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other of the same character in supplying illustrations of the modern usage by way of contrast to the old, thus enabling the reader himself to compare the various meanings and to detect the subtle changes.
In the present general taste for things belonging to a more or less remote past, the antiquated expressions of our early writers seem to deserve a share of attention, and if the form and spelling of words so keenly occupy the public mind, the study of their meaning, whether ancient or modern, can hardly be of inferior importance.
The works of Nares, Richardson, and other writers have been consulted with reference to certain obscure senses, but the quotations, with some few exceptions, have been derived from the original sources.
It is much to be regretted that the lady who collected most of these examples did not live to complete the MS. for the Press, and the Editor begs the indulgence of the reader in excusing the absence of exact reference to some of the authors quoted, together with other imperfections necessarily arising from the publication of a posthumous work,
'I MAINTAIN the change of words,' wrote Shakspeare, and he in turn might now justly be startled at the vicissitudes of many of his own expressions. The language of a country, no less than its laws and institutions, is subject to the variations of time and fashion. If ideas and opinions, beliefs and superstitions, are constantly being pruned and modified by increased knowledge, culture, and the general force of civilisation, it is not to be wondered at that the words which express those ideas and beliefs should undergo a corresponding transformation.
Words, whilom flourishing,
And damn for bullion, go for current now*. In the infancy of the literary history of a nation, its language may be said to be in the air.' The materials out of which it is formed are themselves heterogeneous, as the different races which compose the population may have happened to contribute their share to the common
* Sylvester. The old meaning of bullion' was inferior metal, which required melting in order to be raised to the proper standard of purity.
tongue. In the course of its growth new words of foreign origin are constantly engrafted on the old stock, either by translation or by the adoption of terms and phrases from external sources. Hence in the conflict of words, as time proceeds, many must perish altogether, and many can only survive in a sense more or less at variance with their earlier usage. With the progress of literature, assisted by the all-important art of printing and the growth of education, greater certainty, precision, and uniformity are arrived at, until at last authoritative dictionaries establish a recognised standard of form and meaning.
It must not, however, be supposed that language can ever be artificially reduced to a hard and fast condition of fixity. Its nature is far too pliant and elastic to reach any point approaching finality, nor can it resist the innovations created by social and political changes, by inventions and discoveries, and by increased communication with foreign nations involving the adoption or imitation of many unaccustomed idioms. As in music, so in language, new combinations are continually formed, and since the associations or connections with which a word is used often determine its exact sense, it is evident that new shades of meaning must constantly be introduced. Again, while the caprice of fashion, and the passing away of present things, are likely to be ever powerful in destroying terms which may seem to be most secure from neglect, the spirit of archaism, on the other hand, though checked by considerations of affectation, is constantly working to revive the obsolete forms and expressions of the past.
But changes occur much more frequently and cer
tainly when a language is as it were in a state of fusion, and when words can be fashioned and impressed by the hand of an arbitrary author, fearless alike of the critic and the dictionary. In days when spelling was almost a matter of hazard or of individual taste, when grammar schools were only beginning to be founded, when reading and writing were but rare accomplishments, the liberty of an author in the use of words was equalled only by the modern liberty of the press in the publication of opinions.
It was not till the middle of the fourteenth century that the English tongue, rising from provincial dialects and fashioned into a permanent standard, superseded French and Latin as the language of the court and society. But many words that belonged to this early period of Chaucer and Gower were out of date before the time of Shakspeare, who often uses such expressions in jocular and burlesque passages as belonging to a past age and fashion. In Milton numerous meanings are found which would not be intelligible in their modern sense. Cannot I admire,' says Dryden, 'the height of Milton's invention and the strength of his expression without defending his antiquated words ?' And yet it will be seen that many words lingered on with Dryden that have since become obsolete, and even in much later writers examples occur of meanings no longer in
An interesting exception to the general rule of change may be noticed in the case of certain legal terms, which have retained an original sense that in ordinary use has altogether disappeared. This is no doubt to be accounted for by the precision of legal
writers, their reverence for authority and their generally conservative tendencies. No social or political disturbance has been sufficient to check the descent of many time-honoured expressions familiar to lawyers, but which appear to the ordinary reader most unusual, if not unintelligible. The law is a craft or mystery, and as such must have its secret and technical terms; but still it is remarkable that those terms should have retained an archaic sense in courts and books of law, when they have been completely transformed in their common use.
It will be found in the following pages that not only individual words, but even groups possessing a cognate sense, have suffered a change of meaning. Thus ' byand-by,' 'presently,' 'anon,' which formerly conveyed the idea of the immediate present, now imply a future varying in remoteness. So 'crafty,' "cunning,' “knowing,' 'pert, and many kindred words once possessed a favourable sense, but have passed from good to bad, as others have been turned in a contrary course.
One of the most curious specimens of variation in meaning occurs in the word 'quaint,' examples of which will be found in the text. Its origin must be traced to the old French coint, from the Latin comptus, which signified pretty, pleasing, elegant, handsome, comely, fantastic, ingenious, artistic, subtle, refined, exact, prudent, wise, clever, accomplished. In Chaucer it is applied to the magic spear of Achilles which could both wound and heal, to a handsome dress and an elegant ring; in Gower, to the insinuating speech of a Cardinal; in Lydgate, to the subtle approach of fear. Shakspeare uses the epithet in describing Ariel, Romeo's