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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inrich it, what Religion, the Government and what Sciences have
communicated to it, what it retains of Antiquity and what new acquests it
hath made to retrieve its losses with advantage.

Afterall, this is yet but the sceleton, or at most but the body of a
Language, Its necessary that this rude, and indigested masse made up of so
many different dialects should be animated by some secret spirit that
should expand it selfe through all its parts and severall members, and
reduce them to unity by communicating the same air to them, and that this
Spirit or Soul should be the individuall principle of all the effects, and
sensible changes, which make us easily distinguish one Language from
another: The Temper, Humour, and Nature of a people, the dispositions of
their minds, their genius and particular gusts, their more generall and
forcible inclinations, their ordinary passions, and such singular
qualities, by which one Nation is remarq'd and distinguisht from another,
are the most evident signs to discover the true genius of a Language,
because they are in reality the immediate causes and the very originalls
after which I have copied all my draughts to compleat the present piece,
which in my opinion is not wanting in something that is very Naturall,
Besides this, the very manners and customes of Nations, their Laws and
policy, and their publick transactions, both of peace and War, are things
so universally known, that there is no need of any farther search, how to
be able to judge by proportion of the genius, and characters of the
Languages so securely, as by that of the people that speak them.

But as the care of a Nation to improve and advance the Arts and Sciences
and other kinds of good Learning, is that which contributes most to the
perfection of its Language, So tis upon the manner in which its receiv'd,
and the characters of its Authors, that I cheifly depend to determine,
whether it be modest or imperious, whether it rellish more of a softnesse,
sweetnesse, and delicacy, than of a certain Noble brisque and generous air,
whether it incline more to the simplicity of Nature, or the subtile
refinements of Art, whether it be polite to affectation, or betray a
certain negligence which hath its graces too, as well as its measures of
Art, and last of all whether it be not a little crampt in attempting to be
too exact, or else better accomodate it selfe by its freedome from all

Having discoverd the genius and proper character of each Language, I have
fram'd the most perfect Idea that is possible, by way of analogie with the
principles of the Platonists, with whose method I was always as much taken
as I am dissatisfy'd with their doctrine.

This Idea being unmasqued serves me in the sequell for a generall rule, to
establish the true and proper reasons of all that passe for singular and
remarqueable in each Language, either in relation to the choice, the
mixture, and union of sounds, the force and significations of words, or the
Air and manner of expression; For tis most certain that all these things
are alter'd according to the genius of a people: So the Spaniards would
distinguish themselves from other Nations by their haughtinesse, and
affected gravity, and their words are easily understood by a certain
pompous Air, that seems to border upon grandeur and Majesty: On the
Contrary the Italians are the Nation of the world that seems to be most
fond of its pleasure, and its naturall, that this softnesse should be
communicated to their Language, and that all their words should breath
nothing, but what is sweet, polite, and the most exact harmony; their
compositions admitt of no sounds but such, as can flatter the Ear, they
suffer not the concours of consonants, whose rudenesse may never so little
offend the Organ, but they are extreamly in Love with Vowels, and often
allow their sequences to make their pronunciation more sweet and delicate.
For their signification, that they might mixe an accord with their energie,
they have hardly any but what are more or lesse figurative, from a
persuasion, that a Metaphor represents objects to the mind, in that most
curious and diverting manner, and withall they are carefull to make choise
of none, but such as represent the fairest images: They are no lesse
sollicitous to diversifie their words by agreeable modifications, their
inflexion hath very little uneasie in it, it is all of it æqually facile
and gay; their diminutives are exceedingly rellishing, because there is
something more than ordinarily pretty in them, they are rich in
derivatives, and compounds, not only because their pronunciation is more
harmonious, but also because they expresse themselves in a more naturall
manner, In one word they banish every thing that may appear ingratefull,
and are passionately in quest of all that may conduce to the Sweetnesse of
their Language.

My sense is much the same of other Languages, but because reason it selfe
may be suspected by some, especially if at any time it appear too just or
plausible, I was the rather concern'd so to order my instances, that
besides the induction, I intended custome and experience should support
reason, and reason should confirme experience, and withall the examples are
so naturally chain'd with their principles, and all of them so distributed
in their proper places, that without so much as making the least reflexion,
I imperceptibly comprize all the fundamentall and essentiall words of each
Language, being willing my selfe to draw all my conclusions from the
principles I have mention'd, and to make all necessary inductions, without
leaving any thing of trouble or disease to the reader, who in such cases is
glad to be quitt from paines and inconvenience, I have some hopes, that a
competition thus differently made up of History, reflexions and Criticismes
supported by principles, deductions and examples may contribute something
to the agreeableness of the designe, and sett off a subject that of itselfe
is dry and knotty enough, without making it more unacceptable by that mean
and disreputed method, that hath so much decry'd the Critiques, and
ordinarily hath given a disgust to a science before it hath been allow'd
the least consideration, besides that didacticque way, is by no means
proper in the present case, for as there is little pleasure in being taken
notice of under the character of a Scholler, so the only remedy is to
contrive some way to come to the knowledge of things without lying under
the suspicion of having a master.

Thus you see in grosse and generall, the whole designe exprest in as few
words as the brevity of the subject would permitt me; And However rationall
it may be in it selfe yet it wants not its adversaryes; Some with a great
deal of heat, plead that if this method acquiring the Languages, hath any
thing in it that is Curious by way of speculation, it is however uselesse
enough in relation to its practice, since _Custome_ and _Conversation_ only
(say they) is the great Master of Language, and that we must intirely relye
upon memory and the assiduity of constant and resolv'd industry.

Others confesse that it hath in earnest its advantages, but doubt much of
the possibility of its execution, hardly beleeving that the Languages have
in good truth such an accord and resemblance as I suppose they have, or
that there is a possibility for the witt of man now to discover it.

By way of reply to the first, I confesse that one thing I wonder at, is
that persons so knowing and ingenuous should so highly declare themselves
against the judgement in favour of the memory, I have a very great regard
to their qualitie and worth, but cannot submitt my selfe to their opinion,
The only way (as I imagine) to Learn the Languages, and that in what number
we please, to do it with ease without tædiousnesse, confusion, trouble and
losse of time, and without the common hazard, of forgetting them with as
much ease as we acquire them with difficulty, and to be master of them all
in such a manner, as shall rellish nothing that is mean or not becomeing a
Rationall man, is in one word, to attribute more to the judging and
reflecting faculty then to the memory; for if the memory depend and relye
only upon the reflexions of the judgement, we have no reason to expect much
from its single Conduct, for however plausible it may appear, it will
always be slow, limited, confus'd, and faithlesse; its action is not
vigorous enough to take us off from those fatigues that distast our most
likely enterprizes, and its efforts to weak and Languishing in a little
time to execute a designe of so large a compasse as this; being so
determin'd as it is, it is impossible it should reduce so great a number of
Languages so distanc't in appearance one from another; If at any time it
seem extraordinary in an action, its Species are soon displac't by their
multitude, and when they are rang'd in the best order imaginable, they
continue not so long without being either effact by those that supervene or
disappearing of themselves, haveing nothing that can fixe and retaine them,
So that the Languages being of so vast an extent, there is no reason that
the memory alone should be confided to for their acquest, unlesse we could
be content to sacrifice an infinite space of time to the Sole knowledge of
words, which being so valuable as it ought to be to us, may be imployd with
more discretion and successe, either towards the cognizance of things or
the management of businesse.

To satisfie others, I have nothing more at present to say to them but that
if the designe shall appear to them at first sight either fantasticall or
temerarious, the execution will soon justifie me, and perhaps convince them
that it is not always rationall positively to passe a judgement upon any
thing before a close and a narrow search, and that we ought not hastily to
despaire of any thing; the gaining of which hath not been attempted all
imaginable wayes.

Last of all, as I do not beleeve my selfe to be deceiv'd in that which make
up the grosse and main of the designe, so I do not expect that all that I
shall advance in the sequel upon this connexion of the Languages, should be
receiv'd by all for uncontrouleable truths, of which I my selfe am
sufficiently perswaded; I am too well acquainted with the nature of truth
to beleeve my selfe so succesfull as to have alwayes uncover'd that in the
most imbroyld and the most doubtfull affaires of the world; yet I confesse
that notwithstanding that great respect that is due to it, I have in some
cases lesse regarded it when it did not appear to comply with the
capacityes of ordinary men, persuading my selfe that conjecture well fram'd
and adjusted by a plausible Air is more rellishing to ingenious persons,
then an obscure and fainting truth, of which sort there is a very great
number in the present subject.

I propose then to the Learned, this new systeme of the Languages, not as an
incontestable Thesis in all its parts but only as an Hypothesis, not
altogether irrationall and which besides hath this particular advantage,
that although it should be the falsest thing in the world in speculation,
it may at least be allowable in the practice, And I hope to receive the
same favour that persons (that were most obstinately resolv'd against his
Hypothesis) granted Copernicus by their confession, that let it be never so
false it is however the best accommodated to use and Astronomicall


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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 3 of 3)