend that verbs of this kind are not Impersonal; but that they are used in the third person, and in the third person only. Hence they propose to call such verbs Unipersonal.
In English we commonly prefix the neuter pronoun it before the so-called Impersonals.
Dr. Lowth says: 'It rains; it shines; it thunders.' From which examples it plainly appears, that there is no such thing in English, nor indeed in any language, as a sort of Verbs which are really impersonal. The agent or person in English is expressed by the neuter pronoun; in some other languages it is omitted, but understood.' Lowth, English Grammar,
Dr. Latham admits three Impersonals : (1) methinks, (2) meseems, (3) me listeth. The word thinks in “methinks is from the Anglo-Saxon thincan, 'to seem,' and not from thencan, 'to think.' Hence 'methinks' and 'meseems' both signify ‘it seems to me;' for me is here the old dative. See Latham, English Grammar, $ 205.
But Dr. Adams, Elements of the English Language, § 276, will not allow that even these are Impersonals; for he argues that the subject is expressed in the words that follow or precede the verb. Thus in the sentence,
Methinks the lady doth protest too much, he would make 'the lady doth protest too much ' a subjectnominative (noun-clause) to the verb 'thinks.'
It may be, as Dr. Lowth maintains, that there are no such things as Impersonal Verbs in any language. But the omission of it is more common with our older poets, than some of the grammarians seem to imagine: So Chaucer :
Byfel that in that sesoun on a day
Canterbury Tales, Prologue. and so Spenser:
Seemed in heart some hidden care she had,
Faerie Queene, I. i. 4.
ibid. I. i. 32.
ibid. I. iv. 19.
392. In no points of grammar do even good writers more frequently make mistakes than in the use of
verbs. I intended to have written last week’ is a very common phrase ; but it is certainly vicious. For, how long soever it now is since I intended,' still the act of writing was then present to my mind, and must be considered as present when I recall that time, and the thoughts of it. Therefore, we should say, 'I intended to write last week.' Take the following examples :
I cannot excuse the remissness of those whose business it should have been, as it certainly was their interest, to have interposed their good offices.--Swift.
There were two circumstances, which would have made it necessary for them to have lost no time.-Id.
History-painters would have found it difficult to have invented such a species of beings.-Addison,
Dialogue on Medals. In these passages, the infinitives should be to interpose, to lose, to invent. So Goldsmith says:
I called on him, and wished to have submitted my
manuscript to him. This should be wished to submit.' For the meaning is, 'I wished then and there to submit my manuscript to him.'
I wished to do something there, and did not then wish that I had done something before.
So here: 'I did not speak yesterday so well as I wished to have done. The meaning intended is so well as I wished to speak.' The use of the auxiliary do is not elegant in such constructions; but if used at all, it should stand so well as I wished to do.'
On the other hand, in this sentence, 'I had not the pleasure of hearing his sentiments when I wrote that letter,' we ought to say having heard instead of hearing if we mean to imply that the hearing did not take place before the writing of the letter. See Lowth, English Grammar, p. 124; and Cobhett, English Grammar, $ 249.
Sequence of Tenses.
393. The sequence of tenses should be carefully observed ; so that the tenses in an accessory or subordinate clause may not be inconsistent with those of the principal sentence. Take this example:
Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life. In two clauses thus connected, when the principal verb is in the present or the future, the verb in the accessory clause cannot be in the past tense. The words, therefore, ought to have been translated that ye may have life.'
On the contrary, had the principal verb been in the past
ye may have life.
tense, the verb in the accessory clause would be correctly put in the past tense also : as,
Ye would not come unto me, that ye might have life. or,
Ye did not come unto me, that ye might have life. but,
Ye will not come unto me, that
Some, who the depths of Eloquence have found,
Dryden, Juvenal, Satire x. The event mentioned in the first line is connected with present time by the present perfect tense have found. But the fact stated in the second line is referred to past time, by the past tense were drowned. Now the last-mentioned event must be subsequent to the first, and therefore there is an inconsistency between the facts stated and the tenses employed. Therefore, we ought to have either (1) in the second line, are or have been drowned ' in the
present-indefinite or present-perfect, which would be consistent with the present perfect have found in the first line ;
(2) in the first line we ought to read had found in the
past-perfect tense, which would be consistent with the past-indefinite were drowned in the second
line. Pope writes :
Friend to my life, which did you not prolong,
Pope, Epistle to Arbuthnot. Here the construction is inconsistent. It ought to be," had you not prolonged . . . the world had wanted,' or 'did you not prolong ... the world would want.'
394. Dr. Campbell thinks, that in expressing abstract or universal truths the present tense of the verb ought, according to the idiom of our language, and perhaps of every language, always to be employed. According to this view, the sentence • He said that there was no God' is incorrect, because God always exists; and it ought to be, 'He said that there is no God.' Yet the Doctor admits that this peculiarity in the pre
sent has sometimes been overlooked, even by good authors, who, when speaking of a past event which occasions the mention of some general truth, are led to use the same tense in enunciating the general truth with that which has been employed in the preceding part of the sentence. See Campbell, Philosophy of Rhetoric, p. 185.
Dr. Webster, in the preface to his English Dictionary, takes the same view, and condemns the following construction :" Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God,' 2 Chron. xxxiii. 13. In order to show the impropriety of the past tense was, he remarks that the present tense is that which is used to express what exists at all times : thus we say "God is' or exists' whenever we speak of his permanent existence. The German version reads, 'Da erkannte Manasse, dass der Herr Gott ist,' and this, as far as it goes, corrobcrates the view taken by Dr. Campbell and Dr. Webster. But their reason does not appear to be quite satisfactory. It is true, that in principal sentences the present is used to express general propositions, or what exists at all times. But it is not quite so clear that the rule applies to the verb in a subordinate or accessory clause. The Latins, in a reported speech, throw the verbs of subordinate sentences into the subjunctive mood; and though in English we do not vary the mood in a reported speech, I am inclined to think that a variation of tense is agreeable to the idiom of our language. It is confessed that good authors use this construction; and in conversation most persons would express
themselves thus : He says, that there is no God.
He said, that there was no God. To allege the permanent existence of God is nothing to the purpose, because this is merely a question of grammar, and most persons would expound these sentences in the following way: 1. He says, that there is no God = He denies the ex
istence of God. 2. He said, that there was no God = He denied the ex
istence of God. No one would interpret the second sentence as signifying a denial of past existence, in opposition to present or future existence.
395. In accordance with his theory, Dr. Webster undertakes to correct this passage :