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William Shepherd.

Systematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) online

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/ themselves to the acquisition of polite learning with incredi-
ble ardour and perseverance. For this purpose they entered
into an accurate discussion of the nature and combination of
long and short sounds, and the beauty and vigour which a >
discourse may derive from a judicious management of nume-
rical feet. By these means they brought their eloquence to
^f a surprizmg point of perfection, and though it may net be
ll necessary for us to carry the matter so far as they did, yet

W something of the same care would meet with arf ample

L reward.

With respect to ^hose who would apply themselves to the

^ study of the sacred volume, it may be observed, that a proper

knowledge and taste in the Belles Lettres, will enable them

to enter with more discernment and spirit into the sense of

the Scriptures, in general, and especially into the elegance



-.3



46 BELLES LETTRES.

and force of particular passages. A thorough acquaintance
with the sacred records will be of vast importance to those
who undertake to explain their meaning, and enforce the doc-
trines and duties inculcated in them. Nothing, perhaps, will
better prepare a person for this acquaintance, than a previous
study of the authors who are eminent in the republic of. polite
learning, hence he will acquire that true genius of criticism,
which will enable him to rise above grammatical trifles, and to
survey with full scope and energy, the places he has occasion to
illustrate; hence he will peruse the writmgs of the inspired pen-
men with something of the ardour with which they themselves
wrote, which must surely be the most likely way of discover-
ing tlieir design and meaning. 'Had commentators b^n'
usually men of taste, the world would not have been loaded
with such a number of tedious and insipid performances.
But a competent progress in the liberal/studics, will be of
signal service in enabling a person to asce'ain the beauty \nd
emphasis of many particular passages of Scripture. In this,
an accurate knowledge of the Belles Lettres will most emi-
nently display itself. Those who are conversant with the best
writers, will frequently, by producing a parallel sentimeift or
mode of expression, throw extraordinary light and lustre on
certain passages in ancient literature. Raphelius, Elmer,
Bos, iind others, have made excellent use of their learning ip
this respect. Indeed, it is only the person of taste who is
likely to feel strongly, and describe the sublimity, the elo-
quence, the pathos, and the energy of a thousand places, which
are to be met with in the works of antiquity, and especially in
the sacred records.

Those who have to plead for, and widi their fellow crea-
tures, will find a knowledge of polite hterature of great ad-
vantage in striking the afifections, which is of much conse-
quence to the writer and orator. Some have held this part of
the business as of little moment. If, indeed, men had been
iramed without passions, we should have had nothing to do but
to speak to their reason and understanding ; or if the business



BELLES LETTRES. 47

of the orator were only with the discerning few, who always
followed the cool dictates of the rational faculties, it would be
quite sufficient to enumerate, as simply and plainly as possible,
those facts and arguments by which they ought to be governed.
But considering man as he reaHy is, it is of the highest im-
portance to address his feelings as well as his judgment ; we
should endeavour to touch the strings of his soul, and to
awaken his gratitude, his shame, his joy, his fear, and his hopes.
This can be effectually done, only by being ourselves under
the influence of the principles recommended by the dignity and
weight of the subjects that we treat upon, and by ^the internal
strength of the motives with which they are enforced. In the
manner of striking the affecfions, we shall receive much help
from a knowledge and taste in the Belles Lettres : we shall
learn a more lively and animated strain of composition, and
a more suitable and engaging method of appealing to the
heart.

History vvill furnish us with many excellent observations
and illustrious facts, which cannot fail, when properly intro-
duced and represented, of making a powerful impression upon
those whom we address in our discourses, whether by the
press or from the pulpit. The Orators will shew us the way
of insinuating ourselves into the good will of those for whoniv
we write, and to whom we speak : they will teach the ma-
nagement of those figures that speak powerfully to the pas-
sions. The epic and tragic poets will describe the sublime,
the affecting, and tender emotions of the mind, instruct us in
the sources of pity and terror, and tell us the language that is
fitted to excite themf

Finally; a competent progress in the liberal studies will
prevent our compositions, on the one hand, from being care~
less and incorrect, and on the other from being jejune and
spiritless. These are two extremes which ought most studi-
ously to be avoided. If we are remarkably defective in ac-
curacy, though we abound in other excellences, we shall
disgust the judicious ; but if we are cold and lifeless, we shall



48 BELLES LETTRES.

be guilty of a more disagreeable fault, and the best method of
avoiding both these defects, will be by a diligent application
to the Belles Lettres. These will not only teach us to guard
against glaring improprieties, but will oblige us likewise to be
dissatisfied with a languid correctness. They will instruct us
to put our thoughts into their proper place ; to introduce
them with delicacy and address, and clothe them with decent
ornament. In short, the Belles Lettres will give a colouring,
a grace, and an energy to our sentiments, which Mill be
highly advantageous to the scholar in every department of
literature.



^ CHAP. II.



OF LANGUAGE.



Definition of language and articulation Description of the voice, and op
what it depends Of letters, syllables, and words Rise and origin of
language Names of things, how selected Interjections Origin of ac-
tion Causes of metaphorical language Origin of different kinds of
writing Discovery of letters Account of Cadmus Methods and ma-
terials of writing,

JLANGUAGE may be defined to be a set of words that
any people have agreed upon, by which to communicate their
thoughts to each other. Or, 'more generally, by language
may be understood the expression of our ideas by certain arti-
culate sounds, which are used as the signs of those ideas.

Articulation is the form or character which the voice ac-
quires, by means of the mouth, and its several organs and ap-
pendages, as the teeth, the tongue, the lips, the larynx, &c.
The voice, by articulation, is not made more loud or soft,
which are said to be its primary qualities, but it acquires, in
addition to these characters, others that may exist with them.
The simplest of these new characters, are those acquired
through the openings of the mouth, as these openings differ
in giving the voice a passage ; and from the several configura-
tions of these openings proceed vowels. There are other ar-
ticulate forms which the mouth makes, not by mere openings,
but by different contacts of its several parts, such as it makes

VOL. I. E



50 BELLES LETTRES.

by the junction of the lips ; of the tongue with tlie teeth ;
of the tongue with the palate, and the like. These contacts
are preceded, or immediately followed, by some opening of
the mouth ; and the articulations so produced are denominated
consonants.

The voice is produced by the larynx, which is a hollow
organ placed between the root of the tongue and the trachea,
or wind-pipe, which gives a passage to thfe air into and out of
the lungs in respiration.

The larynx is composed of cartilaginous pieces, moved in
various directions by voluntary muscles, on the motion of
which, habit and practice confer a vast precision. Thus^
voice is to speech, in relation to the muscles of the larjnx,
what the rude movements of the fingers of the savage, are to
the precise and delicate motions of a man ea>ployed in the
finest mechanical arts. Tlie principle is the same, the results
only are different. It is a general law in the organs of volun-
tary motion, that they acquire perfection by exercise, that
tfaey are in short susceptible of education.

Speech, tlierefore, may be considered as the formation o(
the voice, produced by means of tlie organs about the throat,
nose, and moutli, into articulated sounds, by which men
communicate their tlioughts to each other. All animals have
a Voice, but man alone speaks, in the sense now alluded to.

If a letter be a sound that cannot be resolved into more
simple elementif, speech is the formation of the voice inta
ihe sounds expressed by letters, and the composition of word
from these. Letters, as we have seen, are divided into vowels
and consonants : the former are produced simply by the voice
passing through the mouth, opened to a greater or less degree,
without the aid of the tongue. The latter, are sounds pro-
nounced with the vowels, and modifying or limiting them :
they have, therefore, either expressed or understood, vowels
before or after them. The sound of the vowel in these case*
is altered, by the tongue being applied to some part in 111*^
cavity of the mouth, striking against the teeth or lips.



LANGUAGE. . 5i

The smallest combinations of letters produce a syllable;
S)'llables, properly joined, make a word ; words duly com-
bined form a sentence ; and from sentences are produced
orations, discourses, &,c. So that to principles apparently
very trivial, as, to about twenty elementary sounds, we owe
that variety of articulate words which have been sufficient to
explain the sentiments of all the present and past generations
of men.

Language may be considered, as signifying the expression
of our ideas by articulate sounds, which are used as the signs
of those ideas. In a more general sense, the word language is
. sometimes used to denote the sounds by which animals of all
kinds express their particular feelings and impulses, in a man-
ner that is intelligible to their own species. Between, how-
ever, the language of man, in a civilized state, and that of
other inferior animals, there is but little analogy. Human
language is capable of expressing ideas and notions, of which
it is probable the brute creation can have no conception.
Speech, according to the ancients, is made to indicate what
is expedient and what is hiexpedient, and in consequence of
this, what is just or unjust ; and, therefore, it is peculiar to
man, who alone possesses a sense of right and wrong, of the
expedient and inexpedient.

Few subjects are more difficult than the attempt to account
for the rise and origin of language. As there are no facts to
lead us to suppose that articulated language is the result of instinct, ^
the inquiry is interesting and important, though embarrassed
with much difficulty, how mankind were first induced to fa-
bricate sounds, and employ them for the purpose of commu-
nicating their thoughts. Children learn to speak by insensible
imitation, and when advanced in life, they learn other languages,
th^n what they hear spoken about them, under proper instruc-
tors, or through the medium of books ; but the first men had
no speakers to imitate, and no formed language to study. By
what means then did they learn to speak? On this question,
only two opinions can be formed. Either language must have

E 2



,.f



52 BELLES LETTRES.

been originally rcxealcd from heaven, or it is the fruit of hu'
man industry. The greater part of Jews and Christians, and
some learned and inquiring Pagans, have embraced the former
opinion, which seems to be supported by tlie authority of
Moses, who represents the Creator as teaching our first
parents the names of animals. 'Die latter opinion is held
by Diodorus Siculus, Lucretius, Horace, and many other
Greek and Roman writers, who maintain that language was
an art invented by ifian. The first men, they say, lived for
some time in woods and caves, uttering only confused and in-
distinct noises, till associating for mutual assistance, they came
by degrees to use articulate sounds, mutually agreed upon for
the arbitrary signs or marks of those ideas in the mind of the
speaker, which he wanted to communicate to the hearer.

It is certain, that men could not have instituted civil polity,
or have carried on by concert any cooimon work, without com-
municating their designs to each other, and there are four
ways by which it has been thought that this could have been
done before the invention of speech, viz. (1) By inarticulate
cries, expressive of sentiments and passions. (2) Gestures,
and the expression of countenance. (3) Imitative sounds, ex-
pressive of audible things ; and (4) Painting, by which visible
objects may be represented. Of these methods of communi-
cation, it is plain that only two have any connexion with lan-
''uage, viz. inarticulate cries, and imitative sounds : the latter
must probably be abandoned, as having contributed nothing
to tlie invention of articulation, though it may have assisted
in its progressive advancement. Therefore, inarticulate cries
only must be looked to, as having given rise to the formation
of language, if it were an art acquired by human ingenuity
alone.

IMany of our best modern writers, among whom are War-
burton, Johnson, Beattie, and Blair, maintain that language was
originally revealed from heaven ; and they regard the accounts of
its human invention as supposititious, depending upon no fixed
principle. The op'mions of the ancients, as tliey are called,



LANGUAGE. 5S

in their estimation, claim no greater authority than those of
other men, because language was formed and brought to a
great degree of perfection, long before the aera of any histo-
rian that has come down to modern times ; of course the anti-
quity of the Greek and Roman writers, gives them no advan-
tage in this inquiry, over the philosophers of the present or
last century.

If, however, the first language were communicated to man
by inspiration, it must, it may be imagined, have been per-
fect, and held in higli reverence by those who spoke it ; and
would, in fact, have become universal, or the language of all
mankind. But we know that a vast variety of languages have
prevailed in the world, of which some are very imperfect,
and others have unquestionably been lost. Now if different
languages were originally invented by different nations, this
would naturally folio w from the mixture of these nations ; whereas
it should seem, that no motive sufficiently powerful could
have been offered, to induce men, possessed of one perfect lan-
guage of divine original, to forsake it for others of their own
invention, that would, in every respect, be inferior to that with
which they or their forefathers had been inspired.

In answer to this, it is said, that nothing was given by in-
spiration, but the faculty of speech and elements of language ;
and that men have modified it by their natural powers, in the
same way as thousands improve what they could not invent.
The first language, if given by inspiration, would have been
perfect in its principles, but, probably, not copious : it was
- sufficient that a foundation was laid of such a nature as would
support the largest superstructure, which men might ever have
occasion to raise upon it, and that they were taught the method
of rearing this superstructure by composition and deri%'ation.
This theory, while it preserves the language radically the
same, admits the introduction of different dialects in different
countries over which men spread themselves. Every new
region and every new climate suggests different ideas, and
creates different wants, which would produce great diversity,



dX BELLES LETTRES.

even in the firsi elements of speech, among all savage nations ;
the words retained of the original language being used in
various senses, and pronounced with various accents. When
any of these tribes emerged from barbarism, the improvement
and copiousness of their language would keep pace with their
own progress in knowledge, and the arts of life. Superior
refinement may induce imitation, conquest may impose a
language, and extension of empires may melt down different
nations and different dialects into one mass ; but independent
tribes, without any other collateral circumstances, naturally
give rise to a diversity of languages. The variety of tongues,
therefore, the copiousness of some, and the narrowness of
otliers, furnish no solid objection to the divine origin of lan-
guage ;* for, whether it was at first revealed from heaven, or,
in the course of ages, was invented by men, a multitude of
dialects would inevitably arise as soon as the human race was
separated into a number of distinct and independent nations.

After all, we pretend not to decide on this controversy, it
is sufficient for our purpose to have very briefly stated the
arguments on both sides. On either theory, it is admitted
that the first rudiments of speech were very contracted, and
we may accordingly proceed to mquire in what manner, and by
what steps, language advanced to the state in which we now
find it. If we suppose 9 period to exist before any words
were invented or ktiown, it is clear that men could have had
no other method of communicating their feelings to others,
than by cries of passion, accompanied by such motions and
gestures as were expressive of emotion. These are the only
signs which nature teaches all men, and which, being natural
to all, are understood by all. These exclamations, therefore,
called, by grammarians, interjections, uttered in a strong
and passionate manner, were, undoubtedly, the elements of
speech. See the following chapters.

When a more enlarged communication became requisite,
and names began to be applied to objects, these names must
have been chosen by assimilating, as much as possible, the



LANGUAGE. 55

(nature of ibe object to be named, to the sound which they gave
it : thus, to any thing harsh or boisterous, a harsh or boisterous
sound would be applied, in the same manner as a painter
would represent grass by using a green colour. He could not
act otherwise, if he desired to excite in the hearer the idea of
that object which he wished to name. To imagine words
invented, or names given to things, in a manner purely arbi-
trary, is to suppose an effect without a cause. There must
have been some motive which led to one name rather than an-
other, and no motive would more generally operate upon men,
in their first efforts towards language, than a desire to describe,
by speech, the objects which they named, in a manner more
Of less complete, according as it was in the power of the
human voice to effect this imitation. In all languages, a mul-
titude of words are evidently constructed on this principle : a
certain bird is named a cuckoo, from the sound which it emits ;
one sort of wind is said to roar, another to whistle, and .we
all know what is meant by the terms thus applied ; a bullet
from a musket is said to make a whizzing noise ; a serpent is
said to hiss, a fly to buzz ; and the falling of a building is said
to come with a crash : a heavy and violent rain is said to pour,
nd hail to rattle. In all these, and a multitude of other cases,
the resemblance between the word, and the thing signified, is
plainly discernible.

It will be readily admitted, that this principle of a natural
relation between words and objects, can only be applied to
language in its simple and early state ; and though there are
remains of it to be traced, it would be vain and hopeless
to search for it throughout the whole construction of any
modem language. As the number of terms increase among
every people, and the vast field of language is filled up, words,
by a thousand fanciful and irregular methods of derivation
and composition, deviate widely from their primitive roots,
and lose all resemblance in sound to the things signified. Such
]b the existing state of language. Words, as we now use
tJieip, may be considered as symbols, not as imitations^ ag



Utk^:



56 BELLES LETTRES.

arbitrary, not natural signs of ideas. But there seems to be
no doubt, that language, the nearer we can approach to its
rise among men, will be found to partake more of a natural
expression. .,.

Passionate exclamations, or, as they arc denominated, in-
terjections, were the first elements of speech. Men laboured
to communicate their feelings to each other, by those expres-
sive cries or gestures vyjiich nature taught them. After the
names of things began to be introduced, the mode of speak-
ing by natural signs would not be abandoned at once ; for
language, in its infancy, we can readily imagine, must have
been extremely barren, and, for a considerable period, among
rude nations, conversation would be carried on by meaus of
few words, intermixed with exclamations and earnest gestures.
To this mode of speaking, necessity at first gave rise. But
after the necessity had ceased, by language becoming more
copious, the ancient mode of speech still subsisted among
many nations, and wliat had arisen from necessity, continued
to be used for ornament. In the Greek and Roman languages,
a musical and gesticulating pronunciation was retained in a coiiKi-
derable degree : the declamations of their orators, and the pronun
ciation of their actors upon the stage, approached to die nature
of what is denominated recitative in music ., was capable of
being marked in notes, and supported with instruments. The
case was parallel with respect to gestures ; for strong tones and
animated gestures always go together. The action, both of
the orators and players in Greece and Rome, was far more
vehement thim that to which we are accustomed ; and Cicero
says,' that it was a contest between him and Roscius, whether
he could express a sentiment in a greater variety of phrases,
or Roscius in a greater variety of intelligent, significant gestures.
At length gesture, entirely engrossed the stage ; and the fa-
vourite entertainment was pantomime, which was carried on
by gesticulation only.

The early language of mankind being entirely composed of
words descriptive of sensible objects, became, of necessity.



LANGUAGE. 5?

extremsly metaphorical. To signify any feeling of the ipind,
they had no particular expression which was appropriated to
the purpose, but they were ol^liged to paint the emotion which
they felt, by alluding to sensible objects which had most con-
nexion with it ; and w hich could render it, in some degree,
visible to others.

As language became more copious, it gradually lost its
figurative style, .which was its original characteristic. The
vehement manner of speaking by tones and gestures became
less universal. Instead of poets, philosophers became the
instructors of the world ; &nd, in their reasonings on all sub-
jects, they introduced that plainer and more simple style of
composition which is now denominated prose : and, at length,
the metaphorical and poetical dress of language was reserved
for those occasions only, in which ornament was professedly
studied.

Writing is an improvement upon speech, and consequently
was subsequent to it in the order of time. Its characters are
of two kinds : either signs for things, or signs for words. Thus
the pictures, hieroglyphics, and symbols employed by the
ancients, were of the former sort ; the alphabetical, now em-
ployed by Europeans, of the latter.

Pictures were certainly used in the first graphical attempts
of mankind, because men are naturally prone to imitation ;
and, therefore, a rude picture would soon be employed for
giving imperfect descriptions of events, and for recording their
remembrance of facts, or of a beloved object. Thus, to sig-
nify that one man had killed another, they painted the figure
of a dead man lying on the ground, and another standing over f
him with a hostile weapon in his hand. This was the only
kind of writing made use of by the Mexicans, when America
was first discovered. It was, however, a very imperfect mode
of recording facts, since, by pictures, external events could
only be delineated.

Hieroglyphical characters may, be considered as the second
stage in the art of writing. These consist in certain symbols.



58 BELLES LET IRES.

which are made to represent invisible objects, on account of a
resemblance which such symbols are supposed to bear to the
objects themselves. Thus a circle, having neither beginning
nor end, was 'the symbol of eternity ; a lion was the hiero-



Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 44)