S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.


The English and French raise their language with metaphors, or by the pompousness of the whole phrase wear off any littleness that appears in the particular parts.

Joseph Addison.

The want of vowels in our language has been the general complaint of our politest authors, who nevertheless have made these retrenchments, and consequently increased our former scarcity.

Joseph Addison.

Nothing hath more dulled the wits, or taken away the will of children from learning, than care in making of Latin.

Roger Ascham.

As the confusion of tongues was a mark of separation, so the being of one language is a mark of union.

In languages the tongue is more pliant to all sounds, the joints more supple to all feats of activity, in youth than afterwards.

Of all the means which human ingenuity has contrived for recalling the images of real objects, and awakening, by representation, similar emotions to those which were raised by the originals, none is so full and extensive as that which is created by words and writing.

Hugh Blair.

Another branch of the Gothic existed in Scandinavia, and is called the Suio-Gothic, or Old Norse. It is still spoken with some variations in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and parts of Norway. From this language the modern Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian derive their origin.

Joseph Bosworth.

It may be observed, that very polished languages, and such as are praised for their superior clearness and perspicuity, are generally deficient in strength. The French language has that perfection and that defect. Whereas the Oriental tongues, and in general the languages of most unpolished people, have a great force and energy of expression; and this is but natural. Uncultivated people are but ordinary observers of things, and not critical in distinguishing them; but for that reason they admire more, and are more affected with what they see, and therefore express themselves in a warmer and more passionate manner.

Edmund Burke: On the Sublime and Beautiful, 1756.

Speak the language of the company you are in; speak it purely, and unlarded with any other.

Lord Chesterfield.

With respect to the education of boys, I think they are generally made to draw in Latin and Greek trammels too soon. It is pleasing, no doubt, to a parent, to see his child already in some sort a proficient in those languages at an age when most others are entirely ignorant of them; but hence it often happens that a boy who could construe a fable of Æsop at six or seven years of age, having exhausted his little stock of attention and diligence in making that notable acquisition, grows weary of his task, conceives a dislike for study, and perhaps makes but a very indifferent progress afterwards.

William Cowper: To Rev. W. Unwin, Sept. 7, 1780.

The grammar of every language is merely a compilation of those general principles, or rules, agreeably to which that language is spoken.

Alexander Crombie.

All languages tend to clear themselves of synonyms as intellectual culture advances, the superfluous words being taken up, and appropriated by new shades and combinations of thought evolved in the progress of society.

Dr. Quincey.

Such difference there is in tongues, that the same figure which roughens one gives majesty to another.

The learned languages were less constrained in the quantity of every syllable, beside helps of grammatical figures for the lengthening or abbreviation of them.

Latin is a far more succinct language than the Italian, Spanish, French, or even than the English, which, by reason of its monosyllables, is far the most compendious of them.

The Latin, a most severe and compendious language, often expresses that in one word which either the barbarity or the narrowness of modern tongues cannot supply in more.

The agitation of spelling-reforms, which appears in cultivated nations from time to time, aims at restoring the harmony between letter and sound. Of the three languages we may say that the German is (comparatively speaking) phonetic, and the French consistent, while the English is neither the one nor the other.

John Earle: Philosophy of the English Tongue.

Languages, like our bodies, are in a perpetual flux, and stand in need of recruits to supply those words that are continually falling through disuse.

Henry Felton.

The French have indeed taken worthy pains to make classic learning speak their language: if they have not succeeded, it must be imputed to a certain talkativeness and airiness represented in their tongue; which will never agree with the sedateness of the Romans or the solemnity of the Greeks.

Henry Felton.

Are the powers—the capacity of human language limited by any other bounds than those which limit the mind’s powers of conception? Is there within the possibility of human conceptions a certain order of ideas which no combinations of language could express?… If a poet were to come into the world endowed with a genius, suppose ten times more sublime than Milton’s, must he not abandon the attempt at composition in despair, from finding that language, like a feeble tool, breaks in his hand—from finding that when he attempts to pour any of his mental fluid into the vessel of language, that vessel in a moment melts or bursts; from finding that, though he is Hercules every inch, he is armed but with a distaff, and cannot give his mighty strength its proportional effect without his club?

John Foster: Journal.

I would therefore offer it to the consideration of those who superintend the education of our youth, whether, since many of those who begin with the Latin quit the same after spending some years without having made any great proficiency, and what they have learned becomes almost useless, so that their time has been lost, it would not have been better to have begun with the French, proceeding to the Italian and Latin; for, though, after spending the same time, they should quit the study of languages and never arrive at the Latin, they would, however, have acquired another tongue or two that, being in modern use, might be serviceable to them in common life.

Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography.

It is usually said by grammarians that the use of language is to express our wants and desires; but men who know the world hold, and I think with some show of reason, that he who best knows how to keep his necessities private is the most likely person to have them redressed; and that the true use of speech is not so much to express our wants as to conceal them.

Oliver Goldsmith: Essays, No. V.

The reader must not be surprised to find me once more addressing schoolmasters on the present method of teaching the learned languages, which is commonly by literal translations. I would ask such, if they were to travel a journey, whether those parts of the road in which they found the greatest difficulties would not be the most strongly remembered? Boys who, if I may continue the allusion, gallop through one of the ancients with the assistance of a translation can have but a very slight acquaintance either with the author or his language.

Oliver Goldsmith: Essays, No. VII.

For can anything be more absurd than our way of proceeding in this part of literature? to push tender wits into the intricate mazes of grammar, and a Latin grammar? to learn an unknown art by an unknown tongue? to carry them a dark round-about way to let them in at the back door? Whereas by teaching them first the grammar of their mother-tongue, so easy to be learned, their advance to the grammars of Latin and Greek would be gradual and easy; but our precipitate way of hurrying them over such a gulf, before we have built them a bridge to it, is a shock to their weak understandings, which they seldom or very late recover.

Greenwood: Tatler, No. 234.

Languages of countries are lost by transmission of colonies of a different language.

Sir Matthew Hale.

In the original elementary parts of a language there are, in truth, few or no synonymes; for what should prompt men, in the earlier period of literature, to invent a word that neither conveyed any new idea nor enabled them to present an old one with more force and precision? In the progress of refinement, indeed, regard to copiousness and harmony has enriched language with many exotics, which are merely those words in a foreign language that perfectly correspond to terms in our own; as felicity for happiness, celestial for heavenly, and a multitude of others.

Robert Hall: Review of Foster’s Essays.

A language cannot be thoroughly learned by an adult without five years’ residence in the country where it is spoken; and without habits of close observation, a residence of twenty years is insufficient.

Philip Gilbert Hamerton: Intellectual Life.

We are quite sure that living languages are better means of teaching boys or men to think than even mathematics. Let there be no lack of mathematical teaching, only let it not occupy a wrong place in the theory of education. It is the groundwork of exact science; by help of it the pupil rises to a nobler view of all the glories of creation, which we would have all, whom it is professed liberally to educate, taught to study; but of the reasoning that belongs to the affairs of human life, about which it is practically most important that we should be taught to reflect wisely, it supplies little or nothing. The mere study of words is in this respect more to be valued.

Household Words.

If one were to be worded to death, Italian is the fittest language.

James Howell.

Whether it be decreed by the authority of reason or the tyranny of ignorance, that, of all the candidates for literary praise, the unhappy lexicographer holds the lowest place, neither vanity nor interest incited me to inquire.

Dr. Samuel Johnson.

It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.

Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom mankind have considered not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from the paths through which Learning and Genius press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative recompense has been yet granted to very few.

Dr. Samuel Johnson: Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language.

When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately become popular I have not promised to myself: a few wild blunders and risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance into contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting some who distinguish desert; who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue can ever be perfect,—since while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he whose design includes whatever language can express, must often speak of what he does not understand; that a writer will sometimes be hurried by eagerness to the end, and sometimes faint with weariness under a task which Scaliger compares to the labours of the anvil and the mine; that what is obvious is not always known, and what is known is not always present; that sudden fits of inadvertency will surprise vigilance, slight avocations will seduce attention, and casual eclipses of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer shall often in vain trace his memory at the moment of need for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow.

Dr. Samuel Johnson: Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language.

It may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to observe, that if our language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed, and comprised in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive; if the aggregated knowledge and co-operating diligence of the Italian academicians did not secure them from the censure of Beni; if the embodied criticks of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its economy, and give their second edition another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection,—which if I could obtain, in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds. I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.

Dr. Samuel Johnson: Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language.

Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design will require that it should fix our language, and put a stop to those alterations which time and chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition. With this consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin to fear that I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can justify. When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after another, from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary nature, and clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation.

Dr. Samuel Johnson: Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language.

Language most shows a man: speak that I may see thee: it springs out of the most retired and inmost parts of us.

Ben Jonson.

God, having designed man for a sociable creature, made him not only with an inclination and under the necessity to have fellowship with those of his own kind, but furnished him also with language, which was to be the great instrument and cementer of society.

Language being the conduit whereby men convey their knowledge, he that makes an ill use of it, though he does not corrupt the fountains of knowledge, which are in things, yet he stops the pipes.

Languages are to be learned only by reading and talking, and not by scraps of authors got by heart.

Particularly in learning of languages there is least occasion for posing of children.

The learning and mastery of a tongue, being uneasy and unpleasant enough in itself, should not be cumbered with any other difficulties, as is done in this way of proceeding.

It is fruitless pains to learn a language which one may guess by his temper he will wholly neglect as soon as an approach to manhood, setting him free from a governor, shall put him into the hands of his own inclination.

I would have any one name to me that tongue that one can speak as he should do by the rules of grammar.

If a gentleman be to study any language, it ought to be that of his own country.

Men apply themselves to two or three foreign, dead, and which are called the learned, languages, and pique themselves upon their skill in them.

The polity of some of our neighbours hath not thought it beneath the public care to promote and reward the improvement of their own language.

No care is taken to improve young men in their own language, that they may thoroughly understand and be masters of it.

Those who cannot distinguish, compare, and abstract would hardly be able to understand and make use of language, or judge or reason to any tolerable degree.

Now that languages are made, and abound with words standing for combinations, an usual way of getting these complete ideas is by the explication of those terms that stand for them.

Use, which is the supreme law in matter of language, has determined that heresy relates to errors in faith, and schism to those in worship or discipline.

Versification in a dead language is an exotic, a far-fetched, costly, sickly imitation of that which elsewhere may be found in healthful and spontaneous perfection. The soils on which this rarity flourishes are in general as ill suited to the production of vigorous native poetry as the flower-pots of a hot-house to the growth of oaks.

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Milton, Aug. 1825.

Obstacles unparalleled in any other country which has books must be surmounted by the student who is determined to master the Chinese tongue. To learn to read is the business of half a life. It is easier to become such a linguist as Sir William Jones was than to become a good Chinese scholar. You may count upon your fingers the Europeans whose industry and genius, even when stimulated by the most fervent religious zeal, has triumphed over the difficulties of a language without an alphabet.

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Speech on War with China, April 7, 1840.

No writer of British birth is reckoned among the masters of Latin poetry and eloquence. It is not probable that the islanders were at any time generally familiar with the tongue of their Italian rulers. From the Atlantic to the vicinity of the Rhine the Latin has, during many centuries, been predominant. It drove out the Celtic; it was not driven out by the Teutonic; and it is at this day the basis of the French, Spanish, and Portuguese languages. In our island the Latin appears never to have superseded the old Gaelic speech, and could not stand its ground against the German.

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: History of England, vol. i. chap. i.

Nor do I think it a matter of little moment whether the language of a people he vitiated or refined, whether the popular idiom be erroneous or correct. This consideration was more than once found salutary at Athens. It is the opinion of Plato that changes in the dress and habits of the citizens portend great commotions and changes in the state; and I am inclined to believe, that when the language in common use in any country becomes irregular and depraved, it is followed by their ruin or their degradation. For what do terms used without skill or meaning, which are at once corrupt and misapplied, denote, but a people listless, supine, and ripe for servitude? On the contrary, we have never heard of any people or state which has not flourished in some degree of prosperity as long as their language has retained its elegance and its purity.

John Milton: To Benedetto Buonmattai, Sept. 10, 1638: Milton’s Familiar Letters.

And seeing every nation affords not experience and tradition enough for all kind of learning, therefore we are chiefly taught the languages of those people who have at any time been most industrious after wisdom; so that language is but the instrument conveying to us things useful to be known. And though a linguist should pride himself to have all the tongues that Babel cleft the world into, yet, if he have not studied the solid things in them, as well as the words and lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteemed a learned man as any yeoman or tradesman competently wise in his mother dialect only.

Hence appear the many mistakes which have made learning generally so unpleasing and so unsuccessful: first, we do amiss to spend seven or eight years merely in scraping together much miserable Latin and Greek as might be learned otherwise easily and delightfully in one year.

John Milton: Tractate on Education, 1644.

I would first understand my own language, and that of my neighbours with whom most of my business and conversation lies. No doubt but Greek and Latin are very great ornaments, and of very great use, but we buy them too dear…. My father having made the most precise enquiry that any man could possibly make amongst men of the greatest learning and judgment, of an exact method of education, was by them cautioned of the inconvenience then in use, and made to believe that the tedious time we applied to the learning of the tongues of them who had them for nothing was the sole cause we could not arrive to that grandeur of soul, and perfection of knowledge, with the ancient Greeks and Romans. I do not however believe that to be the only cause.

Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cotton’s 3d ed., ch. xxv.

The history of every language is inseparable from that of the people by whom it is spoken.

Col. William Mure.

In the beginning of speech there was an implicit compact, founded upon common consent, that such words, voices, or gestures should be signs whereby they would express their thoughts.

Robert South.

It hath ever been the use of the conqueror to despise the language of the conquered, and to force him to learn his: so did the Romans always use, insomuch that there is no nation but is sprinkled with their language.

The applied science of language, if confined to the speech of a single country or district, forms the particular grammar of the language there spoken; but if it embrace many languages, testing their formation, construction, and powers by the common standard of universal grammar, it is termed by different authors comparative grammar, comparative philology,… glottology, or glossology.

Sir John Stoddart.

The elementary qualities of … speech are tone, time, and force. But of these the principal modifications are commonly called by grammarians accent, quantity, and emphasis.

Sir John Stoddart.

One cannot attempt the perfect reforming the languages of the world without rendering himself ridiculous.

Jonathan Swift.

I would rather have trusted the refinement of our language, as to sound, to the judgment of the women than to half-witted poets.

Jonathan Swift.

Language is an art, and a glorious one, whose influence extends over all others, and in which all science whatever must centre; but an art springing from necessity, and originally invented by artless men.

John Horne Tooke: Diversions of Purley, i. 317.

Far more and mightier in every way is a language than any one of the works which may have been composed in it; for that work, great as it may be, is but embodying the mind of a single man, this of a nation. The Iliad is great, yet not so great in strength or power or beauty as the Greek language. Paradise Lost is a noble possession for a people to have inherited, but the English tongue is a nobler heritage yet.

Richard C. Trench: Study of Words.

And the love of our own language, what is it, in fact, but the love of our country expressing itself in one particular direction?

Richard C. Trench.

To explore the history of any language is a task peculiarly difficult at this period of the world, in which we are so remote from the era of its construction. We have as yet witnessed no people in the act of forming their language, and cannot therefore from experience demonstrate the simple elements from which a language begins, nor the additional organization which it gradually receives.

Sharon Turner: History of the Anglo-Saxons.

An acquaintance with the various tongues is nothing but a relief against the mischiefs which the building of Babel introduced.

Dr. Isaac Watts.

It is said one hundred students are employed at Jeddo to simplify the Japanese characters so as to adapt them to the sounds of the European languages. If a nation that was but yesterday considered barbarous is acting thus, why should not England and America call a scientific convention to harmonize the letters of their alphabet with the sounds of their language? Why should not all the modern nations have a philologic congress to extend into language the uniformity we have in mathematics, chemistry, and music?

J. A. Weisse, M.D.: To the English-Speaking Population, 1873.

There is no more striking instance of the silent and imperceptible changes brought about by what is called “Time,” than that of a language becoming dead. To point out the precise period at which Greek or Latin ceased to be a living language would be as impossible as to say when a man becomes old. And much confusion of thought and many important practical results arise from not attending to this.

Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacon’s Essay, Of Innovations.

Though the Jews were but a small nation, and confined to a narrow compass in the world, yet the first rise of letters and languages is truly to be ascribed to them.

Bishop John Wilkins.