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source, and define in all their various applications, popular, scientific, and technical, sixty or seventy thousand words! It satisfies my mind that I have done all that my health, my talents, and my pecuniary means would enable me to accomplish. I present it to my fellow citizens, not with frigid indifference, but with my ardent wishes for their improvement and their happiness; and for the continued increase of the wealth, the learning, the moral and religious elevation of character, and the glory of my country.
To that great and benevolent Being, who, during the preparation of this work, has sustained a feeble constitution, amidst obstacles and toils, disappointments, infirmities, and depression ; who has twice borne me and my manuscripts in safety across the Atlantic, and given me strength and resolution to bring the work to a close, I would present the tribute of my most grateful acknowledgments. And if the talent which he entrusted to my care, has not been put to the most profitable use in his service, I hope it has not been “
up napkin,” and that any misapplication of it may be graciously forgiven.'
The author tells us in another place that Walker's Dictionary contains only thirty-eight thousand words; and that Johnson's, Sheridan's, Jones's, and Perry's have about the same number; that the American edition of Todd's Johnson contains fifty-eight thousand; but that in the present work there are no less than seventy thousand. The advantages of such a dictionary, if it be well executed, must be obvious every
reader. This, however, is not the greatest advantage of this work. Whatever those, who consider all improvements in orthography as dangerous innovations, may think of the proposed alterations in the spelling of some words and the pronunciation of others, we think all who understand the subject will admit that in the department of etymology, Dr. Webster has rendered a service to English literature far surpassing all his predecessors. Johnson had done something in this way,* and Bailey had done much more, while Walker had done almost nothing in tracing our language up to its source. Webster, however, has labored this point with great assiduity and success, and has laid the English reader under many obligations for his learned criticisms on the origin of language in general, and the etymology of the English language in particular.
Whoever has looked into the history of our language, must have perceived that it has been derived from a variety of sources. While it is acknowledged on all hands that the Anglo-Saxon is its mother tongue, yet it has been enriched from the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin, French, German, and Dutch, as well as the Spanish and Italian languages; and, therefore, he who would succeed in unfolding its
* One of Dr. Johnson's biographers remarks that · Johnson had great reading, and still more sagacity; but he was a bad etymologist, and very little acquainted with philological niceties.'
beauties, defining its meaning, displaying its characteristic idiom, and tracing out its etymology, must acquaint himself less or more with all these different languages. For such an herculean labor few men can be competent, even with all the helps afforded them by those who have gone before them in the walks of literature, or who may aid them in the definition of those scientific and technical terms which are peculiar to each branch of science, and to the several arts and trades.
The dictionary before us, however, evinces a diligence of research, a compass of knowledge, and a particularity of acquaintance with the various languages of Europe, as well as with oriental literature, which should secure to its author the gratitude of his countrymen, and the patronage of men of science and learning. We do not say, indeed, that the American dictionary is faultless ; yet we may say, with Dr. Johnson, that these failures, however frequent, may admit extenuation and apology; for it often happens, as that eminent man said, that • Care will sometimes betray to the appearance of negligence'--' that in things difficult there is danger from ignorance, and in things easy, from confidence; the mind, afraid of greatness and disdainful of littleness, hastily withdraws itself from painful searches, and passes with sorrowful rapidity over tasks not adequate to her powers; sometimes too secure for caution, and again too anxious for vigorous effort ; sometimes idle in a plain path, and sometimes distracted in labyrinths, and dissipated by different intentions.'
Who that has labored long in any mental process, which from its difficulty required the utmost exertion of intellectual strength, but what can bear witness to the truth of the above remarks? And is a man to be condemned, if in the investigation of subjects which require the profoundest attention, the most extensive rese
search, as well as the nicest discrimination, he should fail to satisfy the expectation of all, or even of those whose candor and intelligence may qualify them to pass an enlightened and impartial judgment on his work? And more especially in settling the orthography and pronunciation of a language so fluctuating in these respects as has been the English language ever since the Norman conquest ? Nor is it to be expected that a living language, which is continually changing its external dress by the acquisition of new terms, by laying aside the use of old ones, and perpetually subjected to the caprice of fashion, or the slavery of custom, should uniformly exhibit a sameness of orthography by all writers, or of pronunciation by all speakers. To lop off the barbarisms occasioned by ignorance, and to restrain the avidity of changes introduced by a mere love of novelty, or by that satiety which arises from a continued sameness, is what the lexicographer should aim to accomplish; and though he may not succeed according to his wishes,
yet to have attempted thus much is laudable, even though the enterprize is beyond his strength.'
There will doubtless be different opinions respecting the alterations attempted by Dr. Webster in these respects : some will think he has made dangerous inroads upon established usages, while others will think that he has retained too many useless letters in many words, and adhered too rigidly to a pronunciation which ought to be considered obsolete. For our part, we are among those who believe that our language is yet encumbered with many superfluous letters, which might be dispensed with, not only without any detriment to the language, but most manifestly much to its improvement. These changes, however, must, and doubtless will be effected gradually, by the sanction of standard writers and approved speakers. Many such improvements have already been made in the course of the last century, and we doubt not that a hundred years hence many more of a similar character will be witnessed.
In commending the dictionary before us, we confess we feel a sort of native pride as Americans; and this pride is somewhat fed by the fact, that while many of his countrymen are awarding to the author his meed of praise for the results of his philological labors, our transatlantic brethren are not insensible to his merits, but they have evinced how highly they appreciate his researches, by giving to the British public a stereotype edition of the American Dictionary.
That the American soil, if suitably cultivated, may be as productive of human genius as any other country, why should we doubt? Nay, why should not our intellectual stature bear some proportion to the height of our mountains, the length and depth of our mighty rivers ? Why may it not expand in proportion with the extent and fertility of our extended plains, and the length and breadth of our inland seas ? Why should we be any more dependent upon Europe for our literature, science, and arts, than we need be for the necessaries, the lux. uries, and refinements of life, or for our religious rites and privileges ? It is true, that our youth and inexperience as a people, as well as our want of leisure from the bustle of life, may be plead in excuse for the little progress we may have heretofore made, in comparison with older nations, in the cultivation of the higher branches of knowledge. But let our native talent be assiduously cultivated-let those geniuses, who show themselves among us be encouraged as they ought to be, and rightly directed—and when their enterprising efforts are exerted in the cause of literature and science, let them meet with suitable patronage and support—and we shall no longer be dependent on foreigners for our learning, our religion, and a knowledge of the useful and ornamental arts.
We say not these things with a view to depreciate foreign literature, nor to undervalue the blessings we have received from our ancestors. But we ought not to forget that while gratitude impels us to acknowledge the obligation we are under to them for many invaluable blessings, they have also entailed upon us evils under which we yet groan; and had their designs been accomplished, we should still have been held in a bondage, civil and ecclesiastical, from which we are now happily free. And since the tree of liberty has been planted heresince it has grown and thriven as in a soil most congenial to its nature -has stricken its roots deep and wide, and has raised its lofty trunk high, and spread its branches far and wide-why should not our sons and daughters, while reposing under its fruitful boughs, successfully cultivate the tree of knowledge, and build high and firm the temple of science? What should hinder our growth in intellectual stature ? What should impede our progress in the path of science? Why should we not erect monuments to our men of genius, which shall tell to future generations what their fathers had achieved for their benefit?
Among other monuments which shall be transmitted to posterity as proofs of the diligence, the deep research, the varied learning, and the successful competition in the cause of philological knowledge, we ďoubt not but the American Dictionary will hold a conspicuous and honorable place. We consecrate these pages to its fame, and cheerfully abide the decision of others whether a more imperishable monument be not its just deserts. If so, let those erect it who are more competent to the task. For ourselves, we shall be content if we may be the humble instrument of aiding in the circulation of a work of which every American ought to be proud, and which, we doubt not, will be handed down to posterity as an evidence of the extent and accuracy of the knowledge, as well as the indefatigable industry of its author. To possess a dictionary in which are accurate definitions of about twelve thousand words more than are to be found in any other work which preceded it, many of which are terms of art and science in daily use among scientific men, and therefore occur less or more in almost every book we read, is certainly no small acquisition to the stock of literature ; and more especially when these definitions are derived from tracing up the words to their respective roots in the several languages from whence they have descended. As long, therefore, as the English language shall continue to be spoken and written, so long will the American Dictionary be held in high estimation by the lovers of science and literature.
We have spoken of the great utility of having the etymology of our language accurately traced. This will appear evident to every person who recollects that a knowledge of the verbal or ideal signification of words is essential to a right understanding of them, even when used in a secondary, or an accommodated sense. As an illustration of our meaning upon this point, and of the great utility of this sort of knowledge, we will present our readers with the following extract from Dr. Webster's Introduction to his quarto dictionary :
* The Greek asyw is rendered to speak or say; to tell, count, or number; to gather, collect, or choose; to discourse ; and to lie down. This last definition shows that this word is the English lie and lay; and from this application, doubtless, the Latins had their lectus, a bed, that is, a spread, a lay.
The Latin lego, the same verb, is rendered, to gather ; to choose ; to read; to steal, or collect by stealing; and the phrase, legere oram, signifies to coast, to sail along a coast; legere cela, is to furl the sails ; legere halitum, to take breath ; legere littus, to sail close to the shore ; legere milites, to enlist or muster soldiers ; legere pugno, to strike, perhaps to lay on with the fist.
It would seem, at first view, that such various significations cannot proceed from one radix. But the fact that they do is indubitable. The primary sense of the root must be to throw, strain or extend, which in this, as in almost all cases, gives the sense of speaking, The sense of collecting, choosing, gathering, is from throwing, or drawing out, or separating by some such act; or from throwing together. The sense of lying down is, probably, from throwing one's self down. The sense of reading, in Latin, is the same as that of speaking in the Greek, unless it may be from collecting, that is, separating the letters, and uniting them in syllables and words ; for in the primitive mode of writing, diacritical points were not used. But probably the sense of reading is the same as in speaking.
The phrases legere oram, legere littus, in Latin, may coincide with that of our seamen, to stretch or lay along the shore or coast, or to hug the land ; especially if this word lay in Sanscrit signifies to cling, as I have seen it stated in some author, but for which I cannot vouch. If this sense is attached to the word, it proves it closely allied to the L. ligo, to bind.
That the sense of throwing, or driving, is contained in this word, is certain from its derivatives. Thus, in Greek, anonsyw signifies to select, to collect; and also to reject, to repudiate, and to forbid; which imply throwing, thrusting away.
Now, if throwing, sending, or driving, is the primary sense, then the : Latin lego, to read, and lego, legare, to send, are radically the same.
word; the inflections of the verb being varied, arbitrarily, to designate the distinct applications, just as in pello, appello, appellere, to drive, and appello, appellare, to call.
And here it may be worth a moment's consideration, whether several words with prefixes, such as slay, flog, and the Latin plico, W. plygu, are not formed on the root of lay, that is, lag or lak. The sense of slay, Sax. slagan, slæan, is properly to strike, to beat; hence in Saxon, "Hig slogon heora wedd," they slew their league, or contract; that is, they struck a bargain. It signifies also to throw, as to slag one into prison; also to fall; to set or lay. The sense of killing is derivative from that of striking, a striking down.
Flog, Lat. fligo, signifies primarily to rush, drive, strike, Eng. to lick; and if formed on the root of lay, is precisely the popular phrase, to lay on.
If plico is formed with a prefix on lay or its root, it must have been originally pelico, that is, belico, belay. "Then to fold, would be to lay on or close; to lay one part to another. Now this word is the Welsh