Part 5 out of 5
systematic injustice to other interests.
"Slavery has changed. When Southern
men consented to its prohibition, they hoped
and believed that the time would come when
it could be abolished altogether. They have
as much right to these as to their former opinions,
and to have them represented in the
Here Mr. Fisher hints at, rather than fully states, the grand retort of
the Southerners,--"Our fathers, you say, were opposed to slavery: very
good; but we are not: why should we be bound by their opinions?" A mere
misapprehension of the force of the argument. The Southerner of 1860 is
_not_ bound by the opinions of Madison and Jefferson; but the North
may fairly adduce the opinions of those men, who were framers of the
Constitution, not as binding upon their descendants, but as serving to
explain the meaning of disputed provisions in that Constitution. The
Constitution binds us all, North and South: then recurs the question,
What is the meaning of its provisions? and _then_ the contemporaneous
opinions of its framers come legitimately into play as an argument.
Of the Missouri Compromise Mr. Fisher says,--
"It may be said that this law was a violation
of the equal rights of the Southern people,
by excluding them from a large portion
of the national domain. The answer is, not
merely that this was done with their consent,
their representatives having approved the law,
but that the law did recognize their rights,
by dividing between them and the Northern
people all the territory then possessed by the
We are surprised that upon his own presentation of the case this simple
question does not occur to Mr. Fisher: Supposing the South and the North
to have had equal and conflicting rights in the national domain, and
supposing that there was need of some arbiter, and remembering that
Congress undertook the duties of arbiter and decided that the
division under the Missouri Compromise gave each section its rightful
share,--then, with what propriety can the South, after occupying its own
share, call for a portion in the share allotted to the North?
The second essay, on "Popular Sovereignty in the Territories," presents
comparatively few salient points. A very spirited and just history of
the working of the Administration schemes in Kansas, a restating of
some of the arguments against the Kansas-Nebraska Act set forth in the
preceding essay, and a remonstrance against the headstrong course of
Southern politicians are its most noticeable features.
"The Union, the Constitution, and the
friendship of the North: these are the pillars
on which rest the peace, the safety, the
independence of the South. The extraordinary
thing is, that for some years past the South
has been, and now is, sedulously employed in
undermining this triple foundation of its power
and safety. Its extravagant pretensions,
its excesses, its crimes, are rapidly cooling
the friendship of the North,--converting it,
indeed, into positive enmity. Its leading politicians
are ever plotting and threatening disunion.
disunion will he proffered to them from the North, not
as a vague and passionate threat, but as a positive
and well-considered plan, backed by a
force of public opinion which nothing can resist.
Ere long, the South is likely to be left
with no other defence than the Union it has
weakened and the Constitution it has mutilated
"The makers of the Kansas and Nebraska
law were clumsy workmen. They forgot to
provide for the case of an anti-slavery President.
They will, perhaps, learn wisdom by
"'To wilful men
The injuries that they themselves procure
Must be their schoolmasters.'
"Those who framed the Constitution and laid
the foundation of this Union understood their
business better. That Constitution was intended
to protect the South, and has protected
it. Southern politicians cannot improve
it. For their own sakes they had better
let it alone."
We have given enough to show that in discussing Mr. Fisher we are
dealing with two different men. The field is now clear for the great
political contest of 1860. Mr. Fisher may have allied himself before
this with the Republicans, or may look to have his anticipations
fulfilled by that third party who are as unconscious of wrong as
powerless to rectify it, "the world-forgetting, by the world forgot." We
wish him well through his troubles.
_A Dictionary of English Etymology._ By HENSLEIGH WEDGWOOD, M. A. Late
Fellow of Chr. Coll. Cam. Vol. I. (A-D.) London: Truebner and Co., 60
Paternoster Row. 1859. pp. xxiv., 507.
There is nothing more dangerously fascinating than etymologies. To the
uninitiated the victim seems to have eaten of "insane _roots_ that take
the reason prisoner"; while the illuminate too often looks upon the
stems and flowers of language, the highest achievements of thought and
poesy, as mere handles by which to pull up the grimy tubers that lie at
the base of articulate expression, shapeless knobs of speech, sacred to
him as the potato to the Irishman.
The sarcasms of Swift were not without justification; for crazier
analogies than that between Andromache and Andrew Mackay have been
gravely insisted on by persons who, like the author of "Amilec,"
believed that the true secret of philosophizing _est celui de rever
heureusement_. It is only within a few years that etymological
investigations have been limited by anything; like scientific precision,
or that profound study, patient thought, and severity of method
have asserted in this, as in other departments of knowledge, their
superiority to point-blank guessing and the bewitching generalization
conjured out of a couple or so of assumed facts, which, even if they
turn out to be singly true, are no more nearly related than Hecate and
We do not object to that milder form of philology of which the works
of Dean Trench offer the readiest and most pleasing example, and which
confines itself to the mere study of words, to the changes of form and
meaning they have undergone and the forgotten moral that lurks in them.
But the interest of Dr. Trench and others like him sticks fast in words,
it is almost wholly an aesthetic interest, and does not pretend to
concern itself with the deeper problems of language, its origin, its
comparative anatomy, its bearing upon the prehistoric condition of
mankind and the relations of races, and its claim to a place among the
natural sciences as an essential element in any attempt to reconstruct
the broken and scattered annals of our planet. It would not be just to
find fault with Dr. Trench's books for lacking a scientific treatment
to which they make no pretension, but they may fairly be charged with
smelling a little too much of the shop. There is a faint odor of the
sermon-case about every page, and we learn to dread, sometimes to skip,
the inevitable homily, as we do the moral at the end of an AEsopic fable.
We enter our protest, not against Dr. Trench in particular, for his
books have other and higher claims to our regard, but because we find
that his example is catching, the more so as verbal morality is much
cheaper than linguistic science. If there be anything which the study of
words should teach, it is their value.
There are two theories as to the origin of language, which, for
shortness, may be defined as the poetic and the matter-of-fact. The
former (of which M. Ernest Renan is one of the most eloquent advocates)
supposes a primitive race or races endowed with faculties of cognition
and expression so perfect and so intimately responsive one to the
other, that the name of a thing came into being coincidently with the
perception of it. Verbal inflections and other grammatical forms came
into use gradually to meet the necessities of social commerce between
man and man, and were at some later epoch reduced to logical system by
constructive minds. If we understand him rightly, while not excluding
the influence of _onomatopeia_, (or physical imitation,) he would attach
a far greater importance to metaphysical causes. He says admirably
well, "La liaison du sens et du mot n'est jamais _necessaire_, jamais
_arbitraire_; toujours elle est _motivee_." His theory amounts to this:
that the fresh perfection of the senses and the mental faculties made
the primitive man a poet.
The other theory seeks the origin of language in certain imitative
radicals out of which it has analogically and metaphorically developed
itself. This system has at least the merits of clearness and simplicity,
and of being to a certain extent capable of demonstration. Its
limitation in this last respect will depend upon that mental
constitution which divides men naturally into Platonists and
Aristotelians. It has never before received so thorough an exposition
or been tested by so wide a range of application as in Mr. Wedgwood's
volume, nor could it well be more fortunate in its advocate. Mr.
Wedgwood is thorough, scrupulous, and fair-minded.
It will be observed that neither theory brings any aid to the attempt
of Professor Max Mueller and others to demonstrate etymologically the
original unity of the human race. Mr. Wedgwood leaves this question
aside, as irrelevant to his purpose. M. Renan combats it at considerable
length. The logical consequence of admitting either theory would be that
the problem was simply indemonstrable.
At first sight, so imaginative a scheme as that of M. Renan is
singularly alluring; for, even when qualified by the sentence we have
quoted, we may attach such a meaning to the word _motivee_ as to find in
words the natural bodies of which the Platonic ideas are the soul and
spirit. We find in it a correlative illustration of that notion not
uncommon among primitive poets, and revived by the Cabalists, that
whoever knew the Word of a thing was master of the thing itself, and an
easy way of accounting for the innate fitness and necessity, the fore
ordination, which stamps the phrases of real poets. If, on the other
hand, we accept Mr. Wedgwood's system, we must consider speech, as
the theologians of the Middle Ages assumed of matter, to be only
_potentiated_ with life and soul, and shall find the phenomenon of
poetry as wonderful, if less mysterious, when we regard the fineness of
organization requisite to a perception of the remote analogies of sense
and thought, and the power, as of Solomon's seal, which can compel the
unwilling genius back into the leaden void which language becomes when
used as most men use it.
There is a large class of words which every body admits to be imitative
of sounds,--such, for example, as _bang, splash, crack_,--and Mr.
Wedgwood undertakes to show that their number and that of their
derivative applications is much larger than is ordinarily supposed. He
confines himself almost wholly to European languages, but not always to
the particular class of etymologies which it is his main object to trace
out. Some of his explanations of words, not based upon any real or
assumed radical, but showing their gradual passage toward their present
forms and meanings, are among the most valuable parts of the book.
As striking proofs of this, we refer our readers to Mr. Wedgwood's
treatment of the words _abide, abie, allow, danger, and denizen_. When
he differs from other authorities, it is never inconsiderately or
without examination. Now and then we think his derivations are
far-fetched, when simpler ones were lying near his hand. He makes the
Italian _balcone_ come from the Persian _baia khaneh_, an upper chamber.
An upper chamber over a gate in the Persian caravanserais is still
called by that name, according to Rich. (p. 97.) Yet under the
word _balk_ we find, "A hayloft is provincially termed the _balks_,
(Halliwell,) because situated among the rafters. Hence also, probably,
the Ital. _balco_, or _pulcoy_ a scaffold; a loftlike erection supported
upon beams." As a _balcone_ is not an upper chamber, nor a chamber over
a gate, but is precisely "a loftlike erection supported upon beams," it
seems more reasonable to suppose it an augmentative formed in the usual
way from _balco_. Mr. Wedgwood's derivation of barbican from _bala
khaneh_ seems to us more happy. (Ducange refers the word to an Eastern
source.) He would also derive the Fr. _ebaucher_ from _balk_, though we
have a correlative form, _sbozzare_, in Italian, (old Sp. _esbozar_,
Port, _esboyar_, Diez,) with precisely the same meaning, and from a
root _bozzo_, which is related to a very different class of words from
_balk_. So bewitched is Mr. Wedgwood with this word _balk_, that he
prefers to derive the Ital. _valicam, varcare_, from it rather than from
the Latin _varicare_. We should think a deduction from the latter to the
English _walk_ altogether as probable. Mr. Wedgwood also inclines to
seek the origin of _acquaint_ in the Germ, _kund_, though we have all
the intermediate steps between it and the Mid. Lat. _adcognitare_.
Again, under _daunt_ he says, "Probably not directly from Lat. _domare_,
but from the Teutonic form _damp_, which is essentially the same word."
It may be plain that the Fr. _dompter_ (whence _daunt_) is not directly
from _domare_, but not so plain, as it seems to us, that it is not
directly from the frequentative form domitare.--"_Decoy_. Properly
_duck-coy_, as pronounced by those who are familiar with the thing
itself. '_Decoys_, vulgarly _duck-coys_.'--Sketch of the Fens, in
Gardener's Chron. 1849. Du. _koye_, cavea, septum, locus in quo
greges stabulantur.--Kil. _Kooi, konw, kevi_, a cage; _vogel-kooi_, a
bird-cage, decoy, apparatus for entrapping waterfowl. Prov. E. _Coy_,
a decoy for ducks, a coop for lobsters.--Forby. The name was probably
imported with the thing itself from Holland to the fens." (p. 447.)
_Duck-coy_, we cannot help thinking, is an instance of a corruption like
_bag o' nails_ from _bacchanals_, for the sake of giving meaning to a
word not understood. Decoys were and are used for other birds as well as
ducks, and _vogel-kooi_ in Dutch applies to all birds, (answering to our
trap-cage,) the special apparatus for ducks being an _eende-kooi_. The
French _coi_ adverbialized by the prefix _de_, and meaning quietly,
slyly, as a hunter who uses decoys must demean himself, would seem
a more likely original.--_Andiron_ Mr. Wedgwood derives from Flem.
_wend-ijser_, turn-irons, because the spit rested upon them. But the
original meaning seems to have no reference to the spit. The French
_landier_ is plainly a corruption of the Mid. Lat. _anderia_, by the
absorption of the article (_l'andier_). This gives us an earlier form
_andier_, and the augmentative _andieron_ would be our word.--_Baggage_.
We cannot think Mr. Wedgwood's derivation of this word from _bague_ an
improvement on that of Ducange from _baga_, area.--_Coarse_ Mr. Wedgwood
considers identical with _course_,--that is, of course, ordinary. He
finds a confirmation of this in the old spelling. Old spelling is seldom
a safe guide, though we wonder that the archaic form _boorly_ did not
seem to him a sufficient authority for the common derivation of _burly_.
If _coarse_ be not another form of _gross_, (Fr. _gros_, _grosse_,)
then there is no connection between _corn_ and _granum_, or _horse_ and
_ross_.--"_Cullion_. It. _Coglione_, a cullion, a fool, a scoundrel,
properly a dupe. See Cully. It. _cogionare_, to deceive, to make a dupe
of.... In the Venet. _coglionare_ becomes _cogionare_, as _vogia_ for
_voglia_.... Hence E. to _cozen_, as It. _fregio_, frieze; _cugino_,
cousin; _prigione_, prison." (p. 387.) Under _cully_, to which Mr.
Wedgwood refers, he gives another etymology of _coglione_, and, we
think, a wrong one. _Coglionare_ is itself a derivative form from
_coglione_, and the radical meaning is to be sought in _cogliere_, to
gather, to take in, to pluck. Hence a _coglione_ is a sharper, one who
takes in, plucks. _Cully_ and _gull_ (one who is taken in) must be
referred to the same source. Mr. Wedgwood's derivation of _cozen_ is
ingenious, and perhaps accounts for the doubtful Germ, _kosen_, unless
that word itself be the original.--"_To chaff_, in vulgar language to
rally one, to chatter or talk lightly. From a representation of the
inarticulate sounds made by different kinds of animals uttering rapidly
repeated cries. Du. _keffen_, to yap, to bark, also to prattle, chatter,
tattle. Halma," etc. We think it demonstrable that _chaff_ is only a
variety of _chafe_, from Fr. _ecauffer_, retaining the broader sound of
the _a_ from the older form _chaufe_. So _gaby_, which Mr. Wedgwood (p.
84) would connect with _gaewisch_, (Fr. _gauche_,) is derived immediately
from O. Fr. _gabe_, (a laughing-stock, a butt,) the participial form of
_gaber_, to make fun of, which would lead us to a very different root.
(See the _Fabliaux, passim_.)--_Cress_. "Perhaps," says Mr. Wedgwood,
(p. 398,) "from the crunching sound of eating the crisp, green herb."
This is one of the instances in which he is lured from the plain path by
the Nixy _Onomatopoeia_. The analogy between _cress_ and _grass_ flies
in one's eyes; and, perhaps, the more probable derivation of the latter
is from the root meaning to grow, rather than from that meaning to eat,
unless, indeed, the two be originally identical. The A. S. forms
_coers_ and _goers_ are almost identical. The Fr. _cresson_, from It.
_crescione_, which Mr. Wedgwood cites, points in the direction of
_crescere_; and the O. Fr. _cressonage_, implying a verb _cressoner_,
means the right of _grazing_.--Under _dock_ Mr. Wedgwood would seem
(he does not make himself quite clear) to refer It. _doccia_ to a root
analogous with _dyke_ and _ditch_. He cites Prov. _doga_, which he
translates by _bank_. Raynouard has only "_dogua_, douve, creux,
cavite," and refers to It. _doga_. The primary meaning seems rather
the hollow than the bank, though this would matter little, as the same
transference of meaning may have taken place as in _dyke_ and _ditch_,
But when Mr. Wedgwood gives mill-_dam_ as the first meaning of the word
_doccia_, his wish seems to have stood godfather. Diez establishes the
derivation of _doccia_ from _ductus_; and certainly the sense of
a channel to lead (_ducere_) water in any desired direction is
satisfactory. The derivative signification of _doccia_ (a gouge, a tool
to make channels with) coincides. Moreover, we have the masculine form
_doccio_, answering exactly to the Sp. _ducho_ in _aguaducho_, the _o_
for _u_, as in _doge_ for _duce_, from the same root _ducere_. Another
instance of Mr. Wedgwood's preferring the bird in the bush is to be
found in his refusing to consider _dout_, to extinguish, (_do out_,) as
analogous to _don, _doff_, and _dup_. He would rather connect it with
_toedten, tuer_. He cites as allied words Bohemian _dusyti_, to choke, to
extinguish; Polish _dusic_, to choke, stifle, quell; and so arrives at
the English slang phrase, "_dowse_ the glim." As we find several other
German words in thieves' English, we have little doubt that _dowse_ is
nothing more than _thu' aus_, do (thou) out, which would bring us back
to our starting-point.
We have picked out a few instances in which we think Mr. Wedgwood
demonstrably mistaken, because they show the temptation which is ever
lying in wait to lead the theoretical etymologist astray. Mr. Wedgwood
sometimes seems to reverse the natural order of things, and to reason
backward from the simple to the more complex. He does not always respect
the boundaries of legitimate deduction. On the other hand, his case
becomes very strong where he finds relations of thought as well as of
sound between whole classes of words in different languages. But it is
very difficult to say how long ago instinctive imitation ceased and
other elements are to be admitted as operative. We see words continually
coming into vogue whose apparent etymologies, if all historical data of
their origin were lost, would inevitably mislead. If we did not know,
for example, the occasion which added the word _chouse_ to the English
language, we have little doubt that the twofold analogy of form and
meaning would have led etymologists to the German _kosen_, (with the
very common softening of the _k_ to _ch_,) and that the derivation would
have been perfectly satisfactory to most minds.--_Tantrums_ would look
like a word of popular coinage, and yet we find a respectable Old High
German verb _tantaron_, delirare, (Graff, V. 437,) which may perhaps
help us to make out the etymology of _dander_, in our vulgar expression
of "getting one's dander up," which is equivalent to flying into a
passion.--_Jog_, in the sense of _going_, (to _jog_ along,) has a vulgar
look. Richardson derives it from the same root with the other _jog_,
which means to shake, ("A. S. _sceac-an_, to _shake_, or _shock_, or
_shog_.") _Shog_ has nothing whatever to do with shaking, unless when
Nym says to Pistol, "Will you _shog_ off?" he may be said to have shaken
him off. When the Tinker in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Coxcomb" says,
"Come, prithee, let's _shog_ off," what possible allusion to shaking is
there, except, perhaps, to "shaking stumps"? The first _jog_ and _shog_
are identical in meaning and derivation, and may be traced, by whosoever
chooses, to the Gothic _tiuhan_, (Germ, _ziehen_,) and are therefore
near of kin to our _tug_. _Togs_ and _toggery_ belong here also. (The
connecting link may be seen in the preterite form _zog_.) The other
_jog_ probably comes to us immediately from the French _choquer_; and
its frequentative _joggle_ answers to the German _schutkeln_, It.
_cioccolare_. Whether they are all remotely from the same radical is
another question. We only cited it as a monosyllabic word, having
the air of being formed by the imitative process, while its original
_tiuhan_ makes quite another impression.--Had the word _ramose_ been a
word of English slang-origin, (and it might easily have been imported,
like so many more foreign phrases, by sailors,) we have as little doubt
that a derivation of it from the Spanish _vamos_ would have failed to
convince the majority of etymologists. This word is a good example of
the way in which the people (and it is always the people, never the
scholars, who succeed in adding to the spoken language) proceed in
naturalizing a foreign term. The accent has gone over to the last
syllable, in accordance with English usage in verbs of two syllables;
and though the sharp sound of the _s_ has been thus far retained, it is
doubtful how long it will maintain itself against a fancied analogy
with the grave sound of the same letter in such words as _inclose_ and
_suppose_.--We should incline to think the slang verb _to mosey_ a mere
variety of form, and that its derivation from a certain absconding
Mr. Moses (who broke the law of his great namesake through a blind
admiration of his example in spoiling the Egyptians) was only a new
instance of that tendency to mythologize which is as strong as ever
among the uneducated. _Post, ergo propter_, is good people's-logic; and
if an antecedent be wanting, it will not be long before one is invented.
If we once admit the principle of _onomatopoeia_, the difficulty remains
of drawing the line which shall define the territory within which those
capable of judging would limit its operation. Its boundary would be
a movable one, like that of our own Confederacy. Some students, from
natural fineness of ear, would be quicker to recognize resemblances of
sound; others would trace family likeness in spite of every disguise;
others, whose exquisiteness of perception was mental, would find the
scent in faint analogies of meaning, where the ordinary brain would be
wholly at fault. In the original genesis of language, also, we should
infer the influence of the same idiosyncrasies. We were struck with this
the other day in a story we heard of a little boy, who, during a violent
thunder-storm, asked his father what that was out there,--all the while
winking rapidly to explain his meaning. Had his vocabulary been more
complete, he would have asked what that _winking_ out there was. The
impression made upon him by the lightning was not the ordinary one of
brightness, (as in _blitz_, (?) _eclair_, _fulmen_, _flash_,) but of
the rapid alternations of light and dark. Had he been obliged to make
a language for himself, like the two unfortunate children on whom King
Psarnmetichus made his linguistic experiment, he would have christened
the phenomenon accordingly.
Mr. Wedgwood has by no means carried out his theory fully even in
reference to the words contained in his first volume, nor does the
volume itself nearly exhaust the vocabulary of the letters it includes
(A to D). Sometimes, where we should have expected him to apply his
system, he refrains, whether from caution or oversight it is not easy
to discover. The word _cow_, which is commonly referred to an imitative
radical, he is provokingly reserved about; and under _chew_ he hints
at no relation between the name of the action and that of the capital
ruminant animal.[a] Even where he has derived a word from an imitative
radical, he sometimes fails to carry the process on to some other where
it would seem equally applicable, sometimes pushes it too far. For
instance, "_Crag_. 1. The neck, the throat.--Jam. Du. _kraeghe_, the
throat; Pol. _kark_, the nape, crag, neck; Bohem. _krk_, the neck; Icel.
_krage_, Dan. _krave_, the collar of a coat. The origin is an imitation
of the noise made by clearing the throat. Bohem. _krkati_, to belch,
_krcati_, to vomit; Pol. _krzakae_, to hem, to hawk. The same root gives
rise to the Fr. _cracher_, to spit, and It. _recere_, to vomit; E.
_reach_, to strain in vomiting; Icel. _hraki_, spittle; A. S. _hrara_,
cough, phlegm, the throat, jaws; G. _rachen_, the jaws." (As _crag_
is not an English word, all this should have come under the head of
_craw_.) "_Crag_. 2. A rock. Gael. _creag_, a rock; W. _careg_, a stone;
_caregos_, pebbles." We do not see why the rattling sound of stones
should not give them a claim to the same pedigree,--the name being
afterwards transferred to the larger mass, the reverse of which we see
in the popular _rock_ for _stone_. Nay, as Mr. Wedgwood (_sub voce
draff_, p. 482) assumes _rac_ (more properly _rk_) as the root, it would
answer equally well for _rock_ also. Indeed, as the chief occupation
of crags, and their only amusement, in mountainous regions, is to pelt
unwary passengers and hunters of scenery with their _debris_, we might
have _creag, quasi caregos faciens sive dejiciens, sicut rupes a
rumpere_. Indeed, there is an analogous Sanscrit root, meaning _break,
crack_. But though Mr. Wedgwood lets off this coughing, hawking,
spitting, and otherwise unpleasant old patriarch _Rac_ so easily in
the case of the foundling _Crag_, he has by no means done with him.
Stretched on the unfilial instrument of torture that bears his name, he
is made to confess the paternity of _draff_, and _dregs_, and _dross_,
and so many other uncleanly brats, that we feel as if he ought to be
nailed by the ear to the other side of the same post on which Mr.
Carlyle has pilloried August _der starke_ forever. But we honestly
believe the old fellow to be belied, and that he is as guiltless of them
as of that weak-witted Hebrew _Raca_ who looks so much like him in the
[Footnote a: An etymology of this kind would have been particularly
interesting in the hands of so learned and acute a man as Mr. Wedgwood.
It would have afforded him a capital example of the fact that
considerable differences in the form and sound of words meaning the same
thing prove nothing against the onomatopoeic theory, but merely that the
same sound represents a different thing to different ears. L. _Boare,
mugire_, E. _moo_; F. _beugler_, E. _bellow_; G. _leuen_, L. _lugere_,
E. _low_, are all attempts at the same sound, or, which would not affect
the question, variations of an original radical _go_ or _gu_. For a
full discussion of the matter, admirable for its thorough learning, see
Pictet, _Les Origines Indo-Europeennes_, Vol. I. Section 86.]
In the case of _crag_, Mr. Wedgwood argues from a sound whose frequency
and marked character (and colds must have been frequent when the
fig-tree was the only draper) gave a name to the organ producing it.
We can easily imagine it. One of these early pagans comes home of an
evening, heated from the chase, and squats himself on the damp clay
floor of a country-seat imperfectly guarded against draughts. The next
morning he says to his helpmeet, "Mrs. Barbar, I have a dreadful cold
in my--_hrac_! _hrac_!" Here he is interrupted by a violent fit of
coughing, and resorts to semeiology by pointing to his throat. Similar
incidents carrying apprehension (as Lord Macaulay would say) to the
breezy interiors of a thousand shanties on the same fatal morning, the
domestic circle would know no name so expressive as _hrac_ for that
fatal tube through which man, ingenious in illegitimate perversion,
daily compels the innocent breath to discharge a plumbeous hail of
But seriously, we think Mr. Wedgwood's derivation of _crag_ (or rather,
that which he adopts, for it has had other advocates) a very probable
one, at least for more northern tribes. There is no reason why men
should have escaped the same law of nomenclature which gave names to the
_cuckoo_ and the _pavo_.[a] But when he approaches _draff_, he gets upon
thinner ice. Where a metaphorical appropriateness is plainly wanting to
one etymology and another as plainly supplies it, other considerations
being equal, probability may fairly turn the scale in favor of the
latter. Mr. Wedgwood is here dealing with a sound translated to another
meaning by an intellectual process of analogy; and no one knows better
than he--for his book shows everywhere the fair-mindedness of a thorough
scholar--the extreme difficulty of convincing other minds in such
matters. He seems to have been unconsciously influenced in this case by
a desire to give more support to a very ingenious etymology of the word
_dream_. His process of reasoning may be briefly stated thus: _draff_
and _dregs_ are refuse, they are things thrown away, sometimes (as in
German _dreck_, sordes) they are even disgustful; and as there is no
expression of contempt and disgust so strong as spitting, the sound
_rac_ transferred itself by a natural association of ideas from the act
to the object of it. He cites Du. _drabbe_, Dan. _drav_, Ger. _traebern_,
Icel. _dregg_, Prov. _draco_, Ger., Du. _dreck_, O. F. _drache,
dreche_, (and he might have added E. _trash_,) E. _dross_, all with
nearly the same meaning. We have selected such as would show the
different forms of the word. To the same radical Mr. Wedgwood refers G.
_truejen_, _betruegen_, and this would carry with it our English _trick_
(Prov. _tric_, in Diez, Fr. _triche_). In our opinion he is wrong,
doubly wrong, inasmuch as we think he has confounded two widely
different roots. He has taken his O. Fr. forms from Roquefort (Gloss.
Rom. I. 411,) but has omitted one of his definitions, _coque qui
enveloope le grain_, that is, the husk, or hull. Mr. Wedgwood might
perhaps found an argument on this in support of our old friend _Rac_ and
his relation to huskiness; but it seems to us one of those trifles, the
turned leaf, or broken twig, that put one on the right trail. We
accept Mr. Wedgwood's derivative signification of _refuse, worthless,
contemptible_, and ask if all these terms do not apply equally well to
the chaff of the threshing-floor? It is more satisfactory to us, then,
to attribute a part of the words given above to the Gothic _dragan_,
(L. _trahere_, G. _tragen_,) to drag, to draw, and a part to Goth.
_thriskan_, to thresh. The conjecture of Diez, (cited by Diefenbach,)
that the Italian _trescare_ (to stamp with the feet, to dance) should
be referred to the same root, is confirmed by the ancient practice of
threshing grain by treading it out with cattle. We might, indeed, refer
all to one root, by deriving _dross_ (a provincial form of which is
_drass_) through the O. Fr. _drache_, (as in O. Fr. _treche_, Fr.
_tresse_, E. _tress_,) but we have A. S. _dresten_, which is better
accounted for by _therscan_. The other forms, such as _drabbe_, _dregg_,
and _dragan_, the _b_ and _v_ being analogous to E. _draggle, drabble,
draught, draft_, all equally from _dragan_. We have a suspicion that
_dragon_ is to be referred to the same root. Mr. Wedgwood follows
Richardson, who follows Vossius in a fanciful etymology from the Greek
[Greek: derkomai = blepein] to see. Sharpness of sight, it is true, was
attributed to the mythologized reptile, but the primitive _draco_ was
nothing but a large serpent, supposed to be the boa. This sense must
accordingly be comparatively modern. The eagle is the universal type of
keenness of vision. The reptile's way of moving himself without legs is
his most striking peculiarity; and if we derive _dragon_ from the root
meaning to drag, to draw, (because he draws himself along,) we find it
analogous to _serpent_, _reptile_, _snake_.[b] The relation between
[Greek: trechein] and _dragan_ may be seen in G. _ziehen_, meaning both
to draw and to go. Mr. Wedgwood says that he finds it hard to conceive
any relation between the notion of _treachery_, _betrayal_, (_truegen_,
_betruegen_,) and that of drawing. It would seem that to _draw_ into
an ambush, the _drawing_ of a fowler's net, and the more sublimated
_drawing_ a man on to his destruction, supplied analogies enough. The
contempt we feel for treachery (for it is only in this metaphysical way
that Mr. Wedgwood can connect the word with his radical _rac_[c]) is a
purely subsidiary, derivative, and comparatively modern notion. Many,
perhaps most, kinds of treachery were looked upon as praiseworthy in
early times, and are still so regarded among savages. Does Mr. Wedgwood
believe that Romulus lost caste by the way in which he made so many
respectable Sabines fathers-in-law against their will, or that the wise
Odysseus was a perfectly admirable gentleman in our sense of the word?
Even in the sixteenth century, in the then most civilized country of the
world, the grave irony with which Macchiavelli commends the frightful
treacheries of Caesar Borgia would have had no point, if he had not taken
it for granted that almost all who read his treatise would suppose him
to be in earnest. In the same way _dregs_ is explained simply as the
sediment left after _drawing off_ liquids. _Dredge_ also is certainly,
in one of its meanings, a derivative of _dragan_; so, too, _trick_ in
whist, and perhaps _trudge_. Indeed, all the words above-cited are more
like each other than Fr. _toit_ and E. _deck_, both from one root, or
the Neapol. _sciu_ and the Lat. _flos_, from which it is corrupted.
[Footnote a: The German _pfau_ retains the imitative sound which the
English _pea_-cock has lost, and of which our system of pronunciation
robs the Latin.]
[Footnote b: And to _worm_, (another word for _dragon_,) if, as has been
conjectured, there be any radical affinity between that and _schwaermen_,
whose primitive sense of crawl or creep is seen in the _swarming_ of
bees, and _swarming_ up a tree.]
[Footnote c: That is, unless he takes the _rag_ in _dragan_ to be the
same thing, which he might support with several plausible analogies,
such as E. _rake_, It. _recare_, etc.]
But the same subtilty of mind, which sometimes seduces Mr. Wedgwood into
making distinctions without a difference and preferring an impalpable
relation of idea to a plain derivative affinity, is of great advantage
to him when the problem is to construct an etymology by following the
gossamer clews that lead from sensual images to the metaphorical and
tropical adaptations of them to the demands of fancy and thought. The
nice optics that see what is not to be seen have passed into a sarcastic
proverb; yet those are precisely the eyes that are in the heads and
brains of all who accomplish much, whether in science, poetry, or
philosophy. With the kind of etymologies we are speaking of, it is
practically useful to have the German gift of summoning a thing up from
the depths of one's inward consciousness. It is when Mr. Wedgwood would
reverse the order of Nature, and proceed from the tropical to the direct
and simple, that we are at issue with him. For it is not philosophers
who make language, though they often unmake it.
Mr. Wedgwood's most successful application of his system may be found,
as we think, under the words, _dim_, _dumb_, _deaf_, and _death_. He
might have confirmed the relation between dumbness and darkness from the
acutest metaphysician among poets, in Dante's _ove il sol tace_. We have
not left ourselves room enough to illustrate Mr. Wedgwood's handling of
these etymologies by extracts; we must refer our readers to the book
itself. Apart from its value as suggesting thought, or quickening our
perception of shades of meaning, and so freshening our feeling of the
intimate harmony of sense and spirit in language, and of the thousand
ways in which the soul assumes the material world into her own heaven
and transfigures it there, the volume will be found practically the most
thorough contribution yet made to English etymology. We are glad to hear
that we are to have an American edition of it under the able supervision
of Mr. Marsh. Etymology becomes of practical importance, when, as the
newspapers inform us, two members of a New York club have been fighting
a duel because one of them doubted whether Garry Baldy were of Irish
descent. Any student of language could have told them that Garibaldi is
only the plural form (common in Italian family names) of Garibaldo, the
Teutonic Heribald, whose meaning, appropriate enough in this case, would
be nearly equivalent to Bold Leader.
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