Key. n.s. [cœᵹ, Saxon.]
- An instrument formed with cavities correspondent to the wards of a lock, by which the bolt of a lock is pushed forward or backward.
If a man were porter of hellgate, he should have old turning the key. Shakesp. Macbeth.
Fortune, that arrant whore,
Ne'er turns the key to th' poor. Shak. King Lear.
Poor key cold figure of a holy king!
Pale ashes of the house of Lancaster. Shakes. Rich. III.
The glorious standard last to heav'n they spread,
With Peter's keys ennobled and his crown. Fairfax.
Yet some there be, that by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on that golden key,
That opes the palace of eternity. Milton.
Conscience is its own counsellor, the sole master of its own secrets; and it is the privilege of our nature, that every man should keep the key of his own breast. South's Sermons.
He came, and knocking thrice, without delay
The longing lady heard, and turn'd the key. Dryden.
I keep her in one room, I lock it;
The key, look here, is in this pocket. Prior.
- An instrument by which something is screwed or turned.
Hide the key of the jack. Swift.
- An explanation of any thing difficult.
An emblem without a key to 't, is no more than a tale of a tub. L'Estrange.
These notions, in the writings of the ancients darkly delivered, receive a clearer light when compared with this theory, which represents every thing plainly, and is a key to their thoughts. Burnet's Theory of the Earth.
Those who are accustomed to reason have got the true key of books. Locke.
- The parts of a musical instrument which are struck with the fingers.
Pamela loves to handle the spinnet, and touch the keys. Pam.
- [In musick.] Is a certain tone whereto every composition, whether long or short, ought to be fitted; and this key is said to be either flat or sharp, not in respect of its own nature, but with relation to the flat or sharp third, which is joined with it. Harris.
Hippolita, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling. Shakesp.
But speak you with a sad brow? Or do you play the flouting Jack? Come, in what key shall a man take you to go in the song? Shak. Much Ado about Nothing.
Not know my voice! Oh, time's extremity!
Hast thou so crack'd and splitted my poor tongue
In sev'n short years, that here my only son
Knows not my feeble key of untun'd cares? Shakespeare.
- [Kaye, Dutch; quai, French.] A bank raised perpendicular for the ease of lading and unlading ships.
A key of fire ran along the shore,
And lighten'd all the river with a blaze. Dryden.