Pierre Besnier.

A Philosophicall Essay for the Reunion of the Languages Or, The Art of Knowing All by the Mastery of One online

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A Philosophicall ESSAY for the REUNION OF THE



the Art of Knowing all by the Mastery of one.

OXFORD Printed by HEN: HALL for JAMES GOOD. 1675.

The Printer to the


_Meeting by chance with this ingenuous offer, I thought it might not be
improper since I found it in another dresse, to make it speak another
Language too, which among the most creditable of Europe, hath not desisted
from its claim to Antiquity: There are very few Nations but have, at
sometime or other, laid in their pretences to a supremacy for their
Language, and have boasted an assistance from unsuspected reason and
Authority: But however variously the controversie hath been manag'd, the
modesty, and ingenuity of this Author hath rendred, his designe more
plausible, for having without any private regard (in such cases most usuall
to the spruce and flourishing Air of his owne Native tongue) made that
noble Language of the Romans the Basis of his project; And finding him
throughout altogether free from prejudice and partiality, I thought an
anteview of so excellent and usefull, a designe would not be unacceptable
to the more ingenious part of the world, and that I ought not to neglect so
faire an opportunity of recommending to their consideration that
illustrious dialect, which as it is certainly of all others the most
valuable, so to the shame of these modern ages, is either exceedingly
impair'd or lost in its familiar uses among those who challenge the title
of the _Beaux Esprits_ of the times. The aime therefore of this Projector
being to facilitate and expedite the Mastery of this as well as others, its
survey may possibly appear not altogether ungratefull if it be but in hopes
to find this incouragement that we shall he able to reserve some number of
years from our usually tædious application to its study for other eminent
uses, and commence men & Schollers at a much easier rate and in an earlier
age then now commonly practic'd; I should prevent the Author if I should
entertaine you with any farther commendation of it then that he hath taken
for his model the most creditable and plausible Language of the world. If
at any time you divert your selfe with reading Novels; you will here meet
with notions that are both Philosophicall and Airy, and in order to the
maine designe for the most part purely scientifick and demonstrative; and
after if all you shall think that you have not mispent your time by
observing something that is either a usefull or pleasurable I shall have my
designe and the Author the credit._


* * * * *

As the Knowledge of forreign Languages ought not to be reputed one of those
vain and useless curiosities that serve only to amuse the mind, but is
certainly conducive to a thousand different ends; so we ought not to think
it strange if our age, which gives such æquall and secure judgement of the
value of things shew more of passion then ever for it, notwithstanding all
the difficulties that are pretended. I am of an opinion, that one cannot do
the world a more acceptable piece of service, then to invent a certain and
easie way to become universally acquainted with the Languages, and to quit
a subject from those intrigues, in which the more knowing have at present
involv'd it, either from a pure impotence to disingage it, or possibly from
a fond desire of a freer breath of popular Air from those who are
ordinarily most taken with what they least understand.

This designe being only a proper entertainment for the most criticall of
the Virtuoses, I am the more inclinable to expose to the public, the
project and plain I have form'd, before I intirely abandon the whole to
their censure; that I may at first anticipate all manner of reply, and take
advantage from the lights of the most accomplisht and intelligent persons,
if their zeale hath courage enough to make them willing to serve the world
in their love and communication.

_The Authors designe._

Most men being prepossest with two unjust prejudices against the nature of
the Languages, th'one, that they have not all either resemblance or accord
among them, the other, that they only depend upon the inconstancie of
chance, and the whisling toyishness of custome, it might be thought no
matter of extraordinary concernment, if one pretended to succeed in a study
of this nature by the single efforts of the memory, without either the
vivacitie of imagination, or the force of reason being interress'd.

But being not very well perswaded of the agreeableness of this method, in
direct opposition to it, I have fastn'd the whole designe in hand upon
these two propositions:

First, that _there is a certain accord between the Severall Languages:_ and
that therefore they are attainable by comparison.

Secondly, _they are unquestionably founded upon reason_, and therefore that
must be made use of in their mutuall reference. It is upon these two
foundations that I pretend to establish the true method of gaining a
mastery of the Languages, making it appear to the world by a sensible
experience that the mind can as easily make reflections upon words, as upon
the things they represent: _Imagination_ and _Reason_ being the two
faculties, that can reflect upon their objects, they both will appear in
the present designe in their uses suitable to their nature, the effects of
_Imagination_ shall be visible in the severall resemblances, and the
inferences that are thence made; and it will be the worke of _Reason_ to
reduce all to certain principles, upon which the argumentative part must

_The first part of the Designe._

For the easier exercise of Imagination, I shall acquaint you with a method
that will appeare very naturall, by which insteed of considering the
Languages precisely in themselves (as hitherto hath been usuall) they may
be compar'd one with the other without much difficultie, and at the same
time their accord, dependance, and mutuall relation, discover'd either from
the resemblance of words, the proportion of their scope or compasse, and
the conformity of their expressions. Tis true that this agreement, and
relation is not a little obscur'd by the severall od constitutions of mens
minds, that checque at, and satisfie themselves with the first, and naked
appearance without any farther inquirie, but withall its presently, and
easily perceiv'd by those who are happy enough, in a genius for such kind
of Learning. Its something like the paradoxes Geometry proposeth upon the
relation, and proportion of figures, where we are mus'd at the first
draught, and there appeares so little likelihood in them that the
unexperienc't would take them only for the tricks and whims of a
melancholique brain; whereas an ingenuous Artist, from the most naturall,
and simple notions gradually conducts the mind to a kind of insensible
discovery of truth, and makes it see on a suddain what it could not expect,
and that with such open assurances as quit that from all suspicion, which
but now had scarce any face of truth.

Knowing no other method then this, that may be proper to make new
discoveries in the sciences I endeavour'd to make what use I could of it,
so farr as my subject permitted; And since amidst the severall resemblances
of the Languages, there are some so evident, as necessarily grance upon the
most unobserving eye, I have so order'd my reflections, that by a reference
to these, as models, I might by degrees arrive at the knowledge of the
others, which although reserv'd, and sometimes more distanc't, yet are
neither less certain, nor reall: not unlike the subalternate conclusions in
speculation, which are not a jot the lesse true for being farther remov'd
from their first principle.

Thus tis that a Language with which we are already acquainted, either by
the assistance of Art, or Conversation, leads us to an intimacy with those
that were altogether unknown to us before, and that their relation
redresseth the treachery of the memory in the close and juncture of one
with the other.

But that I may compasse this my designe with lesse trouble, my greatest
care is to make choise of one Language as a rule to measure by, and a
principle to reduce all the rest too: for to pretend to compare them
immediately one with another, as some would have it, is to cherish
confusion among those things that demand the most of order.

The veneration that I have alwayes had for antiquity, made me think at
first of ingaging for the _Hebrew_, as being (for ought we know) the
earliest, the most noble, and most naturall Language of the world and that
from which all others, in a manner, derive themselves. But it was not long
before I began to consider, that this would directly crosse the first
principles of my intended method, and appear a kind of indeavour to teach
an unknown Language, by another, of which we have the most imperfect, and
slender information of all. The kindnesse, and inclination I ought to have
for my own Country, had almost perswaded me to rest my self there, and to
make my native tongue the basis of this universall reduction but then the
rest of the Europæan world (which I have no reason to slur or contemne)
would have as ill resented the project, as we did it in the Germans, who
would long agoe have challenged this honour to themselves. I had in the end
no other course to take, but to throw myselfe upon the _Latine_, in which I
luckily met with all the necessary conditions that did easily, and
plausibly conduce to my design'd attempt.

To say the truth _Aristotle_ himselfe, a man of a judgement in such things
the most exact that ever was to take a _measure_ from, demanded but three
qualifications, viz. _Universality_, _Certainty_, and _Proportion_; that it
should be generally known to all those that are to make use of it in the
quality of a measure, that it should be fixt, and determin'd in its selfe,
and then that it should be proportion'd to all those things, to which it
prescribes their bounds, all which characters do with advantage combine in
the Latine, and that with such propriety that they cannot be attributed to
any other without some sort of injustice; for the greatest part of the
other Languages they are determind to the extent of a particular Kingdom or
Country, the Latine hath no such disadvantage upon it. It is to speak
properly the Language of Europe: Religion, and the Sciences have more
enlarg'd its dominions, then all the conquests of the Romans; tis almost
the common Idiom of the North, and universally knowne to persons of birth
and education, who alone are presum'd to stand in need of the assistance of
forraigne Languages.

It disownes the common imperfection of others, which by nature being
subject to change, cannot by consequence, serve for a certain determinate
rule in all ages; and if it now survive through the large extent of its
entertainment, it hath much the advantage of others, that are in a manner
deceas'd to this that is fixt, and retaind by a well assur'd custome and if
its being universally known allows all persons to share its uses, so its
being steddy, and unalterable, secures it from all the uneven changes of

As to its proportion, it in a manner keeps a mean between the Ancient and
Modern Languages, it is neither altogether so pure as the one, nor so
corrupt as the other, and so with the same ease is applicable to both; and
in earnest is infinitely the most compendious, it being farre less trouble
to passe from the mean to an extream, or from the extream to the mean, then
to trace it from one extream to another. However this would seem
incommodious beyond all redresse, to attempt to reduce all the Languages,
either to the most ancient, or else to any one of the most modern, because
in reality, the former have no more relation to the later, then these have
with others of the same age, which have been as so many channels to derive
Antiquity to us.

Besides the Latin makes a friendly meeting between the Eastern, and Western
Languages; as to the first alone it owes its birth and life, so the others
do to it.

It seems then no more difficult to attain the one, by streaming it up to
the fountain, then to gain all the rest by making a like descent, by way of
resemblance to what we observe in nature when we discern, as well the
effect by the cause, as the cause by the effect. In one word, to make up
all the differences that may arise about the supremacie of the Languages, I
consider the Latin under three different regards, as the _daughter_ of the
Languages of the _East_, as the _Mother_ of those in the _West_, and as the
_Sister_ of the more _Northerne_.

As it is abundantly copious, and rich, having been refind, and improv'd for
more then 3000 years by an infinite variety of nations, with whose spoyls
it is now invested, so it may have a very great number of resemblances,
under which with little difficultie it will admit of a reference to all the
rest. For in conclusion, to reduce all to the most refin'd, and polite
Language, is not what I pretend to; the Barbarous stile of the ancient
Romans will do me as much service, as the quaintnesse, and elegance of
Cicero; the Latin of the declining Empire, since the irruptions of the
Northern Nations, may be admitted into this designe to as good purpose, as
the language of Augustus his time; any sense is the same of that of the
_Sciences_, which makes one almost altogether distinct from what is common
and vulgar; the proper names of Philosophy, naturall History, and Divinity,
those of Physick, and the Mathematicks, of Arts, Law, and Commerce; the
names of illustrious persons, people and places, of which History
furnisheth us with a plausible account, will afford me no lesse assistance
on this occasion, then the names of things that are most common.

After having made choice of a Language in order to the design, I am in the
next place to determine my self to a _certain number of them_, the reunion
of which may be justly thought a modest and reasonable attempt; for as
there are some, the knowledge of which will be of very little use; so I am
obliged to prescribe some bounds to a designe that would lead me to
something indetermin'd, and infinite, and withall I suspect the inlargement
both of mind, and memory to compasse all; especially considering the
consequence of some to be indifferent, neither that of Biscany, nor the
lower Brettaigne should in my opinion much afflict any mans braine, nor do
I believe that there are many more in the world interest for them, then
there are for the dialect of Finland or Frizland, or the Barbarous jangling
of the Negroes and Savages. In the choise that I was to make I could not
but give the preference to those of the greatest credit and repute, _took
some Prince_ (excuse the allusion) _who having laid his design to reunite
all the Kingdomes of the world, began his conquest upon those Nations that
were most formidable and renown'd, from an apprehension that the rest in a
little time would be less able to make any opposition._

As I am not of an humour to attempt any thing without an incouragement from
reason; or to give my selfe any trouble through a kind of caprice, purely
to gratifie my curiositie; _Religion_, _State_, and the _Sciences_ are the
_three grand rules_ from which I make a judgement what Languages are really
the most important and noble; I have only therefore selected such as
_Europe_ may use to the best advantage, either for the defence of the
Church, the good of the State, the advancement of the Sciences, or the
perfection of the most laudable Arts. It is for this end that I have
entertained in my designe all the Languages that concerne Religion, and
make a particular mention of such as furnish us with originall texts, and
the most authentick translations of the Bible, being of no mean consequence
towards the faithfull interpretation of our sacred Records, and the
confirmation of the Articles of our Creed.

I am in the next place obliged to find a place for such as concern and
relate to State affaires, the most renowned Empires, Kingdomes, and warlike
Nations, which may afford a suitable entertainment for all sorts of people,
and withall very much conduce to the succesful management of forraigne
businesse, the most important negotiations, Embassies, the transactions of
war or peace, as well as the most hopefull designes of travellers. But
above all I find myself concern'd for those that give us the most refin'd
and polite discoveries of wit and Science, and have been cherisht and nurst
up to our hands by the most knowing and ingenious of all Nations.

I can hardly believe I shall meet with any inclinable to quarrell me for
the number of 24. that I have thought on for my designe, since I presume it
no easie matter for the most nicely curious to find a just occasion; and
although there are none of them that are not unquestionably deriv'd from
the same originall, it being no great difficulty to convince any well
settled head, that in the propriety of speech there is but one mother
Language: Yet to avoid confusion I distribute them all into 7. different
orders, as they seem to carry an immediate reference to the Languages,
which are the commonly suppos'd originals: such are in the opinion of the
Learned the _Roman_, and the _Greec_, the _Teutonic_ and _Sclavonic_, the
_Hebrew_, _Scythian_, and the _Persian_.

The Roman Idioms are the _Italian_, _Spanish_ and _French_, which cannot
now be unknowne to any but such as are shamefully ignorant; I may adde
likewise the _Portuguese_, which although not very different from the
_Castilian_, yet is not wanting in its owne particular beauties, and hath
receiv'd no mean accession of use and honour from the conquests of its
Kings in the most remote parts of the world.

To the Greec I shall reduce its 3. principall relations, _viz_ the Literall
Greec, such as we meet with in our old Classic Authors, the vulgar as it is
commonly used since the declining age of the Empire at Constantinople, and
the Coptique or Ægyptian, which is but a remainder of the famous government
of the Ptolomies in Ægypt: for although in its idiome there be something
yet remaining of an originall stamp, either in that its words seem to touch
upon the auntient Language of the Pharaohs, or that its inflection no way
resembles the Greec, yet the Empire of Alexander and his successors induc'd
such a confusion, that the Greec hath almost got the better, and involv'd
all the lesser remains of Antiquity.

Under the Teutonic I comprehend the Almain or high German, the Flemmish or
low Dutch, the English and the Danish, which is to this day entertain/'d in
the most Northerne regions, and may give us some intimations of a clearer
light then any besides, as having yet carefully secured some footsteps of
the ancient Language.

The Sclavonic is accompani'd with 3. more considerable dialects the true
Sclavonic, the Polish, and Muscovitish, to which the valour of the Nations
that speak them have brought more reputation then any other ingenious

The Hebrew hath no less then seven in its retinue, the pure Hebrew, such as
we meet with in our Bible, the Language of the Rabbins and Talmudists, the
Chaldee, the Syriaque, the Æthiopick or Abyssin, the Samaritan, and the
Arabique, which in our age hath so inlarg'd its dominion, that its either
spoke or understood in the three parts of the Old World Asia, Africa and
Europe; and hath alone produc't such a prodigious number of books, that one
would scarce believe how a Nation so famous for its exploits in warr should
have so much leasure to attend to the improvement of learning.

The Scythian hath two very illustrious dialects in its traine, the Turkish
and lesser Tartarian, both which may serve in some measure to acquaint us
what Languages are used in the North of Asia.

The last is the Persian, which is not only universally priz'd in the Empire
of the Sophy, but a common entertainment in the Court of the grand
Seigneur, as well as in that of the Mogull, where it is hugely valued and

As this reference of the Languages to one another would be to litle
purpose, if the less qualifi'd and accomplisht were not capable of judging
of it, since tis for them principally I am most concern'd, I believ'd
therefore it would be necessary intirely to retrench all that strange
variety of characters, whose od and fantasticall figures do strangely
divert the imaginations of those, who are not well qualifi'd to conceive
them. Neither do I intend to humour my selfe in that vaine kind of
ostentation that some affect, to make this kind of writing one of that most
mysterious parts of their learning, but have found out a method of
expressing the sounds of all the distinguishing characters of each Language
onely by the Roman, and that in a manner as easie and disingag'd as it is
accurate and new; insomuch that the resemblances of words, which altogether
disappear'd under those uncouth figures (which like a veile intercepted
them from the less clarify'd eye) presently face the light, there being
nothing left to interpose between them, and a closer consideration, which
notwithstanding shall not acquit me from my designe of discovering an
expedient to decypher with ease all those severall kinds of writing, and of
fixing them upon the imagination in such a manner as without difficulty can
admit of no confusion.

After having remov'd this first obstruction, which hath so long imbroild
and retarded the knowledge of the Languages, that I may with less trouble
reduce them to their first principle, I shall run near the same course,
that hath been successively taken in their removall, so farr as any history
can informe us, upon which I principally lay the stresse and basis of my
designe by producing such arguments from it, the force of which cannot
plausibly be eluded. For I do not believe that any of the more curious will
find fault with me for fastning the origine, and alliance of the Language
upon the same bottome with the begining and first society of mankind, who
are observed never to shift their Country, without having their Language to
bear their Arms and Customes company. As I never thought fit to dispute it
with the Learned, why they did not make use of the affinity of the
Languages, which sometimes are of clearer notice to them to discover the
the first rise of a people more remote, and with which they are lesse
acquainted; So I hope I may be permitted to make what advantage I can of
the first combinations and colonies to give a clearer light to the
beginnings and connexion of the severall Tongues, there being something
near the same, or a like proportion between both: as for instance, To make
good the opinion of Dionysius Halicarnasseus, and Quintilian, who both
pretend that the Latin tongue is no more then a Dialect of the Antient
Greek, is but in plain and easie words to give an account of all the little
settlements, and Plantations in Italy, which for some continuance of time
was only inhabited by colonies from Greece.

Upon what other terms I hardly understand this new project should be
surprizing to any, it being not the meer effect of imagination, or an
humorous Idea, neither will it much ingage any sort of people, but only
such as can easily dislodge their prejudices when their owne lights shall
assist in their conviction, and that from such assurances as shall be most
free from suspicion, being faithfull deductions from the histories of the
Colonies. But as it is impossible that the Languages should not be liable
to severall alterations and mixtures from the different associations of
people in severall removes, so neither is it to be believ'd that this was
done all on a sudden; there seems to be a resemblance between the words
that make up the Language and Travellers, who do not put off their
accustom'd usages and manners so soon as they arrive at a new Country,
neither are they naturaliz'd, but with time and by degrees become masters
of the Air, humors, and qualities of the persons with whom they converse.

Since then this corruption is but of a graduall and intensible growth,
there is a necessitie, for its more certain discovery, of an orderly
reflection upon the very first beginnings of the differences, being in the
interim very sollicitous to prevent a false retreat that might either
ingage me too farr, or else in some unluckie circumstances, from which it
would be no little difficulty to retire. And this seems to be the only way
that I could find out to scatter a certain Air and appearance of truth upon

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Online LibraryPierre BesnierA Philosophicall Essay for the Reunion of the Languages Or, The Art of Knowing All by the Mastery of One → online text (page 1 of 3)