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ON THE EVILS OF BACKBITING.
PEACE, harmony, and love are some of the graces of the Divine Spirit, which ereate a little heaven upon earth, wherever they are found to prevail; while the contrary tempers must have just the contrary effects.
The sin of backbiting stands registered in the word of God, not only as a great evil in itself, but as being very mischievous in its consequences and effects. It is a great evil in itself: it is recorded as being one of the worst of crimes committed by the Heathen world, who are said to be full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, and malignity. From these principles, we have next whisperers and backbiters; while even on the same list are next registered the haters of God.* The Psalmist observes, that such are not to be reckoned among the real citizens of Sion; for he, the real citizen, "speaketh the truth in his heart, he backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour;" and in the fiftieth Psalm we have the following sharp rebuke of the same evil: "Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son:" and in the 120th Psalm, David offers up this prayer against the same evil:
Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue;" and then adds, "What shall be given unto thee, or what shall be done unto thee, thou
Rom. i. 29, &c. + Ps. xv. 2, 3:
false tongue? Sharp arrows of the Almighty, with coals of juniper." Even among the professors in primitive times, this spirit was unhappily found to exist. St. Paul thus complains against some belonging to the Corinthian church: "I fear, lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would; and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not : lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults." But it is enough further to observe, that it is a direct violation of the ninth command; while the evil consequences which attend a backbiting spirit are incalculable. Chief friends are separated thereby; and the spirit of mutual patience, forbearance, brotherly love, and all these milder graces, which so eminently belong to the Christian character, are entirely forgotten and thrown aside. It were well if all professors would but remember, "that the tongue is a fire,a world of iniquity :" that it "defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell;" and that "it is an unruly evil, which no man can tame."
Now, notwithstanding these evils are so glaring, and the consequences so pernicious, yet there is scarce a backbiter upon the earth who cannot make an excase for his crime. I mention some of them: "I spoke nothing but the truth; and where is the harm of that?" But we are never in a right spirit, or fit to speak at all, but as we are enabled to speak the truth in love. Let such apologists for themselves
* See James iii. 5, &c.
ask their consciences the following question : "Are they ready to repeat the same words, and in the same spirit, they formerly uttered behind your back, when they next meet you face to face?" Besides, as most backbiters speak at random, and by mere report, where would be the harm of going personally to such people, that if falsely accus-, ed they may have a fair opportunity of explaining themselves? It is amazing, what astonishing mischief is done by the false colouring that is frequently put upon the words and actions of others, quite the reverse of their real purpose and design!
This sin of backbiting, perhaps, may discover itself by other vehicles, than by the tongue. When the envenomed anonymous letter-writer sends you his rancorous charge, is not he a backbiter? First, You may almost depend upon it, that he is just as free with his tongue as he is with his pen. Then let his charges be ever so cruel and unjust, he gives you no opportunity to speak for yourself, while he perplexes your mind with a thousand suspicions against others, not knowing who this clandestine writer can be. If he writes in a good spirit, need he be ashamed of his name? If he writes in a bad spirit, should he not be
ashamed of himself that he ever wrote at all?
Of the same description, I conceive, are the writers of anonymous pamphlets. I mean so far as the characters and sentiments of individuals are attacked. If such sort of opponents mean a fair and honourable attack, why not first make themselves known to the persons whose sentiments or conduct they design to oppose! If we have no party designs, or any other unjustifiable motives, why secrete our names. does it not bear the mark of that which is very mean and cowardly, in a very high degree? In short, truth is fair and open, and loves to appear best in the light. Let truth and love be guides to each other, and the world will be a thousand times happier than it is. I find, however, that I am on a subject that will soon outgrow my design. Short papers are best for magazines. I drop these hints that others may take up the same subject, especially as it is so much calculated to promote the general good. May peace be within the walls of all our houses! May peace rest universally! And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep all our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Ev. Mag.
Review of the Eclectic Review.
Concluded from page 84.
THE Reviewers allege that the "omission of u in honor, favor, &c. militates against a rule adhered to in questionable cases; that of preferring the orthography of the language from
which a word directly comes to ours, whatever its origin may have been."
This rule was followed by Dr. Johnson in many cases, with evident propriety, because it best answered
the purpose of writing, which is to represent sounds to the eye, and in many cases, the orthography of words received from the Latin, through the French nation, is best adapted to express the pronunciation, as in the example Johnson gives, entire, instead of Integer.
But to the Reviewers, it may be replied, that retaining a does not preserve the French orthography of the words mentioned, which is honeur, faveur; and therefore the rule, if just, is not applicable to the case. French acted with wisdom in adapting the orthography to their pronunciation; and this is an unanswerable reason why the English should not follow them, for their spelling does not suit the English pronunciation.
The rule, however, is far from being generally adopted in our established practice; nor can it be adopted as a general rule, for in a multitude of cases, it is impossible to know whether a word was taken originally from the Latin or the French. In deed a careful inspection of particular words and classes of words will show that no general rule has been followed. We write legal and lateral. Is this the Latin orthography, omit ting the termination? Or is it the masculine gender of the French? If so, why do we write motive, figurative, relative, the feminine gender of the French, and not the masculine motif, figuratif, relatif. If we have followed the Latin in legal and lateral, why not in futile, volatile, omitting the termination, futil, volatil. We have received many words in ic from the French ique; perhaps public, music: yet we have conformed to the Greek and Roman originals in the orthography. Words in ous deviate from the French as well as the Latin, as odious, precious. Nourish, flourish, debt, doubt, indorse, &c. are neither Latin nor French. Confessor, predecessor, protector are from the French confesseur, predecesseur, protecteur, yet always written without, and what crowns the contradictions on this subject, is, that even those, who pretend to follow the French in honour, favour, depart from it in the derivatives, honourable, favourable, which the French write without u, honorable, favorable.
The truth is, the history of our
language exhibits a series of contra, dictions and absurdities, partial corrections, mixed with gross blunders, and repeated efforts of the learned to refine and improve it, without reject. ing numberless barbarisms. Formerly all words of the class under consideration were written with u; authour, debtour, candour, inferiour, an cestour, traitour, &c. without any ref erence to the question, whether they were of French or Latin original. The English have retrenched u from the whole class, except perhaps ten or twelve. We are pursuing the alteration to a uniform consistent rule ; the omission of u is now the prevailing usage in the United States; and as far as respects this class of words, it is an improvement which ought to be encouraged.
The Reviewers are far from expecting that the public will approve of some of my corrections of orthography; yet they express their own ap. probation of particular instances. In general they observe that a lexicographer should adopt the prevailing orthography of the age in which he writes. This rule, if received without qualification, is fraught with mischief to our language. Indeed it is impracticable; for in some classes of words, the usage is not ascertainable, the orthography being unsettled. But the rule itself contradicts the principle adopted in every other branch of literature, that errors are ta be corrected, when discovered or clearly proved to be such. Dr. Johnson adhered to the rule generally, as laid down by the Reviewers, but not without exceptions. He deviated from the principle" Quid te exempta juvat spinis de pluribus una ?" Why correct one error, when you cannot correct the whole? For in words, where the orthography had been "altered by accident or depraved by ignorance," he held it to be his duty to inquire into the true orthography, by tracing them to their originals, and deciding in favor of the etymology. See Preface to his Dictionary. I have pursued the same rule; and have at tempted only the correction of a fers palpable mistakes and incongruities. Nor ought any lexicographer to decide every case by numbers. When the practice is unsettled, it is his du.
ty to inquire into the original of words, and establish that orthography which is etymologically correct, or which is best suited to give the true pronunciation. In selecting authorities, he ought not to be guided exclusively by a majority of numbers; but when he finds a smaller number who are correct upon principle, he should decide in favor of their practice, in preference to the authority of greater numbers who are evidently wrong. There is an obvious propensity in writers to a regular orthography, a strong inclination to purify the language from its barbarisms, which, in defiance of custom, gradually corrects a mistake, lops off an excrescence, and retrenches superfluity. Thus, since the days of Dr. Johnson, publick, musick, politick, &c. have lost the k; deposit and repos it, have lost e; u is retrenched from many words, as ambassador, error, &c. and the merchant who should follow Johnson's spelling of the words ensurance, endorsement, would not escape ridicule. Some of the greatest authors in the English nation wrote examin, determin, imagin; among these are Camden in his Britannia; Lhuyd in his Archeologia, and Davenant on the revenues of England. Newton, Camden, Lhuyd, Hooke, Prideaux, Whiston, Bolingbroke, Middleton wrote scepter, theater, sepulcher, &c. Pope, Dryden, Hoole, Camden, Thompson, Goldsmith, Edwards' Hist. of W. Indies, Gregory, &c. wrote correctly mold, for mould. How shall these diversities be prevented? A certain part of writers will spurn the chains of authority, and prefer correctness to custom; while others from indolence, convenience, or ignorance, will follow their lexicons. There is therefore but one plain rule for the lexicographer to pursue, that of determining doubtful cases by etymology or analogy. regular orthography, or that which falls into established analogies, is the highest authority; and to this, after some struggles with habits, men will ultimately submit.
Is it not the most mischievous doctrine, that we must be bound by com. mon usage, whether right or wrong? Must we sanction the most obvious errors, and add our authority to ren
der them perpetual? What, because former writers were negligent, or failed of arriving at truth, by ill-directed researches, are posterity obliged to recognize their mistakes? The Reviewers themselves have decided this principle, in their remarks on each and either; for they say, "if Saxon writers, and the translators of the Bible confounded the proper meanings of these words, did they bind all their posterity to do the same?" In that case the question is inapplicable, for no such confusion is found. But the Reviewers, in one case, admit the right in posterity to alter, correct and improve language which right, in another case, they deny.
But I will never degrade the business of lexicography, by complying with the erroneous principle of adhering, in every case, to common usage. I will not, like the English lexicographers, sanction what is admitted, on all hands, to be wrong. What, shall I admit the barbarous word comptroller, because this orthography can claim the authority of common usage? Shall I, like Johnson, introduce it with the authority of Shakespeare, Temple, and Dryden ?* Far be from me such a dereliction of my duty. The lexicographer's business is to search for truth, to proscribe error, and repress anomaly. This is the only direct and easy method to purify our language from the corruptions and barbarisms entailed upon it by the Norman conquest, and by the ignorance and negligence of writers. Few men have an opportunity to investigate the origin of words. men even of letters confide in the de
* I take this opportunity to correct a mistake in the Preface to my Dictiona ry, page 17, in which I have represented Johnson as having mistaken the etymology of this word. This is an error occasioned by my misapprehending his meaning-an error, I believe, that has been common. Johnson mentions the mistake of others; but by setting down comptroll, and its derivatives, with the exemplifications, he has, directly contrary to his intentions, sprend the use of this orthography-as gross a blunder as ever was made.
cisions of lexicographers; for which reason the compilers of dictionaries should not be "dabblers in etymology," as many of them have been ; but men of deep research, and of accurate philological knowledge. Compilers of this character, instead of transcribing and sanctioning the errors of writers, who had no authority but the errors of their predecessors, who have immemorially copied the same mistakes, would gradually acquire a dominion over practice, subdue its anomalies, and improve the language.
The Reviewers remark, that in speaking of pronunciation, I have passed no censure on the accenchuation and grachulation of Walker, nor on the furnichur and multichood of Sheridan, which they condemn. But the Gentlemen misapprehend my motive in making a comparison between Sheridan, Walker and Jones, in the class of words to which they refer. It was not for the purpose of censuring either; but to exhibit the diversities of practice and opinion among standard authors. I can however assure the Reviewers, that in the instances mentioned, as in many other words, I do heartily agree with them in giving the preference to Jones.
In respect to the pronunciation of words, the Reviewers concur with my criticisms, in some instances, and dissent from them in others. The next club of Reviewers will probably give a directly contrary opinion. The fact is, no country, city, village or private club can be found in which all the individuals can agree upon the pronunciation of certain words. All men prefer the pronunciation to which they have been accustomed. The preference is determined by habit, rather than by principle; except in young men ambitious of fame, who seek to imitate the pronunciation of some popular speaker, upon the stage or at the bar. But the lexicographer should not be misled by his habits, nor biassed by the caprices of eminent men. The lexicographer who attempts to change the common pronunciation of words, upon the authority of a distinguished player, or a "great luminary of the law,"* precludes the possibility of uniformi
! See Walker, under the word record.
ty in national practice. This eager. ness to give books a currency by im. itating particular men of popular fame, tends to unsettle established usages, and keep the language in perpetual fluctuation.
The effort of the Reviewers to vindicate the English practice of giving to a its long sound in angel, ancient, which is also the practice in some of these states, is beyond measure feeble. What," a strong accent" give to a its long sound, in angel, ancient, and not in angle, anguish, annual, angry, anchor, anecdote, c. ! Surely the Gentlemen cannot be serious. It is far better to admit the real fact at once, that the practice is a departure from the original sound of the letter, in Greek and Latin, and from the analogies of other English words. Let me add that the Americans do not pronource a in angel, ancient, as they do in command.
In the criticism upon the orthography of though the Reviewers may be correct; and this is the only point in which their strictures wear to me an appearance of correctness. I had well weighed the facts which they have suggested. The original orthography, theah, theh, thoth, I had ex. amined, and carefully considered the primitive guttural sound of h. Still I am not satisfied with Mr. H. Tooke's opinion that theah, and thof are from the same root. Thof is certainly the imperative of thafian, to allow; but I have a strong suspicion that theah is from the same root as the Latin do, dare to give-in the imperative da or tha, which we see in the Celtic daigham. But I prefer the orthography, tho, as it gives the pronunciation, without obscuring the etymology, and makes an obvious distinction to the eye, between though and through.
On the subject of a repugnance among the learned to a reformation of orthography, I wish to be indulged in a few general remarks.
1st, My own attempts go no further than a correction of obvious errors and inconsistencies.
21. Philosophical precision in orthography is found in no modern language, nor is it necessary.
3. The material anomalies in the orthography of the English lan, guage might be corrected without