The Dial/Volume 15/Number 169/Communications
PERHAPS AN ERROR.
(To the Editor of The Dial.)
The frequent letters of “F. H.” to “The Nation” are read with great interest and valued very highly, I am sure, by all American students of modern English. Nevertheless, there is something in these letters (if it may be said) that would be pleasanter if it were different. A reader of a half-dozen of them cannot help wondering whether “F. H.” has ever made a mistake, — the master is so masterful, his censure is so pungent.
The grammatical question examined below is trivial, perhaps, but the examination itself becomes important if it be regarded as helping somewhat towards answering the more serious inquiry,—Has “F. H.” ever erred?
It should be premised that “F. H.” has identified himself in “The Nation” (more than once, I think) as the author of “Modern English,” and that there cannot be any impropriety, therefore, in referring to him here as the author of that well-known and very valuable work.
The present case is this: At page 85 of his “Modern English” Dr. Hall quotes from Marsh's “Lectures on the English Language,” and in one of the sentences quoted inserts sic in brackets after known to. This is the sentence quoted from Marsh's Lectures:
“The word respect, in this combination, has none of the meanings known to [sic] it, as an independent noun, in the English vocabulary.”
Dr. Hall says of this sic in a foot-note:
“A Lord Grenville of former days wrote of ‘a long and destructive warfare, of a nature long since unknown to the practice of civilized nations.’ Here, remarks Coleridge, ‘the word to is absurdly used for the word in.’ (‘Essays on His own Times,’ p.262.) Not unlike the nobleman's ‘unknown to,’ the context considered, is Mr. Marsh's ‘known to.’ ” (“Modern English,” p. 85.)
Dr. Hall's sic and foot-note seem to show that he regards such uses of known to and unknown to as lacking authority and censurable.
It may be assumed here that Dr. Hall does not find anything objectionable in a use of known to that occurs often in his own writings, as in the following instance: “. . . the historical fact, known to everybody” (“Modern English,” p. 192, foot-note). Such use has been very common for a long time. But the same construction is common when the word with which known to or unknown to is connected has been substituted by metonymy for something else,—as camp for people in the camp.
“ . . . in token of the which,
My Noble Steed, knowne to the Campe, I give him.”
(“Coriolanus,” Act I., sc. ix.)
“Another accomplishment was that of copying manuscripts, which they did with a perfection unknown to the scholastic age which followed them.” (Cardinal Newman, “Historical Sketches,” vol. ii., p. 464.)
The line is not distinct between such cases and the following:
“In other cases it is not the love of finery, but simple want of education, which makes writers employ words in senses unknown to genuine English.” ( J. S. Mill, “Logic,” Bk. IV., ch. v., sect. 3.)
“This is the only use of the word in Johnson, the following three being unknown to dictionaries till very recently.” (“A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles,” Remark under Alternative.)
It is the humane way: the other course
Will prove to[o] bloody: and the end of it,
Unknowne to the Beginning.”
(“Coriolanus,” Act III., sc. i.)
Not only to the market-cross were known,
But in the leafy lanes behind the down.”
(Tennyson, “Enoch Arden,” 11, 93-7).
“Most of these wretches were not soldiers. They acted under no authority known to the law.” (Macaulay, “Hist. Eng.,” ch. xii.)
A remark made by Dr. Hall concerning another locution may be appropriately quoted here: “Even such a purist as Lord Macaulay uses it more than once.” (“Modern English,” p. 300.)
The examples given above could be supported by a larger number of similar citations now before me, if there were space for printing so many.
R. O. Williams.
New Haven, Conn., June 19, 1893.