A Dictionary of the English Language
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Brute (adjective)

View Scan · View Transcription · from page 296

View Scan · View Transcription · from page 296

Brute. adj. [brutus, Lat.]

  1. Senseless; unconscious.

    Nor yet are we so low and base as their atheism would depress us; not walking statues of clay, not the sons of brute earth, whose final inheritance is death and corruption. Bentl.

  2. Savage; irrational; ferine.

    Even brute animals make use of this artificial way of making divers motions, to have several significations to call, warn, chide, cherish, threaten. Holder's Elements of Speech.

    In the promulgation of the Mosaick law, if so much as a brute beast touched the mountain, it was to be struck through with a dart. South.

  3. Bestial; in common with beasts.

    Then to subdue, and quell, through all the earth,
    Brute violence, and proud tyrannick pow'r.
    Par. Regained.

  4. Rough; ferocious; uncivilized.

    The brute philosopher, who ne'er has prov'd
    The joy of loving, or of being lov'd.
    Pope.

Sources: Bentley, Richard (57) · Holder, William (38) · Milton, John (449) · Pope, Alexander (393) · South, Robert (158)

Attributes: Adjective (426) · Latin (690)

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Cite this page: Johnson, Samuel. "Brute (adjective)." A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: January 26, 2014. http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/?p=13802.


  1. The quote used to illustrate definition #4 is falsely attributed to Alexander Pope. It is from the prologue to Nicholas Rowe’s The Ambitious Step-mother.

    This mistake shows the extent that Johnson’s dictionary was copied word for word by so many other dictionaries. Johnson used many of Nathan Bailey’s definitions in his dictionary, and then many of the quotations Johnson used were inserted into later editions of Bailey’s. The 5th edition of Nathan Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary, for instance, appeared in 1775 and prints the “Pope” quote verbatim.

    The mistake appears in later works as well, such as A Dictionary of the English Language, edited by Noah Webster (1828), A Cyclopædia of Poetical Quotations, edited by H. G. Adams (1853), and The American Educator: A Library of Universal Knowledge, edited by Charles Smith Morris (1897).

    This continued even into the 20th cenetury. The 1906 edition of The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, edited by William Dwight Whitney, includes six definitions for brute as an adjective, the first four of which closely resemble Johnson’s (and maintain the false Pope attribution):

    1. Senseless; unconscious.

      Not walking statues of clay, not the sons of brute earth. Bentley.

    2. Wanting reason; animal; not human: as, a brute beast.

                  A creature . . . not prone
      And brute as other creatures, but endued
      With sanctity of reason.
      Milton, P. L., vii. 507.

      I was amazed to see such actions and behaviour in brute beasts. Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, iv. 1.

    3. Characteristic of animals; of brutal character or quality.

      Brute violence and proud tyrannic power. Milton, P. R., l. 219.

      The oppressed invoked the power of Christianity to resist the tyranny of brute force. Bancraft, Hist. U. S., II. 454.

    4. Blunt or dull of sentiment; without sensibility; rough; uncivilized; insensible.

      The brute philosopher who ne’er has proved
      The joy of loving or of being loved.
      Pope.

    The only other place I have found the “brute philosopher” associated with the “joy of love” is in the 1760 satirical work Hymen: An Accurate Description of the Ceremonies Used in Marriage, by Every Nation in the Known World, by “Uxorius.” In this work, the phrase, which is unattributed (like many other quotes in the work), reads “let the brute philosopher, whose bosom never felt the ineffable joy of loving, or being loved, treat you as the tyrants of our liberty…”

  2. Brandi on January 13th, 2013 at 1:19 pm

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