The Grammar of English Grammars/Preface

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The Grammar of English Grammars by Goold Brown
Preface

PREFACE

The present performance is, so far as the end could be reached, the fulfillment of a design, formed about twenty-seven years ago, of one day presenting to the world, if I might, something like a complete grammar of the English language;--not a mere work of criticism, nor yet a work too tame, indecisive, and uncritical; for, in books of either of these sorts, our libraries already abound;--not a mere philosophical investigation of what is general or universal in grammar, nor yet a minute detail of what forms only a part of our own philology; for either of these plans falls very far short of such a purpose;--not a mere grammatical compend, abstract, or compilation, sorting with other works already before the public; for, in the production of school grammars, the author had early performed his part; and, of small treatises on this subject, we have long had a superabundance rather than a lack.

After about fifteen years devoted chiefly to grammatical studies and exercises, during most of which time I had been alternately instructing youth in four different languages, thinking it practicable to effect some improvement upon the manuals which explain our own, I prepared and published, for the use of schools, a duodecimo volume of about three hundred pages; which, upon the presumption that its principles were conformable to the best usage, and well established thereby, I entitled, "The Institutes of English Grammar." Of this work, which, it is believed, has been gradually gaining in reputation and demand ever since its first publication, there is no occasion to say more here, than that it was the result of diligent study, and that it is, essentially, the nucleus, or the groundwork, of the present volume.

With much additional labour, the principles contained in the Institutes of English Grammar, have here been not only reaffirmed and rewritten, but occasionally improved in expression, or amplified in their details. New topics, new definitions, new rules, have also been added; and all parts of the subject have been illustrated by a multiplicity of new examples and exercises, which it has required a long time to amass and arrange. To the main doctrines, also, are here subjoined many new observations and criticisms, which are the results of no inconsiderable reading and reflection.

Regarding it as my business and calling, to work out the above-mentioned purpose as circumstances might permit, I have laid no claim to genius, none to infallibility; but I have endeavoured to be accurate, and aspired to be useful; and it is a part of my plan, that the reader of this volume shall never, through my fault, be left in doubt as to the origin of any thing it contains. It is but the duty of an author, to give every needful facility for a fair estimate of his work; and, whatever authority there may be for anonymous copying in works on grammar, the precedent is always bad.

The success of other labours, answerable to moderate wishes, has enabled me to pursue this task under favourable circumstances, and with an unselfish, independent aim. Not with vainglorious pride, but with reverent gratitude to God, I acknowledge this advantage, giving thanks for the signal mercy which has upborne me to the long-continued effort. Had the case been otherwise,--had the labours of the school-room been still demanded for my support,--the present large volume would never have appeared. I had desired some leisure for the completing of this design, and to it I scrupled not to sacrifice the profits of my main employment, as soon as it could be done without hazard of adding another chapter to "the Calamities of Authors."

The nature and design of this treatise are perhaps sufficiently developed in connexion with the various topics which are successively treated of in the Introduction. That method of teaching, which I conceive to be the best, is also there described. And, in the Grammar itself, there will be found occasional directions concerning the manner of its use. I have hoped to facilitate the study of the English language, not by abridging our grammatical code, or by rejecting the common phraseolgy [sic--KTH] of its doctrines, but by extending the former, improving the latter, and establishing both;--but still more, by furnishing new illustrations of the subject, and arranging its vast number of particulars in such order that every item may be readily found.

An other important purpose, which, in the preparation of this work, has been borne constantly in mind, and judged worthy of very particular attention, was the attempt to settle, so far as the most patient investigation and the fullest exhibition of proofs could do it, the multitudinous and vexatious disputes which have hitherto divided the sentiments of teachers, and made the study of English grammar so uninviting, unsatisfactory, and unprofitable, to the student whose taste demands a reasonable degree of certainty.

"Whenever labour implies the exertion of thought, it does good, at least to the strong: when the saving of labour is a saving of thought, it enfeebles. The mind, like the body, is strengthened by hard exercise: but, to give this exercise all its salutary effect, it should be of a reasonable kind; it should lead us to the perception of regularity, of order, of principle, of a law. When, after all the trouble we have taken, we merely find anomalies and confusion, we are disgusted with what is so uncongenial: and, as our higher faculties have not been called into action, they are not unlikely to be outgrown by the lower, and overborne as it were by the underwood of our minds. Hence, no doubt, one of the reasons why our language has been so much neglected, and why such scandalous ignorance prevails concerning its nature and history, is its unattractive, disheartening irregularity: none but Satan is fond of plunging into chaos."--Philological Museum, (Cambridge, Eng., 1832,) Vol. i, p. 666.

If there be any remedy for the neglect and ignorance here spoken of, it must be found in the more effectual teaching of English grammar. But the principles of grammar can never have any beneficial influence over any person's manner of speaking or writing, till by some process they are made so perfectly familiar, that he can apply them with all the readiness of a native power; that is, till he can apply them not only to what has been said or written, but to whatever he is about to utter. They must present themselves to the mind as by intuition, and with the quickness of thought; so as to regulate his language before it proceeds from the lips or the pen. If they come only by tardy recollection, or are called to mind but as contingent afterthoughts, they are altogether too late; and serve merely to mortify the speaker or writer, by reminding him of some deficiency or inaccuracy which there may then be no chance to amend.

But how shall, or can, this readiness be acquired? I answer, By a careful attention to such exercises as are fitted to bring the learner's knowledge into practice. The student will therefore find, that I have given him something to do, as well as something to learn. But, by the formules and directions in this work, he is very carefully shown how to proceed; and, if he be a tolerable reader, it will be his own fault, if he does not, by such aid, become a tolerable grammarian. The chief of these exercises are the parsing of what is right, and the correcting of what is wrong; both, perhaps, equally important; and I have intended to make them equally easy. To any real proficient in grammar, nothing can be more free from embarrassment, than the performance of these exercises, in all ordinary cases. For grammar, rightly learned, institutes in the mind a certain knowledge, or process of thought, concerning the sorts, properties, and relations, of all the words which can be presented in any intelligible sentence; and, with the initiated, a perception of the construction will always instantly follow or accompany a discovery of the sense: and instantly, too, should there be a perception of the error, if any of the words are misspelled, misjoined, misapplied,--or are, in any way, unfaithful to the sense intended.

Thus it is the great end of grammar, to secure the power of apt expression, by causing the principles on which language is constructed, if not to be constantly present to the mind, at least to pass through it more rapidly than either pen or voice can utter words. And where this power resides, there cannot but be a proportionate degree of critical skill, or of ability to judge of the language of others. Present what you will, grammar directs the mind immediately to a consideration of the sense; and, if properly taught, always creates a discriminating taste which is not less offended by specious absurdities, than by the common blunders of clownishness. Every one who has any pretensions to this art, knows that, to parse a sentence, is but to resolve it according to one's understanding of its import; and it is equally clear, that the power to correct an erroneous passage, usually demands or implies a knowledge of the author's thought.

But, if parsing and correcting are of so great practical importance as our first mention of them suggests, it may be well to be more explicit here concerning them. The pupil who cannot perform these exercises both accurately and fluently, is not truly prepared to perform them at all, and has no right to expect from any body a patient hearing. A slow and faltering rehearsal of words clearly prescribed, yet neither fairly remembered nor understandingly applied, is as foreign from parsing or correcting, as it is from elegance of diction. Divide and conquer, is the rule here, as in many other cases. Begin with what is simple; practise it till it becomes familiar; and then proceed. No child ever learned to speak by any other process. Hard things become easy by use; and skill is gained by little and little. Of the whole method of parsing, it should be understood, that it is to be a critical exercise in utterance, as well as an evidence of previous study,--an exhibition of the learner's attainments in the practice, as well as in the theory, of grammar; and that, in any tolerable performance of this exercise, there must be an exact adherence to the truth of facts, as they occur in the example, and to the forms of expression, which are prescribed as models, in the book. For parsing is, in no degree, a work of invention; but wholly an exercise, an exertion of skill. It is, indeed, an exercise for all the powers of the mind, except the inventive faculty. Perception, judgement, reasoning, memory, and method, are indispensable to the performance. Nothing is to be guessed at, or devised, or uttered at random. If the learner can but rehearse the necessary definitions and rules, and perform the simplest exercise of judgement in their application, he cannot but perceive what he must say in order to speak the truth in parsing. His principal difficulty is in determining the parts of speech. To lessen this, the trial should commence with easy sentences, also with few of the definitions, and with definitions that have been perfectly learned. This difficulty being surmounted, let him follow the forms prescribed for the several praxes of this work, and he shall not err. The directions and examples given at the head of each exercise, will show him exactly the number, the order, and the proper phraseology, of the particulars to be stated; so that he may go through the explanation with every advantage which a book can afford. There is no hope of him whom these aids will not save from "plunging into chaos."

"Of all the works of man, language is the most enduring, and partakes the most of eternity. And, as our own language, so far as thought can project itself into the future, seems likely to be coeval with the world, and to spread vastly beyond even its present immeasurable limits, there cannot easily be a nobler object of ambition than to purify and better it."--Philological Museum, Vol. i, p. 665.

It was some ambition of the kind here meant, awakened by a discovery of the scandalous errors and defects which abound in all our common English grammars, that prompted me to undertake the present work. Now, by the bettering of a language, I understand little else than the extensive teaching of its just forms, according to analogy and the general custom of the most accurate writers. This teaching, however, may well embrace also, or be combined with, an exposition of the various forms of false grammar by which inaccurate writers have corrupted, if not the language itself, at least their own style in it.

With respect to our present English, I know not whether any other improvement of it ought to be attempted, than the avoiding and correcting of those improprieties and unwarrantable anomalies by which carelessness, ignorance, and affectation, are ever tending to debase it, and the careful teaching of its true grammar, according to its real importance in education. What further amendment is feasible, or is worthy to engage attention, I will not pretend to say; nor do I claim to have been competent to so much as was manifestly desirable within these limits. But what I lacked in ability, I have endeavored to supply by diligence; and what I could conveniently strengthen by better authority than my own, I have not failed to support with all that was due, of names, guillemets, and references.

Like every other grammarian, I stake my reputation as an author, upon "a certain set of opinions," and a certain manner of exhibiting them, appealing to the good sense of my readers for the correctness of both. All contrary doctrines are unavoidably censured by him who attempts to sustain his own; but, to grammatical censures, no more importance ought to be attached than what belongs to grammar itself. He who cares not to be accurate in the use of language, is inconsistent with himself, if he be offended at verbal criticism; and he who is displeased at finding his opinions rejected, is equally so, if he cannot prove them to be well founded. It is only in cases susceptible of a rule, that any writer can be judged deficient. I can censure no man for differing from me, till I can show him a principle which he ought to follow. According to Lord Kames, the standard of taste, both in arts and in manners, is "the common sense of mankind," a principle founded in the universal conviction of a common nature in our species. (See Elements of Criticism, Chap, xxv, Vol. ii, p. 364.) If this is so, the doctrine applies to grammar as fully as to any thing about which criticism may concern itself.

But, to the discerning student or teacher, I owe an apology for the abundant condescension with which I have noticed in this volume the works of unskillful grammarians. For men of sense have no natural inclination to dwell upon palpable offences against taste and scholarship; nor can they be easily persuaded to approve the course of an author who makes it his business to criticise petty productions. And is it not a fact, that grammatical authorship has sunk so low, that no man who is capable of perceiving its multitudinous errors, dares now stoop to notice the most flagrant of its abuses, or the most successful of its abuses? And, of the quackery which is now so prevalent, what can be a more natural effect, than a very general contempt for the study of grammar? My apology to the reader therefore is, that, as the honour of our language demands correctness in all the manuals prepared for schools, a just exposition of any that are lacking in this point, is a service due to the study of English grammar, if not to the authors in question.

The exposition, however, that I have made of the errors and defects of other writers, is only an incident, or underpart, of the scheme of this treatise. Nor have I anywhere exhibited blunders as one that takes delight in their discovery. My main design has been, to prepare a work which, by its own completeness and excellence, should deserve the title here chosen. But, a comprehensive code of false grammar being confessedly the most effectual means of teaching what is true, I have thought fit to supply this portion of my book, not from anonymous or uncertain sources, but from the actual text of other authors, and chiefly from the works of professed grammarians.

"In what regards the laws of grammatical purity," says Dr. Campbell, "the violation is much more conspicuous than the observance."--See Philosophy of Rhetoric, p. 190. It therefore falls in with my main purpose, to present to the public, in the following ample work, a condensed mass of special criticism, such as is not elsewhere to be found in any language. And, if the littleness of the particulars to which the learner's attention is called, be reckoned an objection, the author last quoted has furnished for me, as well as for himself, a good apology. "The elements which enter into the composition of the hugest bodies, are subtile and inconsiderable. The rudiments of every art and science exhibit at first, to the learner, the appearance of littleness and insignificancy. And it is by attending to such reflections, as to a superficial observer would appear minute and hypercritical, that language must be improved, and eloquence perfected."--Ib., p. 244.

GOOLD BROWN.

LYNN, MASS., 1851.