Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

convey any information concerning the particular animal whose approach was to be announced.

From these observations I am led to conclude, that as soon as verbs were introduced, they were used personally; excepting in those cases where a foundation is laid for the use of impersonal verbs in the nature of things:--and, in such cases, those verbs which were once impersonal always continue so, under every progressive improvement of the art of speech. In most instances, it may be observed, there is a natural foundation for a separation of the agent and the action ; because the same agent may act in an infinite variety of modes; or, in other words, the same substantive may be a nominative to an infinite variety of verbs. It is thus we say Petrus ambulat, Petrus sedet, Petrus dormit; these three verbs expressing three different states of the same person.

In some cases, however, we see an event where the agent and action, and, consequently, the nominative and verb, are inseparably blended or combined together; and where, accordingly, we are naturally led to express ourselves by means of an impersonal verb. Of such cases the following examples may serve as a specimen, if they indeed do not comprehend all the varieties that exist.

1st, When the agent and action are always seen in a state of combination, or, in other words, when the agent only exists in that mode of action which the verb expresses. This is the case with rain, snow, wind, where the action is implied in the substantive nouns, and where, on the other hand, the substantive is implied or involved in the corresponding verbs. We do not, therefore, here, as in the former cases, make use of a mode of speaking analogous to Petrus ambulat, Petrus sedet, but express the event in one word, pluit, flat, ningit.

2d, When we mean to express an effect, without any reference to its cause ; or to state a truth which is self-evident, or a fact which is universally admitted. Of this class are the following verbs,-tonat, turbatur, lucet, liquet, constat. In both of these cases, the origin of impersonal verbs may be easily deduced from the nature of the thing which the verb is employed to express.

With respect to a large proportion of impersonal verbs, it may be remarked, that although they agree with those now mentioned in their form, they get approach much nearer to personal verbs in the species of meaning they convey, and in the analogy of their construction. Such are the verbs pænitet, decet, oportet, which differ from other verbs only in this, that they have infinitives for nominatives; and hence the infinitive

is called by some grammarians the noun of the verb. Now, with respect to all verbs of this description, it is evident, that their origin cannot be explained upon Mr. Smith's principle, (to wit, the difficulty of making a metaphysical separation between the subject and the action,) for a separation perfectly analogous takes place between the idea expressed by the infinitive, and that expressed by the impersonal verb.

In deciding upon the order in which the different parts of the verb were invented, a great deal must undoubtedly be left to conjecture ; and of the various hypotheses that may be formed on the subject, there is perhaps none which, in point of probability, possesses such a decided advantage over the others, as to unite all suffrages in its favour. Mr. Smith thinks it natural to suppose, that verbs would first be made use of in the third person singular. To this opinion he was led by his position, which I formerly animadverted upon, that all verbs were originally impersonal ; and that they became personal by the division of the event into its metaphysical elements. In proof of this he observes, that, “ in the ancient languages, co whenever any verb is used impersonally, it is always in the - third person singular. The termination of those verbs, which " are still always impersonal, is constantly the same with that 66 of the third person singular of personal verbs. The considera“tion of these circumstances, joined to the naturalness of the 6 thing itself, may serve to convince us that verbs first became 66 personal in what is now called the third person singular.

For my own part, I am strongly inclined to agree with Leibnitz, the President de Brosses,f and Court de Gebelin, in thinking it probable, that the first of the tenses (or what grammarians call the root of the verb) was the imperative. The last of these writers, in particular, has supported this opinion by some considerations which appear so me equally ingenious and solid.* But on this very questionable point I must not enlarge.

[ocr errors]

* Theory of Moral Sentiments, Vol. II. p. 441.
+ Traité de la Formation Mécanique des Langues, 1765.

*“ Avant qu'on pût penser à l'avenir ou qu'on cherchất à se rapeller le passé, - il fallut pourvoir au moment présent : car comment se rapeller l'un ou rêver à

l'autre, tandis qu'on eût été agité du plus pressant besoin, celui de pourvoir au “ moment ? Le premier soin des hommes fut donc de réunir leurs efforts pour se

procurer ce qui leur étoit indispensible pour la vie ; tel dut donc être le but de « leurs premiers discours.

“ Les verbes commencerent donc par l'impératif, par ce tems qui dit de la mas nière la plus courte et la plus promte, ce qu'on doit faire : car dans les choses “ pressées et où il faut exécuter sur le champ, on ne sauroit chercher de longs « discours ; et ce n'est pas dans le besoin qu'on s'amuse à haranguer.

[ocr errors]

It is somewhat remarkable, that, in this review of the origin of the parts of speech, no notice is taken of conjunctions ; the metaphysical nature of which furnishes as curious a subject of discussion, as that of any of the others. Some eminent grammarians (in order probably to elude the difficulty of explaining them) deny them to be parts of speech, and insist that they are only the mortar which cements the other parts of speech together ; while others, in farther prosecution of the same idea, call them the nails and pegs of discourse. My own opinion is, that they were first explained in a satisfactory manner by Mr. Horne Tooke, in a letter addressed to Mr. Dunning in 1778 ;* the substance of which pamphlet he has since expanded into a large work, under the title of The Diversions of Purley.

The first conjunction to which Tooke turned his attention was the conjunction that, which he affirmed to be only a particular mode of using the article or pronoun of the same name, and consequently not to belong to a specifically different class of words. A few examples will sufficiently illustrate the scope of this theory.

Example.-" I wish you to believe that I would not wil“ fully hurt a fly.

Resolution. —- I would not wilfully hurt a fly, I wish you " to believe THAT” (assertion.)

Example.—“ Thieves rise by night, that they may cut "men's throats.”

Resolution.--" Thieves may cut men's throats, (for) THAT "(purpose) they rise by night.”

“ After the same manner may all sentences be resolved, " where the supposed conjunction THAT (or its equivalent) is "employed ; and by such resolution it will always be disco"vered to have merely the same force and signification, and “to be in fact nothing else but an article.

" And this is not the case in English alone, where that is " the only conjunction of the same signification which we em“ploy in this manner; but this same method of resolution "takes place in those languages also, which have different con"junctions for this same purpose ; for the original of my last

[ocr errors]

" Aussi l'imperatif est-il comme les discours des muets ; à peine est-il audessus " du geste : il est comme lui isolé, décousu, l'affaire de l'instant, un simple son, "comme l'autre est un simple mouvement; presque toujours composé d'une seule "syllabe. * * * Ama, aime ; Lege, lis ; Dic, dis ; Fer, porte, sont plus courts " qu'aucun autre tems de ces verbes." -Monde Primitif, &c. par M. Court de Ge"belin, 1774, Vol. II. p. 240, et seq.

A letter to John Dunning, Esq. by Mr. Horne. London, printed by J. Johnson, St. Paul's Church-Yard, 1778,

[merged small][ocr errors]

" example (where ur is employed, and not the Latin neuter " article quod) will be resolved in the same manner.

Ur jugulent homines surgunt de nocte latrones.”

“For though Sanctius, who struggled so hard to withdraw " QUOD from amongst the conjunctions, still left ut amongst " them without molestation; yet is ut no other than the “ Greek article ori, adopted for this conjunctive purpose by of the Latins, and by them originally written uti: the o being 6 changed into u from that propensity wbich both the ancient " Romans had, and the modern Italians still have, upon many " occasions, to pronounce even their own o like a u ; of which " I need not produce any instances. The resolution, therefore, of the original will be like that of the translation.”

“ Latrones jugulent homines (11) oto surgunt de nocte.”

It must be owned that this doctrine has, on a superficial view, very much the appearance of a quibble ; and as it was first broached by the ingenious author to help out an argument against a decision of a court of law, it was very generally classed with his other political eccentricities ; nor was it till the publication of the Diversions of Purley, that it began to attract the attention of the learned. A few philosophers, however, were early struck with the very remarkable fact asserted by Mr. Tooke, that in all languages an article or pronoun should be used for this very conjunction. The conditional conjunction if or gif he also affirmed to be the imperative of the Saxon verb gifan, to grant: an, another conditional conjunction now gone into desuetude in England, but still used in some parts of Scotland in the same sense with if, to be the imperative of anan, to grant; and in general, all conditional conjunctions to be the imperative of some verb equivalent to give, grant, be it, suppose, allow, permit, suffer.

Nor did he confine his theory to conditionals, but asserted, in unqualified terms, that it applies to all those words which we call conjunctions of sentences.* The illustrations which Tooke produced of these positions, form one of the most curious grammatical speculations that have yet been given to the world: Nor do I know of any one which is entitled, in a greater degree, to the praise of originality. Bishop Wilkins, indeed, (as Tooke candidly acknowledged,) had, more than a

* Letter to Mr. Dunning, p. 16.

[ocr errors]

century before, foretold great discoveries in this branch of grammar ; but what he has said is so very general, that it does not detract in the least from the merit of the writer by whom the prediction was verified. *

Of all the authors I have looked into, prior to Mr. Tooke, Court de Gebelin approaches nearest to the truth. In some passages he appears to have been on the point of anticipating Tooke's brilliant discovery; particularly in his observations on the conjunction que.

“ Les grammairiens ont supposé que nous avions dans notre “ langue un grand nombre de que différens ; qu'il y en avoit “ de conjonctifs, de comparatifs, d'exclamatifs : ils ont encore

reconnu un que et un qui relatifs, absolument différens de " tous ceux-là, puisque ces premiers sont indéclinables, et que “ ceux-ci se déclinent, sur-tout dans la langue Latine.

“ Mais comme la déclinabilité n'est qu'un accessoire, elle ne “ peut être un motif suffisant pour regarder tous ces que, même “ les relatifs comme des mots différens. Disons donc qu'il "n'en existe qu'un seul, qui offre toujours le même sens, cette “ valeur déterminative qui constitue la conjonction que : en “ ramenant ainsi tous ces que à cet unique principe, leur expli“cation qui parut toujours si embarrassée et si peu satisfaisante, "devient de le plus grande simplicité et de la plus grande " clarté.”+

On perusing, however, with attention the explanations which follow, we perceive that this learned writer has completely missed Mr. Tooke's idea ; and that, when he seems prepared to pursue the right road, he suddenly strikes off into a most unpromising by-path of his own. So completely do the two routes diverge, that while Tooke resolves the conjunction que into the relative of the same name, Court de Gebelin attempts to resolve the relative into the conjunction. For example ;

“ Le livre que vous m'avez envoyé est très intéressant. "L'auteur que vous citez est un excellent juge sur cet ob

jet.

These sentences he resolves thus:

“ Vous m'avez envoyé un livre, et je trouve que ce livre " est très-interessant: Vous citez un auteur, et je trouve que “ cet auteur est un excellent juge sur l'objet en question.”

* Letter to Mr. Dunning, p. 21.
Monde Primitif, Vol. II. p. 336.

Ibid. Vol. II. p. 338.
The second volume of Court de Gebelin's work, containing the Grammaire
Universelle, was published in 1774. Horne Tooke's Letter to Mr. Dunning was
published in 1778.

« PredošláPokračovať »