Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of A New Dictionary of the English Language,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Literary Criticism - part 02 (1902), pp. 103-106


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[page 103, continued:]

A NEW DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: BY CHARLES RICHARDSON. LONDON: WILLIAM PICKERING — NEW YORK: WILLIAM JACKSON.

[Southern Literary Messenger, August, 1836.]

THE periodical nature of this publication absolves us from what would otherwise be a just charge of neglect in not speaking of it sooner. Five numbers have been issued, and twenty-five more are to be added, at intervals [page 104:] of a fortnight. These numbers are of quarto form, and contain eighty pages in triple columns. The paper is excellent, and the matter beautifully stereotyped. The whole will form, when the publication is completed, two very large quarto volumes, of which the entire cost will have been fifteen dollars. We say when the publication is completed — the work itself is already so — a consideration of great importance, and sure to be appreciated by the thousands of subscribers to the many costly periodicals which have failed in completing their issue, and thus thrown a number of odd volumes upon the hands of the public. In what farther we have to say of this Dictionary, we shall do little more than paraphrase the very satisfactory prospectus of Mr. Richardson himself.

When Dr. Johnson, in 1747, announced his intention of writing a Dictionary of the English language, he communicated the plan of his undertaking in a letter to Lord Chesterfield. The plan was as follows. He would give, first — the natural and primitive meaning of words; secondly, the consequential — and thirdly the metaphorical, arranging the quotations chronologically. The book, however, was published in 1755, without the plan, and strange to say, in utter disregard of the principles avowed in the letter to the Earl of Chesterfield. That these principles were well-conceived, and that if followed out, they would have rendered important service to English lexicography, was not doubted at the time, and cannot be doubted now. Moreover, the necessity for something of the kind which was felt then [[then]], is more strongly felt now, for no person has as yet attempted to construct a work upon the plan proposed, and the difficulties which were to have been remedied, are greatly aggravated by time. [page 105:] Eighty years have passed, and not only has no new work been written upon the plan of Dr. Johnson — but no systematic work of reform upon the old basis.

The present Dictionary of Mr. Richardson is, distinctly, a new work [[new work]], upon a system never attempted before — upon the principles of Home Tooke, the greatest of philosophical grammarians, and whose developments of an entirely novel theory of language have excited the most profound interest and respect in the minds of all who think.

In the Diversions of Purley, it is positively demonstrated that a word has one meaning and one only, and that from this one meaning all the usages [[usages]] of the word must spring. “To discover this meaning,” says Mr. Richardson, “etymological research was indispensable, and I have stated the results of such research with conciseness, it is true, yet with a fulness [[fullness]] that will enable the more learned reader to form a judgment for himself, and the path of deeper investigation is disclosed to the pursuit of the curious inquirer.” In tracing the usages of words, Mr. R. has availed himself of the materials collected by Johnson and his editors, “the various supplements and provincial vocabularies, the notes of editors and commentators upon our older poets, and of abundant treasures amassed for his own peculiar use.” The quotations are arranged chronologically, and embrace extracts from the earliest to the latest writers of English. The etymology is placed distinctly by itself for the convenience of hasty reference. As an example of the arrangement of the work, we will give the word Calefy.

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In his prospectus, Mr. Richardson has had occasion to speak in no measured terms of the Dictionary of [page 106:] Dr. Webster. We here repeat his observations because we think them entirely just.

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We believe the North American Review has remarked of the work before us, that its definitions are in some measure too scanty, and not sufficiently compact. This defect, which cannot altogether be denied, and which is, to say the truth, of more importance to the mass of readers than to the philologist, will be found, upon examination, a defect inseparable from the plan originally proposed, and which insists upon an arrangement of derivatives under primitives. We are not tempted, however, to wish any modification of the principal design, for the sake of a partial, and not very important amendment.

We conclude in heartily recommending the work of Mr. Richardson to the attention of our readers. It embraces we think, every desideration [[desideratum]] in an English Dictionary, and has moreover a thousand negative virtues. Messrs. Mayo and Davis are the agents in Richmond.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of A New Dictionary of the English Language)