Wednesday, December 15, 2010
That Pride-Producing Language
The most ill-natured review that was ever written upon any work of mine appeared in the Contemporary Review with reference to these Clerical Sketches. The critic told me that I did not understand Greek. That charge has been made not unfrequently by those who have felt themselves strong in that pride-producing language. It is much to read Greek with ease, but it is not disgraceful to be unable to do so. To pretend to read it without being able,that is disgraceful.The criticism appears in an anonymous article, "Mr. Anthony Trollope and the English Clergy," The Contemporary Review 2 (1866) 240-262 (at 252):
In mentioning the various qualifications for the episcopate he says, "There was the editor of the Greek play, whose ladder was generally an acquaintance with Greek punctuation." What particular branch of scholarship this may represent, it is quite beyond us to say. Indeed, we are not without suspicion that Mr. Trollope's acquaintance with Greek is of the very slightest: that here, as in other instances, he is describing what he knows nothing of. We are led to this inference from an expression here and there betraying non-appreciation of the source of the meaning of words. For instance, we read on p. 76,"For the unsuccessful town incumbent we all of us have sympathy....But for the successful town incumbent, for the clergyman who fills his church with prayerful, tearful, excitable, but at the same time remunerative ladies, few men can have any sympathy." Now it is hard to believe that any man knowing Greek should talk of "sympathy for." He would as soon say, "partnership for." We "feel pity for," but we "have sympathy with."Richard Mullen and James Munson, The Penguin Companion to Trollope (London: Penguin Books, 1996), p. 86, don't cite the article but they do attribute the criticism to Henry Alford (1810-1871), Dean of Canterbury and editor of The Contemporary Review.
The question of what preposition to use with the word sympathy was a bone of contention in the nineteenth century. Thomas de Quincey, in a footnote to his essay On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth, wrote:
It seems almost ludicrous to guard and explain my use of a word, in a situation where it would naturally explain itself. But it has become necessary to do so, in consequence of the unscholarlike use of the word sympathy, at present so general, by which, instead of taking it in its proper sense, as the act of reproducing in our minds the feelings of another, whether for hatred, indignation, love, pity, or approbation, it is made a mere synonym of the word pity; and hence, instead of saying 'sympathy with another,' many writers adopt the monstrous barbarism of 'sympathy for another.'On the other side of the question, see Fitzedward Hall, Recent Exemplifications of False Philology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, & Co., 1872), p. 19 (footnote omitted):
"Instead of saying 'sympathy with another', many writers", to the serious offence of Mr. De Quincey, "adopt the monstrous barbarism of 'sympathy for another'." This "unscholarlike use of the word sympathy" is accounted for, he asserts, by the fact, that, "instead of taking it in its proper sense, as the act of reproducing in our minds the feelings of another, whether for hatred, indignation, love, pity, or approbation, it is made a mere synonym of the word pity." Not at all. Fellow-feeling is, as nearly as possible, equivalent to sympathy; and yet we always put for after it, just as we may after compassion. Usage, and that alone, is to determine our choice of prepositions; and, in language, usage is perpetually changing.