Page images

Quo didicisse, nisi hoc fermentum, at quæ semel intus Innata est, rupto jecore exiri : Caprificus?

These are the preceding words of Persius's friend To what purpose is all my learning, if I do not get rid of the modesty which restrains me from publishing it ? To which Persius answers,

En Pallor, Seniumque! O Mores! usque adeone
Scire tuum nibil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter ?

Though Fool! Is thy learning of no advantage to thee, except thou settest it forth to shew? The use of learning is not to procure popular applause, or excite vain admiration; but to make the possessor more virtuous, and his virtue a more conspicuous example to those that are illiterate.

Yours, &c. 1755, Jan.

R. S.

XVIII. Obscure Phrases explained.

MR. URBAN, SPICK and span new is an expression, the meaning of which is obvious, though the words want explanation; and which, I presume, are a corruption of the Italian, Spiccata da la Spanna, snatched from the hand; opus ablatum incude ; or according to another expression of our own, fresh from the mint; in all which the same idea is conveyed by a different metaphor.. It is well known that our language abounds with Italicisins, and it is probable the expression before us was coined when the English were as much bigotted to Italian fashions, as they now are to those of the French.

There is another expression much used by the vulgar, wherein the sense and words are equally obscure: the expression I mean is, An't please the pigs, in which there is a peculiarity of dialect, a corruption of a word, and a common figure, called a metonymy; for in the first place, an in the midland counties is used for if; and pigs is most assuredly a corruption of Pyx, (from Pyxis and Ilužis) a vessel in which the host is kept in Roman Catholic countries. In the last place the vessel is substituted for the host itself, by an easy metonymy, in the same manner as when we speak of the sense of the house, we do not mean to ascribe sense to bricks and stones, but to a certain number of representatives. The expression, therefore, means no more than Deo volente, or as it is translated into modern English by coachmen and carriers, God willing. 17.55, March,

G. S.

XIX. Critical Explanations of the word Earing.

And yet there are five years, in the which there shall be neither earing nor harvest.

GEN. xlv, 6.

MR. URBAN, THIS word earing occurs in other places of scripture, but I have pitched upon this, because this chapter being twice read as a Sunday lesson, in the public service of the church, this passage, it is presumed, may be the best known. The word is grown obsolete, and partly through disuse, but chiefly from its being so like in sound and its present orthography to the ear or Spica of the corn, I have observed the sense of it to be sometimes mistaken by writers, from whence I conclude that others who are unacquainted with the learned languages must consequently be liable to the same error.-Thus the Earl of Monmouth, in his translation of Boccalini, p. 11, says, “The plowers of poetry have seen their fields make a beautiful shew in the spring of their age, and had good reason to expect a rich harvest, but when, in the beginning of July, the season of earing began, they saw their sweat and labours dissolve all into leaves and flowers ;" where he evidently means by the season of earing, the time when the corn runs into the ear, in opposition to the time of ploughing. Another mistake concerning the sense of this word, incurred by Mr. Theobald, will be mentioped below.

But to ear signifies to plough, and is always used in that sense by our old writers; so Isa. xxx. 24. The oxen likewise and the young asses that ear the ground, shall eat clean proven. der, &c. So Speed, p. 416, says the Danes, “ grieved the poore English, whose service they employed to eare and till the ground, whilst they themselves sat idle, and eate the

fruit of their paines.” Dr. Wickliffe, in his New Testament, Lu. xvii. 7. writes, “ But who of you hath a servant eringe, where the vulgate version, from whence the Dr. made his translation, has arantem. The sense is clear, and the word is evidently the Anglo Saxon erian, which sigoifies to plough, and is plainly derived from the Latin aro, and what we now call arable lund, Greenway, in his translation of Tacitus's account of Germany, calls earable land, from the Latin arabilis, In this text therefore, earing and harvest are opposed to one another, as two different extremes, just as seed time and harvest are, Gen. viii, 22. to the former of which it manifestly answers, and the sense consequently is, in the which there shall neither be ploughing nor harvest. However, before I dismiss this subject, I would beg leave to animadvert a little upon a criticism and note of Mr. Theobald, in his Shakespeare, where he too, as was said above, has committed a small error in relation to this word. The line in the author is,

[ocr errors]

We are to cure such sorrows, not to sow 'em.

Hen. VIII. Act iii. Sc. I.

whereupon this annotator writes, “There is no antithesis in these terms, nor any consonance of the metaphors; both which my emendation restores,

We are to ear such sorrows, not to sow 'em,

that is, to weed them up, harrow them out. This word with us may be derived not only from arare to plow, but the Saxon word, ear to harrow."

But this consonance of metaphors, which he mentions, and which these critical gentlemen are perpetually hunting after, are not always needful, because metaphors often occur singly; and it is certain that in the present case the antithesis is sufficiently preserved in the other reading, it being unquestionably the business of ecclesiastics, such as Wolsey was, to heal and cure people's sorrows, and not to occasion them. So before, the Queen says,

'Would I had never trod this English earth,
Or felt the flatteries that grow upon

where I wonder this editor did not think of correcting

Or reap'd the flatteries that grow upon it!

[ocr errors]

which, according to him, would be carrying on the metaphor, and be far more consonant to earth, and growing, than the present reading felt is. But, as I said, metaphors may stand single, and were we always to be altering and emending our authors for the sake of maintaining the consonance he talks of, our writers in time would so differ from themselves as hardly to be known. But this itch of correcting is so strongly ridiculed by Martin Scriblerus, in his Virgilius Restauratus, subjoined to the Dunciad, thac I need say no more of it.

But what is worst in this emendation of Mr. Theobald's, the word ear does not signify to harrow, but to plough; it neither means to weed up, nor to harrow out, and consequently can have no place here, since thereby the antithesis, which is undoubtedly necessary, is entirely lost. Mr. Theobald knew, that the word ear came from arare, and signified to plough, but, to serve his own purpose, he will have it mean to harrow too, as if there were no difference between them; besides to harrow does not convey the notion of weeding out, but rather of covering, which absolutely destroys the antithesis. And then lastly, he asserts, in support of this wretched emendation, which ought upon so many accounts to be rejected, that the Saxon word ear signifies to harrow, which is not true; and thus his attempt upon this passage, is not only needless, but also contrary to the sense and meaning of 'the author, and, lastly, has no ground or foundation to stand .upon. 1755, May.


A further explanation of Genesis xlv. 6. MR. URBAN, ADMITTIŅG that Mr. Gemsege has rightly settled the meaning of the word curing in the English version of Gen. xlv. 6. yet, as it seems to me, a difficulty remains in regard to the text itself, which I would here beg leave to propose. The words are these, These two years hath the faInine been in the land; and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. Now, from the nature of things, and more especially from the frame and constitution of the human species, which is ever desirous of preserving life, it is most natural, that in a famine people should be trying all they could to procure a crop, especially

if they have seed enough to sow, as was the case here, See chap. xli. Nay, if the famine continued from year to year, as it did in this instance, we must necessarily suppose, that the people growing more and more distressed, and more and more impatient, would be the more ardent and eager to make their attempts by ploughing and sowing. How then was it, that there was not to be a seed time any more than a harvest, since there might be, and one would think naturally would be, the former, though not the latter? Shall we say, that the book of Genesis being written after the fact, the author has expressed himself according to the fact; or rather, that not confining himself to the strictness of the letter, he has made use of a common phrase, as intending thereby to denote the intenseness of the famine? These reasons may satisfy some, but my conception of the matter is this: we are to consider the nature of the country, of which Joseph bere more particularly speaks, the land of Egypt which depended altogether upon its fertility for the inundation of its river, the river Nile, that if the Nile did not rise to a certain degree, or did exceed in its rising another certain degree, it was to no purpose for the people to plough and sow, for their labour would not succeed. These degrees of overflowing were investigated by experience, and the Nilometer, now called the Mikyas, of which, as I remember, you have a very exact description in Dr. Pocock's travels, was invented for the purpose of shewing the degree of the inundation, to wit, whether, on the one hand, there was either a deficiency or an excess, or, on the other, only a necessary and commodious flow. Tiere now was an event that affected the ploughing and sowing, as well as the harvest, the former as well as the latter; and if the necessary degrees of overflowing were known at this time, as I suppose they were, (this æra being long enough after the first peopling of the country, for the purpose of making the proper observations) one needs only suppose that Joseph, by the excellent spirit that wasin him, foresaw that for five years then to come, the irregularities of the river would be such, one way or the other, as to prevent all tillage, (without which we are certain there could be no harvest) and then he could just as easily pronounce concerning the tillage, as he could upon the harvest. It is very clear from the context, that this famine was pretty general, in particular from chap. xl. v. 56. And the famine was over all the face of the earth, from whence it should seem the distemper was seated in the atmosphere, which of course would affect the periodical swelling of the Nile.

« PreviousContinue »