Imagens da página

ings upon

much disputed about by crities, was only the northern hemisphere, cultivated by the Scythians; and he thus concludes his reason

the subject : “ Should it be asked how and when the Greeks became ignorant in matters that so much concerned their honor and original, I answer, that their ignorance began to appear at a time when they prided themselves most upon their knowledge: this is often the case with particular persons, and custom and example make it more general. From the just use of reason, men took a pleasure and found their advantage in transmitting to posterity past transactions; at first by the help of memory, and then by some more lasting tokens, such as the setting up of rough stones, which was one of the most ancient methods. But when in time such marks could not be understood without tradition, and where that failed were of no further use, something more significative was required, which perhaps gave birth to sculpture and writing. These began upon stones or trees, with rude delineations of the things intended to be recorded; which by degrees were reduced to more contracted signs and characters, sufficiently intelligible to the learned of the several countries where they were used. In this manner all knowledge was conveyed for many ages; witness the ancient learning of Egypt, and the living instance of the practice in China. When the Greeks had gained the more compendious method of expressing their sentiments by words in alphabetical letters, they soon grew weary of writing by characters, as well they might; and this means, perhaps, enriched their language, and made it so copious and harmonious as it appears at present. But they seem from that time to have forgot, as useless, what was contained in their former writings, or retained it but very imperfectly, and, as it were, by tradition.”

As the Grecian and Roman languages increased, the Titan language proportionably decreased: though it kept its ground a


considerable time in the western parts of Europe, where it might still have flourished in a great degree, had it not been continually exposed to irruptions from the north.

The author next proceeds to consider the Gothic lauguage; a dialect very different from the Celtic, which probably had its origin in the more northern parts of Asiatic Scythia, and partook more of the northern idiom, as the Celtic had more of the east

The people in Crim Tartary, mentioned by Busbequius, as speaking the Gothic or Saxon language, seem to be the old Goths, from whom the language of England is partly derived.

Having thus settled the origin of the inhabitants, language, and learning of Europe, he proceeds to give an account of the origin of their letters also. The invention of these, he supposes, transcending human genius, can only be ascribed to God; from whom Moses first received them upon Mount Sinai: and that Cadmus, who was probably a Jew, conveyed the discovery into Europe. Our author's reasonings on this head are but slightly supported, nor have they even novelty to recommend them, as Mr. Anselm Bayly* and others, particularly those of the Hutchensonian caste, have pre-occupied the conjectures.

As our author has spoiled the Egyptians of their learning, so neither will he allow them an alphabet. Their books, being written in symbolic and hieroglyphic characters, were unintelligible to those nations who knew the use of an alphabet. The Latins, as all authors agree, received their letters from the Greeks, who, at different times, sent colonies into Italy, where they improved their old arts and gave birth to new ones. The Tyrrhenes, or Etruscans, were the first polite people in Italy; and in the early ages of Rome the Roman youth were instructed in the Etruscan language by way of accomplishment. But, adds

* See the next article. Inquiries.

Mr. Bayly's work was published before these

our author, when a nation is arrived at a certain pitch of politeness, it often becomes a prey to another less civilized. This was the case, continues he, with the Etruscans and Romans. As the one increased in power, the other, who before were held to be the most accomplished nation, sunk in esteem; as is usual with a conquered people.

“ The Etruscan language (a species of corrupt Greek) being at length extinct, the materials designed to preserve it were soon destroyed or buried in ruins; the too common fate of monuments, wherever ignorance prevails. Here they underwent a long night of oblivion, till the revival of true learning, which is always accompanied with a veneration for antiquity. These monuments, as time and chance brought them to light, were carefully preserved by persons of curiosity; who, though they understood them not, yet judged that hereafter they might be intelligible to others, and therefore worth preserving. It is more than a century since some of these inscriptions have been made public, and in this last age a new scene of literature has been opened by their means; whole volumes have been filled with Etruscan sculptures and inscriptions, and attempts have been made to illustrate and explain them.”

It does not appear what letters the most ancient Celtæ used in writing; the remains of their language now to be found in works being written in the common character of the country where their descendants lived. The author thinks it may be taken for granted, that they made use of hieroglyphics only, as we said before of the Scythians in general. But the Goths are an exception ; for they had an alphabet peculiar to themselves, consisting formerly of sixteen letters, which is thought to be just the number in the Greek and Phænician alphabets.

In short, as all languages, says he, were derived from one, so it is

but reasonable to think the same of all alphabets; and their affinity with each other serves to prove that they had all the same source; viz. the Hebrew, or Cadmean.

Thus we see through what regions of conjecture, doubt, and palpable obscurity, our truly inquisitive author has explored his way. He catches every gleam of light that an extensive acquaintance with the ancients can afford him ; but he often, however, seems to have a favorite hypothesis in view, by which, we doubt, he is biassed somewhat from the truth he professes to investigate. It can no way affect the interests of our religion, though we should not admit the Jewish nation to be that foun. tain of learning and letters from whence the rest of mankind have been supplied : which would be allowing them greater marks of honor than their best writers ever arrogated to themselves. This way of thinking appears to have been most warmly embraced by Eusebius, and other Christian writers, through a laudable, though perhaps mistaken zeal for a cause of which they were the champions. But it is more our business to exhibit the opinions of the learned, than to controvert them.


[From the Monthly Review, 1758. 6 An Introduction to Lan

guages, Literary and Philosophical ; especially to the English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; exhibiting, at one view, their Grammar, Rationale, Analogy, and Idiom. In three parts.

By Anselm Bayly, LL.B."* 8vo.] SCALIGER assigns the man he would have completely miserable, no other employment than that of composing grammars and compiling dictionaries ;t perhaps with reason, as there is not, in the whole Encyclopædia, a more laborious, yet a more unthankful study, than that bestowed on the rudiments of language.

age. The labor employed in other parts of science may be great, but it is also apparent: in this, as in the mine, it is excessive, yet unseen. This consideration may probably have been the cause that few good essays upon language are to be found among us : men whose talents were equal to such an undertaking, choosing to employ them on more amusing studies; and those who were unequal to the task, showing only by their unsuccessful attempts how much

[Afterwards LL.D. He published also, “ Alliance of Music, Poetry, and Oratory," the “Old Testament, English and Hebrew, with Critical Remarks, &c.;" and died in 1794.)

+ (See, in Gent. Mag. 1748, p. 8, Scaliger's epigram on this subject; and also in “ Johnsoniana,” 8vo. edit. p. 370, the opening lines of Murphy's translation of Dr. Johnson's Latin verses, written after revising and enlarging his Dictionary :

" When Scaliger, whole years of labor past,
Beheld his Lexicon complete at last,
And weary of his task, with wondering eyes,
Saw from words pil'd on words a fabric rise,
He curs'd the industry, inertly strong,
In creeping toil that could persist so long :
And if, enrag'd he cried, Heav'n meant to shed
Its secret vengeance on the guilty head,
The drudgery of words the damn'u would know,
Doom'd to write Lexicons in endless woe, &c."]

« AnteriorContinuar »