Category Archives: Dictionaries

Item of the Day: An Essay Towards Real Character, And a Philosophical Language (1668)

Full Title: An Essay Towards a Real Character, And a Philosophical Language. By John Wilkins . . . London: Printed for A. Gellibrand, and for John Martin Printer to the Royal Society, 1668.




It may perhaps be expected by some, that I should give an account of my ingaging [sic] in a Work of this nature so unsuitable to my Calling and Business.

For the satisfaction of such, they may please to take notice, that this Work was first undertaken, during that vacancy and leasure [sic] which I formerly enjoyed in an Academicall [sic] station, to which the endeavours of promoting all kind of usefull [sic] knowledge, whereby Learning may be improved, is a very suitable imployment [sic]. In the time of that daily and intimate converse which I then injoyed [sic], with that most Learned and excellent Person Dr. Seth Ward, the present Bishop of Salisbury. I had frequent occasion of conferring with him, concerning the various Desiderata, proposed by Learned men, or such things as were conceived yet wanting to the advancement of several parts of Learning; amongst which, this of the Universal Character, was one of the principal, most of which he had more deeply considered, than any other Person that I knew. And in reference to this particular, he would say, That as it was one of the most usefull, so he judged it to be one of the most feasible, amongst all the rest, if prosecuted in a regular way. But for all such attempts to this purpse, which he had either seen or heard of, the Authors of them did generally mistake in their first foundations; whilst they did propose to themselves the framing of such a Character, from a Dictionary of Words, according to some particular Language, without reference to the nature of things, and that common Notion of them, wherein Mankid does agree, which must chiefly be respected, before any attempt of this nature could signifie [sic] any thing, as to the main end of it.

It was from this suggestion of his, that I first had any distinct apprehension of the proper course to be observed, in such an undertaking; having in a Teatise I had published some years before, proposed the Hebrew Tongue as consisting of fewest Radicals, to be the fittest ground work for such a design.

Besides the many Private conferences to this purpose, I must not forget to mention, that Publique account which he hath given to the World, of Vindiciae Academiarum; wherein he endeavours to vindicate those Ancient and famous schools of Learning, from such reproaches, whereby some Ignorant and ill-natured men (taking the advantage of those bad Times) would have exposed them to contempt and ruine [sic]. In which Treatise there is mention made of some considerable preparations, towards the Design here proposed, which if his other necessary employments [sic] would have permitted him to have prrosecuted, would without doubt, long ere this, have been advanced to as great a Perfection, as the first Essay in so difficult a matter could have attained. . . .

If any shall suggest, that some of the Enquiries here insisted upon (as particularly those about the Letters of the Alphabet) do seem too minute and trivial, for any prudent Man to bestow his serious thoughts and time about. such Persons may knwo, t hat the discovery of the true nature and Cause of any the most minute thing, doth promote real Knowledge, and therefore cannot be unfit for any Mans [sic] endeavours, who is willing to contribute to the advancement of Learning. Upon which Account some of the most eminent Persons, in several Ages, who were Men of business, have not disdained to bestow their pains about the First elements of speech . . .




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Filed under 1660's, Dictionaries, Grammar, Language, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Word of the Week: Critick


A CRI’TICK [critique, F. critice, It. and Sp. criticus, L. of χριτιχος, Gr.] one skilled in criticism, a profound scholar, a nice censurer.


CRI’TICK. n. s. [χριτιχος]

1. A man skilled in the art of judging of literature; a man able to distinguish the faults and beauties of writing.

This settles truer ideas in men’s minds of several things, wherof we read the names in ancient authors, than all the large and laborious arguments of criticks.             Locke.

Now learn what morals ciriticks ought to show,/ For ’tis but half a judge’s talk to show.            Pope. 

2. An examiner; a judge.

But you with pleasure own your errours past,/ and make each day a critick on the last.            Pope.

3. A snarler; a carper; a caviller.

Criticks I saw, that other names deface,/ And fix their own with labour in their place.                 Pope.

Where an author has many beauties consistent with virtue, piety, and truth, let not little criticks exalt themselves, and shower down their ill nature.                   Watts.   

4. A censurer; a man apt to find fault.

My chief design, next to seeing you is to be a severe critick on you and your neighbor.              Swift.


CRIT’IC, n. [Gr. χριτιχος, from χριτης, a judge or discerner, from the root of χρινω, to judge, to separate, to distinguish.  See Crime.]

1. A person skilled in judging of the merit of literary works; one who is able to discern and distinguish the beauties and faults of writing.  In a more general sense, a person skilled in judging with propriety any combination of objects, or of any work of art; and particularly of what are denominated the Fine Arts.  A critic is one who, from experience, knowledge, habit or taste, can perceive the difference between propriety and impropriety, in objects or works presented to his view; between the natural and the unnatural; the high and the low, or lofty and mean; the congrous and incongruous; the correct and incorrect, according to the established rules of the art. 

2. An examiner; a judge.

And make each day a critic on the last.          Pope.

3. One who judges with severity; one who censures or finds fault.

                                                         Pope.    Watts.    Swift.

Full Titles: 

Dictionarium Britannicum: or a more compleat universal etymological English dictionary than any extant. By Nathan Bailey. Second Edition. London, T. Cox, 1736.

A Dictionary of the English Language:  In Which the Words are Deduced from Their Originals, and Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers.  To which are prefixed, A History of the Language, and An English Grammar.  By Samuel Johnson, LL.D.  In Two Volumes.–Vol. I.  The Sixth Edition.  London:  Printed for J. F. and C. Rivinton, L. David, T. Payne and Son, W. Owen, T. Longman, B. Law, J. Dodsley, C. Dilly, W. Lowndes, G. G. J. and J. Robinson, T. Cadell, Jo. Johnson, J. Robson, W. Richardson, J. Nichols, R. Baldwin, W. Goldsmith, J. Murray, W. Stuart, P. Elmsly, W. Fox, S. Hayes, A. Strahan, W. Bent, T. and J. Egerton, and M. Newberry.  1785.

An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. The origin, affinities and primary signification of English words, as far as they have been ascertained.  II. The genuine orthography and pronunciation of words, according to general usage, or to just principles of analogy.  III. Accurate and discriminating definitions, with numerous authorities and illustrations,  To which are prefixed, An Introductory Dissertation of the Origin, History and Conection of the Languages of Western Asia and of Europe, and a Concise Grammar of the English Language.  By Noah Webster, LL. D.  In Two Volumes.  Vol. I.  New York:  Published by S. Converse.  Printed by Hezekiah Howe-New Haven.  1828. 

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Filed under Criticism, Dictionaries, Language, Posted by Matthew Williams, Vocabulary

Word of the Week: “To Become”


To BECOME [of be and cpeman, Sax. to please, of bequemen, G. to adapt or make fit, or bequem, G. fit, or of bekommen, G. to thrive or agree with] to befit, to adorn; also to be made or done. 


To BECO’ ME. v. n. pret. I became; comp. pret. I have become. [from by and come.] 

1. To enter into some state or condition, by a change form some other.

The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.     Genesis, ii. 7.

And unto the Jews I became a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.       I Corin. ix. 20.

A smaller pear, grafted upon a stock that beareth a greater pear, will become great.       Bacon.

My voice thou oft hath heard, and hath not feared,/But still rejoiced; how is it now become/ So dreadful to thee?        Milton.

So the least faults, if mix’d with fairest deed,/Of future ill become the fatal deed.        Prior.


2. To become of.  To be the fate of; to be the end of; to be the subsequent or final condition of.  It is observable, that this word is never, or very seldom, used but with what, either indefinite or interrogative.

What is then become of so huge a multitude, as would have overspread a great part of the continent.        Raleigh.

Perplex’d with thoughts, what would become of me, and all mankind.   Milton.

The first hints of circulation of the blood were taken from a common person’s wondering what became of all the blood that issued out of the heart.       Graunt

What will become of me then?  for when he is free, he will infallibly accuse me.         Dryden 

What became of this thoughtful busy creature, when removed from this world, has amazed the vulgar, and puzzled the wife.          Rogers.

3.  In the following passage, the phrase, where is he become? is used for, what is become of him?

I cannot joy, until I be resolv’d
Where our right valiant father is become.      Shakesp.



BECOME, v. i. becum. pret. became. pp. become.  [Sax.  becumen, to fall out or happen; D. bekoomen; G. bekommen, to get or obtain; Sw. bekomma; Dan. bekommer, to obtain; be and come.  These significations differ from the sense in English. But the sense is, to come to , to arrive, to reach, to fall or pass to.  [See COME.]  Hence the sense of suiting, agreeing with.  In Sax. cuman, Goth. kwiman, is to come, and Sax. cweman, is to please, that is, to suit or be agreeable.]

1. To pass from one state to another; to enter into some state or condition, by a change from another state or condition, or by assuming or receiving new properties or qualities, additional matter, or a new character; as a cion becomes a tree.

The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.

To the Jew, I became a Jew.

2. To become of, usually with what preceeding; to be the fate of; to be the end of; to be the final or subsequent condition; as, what will become of our commerce?  what will become of us?

In the present tense, it applies to place as well as condition.  What has become of my friend? that is, where is he? as well as, what is his condition?  Where is he become?  used by Shakespeare and Spenser, is obsolete; but this is the sense in Saxon, where has he fallen? 


Full Titles: 

Dictionarium Britannicum: or a more compleat universal etymological English dictionary than any extant. By Nathan Bailey. Second Edition. London, T. Cox, 1736.

A Dictionary of the English Language:  In Which the Words are Deduced from Their Originals, and Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers.  To which are prefixed, A History of the Language, and An English Grammar.  By Samuel Johnson, LL.D.  In Two Volumes.–Vol. I.  The Sixth Edition.  London:  Printed for J. F. and C. Rivinton, L. David, T. Payne and Son, W. Owen, T. Longman, B. Law, J. Dodsley, C. Dilly, W. Lowndes, G. G. J. and J. Robinson, T. Cadell, Jo. Johnson, J. Robson, W. Richardson, J. Nichols, R. Baldwin, W. Goldsmith, J. Murray, W. Stuart, P. Elmsly, W. Fox, S. Hayes, A. Strahan, W. Bent, T. and J. Egerton, and M. Newberry.  1785.

An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. The origin, affinities and primary signification of English words, as far as they have been ascertained.  II. The genuine orthography and pronunciation of words, according to general usage, or to just principles of analogy.  III. Accurate and discriminating definitions, with numerous authorities and illustrations,  To which are prefixed, An Introductory Dissertation of the Origin, History and Conection of the Languages of Western Asia and of Europe, and a Concise Grammar of the English Language.  By Noah Webster, LL. D.  In Two Volumes.  Vol. I.  New York:  Published by S. Converse.  Printed by Hezekiah Howe-New Haven.  1828. 

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Filed under Dictionaries, Grammar, Language, Posted by Matthew Williams, Uncategorized

Item of the Day: The New World of Words (1706)

Full Title: The New World of Words: or, Universal English Dictionary. Containing An Account of the Original or Proper Sense, and Various Significations of all Hard Words derived from other Languages, viz. Hebrew, Arabick, Syriack, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, British, Saxon, Danish, Dutch, &c. as now made use of in our English Tongue. Together with A Brief and Plain Explication of all Terms relating to any of the Arts and Sciences, either Liberal or Mechanical, viz. Grammar, Rhetorick, Logick, Theology, Law, Metaphysicks, Ethicks, Natural Philosophy, Physick, Surgery, Anatomy, Chymistry, Pharmacy, Botanicks, Arithmetick, Geometry, Astronomy, Astrology, Cosmography, Geography, Hydrography, Navigation, Architecture, Fortification, Dialling, Surveying, Gauging, Opticks, Catoptricks, Dioptricks, Perspective, Musick, Mechanicks, Staticks, Chiromancy, Phsiognomy, Heraldry, Merchandize, Maritime and Military Affairs,  Agriculture, Gardening, Handicrafts, Jewelling, Painting, Carving, Engraving, Confectionery, cookery, Horsemanship, Hawking, Hunting, Fowling, Fishing, &c. To which is Added, The Interpretation of Proper Names of Men and Women, that derive their Original from the above-mention’d Ancient and Modern Tongues, with those of Writs and Processes at Law: Also the Greek and Latin Names of divers sorts of Animals, Plants, Metals, Minerals, &c. and several other remarkable Matters more particularly express’d in the Prefece. Compikled by Edward Phillips, Gent. The Sixth Edition, Revised, Corrected, and Improved; with the Addition of near Twenty Thousand Words, from the Best Authors, Domestick and Foreign, by J. K., Philobibl.  . . . London: Printed for J. Phillips, at the King’s-Arms in S. Paul’s Churc-Yard; H. Rhodes, at the Star, the Corner of Bride-Lane, in Fleet-street; and J. Taylor, at the Ship in S. Paul’s Church-yard. MDCCVI.




The Publick being very sensible of the great Advantage and Usefulness of DICTIONARIES, as is evident from the general Acceptation that many New Ones, in most Faculties, have lately met with, it were altogether needless to insist on that Topick, but it is requisite to give some Account of the present Undertaking, and to shew what Improvements are here made to the Elaborate Work of our Ingenious Country-man Mr. Edward Phillips, the Merit of which has been already sufficiently made known to the World by the Sale of Five Several Impressions.

THE Whole has been carefully Revis’d, in order to correct Faults, supply Defects, and retrench Superfluities; and it was judg’d expedient to leave out all Abstracts of the Lives of Eminent Person, Poetical Fictions, Geographical Descriptions of Places, &c. (except a few that serve to illustrate or explain other Terms, which have their Derivation from, or some Dependance on them) in regard that they are already treated of at large, in several particular Dictionaries. In the room of these, are inserted near Twenty thousand hard Words and Terms in all Arts and Sciences, which are not be be found in the former Editions of this Work, nor in any other General Dictionary whatsoever; that is to say, such Terms as relate to Divinity, the Civil and Canon Law, the Common and Stature Laws of this Realm, Moral and Natual Philosophy, Metaphysicks, Mathemeticks, Botanicks, Musick, Physick, Surgery, Anatomy, Chymistry, Pharmacy, Confectionery, Cookery, Maritime and Military Affairs, Merchandixe, Husbandry, Horsemanship, Handicrafts, and Manufactures: . . .

This Collection is made out of the most Approved Authors, and the best Originals the present Age affords; and ’tis far the largest of any hitherto extant, (as it has been already hinted) in regard that it contains all manner of difficult Words and Terms of Art, which are to be found in any Writers of Note: So that now, more than ever, it may be justly said to Answer the title of The New World of Words, Universal Dictionary, or Compleat Glossography. As for the individual Terms, care has been taken every where to set down their Original and Proper Signification, which tends very much to clear up the several Senses wherein they are now generally receiv’d: And they are also explain’d with all possible Perspicuity and Brevity. so as not to interpret any hard Word by others that are as little intelligible, at least not so obvious to Persons who are not well vers’d in Polite Literature; a Fault too frequent in Performances of this Nature.

And farther, although it be no Part of our Design, to teach the Liberal or Mechanical Arts and Sciences, as a late Learned Author has attempted to do; nevertheless, it may be fairly affirm’d, there are many Principles and Rules laid down, with apposite Hints, and Remarks throughout the whole Work, which may give Light even to the Knowledge of those Arts: So as to be of very good Use to young Students and Practitioners of every Profession; as also to Foreigners, who are desirous to be acquainted with the Terms and peculiar Idioms of our English Tongue; which is now so far improv’d, that for Copiousness, variety of Style, clearness and elegancy of Expression, and other Advantages, it may be said to equal, if not surpass, all other Modern Languages.

To conclude, if this Undertaking meet with a favourable Reception among the Judicious, it will be an ample Recompence for the great Pains taken by the Publisher, who is ever ambitious to approve himself,

Their very humble servant,

John Kersey.


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Filed under 1700's, Dictionaries, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Noah Webster’s Letter to John Pickering (1817)

Full Title:  A Letter to the Honorable John Pickering, on the Subject of his Vocabulary; or, Collection of Words and Phrases, Supposed to be Peculiar to the United States of America.  By Noah Webster.  Boston:  Published by West and Richardson, 1817.

To The


John Pickering. 


When I first read your Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases, supposed to be peculiar to the United States, I found in it many things which appeared to deserve animadversion, and thought it incumbent on me, whose Dictionary you have often cited, to publish some remarks upon particular parts of it, and to correct what I apprehend to be erroneous opinions on the subject.  On more mature reflection however, I hesitated whether it would be expedient to trouble you or the public with my explanations and strictures.  the unfriendly dispositions manifested toward me by men of high standing in the republic of letters, and particularly in this Commonwealth, and the virulence with which every effort to detect errors in long received opinions has hitherto been assailed; a virulence by no means compatible with a candid desire of improvement, and probably not warranted by the low estimate which even my opposers have formed of my talents, labors and public services; these dispositions, affording little ground to expect that any remarks of mine would have a salutary influence upon public opinion, have, at times, disposed me to withhold all strictures upon philological subjects, till I can prepare a more critical and extended treatise, than has yet been exhibited to the public.  To a man who seeks his own tranquillity, and whose sole object is to enlighten and benefit his fellow-citizens, controversy, even when conducted with liberality, is extremely irksome; and, rather than be engaged in it, I would spend the small portion of life that remains to me, in the humble walks of obscurity.  In controversy with my fellow citizens, on any subject, I will not be engaged.   The following remarks, drawn from me as much by the solicitations of friends, as by my own love of truth, are not intended to provoke one; and it is my sincere desire that my observations and statements may be marked by that candor and moderation which so honorably distinguish yours. . . .

With regard to the general principle, that we must use only such words as the English use, let me repeat, that the restriction is, in the nature of the thing, impracticable, and the demand that we should observe it, is as improper as it is arrogant.  Equally impertinent is it to ridicule us for retaining the use of genuine English words, because they happen to be obsolete in London, or in the higher circles of life.  There are many instances in which we retain the genuine use of words, and the genuine English pronunciation, which they have corrupted; in pronunciation they have introduced more corruptions, within half a century, than were evwer before introduced in five centuries, not even excepting the periods of conquest.  Many of these changes in England are attributable to fals principles, introduced into popular elementary books written by mere sciolists in language, and diffused by the instrumentality of the stage — that prolific parent of corruption.  Let the English remove the beam from their own eye, before they attempt to pull the mote from ours; and before they laugh at our vulgar keow, geown, neow, let them discard their polite keind, and geuide; a fault precisely similar in origin, and equally a perversion of genuine English pronunciation.

I left college with the same veneration for English writers and the same confidence in their opinions, which most of my countrymen now possess, and I adopted their errors without examination.  After many years of research, I am compelled to withdraw much of that confidence, and to look with astonishment upon the errors and false principles which they have propagated; some of them of far more consequence than any which have been mentioned in the preceding remarks.  I wish to be on good terms with the English — it is my interest and the interest of my fellow-citizens to treat them as friends and brethren.  But I will be neither frowned nor ridiculed into error, and a servile imitation of practices which I know or believe to be corrupt.  I will examine subjects for myself, and endeavor to find the truth, and to defend it, whether it accords with English opinions or not.  If I must measure swords with their travellers and their reviewers, on the subject under consideration, I shall not decline the combat.   There is nothing which, in my opinion, so debases the genius and character of my countrymen as the implicit confidence they place in English authors, and their unhesitating submission to their opinion, their derision, and their frowns.  But I trust the time will come, when the English will be convinced that the intellectual faculties of their descendants have not degenerated in America; and that we can contend with them in LETTERS, with as much success, as upon the OCEAN.

I am not ignorant, Sir, of the narrowness of the sphere which I now occupy.  Secluded, in a great measure, from the world, with small means, and no adventitious aids from men of science; with little patronage to extend my influence, and powerful enmities to circumscribe it; what can my efforts avail in attempting to counteract a current of opinion?  Yet I am not accustomed to despondence.  I have contributed, in a small degree, to the instruction of at least four millions of the rising generation; and it is not unreasonable to expect, that a few seeds of improvement, planted by my hand, may germinate, and grow and ripen into valuable fruit, when my remains shall be mingled with the dust.


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Filed under 1810's, Dictionaries, Language, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Bailey’s Dictionary (1736)

Full Title:

Dictionarium Britannicum: or a more compleat universal etymological English dictionary than any extant. By Nathan Bailey. Second Edition. London, T. Cox, 1736.

Title Page:

Or a more COMPLEAT
Than any EXTANT

Not only the Words and their Explication; but their Etymologies fron the Antient
British, Teutonick, Dutch Low and High, Old Saxon, German, Danish, Swedish, Norman and Modern French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, &c. each in its proper Character.

Explaining hard and technical Words, or Terms of Art, in all the ARTS, SCIENCES,
and MYSTERIES following. Together with ACCENTS directing to their proper Pronuntiation, shewing both the Orthography, and the Orthoepia of the English Tongue,


Algebra, Anatomy, Architecture, Arithmetick, Astrology, Astronomy, Botanicks, Catoptricks, Chymistry, Chiromancy, Chirurgery, Confectionary, Cookery, Cosmography, Dialling, Dioptricks, Ethicks, Fishing, Fortification, Fowling, Gardening, Gauging, Geography, Geometry, Grammar, Gunnery, Handicrafts, Hawking, Heraldry, Horsemanship, Hunting, Husbandry, Hydraulicks, Hydrography, Hydrostaticks, Law, Logick, Maritime and Military Affairs, Mathematicks, Mechanicks, Merchandize, Metaphysicks, Meteorology, Navigation, Opticks, Otacousticks, Painting, Perspective, Pharmacy, Philosophy, Physick, Physiognomy, Pyrotechny, Rhetorick, Sculpture, Staticks, Statuary, Surveying, Theology, and Trigonometry.

Illustrated with near Five Hundred CUTS, for giving a clear Idea of
those Figures, not so well apprehended by verbal description.

A Collection and Explanation of English PROVERBS; also of WORDS and PHRASES us’ed in our ancient Charters, Statutes, Writs, Old Records and Processes at Law.


The Iconology, Mythology, Theogony, and Theology of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, &c. being an Account of their Deities, Solemnities, either Religious or Civil, their Divinations, Auguries, Oracles, Hieroglyphicks, and many other curious Matters, necessary to be understood, especially be the Readers of English POETRY.

To which is added,
A Collection of Proper Names of Persons and Places in Great-Britain, &c with their Etymologies and Explications.

The Whole digested into an Alphabetical Order, not only for the Information of the Ignorant, but the Entertainment of the Curious; and also the Benefit of Artificers, Tradesmen, Young Students and Foreigners.

A WORK useful for such as would UNDERSTAND what they READ and HEAR, SPEAK what they MEAN, and WRITE true ENGLISH.



Assisted in the Mathematical Part by G. GORDON; in the Botanical by P. MILLER; and in the Etymological, &c. by T. LEDIARD, Gent. Professor of the Modern Languages in Lower Germany.

L O N D O N:
Printed for T. COX, at the Lamb under the Royal-Exchange.

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Filed under 1730's, Dictionaries, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: Field of Mars (1781)

Full Title:

The Field of Mars: being an Alphabetical Digestion of the Principal Naval and Military Engagements, in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, Particularly of Great Britain and her Allies, from the Ninth Century to the Present Period. Selected from the Best Historians and Journalists, and Adjusted from the Greatest Authority. Interspersed with concise Descriptions of the Towns and Plances, the Subject of each Article. To which is Prefixed An Essay on the Art of War, and A Comprehensive System of Military and Naval Discipline. Embellished with Maps, Charts, Plans, and Views of Battles. In Two Volumes.

Reference work, in two large, fully illustrated volumes. Includes folding maps depicting sea and land routes. Printed in London for J. MacGowan, No. 27, Paternoster-Row, 1781.

To the Public:

To preserve a perfect impartiality is the province of every Historian, but few attain to it; how far the FIELD OF MARS has adhered to that character, it may be construed a presumption in us to announce; yet thus far, without censure, we may declare, that all events are given as faithful historians present them to us, at whole length, naked, and unmasked; stripped of that praise and adulation, as well as that calumny and reproach with which these transactions are too frequently related. In order to annex veracity to our assertions, particular attention has been paid to extracts from works of repute, and publications of authority. Indeed, where superior merit is conspicuous to all the world, it would be as superfluous as ridiculous to attempt a display of it; yet we may be allowed to assert, that this Nation is almost arrived to the summit of Human Grandeur, and its natives, as men, to the first degree of reputation for Valour, Courage, Integrity, and Humanity; but at the same time it must be admitted, that the utmost efforts of Human Wisdom cannot secure the fate of one single event, which causes the most unlikely to produce their designed effects, often succeed to admiration, and to the utter confusion of the boasted power of Human Prudence, Foresight, and Precaution.

AT this period, such a Publication cannot but be acceptable to the British Reader, when Britain is involved in an accumulating War, when she has to contend not only with her Natural Enemies, France and Spain, but with her late Unnatural Allies the Dutch, and her refractory North American Subjects, who, in diametrical opposition to her internal interest, as well as those of their Mother Country, have set up an Independence, under the protection of the united powers of their avowed Enemies, the French and Spaniards, and the concurrence of the treacherous and time-serving States of Holland, who so lately felt the chastisement of our insulted arms; yet now dare to support a contest the most unhappy that England was ever engaged in; and its termination cannot but be the most important, and mark an æra in the history of Europe.

A TIME when every British subject glows with emulation in defence of his Native Country, and the support of its dignity; for as nothing will stimulate beyond example, so the perusal of a well executed work on this Plan, cannot but excite a desire to pursue the well trod paths of our Ancestors, in an exertion to prove ourselves worthy of enjoying the fruits of their labours, and urge us to pay a just tribute to their revered memories.

NO history, ancient or modern, can, in any comparative degree, vie with that of this Nation for its great exploits, both by Land and Sea; and no country whatever, can pride itself in having withstood the united machinations of its restless enemies, equal to that of Britain; whose well-concerted efforts have generally been crowned with success, and its perfidious enemies sunk into shame and disgrace, even in their own opinion, whenever they have roused the resentment of the Natives of this most favoured Isle. In vain have the arms of France and Spain combined to crop the laurels of the British Forces; their endeavours have proved as baseless as their faith; and every attempt to injure, has been frustrated and rendered abortive by the dauntless spirit inherent in the breasts of the Sons of Albion and Hibernia; who have proved to the whole world, that, however arduous, however apparently impracticable, any proposed attempt may be, the English Soldiers and Seamen are not to be deterred from it by any prospect of difficulty or danger: but will exert themselves as far as men can do, and at least deserve success, if they do not attain it, when led by men worthy to command them, many of whose Feats would have done honour to the Roman arms.

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Filed under 1780's, Dictionaries, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Revolution

Item of the Day: Webster’s Dictionary (1828)

Full Title:

An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. The origin, affinities and primary signification of English words, as far as they have been ascertained. II. The genuine orthography and pronunciation of words, according to general usage, or to just principles of analogy. III. Accurate and discriminating definitions, with numerous authorities and illustrations. To which are Prefixed, An Introductory Dissertation on the Origin, History, and Connection of the Languages of Western Asia and of Europe, and a Concise Grammar of the English Lanugage, By Noah Webster, LL.D. In Two Volumes. “He that wishes to be counted among the benefactors of posterity, must add, by his own toil, to the acquisitions of his ancestors.”—Rambler.

By Noah Webster, LL.D. In two volumes. Published in New York by S. Converse. Printed by Hezekiah Howe, New Haven, 1828.

From the Introduction:

The United States commenced their existence under circumstances wholly novel and unexampled in the history of nations. They commenced with civilization, with learning, with science, with constitutions of free government, and with that best gift of God to man, the christian religion. Their population is now equal to that of England; in arts and sciences, our citizens are very little behind the most enlightened people on earth; in some respects, they have no superiors; and our language, within two centuries, will be spoken by more people in this country, than any other language on earth, except the Chinese, in Asia, and even that may not be an exception.

It has been my aim in this work, now offered to my fellow citizens, to ascertain the true principles of the language, in its orthography and structure; to purify it from some palpable errors, and reduce the number of its anomalies, thus giving it more regularity and consistency in its forms, both of words and sentences; and in this manner, to furnish a standard of our vernacular tongue, which we shall not be ashamed to bequeath to three hundred millions of people, who are destined to occupy, and I hope, to adorn the vast territory within our jurisdiction.

If the language can be improved in regularity, so as to be more easily acquired by our own citizens, and by foreigners, and thus be rendered a more useful instrument for the propagation of science, arts, civilization and christianity; if it can be rescued from the mischievous influence of sciolists and that dabbling spirit of innovation which is perpetually disturbing its settled usages and filling it with anomalies; if, in short, our vernacular language can be redeemed from corruptions, and our philology and literature from degradation; it would be a source of great satisfaction to me to be one among the instruments of promoting these valuable objects. If this object cannot be effected, and my wishes and hopes are to be frustrated, my labor will be lost, and this work must sink into oblivion.

This Dictionary, like all others of the kind, must be left, in some degree, imperfect; for what individual is competent to trace their 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 “kept laid up in a napkin,” and that any misapplication of it may be graciously forgiven.

New Haven, 1828. N. WEBSTER.

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Item of the Day: Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary (1785)

Full Title:

A Dictionary of the English Language: in which the Words are Deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers. To which are Prefixed, a History of the Language, and an English Grammar. By Samuel Johnson, LL.D. In Two Volumes. The Sixth Edition.

Printed in London for J.F. and C. Rivington, L. Davis, T. Payne and Son, W. Owen, T. Longman, B. Law, J. Dodsley, C. Dilly, W. Lowndes, G.G.J. and J. Robinson, T. Cadell, Jo. Johnson, J. Robson, W. Richardson, J. Nichols, R. Baldwin, W. Goldsmith, J. Murray, W. Stuart, P. Elmsly, W. Fox, S. Hayes, A. Strahan, W. Bent, T. and J. Egerton, and M. Newbery, 1785.

From the Preface:

IT is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.

Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom mankind have considered, not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from the paths through which Learning and Genius press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative recompense has been yet granted to very few.

I have, notwithstanding this discouragement, attempted a Dictionary of the English language, which, while it was employed in the cultivation of every species of literature, has itself been hitherto neglected; suffered to spread, under the direction of chance, into wild exuberance; resigned to the tyranny of time and fashion; and exposed to the corruptions of ignorance, and caprices of innovation.

When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity; and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority.

Having therefore no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I reduced to method, establishing to myself, in the progress of the work, such rules as experience and analogy suggested to me; experience, which practice and observation were continually increasing; and analogy, which, though in some words obscure, was evident in others.

In adjusting the ORTHOGRAPHY, which has been to this time unsettled and fortuitous, I found it necessary to distinguish those irregularities that are inherent in our tongue, and perhaps coeval with it, from others which the ignorance or negligence of later writers has produced. Every language has its anomalies, which, though inconvenient, and in themselves once unnecessary, must be tolerated among the imperfections of human things, and which require only to be registered, that they may not be increased, and ascertained, that they may not be confounded: but every language has likewise its improprieties and absurdities, which it is the duty of the lexicographer to correct or proscribe.

[. . .]

In hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be immortal, I have devoted this book, the labour of years, to the honour of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology, without a contest, to the nations of the continent. The chief glory of every people arises from its authors: whether I shall add any thing by my own writings to the reputation of English literature, must be left to time: much of my life has been lost under the pressures of disease; much has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provision for the day that was passing over me; but I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my assistance foreign nations, and distant ages, gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labours afford light to the repositories of science, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle.

When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately become popular I have not promised to myself: a few wild blunders, and risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance in contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting some who distinguish desert; who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue ever can be perfect, since while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he, whose design includes whatever language can express, must often speak of what he does not understand; that a writer will sometimes be hurried by eagerness to the end, and sometimes faint with weariness under a task, which Scaliger compares to the labours of the anvil and the mine; that what is obvious is not always known, and what is known is not always present; that sudden fits of inadvertency will surprize vigilance, slight avocations will seduce attention, and casual eclipses of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer shall often in vain trace his memory at the moment of need, for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow.

In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed; and though no book was ever spared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little solicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it condemns; yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it, that the English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academick bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow. It may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to observe, that if our language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed, and comprised in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive; if the aggregated knowledge, and co-operating diligence of the Italian academicians, did not secure them from the censure of Beni; if the embodied criticks of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its oeconomy, and give their second edition another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.

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Item of the Day: A Short Dictionary of the most Universal Language of the Savages (1818?)

Full Title:

A Short Dictionary of the most Universal Language of the Savages. [Short Dictionary of the Algonkin Language]

Bound with The Late Regulations respecting the British Colonies on the Continent of America considered, in a Letter from a Gentleman in Philadelphia to his Friend in London. / The Late Occurrences in North America, and Policy of Great Britain, Considered. / Considerations on the Propriety of imposing Taxes in the British Colonies: for the Purpose of raising a Revenue, by Act of Parliament. / Authentic Account of the Proceedings of the Congress held at New-York in MDCCLXV on the Subject of the American Stamp Act. / Two Papers, on the Subject of taxing the British Colonies in America… / An Application of some General Political Rules, to the Present State of Great Britain, Ireland and America: in a letter to the Right Honorable Earl Temple. / An Enquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies; intended as an Answer to “The regulations lately made concerning the colonies, and the taxes imposed upon them considered.” In a letter addressed to the author of that pamphlet. / Discourse delivered at the Consecration of the Synagogue of KK shirit Yisroel in the City of New-York, on Friday, the 10th of Nisan, 5578, corresponding with the 17th of April, 1818.

Note: Appears to be taken from v. 2, p. 289-304 of “New voyages to North-America: containing an account of the several nations of that vast continent…” / Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce Lahontan, baron de. / London: J. and J. Bonwicke, R. Wilkin, S. Birt, T. Ward, E. Wickstee; and J. Osbon, 1735.

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Filed under 1810's, American Indians, Dictionaries, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt