From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48:

Varnish \Var"nish\, n. [OE. vernish, F. vernis, LL. vernicium;
   akin to F. vernir to varnish, fr. (assumed) LL. vitrinire to
   glaze, from LL. vitrinus glassy, fr. L. vitrum glass. See
   [1913 Webster]
   1. A viscid liquid, consisting of a solution of resinous
      matter in an oil or a volatile liquid, laid on work with a
      brush, or otherwise. When applied the varnish soon dries,
      either by evaporation or chemical action, and the resinous
      part forms thus a smooth, hard surface, with a beautiful
      gloss, capable of resisting, to a greater or less degree,
      the influences of air and moisture.
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   Note: According to the sorts of solvents employed, the
         ordinary kinds of varnish are divided into three
         classes: spirit, turpentine, and oil varnishes.
         --Encyc. Brit
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   2. That which resembles varnish, either naturally or
      artificially; a glossy appearance.
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            The varnish of the holly and ivy.     --Macaulay.
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   3. An artificial covering to give a fair appearance to any
      act or conduct; outside show; gloss.
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            And set a double varnish on the fame
            The Frenchman gave you.               --Shak.
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   Varnish tree (Bot.), a tree or shrub from the juice or
      resin of which varnish is made, as some species of the
      genus Rhus, especially Rhus vernicifera of Japan. The
      black varnish of Burmah is obtained from the
      Melanorrh[oe]a usitatissima, a tall East Indian tree of
      the Cashew family. See Copal, and Mastic.
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From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48:

Varnish \Var"nish\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Varnished; p. pr. &
   vb. n. Varnishing.] [Cf. F. vernir, vernisser. See
   Varnish, n.]
   [1913 Webster]
   1. To lay varnish on; to cover with a liquid which produces,
      when dry, a hard, glossy surface; as, to varnish a table;
      to varnish a painting.
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   2. To cover or conceal with something that gives a fair
      appearance; to give a fair coloring to by words; to gloss
      over; to palliate; as, to varnish guilt. "Beauty doth
      varnish age." --Shak.
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            Close ambition, varnished o'er with zeal. --Milton.
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            Cato's voice was ne'er employed
            To clear the guilty and to varnish crimes.
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