תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

comparing together the mind and the body : “ Animi imperio, corporis servitio, magis utimur,” which order certainly renders the sentence more lively and striking, than when it is arranged according to our English construction ; we make most use of the direction of the soul, and of the service of the body." The Latin order gratifies more the rapidity of the imagination, which naturally runs first to that which is its chief object; and having once named it, carries it in view throughout the rest of the sentence. In the same manner in poetry :

Justum et tenacem propositi virum,
Non civium ardor prava jabentium,

Non vultus instantis tyranni,

Mente quatit solida.... Every person of taste must be sensible, that here the words are arranged with a much greater regard to the figure which the several objects make in the fancy, than our English construction admits ; wbich would require the “ Justum et tenacem propositi virum,” though undoubtedly, the capital object in the sentence, to be thrown into the last place.

I have said, that, in the Greek and Roman languages, the most common arrangement is, to place that first which strikes the imagination of the speaker most. I do not, however, pretend, that this holds without exception. Sometimes regard to the harmony of the period requires a different order; and in languages susceptible of so much musical beauty, and pronounced with so much tone and modulation as were used by those nations, the harmony of periods was an object carefully studied. Sometimes, too, attention to the perspicuity, to the force, or to the artful suspension of the speaker's meaning, alter this order; and produce such varieties in the arrangement, that it is not easy to reduce them to any one principle. But, in general, this was the genius and the character of most of the ancient languages, to give such full liberty to the collocation of words, as allowed them to assume whatever order was most agreeable to the speaker's imagination. The Hebrew, is, indeed, an exception; which, though not altogether without inversions, yet employs them less frequently, and approaches nearer to the English construction, than either the Greek or the Latin.

All the modern languages of Europe have adopted a different arrangement from the ancient. In their prose compositions, very little variety is admitted in the collocations of words; they are mostly fixed to one order, and that order is, what may be called, the order of the understanding. They place first in the sentence, the person or thing whiclı speaks or acts; next, its action; and lastly, the object of its action. So that the ideas are made to succeed to one another, not according to the degree of importance which the several objects carry in the imagination, but according to the order of nature and of time.

An English writer, paying a compliment to a great man, would say thus; “it is impossible for me to pass over in silence, such remarkable mildness, such singular and unheard of clemency, and such unusual moderation in the exercise of supreme power.” Here we have, first presented to us, the person who speaks. “It is impossible for me ;” next, what that person is to do, w impossible for him to pass over in silence ;" and lastly, the object which moves him

so to do, " the mildness, clemency, and moderation of his patron.” Cicero, from whom I have translated these words, just reverses this order; beginning with the object, placing that first which was the exciting idea in the speaker's mind, and ending with the speaker and his action. « Tantam mansuetudinem, tam“ inusitatem inauditamque clementiam, tantumque in summa potestate “ rerum omnium modum, tacitus nullo modo præterire possum." (Orat. pro. Marcell.)

The Latin order is more animated; the English more clear and distinct. The Romans generally arranged their words according to the order in which the ideas rose in the speaker's imagination. We arrange them according to the order in which the understanding directs those ideas to be exhibited, in succession, to the view of another. Our arrangement therefore, appears to be the consequence of greater refinement in the art of speech ; as far as clearness in communication is understood to be the end of speech.

In poetry, where we are supposed to rise above the ordinary style, and to speak the language of fancy and passion, our arrangement is not altogether so limited; but some greater liberty is allowed for transposition and inversion. Even there, however, that liberty is confined within narrow bounds, in comparison of the ancient languages. The different modern tongues vary from one another in this respect. The French language is, of them all, the most determinate in the order of its words, and admits the least of inversion, either in prose or poetry. The English admits it more. But the Italian retains the most of the ancient transpositive character; though one is apt to think it attended with a little obscurity in the style of some of their authors, who deal most in these transpositions.

It is proper, next, to observe, that there is one circumstance in the structure of all the modern tongues, which of necessity limits their arrangement, in a great measure, to one fixed and determinate train. We have disused those differences of termination, which in the Greek and Latin, distinguished the several cases of nouns, and tenses of verbs; and which, thereby, pointed out the mutual relation of the several words in a sentence to one another, though the related words were disjoined, and placed in different parts of the sentence. This is an alteration in the structure of language, of which I shall have occasion to say more in the next lecture. One obvious effect of it is, that we have now, for the most part, no way left us to shew the close relation of any two words to each other in meaning, but by placing them close to one another in the period. For instance; the Romans could, with propriety, express themselves thus :

[blocks in formation]

Because “extinctum et Daphnim" being both in the accusative case, this shewed, that the adjective and the substantive were related to each other, though placed at the two extremities of the line; and that both were governed by the active verb “flebant," to which “nymphæ" plainly appeared to be the nominative. The different terminations here reduced all into order, and made the connexion of the several words perfectly clear. But let us translate these words literally into English, according to the Latin arrangement; “ dead the nymphs by a cruel fate Daphnis lamented;" and they become a perfect riddle, in which it is impossible to find any meaning.

It was by means of this contrivance, which obtained in almost all the ancient languages of varying the termination of nouns and verbs, and,

thereby pointing out the concordance and the government of the words, in a sentence, that they enjoyed so much liberty of transposition, and could marshal and arrange their words in any way that gratified the imagination, or pleased the ear. When language came to be modelled by the nothern nations, who over-ran the empire, they dropped the cases of nouns, and the different terminations of verbs, with the more ease, because they placed no great value upon the advantages arising from such a siructure of language. They were attentive only to clearness, and copiousness of expression. They neither regarded much the harmony of sound, nor sought to gratify the imagination by the collocation of words. They studied solely to express themselves in such a manner as should exhibit their ideas to others in the most distinct and intelligible order. And hence, if our language, by reason of the simple arrangement of its words, possesses less barmony, less beauty, and less force, than the Greek or Latin ; it is, however, in its meaning, more obvious and plain.

Thus I have shown what the natural progress of language has been, in several material articles : and this account of the genius and progress of language, lays a foundation for many observations, both curious and useful. From what has been said in this, and the preceding lecture, it appears that language was at first barren in words, but descriptive by the sound of these words; and expressive in the manner of uttering them, by the aid of significant tones and gestures : style was figurative and poetical : arrangement was fanciful and lively. It appears, that, in all the successive changes which language has undergone, as the world advances, the understanding has gained ground on the fancy and imagination. The progress of language, in this respect, resembles the progress of age in man. The imagination is most vigorous and predominant in youth ; with advancing years, the imagination cools, and the understanding ripens. Thus language, proceeding from sterility to copiousness, hath, at the same time, proceeded from vivacity to accuracy; from fire and enthusiasm, to coolness and precision. Those characters of early language, descriptive sound, vehement tones and gestures, figurative style, and inverted arrangement, all hang together, have a mutual influence on each other, and have all gradually given place to arbitrary sounds, calm pronunciation, simple style, plain arrangement. Language is become, in modern times, more correct, indeed, and accurate; but, however, less striking and animated; in its ancient state, more favourable to poetry and oratory ; in its present, to reason and philosophy.

Having finished my account of the progress of speech, I proceed to give an account of the progress of writing, which' next' demands our notice; though it will not require so full a discussion as the former subject.

Next to speech, writing is, beyond doubt the most useful art of which men are possessed. It is plainly an improvement upon speech, and therefore must have been posterior to it in order of time. At first, men thought of nothing more than communicating their thoughts to one another, when present by means of words, or sounds, which they uttered. Afterwards, they devised this further method, of mutual communication with one another, when absent, by means of marks or characters presented to the eye, which we call writing.

Written characters are of two sorts. They are either signs for things, or signs for words. Of the førmer sort, signs of things, are the pictures, hieroglyphics, and symbols, employed by the ancient nations ; of the latter sort,signs for words, are the alphabetical characters, now employed by all Europeans. These two kinds of writing are generically and essentially distinct.

Pictures were, undoubtedly, the first essay towards writing. Imitation is so natural to

man,
that, in all ages, and

among

all nations, some methods have obtained, of copying or tracing the likeness of sensible objects. Those methods would soon be employed by men for giving some imperfect information to others, at a distance, of what had happened ; or for preserving the memory of facts which they sought to record. Thus, to signify that one man had killed another, they drew the figure of one man stretched upon the earth, and of another standing by him with a deadly weapon in his hand. We find, in fact, that when America was first discovered, this was the only sort of writing known in the kingdom of Mexico. By historical pictures, the Mexicans are said to have transmitted the memory of the most important transactions of their empire. These, however, must have been extremely imperfect records ; and the nations who had no other, must have been very gross and rude.-Pictures could do no more than delineate external events. They could neither exhibit the connexions of them, nor describe such qualities as were not visible to the eye, nor convey any idea of the dispositions or words of men.

To supply, in some degree, this defeet, there arose, in process of time, the invention of what are called bieroglyphical characters; which may be considered as the second stage of the art of writing. Hieroglyphics consist in certain symbols, which are made to stand for invisible objects, on account of an analogy or resemblance which such symbols were supposed to bear to the objects. Thus, an eye, was the hieroglyphical symbol of knowledge; a circle, of eterniiy, which has neither beginning nor end. Hieroglyphics, therefore, were a more refined and extensive species of painting. Pictures delineated the resemblance of external visible objects. Hieroglyphics painted invisible objects, by analogies taken from the external world.

Among the Mexicans, were found some traces of hieroglyphical char. acters, intermixed with their historical pictures. But Egypt was the country where this sort of writing was most studied, and brought into a regular art. In hieroglypbics was conveyed all the boasted wisdom of their priests. According to the properties which they ascribe to animals, or the qualities with which they supposed natural objects to be endowed, they pitched upon them to be the emblems, or hieroglyphics of moral objects ; and employed them in their writing for that end. Thus, ingratitude was denominated by a viper; imprudence, by a fy; wisdom, by an ant; victory, by a hawk; a dutiful child, by a stork; a man universally shunned, by an eel, which they supposed to be found in company with no other fish. Sometimes they joined together two or more of these hieroglyphical characters ; as, a serpent with a hawk's head, to denote nature, with God presiding over it. But, as many of those properties of objects which they assumed for the foundation of their hieroglyphics, were merely imaginary, and the allusions drawn from them were forced and ambiguous ; as the conjunction of their characters render them still more obscure, and must have expressed very indistinctly the connexions and relations of things ; this sort of writing could be no other than enigmatical, and confused in the highest degree; änd must have been a very imperfect vehicle of knowledge of any kind,

It has been imagined, that hieroglyphics were an invention of the Egyptian priests, for concealing their learning from common view; and that, upon this account, it was preferred by them to the alphabetical method of writing. But this is certainly a mistake. Hieroglyphics were, undoubtedly, employed at first from necessity, not from choice or refinement; and would never have been thought of, if alphabetical characters had been known. The nature of the invention plainly shows it to have been one of those gross and rude essays towards writing, which were adopted in the early ages of the world, in order to extend farther the first method which they had employed of simple pictures, or representations of visible objects. Indeed, in after times, when alphabetical writing was introduced into Egypt, and the hieroglyphical was, of course, fallen into disuse, it is known, that the priests still employed the hiero glyphical characters, as a sacred kind of writing, now become peculiar to themselves, and serving to give an air of mystery to their learning and religion. In this state, the Greeks found hieroglyphical writing, when they began to have intercourse with Egypt; and some of their writers mistook this use, to which they found it applied, for the cause, that had given rise to the invention.

As writing advanced from pictures of visible objects, to hieroglyphics, or symbols of things invisible; from these latter, it advanced among some nations, to simple arbitrary marks which stood for objects though without any resemblance or analogy to the objects signified. Of this nature was the method of writing practised among the Peruvians. They made use of small cords, of different colours; and by knots upon these, of various sizes, and differently ranged, they contrived signs for giving information, and communicating their thoughts to one another.

of this nature also, are the written characters, which are used to this day throughout the great empire of China. The Chinese have no alphabet of letters, or simple sounds, which compose their words. But every single character which they use in writing is significant of an idea; it is a mark which stands for some one thing, or object. By consequence, the number of these characters must be immense. It must correspond to the whole number of objects, or ideas, which they have occasion to ex. press; that is, to the whole number of words which they employ in speech; nay, it must be greater than the number of words ; one word, by varying the tone, with which it is spoken, may be made to signify several different things. They are said to have seventy thousand of those written characters. To read and write them to perfection, is the study of a whole life ; which subjects learning, among them, to infinite disadvantage ; and must have greatly retarded the progress of all science.

Concerning the origin of these Chinese characters, there have been different opinions, and much controversy. According to the most pro: bable accounts, the Chinese writing began, like the Egyptian, with pictures and hieroglyphical figures. These figures being, in progress, abbreviated in their form, for the sake of writing them easily, and greatly enlarged in their number, passed, at length, into those marks or characters which they now use, and which have spread themselves through several nations of the east. For we are informed, that the Japanese, the Tonquinese, and the Coreans, who speak different languages from one another, and from the inhabitants of China, use, however, the same written characters with them; and by this means correspond intelligibly with each other in writing, though ignorant of the language spoken in

« הקודםהמשך »