My reader may have noticed on his/her cyber-trek that Google has just celebrated the anniversary of Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday. He was undoubtedly its predecessor – lexicographically speaking – before the more modern encyclopedias appeared. And his dictionary reflected his character as a poet, wit and literary compiler.
So in an idle moment I had a closer look at the title page of his magnum opus, particularly the quotation from Horace, the Latin poet. Why did he include it? I surmised. And as usual the only English translations available are themselves hundreds of years old and as obscure as most find the Latin! Why on earth do so many classicists still insist on imagining that the Romans wrote in out-moded language? They didn’t. They were modern and often vernacular.
So here’s what Horace is quoted as saying – in real English! He is talking about being a poet.
He’ll take on the job of an objective editor.
And if he spots something that lacks sparkle and weight
He’ll have the courage to delete it,
Even if it goes against the grain to do so…..
He goes on to recommend that a poet should use words with ‘expressive’ meanings, as used by Rome’s own classical authors – but he doesn’t mean archaic Latin. So Sam seems to be treating his lexicon almost as poetry – something beyond the mundane and by no means old-fashioned.
What a man!