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that you will allow me, through the medium of • The Round Table', firstly, to call attention to those valuable criticisms themselves, and, secondly and chiefly, to offer a word of caution to young students against allowing themselves to be tempted to adopt certain inaccuracies and inelegancies which are discernible in Mr. Marsh's sentences.
No person can doubt that Mr. Marsh is thoroughly conversant with the structure of the English language, and that his errors in composition are simply the result of carelessness. But, as many persons are apt to be misled by the errors of great writers; and, as teachers even may be inclined to defend those errors, on the ground that the usage of our great writers is the only standard of correctness in the language, it is necessary to point out, that it is their usage in their most highly-finished compositions only, which can safely be accepted as the standard ; and that we ought not to regard any work as faultless because of its bearing the signature of a great name,
for even old Homer sometimes nods." The Hon. George P. Marsh, will not, I am sure, take offence when no offence is intended, and he is too true a scholar to object to criticisms
on his own writings if, by means of those criticisms, any information can be imparted to youthful literary aspirants who are zealously pursuing those studies in which he has so honourably distinguished himself. He will readily admit that essays “on the character, composition, and “sources of the English language" ought to be written with such care, that the purity and lucidity of the expressions employed shall inclose, as in crystal, the living thoughts of the author's mind; and if, in Mr. Marsh's essays, I point out here an obscuration of the meaning by the use of an inapt word, there a phrase rendered ungrammatical by the employment of an improper ellipsis, elsewhere an inverted clause causing a partial confusion of the thought, etc., etc., he will not, like a certain writer of less eminence who could not afford to acknowledge an error, set up a defence which his better judgment condemns; and, by palliating an inaccuracy because it is his own, inflict a lasting injury on a language spoken by nearly one hundred millions of the human race.
Mr. Marsh begins his first essay thus :
“I propose to contribute to 'The Nation', in the form
“indicated by the above heading [' Notes on the “New Edition of Webster's Dictionary'), a series “of miscellaneous observations on the character, composition, and sources of the English language.”
There is, in this passage, an error of very common ocurrencé. We hear it in conversation, we meet with it in books and in periodicals, and it is a particular favourite with English clergymen; one of whom recently began a sermon by saying ;-"I propose to make a few observa“tions on the character of the prophet Elijah.” I can imagine the astonishment that would have been depicted in the speaker's countenance if one of his congregation had risen and said;—"I object " to that proposal.” The clergyman, recovering from his surprise, would, very probably, have excxclaimed with indignation;—“Sir, this is neither “ the time nor the place for discussion, I will "hear you in the vestry when this service is " concluded. I did not make any proposal what
ever. I stated simply that it was my intention "to make a few observations on the character of “the prophet Elijah.” That, no doubt, was what he intended to do; but certainly it was not what he did. His words were the proclamation of a proposal :-"I propose"; he wished them to be the announcement of an intention, and should, therefore, have said ;-"I purpose". Mr. Marsh, in like manner, was not making a proposal to his readers; he was informing them of a course which he intended to pursue.
A second error in Mr. Marsh's sentence is his use of the adverb “above ”, as an adjective. He says; "the above heading". This mode of expression has the sanction of many of our best writers; but it cannot be defended on grammatical grounds. Though what we could advantageously substitute for the similarily constructed expressions, “ up-train”, and “downtrain", I do not know.
With regard to the word “propose” :
Dr. Crombie says;-“When usage is divided, as “to any particular words or phrases, and when “one of the expressions is susceptible of a differ“ent meaning, while the other admits only one “signification, the expression which is strictly “univocal should be preferred. To purpose, for 666 to intend', is better than to propose, which
signifies also “to lay before', or 'submit to con"sideration'; and 'proposal ,' for a thing offered
or 'proposed', is better than 'proposition”, “which denotes also 'a position', or 'the affirm“ation of any principle or maxim.' Thus we
say, 'he demonstrated Euclid's proposition', "and 'he rejected the proposal of his friend.'"Treatise on Etymology and Syntax', p. 324. Mr. Marsh continues his essay thus:"I select this dictionary as a basis for my remarks,
“because its wide circulation has made it acces“sible to all, and because, as it stands in this "edition, its vocabulary is more copious, its "etymologies more sound and satisfactory, and “its definitions more accurate than those of any
“other English dictionary known to me.” The structure of this sentence appears to me to be very faulty. Mark what is said in it concerning the dictionary:—"Its vocabulary is more copious, “its etymologies more sound and satisfactory, “ and its definitions more accurate". The reader will perceive that there is here but one verb—the verb “is"; and, as that governs the whole of the clause, we really are told that the etymologies is more sound and the definitions is more accurate! Grammatical correctness requires that the clause should run thus:-“Its vocabulary is more
copious, its etymologies are more sound and “satisfactory, and its definitions more accurate.". But the errors in this sentence do not end here, for, the passage is thus continued :—“than those “ of any other English dictionary known to me";