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The Grammar of English Grammars by Gould Brown

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scarcely find _an obstruction to impede your progress_."--_Ib._, p. 133.
"The supposed Herculean task of learning to conjugate verbs, will be
transformed into _a few hours of pleasant pastime_."--_Ib._, p. 142. "_By
examining carefully_ the conjugation of the verb through this mood, you
will find it _very easy_."--_Ib._, p. 147. "By pursuing the following
direction, you can, _in a very short time_, learn to conjugate any
verb."--_Ib._, p. 147. "Although this mode of procedure _may, at first,
appear to be laborious_, yet, as it is necessary, I trust you will not
hesitate to adopt it. _My confidence in your perseverance_, induces me to
recommend _any course_ which I know will tend to facilitate your
progress."--_Ib._, p. 148.

29. The grand boast of this author is, that he _has succeeded_ in "pleasing
himself and the public." He trusts to have "gained the latter point," to so
great an extent, and with such security of tenure, that henceforth no man
can safely question _the merit_ of his performance. Happy mortal! to whom
that success which is the ground of his pride, is also the glittering aegis
of his sure defence! To this he points with exultation and self-applause,
as if the prosperity of the wicked, or the popularity of an imposture, had
never yet been heard of in this clever world![12] Upon what merit this
success has been founded, my readers may judge, when I shall have finished
this slight review of his work. Probably no other grammar was ever so
industriously spread. Such was the author's perseverance in his measures to
increase the demand for his book, that even the attainment of such accuracy
as he was capable of, was less a subject of concern. For in an article
designed "to ward off some of the arrows of criticism,"--an advertisement
which, from the eleventh to the "one hundred and fifth edition," has been
promising "to the _publick another and a better_ edition,"--he plainly
offers this urgent engagement, as "an apology for its defects:"

"The author is apprehensive that his work is _not yet as_ accurate and as
much simplified as it _may be_. If, however, the disadvantages of lingering
under a broken constitution, and of being able to devote to this subject
_only a small portion of his time_, snatched from the _active pursuits of a
business life_, (active as far as imperfect health permits him to be,) are
any apology for his defects, he hopes that the candid will set down _the
apology to his credit_.--Not that he would beg a truce with the gentlemen
_criticks_ and reviewers. Any compromise with them would betray a want of
_self-confidence_ and _moral courage_, which he would by no means, be
willing to avow."--_Kirkham's Gram._, (Adv. of 1829,) p. 7.

30. Now, to this painful struggle, this active contention between business
and the vapours, let all _credit_ be given, and all _sympathy_ be added;
but, as an aid to the studies of healthy children, what better is the book,
for any forbearance or favour that may have been won by this apology? It
is well known, that, till _phrenology_ became the common talk, the author's
principal business was, to commend his own method of teaching _grammar_,
and to turn this publication to profit. This honourable industry, aided, as
himself suggests, by "not much _less_ than one thousand written
recommendations," is said to have wrought for him, in a very few years, a
degree of success and fame, at which both the eulogists of Murray and the
friends of English grammar may hang their heads. As to a "_compromise_"
with any critic or reviewer whom he cannot bribe, it is enough to say of
that, it is morally impossible. Nor was it necessary for such an author to
throw the gauntlet, to prove himself not lacking in "_self-confidence_." He
can show his "_moral courage_," only by daring do right.

31. In 1829, after his book had gone through ten editions, and the demand
for it had become so great as "to call forth twenty thousand copies during
the year," the prudent author, intending to veer his course according to
the _trade-wind_, thought it expedient to retract his former
acknowledgement to "our best modern philologists," and to profess himself a
modifier of the Great Compiler's code. Where then holds the anchor of his
praise? Let the reader say, after weighing and comparing his various

"Aware that there is, in the _publick_ mind, a strong predilection for the
doctrines contained in Mr. Murray's grammar, he has thought proper, not
merely from motives of policy, but from choice, _to select his principles
chiefly from that work_; and, moreover, to adopt, as far as consistent with
his own views, _the language of that eminent philologist_. In no instance
has he varied from him, unless he conceived that, in so doing, _some
practical advantage_ would be gained. He hopes, _therefore_, to escape the
censure so frequently and so justly awarded to those _unfortunate
innovators_ who have not scrupled to alter, mutilate, and torture the text
of that able writer, merely to gratify an itching propensity to figure in
the world _as authors_, and gain an ephemeral popularity by arrogating to
themselves _the credit due to another_." [13]--_Kirkham's Gram._, 1829, p.

32. Now these statements are either true or false; and I know not on which
supposition they are most creditable to the writer. Had any Roman
grammatist thus profited by the name of Varro or Quintilian, he would have
been filled with constant dread of somewhere meeting the injured author's
frowning shade! Surely, among the professed admirers of Murray, no other
man, whether innovator or copyist, unfortunate or successful, is at all to
be compared to this gentleman for the audacity with which he has "not
scrupled to alter, mutilate, and torture, the text of that able writer."
Murray simply intended to do good, and good that might descend to
posterity; and this just and generous intention goes far to excuse even his
errors. But Kirkham, speaking of posterity, scruples not to disavow and to
renounce all care for them, or for any thing which a coming age may think
of his character: saying,

"My pretensions reach not so far. To the _present generation only_, I
present my claims. Should it lend me a listening ear, and grant me its
suffrages, _the height of my ambition_ will be attained."--_Advertisement,
in his Elocution_, p. 346.

His whole design is, therefore, upon the very face of it, a paltry scheme
of present income. And, seeing his entered classes of boys and girls must
soon have done with him, he has doubtless acted wisely, and quite in
accordance with his own interest, to have made all possible haste in his

33. Being no rival with him in this race, and having no personal quarrel
with him on any account, I would, for his sake, fain rejoice at his
success, and withhold my criticisms; because he is said to have been
liberal with his gains, and because he has not, like some others, copied me
instead of Murray. But the vindication of a greatly injured and perverted
science, constrains me to say, on this occasion, that pretensions less
consistent with themselves, or less sustained by taste and scholarship,
have seldom, if ever, been promulgated in the name of grammar. I have,
certainly, no intention to say more than is due to the uninformed and
misguided. For some who are ungenerous and prejudiced themselves, will not
be unwilling to think me so; and even this freedom, backed and guarded as
it is by facts and proofs irrefragable, may still be ingeniously ascribed
to an ill motive. To two thirds of the community, one grammar is just as
good as an other; because they neither know, nor wish to know, more than
may be learned from the very worst. An honest expression of sentiment
against abuses of a literary nature, is little the fashion of these times;
and the good people who purchase books upon the recommendations of others,
may be slow to believe there is no merit where so much has been attributed.
But facts may well be credited, in opposition to courteous flattery, when
there are the author's own words and works to vouch for them in the face of
day. Though a thousand of our great men may have helped a copier's weak
copyist to take "some practical advantage" of the world's credulity, it is
safe to aver, in the face of dignity still greater, that testimonials more
fallacious have seldom mocked the cause of learning. They did not read his

34. Notwithstanding the author's change in his professions, the work is now
essentially the same as it was at first; except that its errors and
contradictions have been greatly multiplied, by the addition of new matter
inconsistent with the old. He evidently cares not what doctrines he
teaches, or whose; but, as various theories are noised abroad, seizes upon
different opinions, and mixes them together, that his books may contain
something to suit all parties. "_A System of Philosophical Grammar_,"
though but an idle speculation, even in his own account, and doubly absurd
in him, as being flatly contradictory to his main text, has been thought
worthy of insertion. And what his title-page denominates "_A New System of
Punctuation_," though mostly in the very words of Murray, was next invented
to supply a deficiency which he at length discovered. To admit these, and
some other additions, the "comprehensive system-of grammar" was gradually
extended from 144 small duodecimo pages, to 228 of the ordinary size. And,
in this compass, it was finally stereotyped in 1829; so that the
ninety-four editions published since, have nothing new for history.

35. But the publication of an other work designed for schools, "_An Essay
an Elocution_" shows the progress of the author's mind. Nothing can be more
radically opposite, than are some of the elementary doctrines which this
gentleman is now teaching; nothing, more strangely inconsistent, than are
some of his declarations and professions. For instance: "A consonant is a
letter that cannot be perfectly sounded without the help of a
vowel."--_Kirkham's Gram._, p. 19. Again: "A consonant is not only capable
of being perfectly sounded without the help of a vowel, but, moreover, of
forming, like a vowel, a separate syllable."--_Kirkham's Elocution_, p. 32.
Take a second example. He makes "ADJECTIVE PRONOUNS" a _prominent division_
and _leading title_, in treating of the pronouns proper; defines the term
in a manner peculiar to himself; prefers and uses it in all his parsing;
and yet, by the third sentence of the story, the learner is conducted to
this just conclusion: "Hence, such a thing as an _adjective-pronoun_ cannot
exist."--_Grammar_, p. 105. Once more. Upon his own rules, or such as he
had borrowed, he comments thus, and comments _truly_, because he had either
written them badly or made an ill choice: "But some of these rules are
foolish, trifling, and unimportant."--_Elocution_, p. 97. Again: "Rules 10
and 11, rest on a sandy foundation. They appear not to be based on the
principles of the language."--_Grammar_, p. 59. These are but specimens of
his own frequent testimony against himself! Nor shall he find refuge in the
impudent falsehood, that the things which I quote as his, are not his
own.[14] These contradictory texts, and scores of others which might be
added to them, are as rightfully his own, as any doctrine he has ever yet
inculcated. But, upon the credulity of ignorance, his high-sounding
certificates and unbounded boasting can impose any thing. They overrule all
in favour of cue of the worst grammars extant;--of which he says, "it is
now studied by more than one hundred thousand children and youth; and is
more extensively used than _all other English grammars_ published in the
United States."--_Elocution_, p. 347. The booksellers say, he receives from
his publishers _ten cents a copy_, on this work, and that he reports the
sale of _sixty thousand copies per annum_. Such has of late been his public
boast. I have once had the story from his own lips, and of course
congratulated him, though I dislike the book. Six thousand dollars a year,
on this most miserable modification of Lindley Murray's Grammar! Be it
so--or double, if he and the public please. Murray had so little
originality in his work, or so little selfishness in his design, that he
would not take any thing; and his may ultimately prove the better bargain.

36. A man may boast and bless himself as he pleases, his fortune, surely,
can never be worthy of an other's envy, so long as he finds it inadequate
to his own great merits, and unworthy of his own poor gratitude. As a
grammarian, Kirkham claims to be second only to Lindley Murray; and says,
"Since the days of Lowth, no other work on grammar, Murray's only excepted,
has been so favourably received by the _publick_ as his own. As a proof of
this, he would mention, that within the last six years it has passed
through _fifty_ editions."--_Preface to Elocution_, p. 12. And, at the same
time, and in the same preface, he complains, that, "Of all the labours done
under the sun, the labours _of the pen_ meet with the poorest
reward."--_Ibid._, p. 5. This too clearly favours the report, that his
books were not written by himself, but by others whom he hired. Possibly,
the anonymous helper may here have penned, not his employer's feeling, but
a line of his own experience. But I choose to ascribe the passage to the
professed author, and to hold him answerable for the inconsistency. Willing
to illustrate by the best and fairest examples these fruitful means of
grammatical fame, I am glad of his present success, which, through this
record, shall become yet more famous. It is the only thing which makes him
worthy of the notice here taken of him. But I cannot sympathize with his
complaint, because he never sought any but "the poorest reward;" and more
than all he sought, he found. In his last "Address to Teachers," he says,
"He may doubtless be permitted emphatically to say with Prospero, '_Your
breath has filled my sails_.'"--_Elocution_, p. 18. If this boasting has
any truth in it, he ought to be satisfied. But it is written, "He that
loveth silver, shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth
abundance, with increase." Let him remember this.[15] He now announces
three or four other works as forthcoming shortly. What these will achieve,
the world will see. But I must confine myself to the Grammar.

37. In this volume, scarcely any thing is found where it might be expected.
"The author," as he tells us in his preface, "has not followed the common
'artificial and unnatural arrangement adopted by most of his predecessors;'
_yet he_ has endeavoured to pursue a more judicious one, namely, '_the
order of the understanding_.'"--_Grammar_, p. 12. But if this is the order
of his understanding, he is greatly to be pitied. A book more confused in
its plan, more wanting in method, more imperfect in distinctness of parts,
more deficient in symmetry, or more difficult of reference, shall not
easily be found in stereotype. Let the reader try to follow us here. Bating
twelve pages at the beginning, occupied by the title, recommendations,
advertisement, contents, preface, hints to teachers, and advice to
lecturers; and fifty-four at the end, embracing syntax, orthography,
orthoepy, provincialisms, prosody, punctuation, versification, rhetoric,
figures of speech, and a Key, all in the sequence here given; the work
consists of fourteen chapters of grammar, absurdly called "Familiar
Lectures." The first treats of sundries, under half a dozen titles, but
chiefly of Orthography; and the last is three pages and a half, of the most
common remarks, on Derivation. In the remaining twelve, the Etymology and
Syntax of the ten parts of speech are commingled; and an attempt is made,
to teach simultaneously all that the author judged important in either.
Hence he gives us, in a strange congeries, rules, remarks, illustrations,
false syntax, systematic parsing, exercises in parsing, two different
orders of notes, three different orders of questions, and a variety of
other titles merely occasional. All these things, being additional to his
main text, are to be connected, in the mind of the learner, with the parts
of speech successively, in some new and inexplicable catenation found only
in the arrangement of the lectures. The author himself could not see
through the chaos. He accordingly made his table of contents a mere meagre
alphabetical index. Having once attempted in vain to explain the order of
his instructions, he actually gave the matter up in despair!

38. In length, these pretended lectures vary, from three or four pages, to
eight-and-thirty. Their subjects run thus: 1. Language, Grammar,
Orthography; 2. Nouns and Verbs; 3. Articles; 4. Adjectives; 5.
Participles; 6. Adverbs; 7. Prepositions; 8. Pronouns; 9. Conjunctions; 10.
Interjections and Nouns; 11. Moods and Tenses; 12. Irregular Verbs; 13.
Auxiliary, Passive, and Defective Verbs; 14. Derivation. Which, now, is
"more judicious," such confusion as this, or the arrangement which has been
common from time immemorial? Who that has any respect for the human
intellect, or whose powers of mind deserve any in return, will avouch this
jumble to be "the order of the understanding?" Are the methods of science
to be accounted mere hinderances to instruction? Has grammar really been
made easy by this confounding of its parts? Or are we lured by the name,
"_Familiar Lectures_,"--a term manifestly adopted as a mere decoy, and,
with respect to the work itself, totally inappropriate? If these chapters
have ever been actually delivered as a series of lectures, the reader must
have been employed on some occasions eight or ten times as long as on
others! "People," says Dr. Johnson, "have now-a-days got a strange opinion
that every thing should be taught by _lectures_. Now, I cannot see that
lectures can do so much good as a private reading of the books from which
the lectures are taken. I know of nothing that can be best taught by
lectures, except where experiments are to be shown. You may teach chymistry
by lectures--you _might_ teach the making of shoes by lectures."
--_Boswell's Life of Johnson_.

39. With singular ignorance and untruth, this gentleman claims to have
invented a better method of analysis than had ever been practised before.
Of other grammars, his preface avers, "They have _all overlooked_ what the
author considers a very important object; namely, _a systematick order of
parsing_."--_Grammar_, p. 9. And, in his "Hints to Teachers," presenting
himself as a model, and his book as a paragon, he says: "By pursuing this
system, he can, with less labour, advance a pupil _farther_ in the
practical knowledge of this _abstruse science_, in _two months_, than he
could in _one year_, when he taught in the _old way_."--_Grammar_, p. 12.
What his "_old way_" was, does not appear. Doubtless something sufficiently
bad. And as to his new way, I shall hereafter have occasion to show that
_that_ is sufficiently bad also. But to this gasconade the simple-minded
have given credit--because the author showed certificates that testified to
his great success, and called him "amiable and modest!" But who can look
into the book, or into the writer's pretensions in regard to his
predecessors, and conceive the merit which has made him--"preeminent by so
much odds?" Was Murray less praiseworthy, less amiable, or less modest? In
illustration of my topic, and for the sake of literary justice, I have
selected that honoured "_Compiler_" to show the abuses of praise; let the
history of this his vaunting _modifier_ cap the climax of vanity. In
general, his amendments of "that eminent philologist," are not more
skillful than the following touch upon an eminent dramatist; and here, it
is plain, he has mistaken two nouns for adjectives, and converted into bad
English a beautiful passage, the sentiment of which is worthy of an
_author's_ recollection:

"The evil _deed_ or _deeds_ that men do, _lives_ after them;
The good _deed_ or _deeds is_ oft interred with their bones." [16]
_Kirkham's Grammar_, p. 75.

40. Lord Bacon observes, "Nothing is thought so easy a request to a great
person as his letter; and yet, if it be not in a good cause, it is so much
out of his reputation." It is to this mischievous facility of
recommendation, this prostituted influence of great names, that the
inconvenient diversity of school-books, and the continued use of bad ones,
are in a great measure to be attributed. It belongs to those who understand
the subjects of which authors profess to treat, to judge fairly and fully
of their works, and then to let the _reasons_ of their judgement be known.
For no one will question the fact, that a vast number of the school-books
now in use are either egregious plagiarisms or productions of no
comparative merit. And, what is still more surprising and monstrous,
presidents, governors, senators, and judges; professors, doctors,
clergymen, and lawyers; a host of titled connoisseurs; with incredible
facility lend their names, not only to works of inferior merit, but to the
vilest thefts, and the wildest absurdities, palmed off upon their own and
the public credulity, under pretence of improvement. The man who thus
prefixes his letter of recommendation to an ill-written book, publishes,
out of mere courtesy, a direct impeachment of his own scholarship or
integrity. Yet, how often have we seen the honours of a high office, or
even of a worthy name, prostituted to give a temporary or local currency to
a book which it would disgrace any man of letters to quote! With such
encouragement, nonsense wrestles for the seat of learning, exploded errors
are republished as novelties, original writers are plundered by dunces, and
men that understand nothing well, profess to teach all sciences!

41. All praise of excellence must needs be comparative, because the thing
itself is so. To excel in grammar, is but to know better than others
wherein grammatical excellence consists. Hence there is no fixed point of
perfection beyond which such learning may not be carried. The limit to
improvement is not so much in the nature of the subject, as in the powers
of the mind, and in the inducements to exert them upon a theme so humble
and so uninviting. Dr. Johnson suggests, in his masterly preface, "that a
whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole
life would not be sufficient." Who then will suppose, in the face of such
facts and confessions as have been exhibited, that either in the faulty
publications of Murray, or among the various modifications of them by other
hands we have any such work as deserves to be made a permanent standard of
instruction in English grammar? With great sacrifices, both of pleasure and
of interest, I have humbly endeavoured to supply this desideratum; and it
remains for other men to determine, and other times to know, what place
shall be given to these my labours, in the general story of this branch of
learning. Intending to develop not only the principles but also the history
of grammar, I could not but speak of its authors. The writer who looks
broadly at the past and the present, to give sound instruction to the
future, must not judge of men by their shadows. If the truth, honestly
told, diminish the stature of some, it does it merely by clearing the sight
of the beholder. Real greatness cannot suffer loss by the dissipating of a
vapour. If reputation has been raised upon the mist of ignorance, who but
the builder shall lament its overthrow? If the works of grammarians are
often ungrammatical, whose fault is this but their own? If _all_
grammatical fame is little in itself, how can the abatement of what is
undeserved of it be much? If the errors of some have long been tolerated,
what right of the critic has been lost by nonuser? If the interests of
Science have been sacrificed to Mammon, what rebuke can do injustice to the
craft? Nay, let the broad-axe of the critic hew up to the line, till every
beam in her temple be smooth and straight. For, "certainly, next to
commending good writers, the greatest service to learning is, to expose the
bad, who can only in that way be made of any use to it." [17] And if, among
the makers of grammars, the scribblings of some, and the filchings of
others, are discreditable alike to themselves and to their theme, let the
reader consider, how great must be the intrinsic worth of that study which
still maintains its credit in spite of all these abuses!



"Tot fallaciis obrutum, tot hallucinationibus demersum, tot adhuc tenebris
circumfusum studium hocce mihi visum est, ut nihil satis tuto in hac
materia praestari posse arbitratus sim, nisi nova quadam arte critica
praemissa."--SCIPIO MAFFEIUS: _Cassiod. Complexiones_, p. xxx.

1. The origin of things is, for many reasons, a peculiarly interesting
point in their history. Among those who have thought fit to inquire into
the prime origin of speech, it has been matter of dispute, whether we ought
to consider it a special gift from Heaven, or an acquisition of industry--a
natural endowment, or an artificial invention. Nor is any thing that has
ever yet been said upon it, sufficient to set the question permanently at
rest. That there is in some words, and perhaps in some of every language, a
natural connexion between the sounds uttered and the things signified,
cannot be denied; yet, on the other hand, there is, in the use of words in
general, so much to which nature affords no clew or index, that this whole
process of communicating thought by speech, seems to be artificial. Under
an other head, I have already cited from Sanctius some opinions of the
ancient grammarians and philosophers on this point. With the reasoning of
that zealous instructor, the following sentence from Dr. Blair very
obviously accords: "To suppose words invented, or names given to things, in
a manner purely arbitrary, without any ground or reason, is to suppose an
effect without a cause. There must have always been some motive which led
to the assignation of one name rather than an other."--_Rhet._, Lect. vi,
p. 55.

2. But, in their endeavours to explain the origin and early progress of
language, several learned men, among whom is this celebrated lecturer, have
needlessly perplexed both themselves and their readers, with sundry
questions, assumptions, and reasonings, which are manifestly contrary to
what has been made known to us on the best of all authority. What signifies
it[18] for a man to tell us how nations rude and barbarous invented
interjections first,[19] and then nouns, and then verbs,[20] and finally
the other parts of speech; when he himself confesses that he does not know
whether language "can be considered a human invention at all;" and when he
believed, or ought to have believed, that the speech of the first man,
though probably augmented by those who afterwards used it, was,
essentially, the one language of the earth for more than eighteen
centuries? The task of inventing a language _de novo_, could surely have
fallen upon no man but Adam; and he, in the garden of Paradise, had
doubtless some aids and facilities not common to every wild man of the

3. The learned Doctor was equally puzzled to conceive, "either how society
could form itself, previously to language, or how words could rise into a
language, previously to society formed."--_Blair's Rhet._, Lect. vi, p. 54.
This too was but an idle perplexity, though thousands have gravely pored
over it since, as a part of the study of rhetoric; for, if neither could be
previous to the other, they must have sprung up simultaneously. And it is a
sort of slander upon our prime ancestor, to suggest, that, because he was
"_the first_," he must have been "_the rudest_" of his race; and that,
"consequently, those first rudiments of speech," which alone the
supposition allows to him or to his family, "must have been poor and
narrow."--_Blair's Rhet._, p. 54. It is far more reasonable to think, with
a later author, that, "Adam had an insight into natural things far beyond
the acutest philosopher, as may be gathered from his giving of names to all
creatures, according to their different constitutions."--_Robinson's
Scripture Characters_, p. 4.

4. But Dr. Blair is not alone in the view which he here takes. The same
thing has bean suggested by other learned men. Thus Dr. James P. Wilson, of
Philadelphia, in an octavo published in 1817, says: "It is difficult to
discern how communities could have existed without language, and equally so
to discover how language could have obtained, in a peopled world, prior to
society."--_Wilson's Essay on Gram._, p. 1. I know not how so many
professed Christians, and some of them teachers of religion too, with the
Bible in their hands, can reason upon this subject as they do. We find
them, in their speculations, conspiring to represent primeval man, to use
their own words, as a "_savage_, whose 'howl at the appearance of danger,
and whose exclamations of joy at the sight of his prey, reiterated, or
varied with the change of objects, were probably the origin of
language.'--_Booth's Analytical Dictionary_. In the dawn of society, ages
may have passed away, with little more converse than what these efforts
would produce."--_Gardiner's Music of Nature_, p. 31. Here Gardiner quotes
Booth with approbation, and the latter, like Wilson, may have borrowed his
ideas from Blair. Thus are we taught by a multitude of guessers, grave,
learned, and oracular, that the last of the ten parts of speech was in fact
the first: "_Interjections_ are exceedingly interesting in one respect.
They are, there can be little doubt, _the oldest words_ in all languages;
and may be considered the elements of speech."--_Bucke's Classical Gram._,
p. 78. On this point, however, Dr. Blair seems not to be quite consistent
with himself: "Those exclamations, therefore, which by grammarians are
called _interjections_, uttered in a strong and passionate manner, were,
_beyond doubt_, the first elements or beginnings of speech."--_Rhet._,
Lect. vi, p. 55. "The _names_ of sensible objects were, _in all languages_,
the words most early introduced."--_Rhet._, Lect. xiv, p. 135. "The _names
of sensible objects_," says Murray too, "were the words most early
introduced."--_Octavo Gram._, p. 336. Bat what says the Bible?

5. Revelation informs us that our first progenitor was not only endowed
with the faculty of speech, but, as it would appear, actually incited by
the Deity to exert that faculty in giving _names_ to the objects by which
he was surrounded. "Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of
the field and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam, to see
what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature,
that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the
fowls of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was
not found a help meet for him."--_Gen._, ii, 19, 20. This account of the
first naming of the other creatures by man, is apparently a parenthesis in
the story of the creation of woman, with which the second chapter of
Genesis concludes. But, in the preceding chapter, the Deity is represented
not only as calling all things into existence _by his Word_; but as
_speaking to the first human pair_, with reference to their increase in the
earth, and to their dominion over it, and over all the living creatures
formed to inhabit it. So that the order of the events cannot be clearly
inferred from the order of the narration. The manner of this communication
to man, may also be a subject of doubt. Whether it was, or was not, made by
a voice of words, may be questioned. But, surely, that Being who, in
creating the world and its inhabitants, manifested his own infinite wisdom,
eternal power, and godhead, does not lack words, or any other means of
signification, if he will use them. And, in the inspired record of his work
in the beginning, he is certainly represented, not only as naming all
things imperatively, when he spoke them into being, but as expressly
calling the light _Day_, the darkness _Night_, the firmament _Heaven_, the
dry land _Earth_, and the gatherings of the mighty waters _Seas_.

6. Dr. Thomas Hartwell Horne, in commending a work by Dr. Ellis, concerning
the origin of human wisdom and understanding, says: "It shows
satisfactorily, that religion _and language_ entered the world by divine
revelation, without the aid of which, man had not been a rational or
religious creature."--_Study of the Scriptures_, Vol. i, p. 4. "Plato
attributes the primitive words of the _first language_ to a divine origin;"
and Dr. Wilson remarks, "The transition from silence to speech, implies an
effort of the understanding too great for man."--_Essay on Gram._, p. 1.
Dr. Beattie says, "Mankind must have spoken in all ages, the young
constantly learning to speak by imitating those who were older; and, if so,
our first parents must have received this art, as well as some others, by
inspiration."--_Moral Science_, p. 27. Horne Tooke says, "I imagine that it
is, _in some measure_, with the vehicle of our thoughts, as with the
vehicles for our bodies. Necessity produced both."--_Diversions of Purley_,
Vol. i, p. 20. Again: "Language, it is true, _is an art_, and a glorious
one; whose influence extends over all the others, and in which finally all
science whatever must centre: but an art _springing from necessity_, and
originally invented by artless men, who did not sit down like philosophers
to invent it."--_Ib._, Vol. i, p. 259.

7. Milton imagines Adam's first knowledge of speech, to have sprung from
the hearing of his own voice; and that voice to have been raised,
instinctively, or spontaneously, in an animated inquiry concerning his own
origin--an inquiry in which he addresses to unintelligent objects, and
inferior creatures, such questions as the Deity alone could answer:

"Myself I then perused, and limb by limb
Surveyed, and sometimes went, and sometimes ran
With supple joints, as lively vigor led:
But who I was, or where, or from what cause,
Knew not; _to speak I tried, and forthwith spake;
My tongue obeyed, and readily could name
Whatever I saw_. 'Thou Sun,' said I, 'fair light,
And thou enlightened Earth, so fresh and gay,
Ye Hills and Dales, ye Rivers, Woods, and Plains;
And ye that live and move, fair Creatures! tell,
Tell, if ye saw, how came I thus, how here?
Not of myself; by some great Maker then,
In goodness and in power preeminent:
Tell me how I may know him, how adore,
From whom I have that thus I move and live,
And feel that I am happier than I know.'"
_Paradise Lost_, Book viii, l. 267.

But, to the imagination of a poet, a freedom is allowed, which belongs not
to philosophy. We have not always the means of knowing how far he
_literally_ believes what he states.

8. My own opinion is, that language is partly natural and partly
artificial. And, as the following quotation from the Greek of Ammonius will
serve in some degree to illustrate it, I present the passage in English for
the consideration of those who may prefer ancient to modern speculations:
"In the same manner, therefore, as mere motion is from nature, but dancing
is something positive; and as wood exists in nature, but a door is
something positive; so is the mere utterance of vocal sound founded in
nature, but the signification of ideas by nouns or verbs is something
positive. And hence it is, that, as to the simple power of producing vocal
sound--which is as it were the organ or instrument of the soul's faculties
of knowledge or volition--as to this vocal power, I say, man seems to
possess it from nature, in like manner as irrational animals; but as to the
power of using significantly nouns or verbs, or sentences combining these,
(which are not natural but positive,) this he possesses by way of peculiar
eminence; because he alone of all mortal beings partakes of a soul which
can move itself, and operate to the production of arts. So that, even in
the utterance of sounds, the inventive power of the mind is discerned; as
the various elegant compositions, both in metre, and without metre,
abundantly prove."--_Ammon. de Interpr._, p. 51.[21]

9. Man was made for society; and from the first period of human existence
the race were social. Monkish seclusion is manifestly unnatural; and the
wild independence of the savage, is properly denominated a state of nature,
only in contradistinction to that state in which the arts are cultivated.
But to civilized life, or even to that which is in any degree social,
language is absolutely necessary. There is therefore no danger that the
language of any nation shall fall into disuse, till the people by whom it
is spoken, shall either adopt some other, or become themselves extinct.
When the latter event occurs, as is the case with the ancient Hebrew,
Greek, and Latin, the language, if preserved at all from oblivion, becomes
the more permanent; because the causes which are constantly tending to
improve or deteriorate every living language, have ceased to operate upon
those which are learned only from ancient books. The inflections which now
compose the declensions and conjugations of the dead languages, and which
indeed have ever constituted the peculiar characteristics of those forms of
speech, must remain forever as they are.

10. When a nation changes, its
language, as did our forefathers in Britain, producing by a gradual
amalgamation of materials drawn from various tongues a new one differing
from all, the first stages of its grammar will of course be chaotic and
rude. Uniformity springs from the steady application of rules; and polish
is the work of taste and refinement. We may easily err by following the
example of our early writers with more reverence than judgement; nor is it
possible for us to do justice to the grammarians, whether early or late,
without a knowledge both of the history and of the present state of the
science which they profess to teach. I therefore think it proper rapidly to
glance at many things remote indeed in time, yet nearer to my present
purpose, and abundantly more worthy of the student's consideration, than a
thousand matters which are taught for grammar by the authors of treatises
professedly elementary.

11. As we have already seen, some have supposed that the formation of the
first language must have been very slow and gradual. But of this they offer
no proof, and from the pen of inspiration we seem to have testimony against
it. Did Adam give names to all the creatures about him, and then allow
those names to be immediately forgotten? Did not both he and his family
continually use his original nouns in their social intercourse? and how
could they use them, without other parts of speech to form them into
sentences? Nay, do we not know from the Bible, that on several occasions
our prime ancestor expressed himself like an intelligent man, and used all
the parts of speech which are now considered _necessary_? What did he say,
when his fit partner, the fairest and loveliest work of God, was presented
to him? "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be
called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." And again: Had he not
other words than nouns, when he made answer concerning his transgression:
"I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked;
and I hid myself?" What is it, then, but a groundless assumption, to make
him and his immediate descendants ignorant savages, and to affirm, with Dr.
Blair, that "their speech must have been poor and narrow?" It is not
possible now to ascertain what degree of perfection the oral communication
of the first age exhibited. But, as languages are now known to improve in
proportion to the improvement of society in civilization and intelligence,
and as we cannot reasonably suppose the first inhabitants of the earth to
have been savages, it seems, I think, a plausible conjecture, that the
primeval tongue was at least sufficient for all the ordinary intercourse of
civilized men, living in the simple manner ascribed to our early ancestors
in Scripture; and that, in many instances, human speech subsequently
declined far below its original standard.

12. At any rate, let it be remembered that the first language spoken on
earth, whatever it was, originated in Eden before the fall; that this "one
language," which all men understood until the dispersion, is to be traced,
not to the cries of savage hunters, echoed through the wilds and glades
where Nimrod planted Babel, but to that eastern garden of God's own
planting, wherein grew "every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good
for food;" to that paradise into which the Lord God put the new-created
man, "to dress it and to keep it." It was here that Adam and his partner
learned to speak, while yet they stood blameless and blessed, entire and
wanting nothing; free in the exercise of perfect faculties of body and
mind, capable of acquiring knowledge through observation and experience,
and also favoured with immediate communications with their Maker. Yet Adam,
having nothing which he did not receive, could not originally bring any
real knowledge into the world with him, any more than men do now: this, in
whatever degree attained, must be, and must always have been, either an
acquisition of reason, or a revelation from God. And, according to the
understanding of some, even in the beginning, "That was not first which is
spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is
spiritual."--_1 Cor., xv, 46_. That is, the spirit of Christ, the second
Adam, was bestowed on the first Adam, after his creation, as the life and
the light of the immortal soul. For, "In _Him_ was life, and the life was
the light of men," a life which our first parents forfeited and lost on the
day of their transgression. "It was undoubtedly in the light of this pure
influence that Adam had such an intuitive discerning of the creation, as
enabled him to give names to all creatures according to their several
natures."--_Phipps, on Man_, p. 4. A lapse from all this favour, into
conscious guilt and misery; a knowledge of good withdrawn, and of evil made
too sure; followed the first transgression. Abandoned then in great measure
by superhuman aid, and left to contend with foes without and foes within,
mankind became what history and observation prove them to have been; and
henceforth, by painful experience, and careful research, and cautious
faith, and humble docility, must they gather the fruits of _knowledge_; by
a vain desire and false conceit of which, they had forfeited the tree of
life. So runs the story

"Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our wo,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat."

13. The analogy of words in the different languages now known, has been
thought by many to be sufficiently frequent and clear to suggest the idea
of their common origin. Their differences are indeed great; but perhaps not
greater, than the differences in the several races of men, all of whom, as
revelation teaches, sprung from one common stock. From the same source we
learn, that, till the year of the world 1844, "The whole earth was of one
language, and of one speech."--_Gen._, xi, 1.[22] At that period, the whole
world of mankind consisted only of the descendants of the eight souls who
had been saved in the ark, and so many of the eight as had survived the
flood one hundred and eighty-eight years. Then occurred that remarkable
intervention of the Deity, in which he was pleased to confound their
language; so that they could not understand one an other's speech, and were
consequently scattered abroad upon the face of the earth. This, however, in
the opinion of many learned men, does not prove the immediate formation of
any new languages.

14. But, whether new languages were thus immediately formed or not, the
event, in all probability, laid the foundation for that diversity which
subsequently obtained among the languages of the different nations which
sprung from the dispersion; and hence it may be regarded as the remote
cause of the differences which now exist. But for the immediate origin of
the peculiar characteristical differences which distinguish the various
languages now known, we are not able with much certainty to account. Nor is
there even much plausibility in the speculations of those grammarians who
have attempted to explain the order and manner in which the declensions,
the moods, the tenses, or other leading features of the languages, were
first introduced. They came into use before they could be generally known,
and the partial introduction of them could seldom with propriety be made a
subject of instruction or record, even if there were letters and learning
at hand to do them this honour. And it is better to be content with
ignorance, than to form such conjectures as imply any thing that is absurd
or impossible. For instance: Neilson's Theory of the Moods, published in
the Classical Journal of 1819, though it exhibits ingenuity and learning,
is liable to this strong objection; that it proceeds on the supposition,
that the moods of English verbs, and of several other derivative tongues,
were invented in a certain order by persons, not speaking a language
learned chiefly from their fathers, but uttering a new one as necessity
prompted. But when or where, since the building of Babel, has this ever
happened? That no dates are given, or places mentioned, the reader regrets,
but he cannot marvel.

15. By what successive changes, our words in general, and especially the
minor parts of speech, have become what we now find them, and what is their
original and proper signification according to their derivation, the
etymologist may often show to our entire satisfaction. Every word must have
had its particular origin and history; and he who in such things can
explain with certainty what is not commonly known, may do some service to
science. But even here the utility of his curious inquiries may be
overrated; and whenever, for the sake of some favourite theory, he ventures
into the regions of conjecture, or allows himself to be seduced from the
path of practical instruction, his errors are obstinate, and his guidance
is peculiarly deceptive. Men fond of such speculations, and able to
support them with some show of learning, have done more to unsettle the
science of grammar, and to divert ingenious teachers from the best methods
of instruction, than all other visionaries put together. Etymological
inquiries are important, and I do not mean to censure or discourage them,
merely as such; but the folly of supposing that in our language words must
needs be of the same class, or part of speech, as that to which they may be
traced in an other, deserves to be rebuked. The words _the_ and _an_ may be
articles in English, though obviously traceable to something else in Saxon;
and a learned man may, in my opinion, be better employed, than in
contending that _if, though_, and _although_, are not conjunctions, but

16. Language is either oral or written; the question of its origin has
consequently two parts. Having suggested what seemed necessary respecting
the origin of _speech_, I now proceed to that of _writing_. Sheridan says,
"We have in use _two kinds of language_, the spoken and the written: the
one, the gift of God; the other, the invention of man."--_Elocution_, p.
xiv. If this ascription of the two things to their sources, were as just as
it is clear and emphatical, both parts of our question would seem to be
resolved. But this great rhetorician either forgot his own doctrine, or did
not mean what he here says. For he afterwards makes the former kind of
language as much a work of art, as any one will suppose the latter to have
been. In his sixth lecture, he comments on the gift of speech thus: "But
still we are to observe, that nature did no more than furnish the power and
means; _she did not give the language_, as in the case of the passions, but
left it to the industry of men, to find out and agree upon such articulate
sounds, as they should choose to make the symbols of their ideas."--_Ib._,
p. 147. He even goes farther, and supposes certain _tones of the voice_ to
be things invented by man: "Accordingly, as she did not furnish the
_words_, which were to be the symbols of his ideas; neither did she furnish
the _tones_, which were to manifest, and communicate by their own virtue,
the internal exertions and emotions, of such of his nobler faculties, as
chiefly distinguish him from the brute species; but left them also, like
words, to the care and invention of man."--_Ibidem_. On this branch of the
subject, enough has already been presented.

17. By most authors, alphabetic writing is not only considered an
artificial invention, but supposed to have been wholly unknown in the early
ages of the world. Its antiquity, however, is great. Of this art, in which
the science of grammar originated, we are not able to trace the
commencement. Different nations have claimed the honour of the invention;
and it is not decided, among the learned, to whom, or to what country, it
belongs. It probably originated in Egypt. For, "The Egyptians," it is said,
"paid divine honours to the Inventor of Letters, whom they called _Theuth_:
and Socrates, when he speaks of him, considers him as a god, or a god-like
man."--_British Gram._, p. 32. Charles Bucke has it, "That the first
inventor of letters is supposed to have been _Memnon_; who was, in
consequence, fabled to be the son of Aurora, goddess of the
morning."--_Bucke's Classical Gram._, p. 5. The ancients in general seem to
have thought Phoenicia the birthplace of Letters:

"Phoenicians first, if ancient fame be true,
The sacred mystery of letters knew;
They first, by sound, in various lines design'd,
Express'd the meaning of the thinking mind;
The power of words by figures rude conveyed,
And useful science everlasting made."
_Rowe's Lucan_, B. iii, l. 334.

18. Some, however, seem willing to think writing coeval with speech. Thus
Bicknell, from Martin's Physico-Grammatical Essay: "We are told by Moses,
that Adam _gave names to every living creature_;[23] but how those names
were written, or what sort of characters he made use of, is not known to
us; nor indeed whether Adam ever made use of a written language at all;
since we find no mention made of any in the sacred history."--_Bicknell's
Gram._, Part ii, p. 5. A certain late writer on English grammar, with
admirable flippancy, cuts this matter short, as follows,--satisfying
himself with pronouncing all speech to be natural, and all writing
artificial: "Of how many primary kinds is language? It is of two kinds;
natural or spoken, and artificial or written."--_Oliver B. Peirce's Gram._,
p. 15. "Natural language is, to a limited extent, (the representation of
the passions,) common to brutes as well as man; but artificial language,
being the work of invention, is peculiar to man."--_Ib._, p. 16.[24]

19. The writings delivered to the Israelites by Moses, are more ancient
than any others now known. In the thirty-first chapter of Exodus, it is
said, that God "gave unto Moses, upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony,
tables of stone, _written with the finger of God_." And again, in the
thirty-second: "The tables were the work of God, and the writing was _the
writing of God_, graven upon the tables." But these divine testimonies,
thus miraculously written, do not appear to have been the first writing;
for Moses had been previously commanded to write an account of the victory
over Amalek, "for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of
Joshua."--_Exod._, xvii, 14. This first battle of the Israelites occurred
in Rephidim, a place on the east side of the western gulf of the Red Sea,
at or near Horeb, but before they came to Sinai, upon the top of which, (on
the fiftieth day after their departure from Egypt,) Moses received the ten
commandments of the law.

20. Some authors, however, among whom is Dr. Adam Clarke, suppose that in
this instance the order of the events is not to be inferred from the order
of the record, or that there is room to doubt whether the use of letters
was here intended; and that there consequently remains a strong
probability, that the sacred Decalogue, which God himself delivered to
Moses on Sinai, A. M. 2513, B. C. 1491, was "the first writing _in
alphabetical characters_ ever exhibited to the world." See _Clarke's
Succession of Sacred Literature_, Vol. i, p. 24. Dr. Scott, in his General
Preface to the Bible, seems likewise to favour the same opinion. "Indeed,"
says he, "there is some probability in the opinion, that the art of writing
was first communicated by revelation, to Moses, in order to perpetuate,
with certainty, those facts, truths, and laws, which he was employed to
deliver to Israel. Learned men find no traces of _literary_, or
alphabetical, writing, in the history of the nations, till long after the
days of Moses; unless the book of Job may be regarded as an exception. The
art of expressing almost an infinite variety of sounds, by the interchanges
of a few letters, or marks, seems more like a discovery to man from heaven,
than a human invention; and its beneficial effects, and almost absolute
necessity, for the preservation and communication of true religion, favour
the conjecture."--_Scott's Preface_, p. xiv.

21. The time at which Cadmus, the Phoenician, introduced this art into
Greece, cannot be precisely ascertained. There is no reason to believe it
was antecedent to the time of Moses; some chronologists make it between two
and three centuries later. Nor is it very probable, that Cadmus invented
the sixteen letters of which he is said to have made use. His whole story
is so wild a fable, that nothing certain can be inferred from it. Searching
in vain for his stolen sister--his sister Europa, carried off by
Jupiter--he found a wife in the daughter of Venus! Sowing the teeth of a
dragon, which had devoured his companions, he saw them spring up to his aid
a squadron of armed soldiers! In short, after a series of wonderful
achievements and bitter misfortunes, loaded with grief and infirm with age,
he prayed the gods to release him from the burden of such a life; and, in
pity from above, both he and his beloved Hermione were changed into
serpents! History, however, has made him generous amends, by ascribing to
him the invention of letters, and accounting him the worthy benefactor to
whom the world owes all the benefits derived from literature. I would not
willingly rob him of this honour. But I must confess, there is no feature
of the story, which I can conceive to give any countenance to his claim;
except that as the great progenitor of the race of authors, his sufferings
correspond well with the calamities of which that unfortunate generation
have always so largely partaken.

22. The benefits of this invention, if it may be considered an invention,
are certainly very great. In oral discourse the graces of elegance are more
lively and attractive, but well-written books are the grand instructors of
mankind, the most enduring monuments of human greatness, and the proudest
achievements of human intellect. "The chief glory of a nation," says Dr.
Johnson, "arises from its authors." Literature is important, because it is
subservient to all objects, even those of the very highest concern.
Religion and morality, liberty and government, fame and happiness, are
alike interested in the cause of letters. It was a saying of Pope Pius the
Second, that, "Common men should esteem learning as silver, noblemen value
it as gold, and princes prize it as jewels." The uses of learning are seen
in every thing that is not itself useless.[25] It cannot be overrated, but
where it is perverted; and whenever that occurs, the remedy is to be sought
by opposing learning to learning, till the truth is manifest, and that
which is reprehensible, is made to appear so.

23. I have said, learning cannot be overrated, but where it is perverted.
But men may differ in their notions of what learning is; and, consequently,
of what is, or is not, a perversion of it. And so far as this point may
have reference to theology, and the things of God, it would seem that the
Spirit of God alone can fully show us its bearings. If the illumination of
the Spirit is necessary to an understanding and a reception of scriptural
truth, is it not by an inference more erudite than reasonable, that some
great men have presumed to limit to a verbal medium the communications of
Him who is everywhere His own witness, and who still gives to His own holy
oracles all their peculiar significance and authority? Some seem to think
the Almighty has never given to men any notion of Himself, except by words.
"Many ideas," says the celebrated Edmund Burke, "have never been at all
presented to the senses of any men _but by words_, as God,[26] angels,
devils, heaven, and hell, all of which have however a great influence over
the passions."--_On the Sublime and [the] Beautiful_, p. 97. That God can
never reveal facts or truths except by words, is a position with which I am
by no means satisfied. Of the great truths of Christianity, Dr. Wayland, in
his Elements of Moral Science, repeatedly avers, "All these being _facts_,
can never be known, except _by language_, that is, by revelation."--_First
Edition_, p. 132. Again: "All of them being of the _nature of facts_, they
could be made known to man _in no other way than by language_."--_Ib._, p.
136. But it should be remembered, that these same facts were otherwise made
known to the prophets; (1 Pet., i, 11;) and that which has been done, is
not impossible, whether there is reason to expect it again or not. So of
the Bible, Calvin says, "No man can have the least knowledge of true and
sound doctrine, without having been a disciple of the Scripture."--
_Institutes_, B. i, Ch. 6. Had Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, then,
no such knowledge? And if such they had, what Scripture taught them? We
ought to value the Scriptures too highly to say of them any thing that is
_unscriptural_. I am, however, very far from supposing there is any _other
doctrine_ which can be safely substituted for the truths revealed of old,
the truths contained in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments:

"Left only in those written records pure,
Though not but by the Spirit understood." [27]--_Milton_.



"Quis huic studio literarum, quod profitentur ii, qui grammatici vocantur,
penitus se dedidit, quin omnem illarum artium paene infinitam _vim_ et
_materiam_ scientiae cogitatione comprehenderit?"--CICERO. _De Oratore_,
Lib. i, 3.

1. The peculiar _power_ of language is another point worthy of particular
consideration. The power of an instrument is virtually the power of him who
wields it; and, as language is used in common, by the wise and the foolish,
the mighty and the impotent, the candid and the crafty, the righteous and
the wicked, it may perhaps seem to the reader a difficult matter, to speak
intelligibly of its _peculiar power_. I mean, by this phrase, its fitness
or efficiency to or for the accomplishment of the purposes for which it is
used. As it is the nature of an agent, to be the doer of something, so it
is the nature of an instrument, to be that with which something is
effected. To make signs, is to do something, and, like all other actions,
necessarily implies an agent; so all signs, being things by means of which
other things are represented, are obviously the instruments of such
representation. Words, then, which represent thoughts, are things in
themselves; but, as signs, they are relative to other things, as being the
instruments of their communication or preservation. They are relative also
to him who utters them, as well as to those who may happen to be instructed
or deceived by them. "Was it Mirabeau, Mr. President, or what other master
of the human passions, who has told us that words are things? They are
indeed things, and things of mighty influence, not only in addresses to
the passions and high-wrought feelings of mankind, but in the discussion of
legal and political questions also; because a just conclusion is often
avoided, or a false one reached, by the adroit substitution of one phrase
or one word for an other."--_Daniel Webster, in Congress_, 1833.

2. To speak, is a moral action, the quality of which depends upon the
motive, and for which we are strictly accountable. "But I say unto you,
that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof
in the day of judgement; for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by
thy words thou shalt be condemned."--_Matt._, xii, 36, 37. To listen, or to
refuse to listen, is a moral action also; and there is meaning in the
injunction, "Take heed what ye hear."--_Mark_, iv, 24. But why is it, that
so much of what is spoken or written, is spoken or written in vain? Is
language impotent? It is sometimes employed for purposes with respect to
which it is utterly so; and often they that use it, know not how
insignificant, absurd, or ill-meaning a thing they make of it. What is
said, with whatever inherent force or dignity, has neither power nor value
to him who does not understand it;[28] and, as Professor Duncan observes,
"No word can be to any man the sign of an idea, till that idea comes to
have a real existence in his mind."--_Logic_, p. 62. In instruction,
therefore, speech ought not to be regarded as the foundation or the essence
of knowledge, but as the sign of it; for knowledge has its origin in the
power of sensation, or reflection, or consciousness, and not in that of
recording or communicating thought. Dr. Spurzheim was not the first to
suggest, "It is time to abandon the immense error of supposing that words
and precepts are sufficient to call internal feelings and intellectual
faculties into active exercise."--_Spurzheim's Treatise on Education_, p.

3. But to this it may be replied, When God wills, the signs of knowledge
are knowledge; and words, when he gives the ability to understand them,
may, in some sense, become--"spirit and life." See _John_, vi, 63. Where
competent intellectual faculties exist, the intelligible signs of thought
do move the mind to think; and to think sometimes with deep feelings too,
whether of assent or dissent, of admiration or contempt. So wonderful a
thing is a rational soul, that it is hard to say to what ends the language
in which it speaks, may, or may not, be sufficient. Let experience
determine. We are often unable to excite in others the sentiments which we
would: words succeed or fail, as they are received or resisted. But let a
scornful expression be addressed to a passionate man, will not the words
"call internal feelings" into action? And how do feelings differ from
thoughts?[29] Hear Dr. James Rush: "The human mind is the place of
representation of all the existences of nature which are brought within the
scope of the senses. The representatives are called ideas. These ideas are
the simple passive pictures of things, or [else] they exist with an
activity, capable of so affecting the physical organs as to induce us to
seek the continuance of that which produces them, or to avoid it. This
active or vivid class of ideas comprehends the passions. The functions of
the mind here described, exist then in different forms and degrees, from
the simple idea, to the highest energy of passion: and the terms, thought,
sentiment, emotion, feeling, and passion, are but the verbal signs of these
degrees and forms. Nor does there appear to be any line of classification,
for separating thought from passion: since simple thoughts, without
changing their nature, do, from interest or incitement, often assume the
colour of passion."--_Philosophy of the Human Voice_, p. 328.

4. Lord Kames, in the Appendix to his Elements of Criticism, divides _the
senses_ into external and internal, defining _perception_ to be the act by
which through the former we know outward objects, and _consciousness_ the
act by which through the latter we know what is within the mind. An _idea_,
according to his definition, (which he says is precise and accurate,) is,
"That _perception_ of a real object which _is raised_ in the mind by the
power of _memory_." But among the real objects from which memory may raise
ideas, he includes the workings of the mind itself, or whatever we remember
of our former passions, emotions, thoughts, or designs. Such a definition,
he imagines, might have saved Locke, Berkley, and their followers, from
much vain speculation; for with the ideal systems of these philosophers, or
with those of Aristotle and Des Cartes, he by no means coincides. This
author says, "As ideas are the chief materials employed in reasoning and
reflecting, it is of consequence that their nature and differences be
understood. It appears now that ideas may be distinguished into three
kinds: first, Ideas derived from original perceptions, properly termed
_ideas of memory_; second, Ideas communicated _by language_ or other signs;
and third, Ideas _of imagination_. These ideas differ from each other in
many respects; but chiefly in respect to their _proceeding from different
causes_. The first kind is derived from real existences that have been
objects of our senses; _language is the cause of the second_, or any other
sign that has the same power with language; and a man's imagination is to
himself the cause of the third. It is scarce [ly] necessary to add, that an
idea, originally of imagination, being conveyed to others by language or
any other vehicle, becomes in their mind an idea of the second kind; and
again, that an idea of this kind, being afterwards recalled to the mind,
becomes in that circumstance an idea of memory."--_El. of Crit._, Vol. ii,
p. 384.

5. Whether, or how far, language is to the mind itself _the instrument of
thought_, is a question of great importance in the philosophy of both. Our
literature contains occasional assertions bearing upon this point, but I
know of no full or able discussion of it.[30] Cardell's instructions
proceed upon the supposition, that neither the reason of men, nor even that
of superior intelligences, can ever operate independently of words.
"Speech," says he, "is to the mind what action is to animal bodies. Its
improvement is the improvement of our intellectual nature, and a duty to
God who gave it."--_Essay on Language_, p. 3. Again: "An attentive
investigation will show, that there is no way in which the individual mind
can, within itself, to any extent, _combine its ideas_, but by the
intervention of words. Every process of the reasoning powers, beyond the
immediate perception of sensible objects, depends on the structure of
speech; and, in a great degree, according to the excellence of this _chief
instrument of all mental operations_, will be the means of personal
improvement, of the social transmission of thought, and the elevation of
national character. From this, it may be laid down as a broad principle,
that no individual can make great advances in intellectual improvement,
beyond the bounds of a ready-formed language, as the necessary means of his
progress."--_Ib._, p. 9. These positions might easily be offset by contrary
speculations of minds of equal rank; but I submit them to the reader, with
the single suggestion, that the author is not remarkable for that sobriety
of judgement which gives weight to opinions.

6. We have seen, among the citations in a former chapter, that Sanctius
says, "Names are the signs, and as it were _the instruments, of things_."
But what he meant by "_instrumenta rerum_" is not very apparent. Dr. Adam
says, "The principles of grammar may be traced from the progress of the
mind in the acquisition of language. Children first express their feelings
by motions and gestures of the body, by cries and tears. _This is_[31] the
language of nature, and therefore universal. _It fitly represents_[32] the
quickness of sentiment and thought, which are as instantaneous as the
impression of light on the eye. Hence we always express our stronger
feelings by these natural signs. But when we want to make known to others
the particular conceptions of the mind, we must represent them by parts, we
must divide and analyze them. We express _each part by certain signs_,[33]
and join these together, according to the order of their relations. Thus
words are _both the instrument and signs[34] the division_ of
thought."--_Preface to Latin Gram._

7. The utterance of words, or the making of signs of any sort, requires
time;[35] but it is here suggested by Dr. Adam, that sentiment and thought,
though susceptible of being retained or recalled, naturally flash upon the
mind with immeasurable quickness.[36] If so, they must originate in
something more spiritual than language. The Doctor does not affirm that
words are the instruments of thought, but of _the division_ of thought. But
it is manifest, that if they effect this, they are not the only instruments
by means of which the same thing may be done. The deaf and dumb, though
uninstructed and utterly ignorant of language, can think; and can, by rude
signs of their own inventing, manifest a similar division, corresponding to
the individuality of things. And what else can be meant by "_the division
of thought_," than our notion of objects, as existing severally, or as
being distinguishable into parts? There can, I think, be no such division
respecting that which is perfectly pure and indivisible in its essence;
and, I would ask, is not simple continuity apt to exclude it from our
conception of every thing which appears with uniform coherence? Dr. Beattie
says, "It appears to me, that, as all things are individuals, all thoughts
must be so too."--_Moral Science_, Chap, i, Sec. 1. If, then, our thoughts
are thus divided, and consequently, as this author infers, have not in
themselves any of that generality which belongs to the signification of
common nouns, there is little need of any instrument to divide them
further: the mind rather needs help, as Cardell suggests, "to combine its
ideas." [37]

8. So far as language is a work of art, and not a thing conferred or
imposed upon us by nature, there surely can be in it neither division nor
union that was not first in the intellect for the manifestation of which it
was formed. First, with respect to generalization. "The human mind," says
Harris, "by an energy as spontaneous and familiar to its nature, as the
seeing of colour is familiar to the eye, discerns at once what in many is
one, what in things dissimilar and different is similar and the
same."--_Hermes_, p. 362. Secondly, with respect to division. Mechanical
separations are limited: "But the mind surmounts all power of concretion;
and can place in the simplest manner every attribute by itself; convex
without concave; colour without superficies; superficies without body; and
body without its accidents: as distinctly each one, as though they had
never been united. And thus it is, that it penetrates into the recesses of
all things, not only dividing them as wholes, into their more conspicuous
parts, but persisting till it even separate those elementary principles
which, being blended together after a more mysterious manner, are united in
the minutest part as much as in the mightiest whole."--_Harris's Hermes_,
p. 307.

9. It is remarkable that this philosopher, who had so sublime conceptions
of the powers of the human mind, and who has displayed such extraordinary
acuteness in his investigations, has represented the formation of words, or
the utterance of language, as equalling in speed the progress of our very
thoughts; while, as we have seen, an other author, of great name, avers,
that thought is "as instantaneous as the impression of light on the eye."
Philosophy here too evidently nods. In showing the advantage of words, as
compared with pictures, Harris says, "If we consider the ease and speed
with which words are formed,-an ease which knows no trouble or fatigue, and
a _speed which equals the progress of our very thoughts_,[38]--we may
plainly perceive an answer to the question here proposed, Why, in the
common intercourse of men with men, imitations have been rejected, and
symbols preferred."--_Hermes_, p. 336. Let us hear a third man, of equal
note: "Words have been called _winged_; and they well deserve that name,
when their abbreviations are compared with the progress which speech could
make without these inventions; but, compared with the rapidity of thought,
they have not _the smallest claim to that title_. Philosophers have
calculated the difference of velocity between sound and light; but who will
attempt to calculate the difference between speech and thought!"--_Horne
Tooke's Epea Pteroenta_, Vol. i, p. 23.

10. It is certain, that, in the admirable economy of the creation, natures
subordinate are made, in a wonderful manner, subservient to the operations
of the higher; and that, accordingly, our first ideas are such as are
conceived of things external and sensible. Hence all men whose intellect
appeals only to external sense, are prone to a philosophy which reverses
the order of things pertaining to the mind, and tends to materialism, if
not to atheism. "But"--to refer again to Harris--"the intellectual scheme
which never forgets Deity, postpones every thing corporeal to the primary
mental Cause. It is here it looks for the origin of intelligible ideas,
even of those which exist in human capacities. For though sensible objects
may be the destined medium to awaken the dormant energies of man's
understanding, yet are those energies themselves no more contained, in
sense, than the explosion of a cannon, in the spark which gave it fire. In
short, all minds that are, are similar and congenial; and so too are their
ideas, or intelligible forms. Were it otherwise, there could be no
intercourse between man and man, or (what is more important) between man
and God."--_Hermes_, p. 393.

11. A doctrine somewhat like this, is found in the Meditations of the
emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, though apparently repugnant to the
polytheism commonly admitted by the Stoics, to whom he belonged: "The
world, take it all together, is but one; there is but one sort of matter to
make it of, one God to govern it, and one law to guide it. For, run through
the whole system of rational beings, and you will find reason and truth but
single and the same. And thus beings of the same kind, and endued with the
same reason, are made happy by the same exercises of it."--Book vii, Sec.
9. Again: "Let your soul receive the Deity as your blood does the air; for
the influences of the one are no less vital, than those of the other. This
correspondence is very practicable: for there is an ambient omnipresent
Spirit, which lies as open and pervious to your mind, as the air you
breathe does to your lungs: but then you must remember to be disposed to
draw it."--Book viii, Sec. 54; _Collier's Translation_.

12. Agreeably to these views, except that he makes a distinction between a
natural and a supernatural idea of God, we find Barclay, the early defender
of the Quakers, in an argument with a certain Dutch nobleman,
philosophizing thus: "If the Scripture then be true, there is in men a
supernatural idea of God, which altogether differs from this natural
idea--I say, in all men; because all men are capable of salvation, and
consequently of enjoying this divine vision. Now this capacity consisteth
herein, that they have such a supernatural idea in themselves.[39] For if
there were no such idea in them, it were impossible they should so know
God; for whatsoever is clearly and distinctly known, is known by its proper
idea; neither can it otherwise be clearly and distinctly known. _For the
ideas of all things are divinely planted in our souls_; for, as the better
philosophy teacheth, they are not begotten in us by outward objects or
outward causes, but only are by these outward things excited or stirred up.
And this is true, not only in supernatural ideas of God and things divine,
and in natural ideas of the natural principles of human understanding, and
conclusions thence deduced by the strength of human reason; but even in the
ideas of outward objects, which are perceived by the outward senses: as
that noble Christian philosopher Boethius hath well observed; to which also
the Cartesian philosophy agreeth." I quote only to show the concurrence of
others, with Harris's position. Barclay carries on his argument with much
more of a similar import. See _Sewell's History_, folio, p. 620.

13. But the doctrine of ideas existing primarily in God, and being divinely
planted in our souls, did not originate with Boethius: it may be traced
back a thousand years from his time, through the philosophy of Proclus,
Zeno, Aristotle,[40] Plato, Socrates, Parmenides, and Pythagoras. It is
absurd to suppose any production or effect to be more excellent than its
cause. That which really produces motion, cannot itself be inert; and that
which actually causes the human mind to think and reason, cannot itself be
devoid of intelligence. "For knowledge can alone produce knowledge." [41] A
doctrine apparently at variance with this, has recently been taught, with
great confidence, among the professed discoveries of _Phrenology_. How much
truth there may be in this new "_science_," as it is called, I am not
prepared to say; but, as sometimes held forth, it seems to me not only to
clash with some of the most important principles of mental philosophy, but
to make the power of thought the result of that which is in itself inert
and unthinking. Assuming that the primitive faculties of the human
understanding have not been known in earlier times, it professes to have
discovered, in the physical organization of the brain, their proper source,
or essential condition, and the true index to their measure, number, and
distribution. In short, the leading phrenologists, by acknowledging no
spiritual substance, virtually deny that ancient doctrine, "It is not in
flesh to think, or bones to reason," [42] and make the mind either a
material substance, or a mere mode without substantial being.

14. "The
doctrine of _immaterial substances_," says Dr. Spurzheim, "is not
sufficiently amenable to the test of observation; it is founded on belief,
and only supported by hypothesis."--_Phrenology_, Vol. i, p. 20. But it
should be remembered, that our notion of material substance, is just as
much a matter of hypothesis. All accidents, whether they be qualities or
actions, we necessarily suppose to have some support; and this we call
_substance_, deriving the term from the Latin, or _hypostasis_, if we
choose to borrow from the Greek. But what this substance, or hypostasis,
is, independently of its qualities or actions, we know not. This is clearly
proved by Locke. What do we mean by _matter_? and what by _mind_? _Matter_
is that which is solid, extended, divisible, movable, and occupies space.
_Mind_ is that which thinks, and wills, and reasons, and remembers, and
worships. Here are qualities in the one case; operations in the other. Here
are two definitions as totally distinct as any two can be; and he that sees
not in them a difference of _substance_, sees it nowhere: to him all
natures are one; and that one, an absurd supposition.

15. In favour of what is urged by the phrenologists, it may perhaps be
admitted, as a natural law, that, "If a picture of a visible object be
formed upon the retina, and the impression be communicated, by the nerves,
to the brain, the _result_ will be an act of perception."--_Wayland's Moral
Science_, p. 4. But it does not follow, nor did the writer of this sentence
believe, that perception is a mere act or attribute of the organized matter
of the brain. A material object can only occasion in our sensible organs a
corporeal motion, which has not in it the nature of thought or perception;
and upon what principle of causation, shall a man believe, in respect to
vision, that the thing which he sees, is more properly the cause of the
idea conceived of it, than is the light by which he beholds it, or the mind
in which that idea is formed? Lord Kames avers, that, "Colour, which
appears to the eye as spread upon a substance, has no existence but in the
mind of the spectator."--_Elements of Criticism_, i, 178. And Cicero placed
the perception, not only of colour, but of taste, of sound, of smell, and
of touch, in the mind, rather than in the senses. "Illud est album, hoc
dulce, canorum illud, hoc bene olens, hoc asperum: animo jam haec tenemus
comprehensa, non sensibus."--_Ciceronis Acad._ Lib. ii, 7. Dr. Beattie,
however, says: "Colours inhere not in the coloured body, but in the light
that falls upon it; * * * and the word _colour_ denotes, an external thing,
and never a sensation of the mind."--_Moral Science_, i, 54. Here is some
difference of opinion; but however the thing may be, it does not affect my
argument; which is, that to perceive or think is an act or attribute of our
immaterial substance or nature, and not to be supposed the effect either of
the objects perceived or of our own corporeal organization.

16. Divine wisdom has established the senses as the avenues through which
our minds shall receive notices of the forms and qualities of external
things; but the sublime conception of the ancients, that these forms and
qualities had an abstract preexistence in the divine mind, is a common
doctrine of many English authors, as Milton, Cowper, Akenside, and others.
For example: "Now if _Ens primum_ be the cause of _entia a primo_, then he
hath the idea of them in him: for he made them by counsel, and not by
necessity; for then he should have needed them, and they have a parhelion
of that wisdom that is in his Idea."--_Richardson's Logic_, p. 16: Lond.

"Then the Great Spirit, whom his works adore,
Within his own deep essence view'd the forms,
The forms eternal of created things."--AKENSIDE.
_Pleasures of the Imagination_, Book i.

"And in the school of sacred wisdom taught,
To read his wonders, in whose thought the world,
Fair as it is, existed ere it was."--COWPER.
_Task: Winter Morning Walk_, p. 150.

"Thence to behold this new-created world,
The addition of his empire, how it show'd
In prospect from his throne, how good, how fair,
Answering his great idea."--MILTON.
_Paradise Lost_, Book vii, line 554.

"Thought shines from God as shines the morn;
Language from kindling thought is born."
ANON.: _a Poem in imitation of Coleridge_.

17. "Original Truth," [43] says Harris, "having the most intimate
connection with the _Supreme Intelligence_, may be said (as it were) to
shine with unchangeable splendor, enlightening throughout the universe
every possible subject, by nature susceptible of its benign influence.
Passions and other obstacles may prevent indeed its efficacy, as clouds and
vapours may obscure the sun; but itself neither admits diminution, nor
change, because the darkness respects only particular percipients. Among
_these_ therefore we must look for ignorance and error, and for that
_subordination of intelligence_ which is their natural consequence. Partial
views, the imperfections of sense; inattention, idleness, the turbulence of
passions; education, local sentiments, opinions, and belief; conspire in
many instances to furnish us with ideas, some too partial, and (what is
worse than all this) with many that are erroneous, and contrary to truth.
These it behoves us to correct as far as possible, by cool suspense and
candid examination. Thus by a connection perhaps little expected, the cause
of _Letters_, and that of _Virtue_, appear to coincide; it being the
business of both, to examine our ideas, and to amend them by the standard
of nature and of truth."--See _Hermes_, p. 406.

18. Although it seems plain from our own consciousness, that the mind is an
active self-moving principle or essence, yet capable of being moved, after
its own manner, by other causes outward as well as inward; and although it
must be obvious to reflection, that all its ideas, perceptions, and
emotions, are, with respect to itself, of a spiritual nature--bearing such
a relation to the spiritual substance in which alone they appear, as bodily
motion is seen to bear to material substances; yet we know, from experience
and observation, that they who are acquainted with words, are apt to think
in words--that is, mentally to associate their internal conceptions with
the verbal signs which they have learned to use. And though I do not
conceive the position to be generally true, that words are to the mind
itself the necessary instruments of thought, yet, in my apprehension, it
cannot well be denied, that in some of its operations and intellectual
reaches, the mind is greatly assisted by its own contrivances with respect
to language. I refer not now to the communication of knowledge; for, of
this, language is admitted to be properly the instrument. But there seem to
be some processes of thought, or calculation, in which the mind, by a
wonderful artifice in the combination of terms, contrives to prevent
embarrassment, and help itself forward in its conceptions, when the objects
before it are in themselves perhaps infinite in number or variety.

19. We have an instance of this in numeration. No idea is more obvious or
simple than that of unity, or one. By the continual addition of this, first
to itself to make two, and then to each higher combination successively, we
form a series of different numbers, which may go on to infinity. In the
consideration of these, the mind would not be able to go tar without the
help of words, and those peculiarly fitted to the purpose. The
understanding would lose itself in the multiplicity, were it not aided by
that curious concatenation of names, which has been contrived for the
several parts of the succession. As far as _twelve_ we make use of simple
unrelated terms. Thenceforward we apply derivatives and compounds, formed
from these in their regular order, till we arrive at a _hundred_. This one
new word, _hundred_, introduced to prevent confusion, has nine hundred and
ninety-nine distinct repetitions in connexion with the preceding terms, and
thus brings us to a _thousand_. Here the computation begins anew, runs
through all the former combinations, and then extends forward, till the
word _thousand_ has been used nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand times;
and then, for ten hundred thousand, we introduce the new word _million_.
With this name we begin again as before, and proceed till we have used it a
million of times, each combination denoting a number clearly distinguished
from every other; and then, in like manner, we begin and proceed, with
_billions, trillions, quadrillions, quintillions, etc._, to any extent we

20. Now can any one suppose that words are not here, in some true sense,
the instruments of thought, or of the intellectual process thus carried on?
Were all these different numbers to be distinguished directly by the mind
itself, and denominated by terms destitute of this artificial connexion, it
may well be doubted whether the greatest genius in the world would ever be
able to do what any child may now effect by this orderly arrangement of
words; that is, to distinguish exactly the several stages of this long
progression, and see at a glance how far it is from the beginning of the
series. "The great art of knowledge," says Duncan, "lies in managing with
skill the capacity of the intellect, and contriving such helps, as, if they
strengthen not its natural powers, may yet expose them to no unnecessary
fatigue. When ideas become very complex, and by the multiplicity of their
parts grow too unwieldy to be dealt with in the lump, we must ease the view
of the mind by taking them to pieces, and setting before it the several
portions separately, one after an other. By this leisurely survey we are
enabled to take in the whole; and if we can draw it into such an orderly
combination as will naturally lead the attention, step by step, in any
succeeding consideration of the same idea, we shall have it ever at
command, and with a single glance of thought be able to run over all its
parts."--_Duncan's Logic_, p. 37, Hence we may infer the great importance
of method in grammar; the particulars of which, as Quintilian says, are

21. Words are in themselves but audible or visible signs, mere arbitrary
symbols, used, according to common practice and consent, as significant of
our ideas or thoughts.[45] But so well are they fitted to be made at will
the medium of mental conference, that nothing else can be conceived to
equal them for this purpose. Yet it does not follow that they who have the
greatest knowledge and command of words, have all they could desire in this
respect. For language is in its own nature but an imperfect instrument, and
even when tuned with the greatest skill, will often be found inadequate to
convey the impression with which the mind may labour. Cicero, that great
master of eloquence, frequently confessed, or declared, that words failed
him. This, however, may be thought to have been uttered as a mere figure of
speech; and some may say, that the imperfection I speak of, is but an
incident of the common weakness or ignorance of human nature; and that if a
man always knew what to say to an other in order to persuade or confute, to
encourage or terrify him, he would always succeed, and no insufficiency of
this kind would ever be felt or imagined. This also is plausible; but is
the imperfection less, for being sometimes traceable to an ulterior source?
Or is it certain that human languages used by perfect wisdom, would all be
perfectly competent to their common purpose? And if some would be found
less so than others, may there not be an insufficiency in the very nature
of them all?

22. If there is imperfection in any instrument, there is so much the more
need of care and skill in the use of it. Duncan, in concluding his chapter
about words as signs of our ideas, says, "It is apparent, that we are
sufficiently provided with the means' of communicating our thoughts one to
another; and that the mistakes so frequently complained of on this head,
are wholly owing to ourselves, in not sufficiently defining the terms we
use; or perhaps not connecting them with clear and determinate
ideas."--_Logic_, p. 69. On the other hand, we find that some of the best
and wisest of men confess the inadequacy of language, while they also
deplore its misuse. But, whatever may be its inherent defects, or its
culpable abuses, it is still to be honoured as almost the only medium for
the communication of thought and the diffusion of knowledge. Bishop Butler
remarks, in his Analogy of Religion, (a most valuable work, though
defective in style,) "So likewise the imperfections attending the only
method by which nature enables and directs us to communicate our thoughts
to each other, are innumerable. Language is, in its very nature,
inadequate, ambiguous, liable to infinite abuse, even from negligence; and
so liable to it from design, that every man can deceive and betray by
it."--Part ii, Chap. 3. Lord Kames, too, seconds this complaint, at least
in part: "Lamentable is the imperfection of language, almost in every
particular that falls not under external sense. I am talking of a matter
exceedingly clear in the perception, and yet I find no small difficulty to
express it clearly in words."--_Elements of Criticism_, Vol. i, p. 86. "All
writers," says Sheridan, "seem to be under the influence of one common
delusion, that by the help of words alone, they can communicate all that
passes in their minds."--_Lectures on Elocution_, p. xi.

23. Addison also, in apologizing for Milton's frequent use of old words and
foreign idioms, says, "I may further add, that Milton's sentiments and
ideas were so wonderfully sublime, that it would have been impossible for
him to have represented them in their full strength and beauty, without
having recourse to these foreign assistances. _Our language sunk under
him_, and was unequal to that greatness of soul which furnished him with
such glorious conceptions."--_Spectator_, No. 297. This, however, Dr.
Johnson seems to regard as a mere compliment to genius; for of Milton he
says, "The truth is, that both in prose and verse, he had formed his style
by a perverse and pedantick principle." But the grandeur of his thoughts is
not denied by the critic; nor is his language censured without
qualification. "Whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the
praise of copiousness and variety: he was master of his language in its
full extent; and has selected the melodious words with such diligence, that
from his book alone the Art of English Poetry might be learned."--
_Johnson's Life of Milton_: _Lives_, p. 92. 24. As words abstractly
considered are empty and vain, being in their nature mere signs, or tokens,
which derive all their value from the ideas and feelings which they
suggest; it is evident that he who would either speak or write well, must
be furnished with something more than a knowledge of sounds and letters.
Words fitly spoken are indeed both precious and beautiful--"like apples of
gold in pictures of silver." But it is not for him whose soul is dark,
whose designs are selfish, whose affections are dead, or whose thoughts are
vain, to say with the son of Amram, "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my
speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender herb, and
as the showers upon the grass."--_Deut._, xxxii, 2. It is not for him to
exhibit the true excellency of speech, because he cannot feel its power. It
is not for him, whatever be the theme, to convince the judgement with
deductions of reason, to fire the imagination with glowing imagery, or win
with graceful words the willing ear of taste. His wisdom shall be silence,
when men are present; for the soul of manly language, is the soul that
thinks and feels as best becomes a man.



"Non mediocres enim tenebrae in sylva, ubi haec captanda: neque eon, quo
pervenire volumus semitae tritae: neque non in tramitibus quaedam objecta, quae
euntem retinere possent."--VARRO. _De Lingua Latina_, Lib. iv, p. 4.

1. In order that we may set a just value upon the literary labours of those
who, in former times, gave particular attention to the culture of the
English language, and that we may the better judge of the credibility of
modern pretensions to further improvements, it seems necessary that we
should know something of the course of events through which its
acknowledged melioration in earlier days took place. For, in this case, the
extent of a man's knowledge is the strength of his argument. As Bacon
quotes Aristotle, "Qui respiciunt ad pauca, de facili pronunciant." He that
takes a narrow view, easily makes up his mind. But what is any opinion
worth, if further knowledge of facts can confute it?

2. Whatsoever is successively varied, or has such a manner of existence as
time can affect, must have had both an origin and a progress; and may have
also its particular _history_, if the opportunity for writing it be not
neglected. But such is the levity of mankind, that things of great moment
are often left without memorial, while the hand of Literature is busy to
beguile the world with trifles or with fictions, with fancies or with lies.
The rude and cursory languages of barbarous nations, till the genius of
Grammar arise to their rescue, are among those transitory things which
unsparing time is ever hurrying away, irrecoverably, to oblivion. Tradition
knows not what they were; for of their changes she takes no account.
Philosophy tells us, they are resolved into the variable, fleeting breath
of the successive generations of those by whom they were spoken; whose
kindred fate it was, to pass away unnoticed and nameless, lost in the
elements from which they sprung.

3. Upon the history of the English language, darkness thickens as we tread
back the course of time. The subject of our inquiry becomes, at every step,
more difficult and less worthy. We have now a tract of English literature,
both extensive and luminous; and though many modern writers, and no few
even of our writers on grammar, are comparatively very deficient in style,
it is safe to affirm that the English language in general has never been
written or spoken with more propriety and elegance, than it is at the
present day. Modern English we read with facility; and that which was good
two centuries ago, though considerably antiquated, is still easily
understood. The best way, therefore, to gain a practical knowledge of the
changes which our language has undergone, is, to read some of our older
authors in retrograde order, till the style employed at times more and more
remote, becomes in some degree familiar. Pursued in this manner, the study
will be less difficult, and the labour of the curious inquirer, which may
be suspended or resumed at pleasure, will be better repaid, than if he
proceed in the order of history, and attempt at first the Saxon remains.

4. The value of a language as an object of study, depends chiefly on the
character of the _books_ which it contains; and, secondarily, on its
connexion with others more worthy to be thoroughly known. In this instance,
there are several circumstances which are calculated soon to discourage
research. As our language took its rise during the barbarism of the dark
ages, the books through which its early history must be traced, are not
only few and meagre, but, in respect to grammar, unsettled and diverse. It
is not to be expected that inquiries of this kind will ever engage the
attention of any very considerable number of persons. Over the minds of the
reading public, the attractions of novelty hold a much greater influence,
than any thing that is to be discovered in the dusk of antiquity. All old
books contain a greater or less number of obsolete words, and antiquated
modes of expression, which puzzle the reader, and call him too frequently
to his glossary. And even the most common terms, when they appear in their
ancient, unsettled orthography, are often so disguised as not to be readily

5. These circumstances (the last of which should be a caution to us against
innovations in spelling) retard the progress of the reader, impose a labour
too great for the ardour of his curiosity, and soon dispose him to rest
satisfied with an ignorance, which, being general, is not likely to expose
him to censure. For these reasons, ancient authors are little read; and the
real antiquary is considered a man of odd habits, who, by a singular
propensity, is led into studies both unfashionable and fruitless--a man who
ought to have been born in the days of old, that he might have spoken the
language he is so curious to know, and have appeared in the costume of an
age better suited to his taste.

6. But _Learning_ is ever curious to explore the records of time, as well
as the regions of space; and wherever her institutions flourish, she will
amass her treasures, and spread them before her votaries. Difference of
languages she easily overcomes; but the leaden reign of unlettered
Ignorance defies her scrutiny. Hence, of one period of the world's history,
she ever speaks with horror--that "long night of apostasy," during which,
like a lone Sibyl, she hid her precious relics in solitary cells, and
fleeing from degraded Christendom, sought refuge with the eastern caliphs.
"This awful decline of true religion in the world carried with it almost
every vestige of civil liberty, of classical literature, and of scientific
knowledge; and it will generally be found in experience that they must all
stand or fall together."--_Hints on Toleration_, p. 263. In the tenth
century, beyond which we find nothing that bears much resemblance to the
English language as now written, this mental darkness appears to have
gathered to its deepest obscuration; and, at that period, England was sunk
as low in ignorance, superstition, and depravity, as any other part of

7. The English language gradually varies as we trace it back, and becomes
at length identified with the Anglo-Saxon; that is, with the dialect spoken
by the Saxons after their settlement in England. These Saxons were a
fierce, warlike, unlettered people from Germany; whom the ancient Britons
had invited to their assistance against the Picts and Scots. Cruel and
ignorant, like their Gothic kindred, who had but lately overrun the Roman
empire, they came, not for the good of others, but to accommodate
themselves. They accordingly seized the country; destroyed or enslaved the
ancient inhabitants; or, more probably, drove the remnant of them into the
mountains of Wales. Of Welsh or ancient British words, Charles Bucke, who
says in his grammar that he took great pains to be accurate in his scale of
derivation, enumerates but one hundred and eleven, as now found in our
language; and Dr. Johnson, who makes them but ninety-five, argues from
their paucity, or almost total absence, that the Saxons could not have
mingled at all with these people, or even have retained them in vassalage.

8. The ancient languages of France and of the British isles are said to
have proceeded from an other language yet more ancient, called the
_Celtic_; so that, from one common source, are supposed to have sprung the
present Welsh, the present Irish, and the present Highland Scotch.[46] The
term _Celtic_ Dr. Webster defines, as a noun, "The language of the Celts;"
and, as an adjective, "Pertaining to the primitive inhabitants of the south
and west of Europe, or to the early inhabitants of Italy, Gaul, Spain, and
Britain." What _unity_, according to this, there was, or could have been,
in the ancient Celtic tongue, does not appear from books, nor is it easy to
be conjectured.[47] Many ancient writers sustain this broad application of
the term _Celtae_ or _Celts_; which, according to Strabo's etymology of it,
means horsemen, and seems to have been almost as general as our word
_Indians_. But Caesar informs us that the name was more particularly claimed
by the people who, in his day, lived in France between the Seine and the
Garonne, and who by the Romans were called _Galli_, or _Gauls_.

9. The _Celtic_ tribes are said to have been the descendants of Gomer, the
son of Japhet. The English historians agree that the first inhabitants of
their island owed their origin and their language to the _Celtae_, or Gauls,
who settled on the opposite shore. Julius Caesar, who invaded Britain about
half a century before the Christian era, found the inhabitants ignorant of
letters, and destitute of any history but oral tradition. To this, however,
they paid great attention, teaching every thing in verse. Some of the
Druids, it is said in Caesar's Commentaries, spent twenty years in learning
to repeat songs and hymns that were never committed to writing. These
ancient priests, or diviners, are represented as having great power, and as
exercising it in some respects beneficially; but their horrid rites, with
human sacrifices, provoked the Romans to destroy them. Smollett says,
"Tiberius suppressed those human sacrifices in Gaul; and Claudius destroyed
the Druids of that country; but they subsisted in Britain till the reign of
Nero, when Paulus Suetonius reduced the island of Anglesey, which was the
place of their retreat, and overwhelmed them with such unexpected and
sudden destruction, that all their knowledge and tradition, conveyed to
them in the songs of their predecessors, perished at once."--_Smollett's
Hist. of Eng._, 4to, B. i, Ch. i, Sec.7.

10. The Romans considered Britain a province of their empire, for a period
of about five hundred years; but the northern part of the island was never
entirely subdued by them, and not till Anno Domini 78, a hundred and
thirty-three years after their first invasion of the country, had they
completed their conquest of England. Letters and arts, so far at least as
these are necessary to the purposes of war or government, the victors
carried with them; and under their auspices some knowledge of Christianity
was, at a very early period, introduced into Britain. But it seems strange,
that after all that is related of their conquests, settlements, cities,
fortifications, buildings, seminaries, churches, laws, &c., they should at
last have left the Britons in so helpless, degraded, and forlorn a
condition. They _did not sow among them the seeds_ of any permanent

11. The Roman government, being unable to sustain itself at home, withdrew
its forces finally from Britain in the year 446, leaving the wretched
inhabitants almost as savage as it found them, and in a situation even less
desirable. Deprived of their native resources, their ancient independence
of spirit, as well as of the laws, customs, institutions, and leaders, that
had kept them together under their old dynasties, and now deserted by their
foreign protectors, they were apparently left at the mercy of blind
fortune, the wretched vicissitudes of which there was none to foresee, none
to resist. The glory of the Romans now passed away. The mighty fabric of
their own proud empire crumbled into ruins. Civil liberty gave place to
barbarism; Christian truth, to papal superstition; and the lights of
science were put out by both. The shades of night gathered over all;
settling and condensing, "till almost every point of that wide horizon,
over which the Sun of Righteousness had diffused his cheering rays, was
enveloped in a darkness more awful and more portentous than that which of
old descended upon rebellious Pharaoh and the callous sons of Ham."--_Hints
on Toleration_, p. 310.

12. The Saxons entered Britain in the year 449. But what was the form of
their language at that time, cannot now be known. It was a dialect of the
_Gothic_ or _Teutonic_; which is considered the parent of all the northern
tongues of Europe, except some few of Sclavonian origin. The only remaining
monument of the Gothic language is a copy of the Gospels, translated by
Ulphilas; which is preserved at Upsal, and called, from its embellishments,
_the Silver Book_. This old work has been three times printed in England.
We possess not yet in America all the advantages which may be enjoyed by
literary men in the land of our ancestors; but the stores of literature,
both ancient and modern, are somewhat more familiar to us, than is there
supposed; and the art of printing is fast equalizing, to all nations that
cultivate learning, the privilege of drinking at its ancient fountains.

13. It is neither liberal nor just to argue unfavourably of the
intellectual or the moral condition of any remote age or country, merely
from our own ignorance of it. It is true, we can derive from no quarter a
favourable opinion of the state of England after the Saxon invasion, and
during the tumultuous and bloody government of the heptarchy. But I will
not darken the picture through design. If justice were done to the few
names--to Gildas the wise, the memorialist of his country's sufferings and
censor of the nation's depravity, who appears a solitary star in the night
of the sixth century--to the venerable Bede, the greatest theologian, best
scholar, and only historian of the seventh--to Alcuin, the abbot of
Canterbury, the luminary of the eighth--to Alfred the great, the glory of
the ninth, great as a prince, and greater as a scholar, seen in the evening
twilight of an age in which the clergy could not read;--if justice were
done to all such, we might find something, even in these dark and rugged
times, if not to soften the grimness of the portrait, at least to give
greater distinctness of feature.

14. In tracing the history of our language, Dr. Johnson, who does little
more than give examples, cites as his first specimen of ancient English, a
portion of king [sic--KTH] Alfred's paraphrase in imitation of Boethius.
But this language of Alfred's is not English; but rather, as the learned
doctor himself considered it, an example of the Anglo-Saxon in its highest
state of purity. This dialect was first changed by admixture with words
derived from the Danish and the Norman; and, still being comparatively rude
and meagre, afterwards received large accessions from the Latin, the
French, the Greek, the Dutch--till, by gradual changes, which the
etymologist may exhibit, there was at length produced a language bearing a
sufficient resemblance to the present English, to deserve to be called
English at this day.

15. The formation of our language cannot with
propriety be dated earlier than the thirteenth century. It was then that a
free and voluntary amalgamation of its chief constituent materials took
place; and this was somewhat earlier than we date the revival of learning.
The English of the thirteenth century is scarcely intelligible to the
modern reader. Dr. Johnson calls it "a kind of intermediate diction,
neither Saxon nor English;" and says, that Sir John Gower, who wrote in the
latter part of the fourteenth century, was "the first of our authors who
can be properly said to have written English." Contemporary with Gower, the
father of English poetry, was the still greater poet, his disciple Chaucer;
who embraced many of the tenets of Wickliffe, and imbibed something of the
spirit of the reformation, which was now begun.

16. The literary history of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is full
of interest; for it is delightful to trace the progress of great and
obvious improvement. The reformation of religion and the revival of
learning were nearly simultaneous. Yet individuals may have acted a
conspicuous part in the latter, who had little to do with the former; for
great learning does not necessarily imply great piety, though, as Dr.
Johnson observes, "the Christian religion always implies or produces a
certain degree of civility and learning."--_Hist. Eng. Lang. before his 4to
Dict._ "The ordinary instructions of the clergy, both philosophical and
religious, gradually fell into contempt, as the Classics superseded the
one, and the Holy Scriptures expelled the other. The first of these changes
was effected by _the early grammarians_ of Europe; and it gave considerable
aid to the reformation, though it had no immediate connexion with that
event. The revival of the English Bible, however, completed the work: and
though its appearance was late, and its progress was retarded in every
possible manner, yet its dispersion was at length equally rapid, extensive,
and effectual."--_Constable's Miscellany_, Vol. xx, p. 75.

17. Peculiar honour is due to those who lead the way in whatever advances
human happiness. And, surely, our just admiration of the character of the
_reformers_ must be not a little enhanced, when we consider what they did
for letters as well as for the church. Learning does not consist in useless
jargon, in a multitude of mere words, or in acute speculations remote from
practice; else the seventeen folios of St. Thomas Aquinas, the angelical
doctor of the thirteenth century, and the profound disputations of his
great rival, Duns Scotus the subtle, for which they were revered in their
own age, had not gained them the contempt of all posterity. From such
learning the lucid reasoning of the reformers delivered the halls of
instruction. The school divinity of the middle ages passed away before the
presence of that which these men learned from the Bible, as did in a later
age the Aristotelian philosophy before that which Bacon drew from nature.

18. Towards the latter part of the fourteenth century, Wickliffe furnished
the first entire translation of the Bible into English. In like manner did
the Germans, a hundred and fifty years after, receive it in their tongue
from the hands of Luther; who says, that at twenty years of age, he himself
had not seen it in any language. Wickliffe's English style is elegant for
the age in which he lived, yet very different from what is elegant now.
This first English translation of the Bible, being made about a hundred
years before the introduction of printing into England, could not have been
very extensively circulated. A large specimen of it may be seen in Dr.
Johnson's History of the English Language. Wickliffe died in 1384. The art
of printing was invented about 1440, and first introduced into England, in
1468; but the first printed edition of the Bible in English, was executed
in Germany. It was completed, October 5th, 1535.

19. "Martin Luther, about the year 1517, first introduced metrical psalmody
into the service of the church, which not only kept alive the enthusiasm of
the reformers, but formed a rallying point for his followers. This practice
spread in all directions; and it was not long ere six thousand persons were
heard singing together at St. Paul's Cross in London. Luther was a poet and
musician; but the same talent existed not in his followers. Thirty years
afterwards, Sternhold versified fifty-one of the Psalms; and in 1562, with
the help of Hopkins, he completed the Psalter. These poetical effusions
were chiefly sung to German melodies, which the good taste of Luther
supplied: but the Puritans, in a subsequent age, nearly destroyed these
germs of melody, assigning as a reason, that music should be so simplified
as to suit all persons, and that all may join."--_Dr. Gardiner's Music of
Nature_, p. 283.

20. "The schools and colleges of England in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries were not governed by a system of education which would render
their students very eminent either as scholars or as gentlemen: and the
monasteries, which were used as seminaries, even until the reformation,
taught only the corrupt Latin used by the ecclesiastics. The time however
was approaching, when the united efforts of Stanbridge, Linacre, Sir John
Cheke, Dean Colet, Erasmus, William Lily, Roger Ascham, &c., were
successful in reviving the Latin tongue in all its purity; and even in
exciting a taste for Greek in a nation the clergy of which opposed its
introduction with the same vehemence which characterized their enmity to a
reformation in religion. The very learned Erasmus, the first who undertook
the teaching of the Greek language at Oxford, met with few friends to
support him; notwithstanding Oxford was the seat of nearly all the learning
in England."--_Constable's Miscellany_, Vol. xx, p. 146.

21. "The priests preached against it, as a very recent invention of the
arch-enemy; and confounding in their misguided zeal, the very foundation of
their faith, with the object of their resentment, they represented the New
Testament itself as 'an impious and dangerous book,' because it was written
in that heretical language. Even after the accession of Henry VIII, when
Erasmus, who had quitted Oxford in disgust, returned under his especial
patronage, with the support of several eminent scholars and powerful
persons, his progress was still impeded, and the language opposed. The
University was divided into parties, called Greeks and Trojans, the latter
being the strongest, from being favoured by the monks; and the Greeks were
driven from the streets, with hisses and other expressions of contempt. It
was not therefore until Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey gave it their
positive and powerful protection, that this persecuted language was allowed
to be quietly studied, even in the institutions dedicated to
learning."--_Ib._, p. 147.

22. These curious extracts are adduced to show the _spirit of the times_,
and the obstacles then to be surmounted in the cause of learning. This
popular opposition to Greek, did not spring from a patriotic design to
prefer and encourage English literature; for the improvement of this was
still later, and the great promoters of it were all of them classical
scholars. They wrote in English, not because they preferred it, but because
none but those who were bred in colleges, could read any thing else; and,
even to this very day, the grammatical study of the English language is
shamefully neglected in what are called the higher institutions of
learning. In alleging this neglect, I speak comparatively. Every student,
on entering upon the practical business of life, will find it of far more
importance to him, to be skillful in the language of his own country than
to be distinguished for any knowledge which the learned only can
appreciate. "Will the greatest Mastership in Greek and Latin, or [the]
translating [of] these Languages into English, avail for the Purpose of
acquiring an elegant English Style? No--we know just the Reverse from
woeful Experience! And, as Mr. Locke and the Spectator observe, Men who
have threshed hard at Greek and Latin for ten or eleven years together, are
very often deficient in their own Language."--_Preface to the British
Gram._, 8vo, 1784, p. xxi.

23. That the progress of English literature in early times was slow, will
not seem wonderful to those who consider what is affirmed of the progress
of other arts, more immediately connected with the comforts of life. "Down
to the reign of Elizabeth, the greater part of the houses in considerable
towns, had no chimneys: the fire was kindled against the wall, and the
smoke found its way out as well as it could, by the roof, the door, or the
windows. The houses were mostly built of wattling, plastered over with
clay; and the beds were only straw pallets, with a log of wood for a
pillow. In this respect, even the king fared no better than his subjects;
for, in Henry the Eighth's time, we find directions, 'to examine every
night the straw of the king's bed, that no daggers might be concealed
therein.' A writer in 1577, speaking of the progress of luxury, mentions
three things especially, that were 'marvellously altered for the worse in
England;' the multitude of chimneys lately erected, the increase of
lodgings, and the exchange of treen platters into pewter, and wooden spoons
into silver and tin; and he complains bitterly that oak instead of willow
was employed in the building of houses."--REV. ROYAL ROBBINS: _Outlines of
History_, p. 377.

24. Shakspeare appeared in the reign of Elizabeth; outlived her thirteen
years; and died in 1616 aged 52. The English language in his hands did not
lack power or compass of expression. His writings are now more extensively
read, than any others of that age; nor has any very considerable part of
his phraseology yet become obsolete. But it ought to be known, that the
printers or editors of the editions which are now read, have taken
extensive liberty in modernizing his orthography, as well as that of other
old authors still popular. How far such liberty is justifiable, it is
difficult to say. Modern readers doubtless find a convenience in it. It is
very desirable that the orthography of our language should be made uniform,
and remain permanent. Great alterations cannot be suddenly introduced; and
there is, in stability, an advantage which will counterbalance that of a
slow approximation to regularity. Analogy may sometimes decide the form of
variable words, but the concurrent usage of the learned must ever be
respected, in this, as in every other part of grammar.

25. Among the earliest of the English grammarians, was Ben Jonson, the
poet; who died in the year 1637, at the age of sixty-three. His grammar,
(which Horne Tooke mistakingly calls "the _first_ as well as the _best_
English grammar,") is still extant, being published in the several editions
of his works. It is a small treatise, and worthy of attention only as a
matter of curiosity. It is written in prose, and designed chiefly for the
aid of foreigners. Grammar is an unpoetical subject, and therefore not
wisely treated, as it once very generally was, in verse. But every poet
should be familiar with the art, because the formal principles of his own
have always been considered as embraced in it. To its poets, too, every
language must needs be particularly indebted; because their compositions,
being in general more highly finished than works in prose, are supposed to
present the language in its most agreeable form. In the preface to the
Poems of Edmund Waller, published in 1690, the editor ventures to say, "He
was, indeed, the Parent of English Verse, and the first that shewed us our
Tongue had Beauty and Numbers in it. Our Language owes more to Him, than
the French does to Cardinal Richelieu and the whole Academy. * * * * The
Tongue came into His hands a rough diamond: he polished it first; and to
_that_ degree, that all artists since him have admired the workmanship,
without pretending to mend it."--_British Poets_, Vol. ii, Lond., 1800:
_Waller's Poems_, p. 4.

26. Dr. Johnson, however, in his Lives of the Poets, abates this praise,
that he may transfer the greater part of it to Dryden and Pope. He admits
that, "After about half a century of forced thoughts and rugged metre, some
advances towards nature and harmony had been already made by Waller and
Denham;" but, in distributing the praise of this improvement, he adds, "It
may be doubted whether Waller and Denham could have over-born [_overborne_]
the prejudices which had long prevailed, and which even then were sheltered
by the protection of Cowley. The new versification, as it was called, may
be considered as owing its establishment to Dryden; from whose time it is
apparent that English poetry has had no tendency to relapse to its former
savageness."--_Johnson's Life of Dryden: Lives_, p. 206. To Pope, as the
translator of Homer, he gives this praise: "His version may be said to have
tuned the English tongue; for since its appearance no writer, however
deficient in other powers, has wanted melody."--_Life of Pope: Lives_, p.
567. Such was the opinion of Johnson; but there are other critics who
object to the versification of Pope, that it is "monotonous and cloying."
See, in Leigh Hunt's Feast of the Poets, the following couplet, and a note
upon it:

"But ever since Pope spoil'd the ears of the town
With his cuckoo-song verses half up and half down."

27. The unfortunate Charles I, as well as his father James I, was a lover
and promoter of letters. He was himself a good scholar, and wrote well in
English, for his time: he ascended the throne in 1625, and was beheaded in
1648. Nor was Cromwell himself, with all his religious and military
enthusiasm, wholly insensible to _literary_ merit. This century was
distinguished by the writings of Milton, Dryden, Waller, Cowley, Denham,
Locke, and others; and the reign of Charles II, which is embraced in it,
has been considered by some "the Augustan age of English literature." But
that honour, if it may well be bestowed on any, belongs rather to a later
period. The best works produced in the eighteenth century, are so generally
known and so highly esteemed, that it would be lavish of the narrow space
allowed to this introduction, to speak particularly of their merits. Some
grammatical errors may be found in almost all books; but our language was,
in general, written with great purity and propriety by Addison, Swift,
Pope, Johnson, Lowth, Hume, Horne, and many other celebrated authors who
flourished in the last century. Nor was it much before this period, that
the British writers took any great pains to be accurate in the use of their
own language;

"Late, very late, correctness grew our care,
When the tir'd nation breath'd from civil war."--_Pope_.

28. English books began to be printed in the early part of the sixteenth
century; and, as soon as a taste for reading was formed, the press threw
open the flood-gates of general knowledge, the streams of which are now
pouring forth, in a copious, increasing, but too often turbid tide, upon
all the civilized nations of the earth. This mighty engine afforded a means
by which superior minds could act more efficiently and more extensively
upon society in general. And thus, by the exertions of genius adorned with
learning, our native tongue has been made the polished vehicle of the most
interesting truths, and of the most important discoveries; and has become a
language copious, strong, refined, and capable of no inconsiderable degree
of harmony. Nay, it is esteemed by some who claim to be competent judges,
to be the strongest, the richest, the most elegant, and the most
susceptible of sublime imagery, of all the languages in the world.



"Quot enim verba, et nonnunquam in deterius, hoc, quo vivimus, saeculo,
partim aliqa, partim nulla necessitate cogente, mutata sunt?"--ROB.
AINSWORTH: _Lat. Dict., 4to_; Praef., p. xi.

1. In the use of language, every one chooses his words from that common
stock which he has learned, and applies them in practice according to his
own habits and notions. If the style of different writers of the same age
is various, much greater is the variety which appears in the productions of
different ages. Hence the date of a book may often be very plausibly
conjectured from the peculiarities of its style. As to what is best in
itself, or best adapted to the subject in hand, every writer must endeavour
to become his own judge. He who, in any sort of composition, would write
with a master's hand, must first apply himself to books with a scholar's
diligence. He must think it worth his while to inform himself, that he may
be critical. Desiring to give the student all the advantage, entertainment,
and satisfaction, that can be expected from a work of this kind, I shall
subjoin a few brief specimens in illustration of what has been said in the
foregoing chapter. The order of time will be followed _inversely_; and, as
Saxon characters are not very easily obtained, or very apt to be read, the
Roman letters will be employed for the few examples to which the others
would be more appropriate. But there are some peculiarities of ancient
usage in English, which, for the information of the young reader, it is
proper in the first place to explain.

2. With respect to the letters, there are _several changes_ to be
mentioned. (1.) The pages of old books are often crowded with capitals: it
was at one time the custom to distinguish all nouns, and frequently verbs,
or any other important words, by heading them with a great letter. (2.) The
letter Ess, of the lower case, had till lately two forms, the long and the
short, as [tall-s] and s; the former very nearly resembling the small f,
and the latter, its own capital. The short _s_ was used _at the end of
words_, and the long _[tall-s]_, in other places; but the latter is now
laid aside, in favour of the more distinctive form. (3.) The letters _I_
and _J_ were formerly considered as one and the same. Hence we find
_hallelujah_ for _halleluiah, Iohn_ for _John, iudgement_ for _judgement_,
&c. And in many dictionaries, the words beginning with _J_ are still mixed
with those which begin with _I_. (4.) The letters _U_ and _V_ were mixed in
like manner, and for the same reason; the latter being a consonant power
given to the former, and at length distinguished from it by a different
form. Or rather, the figure of the capital seems to have been at last
appropriated to the one, and that of the small letter to the other. But in
old books the forms of these two letters are continually confounded or
transposed. Hence it is, that our _Double-u_ is composed of two _Vees_;
which, as we see in old books, were sometimes printed separately: as, VV,
for W; or vv, for w.

3. The _orthography_ of our language, rude and unsettled as it still is in
many respects, was formerly much more variable and diverse. In books a
hundred years old or more, we often find the most common words spelled
variously by the same writer, and even upon the very same page. With
respect to the forms of words, a few particulars may here be noticed: (1.)
The article _an_, from which the _n_ was dropped before words beginning
with a consonant sound, is often found in old books where _a_ would be more
proper; as, _an heart, an help, an hill, an one, an use_. (2.) Till the
seventeenth century, the possessive case was written without the
apostrophe; being formed at different times, in _es, is, ys, or s_, like
the plural; and apparently without rule or uniformity in respect to the
doubling of the final consonant: as _Goddes, Godes, Godis, Godys_, or
_Gods_, for _God's_; so _mannes, mannis, mannys_ or _mans_, for _man's_.
Dr. Ash, whose English Grammar was in some repute in the latter part of the
eighteenth century, argued against the use of the apostrophe, alleging that
it was seldom used to distinguish the possessive case till about the
beginning of that century; and he then prophesied that the time would come,
when _correct writers would lay it aside again_, as a strange corruption,
an improper "departure from the original formation" of that case of English
nouns. And, among the speculations of these latter days, I have somewhere
seen an attempt to disparage this useful sign, and explode it, as an
unsightly thing _never well established_. It does not indeed, like a
syllabic sign, inform the ear or affect the sound; but still it is useful,
because it distinguishes to the eye, not only the _case_, but the _number_,
of the nouns thus marked. Pronouns, being different in their declension, do
not need it, and should therefore always be written without it.

4. The common usage of those who have spoken English, has always inclined
rather to brevity than to melody; contraction and elision of the ancient
terminations of words, constitute no small part of the change which has
taken place, or of the difference which perhaps always existed between the
solemn and the familiar style. In respect to euphony, however, these
terminations have certainly nothing to boast; nor does the earliest period
of the language appear to be that in which they were the most generally
used without contraction. That degree of smoothness of which the tongue was
anciently susceptible, had certainly no alliance with these additional
syllables. The long sonorous endings which constitute the declensions and
conjugations of the most admired languages, and which seem to chime so well
with the sublimity of the Greek, the majesty of the Latin, the sweetness of
the Italian, the dignity of the Spanish, or the polish of the French,
_never had_ any place in English. The inflections given to our words never
embraced any other vowel power than that of the short _e_ or _i_; and even,
this we are inclined to dispense with, whenever we can; so that most of our
grammatical inflections are, to the ear, nothing but consonants blended
with the final syllables of the words to which they are added. _Ing_ for
the first participle, _er_ for the comparative degree, and _est_ for the
superlative, are indeed added as whole syllables; but the rest, as _d_ or
_ed_ for preterits and perfect participles, _s_ or _es_ for the plural
number of nouns, or for the third person singular of verbs, and _st_ or

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