To A large portion of the laity (by which I mean the non-writing public) and, alas! to no small percentage of writers themselves, there is something humorous in the idea of a Rhyming Dictionary. Those practitioners of the lyric art who are so weak as to allow themselves to consult such texts find themselves the objects of scornful amusement; and so they come to conceal their reliance upon a lexicon of rhymes as if it were a shameful addiction.
The attitude of the critic who is responsible for this queer state of affairs might be thus expressed: "Jones, poor fellow, would like to be thought of as a fluent and original poet, but I happen to know that he makes constant use of a rhyming dictionary. You would think that a man who writes as much as he does would be able to think up his own rhymes. And how insincere and artificial must any composition be when its character is dictated by the forced use of words that rhyme, and when even these must be looked up in a book."
It should not be necessary to point out that this is an extremely unintelligent attitude. It is exactly the same as the attitude of the nearly illiterate person who is amazed and not a little shocked to note the frequency with which a scholar consults Webster. "I thought he was educated," says our naïve friend, "but he has to keep looking up words in the dictionary all the time. I guess he ain't so smart as he pretends to be."
For those poets, professional or amateur, who have added the present volume to their libraries, it is hardly necessary to write an apology for its existence or an explanation of its functions. But since versifiers are apt to be reticent concerning their own technique, it may be that a few hints here may be suggestive to members of the general public whose curiosity may lead them to glance at these pages. The rules of English rhyme are exceedingly simple; and yet, because of the eccentricity of English spelling, the inconsistency of English pronunciation, the differences in local accentuation and vowel quality, and a general ignorance of the science of phonetics, the practice of rhyming is full of pitfalls. There are those who endeavor to ape the British diction; and these are constantly in trouble on account of uncertainty as to which words have the broad a and which the flat. Professor J. S. Kenyon lists 150 words which commonly have the broad a in England (as in "father") and the flat a in America (as in "fat.") Angels have been known to weep bitterly and Britons to . . .