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THE BEST TWO BOOKS.
In no list I met of the best hundred books, when that craze took the place of spelling-bees and the fifteen puzzle, do I recollect seeing mention made of my two favourite works. These two books stand completely apart in my esteem, and if I were asked to name the volume that comes third, I should have to make a speech of explanation. The first of them is not in prose or verse, it is not a work of theology or philosophy or science or art or history or fiction or general literature. It is at once the most comprehensive and impartial book I know. This paragraph is assuming the aspect of a riddle. Being in a mild and passionless way a lover of my species, I am a loather of riddles. So I will go
no further on the downward way, but declare the name, title, and style of my book to be Nuttall's Standard Dictionary.
I am well aware there is a great deal to be said against Nuttall's Dictionary as a dictionary, but I am not speaking of it in that sense. I am treating it as a dear companion, a true friend, a vade mecum. Let those who have a liking for discovering spots in the sun glare at the orb until they have a taste for nothing else but spots in the sun. I find Nuttall so close to my affections that I can perceive no defects in him. I cannot bear to hold him at arm's length, for critical examination. I hug him close to me, and feel that while I have him I am almost independent of all other books printed in the English language.
Cast your eyes along your own bookshelves of English authors; every word, liberally speaking, that is in each and every volume on your shelves is in my Nuttall! Here is the juice of the language, from Shakespeare to Iuxley, in a concentrated solution. Here is a book that starts by telling you that A is a vowel, and does not
desert you until it informs you that zythum is a beverage, a liquor made from malt and wheat; a fact, I will wager, you never dreamed of before! And between A and zythum, what a boundless store of learning is disclosed ! This is the only single-volume book I know of which no man living is or ever can be the master. Charles Lamb would not allow that dictionaries are books at all. In his days they were white-livered charlatans compared with the full-blooded enthusiast, Nuttall.
If such an unkind thing were desirable as to diminish the conceit of a man of average reading and intelligence, there is no book could be used with such paralysing effect upon him as this one. It is almost impossible for any student to realise the infinite capacity for ignorance with which man is gifted until he is brought face to face with such a book as Nuttall. The list of words whose meanings are given occupies 771 very closely printed pages of small type in double column. The letter A takes up from 1 to 52. How many words unfamiliar to the ordinary man are to be found in this fifteenth part of
the dictionary! On the top of every folio there occur four words, one at the head of each column. Barring the right of the candidates in ignorance to guess from the roots how many well-informed people know or would use any of the following words—absciss, acidimeter, acroteleutic, adminicular, adminiculator, adustion, aerie, agrestic, allignment, allision, ambreine, ampulla, ampullaceous, android, antiphonary, antiphony, apanthropy, aponeurosis, appellor, aramaic, aretology, armilla, armillary, asiarch, assentation, asymptote, asymptotical, aurate, averruncator, aversant, axotomous, or axunge ? And yet all these are at the heads of columns under A alone! Take, now, one column haphazard perpendicularly, and with the same reservation as before, who would use antimaniac, antimask, antimasonic, antimeter, antimonite, antinephritic, antinomian, antinomy, antipathous, antipedobaptist, antiperistaltic, antiperistasis, or antiphlogistic ? The letter A taken along the top of the pages or down one column is not a good letter for the confusion of the conceited; because viewed across the top of the page it is pitifully the prey of
prefixes which lead to large families of words, and viewed down the column (honestly selected at haphazard), it is the bondslave of one prefix. When, however, one starts a theory, it is not fair to pick and choose. I have, of course, eschewed derivatives in coming down the column; across the column I did not do so, as the chance of a prime word being at the bottom of one column and its derivate at the top of the next ought to count two in my favour. I am aware this claim may be disputed; I have disputed it with myself at much too great length to record here, and I have decided in my own favour.
Of course the mere reading of the dictionary in a mechanical way would produce no more effect than the repetition of numerals abstracted from things. There is no greater suggestiveness in saying a million than in saying one. But what an enlargement of the human capacity takes place when a person passes from the idea of one man to the idea of a million men. Take the first word quoted from the head of the column. I had wholly forgotten the meaning of absciss. I cannot even now re