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Mr. FONTENELLE, Secretary to the French ACADEMY.
AM asham'd of having de-
ry of Affairs occasion'd this Delay. The Choice that the * ACA
* Of late in many parts of Europe, fome Gentlemen met together ; submitted to common Laws, and form'd themselves into ACADEMYS. But it has been for the most part to a different Purpose (from the ROYAL SOCIETY's:) and most of them only aim'd at the smoothing of their Stile and the Language of their Country., of
DEMY has made of you for their perpetual Secretary, is worthy of such a society; and promises great Advantage to the Commonwealth of Learning. I own, Sir, that I'm somewhat perplex’t with the Request you'make me in the Name of a BODY'to which I'm so much oblig’d. But seeing they desire it, I will freely give thein my opinion, with a great Distrust of my-felf, and a fincere Deference for those who vouchsafe to consult ine.
these, the First arose in Italy - But that which excell'd all the other, and kept it-self longer untainted from the Corruptions of Speech was the FRENCH ACADEMY at Paris. This was compos'd of the noblest Authors of that Nation ; and had for its Founder the great Cardinal de Richelieu : who amongst all bis Cares, whereby he establish't and enlarg’d that Monarchy so much, did often refresh himself by directing, and taking an Account of their Progress. And indeed in his own Life, he found so great Success of this Institution, that he saw the French-Tongue abundantly purify'd, and beginning to take place in the Western World, almost as much as the Greek did of-old, when it was the Language of Merchants, Souldiers, Courtiers, and Travellers. But I shall say no more of this ACADEMY, that I may not deprive my Reader of the Delight of perusing their own History, written by M. de PELISSON ; which is fo masculinely, so chastly, and lo unaffectedly done, that I can hardly forbear envying the French Nation this Honour ; that while the English ROYAL SOCIETY has so much outgone their illustrious Academy in the Greatness of its Undertaking, it shou'd be so far short of them in the Abilities of its Historian. I have only this to allege in my Excuse, that as they undertook the Advancement of the Elegance of Speech, so it became their History to have some Resemblance to their Enterprize : whereas the intention of Our's being not the Artifice of Words, but a bare Knowledge of Things ; my Fault may be esteem'd the lefs, that I have written of Philosophers without any Ornament of Eloquence.
Bp. SPRAT's Hift. of the Royal Sociery. P. 39, 40.
S.I. The Dictionary that the Academy is forining well deserves to be finish't. Custom indeed which often change's living Languages may at length alter what this Dictionary shall determin: Nedum sermonum ftet honos, & gratia vivax. Hor. de Multa renascentur quæ jam cecidere ; cadentque Ar. Poet.
V. 69. Qua nunc sunt in honore vocabula, fi volet usus; Quem penes arbitrium eft, & jus, & norma lo
(quendi. However it will be of feveral Uses. It will be serviceable to Foreigners who are fond of the French Language, and improve themselves by reading the many excellent Books of several kinds that are publish't in it. Besides, the most polite among the French themfelves may loinetiines have occafion to consult the Dictionary about such Words as they doubt of. In fine, when our Language becomes much alter'd, the Dictionary will help to explain thofe Books that are written in the present Age, and which will be admir'd by Posterity. Are we not oblig'd now to explain the Language of VILLEHAR DOUIN, and JOINVILLE? We wou'd be extremely glad to have Greek, and Latin Dictionarys made by the Antients themselves. It iuft indeed be own'd that the perfecting of Dictionarys
is a Point in which the Moderns have out-done the Antients. In time, Pofterity will find the Benefit of having a Di&ionary, that'will serve as a Key to fo many fine Books. The Value of such a Work must increase in proportion to it's Age..
S. II.'IT were to be wilh't, methinks, that the ACADEMY wou'd add a GRAMMAR to their Dictionary. It wou'd be a great Help to Foreigners, who are, often perplex't with our irregular Phrases. The habitual Easiness of speaking our own Language, hinders us from perceiving what it is that puzzles thein. Besides, most of the French themselves wou'd sometimes have occasion to consult such an establish't Rule, They learn't their Mother-tongue only by Custom : and Custom has its Defects, every-where: Each Province has its own : Paris is not faultless. Even the Court it-self has a Tang of the Language of Paris ; where the Children of the highest Quality are usually educated. The most polite People can scarce get rid of the Tone, and peculiar Expressions they learn't in their Childhood, by conversing with their Attendants, in Gascony, Normandy, or in Paris it-felf.
The Greeks and Romans did not think it enough that they learn't their Nativetongue by mere Practice. When they grew up, they study'd it in the Works of Grammarians, to observe the Rules, the Exceptions, the Etymologys, the figurative Senses, the Structure of the whole Language, and it's Variations.
A learn'd Grammarian wou'd be in danger of inaking a Grammar too elaborate, and too full of Precepts. I think it wou'd be best to keep to a short and easy Method. At first, give only the most common Rules: the Exceptions will be learn't by degrees. The chief Point is to set a Learner, as soon as possible, to apply the general Rules, by frequent Practice: and afterward he will take a Pleasure in observing the particular Rules that he follow'd at first, without heeding them.
This Grammar cou'd not fix a living Language : but it wou'd probably lessen the capricious Changes, by which the Mode governs our Words as well as our Cloathis. These fanciful Alterations may at length perplex and spoil a Language, instead of improving it.
III. MAY I not presume here, from an Excess of Zeal, to offer a Proposal, which I readily subunit to such a judi