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“ To Act v. n. [ago, actum, Lat.] To be in action, noi to rest. Pope. To perform the proper functions. South. To practise arts or duties. Dryden. To produce effects on some passive subject. Garth.
Every one of these definitions, and every other which could be given, so far as it is correct as a definition, has an objective word, expressed or necessarily understood.
212. In contemplating the thousands of verbs, represented as being either active or neuter, according to their collocation, one idea presents itself, as the obvious deduction of common sense. These words were not originally introduced in this double character ; but with one direct meaning. They have gradually grown into their multifarious applications, by long habit.
66 Mr. Williams is to move [ ) into his new house next week." To move himself, family, and furniture, are the associated objects, understood by familiar custom.
213. Many of these verbs are vacillating between the supposed characters of transitive and intransitive. “ How does he conduct
] in his new situation ?” When are you to leave [ ]?” The critics, at first, object to the use of these verbs, without the object expressed; but, in spite of remonstrances, there is an irresistible tendency to avoid the repetition of words which, by familiar practice, are sufficiently understood : and the number of verbs erroneously considered as intransitive is constantly increasing.
I [A. B.] undersyne thee, [C. D.] for my wedded wyfe, for better, for worse, for richer, for porer, yn sickness, end yn helthe, tyl dethe us departe, as
holy churche hath ordeyned, end thereto I plyght my trowthe." Marriage Vow," "Missals" of the Church of Hereford, 1502.
Tyl dethe us departe ;” that is, till death shall de-part us, or se-parate us, from each other. The classic scholar, who gives a slight attention to the etymons of these words, will perceive that a constructive object is irresistibly inferred. So “to depart from a place;" “ to depart this life,” is to se-parate, dis-part, or de-part one's self from a present situation.
214. One obvious reason why the objects of reflected verbs are less used in English than in most other tongues, is, that they are longer and harsher words. The constant repetition of the words myself, himself, themselves, would have a much more clumsy effect, than the Latin or French se, or the Italian si; or than the slightly articulated Spanislı word lo, or la, appended to the verb.
215. But there is a shorter and more conclusive way to settle the very important question, respecting intransitive verbs, than by any course of mere grammatical reasoning.
All verbs denote action ; for it will be shown hereafter, how unsounded is the attempted distinction between action, passion, and existence.
216. Every action necessarily implies the motion, operation, or change of some material substance ; and no movement or change of matter can possibly take place, without affecting the moving body, or some thing else, or both. The verb affirms this movement, action, operation or change; always affirming it, under all the modifications of speech,
as real action ; and the thing affected by such action or movement, whether the moving body, or any other portion of matter, is the object of the verb.
217. Philosophically and strictly speaking, every action must be contemplated as producing two or more effects; as, water in evaporating, turns itself to vapor, exhausts itself, and increases the bull of air with which it mingles itself, and to which it imparts its qualities. But, in the structure of speech, one effect is referred to, as connected with the verbal affirmation. No action or movement can be produced, without both a mover, and some thing moved : consequently, there can be no verb without both a subject and an object, expressed or irresistibly inferred.
All objections, apparent exceptions, and minor applications, which can be imagined, will not contradict this general proposition. To say that a verb has no object, is to assert that an efficient cause may operate without producing any effect: for if the cause was not efficient, it would not produce the action.
219. In the practical adaptation of this broad rule, to the several classes of things, actions or affirmations are to be understood as applying to various subjects, according to their general nature and qualities.
This reference to the different classes of things, extends only to minor circumstances, and never varies the leading principles before laid down.
Man moves himself, and acts his part, in various ways, according to the impulse of his fancy, or the determinations of his judgment: An ox seeks the shade, by animal instinct or aptitude, to obviate a bodily suffering which he feels : a stone, thrown into the air, fails to the earth, and
would fall to the center of attraction, if not resisted by some prevailing obstruction. Iron sinks in the water, and a chip rises and swims on the surface; not like the man or the ox, by voluntary power of locomotion : but by an inherent tendency to take certain positions according to their specific weight.
219. Even where perceivable action does not, in the special case, exist, that is, where two active principles balance each other, the structure of speech, according to its prevailing rules, always supposes real activity; and consequently includes both actor and object.
Perhaps of all the words which the opposer could offer, the verb to lie, in place, should seem to be one of the most difficult to explain. The intricacy with this, and every other verb, ceases, as soon as the meaning of the word is understood. To lie, Saxon liegan; French lier; Latin ligo; means, to bind, to tie, fasten, hold, fix or keep in place. The noun lien, from the Norman French, a tie, hold or claim, is still retained, as a law term. There is indeed an awkwardness in using the object of the verb lie, on account of its accidental interference with other verbs : but this circumstance does not in the least degree affect the general principle.
220. The action to lie, like other movements, may be directed by reason, animal aptitude, or essential qualities. The soldier lies down, (prostrates himself,) in his intrenchment, that balls may pass over him. The tiger lies, (conceals himself,) in wait for his prey. The lever lies, (keeps itself, on the deck; because it has not sufficient
specific gravity to go through it, and it is too heavy to rise into the air, or glide away with the breeze.
The handspike, by the constituent properties which Almighty Wisdom has imparted to it, retains itself on the deck, as the trembling, unconscious, magnetic needle, by its inherent tendency, points itself to the pole.
As nouns are sometimes negatively supposed, as in the instance of nothingness, so many actions are negatively asserted ; as, “His pain was so great, he was not able, possibly to lie still.”
221. It is no matter by what remote or prime cause an action is produced. The main spring of the watch vibrates the crown wheel; the whole machinery moves; and the ha ds point the hours. The factory water-wheel turns the trundle head : the bands move round the drum ; and the throstle frame twists the yarn. In all this bustle of activity, nothing appears, but mere inanimate operators ; producing their effects, in sucession, from the water, which forces itself on the buckets, to every spindle in the cotton mill.
222. Language applies to these objects, as they appear, and as they are, moving and moved. A speech could not be framed with appropriate reference to each particular subject; or adapted, like a system of jurisprudence, to the motives of activity. The greatest philosopher would be very slow of speech, if it was necessary to use verbs with strict reference to the secret springs of action. The freight that sinks the ship, acts with no other kind of power than the lever which lies on the deck; that is, by its force of gravitation.
223. In the movements of the natural world,