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The reader must be informed that gender means kind, and that there are three kinds of nouns, viz., such as denote males, or he-animals; such as denote females, or she-animals; and such as denote neither the one nor the other, having no sexual distinction whatever moreover, he must be informed, that in this instance the English language is richer than several of its neighbours; for some of them have both masculine and femine gender, i. e. male and female kinds of nouns, but no neuter kind. It seems also, very necessary to inform him, that there are metaphoric males and females; figurative ladies and gentlemen. Figuratively in the English tongue," we are told, "we commonly give the masculine gender to nouns which are conspicuous for the attributes of imparting or communicating, and which are, by nature, strong and efficacious. Those again are made feminine, which are conspicuous for the attributes of containing or bringing forth; or which are peculiarly beautiful or amiable. Upon these principles, the sun is said to be masculine; and the moon, being the receptacle of the sun's light, to be feminine. The earth is, generally, feminine. A ship, a country, a city, &c., are likewise made feminine, being receivers or containers. Time is always masculine, on account of its mighty efficacy. Virtue is feminine from its beauty, [should it not be her?]
and its being the object of love. Fortune and the church are generally put in the feminine gender"!!!
Behold the sublime of metaphoric gender, and sexual distinction, and grammatic sentimentality! The writer of such a lovely piece of theory (we fancy that famous philosopher, James Harris, did it into English) must have finished it as triumphantly as if he had wooed and married all the Nine Muses at once. What chaste allusions to holy matrimony! What delicate touches on masculine efficacy and communicativeness; feminine receptiveness and fruitfulness, charms, and graces! What masculine heart can be so insensible to female attractions as not to fall in love with that perfect Venus, Virtue! Or, is it wonderful, that the sun and moon should be husband and wife, though living so far apart! There is, indeed, something of the whimsical in metaphoric gender and matrimony; for with our old, rude ancestors, the Saxons, the moon was not the wife, but the husband of the sun; and some etymologists of the Northern Origin, derive the proper name Moon from the common name Man!
It must be matter of self-gratulation to the sentimental French, that they are not driven to the necessity of figurative genders; as all their nouns are either masculine or feminine; so that they can appear to talk about ladies and gentlemen when speaking of battles and spectacles, plays and operas, metaphysical entities and nonentities.
The business of gender is a very serious affair in
Greek, Latin, and even in Italian, French, &c.; but nothing can be more simple in English; for, except in a few instances, it is left, as it should be, to the meaning of words as indicative of the natures of objects, and not distinguished by different sets of terminations; which are more troublesome than they are worth. The grammarians, indeed, assert, "Nouns, with variable terminations, contribute to conciseness and perspicuity of expression. We have only a sufficient number of them to make us feel our want; for when we say of a woman, she is a philosopher, an astronomer, a builder, a weaver, we perceive an impropriety in the termination which we cannot avoid; but we can say, that she is a botanist, a student, a witness, a scholar, an orphan, a companion, because these terminations have not annexed to them the notion of sex."
If all these assertions were admitted, still the advantage of variable terminations might be denied ; for it could be proved, that they produce a preponderance of inconvenience: but though they contribute to conciseness and perspicuity in such languages as Greek and Latin, in which the personal pronouns are seldom expressed; they are not necessary to perspicuity, and would contribute very little to conciseness in English composition: and if the question be fairly tried by a sufficient number of instances, the English will be found equal to any language (however incumbered with inflection) in conciseness and perspicuity.
What impropriety is there in saying of a female, that she is an astronomer, philosopher, &c., any more than in saying, she is a botanist, scholar, &c.? The truth is, that having, very unnecessarily, adopted a number of foreign distinctions of gender, we are apt to fancy that they are very necessary, or would be extremely desirable to all nouns; just as a little indulgence is apt to produce a restless longing after ́useless or hurtful luxuries: so that, instead of saying, "We have only a sufficient number of variable terminations to make us feel our want"; we ought rather to say, we have a sufficient number of them to produce false notions and fantastic desires; and it would be much wiser to discard some we have than long for more. Such titles as Countess, Duchess, Empress, Princess, &c., may remain; but what utility is there in Actress, Arbitress, Benefactress, Conductress, Huntress, Patroness, Poetess, Protectress, Tutoress, Votaress? Even the eyes and ears (by which grammarians are wont to judge) are surely better pleased with the expressions, She is a clever actor, she is the arbiter, benefactor, conductor, patron, poet, protector, &c., than she is a clever actress, she is the arbitress, &c.
As to perspicuity, such feminine terminations contribute nothing, because the connoun She, which accompanies the noun, indicates the feminine gender as definitely as it is possible for any termination to indicate the same thing: and as to conciseness; that, in most cases, is better effected by one termination
than by several. Thus, to say, Attend, ye actors, is more concise than, Attend, ye actors and actresses: Ye adulterers, is more concise than Ye adulterers and adulteresses, &c.
We have much reason for congratulation concerning gender in reference to English nouns; for they have fortunately escaped the troublesome incumbrance of variable termination; and however the grammarians may lament their rude simplicity, there is not much danger that they will ever be changed into the likeness of Greek and Latin substantives.
The only change of termination in English nouns, besides the affix 's to denote of, is that which is employed to indicate the plural; or, that more than one is meant. The plural affix has been already explained, in treating of Pronouns. There can be little doubt that the two terminations of singular and plural import have some utility; yet, that it is much less than we are apt to imagine, is abundantly evident from the number of nouns which we have with only one termination, without experiencing any inconvenience: as, Sheep, Deer, Swine, &c. In these cases, if it be intended to indicate the singular number, or that one is meant, the purpose is fully accomplished by prefixing a; which, as already shown, is a contraction of an, i. e. ‡ane, i. e. one. what is called (very absurdly) the indefinite article 'answers a useful purpose; whereas, in ninety-nine
In such a connexion,