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meet,-throwing a chain of thousand links around a world, while each is electric to a mysterious sympathy and intercommunity of sentiment and emotion,—there is an art which perfects this gift, not inferior to the gift itself. I ask not whether that art be the invention of man, or the discovery of wisdom higher than any he can boast ;-I ask not whether this transcendent conception first shone out of his spirit, or fell, like a vision, upon it. We possess the secret ; and man, once possessed of it, has acquired a power which necessity and taste may constantly improve. The establishment of a relation between sounds and things is an incalculable advantage and an astonishing law : but the establishment of a relation between signs or characters—between a written language—and precise ideas and definite feelings, is beyond all parallel, and outdoes all originality. I write, or figure down, all that is passing in my mind, -how my views are determined, how my sentiments are affected, -my very thinking faculty-my heart of hearts; it passes from me—it sweeps oceans 5mit traverses continents-it reaches my kinsman or my friend on the other side of the planet, foot to foot with me, and that vast diameter does not prevent the most perfect exchange and intercourse of our souls. I could not “pour my spirits" more distinctly into his ear—my organs could not more explicitly communicate with him than do these mute ciphers and lines; and very frequently we feel that written language has a greater force and perspicuity than parole, and refuse from the lip what we request from the pen. The word pen is taken from one that signifies a feather, perhaps not only because that is the modern utensil of writing, but also because it gives our thoughts the velocity of a wing. The stylus of the ancients, which was the pointed rod with which they indented their letters on the roll of papyrus and tablet of wax, came at length to be understood of their phrase, and we borrow from it our word when we speak of an author's style of a style elegant or incorrect. Thus the plural of the Latin term, Litera, properly means a letter missive, as if this were the very design and use of the contrivance of letters. Epistle bears the same signification, not arbitrarily, not from analogy, but from its Greek
primitive, which means to carry to or upon. Correspondence preserves the same thought, reciprocal answers. The invention of printing, great as it is, was not unnatural and improbable, after the connection was established between fixed forms and fixed ideas. I have sometimes felt surprised that it should not bear an earlier date. But the reason is obvious. When learning was the property of the few, the art of transcribing became a polite accomplishment, and amply served every literary purpose. When literature was introduced more generally into Europe, and the school arose as the rival of the cloister, then a polygraphic engine was imperiously required to satisfy the numerous and increasing demands of a world awakened to attention, and bursting into light. Had there been earlier necessity, we cannot doubt that the means of supplying it would have been earlier too. Mechanism is seldom slow in its improvements when men really need its superior ratios and facilities over manual skill and production.
If we do not perceive the extraordinary nature of the fellowship between mere characters and ideas, it will probably be found to arise from the want of reflection. The most common things, although the most curious and recondite, are generally overlooked ; but to make plain the present remark, and to exhibit the singular arcana of language, let any man write down certain letters, syllables, and words. For example, be it the following sentence:-“ This is a cold night.” Look at the first word. What is there in these four marks, which we call letters, and to which we attach, by agreement, four different powers of sound,—what is there in that compound of letters, or, if pronounced, in that compound of sounds-which contains an indicative idea that distinguishes the present night from all future and all past ones? And yet the idea filled your mind of a particular night—of a night that could not be mistaken—when you wrote or spoke the monosyllable “ this.” Cutting off the first two letters of that word, the elision leaves you another word“is.” That word impresses you with the idea of being and time; that the night is real in the sense of fact; that it has a relation to action, or, more strictly, to active existence. Then
follows the first letter of our alphabet, which word, you know, is itself a putting together of the first two letters of the Hebrew or Greek series—Aleph, Beth ; or, Alpha, Beta. The letter a, in our sentence, is a word, or part of speech. A cold night: and it implies that this is not an unprecedented nor uncommon case, but that this is one of many cold nights to which our climate is subject. Why should the last word in the sentence imply such a density of the atmosphere that a column of mercury shall be depressed, and our animal fibre constringed ? Night has nothing of essential reference to the situation of our globe, when part of it interposes itself between us and the sun. Yet here is a sentence (any other, taken by hazard, would do as well), if written, composed of the most arbitrary shapes—if spoken, composed of the most arbitrary sounds—yet conveying, to all minds which are conversant with this vernacular, one fixed, exclusive, impression. The word, vernacular, now used, intends, when applied to language, the unconscious ease, the thoughtless readiness, with which home-born slaves acquire the household common tongue.
I know that this may be considered as tending to involve in difficulty what is itself most simple. We do not act very philosophically when we speak of words meaning ideas. It would be more just to say, that they represent such ideas. If we read or hear a foreign language, with which we are quite unacquainted, it is a mere jargon to us; but, by the law of associations, the native only wonders that you can read and hear, as with an intellectual blank, what is so lucid and self-apparent to him.
Signa sint verba visibilia ; verba, signa audibilia,” says Augustin.
An illustration may be adduced from the art of music. Let a person utterly unskilled in it,-ignorant, as it is called, of a note,—be shown some masterly composition, an opera, or oratorio. There are various marks, at various unequal levels, the marks having distinct capitals and terminations. He is informed that all the airs of the piece, and all the rules for its performance, are written down in that strange notation. There is each sound; there is the time it is to be prolonged; there is the
theme of which the mighty strains seem thus arrested and fixed in ever-pealing harmony. The musician enters at once into it, and, according to the accustomed method of speaking, easily reads it. By the determinate representation of certain musical powers under these signs, the harmonist perceives its wondrous combinations; threads its perilous approach to discords which resolve themselves into more melting and perfect enchantments of exquisite grace ; construes each passage as truly, at least, as any classical writing admits of being interpreted; while the whole swells up, with its transport of sounds realised to his mind, as though aerial voices floated around him. The disentanglement of these figurative expressions passes on without effort in his mind. But ask the perfectly unscientific man in what manner the musical scale can guide the singer? He narrowly looks, and his astonishment increases. He sees a kind of and thinks it strange that it should be at the beginning of the musical letters when it used to be at the end of his. Or, beholding an inverted “5” on the next line, and knowing that the two combined make &c., et cetera, he wonders at an arrangement which can mention and particularise the et cetera, when all is eked out to the very point of a staccato. He proceeds, and discovers something like what, in school-boy language, are yclept pot-hooks and hangers. Shocked at the ignoramus, you hasten to point out the crotchet, but he has one in his brain that is more difficult to master than two of yours : you refer to a hollow sphere, and inform him it is a semibreve, because he is to hold it longer than any other modern note: you still call his attention to minims because they are the largest of all by the whole length of their tail; his patience is wearied, his ingenuity perplexed, and when he comes at last to the quavers and demisemi-quavers, with their double and treble spurs on, he is only reminded, while the loup above them looks like the flourish of the whip, and the idea of a fugue has all along been encouraged, that with a sort of hunting chorus they are trying to take this five-barred gate.
All languages may be said to be synonymous to each other. We possess but one nature, and live but in one world.
There are varieties, however, in our habitation, sufficient to compel varieties of language. In equatorial nations you do not expect a term for ice or snow. Under despotic governments of immemorial æra we need not hope to find the full phrase, or the poetic rhythm, of freedom. Yet as generally men must express the same ideas, and must denote the same things, – what is a foreign language but a different nomenclature ? The difference is in the words, not with any uniformity in the signification. And if we believe that the speech of man was confounded at one given time, we must believe that the synonyms of all dialects were exactly true to each other,—that they answered as so many faithful mirrors,—though a very short time, and a very narrow dispersion, would introduce changes in sounds and terminations, if at that period known in characters: the new modifications of each migratory tribe would require other mediums to designate them than those their fathers used: and an original and a common word might be so compounded, so strangely directed, so peculiarly employed, that nothing of its first pronunciation or appearance, nothing of its first intention and bearing, might be retained. The corresponding powers of different languages form a field for noble study and self-repaying toil. These we denominate Correlates. Thus, for instance, the sun, sol, le soleil, are English, Latin, and French correlates, though it would not be improper to call them synonyms. A few illustrations may be cited, but they shall only be of the simplest and least laborious kind.
It will frequently be ascertained that the correlate words of different languages have not only an equal meaning, but derive that meaning from a similar analogy. Worship or adoration seems to bring before our mind a bending attitude and prostration of the body. This will be found the prevailing derivation in most languages. Tad and 972 in Hebrew both signify to crouch down and bend the knee, and are employed to convey the idea of reverence and homage. Ilgoonuvew, importing the same act, is drawn from the shrinking and lying down of a dog before his master. Veneror in Latin is compounded either of