Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

When life begins, like a distant landscape, gradually to disappear, the mind can then receive no solace but from its own ideas and reflections. Philosophy and literature will then furnish us with an inexhaustible source of the most agreeable amusements, as religion will afford it substantial consolation. A well-spent youth is the only sure foundation of a happy old age: no axiom of the mathematics is more true, or more easily demonstrated.

[ocr errors]

Old age, like death, comes unexpectedly on the unthinking and unprepared, although its approach be visible, and its arrival certain. Those who have, in the earlier part of life, neglected to furnish their minds with ideas, to fortify them by contemplation, and regulate them by reflection, seeing the season of youth and vigour irrecoverably past, its pleasing scenes annihilated, and its brilliant prospects left far behind without the possibility of return, and feeling, at the same time, the irresistible encroachments of age with its disagreeable appendages, are surprised and disconcerted by a change scarcely expected, or for which at least they had made no preparations. A person in this predicament, finding himself no longer capable of taking, as formerly, a part in the busy walks of life, of enjoying its active pleasures, and sharing its arduous enterprises, becomes peevish and uneasy, troublesome to others, and burdensome to himself. Destitute of the resources of philosophy, and a stranger to the amusing pursuits of literature, he is unacquainted with any agreeable method of filling up the vacuity left in his mind by his necessary recess from the active scenes of life.

All this is the consequence of squandering away the days of youth and vigour, without acquiring the habit of thinking. Excepting the case of the very lowest classes of society, to whom indigence has precluded the means of education, and continued labour has allowed no leisure for reflection, the period of human life, short as it is, is of sufficient length for the acquisition of a considerable stock of useful and agreeable knowledge; and the circumstances of the world afford a superabundance of subjects for contemplation and inquiry. The various phenomena of the moral as well as physical world, the investigation of sciences, and the information communicated by literature, are calculated to attract attention, exercise thought, excite reflection, and replenish the mind with an infinite variety of ideas.

it

The man of letters, when compared with one that is il literate, exhibits nearly the same contrast as that which exists between a blind man and one that can see; and if we consider how much literature enlarges the mind, and how much it multiplies, adjusts, rectifies, and arranges the ideas, may well be reckoned equivalent to an additional sense. It affords pleasures which wealth cannot procure, and which poverty cannot entirely take away. A well-cultivated mind places its possessor beyond the reach of those trifling vexations and disquietudes, which continually harass and perplex those who have no resources within themselves; and, in some measure, elevates him above the smiles and frowns of fortune. BIGLAND.

"

[ocr errors]

51.-ON THE FORMATION OF LANGUAGE.

CARRY your thoughts back to the first dawn of language among men. Reflect upon the feeble beginnings from which it must have risen, and upon the many and great obstacles which it must have encountered in its progress, and you will find reason for the highest astonishment on viewing the height which it has now attained. We admire several of the inventions of art; we plume ourselves in some discoveries which have been made in latter ages, serving to advance knowledge, and to render life comfortable; we speak of them as the boast of human reason. But certainly no invention is entitled to any such degree of admiration as that of language; which, too, must have been the product of the first and rudest ages, if, indeed, it can be considered as a human invention at all.

A

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Think of the circumstances of mankind when language began to be formed. They were a wandering, scattered race; no society among them except families; and the family society too very imperfect, as their method of living by hunting or pasturage must have separated them frequently from one another. In this situation, when so much divided, and their intercourse so rare, how could any one set of sounds, or words, be generally agreed on as the signs of their ideas? Supposing that a few, whom chance or necessity threw together, agreed by some means upon certain signs, yet by what authority could these be propagated ameng other tribes or families, so as to spread and grow up

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

into a language? One would think that, in order to any language fixing and extending itself, men must have been previously gathered together in considerable numbers; 30ciety must have been already far advanced; and yet, on the other hand, there seems to have been an absolute necessity for speech, previous to the formation of society. For, by what bond could any multitude of men be kept together, or be made to join in the prosecution of any common interest, until once, by the intervention of speech, they could communicate their wants and intentions to one another? So that, either how society could form itself previously to language, or how words could rise into a language previously to society formed, seem to be points attended with equal difficulty. And when we consider, farther, that curious analogy which prevails in the construction of almost all languages, and that deep and subtile logic on which they are founded, difficulties increase so much upon us on all hands, that there seems to be no small reason for referring the first origin of all language to divine teaching or inspiration.

But supposing language to have a divine original, we cannot, however, suppose that a perfect system of it was all at once given to man. It is much more natural to think, that God taught our first parents only such language as suited their present occasions; leaving them, as he did in other things, to enlarge and improve it as their future necessities should require. Consequently, those first rudiments of speech must have been poor and narrow; 'and we are at full liberty to inquire in what manner, and by what steps, language advanced to the state in which we now find it.

If we should suppose a period before any words were invented or known, it is clear, that men could have no other method of communicating to others what they felt, than by the cries of passion, accompanied with such motions and gestures as were farther expressive of passion. For these are the only signs which nature teaches all men, and which are understood by all. One who saw another going into some place where he himself had been frightened or exposed to danger, and who sought to warn his neighbour of the danger, could contrive no other way of doing so, than by utter

ing those cries, and making those gestures, which are the signs of fear; just as two men, at this day, would endeavour to make themselves be understood by each other, who should be thrown together on a desolate island, ignorant of each other's language. 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.

When more enlarged communication became necessary, and names began to be assigned to objects, in what manner can we suppose men to have proceeded in this assignation of names, or invention of words? Undoubtedly, by imitating, as much as they could, the nature of the object which they named, by the sound of the name which they gave to it. As a painter, who would represent grass, must employ a green colour; so, in the beginnings of language, one giving a name to any thing harsh or boisterous, would of course employ a harsh or boisterous sound. He could not do otherwise, if he meant to excite in the hearer the idea of that thing which he sought to name. Το 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 always have been some motive which led to the assignation of one name rather than another; and we can conceive no motive which would more generally operate upon men in their first effort towards language, than a desire to paint, by speech, the objects which they named, in a manner more or less complete, according as the vocal organs had it in their power to effect this imitation.

Whatever objects were to be named, in which sound, noise, or motion was concerned, the imitation by words was abundantly obvious. Nothing was more natural, than to imitate, by the sound of the voice, the quality of the sound or noise which any external object made; and to form its name accordingly. Thus, in all languages, we find a multitude of words that are evidently constructed upon this principle. A certain bird is termed the cuckoo, from the sound which it emits. When one sort of wind is said to whistle, and another to roar; when a serpent is said to hiss, a fly to buzz, and falling timber to crash; when a stream is

said to flow, and hail to rattle; the analogy between the word and the thing signified is plainly discernible.

In the names of objects which address the sight only, where neither noise nor motion is concerned, and still more in the terms appropriated to moral ideas, this analogy appears to fail. Many learned men, however, have been of opinion, that though, in such cases, it becomes more obscure, yet it is not altogether lost; but that, throughout the radical words of all languages, there may be traced some degree of correspondence with the object signified. With regard to moral and intellectual ideas, they remark, that, in every language, the terms significant of them, are derived from the names of sensible objects to which they are conceived to be analogous; and, with regard to sensible objects pertaining merely to sight, they remark, that their most distinguishing qualities have certain radical sounds appropriated to the expression of them, in a great variety of languages. Stability, for instance, fluidity, hollowness, smoothness, gentleness, violence, &c. they imagine to be painted by the sound of certain letters or syllables, which have some relation to those different states of visible objects, on account of an obscure resemblance which the organs of voice are capable of assuming to such external qualities. By this natural mechanism, they imagine all languages to have been at first constructed, and the roots of their capital words formed. BLAIR.

52.-ON THE SUBLIME IN WRITING.

It is, generally speaking, among the most ancient authors, that we are to look for the most striking instances of the sublime. The early ages of the world, and the rude unimproved state of society, are peculiarly favourable to the strong emotions of sublimity. The genius of men is then much turned to admiration and astonishment. Meeting with many objects, to them new and strange, their imagination is kept glowing, and their passions are often raised to the utmost. They think, and express themselves boldly, and without restraint. In the progress of society, the genius and manners of men undergo a change more favour able to accuracy than to strength or sublimity.

Of all writings, ancient or modern, the Sacred Scriptures

« AnkstesnisTęsti »