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turned her graceful curves and spirals into straight lines and parallelograms, compelled things incongruous to blend in artificial union, and then measured the merits of the work, not by the absurdity of the design, but by the difficulty of the execution,-so in literature, the curiously and elaborately unnatural was too often the sole object. . . . The constitution of Fuller's mind had such an affinity with the peculiarities of the day, that what was “quaint’ in others seems to have been his natural element—the sort of attire in which his active and eccentric genius loved to clothe itself—Edinburgh Review, January, 1842: Thomas Fuller.
Another such was the adjective fine,
With vessels in her hond of gold ful fine.
The truly philosophical language of my worthy and learned friend Mr. Harris, the author of Hermes, a work that will be read and admired as long as there is any taste for philosophy and fine writing in Britain.— Lord Monboddo, Origin and Progress of Language, init.
The adjective elegant was another such. It is now little used : almost the only new combination it has entered into in our day is in the dialect of the apothecary, who speaks of an “elegant preparation.’
In the last century, and in the early part of this century, we had Elegant Extracts, and besides these, we had elegan/ in a variety of honoured positions. Scott spoke of Goethe as ‘the elegant author of The Sorrows of Werther.' In the first sentence of Bishop Lowth's address To the King, which is prefixed to his Isaiah, this word comes in, thus:—
AN attempt to set in a just light the writings of the most sublime and elegant of the Prophets of the Old Testament, &c.
George Horne (afterwards Bishop of Norwich), towards the close of last century published some sermons, and half apologising in his Preface said:—
This form of publication is generally supposed less advantageous at present than any other. But it may be questioned whether the supposition
does justice to the age, when we consider only the respect which has so recently been paid to the sermons of the learned and elegant Dr. Blair.
424. But none of these ever reached a greater, if so great, a vogue as the chartered adjective of our own and our fathers' generation, namely, the adjective mice.
Should an essayist endeavour by description to convey the signification of this word in those peculiar social uses so familiar to all, he would find that he had undertaken a difficult task. It implies more or less the possession of those qualities which enjoy the approbation of society under its present code.
The word dates from the great French period, and at first meant foolish, absurd, ridiculous; then in course of time it came to signify whimsical, fantastic, wanton, adroit; and thence it slid into the meaning of subtle, delicate, sensitive, which landed it on the threshold of its modern social application. Of this we have already a foretaste in Milton:
A nice and subtle happiness I see
Thou to thyself proposest in the choice
Of thy associates. Paradise Lost, viii. 399.
As far back as 1823, a young lady objected to Sydney
Smith: ‘Oh, don't call me nice, Mr. Sydney; people only say that when they can say nothing else.' This expostulation drew forth his Definition of a Nice Person, which may be seen in the Memoir of his Life, and which will serve to complete the case of this important little office-bearing adjective.
Morphology of the Adjective.
425, Let us close this section with some observations on the morphology of the adjective, or in other words, on the divers ways it has of dressing itself up to act its part on the stage of language. By “adjective’ here is meant the pure mental conception, as opposed to the form. There are three ways in which the adjectival idea clothes itself and finds expression, which it may be convenient to call the three adjections. 1. The first, which may be called the Flat”, is by collocation. Thus, brick and stone are substantives; but mere position before another substantive turns them into adjectives, as brick house, stone wall; and the latter, when condensed into a compound substantive, stone-wall, may again by collocation make a new adjective, as ‘Stone-wall Jackson.’ Thus we speak of garden flowers and hedge flowers:—
Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled,
Oliver Goldsmith, Deserted Village.
In some instances a substantive, through long standing in such a position, has acquired the adjectival habit exclusively. 565. Thus milch, in the expressions ‘milch cow,’ ‘milch goat,’ though now an adjective, yet is nothing but a phonetic variety of the substantive milk, just as church and kirk are varieties of the same word. In the German language the current substantive of milk has the form of our present adjective, viz. olild). Let our particular example of this adjection be elm tree.
2. The second, which may be called the Flexional, is by modification of form, either (a) in the way of Case, as fool's paradise, nature's music. This is a power in poetry:
* I have been asked, Why ‘Flat” To this I can only answer by another question:—Why do you say ‘a flat refusal’? or, “a flat contradiction”? or, ‘No, I won't, that's flat” What does the word mean in the following quotation?—‘He turned neither better nor worse then flat Atheist,” Thomas Fuller, Life and Death of Franciscus junius in ‘Abel Redevivus,’ 1651. Only this I will say, that it is not used disparagingly; for the structures which I have called Flat are of the purest native idiom, and it is due to these structures perhaps more than to any other that can be named, when good English style merits the praise of ‘racy.’
Her angels face
Edmund Spenser, Faery Queene, i. 3. 4.
Rob. When thou wak'st, with thine owne fooles eies peepe.—A Midsommer Nights Dreame, iv. 1.81.
or (b) through an adjectival formative, as elmen tree. The latter, being the most prevalent of all modes of adjection, has occupied to itself the whole name of Adjective. 3. The third way, which may be called the Phrasal, is by means of a symbol-word, and most prominently by the preposition of, as gate of heaven, plank of elm. In the compound Knighthood the word Knight affords an instance of the adjective by collocation. We may express the same idea in this form, knight's rank, or thus, Knightly rank, and this is the second adjection. The third adjection is when we say rank or quality of Knight. This adjection we have learnt from the French ; and although we use it less than our neighbours, yet we are well acquainted with such expressions as men of property, men of business, persons of strong opinions, the girl of the period, the men of this generation, arms of precision, days of yore, matters of course, families of mole, garlands of delight. 426. This triple adjection pervades the language, and is one of the springs of its flexibility. Thus we may tabulate to almost any extent:
I. 2. 3gold golden of gold silver silvern, silvery of silver steel steelly (398) of steel timber timbern of timber velvet velvety of velvet wood wooden of wood
The following line displays the first and third:—
The velvet scabbard held a sword of steel.
The next quotation displays the second and third:—
rational . . . of reason.
Law rationall therefore, which men commonly vse to call the law of nature, . . . may be termed most fitly the law of reason.—R. Hooker, Of the Lawes, &c., i. 8.
Cumulation of the second and third is employed in asseveration ; as ‘of the earth earthy’:
Now such a view of the clerical office is of the world worldly.—Frederic Myers, Catholic Thoughts, ii. 18. 427. This analysis would not be quite idle if it were only for an observation which it enables us to make on the relative adjectional habits of the three languages. 1. The flat adjection is peculiarly English. There is indeed a rare and fitful use of it in French, but in German it is quite gone, having passed into the sphere of the compounds. 2. The adjection 2 (a), unknown in French, is common to English and German. The 2 (b) is the technical adjective, and all this section has been occupied with it, and it is common to the three as to all mature languages. But the German, being destitute of the First Adjection, and little disposed to avail itself of the Third, uses this Flexional one to an astonishing extent. Thus Jacob Grimm's Grammar is with perfect propriety called “die Grimmsche grammatik,’ and his works are spoken of as “die Grimmschen werke.’ 3. The third adjection is imitated a little in German and a good deal in English, but in neither to such a degree as to obscure the fact that it was French by origin, or to interfere with its natural heritage as a prominent