Literary and Philological Manuals

THREE recent publications tolerably well represent distinct phases of study and interest in the English language and literature. Professor Lounsbury’s History of the English Language 1 is a model of what a hand-book should be; not so brief as Hadley’s admirable sketch, it follows much the same line, and is marked by a similar freedom from fanciful or eccentric views. It is a clear, terse, and forcible statement of the main facts in the growth of the language, as distinct from the literature, and might well be used as a text-book in the study ; its historical treatment is broad and sensible; we think there might have been more attention given to the common ground which the English occupies with other languages as regards elementary principles of change, but the limitations of the book perhaps justify this exclusive treatment. We like especially the author’s unpedantic and healthful manner of looking upon the language as an expression of national life, and not as an ingenious piece of mechanism constructed for the amusement of grammarians. The conclusion of the first part only gathers into pregnant sentences what had never been lost sight of by the author: “ As political reasons have lifted the tongue into its present prominence, so in the future to political reasons will be owing its progress or decay. Thus, back of everything that tends to the extension of language lie the material strength, the intellectual development, and the moral character which make the users of a language worthy enough and powerful enough to impose it upon others. No speech can do more than express the ideas of those who employ it at the time. It cannot live upon its past meanings, or upon the past conceptions of great men which have been recorded in it, any more than the race which uses it can live upon its past glory or its past achievements. Proud, therefore, as we may now well be of our tongue, we may rest assured that if it ever attains to universal sovereignty it will do so only because the ideas of the men who speak it are fit to become the ruling ideas of the world, and the men themselves are strong enough to carry them over the world; and that, in the last analysis, depends, like everything else, upon the development of the individual, — depends, not upon the territory we buy or steal, not upon the gold we mine or the grain we grow, but upon the men we produce. If we fail there, no national greatness, however splendid to outward view', can be anything but temporary and illusory ; and, when once national greatness disappears, no past achievements in literature, however glorious, will perpetuate our language as a living speech, though they may help for a while to retard its decay.”

Professor Lounsbury’s manual represents the fresher, more scientific, and healthier study of our language. — a study which is based at once upon history and philosophy, and aims at the suggestive arrangement of facts in development. Professor Tyler’s remodeling of Morley’s First Sketch of English Literature 2 must be classed rather with the conventional histories of literature. As a piece of literary workmanship, Mr. Tyler’s part may be characterized as putting Mr. Morley’s book in order. The original sketch was almost hopelessly disarranged. One might have imagined from it that English literature was to be regarded as annalistic, so laboriously did Morley pick his way from reign to reign, dropping his authors unexpectedly at the discovery of contemporaries, taking them up again upon the appearance of new works by them, and thus hopelessly confusing the reader. The book seemed to proceed on the assumption that English literature was a great collection of books instead of a procession of authors, and the relative importance and influence of writers were constantly obscured. Mr. Tyler has done much to remedy this defect. He has perceived truly that literature is to be studied through authors, and that these authors have always had vital connection with the times in which they lived ; he has therefore so grouped the periods and the men as to give the student some idea of the leading writers and their followers. But no great book, and we believe no successful text-book, can be made as this is made. Professor Morley’s failure is not simply in the disorderly character of his material; that results in some measure from his failure to grasp the organic development of literature. We have a vast collection of biographic, bibliographic, and historic facts, with comments, criticism, and much rotund moralizing, and no rearrangement of this material, even when much condensation has been exercised, can make it thoroughly good material. Besides, the book in its original conception was very ill proportioned, and is not much better now. It begins with a leisureliness and a minuteness of detail which compel the reader to give time and attention to much that has only antiquity to commend it; so that his enthusiasm is very likely to ooze away before be reaches the later portions, which have a more direct bearing upon his thought and interest, and there he will find but scanty notice. As a history of the development of English literature, the book is a monstrosity, — all bead and no legs.

The index to the book renders its encyclopædic contents available to the student, but we do not see how as a textbook it could be used judiciously without more pains on the part of the teacher than would suffice to make a better book. The whole plan of teaching English literature by such a manual as this is radically false. In spite of the constant assurance that the connection between literature and life has never been lost sight of, the whole assumption in the method is to a negation of the true relation of literature and life. The student is burdened with a vast amount of information about literature, and especially about books which he will never read, and has little time left for the study of literature itself. It is assumed, moreover, that literature breeds literature. Undoubtedly, the literature of today is stimulated by that of the past, and its forms are largely controlled by it; but it is fed from the life of to-day, and the study of English literature might well be confined to the few books which possess a genetic character, while one leaves to the study of English history a consideration of the multitudinous ephemeral publications which are not properly literature at all.

Perhaps the long-prevalent methods of attacking English literature were those under which Mr. Deshler was bred, but we think we see indications of a struggle on his part to emancipate himself from the toils in his book on the sonnet.3 Under the thin disguise of conversations between a professor and a business man, whose leisure is given to literature, we have a series of sonnets arranged in chronological order, with running comments upon them. The conversational form is well adapted to the subject, but it has been used in this instance stiffly and without any of the advantage which conversation gives. Instead of lightness and oblique suggestion, we have unmeaning and impertinent badinage, the whole treatment of the subject being that of a formal lecture. The professor discourses upon the sonnet, and the interlocutor seems to speak only for the purpose of breaking up the lecture. “ I know precious little about Petrarch, professor,” he says in one place; “ but somehow, when I hear a fellow abused like that, I begin to have a warm side for him. I should like to see a ‘ specimen brick ’ of his, if you have one at command.” It hardly increases one’s confidence in an author’s ability to reveal the subtle beauty of the sonnet when we find him speaking in this clownish fashion, but we try to believe that he is doing himself a little violence in his effort to give dramatic truth to his ignorant young listener. The examination of the sonnet in English literature leads the author by some pleasant by-ways, and it was a happy thought to offer one a glimpse of the course of English poetry by making this special form the object of study. The effect upon the reader, however, is not always stimulating. The author feels too heavily the responsibility which Morley, Chambers, Spaulding, and the rest have laid upon him of giving dull and unessential biographic details ; his real interest, meanwhile, is in the sonnets, and the best of the book is its evidence of an honest love of good poetry. If the writer could only have given the sonnets with simple, enthusiastic comment, we should have honored him and enjoyed his book more. He often shows good insight, but no special critical power. He scarcely considers the important Italian influence, and gives slight help to the reader in any analysis of the form of the sonnet. We cannot help thinking how much better a book could have been made, and we venture to say would have been made, had the author enjoyed a thoroughly good training for his task.

He has overlooked, by the way, a curious coincidence in Wordsworth’s sonnets. He quotes with approbation the lines on Steamboats, Viaducts, and Railways, beginning,

“Motions and means, on land and sea at war,”

and flings a little sneer at Bowles and Ruskin; but has he never read the indignant sonnet On the Projected Rydal and Windermere Railway, beginning,

“ Is there no nook of English ground secure
From rash assault? ”

With regard to the American Poems,4 “ prepared with special reference to the interests of young people both at school and at home,” we have not the general objection which we have had to urge against Mr. Deshler’s book. The editor has conceived his task with decent seriousness, and has executed it with care, with taste, and with ability. He intends to offer, not a collection of miscellaneous pieces from Messrs. Longfellow, Whittier, Bryant, Holmes, Lowell, and Emerson, but two or three principal pieces from each of these authors, which shall sufficiently represent them, and which shall challenge in the reader “ the capacity for sustained attention, the remaining with the poet upon a long flight of imagination, the exercise of the mind in a bolder sweep of thought.” This is a good'plan, and, as we say, it has been well carried out. A little reflection will convince any one that Evangeline, Miles Standish, and the Building of the Ship are the wisest and most satisfactory choice that could have been made from Mr. Longfellow; that is, whatever else had been given, we should not have been satisfied if these had been wanting. The range of Mr. Lowell’s poetry is also admirably suggested in the selection of The Vision of Sir Launfal, Under the Willows, Under the Old Elm, and Agassiz, with the exception of the third poem: if any of Mr. Lowell’s patriotic pieces was to be given, it seems to us that the great Commemoration Ode had imperative claims. The School-Boy and Grandmother’s Story are the delightfully fit selections from Dr. Holmes’s poetry. Mr. Whittier also is most characteristically represented in Snowbound, Among the Hills, Mabel Martin, Cobbler Keezar’s Vision, Barclay of Ury, The Two Rabbis, The Gift of Tritemius, The Brother of Mercy, The Prophecy of Samuel Sewall, and Maud Muller. To persons not very familiar with Bryant’s poetry, The Little People of the Snow will be a lovely surprise ; it is very like Bryant, too. In putting The Adirondacks among the poems of Emerson, the editor has, we think, made his chief and only grave mistake. It is so inferior in itself and so little distinctive that we wish it might be made to give place in a future edition to some such Emersonian poem as May-Day. If this were done, the work would be, on the whole, as perfect as any work of the kind can be. There must always be degrees of preference and differences of taste in regard to the various poems of any author; but we think the reasons would in nearly all cases be mostly for those which the editor has chosen. As respects his biographical sketches, they are done with signal taste, clearness, and discretion ; and the many interesting notes on the poems attest the carefulness with which he has mastered their sense at all points. The general reader will of course see that these notes are often for young persons alone; but the general reader will find much of the historical light which they throw upon such poems as Evangeline and Miles Standish welcome and useful. The personal allusions which form so fine a charm of Mr. Lowell’s ode on Agassiz are interpreted for the first time in print; and in an appendix there is a very pleasing reminiscence of the great naturalist, which gracefully supplements and comments some passages of the poem. It is a great merit in the editor of a book like this not to bestow superfluous labor ; and we have found only one iustance here of absolute waste, and that is in the following note : “ Odorous. The accent here ... is upon the first syllable, where it is commonly placed ; but Milton, who of all poets had the most refined ear, writes . . . ‘ odórous.’ But he also uses the more familiar accent.” We believe that he always uses the more familiar accent, except in the case which the editor instances, and that it would not be easy in the whole range of English poetry to find such another case. The note is therefore misleading. But here we come upon the “ dark and bloody ground ” of the connoisseurs of English, when we meant with the greatest heartiness merely to commend an admirable book.

Dr. Weisse’s large volume on the English Language and Literature 5 is not a very wise book. The task the author set himself was an interesting one, but it has not been performed in a satisfactory way, and for several good reasons. In the first place, the writer started with the opinion that “ the English idiom [is] more Greco-Latin than Anglo-Saxon,” and he tells us in his own peculiar idiom that “ a strict analysis of AngloSaxon and English literature, from King Ethelbert, A. D. 597, to Queen Adctoria, realized our opinion, not only historically and philologically, but numerically.” It will be seen that the book rests upon false ground; for the nature of a language is not determined by taking a page here and a page there out of even an enormous number of writers, counting the words on them and finding their derivations, and so deciding, by rule of thumb, to what class the language belongs. This erroneous system would at once classify the Persian as a Semitic language, on account of the large number of Arabic words it contains. What the author has not done is to examine the syntax of the language, which is the sure way to learn the truth about it. He has given no attention to the apparatus of inflection, the way words are made and strung together, and the consequence is a thoroughly unscientific book. The English grammar is Germanic, however loaded the language is with words from the Greek and Latin.

Dr. Weisse’s careful computations of words, while they do not have the value that be sets upon them, are yet of interest. Still, they are by no means faultless. On pages 93, 221, and elsewhere, we find A. S. vice put down as belonging to the Greco-Latin family, which is just as accurate as would be the derivation of father from Latin pater. By what right are ord and modum, page 93, put down as of Latin origin ? Yet these obvious corrections very materially affect the value of the table in which the words are found. In spite of errors which are probably the result of ignorance, the analyses of the writers are full of curious results, showing as they do the different proportion of GrecoLatin words used by various writers.

Before finishing with this part of the book, it is worth while to call attention to Dr. Weisse’s new classification of languages : he discards the true system, and speaks of the Ario-Japhetic, Ario-Semitic, and Ario-Hamitic types; moreover, on pages 32, 33, he affirms the connection between Hebrew, Chinese, and Aztec ; and, by a table of words of similar sound and meaning, seems to wish to prove the existence of a family relation between the Aryan languages, the Semitic, Basque, Chinese, and Aztec. It would be difficult to show more conclusively than the writer has done by this unscientific fancy his unfitness for his work. Why does he not take the list of curious resemblances between words of unrelated languages that Max Muller quotes in one of his lectures (Science of Language, second series, pages 300, 301, Am. ed.), and connect the Polynesian and Kafir tongues with those of the Aryan family ? Numerous instances of minor inexactness might be given.

In the second place, the book has a great deal to say about English literature ; but this part is not always to be commended. The account, page 346, of the origin of the English drama is inaccurate and incomplete; but more remarkable is the author’s outburst concerning the stage, which he considers “ an institution that developed intellects like Sophocles, Terence, Tasso, Ariosto, Sheridan, Shakespeare, Rev. James Townley, Lope de Vega, Calderon, Corneille, Molière, Schiller, Goethe, etc.” The author of High Life below Stairs certainly finds himself mentioned in strange company. Speaking of Shakespeare, he says, “ In the Shakespearean likenesses transmitted to us, we realize that not only anatomy, physiology, but phrenology and psychology, did their utmost to produce a typal man.” Of Byron, “You may sympathize with him in the child-like attitude beneath the Elm at Harrow; but if he had remained there, the world would miss the graphic descriptions and the life-like characters that charmed readers and called forth Finden’s beautiful illustrations, which adorn our centre-tables.”

These examples will show one quality, and a very striking one, of the book. As to the inexactnesses, they are very many. For instance, page 409 : “ Not only England, but Spain, lost her greatest bard, April 23, 1616: on that day Shakspere died, aged fifty-two years ; on the same day died Cervantes, aged sixty-nine. Was this accident, chance, or magnetism ? ” It was none of these ; for England had not accepted the new style, as had been done by Spain, so that the two poets died on different days. Many of the slighter errors are doubtless the result of imperfect proof-reading. On the whole, a great deal of pains has gone to the making of what can never be more than a disappointing book.

Mr. Adams has compiled with considerable labor what is certainly a very useful book of reference.6 His dictionary contains, arranged in alphabetical order, a list of English and American writers, their books, a large number of quotations, and very many useful scraps of information about books, so that the reader who comes across an obscure allusion can take down the dictionary with the conviction that he will find an explanation in its pages. The book does not supply the place of Allibone and the Dictionary of Quotations, but it supplements these and the other books of reference which save the student so many tiresome hours of labor. Of course it does not contain everything, but it approaches completeness in a very satisfactory way, and is also accurate, so far as we have used it. It is by use alone that it can be fairly tested. English literature is so enormous in extent that a manual of this kind will be consulted every day, and those who find deficiencies or errors can insert the additions or the corrections in their own copies. Meanwhile, they will find this volume really invaluable.

The extraordinary books of the man with the addled brain who refuses to believe that the globe is round, aud maintains in numberless pamphlets that it is as flat as a table; a work on astronomy which should defend the Ptolemaic system ; a physiology which should be based on the researches of the phrenologists, would be fit companions on the book-shelves for one important part of Crabb’s English Synonymes.7 The etymological information is a relic of the old-fashioned ignorance which should be as much forgotten nowadays as the navigation of triremes. The republication, in a so-called new edition with corrections, of some of the derivations that adorn this volume is really disgraceful to modern scholarship, and something that should never be pardoned the offending editor.

For instance, on page 284, it is stated that savage is derived from Latin sœvus, and Hebrew zaal, a wolf. And yet it is to be remembered that there is a science of philology, in good repute, which not only condemns this method of solving linguistic questions, but has found the correct answer of this particular one. Again, to live, page 403, “ through the medium of the Saxon libban and the other Northern dialects, comes in all probability from the Hebrew leb, the heart, which is the seat of animal life.” How does scoff come from the Greek бκωπτω? ? The identity of origin is plain, but it is extremely unscientific to derive one from the other. Equally inexact is this research: “ SLACK, in Saxon slaec, low German slack, French lache, Latin laxus, and LOOSE, in Saxon lass, both from the Hebrew halatz, to make free, or loose.” These examples could be easily multiplied ; it is sufficient to say, however, that the derivations are, like those given above, generally grossly inaccurate.

Naturally enough, this prepossession in favor of faulty etymology has had its effect on the other part of the book. As amusing an instance as any is this : “ NEIGHBORHOOD, from nigh, signifies the place which is nigh ; that is, nigh to one’s habitation. VICINITY, from vicus, a village, signifies the place which does not exceed in distance the extent of a village.” Certainly, lucidity is not a merit of this definition, nor yet of many others that might be quoted. In fact, neither the author nor his editor has tried to define the synonyms ; space has been found for nothing more than a series of disconnected, and at times incoherent, examples of the use of the words, from which the reader must draw the shades of meaning for himself. Thus : “ Bravery lies in the blood, courage lies in the mind; the latter depends on the reason, the former on the physical temperament; the first is a species of instinct, the second is a virtue,” etc. This is a favorable example of the author’s method ; but it appears in its true light in comparison with Whateley’s treatment of the same words in his book on Synonyms (Am. ed., page 138). In a word, while there is no dictionary of synonyms that gives complete satisfaction, the faults of this one are so great that the reader is warned to think twice before putting any confidence in its assertions ; and as for the temerity of the man who pretends to have corrected it, he is referred to his own publication, where, on the seventy-fifth page, he may read that “ to correct is to remove gross faults ; ” this he has not done. A completer collection of gross faults it would be hard to find.

  1. History of the English Language. By T. R. LOUNSBURY, Professor of English in the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale College. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1879.
  2. A Manual of English Literature. By HENRY MORLEY, Professor of English Literature in University College, London. Thoroughly revised, with an entire rearrangement of matter, and with numerous retrenchments and additions by MOSES COIT TYLER, Professor of English Literature in the University of Michigan. New York: Sheldon & Co. 1879.
  3. Afternoons with the Poets. By CHARLES D. DESHLER. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1879.
  4. American Poems. Longfellow, Whittier, Bryant, Holmes, Lowell, Emerson. With Biographical Sketches and Notes. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879.
  5. Origin, Progress, and Destiny of the English Language and Literature. By JOHN A. WEISSE, M. D. New York: J. W. Bouton. 1879.
  6. Dictionary of English Literature. Being a Comprehensive Guide to English Authors and their Works. By W. DAVENPORT ADAMS. London, Paris, and New York: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin.
  7. English Synonymes, explained in Alphabetical Order. With Copious Illustrations and Examples drawn from the Best Writers. To which is now added an Index to the Words. By GEORGE CRABB, A. M. New Edition, with Additions and Corrections. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1879.