Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

propriety, and purity of English style, he hath bardly been surpassed, or even equalled, by any of his successors.

It is now about fifty years, since Doctor Swift made a public remonstrance, addressed to

the Earl of Oxford, then Lord Treasurer., - concerning the imperfect State of our Language; alleging in particular, " that in many instances it offended against every part of .“ Grammar.” Swift must be allowed to have been a good judge of this matter; to which he was himself very attentive, both in his own writings, and in his remarks upon those of his friends: be is one of the best and most correet of our profe writers. Indeed, ibe justness of this complaint, as far as I can find, bath never been questioned; and yet no effectual method hath hitherto been taken to redress the grievance, which was the object of it.

But let us consider, bow, and in what extent, we are to understand this charge brought against the English Language: for the Author seems not to have explained himself with sufficient clearness and precision on this bead. Does it mean, that the English Language, as it is spoken by the politest part of the nation, and as it stands in the writings of our mojt approved authors, often offends against every part of Grammar? Thus far, I am afraid, the charge is true. Or does it further imply, that our Language is in its nature irregular and capricious ; not hitherto subjett, nor easiy reducible; to a Orfem of rules? In this reSpect, I am persuaded, the charge is wholly without foundation.

The English Language is perhaps of all the present European Languages by much the most fimple in its form and construction. Of all the antient Languages extant That is the most fimple, which is undoubtedly the most antient; but even that Language itself does not equal the English in fimplicity.

The words of the English Language are perhaps subject to fewer variations from their original form, than those of any other. Substantives have but one variation of Case ; nor have they any diftinétion of Gender, befide tbat which nature hath made. Its Ad

jestives

Its

A 3

[ocr errors]

E F A CE

jectives admit of no change at all, except that which expresses the degrees of comparison. AN the poffible variations of the original form of the Verb are not above six or seven ; wherea's in many Languages they' aniount 10 fome bun. dreds: and almost the rehole bufiness of Mlodes, Times, and Voices, is managed with great ease ly the allistance of eight or nine commodicus little Verbs, called from their use Auxiliaries. The Construction of this Language is so easy and obvious, that cur Grammarians bade thought it hardly worth while to give us any thing like a regular and sistematical Syntax. The English Grammar, which hath been last presented to the public, and by the Person bejt qualified to have given us a perfect one, comprises the whole Syniaz in ten lines: for this reafur ; " because our Language has so little

infiexion, that its construction ucither re

quires nor odmits many rules.In truth, the easier any subječt is in its own nature, che harder it is to make it more easy by explanation ; and nothing is more unnecessary, and at the same time commoniy more difficult,

than 7

[ocr errors]

than to give a formal demonstration of a praPosition almost self-evident.

It doth not then proceed from any peculiar irregularity or difficulty of our Language, that the general practice boob of Speaking and writing it is chargeable with inaccuracy. It is not the Language, but the PraEtice that is in fault. The truth is, Grammar is very mucb negleEted among us: and it is not the difficulty of the Language, but on the contrary the fimplicity and facility of it, that occasions ibis - neglect. Were the Language less easy and simple, we should find ourselves under a necessity of studying it with more care and attention. But as it is, we take it for granted, that we have a competent knowledge and skill, and are able to acquit ourselves properly, in our own native tongue : a faculty, solely acquired by use, conducted by habit, and tried by the ear, carries us on without reflexion ; we meet with no rubs or difficulties in our way, or we do not perceive them; we find ourselves able to go on without rules, and zee do not so

muck

A4

[ocr errors]

much as suspect, that we fand in need of them.

A Grammatical Study of our own Language makes no part of the ordinary method of -instruction, which we pass through in our childhood, and it is very feldom that we apply ourselves to it afterward. Yet the want of it will not be effe&tually supplied by any other advantages whatsoever. Much practice in the polite world, and a general acquaintance with the best authors, are good helps; but alone will hardly be sufficient : we have writers, who have enjoyed these advantages in their full extent, and yet cannot be recommended as models of an accurate Atyle. Much less then will what is commonly called Learning serve the purpose; that is, a critical knowledge of antient Languages, and much reading of antient authors: the greatest Critic and most able Grammarian of the laft age, when he came to apply his Learning and his Criticism to an English Author, was frequently at a loss in matters

of

« ZurückWeiter »