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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/687

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LITTRÉ, DUMAS, PASTEUR, AND TAINE.

lived to be near eighty. To these details we will only add that he abstained from every kind of luxury and indulgence, except a holiday of one month in the year, spent on the coast of Brittany. He lived on the smallest pittance on which life could be supported. Hachette allowed him a hundred pounds a year, but half of this sum went to his wife and daughter. He had previously saved forty thousand francs, but that was lost in the Revolution of 1848. The publisher's advances to the author amounted to no more than forty thousand francs, a sum which was eventually repaid out of the profits of the sale. But until the completion of the work the sale was small, and these thirty years of unexampled labor were at the time wholly unproductive. Happily, M. Littré's life was sufficiently prolonged for him to witness the triumphant success of his great undertaking. It brought affluence to his declining years; it placed him on the seats of the French Academy; it has given him fame far beyond his modest aspirations and his simple tastes. We have been informed that fifty thousand copies of the Dictionary have been sold; if this is the fact, it is without a parallel for a publication of this price and magnitude.

It is impossible for us within our present limits, and with the task we have now before us, to attempt a critical examination of this great work. Suffice it to say that the conception was as original as the execution is marvelous. The French language has been spoken and written for seven hundred years; like all languages, it has undergone vast transformations in that period; like all living languages, it is still undergoing a process of perpetual evolution. The Dictionary of the Academy is the standard of the accepted and existing language of France; it excludes archaisms, it condemns neologisms, it gives no references or derivations. M. Littré's design is far broader and more vast; it is based on the historical growth of the language, and it includes the history of every word in the language from its first occurrence, its etymology, and its various meanings, down to its modern use. The period of what is termed contemporary or classical French dates from Malherbe, a little more than two hundred years back; but, with few exceptions of recent date, every word has a tradition of centuries behind it. Thus, each article in M. Littré's Dictionary includes, first, the word; then its pronunciation; then the conjugation of the verbs, if irregular; then the definition of the various meanings of each word, illustrated by quotations from the best authors of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, all textually referred to so 'that they can be found; and these meanings are scientifically arranged, always proceeding from the more simple and concrete to the more abstract and metaphorical. This classification of meanings is the most remarkable feature in the work, because it is executed with an extraordinary amount of philosophical discrimination. Take, for example, the word Nature: M. Littré dissects and unravels it into twenty-eight shades of meaning, and each of these is verified by ap-