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Flexional and phrasal comparison are often played off against each other; as o
deligh!/ulles! . . . most sedious. I have here prescribed thee, Reader, the delightfullest task to the Spirit, and the most tedious to the Flesh, that ever men on Earth were imployed in.—R. Baxter, Saints Rest, Introduction to Fourth Part; 1652. There are a few Anomalous forms of comparison, and
they are ancient:
good better best
Cumulate comparatives, in which -er is added to the anomalous form, appear in lesser, worser:
... the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. —Genesis i. 16 (1611).
Now with a general peace the world was blest;
John Dryden, Astrata Redux (1660), init.
Zogical function of the Adjective; with a remarkable consequence.
423. Having said so much on adjectival forms, let us now consider the logical character of the adjective, and a practical effect of that logical character upon our habitual conversation. An adjective is plainly of the nature of a predicate, and to select a predicate for a subject is an act of judgment. It is manifest that judgment is more exercised in the utterance of adjectives than in that of substantives. Nay, further, judgment is more exercised in the use of adjectives than even in that of verbs. The verb is indeed an instrument of predication more completely than the adjective is; but then the verb predicates action while the adjective predicates quality, and quality is harder to discern than action. I say horse from mere memory of my mother-tongue, and we hardly dignify it as an act of judgment if a man uses that word in the right place, and shews that he knows a horse when he sees it. Nor do we call it an exercise of judgment to say that a horse walks, trots, gallops, leaps. But to say good horse, bad horse, sound horse, young horse, is an affair of judgment. A child knows when he sees a garden, and we do not call it an act of judgment (except in technical logic) to exclaim There’s a garden. But to use garden adjectively, as when a person comes across a flower, and says it is a garden flower, this is an act of judgment which it takes a botanist to exercise safely. This being so, a speaker runs a greater chance of making a mistake, or of coming into collision with the judgments of others, in the use of adjectives about matters of general interest. Partly from the rarity of good and confident judgment, and partly it may also be from the modesty which social intercourse requires, we perceive this effect, that there is a shyness about the utterance of adjectives. Of original adjectives, I mean; such as can at all carry the air of being the speaker's own. And hence it has come about, that there is in each period or generation, one or more chartered social adjectives which may be used freely and safely. Such adjectives enjoy a sort of empire for the time in which they are current. Their meaning is more or less vague, and it is this quality that fits them for their office. But while it would be hard to define what such an adjective meant, it is nevertheless perfectly well understood. One of these has been a chief heir-loom from Saxon times, and has made a figure in all stages of the national story. I suppose that no other Saxon adjective is comparable for length and variety of career to the word free. Originally meaning lordly, noble, gentle (78), it has with each change of the national aim so changed its usage as still to take a prominent place. In the growth of the municipal bodies the privileged members were designated free-men; in the constitutional struggles it managed to represent the idea of liberty; and in these latter days, when social equality is the universal pretension, it signifies the manners thereon attendant in the modern coupling, free and easy. The earliest sense may be seen as late as Shakspeare:—
Aia. I thanke thee, Hector:
Troylus and Cressida, iv. 5. I 39.
Obvious examples of this sort of privileged adjective are the merry of the ballads, and the fair and pretly of the Elizabethan period. In Mrs. Cowden Clarke's Concordance to Shakspeare, there are about seven hundred examples of sair, without counting its derivatives and compounds. Perhaps this perpetual recurrence of the word made a butt at it all the more amusing:—
King. All haile sweet Madame, and faire time of day.
Loues Labour's Lost, v. 2. 340. Pan. Faire be to you my Lord, and to all this faire company: faire desires in all faire measure fairely guide them, especially to you faire Queene, faire thoughts be your faire pillow. Helen. Deere Lord, you are full of faire words.
Pan. You speake your faire pleasure sweete Queene: faire Prince, here is good broken Musicke.—Troylus and Cressida, iii. I.46.
Another adjective which has filled a large space in the history of our language, is the adjective quaint. This was already a great word in the transition period; it was an established word of old standing when Chaucer wrote, and it still retains some vitality. In Old French it was written coins, choint, and Diez (v. conto) derives it from the Latin ‘cognitus.” Ducange derived it from “comptus,’ neat, trim, orderly, handsome. The derivation of Diez is the one which best accounts for the physical conformation of the word, just as acquaint is adcognitare. But the correspondence of meaning draws towards comptus, and it almost seems as if the word had derived its body from the one source and its mind from the other. At the time of the rise of King's English in the fourteenth century, quaint was a great social adjective denoting an indefinite compass of merit and approbation. Whatever things were agreeable, elegant, clever, neat, trim, gracious, pretty, amiable, taking, affable, proper, spruce, handsome, happy, knowing, dodgy, cunning, artful, gentle, prudent, wise, discreet (and all this is but a rough translation of Roquefort's equivalents for cont), were included under this comprehensive word. In Chaucer, the spear of Achilles, which can both heal and hurt, is called a ‘quaint spear’:And fell in speech of Telephus the king
And of Achilles for his queinte spere,
Canterbury Tales, IoS53.
Shakspeare has “quaint Ariel, Tempest, i. 2; and another good instance of this earlier use in Much Ado about Wothing, iii. 4. 20: “But for a fine, quaint, graceful and excellent fashion, yours is worth ten on't.”
By the time we come to Spenser it has acquired a new sense, very naturally evolved from the possession of all the most esteemed social accomplishments; it has come to mean fastidious. Florimell, when she has taken refuge in the hut of the witch, is fain to accept her rude hospitalities:
And gan recomfort her in her rude wyse,
- The Faery Queene, iii. 7. Io.
Another stage in our national history, and we come to the period at which the word has stuck fast ever since, and there rooted itself. We may almost say that the word quaint now signifies “after the fashion of the seventeenth century,' or something to that effect. It means something that is pretty after some bygone standard of prettyness; and if we trace back the time we shall find it in the seventeenth century. As the memory of man is in legal doctrine localised to the reign of Richard the Second, as “Old English’ is (or was, before Mr. Freeman made it embrace the Anglo-Saxon period) particularly identified with the language of the fifteenth century; so quaintness of diction has acquired for itself a permanent place in the literature of the seventeenth.
In many respects Fuller may be considered the very type and exemplar of that large class of religious writers of the seventeenth century to which we emphatically apply the word “quaint.” That word has long ceased to mean what it once meant. By derivation, and by original usage, it first signified “scrupulously elegant, refined, exact, accurate,' beyond the reach of common art. In time it came to be applied to whatever was designed to indicate these characteristics—though excogitated with so elaborate a subtlety as to trespass on ease and nature. In a word, it was applied to what was ingenious and fantastic, rather than tasteful or beautiful. It is now wholly used in this acceptation; and always implies some violation of the taste, some deviation from what the “natural' requires under the given circumstances. . . . Now the age in which Fuller lived was the golden age of ‘quaintness’ of all kinds—in gardening, in architecture, in costume, in manners, in religion, in literature. As men improved external nature with a perverse expenditure of money and ingenuity—made her yews and cypresses grow into, peacocks and statues, tortured and clipped her luxuriance into monotonous uniformity,