Page images
PDF
EPUB

The correctness of Locke's theory on the importance of the correct use of particles, may be practically illustrated by taking up any book in the English language, no matter by whom written, from a close observation and analysis of which it may be seen how much more important is a knowledge of the meaning, force, and proper function of a word, than the mere knowledge of the class or part of speech under which it may be ranked. It is not meant to be asserted here, that, in every instance, writers are ignorant of the peculiar use of the words they employ; the mere fact of their having improperly applied words is all that is asserted, and that altogether irrespectively of the producing cause of such impropriety. Loose writers and loose speakers, it is frequently said, are loose thinkers. This may be true in some instances, but the following extracts will prove that deep thinking and proper writing are not invariably found in combination. Grammatical definitions, it is true, cannot be given with scientific accuracy ; but surely, if some words are used as signs for certain ideas, and other words used as links whereby to connect them, the correct usage of both is equally necessary in order to the proper understanding, on the part of the hearer or reader, of the idea present to the mind of, and intended to be represented by, the speaker or writer.

The following extract is from the works of Miss Edgeworth:—“During a visit to Lichfield, he became enamoured of Miss Honora Sneyd, and married her shortly after the death of his wife." To defend the strict grammatical accuracy of the use of the words and, her, in the latter clause, it would be necessary to show that the death of his wife took place during his visit to Lichfield (which is not meant by the writer), the copula, or connecting link, and, necessarily uniting the two acts of becoming enamoured and marrying with the same adjunct or qualifying phrase, “During a visit to Lichfield,” in one continued narration. To say the very least of this composition, it is exceedingly loose. How much more grammatically correct, and consequently intelligible, would be the following: “During a visit to Lichfield, he became enamoured of Miss Honora Sneyd, whom he married shortly after the death of his wife.

The following selection is from Keightley's “History of England,” vol. i., p. 289 :—“ Preparations were now made for the invasion of England, where Edward was passing his time in thoughtless gaiety. His more active brother-in-law of Burgundy sent a fleet to blockade the mouth of the Seine.” If the question were proposed, “What is the force of the comparative more active in the latter clause ?” the natural answer would be, that it was intended to apply to the brother-in-law in the text, as opposed to any other brotherin-law whom he might have. Such was evidently not the intention of the writer. 'Tis true the context supplies at once the proper solution ; but surely words can be so properly used, by the application of ordinary care on the part of a writer, as to render it unnecessary to become acquainted with the historical fact, in order to the solution of the grammatical question. “His brother-in-law of Burgundy,

· more active than himself,” would express the meaning of the author definitely, or without any words supplied, but merely a transposition of the words themselves,—“His brother-in-law of Burgundy, more active, sent a fleet," &c.

The following is from the pen of Gibbon :—“ Almansor laid the foundations of Bagdad, the imperial seat of his posterity during a reign of five hundred years.” To talk of a reign of five hundred years, carries one back to the antediluvian period. The sense evidently requires, " The imperial seat of his posterity, during a succession of sovereigns for five hundred years."

From the same : After his wars and buildings, Almansor left behind him, in gold and silver, about thirty millions sterling.” The word after, which refers to time, * does not clearly express the idea intended; which is not merely that the act of leaving this money was subsequent to the prosecution of his wars and the erection of his buildings. How much more adequate to the purpose would be“ Notwithstanding his wars and buildings;" or, “ After defraying the expenses of his wars and buildings."

Thefollowing is from Edmund Burke:"To be honoured, and even privileged, by the laws of our country has nothing

66

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

After refers to position also, but evidently not here, as the meaning would then be that he left the money after (he left) his wars, which would be absurd.

:

to provoke horror and indignation in any man.” Even being an intensive particle, it is evident that the use of it in the present paysage, if correct, would prove that it was the opinion of Burke, that to be privileged by laws was worth more than to be honoured by them; in which opinion many, no doubt, would disagree with him. His opinion, however, may be wholly wrong in this instance; and his use of the word even, grammatically correct, and quite appropriate to express such opinion. The passage under examination is quoted, not to show that Burke was grammatically wrong in the use of the word even, but the importance of observing not only the meaning and usage of a word, but likewise the position it should be placed in to serve efficiently the purpose of the writer. A writer, for instance, holding an opinion different from Burke's, on the question broached in the analysis of this passage, would require to write it thus, “To be privileged, and even honoured,” &c.

The following is from the pen of the celebrated Junius, and will be the last extract given in this place :-“ The Ministry, it seems, are labouring to draw a line of distinction between the honour of the Crown and the rights of the people. This new idea has yet only been started in discourse ; for, in effect, both objects have been equally sacrificed.” The particle yet hastwo leading meanings, as they follow

Yet = up to this time.

Yet = notwithstanding. “ He has not yet come,” will illustrate the former usage.

Though the day was unpropitious, we yet took a walk, will serve by way of illustration of the latter; in which latter and similar instances there is expressed an act, in the clause in which the yet occurs, quite opposed to what may be expected from what was expressed in the foregoing. The question that arises in the present analysis of the passage from Junius, is, “In which sense did he use this

particle ?”. There are no means of ascertaining. All that can be said is, that there existed no necessity for such perplexity. If the former meaning was intended, which appears reasonable, the meaning would have been easily conveyed, by writing—“ This new idea has only been started as yet in discourse." If the latter, which is equally

a

reasonable, it would mean that, notwithstanding the anxiety of the Ministry to draw a distinction between the honour of the Crown and the rights of the people, they were unable to carry their theory farther than in merely discoursing about it. In this case the sense would have been obvious, by the substitution of nevertheless for yet. In the same passage, it is difficult to ascertain the exact use and force of the word only. And in the very next—“I neither understand the distinction, nor what use the Ministry propose to make of it,”—the particle neither is wrongly placed, though the sense is not obscured. Strict accuracy would require it to be thus written—“I understand neither the distinction, nor what use the Ministry propose to make of it."

The foregoing extracts—a few out of the countless thousands that may be given—will abundantly prove the truth of the proposition, that the study of the functions of words, and their proper position in a sentence, is of infinitely more importance than the acquisition of a knowledge of the class under which they are comprehended, according to the technical definitions of writers on Grammar. The classic fication of words is a department of Grammar which has received of late more than ordinary attention; still no great advance has been made : nor, indeed, would a different classification from that which has hitherto obtained materially subserve the purpose which all Grammars must propose as their ultimate end—the purpose of enabling the student to write and speak correctly the language he studies.

Some grammarians, defining the adjective as a word which qualifies a noun, would be horrified to hear the words a, the, and such like, included under the head of adjectives, and call them by the name articles. Others, again, defining an adjective as a word which limits a noun, call these same words, adjectives. The fact is, both are equally correct, and it matters not an iota, for practical purposes, what name such words are called by, providing their proper use is duly understood. Treatises, moreover, have been written, and grave arguments adduced, to prove that they, thy, &c. &c., partake of the adjectival, and mine, thine, &c. &c., of the pronominal character,—to what purpose, except the multiplying of books, it is difficult to see. Such disputes bring forcibly to mind the discussion which so long engaged the attention of the philosophers of old, so well known under the appellation of the “Rixa de lana caprina ;" i. e., à discussion as to whether the covering on the back of a goat should be rightly denominated wool or hair. In the following treatise, intended to facilitate the attempt of students to acquire a knowledge of the English language as it is, or rather should be spoken and written, the ordinary classification will be adopted, and the ordinary definitions given in that portion of it which will discuss the etymological construction of the language; as the breaking up of old customs and abandonment of old paths, the substitutions for which are not generally accepted, tends only to produce in the department of Grammar, as in many other departments of knowledge, disorder and confusion. In the foregoing clause, stating the purpose of this work, the word “ facilitateis studiously used, for no single book, no matter how well or by whom written, can exhibit such a copious analysis, or detail so comprehensively the rules and usage of a language, as to render it all-sufficient. The best books are, and can be, nothing but helps; and he who would acquire a thorough knowledge of, and the power to express himself intelligibly in, a language, must, in addition to the legitimate assistance derivable from such helps, read largely, observe acutely, and endeavour to imitate carefully, those speakers and writers of the language who are allowed to be standards on the subject.

TERMINOLOGY. That department of Grammar, embraced under this head, relates to the names, and the cause of the names, whereby words and classes of words are called. In this department there is much room for, and need of, improvement; but, as was said of the classification of words, so may it be said here, that the name itself is of little importance, provided a student be led, as he should be, to look from the name to the thing named. Indeed, with reference to these two departments-Classification

« PreviousContinue »