tract ('træct), n.1 Also 5-6 tracte.
[App. abbreviated from L. tractatus tractate; not in any other lang.]
I. 1. Literary treatment or discussion. Obs. rare.
In some instances difficult to separate from sense 2.
[1432-50: see 2.]
1659 Bp. Walton Consid. Considered 14 They do assert and prove the plain contrary, and that not obiter, or by the by, but ex professo, in full tracts.
2. a. A book or written work treating of some particular topic; a treatise; a written or printed discourse or dissertation: = tractate n. 1. Now rare in general sense.
Formerly often applied to what would now be called 'books'.
1432-50 tr. Higden (Rolls) II. 257 For cause that a generalle tracte [L. tractatus generalis; Trevisa, tretysis ful and general] of the iiij. principalle realmes afore seide.., dothe require a large processe.
1614 Raleigh Hist. World ii. (1634) 340 Palastina it selfe is but a Province, as I have noted in the beginning of this Tract.
1825 McCulloch Pol. Econ. i. 38 In the course of the seventeenth century, a more than usual number of tracts were published on commercial and economical subjects.
b. Applied to a division of a book or literary work, treating of a separate subject or branch. rare.
1662 Stillingfl. Orig. Sacr. i. iii. -3 Three books they tell us of, which Zertoost received by Revelation, or rather one book, consisting of three severall tracts, whereof the first [etc.].
3. a. In later use: A short pamphlet on some religious, political, or other topic, suitable for distribution or for purposes of propaganda.
[1762 Gentl. Mag. Nov. 545/2 This little tract affords prescriptions for the soul.]
1848 Thackeray Van. Fair ix, Whose sister, Lady Emily, wrote those sweet tracts, 'The Sailor's True Binnacle', and 'The Applewoman of Finchley Common'.
1885 G. Meredith Diana xviii, Am I really as dull as a tract, my dear?
1911 A. R. Buckland in Encycl. Brit. XXVII. 177/2 A tract is understood to be brief and rather argumentative than educational.
Mod. The British Museum library contains an immense collection of Civil War tracts.
b. Tracts for the Times: the title of a series of pamphlets on theological and ecclesiastical topics (known also as the Oxford Tracts, or simply the Tracts) started by J. H. Newman, and published at Oxford 1833-1841, on the doctrines of which the Tractarian movement was based; also used in sing. with lower-case initials, of any literary work put out to meet a particular need of the times. [...]
c. attrib. and Comb., as (in sense 3) tract-distributing adj., distribution, -led adj., society; (in sense 3 b, with capital T) Tract divine, doctrine, man, movement, system, -writer.
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