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The fearful passenger who travels late,
I have little doubt that D'Alembert himself would have preferred this solution to that which he has proposed, if scarlet had been the military uniform in Francet or if the colour in question, instead of scarlet, had been white. Whatever opinion may be formed on this very trifling point
, D'Alembert is entitled to equal praise for the ingenious application he has made of the story to illustrate the extensive and powerful influence of language upon thought. It seems to have struck Locke's fancy very strongly in this point of view, for he has alluded to it repeatedly in different parts his Essay.
Miscellaneous Observations on Language.
The latest inquirers into that branch of literature which relates to language, have directed their attention chiefly to the etymological study of different tongues, considered as a guide to our conclusions concerning the origin and migrations of the various tribes of our species. As this view of the subject has, at first sight, but a remote connexion with the Philosophy of the Human Mind, I shall dismiss it with a few miscellaneous remarks. Some of these will be found, I flatter myself, not altogether foreign to the design of this work.
* “ In the first crusade,” (says Mr. Gibbon) “ all the crosses were red; in the “ third, the French alone preserved that colour, while green crosses were adopt“ed by the Flemings, and white by the English. Yet in England, red ever ap.
pears the favourite, and, as it were, the national colour of our military ensigns and uniforms."-Decline and Fall, &c. Vol. XI. p. 11.
t I had always imagined, that the above solution must have immediately presented itself to every Englishman capable of the slightest reflection, till I met with the following passage in an Essay on Tragedy, by the late Horace Walpole.
“ When blind Professor Sanderson said, he supposed scarlet was like the sound “ of a trumpet, it proved he had been told that scarlet was the most vivid of “ colours, but showed he had not otherwise an idea of it.”—Thoughts on Tragedy, by Lord Orford. See his Works, Vol. II. p. 309.
This quotation, by the way, may serve to prove, that the anecdotes of the noble author are not always to be implicitly relied on, even with respect to his own contemporaries. His incorrectness, in the present instance, is the more wonderful, as he was himself, (as I happen to know from good authority,) a pupil of Sanderson's, and lived with him in habits of intimacy, while a student at Cambridge.
The first author of eminence who led the way in these etymological speculations was Leibnitz, whose various contributions to this branch of knowledge occupy no inconsiderable space in the general collection of his works. In his earliest publication on the subject, which forms the first article in the first volume of the Memoirs of the Berlin Academy, he has very clearly and concisely stated the important purposes to which he conceived such researches to be subservient, as well as the leading principle which he proposed to keep in view in carrying them on. I shall only quote the introductory paragraph ; but the whole paper well deserves the attention of those whose taste leads them to similar pursuits.
“Cum remotæ gentium origines historiam transcendant, “linguæ nobis præstant veterum monumentorum vicem. Et “ vetustissima linguarum vestigia supersunt in nominibus fluvi“orum atque sylvarum, quæ mutatis accolis plerumque per" sistunt; proximæ sunt locorum ab hominibus constitutorum “appellationes ; quanquam enim multæ villæ, multa oppida à "conditoribus nominentur, quod in Germania valde est fre
quens, quæ serius exculta est; alia tamen loca à situ, à pro"ventu, à cæteris qualitatibus appellantur, et vetustiorum dif"ficilis est etymologia. Nomina etiam vetera hominum, quo
rum nulla Germaniæ gens plura Frisiis retinuit, ducunt nos "in sacraria, ut sic dicam, veteris linguæ. Illud enim pro “axiomate habeo, omnia nomina quce vocamus propria, ali"quando appellativa fuisse, alioqui ratione nulla consta" rent. * Itaque quoties vocabulum fluminis, montis, sylvæ, "gentis, pagi, oppidi, villæ, non intelligimus, intelligere debe"mus, ab antiqua nos lingua discessisse.”+
In various other parts of his works, Leibnitz has enlarged on the ignorance in which we are left by our historical records, with respect to the earlier migrations of the human race ; and has fully established this principle, in which all the soundest philosophers now acquiesce, that if any new lights shall ever be thrown on this part of the history of mankind, it is from these etymological researches, conducted by extensive learning under the guidance of sober judgment and good sense, that they are chiefly to be expected.
Alioqui ratione nulla constarent;" “ otherwise they would exist without any reason for their existence."
M. Leibnitz seems here to allude to his famous principle of the sufficient reason; and to intimate, that, if the first proper names had not been descriptive or significant, there would have been no reason or motive to decide the choice of their inventors in favour of one sound rather than of another.
† Miscellan. Berolin, 1710, p. L.
In confirmation of this idea, I shall quote a passage from Mr. Horne Tooke, an author whose opinion is justly entitled to considerable deference in all etymological discussions, and whose good sense has preserved him, on most occasions, from giving up his judgment to those fanciful resemblances and analogies, which had so powerful an influence on the theories of most of his predecessors in this department of philology. The passage which follows, I introduce merely as a proof of the confidence with which, in the opinion of Tooke, we are entitled to reason concerning the migrations of our race in past ages, from the affinities between the languages which have prevailed in different parts of the globe.
“ It is a great mistake, into which both the Italian and Latin " etymologists have fallen, to suppose that all the Italian must “ be found in the Latin, and all the Latin in the Greek, for " the fact is otherwise. The bulk and foundation of the Latin “ language is Greek ; but great part of the Latin is the lan
guage of our northern ancestors, grafted upon the Greek. " And to our northern language the etymologist must go, for " that part of the Latin which the Greek will not furnish; and “there, without any twisting or turning, or ridiculous forcing "and torturing of words, he will easily and clearly find it. “We want, therefore, the testimony of no historians, to con6 clude that the founders of the Roman state, and of the Latin “ tongue, came, not from Asia, but from the north of Europe, “ for the language cannot lie, and from the language of every “nation we may with certainty collect its origin. In the same
manner, even though no history of the fact had remained, "and though another Virgil and another Dionysius had again, " in verse and prose, brought another Æneas from another " Troy to settle modern Italy, after the destruction of the Ro“man government, yet, in spite of such false history, or si"lence of history, we should be able, from the modern lan
guage of the country, (which cannot possibly lie,) to conclude 6 with certainty, that our northern ancestors had again made 6 another successful irruption into Italy, and again grafted
their own language upon the Latin, as before upon the " Greek, for all the Italian which cannot be easily shown to "be Latin, can be easily shown to be our northern lan“
* Diversions of Purley, Vol. II. p. 140, quarto edit.-A similar observation is made by Leibnitz in the memoir above quoted. “ Ex Celtis, id est Germanis "Gallisque, Alpes Pyrenæosque trangressis, Italiam et Hispaniam babitatores ac“ cepisse credibile est, longe ante illos qui memorantur Livio Gallorum posteriorum " adventus. Aborigines Italiæ intelligo, id est incolas Græcis, Lydis. Phrygibus,
In this department of literature, important future discoveries may, I think, be confidently anticipated, in proportion as a more extensive communication among the different tribes of mankind shall be opened, and as the affinities between their various languages shall be more accurately investigated. Those which have been already traced among some of the most remote and apparently unconnected tongues, are sufficient to demonstrate, how imperfectly we are acquainted with the past migrations of our race; and, if they are not yet sufficient to afford a direct proof of the common descent of the different inhabitants of our globe, unquestionably tend, the farther the subject is prosecuted, to lend additional presumptions in favour of that conclusion.
In order, however, to render the study of the affinity of languages a solid foundation for our conclusions, it is necessary that those who devote themselves to it, (keeping in mind the limited grasp of the human powers,) should guard against the danger of rendering their labours fruitless, by aiming at what is wholly beyond the comprehension of our faculties. A few languages, grammatically and critically possessed, would enable them to add more usefully to the mass of philological knowledge, than the almost miraculous gift of tongues displayed in the labours of Adelung and some of his successors.* When I say this, I would not be understood to detract from the great and acknowledged merits of these literary prodigies. What they have done, was necessary to prepare the way for the minuter industry of their successors. The great outlines being now marked out, and the limits of the chief departments settled, it will be comparatively easy for inferior artists to complete the details of the survey. Much may be expected, for much has been already done, by those missionaries to foreign
“ Phænicibus aliisque mari advectis antiquiores. Nam antiquissimæ migrationes
omnes terra factæ sunt, serius et ægrè magna multitudo navigavit: quanquam "Tacito contrarium exciderit. Græcorum deinde multæ in Italia maritimæ colo"niæ conditæ sunt: inde lingua Latina ex Celticâ Græcâque mistis nata. Postea
pars Italiæ citerior Gallia Cisalpinæ, ulterior magnæ Græciæ nomen tulit; in “medio Latini et Tusci cum vicinis plurimum utrinque trahebant. Hetruscam "antiquam non intelligimus, ac quæ ipsius in lapidibus nonnullis supersunt, ne " legimus quidem.”—Þ. 10.
On this subject see also Dictionnaire Etymologique de La Langue Latine, with the Discours Preliminaire, in the 6th Vol. of Court de Gebelin's Monde Primitif.
* I call it an almost miraculous gift, because in looking over such tables as that exhibited in the Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica, (see article Languages,) I can only wonder and admire at faculties to which I am unconscious of possessing in myself any thing at all analogous.
parts, who, in the midst of their more important occupations, have not thought it an unworthy employment of their time to make an accurate study of the languages spoken by the nations they wish to convert. In India it is well known what they have accomplished, by translating the Scriptures into different tongues, even into the sacred language of the Bramins; with which I have little doubt some of them now possess a more intimate and familiar acquaintance than had previously been acquired by any other class of scholars who have visited the East.
On the other hand, it is impossible not to feel some scepticism concerning etymological researches, when they turn on languages which are accessible only to a small number of seholars; the deceptions which are commonly practised in support of such theories, being facilitated in proportion to the obscurity in which the subject is involved. When I say deceptions, I would not, by any means, insinuate, that they are always intentional and culpable. It is a natural and pardonable weakness, to overvalue even a smatteri:g of knowledge which is possessed by few; and one of the adepts may be readily excused, if he addresses the public on his favourite subject, in a more confident tone than he would have assumed, had the points in question lain more open to general examination. Add to this, that when once the mind is intoxicated with a theory, it eagerly grasps at every shadow of evidence which seems to favour it, and is generally the first dupe to the sys, tem it has created. * I well remember the impression univer
* In the hope of guarding my younger readers against lending too easy a faith to the seducing theories of etymologists, I shall subjoin the sober opinion of a writer, who, of all our contemporaries, was best entitled, from his own unparalleled acquisitions, to form a competent judgment on this subject;-I need scarcely say that I allude to Sir William Jones.
“ Etymology has, no doubt some use in historical researches; but it is a medium « of proof so very fallacious, that, where it elucidates one fact, it obscures a
* thousand, and more frequently borders on the ridiculous, than leads to any solid “ conclusion; it rarely carries with it any internal power of conviction from a re“ semblance of sounds or similarity of letters, yet, often where it is wholly unas“ sisted by those advantages, it may be indisputably proved by extrinsic evidence. “ We know a posteriori, that both fitz and hijo, by the nature of two several “dialects, are derived from filius; that uncle comes from avus, and stranger “ from extra; that jour is deducible, through the Italian, from dies; and rossig. “ nol from luscinia, or the singer in groves; that sciuro, ecureuil, and squirrel, " are compounded of two Greek words descriptive of the animal; which etymo“ logies, though they could not have been demonstrated à priori, might serve to “ confirm, if any such confirmation were necessary, the proofs of a connexion be“ tween the members of one great empire; but when we derive our hanger or short “ pendant sword from the Persian, because ignorant travellers thus mis-spell the “ word khanjer, which, in truth, means a different weapon, or sandal wood from