Obrázky na stránke

pression, must have contributed to the elevation and to the grace

of the latter ; as it enabled the orator or the poet, without enlarging the common vocabulary, to give to the simplest words and phrases the same effects which we strive to produce by an appropriate poetical or rhetorical diction. This I presume was Horace's idea, in a passage of his Art of Poetry, which has been the subject of a good deal of dispute among his commentators.

- In verbis etiam tenuis cautusque serendis
Dixeris egregie, notum si callida verbum
“ Reddiderit junctura novum.”

« Cautious and sparing in the introduction of new words, 66 aim rather at giving to your expressions the air of novelty, “ by skill in composition." In the Greek and Latin languages, but much more in the latter of these, the callida junctura must have been one of the principal secrets of fine writing, both in prose and in poetry. *

The observations already made are sufficient to show how peculiarly favourable the genius of the ancient languages was to rhetorical and poetical compositions. It is a question, however, of a very different nature, and one still more interesting to us, how far it was favourable to the communication of scientific knowledge, and well adapted to the purposes of philosophy.

In general, it may be observed, the same circumstance which gave the ancient languages an advantage in poetry and oratory, rendered them unfit for philosophical communication ; for, in proportion as the imagination is excited and captivated, the un

* Dr. Beattie, in some critical remarks on these lines, supposes the poet's meaning to be, that, when we find it necessary to introduce a new word, we should be careful to place it in such a manner, that its meaning may be collected from the connexion in which it stands. He acknowledges, at the same time, that this idea would have been conveyed much more directly and explicitly, if the words novum and notum had been made to change places.

“ Novum si callida verbum

“ Reddiderit junctura notum.” “ But this,” (says he,) " was impossible, the first syllable in novum being “ short, and in notum long." I cannot help thinking this a very lame solution to the difficulty, when we consider with what facility Horace (who was not tied down to ring changes on this particular form of words like a school-boy performing an exercise) could have varied his mode of expression a thousand different ways, without either departing from metrical exactness, or incurring the fault of indistinctness and ambiguity. Indeed, I have no doubt, whether we consult the context, or the grammatical interpretation of the sentence, that the poet's idea was what I have above stated.

[ocr errors]

derstanding is disqualified for the investigation of truth. Even those artificial and complicated periods, which the genius of the ancient languages admitted to so great a degree, and of which Cicero has remarked the extraordinary effects, derived their principal charm from their tendency to suspend the cool exercise of the judgment, by arresting the imagination, or inflaming the passions. And, accordingly, the style of speaking which, in modern times, has been formed on this model, however well fitted to help out a lame argument, or, as Milton expresses it, to make the worse appear the better reason, is neither found to be the best for meeting, in a popular assembly, the close attack of a logical antagonist, nor for undergoing, when committed to the press, the calm examination of a discerning reader. *

But this is not all. The transpositions used in ancient languages could not fail to counteract those habits of association among words, which, in most instances, are the foundation of our reasonings, and which afford us the readiest means of detecting the erroneous reasonings of others. For the illustration of this remark I must refer to Dr. Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric,t where the reader will find it fully confirmed by a train of most ingenious and refined reasoning. These associations must, of necessity, be much stronger in a language which is tied down to an analogous construction, than in one where a transpositive construction is admitted ;and it is owing to this, that we are much more easily imposed on by nonsense in Latin than in English, although we may understand both languages equally well.

* Omnia enim stolidi magis admirantur, amantque,

Inversis quæ sub verbis latitantia cernunt;
Veraque constituunt, quæ belle tangere possunt
Aureis, et lepido quæ sunt fucata sonore.

Lucretii Liber i. 1. 642. | Vol. II. p. 93. | The Abbé Girard was the first, according to Court de Gebelin, who introduced these two distinguishing epithets; and as the use of them has been sanction

very generally by later French Grammarians, and as I can think of no others that appear to me to be less exceptionable, I shall continue to employ them. M. Du Marsais, in his Treatise de la Construction Grammaticale, substitutes, instead of the epithet analogous, the word simple, or natural.Ş. Gebelin objects to the language used both by Girard and Du Marsais, as prejudging a question which he considers as problematical, and substitutes two epithets of his own, (construction libre and construction locale,) which, in my opinion, have no ad vantage over them. As his criticisms, however, are always entitled to respect, I shall transcribe them in his own words. “ En donnant à la construction Françoise ou à celle de telle autre langue que ce soit, le nom d'analogue, on suppose qu'elle a plus d'analogie, de conformité, de rapport avec la nature, et qu'elle est la construction la plus parfaite:

et en donnant à la construction Greque et Latine le nom de transpositive, on " fait entendre que celle-ci intervertit l'arrangement naturel des mots, qu'elle " donne lieu à un ordre opposé à celui de la nature. On suppose encore par-là,

Court de Gebelin, Tom. II. pp. 511, 512

Beside these considerations, it might be easily shown, that the genius of the ancient languages occasioned many more ambiguities of meaning than occur in the modern ones. In confirmation of this remark, some judicious observations are made in an Essay by the late Professor Arthur of Glasgow;* whose remarks, added to those already stated, seem to authorize the general conclusion, that if, in respect of conciseness, of harmony, and of impressive arrangement, the modern tongues must yield to the ancient-in other respects, and those of far' greater moment, they possess a decided superiority. · I shall conclude this subject with observing, that the modern compounded languages, though more easily acquired, furnish more difficult subjects of discussion to the universal grammarian than original languages. The difference between their structure, and that of the ancient tongues, has had a great effect in turning the attention of philosophers to grammatical disquisitions, and, in this manner, has contributed considerably, in the present age, to the improvement of the philosophy of the human mind.

A German gentleman, well known in the learned world, who did me the honour, more than twenty years ago, to attend some of my lectures in the University of Edinburgh, having heard one of them, in which I gave a general account of this dissertation of Mr. Smith, was so kind as to favour me in a


que la nature a un ordre fixe qui lui est propre, et dont elle ne peut jamais s'écarter; qu'elle est déterminée invinciblement à suivre la même route.

" Mais ces questions ont elles été décidées? Pouvoient elles l’être, du moins “ dans le tems où l'on commença à donner ces noms tranchans? ne précipita-t-on

pas son jugement, d'après la difference qu'on voyoit entre ces deux sortes de “constructions et ces noms ne pouvoient-ils pasinduire en erreur, en persuadant “ qu'en effet la Latin renversoit l'ordre de la nature auquel se soumettoient nos “ langues modernes?” Tom. II. pp. 501, 502.

In answer to these objections, I have only to refer the reader to the distinction pointed out in p. 44, between the ordinary arrangement of words in common conversation, and the deranged collocation in rhetorical and poetical composition. In the former case, (for example, in the phrase fructum da mihi, or give me fruit,) I admit there is room for disputes which may not be easily settled; but in the latter, I cannot see the possibility of any. Nobody surely can imagine the structure of one of Cicero's oratorical periods to be as natural as that of a sentence of Addison or Voltaire.

* Essay on the Arrangement of Ancient and Modern Languages. ---See Arthur's Discourses on various subjects. Glasgow, 1803.

| Dr. Noehden, of the university of Goettingen, author of that highly esteemed work, entited, a Grammar of the German Language for the use of Englishmen.


6 In com

Letter with some strictures, which appear to me unquestionably just, on the latter part of Mr. Smith's essay. paring,” he observes, “ the ancient and modern languages, Mr. Smith “ought to have expressed himself under certain li“mitations with regard to the latter. For the genius of the “modern languages,' if we comprehend, under this title, “ those existing among the civilized nations of Europe, is very “different. The German, for instance, has several striking “peculiarities, which, in the strongest manner, distinguish it “ from others. It is, in some respects, more complicated in s point of gramatical structure than the Greek or the Latin : « but the most remarkable characteristic is the arrangement of “ words; which, though widely different from the natural or“der of construction, is yet limited and determined by cer"tain rules.

“ The artificial arrangement of the parts of speech in the “German language is not unworthy the attention of a philo56 sopher : it is perhaps a disadvantage in philosophical inqui"ries, and it might be suggested with some plausibility, that "the obscurity of Kant's system is, in some degree, to be at“tributed to the language in which he wrote; though I am by

no means decided as to this point. So much is certain, that “Plattner, an eminent philosopher in Germany, conceived that 4 artificial order of placing the parts of speech to be unfavour" able to the purpose of philosophy, and that he gave a deter"mined preference to a natural collocation of words. He “ went so far as to attempt to introduce the latter in opposition "to the general established practice. But this is in the high"est degree contrary to the habits of the people of Germany, “insomuch so, that his books in which the natural arrangement "of words is adopted, appear hardly legible. I have often “turned from them with displeasure, and even disgust: and " found it a greater labour to read and understand him, than

more difficult subjects would have given me, if delivered in "the usual form of arrangement.”—The reader will find the subject farther prosecuted in the second edition of Dr. Noehden's Grammar. *

It is scarcely necessary to add, that this criticism of Dr. Noehden's is not meant to invalidate Mr. Smith's argument, but to suggest some necessary limitations of the terms in which it has been announced by the author. It tends, on the contrary, powerfully to support Mr. Smith's speculations; inasmuch as the German or Teutonic, falling obviously under Mr. Smith's

London, printed for Mawman, 1807, p. 429

idea of an original language, might be expected to differ in its construction from the Romanic tongues, as well as from the English, which, though it has Teutonic for its basis, has subsequently admitted largely into its composition Norman French --itself a mixture of Latin, with the Celtic and Teutonic.


Of Language considered as an Instrument of Thought.

ANOTHER view of language, intimately connected with the Philosophy of the Human Mind, has for its object to illustrate the functions of words considered as the great instrument of thought and of solitary speculation. In the importance of its practical applications, this may justly claim the first place among the various branches of our present subject. Indeed, I do not think I should go too far, were I to assert, that if a sys. tem of rational logic should ever be executed by a competent hand, this will form the most important chapter of such a work. All, however, that I have to offer with respect to it is already exhausted in the course of my former publications; and as I am unwilling to tire my reader with repetitions, I shall here content myself with referring in a note to those passages in my works where it has happened to fall under my consideration.

When I published my former volumes, I had not seen the ingenious Essay of Michaelis on the Influence of Opinions on Language, and of Language on Opinions.† The title is imposing, and strongly excited my curiosity; and the performance itself, though it scarcely answered the expectations I had formed of it from the great reputation of the author, may be justly regarded as an acquisition of some value to the Philosophy of the Human Mind. I was sorry, when I first read it, to find

* See Elements, &c. Vol. I. 6th edition, p. 197, et seq. pp. 412, 413. Vol. II. p. I, et seq. p. 242, et seq. Phil. Essays, 3d edition, p. 147. et seq. p. 201, et seq. p. 207, et seq. p. 226, et seq. p. 232, et seq.

| An English translation of this Essay was published at London in the year 1771, by Johnson, in St. Paul's Church-yard ; but I never happened to hear of it till very lately, when a copy of it was kindly communicated to me by a friend. Į had previously read a French translation, which appears to me to convey the sense of the author more clearly than the English one. The latter, however, (which we are told in the preface was revised in manuscript by the author,) is enriched with an Inquiry (by Michaelis) into the Advantages and Practicability of a Universal Learned Language, which contains some very acute and important observations

« PredošláPokračovať »