S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Richard C. Trench
Whenever the word influence occurs in our English poetry, down to comparatively a modern date, there is always more or less remote allusion to the skyey or planetary influences supposed to be exercised by the heavenly bodies upon men.
We speak of a person as jovial, or saturnine, or mercurial. Jovial, as being born under the planet Jupiter or Jove, which was the joyfullest star and the happiest augury of all. A gloomy person was said to be saturnine, as being born under the planet Saturn, who was considered to make those that owned his influence, and were born when he was in the ascendant, grave and stern as himself. Another we call mercurial, that is light-hearted, as those born under the planet Mercury were accounted to be.
Common sense meant once something very different from that plain wisdom, the common heritage of men, which we now call by this name, having been bequeathed to us by a very complex theory of the senses, and of a sense which was the common bond of them all, and which passed its verdicts on the reports which they severally made of it.
It will happen continually that rightly to distinguish between two words will throw great light upon some controversy in which words play a principal part; nay, will virtually put an end to that controversy altogether.
What has been said in respect of much of our provincial Englishnamely, that it is old English, rather than bad Englishmay be affirmed, no doubt, with equal right in respect of many so-called Americanisms.
The manifest tendency of the language is, as it has long been, to rid itself of these [brazen, oaten, oaken, birchen, &c.], and to satisfy itself with an adjectival use of the substantive in their stead.
The words good-humour, bad-humour, humorous, and the like, rest altogether on a now exploded, but very old and widely-extended, theory of medicine, according to which there were four principal moistures or humours in the natural body, on the due proportion and combination of which the disposition alike of body and of mind depended.
In the Greek language there is a word for humility; but this humility meant for the Greek (that is, with the rarest exceptions) meanness of spirit. He who brought in the Christian grace of humility did, in so doing, rescue also the word which expressed it for nobler uses, and to a higher dignity, than it hitherto had attained.
As there is a great truth wrapped up in diligence [to esteem highly], what a lie, on the other hand, lurks at the root of our present use of the word indolence! This is from in and doles, not to grieve; and indolence is thus a state in which we have no grief or pain: so that the word as we now employ it seems to affirm that indulgence in sloth and ease is that which would constitute for us the absence of all pain.
How profitable is it for every one of us to be reminded, as we are reminded when we make ourselves aware of the derivation of diligence from diligo, to love, that the only secret of true industry in our work is love of that work!
[The Franks] were honourably distinguished from the Gauls and degenerate Romans, among whom they established themselves, by their independence, their love of freedom, their scorn of a lie; and thus it came to pass that by degrees the name Frank, which may have originally indicated merely a national, came to involve a moral, distinction as well.
To what grand moral purposes Bishop Butler turns the word pastime, obliging [the world] to own that its amusements and pleasures do not really satisfy the mind, and fill it as with the sense of abiding and satisfying joy. They are only pastimes; they serve only, as this word confesses, to pass away the time, to prevent it from weighing an intolerable burden on mens hands.
Almost all poets of a first-rate excellencedramatic poets above allhave been nearly as remarkable for the quantity as the quality of their compositions. Nor has the first injuriously affected the second. Witness the seventy dramas of Æschylus, the more than ninety of Euripides, the hundred and thirteen of Sophocles. And if we consider the few years during which Shakspeare wrote, his fruitfulness is not less extraordinary. The vein has been a large and copious one, and has flowed freely forth, keeping itself free and clear by the very act of its constant ebullition. And the fact is very explicable: it is not so much they that have spoken as the nation that has spoken by them.
Fuller, our church-historian, having occasion to speak of some famous divine that had lately died, exclaims, O the painfulness of his preaching! The words are a record not of the pain which he caused to others, but of the pains which he bestowed himself: and I believe, if we had more painful preachers in the old sense of the word, that is, who took pains themselves, we should have fewer painful ones in the modern sense, who cause pain to their hearers.
This word of itself means plainly no more than a judgment formed beforehand, without affirming anything as to whether that judgment be favourable or unfavourable about whom it is formed. Yet so predominantly do we form harsh, unfavourable judgments of others before knowledge and experience, that a prejudice, or judgment before knowledge, and not grounded on evidence, is almost always taken to signify an unfavourable anticipation about one.
The undue love of self, with the postponing of the interests of all others to our own, had for a long time no word to express it in English. Help was sought from the Greek and from the Latin; Philauty ([Greek]) had been more than once attempted by our scholars, but found no acceptance. This failing, men turned to the Latin; one writer trying to supply the want by calling the man a suist, as one seeking his own things (sua), and the sin itself suicism. The gap, however, was not really filled up till some of the Puritan writers, drawing on our Saxon, devised selfish and selfishness, words which to us seem obvious enough, but which yet are not more than two hundred years old.
Why does the verb monopolize the dignity of being the word? What is there in it which gives it the right to do so? It is because the verb is the animating power, the vital principle, of every sentence, and that without which, either understood or uttered, no sentence can exist.
Often in words contemplated singly there are boundless stores of moral and historic truth, and no less of passion and imagination, laid up,lessons of infinite worth which we may derive from them, if only attention is awakened to their existence.
Far more and mightier in every way is a language than any one of the works which may have been composed in it; for that work, great as it may be, is but embodying the mind of a single man, this of a nation. The Iliad is great, yet not so great in strength or power or beauty as the Greek language. Paradise Lost is a noble possession for a people to have inherited, but the English tongue is a nobler heritage yet.