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record, which professed to contain a plain and simple statement of such supernatural communication, and such subsequent confusion of tongues, it would be a book that, independently of any other information, would be amply entitled to our attention, for it would bear an index of commanding authority on its own forehead.
To pursue this argument would be to weaken it. Such a book is in our hands-let us prize it. It must be the word of God, for it has the direct stamp and testimony of his works.
ON LEGIBLE LANGUAGE, IMITATIVE AND SYMBOLICAL.
The subject of the vocal organs, and the scale of tones and terms to which they give rise, which have just passed under review, led us progressively into an inquiry concerning the nature of the voice itself; and the origin of systematic or articulate language.
Systematic or articulate language, however, as we have already observed, is of two kinds, oral and legible; the one spoken and addressed to the ear, the other penned or printed, and addressed to the eye. It is this last which constitutes the wonderful and important art of writing, and distinguishes civilized man from savage man, as the first distinguishes man in general from the brute creation. The connexion between the two is so close, that although both subjects might, with the most perfect order, find a place in some subsequent part of that comprehensive course of study upon which we have even now but barely entered, I shall immediately follow up the latter for the very reason that I have already touched upon the former. It will, moreover, if I mistake not, afford an agreeable variety to our philosophical pursuits; a point which ought no more to be lost sight of in the midst of instruction than in the midst of amusement; and will form an extensive subject for useful reflection when the present series of our labours shall have reached its close.
Written language is of so high an antiquity, that, like the language of the voice, it has been supposed, by a multitude of wise and good men in all ages, to have been a supernatural gift, communicated either at the creation, or upon some special occasion not long afterward. Yet there seems no satisfactory ground for either of these opinions. That it was not communicated like oral language at the creation of mankind, appears highly probable, because, first, it by no means possesses the universality which, under such circumstances, we should have reason to expect, and which oral language displays. No tribe or people have ever been found without a tongue; but multitudes without legible characters. Secondly, among the different tribes and nations that do possess it, it is far from evincing that unity or similarity in the structure of its elements which, I have already observed, is to be traced in the elements of speech, and which must be the natural result of an origin from one common source. The system of writing among some nations consists in pictures, or marks representative of things; among others in letters or marks symbolical of sounds; while, not unfrequently, the two systems are found in a state of combination, and the characters are partly imitative and partly arbitrary. And, thirdly, there does not seem to be the same necessity for a divine interposition in the formation of written characters as in that of oral language. The latter existing, the former might be expected to follow naturally in some shape or other, from that imitative and inventive genius which belongs to the nature of man, and especially in a civilized state. And, as we endeavour to penetrate the obscurity of past ages, we meet with a few occasional beacons which point out to us something of the means by which this wonderful art appears to have been first devised, and something of the countries where it appears to have been first practised.
But an exception is made by many learned and excellent men in favour of one species of writing; namely, that of alphabetic characters, which is conceived to be so far superior to every other method, as to have demanded and justified a special interposition of the Deity at some period of the creation; and, by turning to the Pentateuch, a few texts, we are told, are to be met with, which seem to intimate that the knowledge of letters was first communicated to Moses by God himself, and that the Decalogue was the earliest specimen of alphabetic writing.
Such was the opinion of many of the fathers of the Christian church, and such continues to be the opinion of many able scholars of modern times: as, among the former, St. Cyril, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Isidore; and among the latter, Mr. Bryant, Mr. Costard, Mr. Windar. * And it is hence necessary to remark, in addition to what has already been observed, that, so far from arrogating any such invention or communication to himself, Moses uniformly refers to writing, and even to alphabetic writing, as an art as common and as well known in his own day as at present. He expressly appeals to the existence of written records, such as tablets or volumes, and to the more durable art of engraving, as applied to alphabetic characters. Thus, in the passage in which writing is first mentioned in the Scriptures, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book or table.”+ And shortly afterward, “ And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD."I The public seals or signets of oriental princes are well known to be of the same description even in the present day, and to be ornamented with sentences instead of with figures or mere ciphers. In the State-Paper Office, at Whitehall, there are still to be seen a number of letters from Eastern monarchs to the kings of England, with seals of this very kind, the inscriptions of several of which are copied by Mr. Astle into his valuable work upon the present subject.
In that sublime and unrivalled poem, the book of Job, which carries intrinsic and, in the present individual's judgment, incontrovertible evidence of its being the work of Moses, we meet with a similar proof of the existence and general cultivation of both these arts, at the period before us; for it is thus the afflicted patriarch exclaims, under a dignified consciousness of his innocence:
O! that my words were even now written down:
Nor do the Hebrews alone appear to have been possessed of written characters at this era. Admitting Moses to be the author of this very ancient poem, we find him ascribing a familiar knowledge of writing, and not only of writing but of engraving and sculpture, to the Arabians; for of this country were Job and his companions. And if, as appears from the preceding passages, the Hebrews were generally acquainted with at least two of these arts at the time of their quitting Egypt, it would be reasonable to suppose, even though we had no other ground for such a supposition, that the Egyptians themselves were equally acquainted with them.
We have also some reason for believing that alphabetic writing was at this very period cominon to India; and either picture-writing or emblematic writing to China. The Hindoo Scriptures, if the term may be allowed, consist of four distinct books, called Baids or Beids, Bedas or Vedas, which are conceived to have issued successively from each of the four mouths of Brahma; and of these, Sir Willian Jones calculates that the second, or Yajur Beda, may have been in existence fifteen hundred and eighty years before the birth of our Saviour, and, consequently, in the century before the birth of Moses : whence, if there be any approach towards correctness in the calculation, the first, or Rik Beda, must, at the same epoch, have been of very considerable standing. He dates the Institutes of Menu, the son or grandson of Brahma, which he has so admirably translated, at not more than two centuries after the time of Moses; though he admits that these are the highest periods that can fairly be ascribed to both publications :* and is ready to allow that they did not at first exist in their present form, and were, perhaps, for a long time only traditionary. It is impossible not to wish that the facts upon which this extraordinary scholar builds his premises were established with more cer. tainty, and that the conclusions he deduces from them were supported by inferences and arguments less nicely spun. Admitting the existence of these compositions in any sort of regular shape on their first appearance, it seems more reasonable to suppose, considering their complicated nature and extent, that they were handed down from age to age in a written form, than that they maintained a precarious life by mere oral tradition; for, if the Egyptians, as appears almost unquestionable, were in possession of legible characters at or before the time of Moses, there seems no solid ground for believing that the Hindoos might not have been in possession of a similar art. The disferent ages of the Kings, or five sacred and most ancient books of the Chic nese, have been still less satisfactorily settled than the Vedas of the Hindoos. A very high antiquity, however, is fully established for them by a distinct reference to their existence in the Institutes of Menu; nor perhaps less so in the very simple and antiquated style in which all of them are written, how much soever the characters of any one of these books may differ from any other: and, adopting the chronology of the Septuagint, Mr. Butler ingeniously conjectures that the era of the Chinese empire may be fixed, with some latitude of calculation, at two thousand five hundred years before Christof which would make it nearly a thousand years before the birth of Moses.
Cornpare Astle's Origin of Writing, &c. p. 11, 4to.
* Exod. xvii. 14.
Ib. xxvii. 36
“ The annals of China," says Dr. Marshman, “taken in their utmost extent, synchronize with the chronology of Josephus, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint, rather than with that contained in our present copies of the Hebrew text; and, according to the former, the highest pretensions of their own annals leave the Chinese inhabiting the woods, and totally ignorant of agriculture, nearly five hundred years after the deluge."I The Y-King, or oldest of their sacred books, consists of horizontal lines, entire or cut, which are multiplied and combined into sixty-four different forms or positions. They appear involved in almost impenetrable mystery, as well as antiquity; but, so far as they have been deciphered, they seem, in conjunction with the other sacred books, to contain a summary of patriarchal religion, or that which alone ought to be regarded as the established religion of China; under which the people are taught to know and reverence the Supreme Being, and to contemplate the emperor as both king and pontiff; to whom, exclusively, it belongs to prescribe ceremonies, to decide on doctrines, and, at certain times of the year, to offer sacrifices for the nation.
It becomes me, however, to observe that, with all the researches of our most learned writers, we are still involved in a considerable degree of uncertainty concerning the chronology of several of the Oriental ernpires, and still more so concerning their most ancient publications. M. Freret and M. Bailly, generally speaking, concur in the periods assigned to the earliest Oriental writings by Sir William Jones; but the pretension of several of them, and especially of the Puranas, or series of mythological histories, to a very high antiquity, has lately been powerfully attacked by Mr. Bentley, in his dissertation on the Surya Siddhanta ;l and still later by Captain Wilford, in his series of Essays on the Sacred Isles of the West ;P and a fall in the preten
* He calculates the first three Vedas to have been composed about 300 years before the Institutes, and about 600 before the Puranas and Itohasas, which he felt convinced were not the production of Vyasa. Works, vol. ii. p. 305; and iii. p. 484, 410. ed.
† Horæ Biblicæ, vol. ii. p. 179, 2d ed. 8vo. 1807. Elements of Chinese Grammar: with a Preliminary Dissertation on the Characters and Colloquial Medium of the Chinese. Serampore, 4to. 1814.
Lettres Edif. et Cur. tom. xxi. p. 218, 1781. | Butler, p. ii. ut supr. p. 175. Asiatic Researches, vol. vi.
i Asiatic Researches, vol. x. See also Edin. Rev. No. xxxij. p. 387–389. The difference is indeed wonderful for while Sir William Jones reckons the Puranas at nearly 2500 or 2600 years old, “it is evi
sions of these may probably be succeeded by a like fall in those of various others.*
Even China, at the time of Moses, according to the statement of their own writers, had not long emerged from a state of the grossest barbarism. It is admitted in the Lee K’hee, that, during the reigns of Yaou and Shun, or about two thousand years before Christ, the people, as we have just observed, were living in a savage state, in woods and caves, and holes dug in the ground; covering themselves with the skins of beasts, and rude garments formed of the leaves of trees, grass, reeds, and feathers. Even one thousand years later, or during the dynasty Chow, their states or clans amounted to not less than eighteen hundred, each of which had its chieftain, who possessed abso. lute and hereditary power; though all united in acknowledging the supremacy of this family and conceding to it the imperial dignity. It was only about two hundred years before our own era that these clans were reduced to seven; and some time afterward that Che-hwang-he, the first emperor of the dynasty T'sin, succeeded in amalgamating the whole into one vast and massy despotism, the great outlines of which continue to the present day.t. Yet, as far down as nine hundred and eighteen years before Christ, or about five hundred years before the era of Confucius, notwithstanding their symbolical characters and sacred books, in use among the learned, Dr. Milne affirms, from their own historians, that generally speaking they were barbarians in literature as well as in manners, and could “neither read, nor write, nor cipher."| And I may here add, that whatever were their writings, and by whomsoever written, in earlier ages, the Chinese have, at this day, none of a higher date than those composed by Confucius himself, five hundred years before our own era, or compiled by him from rude and imperfect copies of more ancient productions, for the most part indented on plates or pieces of wood rather than transcribed on paper.
Upon the whole, however, the conclusion I have ventured to advance seems to be strengthened by the general tenor of the inquiry into this subject, and affords us additional ground for believing that the art of writing, even by the use of alphabetic characters, instead of having been communicated to Moses by some special interposition of the Deity, was, in his day, as familiar to his countrymen as to himself; that it was generally known throughout Egypt, and, perhaps, cultivated over various parts of Asia.
Contemplating written language, therefore, as of human invention, let us next inquire into the most probable means by which it was invented and brought to perfection; and the countries in which it originated.
dent," says Mr. Bentley, “that none of the modern romances conmonly called the Puranas, at least in the form in which they now stand, are older than 484; and that some of them are compilations of still later times."- Asiatic Researches, vol. viii. p. 240. And to nearly as late a date are they assigned by Mr. Wilford : " They are certainly," says he, a modern compilation from valuable materials, that, I am afraid, no long
An astronomical observation of the heliacal rising of Canopus mentioned in two of the Puranas puts this beyond doubt."-Ib. vol. p. 244. Mr. Coleman is of this same opinion; at least in respect to one of them, the Sri Bhagaveta: which, he farther tells us, is considered even by many of the learnud Hindoos as the work of a grammarian supposed to have lived about 600 years ago.---íb. vol. vili.
• There is a doubt which has the best claim to the highest antiquity, the religion of Boodh or that of Brahina. One of the most authentic accounts we have of the former is that transmitted to the American Board of Missions by Mr. Judson, a man of great excellence and intelligence, who has resided in the Burman empire as a missionary, at Bangoon or at Ava, from 1814, to, I believe, the present time; to which I shall also have occasion in advert hereafier. Mr. Judson is intimately acquainted with the language, tbe customs, and established creed of the Burman empire; and, according to his account, the priests of Boodhist, thougb they claim for themselves a higher origin than those of Brahma, make no pretence to an extravagant antiquity. “Boodh," says Mr. Judson," whose proper name is Gaudama, appeared in Hindustan about two THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, and gave a new form and dress to the old transmigration system, which, in some shape or other, has existed from time immemorial. The Brahınans, in the mean time, dressed up the system after their fashion; and both these inodifications struggled for the ascendency. Al length the family of Gaudama, wbich had held the sovereignty of India, was dethroned, his religion was denounced, and his disciples took refuge in Ceylon, and the neighbouring countries. In that island, about 500 years after the decease and supposed ANNIHILATION OF THEIR TEACHER OR DEITY, they composed their sacred writings in the Sanscrit, which had obtained in Ceylon; whence they were conveyed by sea to the Indo Chinese nations (those of the Burman empire). Boodh ern, however, had gained a footing in Burinah before the arrival of the sacred books from Ceylon. It is commonly maintained that it was introduced by his emissaries before his death." --Correspondence, 1819.
| Part iv. sec. 9. See Milne's Retrospect of the First Ten Years of the Protestant Mission to China. Malacca Press, 8vo. 1820, p. 18.
Kwoh-iseh. Pref. p. 1. Milne, ut supr. p. 20.
Supposing,* by a miracle, the world were now to be reduced to the state in which we may conceive it to have existed in its infancy; and every trace and idea of written language were to be swept away, and the only means of communication to be that of the voice, what would be the mode most likely to be resorted to of imparting to a deaf person, or a foreigner ignorant of our dialect, a knowledge of any particular fact or thing with which we might wish him to be acquainted? The reply is obvious: we should point at it is in sight; and if not, endeavour to sketch a rude drawing of it; and thus make one sense answer the purpose of another. This is not mere fancy, but manifest and experimental fact; it is the plan actually pursued in most institutions for instructing the deafly-dumb, and the elementary system by which they acquire knowledge. In such establishments, however, it is the elementary sys. tem alone; for the use of letters significative of words or sounds is, in every respect, so far superior to that of pictures significative of things, that the latter is uniformly dropped as soon as ever it has answered its purpose and served as a key to the former.
But we are at present adverting to a state of things in which letters are supposed not to exist; and the only established mode of communicating between man and man is that of vocal language. Under such circumstances, the most natural method of conveying ideas to a person unacquainted with our tongue must be, as I have already observed, to point at the things to which they relate if at hand, as all savage nations are well known to do; and if not at hand, to trace out a rude sketch of them on the sand, the bark of a plant, or some other substance. In this manner the idea of a horse, a house, a dog, or a tree, may, as single objects, be as distinctly communicated as by alphabetic characters; while two or more houses may be made significative of a town, and two or more trees of a wood; and, by thus continuing to copy in successive series such things or objects of common notoriety as the train of our ideas might call for, a kind of connected narrative of passing events might be drawn up, which, though not calculated for minute accuracy, might be generally understood and interpreted.
This kind of language would be fairly entitled to the appellation of picturewriting; it would give the images of things instead of the symbols of sounds or words. In its scope, however, it must be extremely limited, for though conveniently adapted to express imbodied forms, it must completely fail in delineating pure mental conceptions, abstract ideas, and such properties of body as are not submitted to the eye; as wisdom, power, benevolence, genius, length, breadth, hardness, softness, sound, taste, and smell.
Our next attempt, therefore, would be to remedy this deficiency; and the common consent of mankind in ascribing peculiar internal qualities and virtues to peculiar external forms, would enable us to lay hold of such forms to express the qualities and virtues themselves. Thus the figure of a circle might be made to signify a year; that of a hatchet, separation or division; that of an eye, watchfulness or providential care, if open; and sleep or forgetfulness, if closed; the figure of a harrow might represent a ploughed field; and of a flag a fortress; a rosebud, odour; and a bale of goods, commerce.
Upon the same principle compound ideas might be expressed by a combination of characters; the character expressive of a man in the midst of that expressive of an enclosure, as a square, for example, might denote a prisoner; and a union of those significative of mouth and gold might import eloquence. And we hence advance to another kind of imitative characters, those of a mixed kind, and which are called ALLEGORICAL, or EMBLEMATIC WRITING.
It is obvious that legible language must be very considerably improved by such an accession of power; that it must become both more manageable and more comprehensive. It is obvious, also, that in a variety of abstract subjects, as those of philosophy or religion, the allegorical characters alone might be employed as a medium of communication; and that, by attaching an esoteric
* A few pages of this lecture, particularly adapted to the occasion, were introduced into an article in the British Review for 1811, at the request of the writer's friend, who was at that time its editor; and may be found in the analysis there given of Dr. Marshman's Elements of Chinese Grammar.