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HAVING been long employed in the study and cultivation of the English language, I lately published a dictionary, like those compiled by the academies of Italy and France, for the use of such as aspire to exactness of criticism or elegance of style.
But it has been since considered that works of that kind are by no means necessary to the greater number of readers, who, seldom intending to write or presuming to judge, turn over books only to amuse their leisure, and to gain degrees of knowledge suitable to lower characters, or necessary to the common business of life: these know not any other use of a dictionary than that of adjusting orthography, or explaining terms of science, or words of infrequent occurrence or remote derivation.
For these purposes many dictionaries have been written by different authors, and with different degrees of skill; but none of them have yet fallen into my hands by which even the lowest expectations could be satisfied. Some of their authors wanted industry, and others literature: some knew not their own defects, and others were too idle to supply them.
For this reason a small dictionary appeared yet to be wanting to common readers; and, as I may without arrogance claim to myself a longer acquaintance with the
Published in 2 vols. 1756.
lexicography of our language than any other writer has had, I shall hope to be considered as having more experience at least than most of my predecessors, and as more likely to accommodate the nation with a vocabulary of daily use. I, therefore, offer to the publick an abstract or epitome of my former work.
In comparing this with other dictionaries of the same kind, it will be found to have several advantages.
1. It contains many words not to be found in any other. 2. Many barbarous terms and phrases, by which other dictionaries may vitiate the style, are rejected from this.
3. The words are more correctly spelled, partly by attention to their etymology, and partly by observation of the practice of the best authors.
4. The etymologies and derivations, whether from foreign languages or from native roots, are more diligently traced, and more distinctly noted.
5. The senses of each word are more copiously enumerated, and more clearly explained.
6. Many words occurring in the elder authors, such as Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton, which had been hitherto omitted, are here carefully inserted; so that this book may serve as a glossary or expository index to the poetical writers.
7. To the words, and to the different senses of each word, are subjoined from the large dictionary the names of those writers by whom they have been used; so that the reader who knows the different periods of the language, and the time of its authors, may judge of the elegance or prevalence of any word, or meaning of a word; and without recurring to other books, may know what are antiquated, what are unusual, and what are recommended by the best authority.
The words of this Dictionary, as opposed to others, are more diligently collected, more accurately spelled, more faithfully explained, and more authentically ascertained. Of an abstract it is not necessary to say more; and I hope, it will not be found that truth requires me to say less.
TRAGEDY OF MACBETH:
ON SIR T. HANMER'S EDITION OF SHAKESPEARE.
FIRST PRINTED IN THE YEAR 1745.
ACT I. SCENE I.
Enter three Witches.
IN order to make a true estimate of the abilities and merit of a writer, it is always necessary to examine the genius of his age, and the opinions of his contemporaries. A poet, who should now make the whole action of his tragedy depend upon enchantment, and produce the chief events by the assistance of supernatural agents, would be censured as transgressing the bounds of probability; he would be banished from the theatre to the nursery, and condemned to write fairy tales instead of tragedies; but a survey of the notions, that prevailed at the time when this play was written, will prove, that Shakespeare was in no danger of such censures, since he only turned the system that was then universally admitted to his advantage, and was far from over-burdening the credulity of his audience.
The reality of witchcraft or enchantment, which, though not strictly the same, are confounded in this play, has in all ages and countries been credited by the common people, and in most by the learned themselves. These
"To deny the possibility, nay, the actual existence of witchcraft and
phantoms have indeed appeared more frequently, in proportion as the darkness of ignorance has been more gross ; but it cannot be shown, that the brightest gleams of knowledge have at any time been sufficient to drive them out of the world. The time, in which this kind of credulity was at its height, seems to have been that of the holy war, in which the Christians imputed all their defeats to enchantment or diabolical opposition, as they ascribe their success to the assistance of their military saints; and the learned Dr. Warburton appears to believe (Supplement to the Introduction to Don Quixote) that the first accounts of enchantments were brought into this part of the world by those who returned from their eastern expeditions. But there is always some distance between the birth and maturity of folly, as of wickedness: this opinion had long existed, though, perhaps, the application of it had in no foregoing age been so frequent, nor the reception so general. Olympiodorus, in Photius's Extracts, tells us of one Libanius, who practised this kind of military magick, and having promised χώρις ὁπλιτῶν κατὰ βαρβάρων ἐνεργεῖν, to perform great things against the barbarians without soldiers, was, at the instances of the emperess Placidia, put to death, when he was about to have given proofs of his abilities. The emperess showed some kindness in her anger by cutting him off at a time so convenient for his reputation.
But a more remarkable proof of the antiquity of this notion may be found in St. Chrysostom's book de Sa
sorcery, is, at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of God, in various passages both of the Old and New Testament and the thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world hath, in its turn, borne testimony, either by examples seemingly well-attested, or by prohibitory laws, which, at least, suppose the possibility of commerce with evil spirits." Blackstone, Commentaries iv. 60. The learned judge, however, concludes with calling it a "dubious crime," and approves the maxim of the philosophic Montesquieu, whom no one would lightly accuse of superstition, that “il faut être très-circonspect dans la poursuite de la magie et de l'hérésie." Esprit des Lois, xii. 5. Selden attempted to justify the punishing witchcraft capitally. Works, iii. 2077. See Spectator, 117. Barrington's Antient Statutes, 407.
cerdotio, which exhibits a scene of enchantments, not exceeded by any romance of the middle age; he supposes a spectator, overlooking a field of battle, attended by one that points out all the various objects of horrour, the engines of destruction, and the arts of slaughter. AKÚTO δὲ ἔτι παρὰ τοῖς ἐναντίοις καὶ πετομένους ἵππους διά τινος μαγγανείας, καὶ ὁπλίτας δι ̓ ἀέρος φερομένους, καὶ πάσην γοητείας δύναμιν καὶ ἰδέαν. Let him then proceed to show him in the opposite armies horses flying by enchantment, armed men transported through the air, and every power and form of magick. Whether St. Chrysostom believed that such performances were really to be seen in a day of battle, or only endeavoured to enliven his description, by adopting the notions of the vulgar, it is equally certain, that such notions were in his time received, and that, therefore, they were not imported from the Saracens in a later age; the wars with the Saracens, however, gave occasion to their propagation, not only as bigotry naturally discovers prodigies, but as the scene of action was removed to a greater distance, and distance, either of time or place, is sufficient to reconcile weak minds to wonderful relations.
The reformation did not immediately arrive at its meridian, and though day was gradually increasing upon us, the goblins of witchcraft still continued to hover in the twilight. In the time of queen Elizabeth was the remarkable trial of the witches of Warbois, whose conviction is still commemorated in an annual sermon at Huntingdon. But in the reign of king James, in which this tragedy was written, many circumstances concurred to propagate and confirm this opinion. The king, who was much celebrated for his knowledge, had, before his arrival in England, not only examined in person a woman accused of witchcraft, but had given a very formal account of the practices and illusions of evil spirits, the compacts of witches, the ceremonies used by them, the manner of detecting them, and the justice of punishing them, in his dialogues of Dæmonologie, written in the Scottish dialect, and published at Edinburgh. This book was, soon after