Continued from The Plan of an English Dictionary written by Samuel Johnson to PHILIP DORMER, EARL OF CHESTERFIELD.
When the construction of a word is explained, it is necessary to pursue it through its train of phraseology, through those forms where it is used in a manner peculiar to our language, or in senses not to be comprised in the general explanations; as from the verb make arise these phrases, to make love, to make an end, to make way; as, he made way for his followers, the ship made way before the wind; to make a bed, to make merry, to make a mock, to make presents, to make a doubt, to make out an assertion, to make good a breach, to make good a cause, to make nothing of an attempt, to make lamentation, to make a merit, and many others which will occur in reading with that view, and which only their frequency hinders from being generally remarked.

The great labour is yet to come, the labour of interpreting these words and phrases with brevity, fullness, and perspicuity; a task of which the extent and intricacy is sufficiently shown by the miscarriage of those who have generally attempted it. This difficulty is increased by the necessity of explaining the words in the same language; for there is often only one word for one idea; and though it be easy to translate the words bright, sweet, salt, bitter, into another language, it is not easy to explain them.

With regard to the interpretation, many other questions have required consideration. It was some time doubted whether it be necessary to explain the things implied by particular words; as under the term baronet, whether, instead of this explanation, a title of honour next in degree to that of baron, it would be better to mention more particularly the creation, privileges, and rank of baronets; and whether, under the word barometer, instead of being satisfied with observing that it is an instrument to discover the weight of the air, it would be fit to spend a few lines upon its invention, construction, and principles. It is not to be expected, that with the explanation of the one the herald should be satisfied, or the philosopher with that of the other; but since it will be required by common readers, that the explications should be sufficient for common use; and since, without some attention to such demands, the Dictionary cannot become generally valuable, I have determined to consult the best writers for explanations real as well as verbal; and, perhaps, I may at last have reason to say, after one of the augmenters of Furetier, that my book is more learned than its author.

In explaining the general and popular language, it seems necessary to sort the several senses of each word, and to exhibit first its natural and primitive signification; as,

To arrive, to reach the shore in a voyage: he arrived at a safe harbour.

Then to give its consequential meaning, to arrive, to reach any place, whether by land or sea; as, he arrived at his country-seat.

Then its metaphorical sense, to obtain any thing desired; as, he arrived at a peerage.

Then to mention any observation that arises from the comparison of one meaning with another; as, it may be remarked of the word arrive, that, in consequence of its original and etymological sense, it cannot be properly applied but to words signifying something desirable; thus we say, a man arrived at happiness; but cannot say, without a mixture of irony, he arrived at misery.

Ground, the earth, generally as opposed to the air or water. He swam till he reached ground. The bird fell to the ground.

Then follows the accidental or consequential signification in which ground implies any thing that lies under another; as, he laid colours upon a rough ground. The silk had blue flowers on a red ground.

Then the remoter or metaphorical signification; as, the ground of his opinion was a false computation. The ground of his work was his father's manuscript.

After having gone through the natural and figurative senses, it will be proper to subjoin the poetical sense of each word, where it differs from that which is in common use; as wanton, applied to any thing of which the motion is irregular without terrour; as,

In wanton ringlets curl'd her hair.
To the poetical sense may succeed the familiar; as of toast, used to imply the person whose health is drunk; as,
The wise man's passion, and the vain man's toast. POPE.
The familiar may be followed by the burlesque; as of mellow, applied to good fellowship:
In all thy humours, whether grave or mellow. ADDISON.
Or of bite, used for cheat:
----- More a dupe than wit,
Sappho can tell you how this man was bit. POPE.
And, lastly, may be produced the peculiar sense, in which a word is found in any great author: as faculties, in Shakespeare, signifies the powers of authority:
--- This Duncan
Has borne his faculties so meek, has been
So clear in his great office, that, &c.
The signification of adjectives may be often ascertained by uniting them to substantives; as, simple swain, simple sheep. Sometimes the sense of a substantive may be elucidated by the epithets annexed to it in good authors; as, the boundless ocean, the open lawns: and where such advantage can be gained by a short quotation, it is not to be omitted.

The difference of signification in words generally accounted synonymous, ought to be carefully observed; as in pride, haughtiness, arrogance: and the strict and critical meaning ought to be distinguished from that which is loose and popular; as in the word perfection, which, though in its philosophical and exact sense it can be of little use among human beings, is often so much degraded from its original signification, that the academicians have inserted in their work, the perfection of a language, and, with a little more licentiousness, might have prevailed on themselves to have added the perfection of a dictionary.

There are many other characters of words which it will be of use to mention. Some have both an active and passive signification; as fearful, that which gives or which feels terrour; a fearful prodigy, a fearful hare. Some have a personal, some a real meaning; as, in apposition to old, we use the adjective young of animated beings, and new of other things. Some are restrained to the sense of praise, and others to that of disapprobation; so commonly, though not always, we exhort to good actions, we instigate to ill; we animate, incite and encourage indifferently to good or bad. So we usually ascribe good, but impute evil; yet neither the use of these words, nor, perhaps, of any other in our licentious language, is so established as not to be often reversed by the correctest writers. I shall, therefore, since the rules of style, like those of law, arise from precedents often repeated, collect the testimonies on both sides, and endeavour to discover and promulgate the decrees of custom, who has so long possessed, whether by right or by usurpation, the sovereignty of words.

It is necessary likewise, to explain many words by their opposition to others; for contraries are best seen when they stand together. Thus the verb stand has one sense, as opposed to fall, and another, as opposed to fly; for want of attending to which distinction, obvious as it is, the learned Dr. Bentley has squandered his criticism to no purpose, on these lines of Paradise Lost:

--- In heaps
Chariot and charioteer lay overturn'd,
And fiery foaming steeds. What stood, recoil'd
O'erwearied, through the faint satanic host,
Defensive scarce, or with pale fear surpris'd,
Fled ignominious.-----
"Here," says the critick, "as the sentence is now read, we find that what stood, fled:" and, therefore, he proposes an alteration, which he might have spared, if he had consulted a dictionary, and found that nothing more was affirmed than, that those fled who did not fall.

In explaining such meanings as seem accidental and adventitious, I shall endeavour to give an account of the means by which they were introduced. Thus, to eke out any thing, signifies to lengthen it beyond its just dimensions, by some low artifice; because the word eke was the usual refuge of our old writers, when they wanted a syllable. And buxom, which means only obedient, is now made, in familiar phrases, to stand for wanton; because in an ancient form of marriage, before the Reformation, the bride promised complaisance and obedience, in these terms: "I will be bonair and buxom in bed and at board."

I know well, my Lord, how trifling many of these remarks will appear, separately considered, and how easily they may give occasion to the contemptuous merriment of sportive idleness, and the gloomy censures of arrogant stupidity; but dulness it is easy to despise, and laughter it is easy to repay. I shall not be solicitous what is thought of my work, by such as know not the difficulty or importance of philological studies; nor shall think those that have done nothing, qualified to condemn me for doing little. It may not, however, be improper to remind them, that no terrestrial greatness is more than an aggregate of little things; and to inculcate, after the Arabian proverb, that drops added to drops constitute the ocean.

There remains yet to be considered the distribution of words into their proper classes, or that part of lexicography which is strictly critical.

The popular part of the language, which includes all words not appropriated to particular sciences, admits of many distinctions and subdivisions; as, into words of general use; words employed chiefly in poetry; words obsolete; words which are admitted only by particular writers, yet not in themselves improper; words used only in burlesque writing; and words impure and barbarous.

Words of general use will be known by having no sign of particularity, and their various senses will be supported by authorities of all ages.

The words appropriated to poetry will be distinguished by some mark prefixed, or will be known by having no authorities but those of poets.

Of antiquated or obsolete words, none will be inserted, but such as are to be found in authors, who wrote since the secession of Elizabeth, from which we date the golden age of our language; and of these many might be omitted, but that the reader may require, with an appearance of reason, that no difficulty should be left unresolved in books which he finds himself invited to read, as confessed and established models of style. These will be likewise pointed out by some note of exclusion, but not of disgrace.

The words which are found only in particular books, still be known by the single name of him that has used them; but such will be omitted, unless either their propriety, elegance or force, or the reputation of their authors, affords some extraordinary reason for their reception.

Words used in burlesque and familiar compositions, will be likewise mentioned with their proper authorities; such as dudgeon, from Butler, and leasing, from Prior; and will be diligently characterized by marks of distinction.

Barbarous, or impure, words and expressions, may be branded with some note of infamy, as they are carefully to be eradicated wherever they are found; and they occur too frequently, even in the best writers: as in Pope,

---- in endless error hurl'd.
'Tis these that early taint the female soul.
In Addison:
Attend to what a lesser muse indites.
And in Dryden:
A dreadful quiet felt, and worser far
Than arms.------
If this part of the work can be well performed, it will be equivalent to the proposal made by Boileau to the academicians, that they should review all their polite writers and correct such impurities as might be found in them, that their authority might not contribute, at any distant time, to the depravation of the language.

With regard to questions of purity or propriety, I was once in doubt whether I should not attribute too much to myself, in attempting to decide them, and whether my province was to extend beyond the proposition of the question, and the display of the suffrages on each side; but I have been since determined, by your Lordship's opinion, to interpose my own judgment, and shall, therefore, endeavour to support what appears to me most consonant to grammar and reason. Ausonius thought that modesty forbade him to plead inability for a task to which Caesar had judged him equal:

Cur me posse negem posse quod ille putat?
And I may hope, my Lord, that since you, whose authority in our language is so generally acknowledged, have commissioned me to declare my own opinion, I shall be considered as exercising a kind of vicarious jurisdiction, and that the power which might have been denied to my own claim, will be readily allowed me as the delegate of your Lordship.

In citing authorities, on which the credit of every part of this work must depend, it will be proper to observe some obvious rules; such as of preferring writers of the first reputation to those of an inferior rank; of noting the quotations with accuracy; and of selecting, when it can be conveniently done, such sentences, as, besides their immediate use, may give pleasure or instruction, by conveying some elegance of language, or some precept of prudence or piety.

It has been asked, on some occasions, who shall judge the judges? And since, with regard to this design, a question may arise by what authority the authorities are selected, it is necessary to obviate it, by declaring that many of the writers whose testimonies will be alleged, were selected by Mr. Pope; of whom I may be justified in affirming, that were he still alive, solicitous as he was for the success of this work, he would not be displeased that I have undertaken it.

It will be proper that the quotations be ranged according to the ages of their authors; and it will afford an agreeable amusement, if to the words and phrases which are not of our own growth, the name of the writer who first introduced them can be affixed; and if, to words which are now antiquated, the authority be subjoined of him who last admitted them. Thus, for scathe and buxom, now obsolete, Milton may be cited:

------The mountain oak
Stands scath'd to heaven.------
------He with broad sails
Winnow'd the buxom air.------
By this method every word will have its history, and the reader will be informed of the gradual changes of the language, and have before his eyes the rise of some words, and the fall of others. But observations so minute and accurate are to be desired, rather than expected; and if use be carefully supplied, curiosity must sometimes bear its disappointments.

This, my Lord, is my idea of an English dictionary; a dictionary by which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment facilitated; by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained, and its duration lengthened. And though, perhaps, to correct the language of nations by books of grammar, and amend their manners by discourses of morality, may be tasks equally difficult, yet, as it is unavoidable to wish, it is natural likewise to hope, that your Lordship's patronage may not be wholly lost; that it may contribute to the preservation of ancient, and the improvement of modern writers; that it may promote the reformation of those translators, who, for want of understanding the characteristical difference of tongues, have formed a chaotick dialect of heterogeneous phrases; and awaken to the care of purer diction some men of genius, whose attention to argument makes them negligent of style, or whose rapid imagination, like the Peruvian torrents, when it brings down gold, mingles it with sand.

When I survey the Plan which I have laid before you, I cannot, my Lord, but confess, that I am frighted at its extent, and, like the soldiers of Caesar, look on Britain as a new world, which it is almost madness to invade. But I hope, that though I should not complete the conquest, I shall, at least, discover the coast, civilize part of the inhabitants, and make it easy for some other adventurer to proceed further, to reduce them wholly to subjection, and settle them under laws.

We are taught by the great Roman orator, that every man should propose to himself the highest degree of excellence, but that he may stop with honour at the second or third: though, therefore, my performance should fall below the excellence of other dictionaries, I may obtain, at least, the praise of having endeavoured well; nor shall I think it any reproach to my diligence, that I have retired without a triumph, from a contest with united academies, and long successions of learned compilers. I cannot hope, in the warmest moments, to preserve so much caution through so long a work, as not often to sink into negligence, or to obtain so much knowledge of all its parts, as not frequently to fail by ignorance. I expect that sometimes the desire of accuracy will urge me to superfluities, and sometimes the fear of prolixity betray me to omissions; that in the extent of such variety, I shall be often bewildered, and, in the mazes of such intricacy, be frequently entangled; that in one part refinement will be subtilized beyond exactness, and evidence dilated in another beyond perspicuity. Yet I do not despair of approbation from those who, knowing the uncertainty of conjecture, the scantiness of knowledge, the fallibility of memory, and the unsteadiness of attention, can compare the causes of errour with the means of avoiding it, and the extent of art with the capacity of man: and whatever be the event of my endeavours, I shall not easily regret an attempt, which has procured me the honour of appearing thus publickly.


Your Lordship's most obedient,

and most humble servant,


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