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able 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 :—
Ala. I thanke thee, Hector:
Troylus and Cressida, iv. 5. 139.
Obvious examples of this sort of privileged adjective are the merry of the ballads, and the fair and pretty of the Elizabethan period. In Mrs. Cowden Clarke's Concordance to Shakspeare, there are about seven hundred examples of fair, 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 coin/, choinl, and Diez (v. conlo) 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 Coint), 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
Canterbury Tales, 10553.
Shakspeare has 'quaint Ariel,' Tempest, i. 2; and another good instance of this earlier use in Much Ado about Nothing, 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. 10.
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 a* 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, 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.
Knightes Tale, 291I.
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, iuit.
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 elegant 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:— SIRE,
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 Home (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 nice.
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