صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

of commerce, of civilization, of social and religious freedom, of progressive intelligence, and of active catholic philanthropy; and, therefore, beyond any tongue ever used by man, it is of right the cosmopolite speech.

That it will ever become, as some dream, literally universal in its empire, I am, indeed, far from believing ; nor do I suppose that the period will ever arrive, when our many-sided humanity will content itself with a single tongue. In the incessant change which all language necessarily undergoes, English itself will have ceased to exist, in a form identifiable with its present character, long before even the half of the human family can be so far harmonized and assimilated as to employ one common medium of intercourse. Languages adhere so tenaciously to their native soil, that, in general, they can be eradicated only by the extirpation of the races that speak them. To take a striking instance: the Celtic has less vitality, less power of resistance, than any other speech accessible to philological research. In its whole known history it has made no conquests, and it has been ever in a waning condition, and yet, comparatively feeble as is its self-sustaining power, two thousand years of Roman and Teutonic triumphs have not stifled its accents in England or in Gaul. It has died only with its dying race, and centuries may yet elapse before English shall be the sole speech of Britain itself.

In like inanner, not to notice other sporadic ancient dialects, the primitive language of Spain, after a struggle of two and twenty centuries with Phænicians, and Celts, and Carthaginians, and Romans, and Goths, and Arabs, is still the daily speech of half a million of people. If, then, such be the persistence of language, how can we look forward to

a period when English shall have vanquished a d superseded the Chinese and the Tartar dialects, the many tongues of polyglot India, the yet surviving Semitic speeches, in their wide diffusion, and the numerous and powerful Indo-European languages, which are even now disputing with it the mastery? In short, the prospect of the final triumph of any one tongue is as distant, as improbable, I may add, as undesirable, as the subjection of universal man to one monarchy, or the conformity of his multitudinous races to one standard of color, one physical type. The Author of our being has implanted in us our discrepant tendencies, for wise purposes, and they are, indeed, a part of the law of life itself. Diversity of growth is a condition of organic existence, and so long as man possesses powers of spontaneous development and action, so long as he is more and better than a machine, so long he will continue to manifest outward and inward differences, unlikeness of form, antagonisms of opinion, and varieties of speech. But yet, though English will not supersede, still less extirpate, the thousand languages now spoken, it is not unreasonable to expect for it a wider diffusion, a more commanding influence, a more universally acknowledged beneficent action, than has yet been reached, or can hereafter be acquired, by any ancient or now existent tongue, and we may hope that the great names which adorn it will enjoy a wider and more durable renown than any others of the sons of men.

These brief remarks do but hint the importance of the studies I am advocating, and it will be the leading object of my future discourses more fully to expound their claims, and to point out the best method of pursuing : Hem.

A series of lessons upon the technicalities of Englisli philology would, it is thought, be premature; and, moreover, adequate time and means for the execution of an undertaking, involving so vast an amount of toil, have not yet been given. That must be the work, if not of another laborer, at least of other years, and our present readings must be regarded only as a collection of miscellaneous observations upon the principles of articulate language, as exemplified in the phonology, vocabulary, and syntax of English; or, in other words, as a course preparatory to a course of lectures on the English tongue. Such as I describe the course, too, I shall endeavor to make each individual lecture, namely, a somewhat informal presentation of some one or more philological laws, or general facts, in their connection with the essential character, or historical fortunes, of our own speech.

The lectures are, under the circumstances, essentially an experiment, the character and tastes of the small audiences I was encouraged to expect, uncertain; but the necessities of the case have decided the character of the series for me, and, as in many other instances where external conditions control our action, in a way which my own judgment would probably have approved.

The preparation of a series of thoroughly scientific discourses upon the English tongue, within the time and with the means at my command, was impossible; and I therefore adopted the plan I have described, as the only practicable course, and, not improbably, also the best. This point being disposed of, there remained only the embarrassment arising from the uncertainty of the amount of philological attainment generally possessed by my audience. I have tlfought myself authorized to presume that, however small in number, it would embrace persons somewhat widely separated in degree of culture, and as I desire to make my discourses, so far as it lies in my power, acceptable, if not instructive, to all, I shall ask the scholar sometimes to pardon familiar, even trite statements of principle, illustrations which can scarcely claim to be otherwise than trivial, and repetitions which clearness and strength of impression may render necessary for some, while I shall hope the less advanced will excuse me when I indulge in speculations designed for those to whom long study has rendered recondite doctrine more intelligible. In the main, I shall address you as persons of liberal culture, prepared, by general philological education, to comprehend linguistic illustrations drawn from all not widely remote and unfamiliar sources, but who, from unexcited curiosity, or the superior attractions and supposed claims of other knowledges, have not made the English language a matter of particular study, thought, or observation; and such I shall hope to convince that the subject is possessed of sufficient worth and sufficient interest to deserve increased attention, as a branch of American education.

LECTURE I I.

ORIGIN OF SPEECH AND OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.

ALTHOUGH, for the reasons assigned in the introductory lecture, the plan I propose to pursue does not conform to philosophic inethod, it will not be amiss to follow the example of more scientific speakers, by prefacing these lessons with a formal announcement of the subject to be discussed, and a definition of the terms of art employed in propounding it.

The course upon which we are now about to enter has for its subject the English LANGUAGE, the mother-tongue of most, and the habitual speech of all, to whom these lectures are addressed. It may seem that the adjective English, and the noun language, are so familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly defined in their general use, that no inquiry into their history can make their meaning plainer. But our business is with words, and it will not be superfluous to examine into the origin and grounds of the signification ascribed even to terms so well understood as those which express the subject of our discourse. .

Neither the epithet nor the substantive is of indigenous growth. The word language is derived, through the French,

« السابقةمتابعة »