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Review of johnson’s dictionary - Adam Smith, Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence Vol. 3 Essays on Philosophical Subjects 
Essays on Philosophical Subjects, ed. W. P. D. Wightman and J. C. Bryce, vol. III of the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1982).
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review of johnson’s dictionary
A Dictionary of the English Language, by Samuel Johnson, A. M. Knapton 2 Vols. Folio, £4, 15s.
The present undertaking is very extensive. A dictionary of the English language, however useful, or rather necessary, has never been hitherto attempted with the least degree of success. To explain hard words and terms of art seems to have been the chief purpose of all the former compositions which have borne the title of English dictionaries. Mr. Johnson has extended his views much farther, and has made a very full collection of all the different meanings of each English word, justified by examples from authors of good reputation. When we compare this book with other dictionaries, the merit of its author appears very extraordinary. Those which in modern languages have gained the most esteem, are that of the French academy, and that of the academy Della Crusca.1 Both these were composed by a numerous society of learned men, and took up a longer time in the composition, than the life of a single person could well have afforded. The dictionary of the English language is the work of a single person, and composed in a period of time very inconsiderable, when compared with the extent of the work. The collection of words appears to be very accurate, and must be allowed to be very ample. Most words, we believe, are to be found in the dictionary that ever were almost suspected to be English; but we cannot help wishing, that the author had trusted less to the judgment of those who may consult him, and had oftener passed his own censure upon those words which are not of approved use, tho’ sometimes to be met with in authors of no mean name. Where a work is admitted to be highly useful, and the execution of it intitled to praise; the adding, that it might have been more useful, can scarcely, we hope, be deemed a censure of it. The merit of Mr. Johnson’s dictionary is so great, that it cannot detract from it to take notice of some defects, the supplying which, would, in our judgment, add a considerable share of merit to that which it already possesses. Those defects consist chiefly in the plan, which appears to us not to be sufficiently grammatical. The different significations of a word are indeed collected; but they are seldom digested into general classes, or ranged under the meaning which the word principally expresses. And sufficient care has not been taken to distinguish the words apparently synonomous.2 The only method of explaining what we intend, is by inserting an article or two from Mr. Johnson, and by opposing to them the same articles, digested in the manner which we would have wished him to have followed.
BUT conjunct. [buze, buzan, Saxon.]
BUT, an English particle which denotes opposition, and which, according to the different modifications of the general sense of opposition, sometimes holds the place of an adverb, sometimes of a preposition, sometimes of a conjunction, and sometimes even of an interjection. It serves as a conjunction of four different species, as an adversitive, as an alternative, as a conductive, and as a transitive conjunction. In its original and most proper meaning, however, it seems to be an adversitive conjunction, in the sense in which it is synonomous with however; and in which it is expressed in Latin by sed, in French by mais. I should have done this, but was prevented: I should have done this; I was however prevented. The difference betwixt these two particles seems to consist chiefly in this, That but must always stand at the beginning of the sentence whose opposition it marks to what went before; whereas however is introduced more gracefully after the beginning of the opposed sentence: and that the construction may often be continued, when we make use of but; whereas, it must always be interrupted when we make use of however.
The use of but, upon this account, seems often to mark a more precipitate keenness in denoting the opposition, than the use of however. If, in talking of a quarrel, a person should say, I should have made some apology for my conduct, but was prevented by his insolence; he would seem to express more passion and keenness than if he had said, I should have made some apology for my conduct, I was however prevented by his insolence.
HUMOUR. n. s. [humeur, French; humor, Latin.]
HUMOUR, from the Latin humor, in its original signification, stands for moisture in general; from whence it has been restrained to signify the moisture of animal bodies, or those fluids which circulate thro’ them.
It is distinguished from moisture in general in this, that humours properly express the fluids of the body, when, in a vitiated state, it would not be improper to say, that the fluids of such a person’s body were full of humours.
The only fluids of the body, which, in their natural and healthful state, are called humours, are those in the eye; we talk of the aqueous humour, the crystaline humour, without meaning any thing that is morbid or diseased: yet, when we say in general, that such a person has got a humour in his eye, we understand it in the usual sense of a vitiated fluid.
As the temper of the mind is supposed to depend upon the state of the fluids in the body, humour has come to be synonomous with temper and disposition.
A person’s humour however is different from his disposition in this, that humour seems to be the disease of a disposition; it would be proper to say that persons of a serious temper or disposition of mind, were subject to melancholy humours; that those of a delicate and tender disposition, were subject to peevish humours.
Humour may be agreeable, or disagreeable; but it is still humour, something that is whimsical, capricious, and not to be depended upon: an ill–natur’d man may have fits of good humour, which seem to come upon him accidentally, without any regard to the common moral cases of happiness or misery.
A fit of chearfulness constitutes the whole of good humour; and a man who has many such fits, is a good–humour’d man: yet he may not be good–natur’d; which is a character that supposes something more constant, equable, and uniform, than what was requisite to constitute good humour.
Humour is often made use of to express the quality of the imagination which bears a considerable resemblance to wit.
Wit expresses something that is more designed, concerted, regular, and artificial; humour, something that is more wild, loose, extravagant, and fantastical; something which comes upon a man by fits, which he can neither command nor restrain, and which is not perfectly consistant with true politeness. Humour, it has been said, is often more diverting than wit; yet a man of wit is as much above a man of humour, as a gentleman is above a buffoon; a buffoon however will often divert more than a gentleman.
These instances may serve to explain the plan of a Dictionary which suggested itself to us. It can import no reflection upon Mr. Johnsons Dictionary that the subject has been viewed in a different light by others; and it is at least a matter of curiosity to consider the different views in which it appears. Any man who was about to compose a dictionary or rather a grammar of the English language, must acknowledge himself indebted to Mr. Johnson for abridging at least one half of his labour. All those who are under any difficulty with respect to a particular word or phrase, are in the same situation. The dictionary presents them a full collection of examples; from whence indeed they are left to determine, but by which the determination is rendered easy. In this country, the usefulness of it will be soon felt, as there is no standard of correct language in conversation; if our recommendation could in any degree incite to the perusal of it, we would earnestly recommend it to all those who are desirous to improve and correct their language, frequently to consult the dictionary. Its merit must be determined by the frequent resort that is had to it. This is the most unerring test of its value: criticisms may be false, private judgments ill–founded; but if a work of this nature be much in use, it has received the sanction of the public approbation.
LETTER TO THE EDINBURGH REVIEW
OF the letters which have been sent us by our learned Correspondents, we have room to publish no more in this number, except the following. It is long; but we are sure the public will reckon themselves indebted to us for it. We hope this ingenious and learned Gentleman, will continue to favour us with his assistance, for enlarging our plan in the manner which he proposes, and which we very much approve. We shall always acknowledge our obligations to any who favour us with literary memoirs, observations or criticisms, and take the first proper opportunity of transmitting them to the world.
[Alexander Wedderburn, editor]1
[1 ]Le Dictionnaire de l’Académie Françoise (1694; 3rd edn., rearranged, 1740). Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca, ed. L. Salviati (1612; 5th edn., 1746–8).
[2 ]The spelling based on ὄνομα is used throughout the review; but Dugald Stewart, quoting it in his ‘Life’ (I.24), has ‘synonymous’.
[3 ]Johnson, correctly, has Watts’s.
[4 ]‘Likeways’ survives in Scottish literary usage at least till the end of the eighteenth century.
[5 ]Johnson has Roscommon in full.
[6 ]Johnson, correctly, has ‘humours’; but the misreading of the next line (KJ,iv.ii.210: ‘To break within the bloody house of life’) is his.
[7 ]Johnson, correctly, has ‘kindnesses’.
[8 ]Johnson, correctly, has ‘others’.
[1 ][See Stewart, I.12. Wedderburn was Solicitor–General (1780), Lord Chancellor (1793–1801), Earl of Rosslyn (1801). In 1778 he invited Smith to write a memorandum on the likely outcome of the American War. The piece is reprinted in Corr., and was first published by G. H. Guttridge in the American Historical Review, xxxviii (1933).]