« السابقةمتابعة »
The importance of habitual attention to the exact meaning of words, considered simply as a mental discipline, can hardly be overrated, and etymology is one of the most efficient means of arriving at their true signification. But etymology alone is never a sure guide. In passing from one language to another, words seldom fail to lose something of their original force, or to acquire some new significance, and we can never be quite safe on this point, until we have established the precise meaning of a word by a comparison of different passages where it occurs in good authors.
FOREIGN HELPS TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF ENGLISH.
From the opinions I have already expressed, it will have been observed, that I do not hold any wide range of linguistic learning necessary to the attainment of a good knowledge of English etymology. I am equally well persuaded that English grammar, so far as respects the application of its principles to practical use, may be thoroughly mastered with little aid from foreign sources. The purpose of the present remarks will be to enforce this opinion, and in a cursory way to point out how far the study of foreign languages is useful in this respect, and what particular tongues are most important to the student for the purposes of English philology. In considering the subject of grammatical inflections in a subsequent part of the course, I shall particularly notice the relations between inflected and uninflected languages, and for this reason I shall, on this occasion, refer to the grammar of the classical languages only in very general terms.*
* A speaker, who strives to accustom himself to accuracy of thought and precision of expression, is often made painfully sensible of the danger of misapprehension to which he is exposed in discoursing upon subjects incapable of illustration by visible symbols, representations, or experiments. The danger is much increased, if the range of his discussion is comprehensive. His language must necessarily be condensed, and his propositions must succeed each other with a rapidity which hardly allows the unprepared hearer to distinguish and comprehend them. Besides this, he must often express himself in general terms, omitting the exceptions and qualifications which are necessary for the exhibition of the whole truth. In this latter necessity, lies one of the most fertile sources of error with respect to all those doctrines which are communicated by general propositions. Again, so strong is the natural tendency to generalize th:t which is particular, that every public teacher runs also the opposite risk of being understood to announce as universal propositions opinions which he intends to confine to very special cases. It is against this last mistake that I am at this moment particularly solicitous to guard. While I admit that a knowledge of other tongues, including the Greek and Latin as well as the modern dialects more nearly allied to our own, may be so employed as to be of great value as an auxiliary to the study of English–a truth of which this course of lectures will adduce many illustrations—I am proceeding to avow my conviction, that the value of foreign philological studies, in this particular respect, is too often overrated by classical scholars. And here I beg not to be understood as meaning any thing more than I express. I am speaking of the study of one grammar as an aid to the knowledge of another; of languages, not of letters; of the forms of speech, not of the embodied thoughts of the great masters of literature in other tongues. As a means of that encyclopedic culture which is one of the most imperious demands of modern society, an acquaintance with foreign, and especially with classical, literature is indispensable, becanse the records of knowledge and of thought are many-tongued, and even if a genial writer could have framed his original conceptions or equivalents of them in a Jifferent speech, it is certain that another mind can, only in the fewest cases, adequately translate them. We can therefore, in general, know little of ancient or foreign intellectual action, without a knowledge of the medium of thought in which that action has been exerted.
It is an apophthegm of Goethe, that “He who is ac quainted with no foreign tongue knows nothing of his own.” The indiscriminate admiration with which this great writer is regarded by his followers, leads them to consider his most trivial and unguarded utterances as oracles. Even so able a linguist as Heyse has quoted this apophthegm as an authority in proof of the value and importance of linguistic studies; but I must express my total dissent from both what is expressed and what is implied in this sweeping declaration. If, by knowledge, is meant the power of expressing or conceiving the laws of a particular language in formal rules, the opiniin may be well founded, but if it refers to the capacity of understanding, and skill in properly using, our own tongue, all observation shows it to be very wide of the truth. Goethe, himself, certainly knew German, and his intellectual training and general culture were no doubt much advanced by the study of other literatures, but, if tried by the present standard of philological learning, or even by that of his own time, he must be pronounced at best an indifferent linguist, and it would be very difficult to trace any of the excellences of his marvellously felicitous style to the direct imitation, or even the unconscious influence, of foreign models. He declares, himself, that his knowledge of French was acquired by practice, “ without grammar or instruction," and remarks that in his early years his attention was specially devoted to German writers of the sixteenth century. Probably the study of these authors contributed more than any thing else to the diction he finally adopted; for his writings contain no evidence of familiarity with the remoter etymological sources of his own tongue, or with the special philologies of the cognate languages. The comparison of his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit, in which his style reached perhaps its culminating point, with the best writers of antiquity, will show few parallelisms in any thing that can be said to be purely indicative of classical learning. The works of Goethe, in which critics, unacquainted with his literary biography, would find the strongest internal evidence of a great knowledge of foreign philology and literature, would probably be the Oriental poems in the West-Oestlicher Divan, and his Slavic imitations. Yet I believe it is quite certain that he knew nothing of Arabic and Persian, or of the Slavonic languages. He had formed his acquaintance with the characteristics of those literatures only from translations and critical discussions, and his reproduction of their poetry in his native German was not a proof of linguistic learning, but it was the exercise of a genius above learning, of a power that divined and appropriated the spirit of compositions, to the comprehension of which other men attain only by a critical study of the letter. I might, therefore, confidently rely on the works of Goethe himself, as a test example in refutation of the theory which ascribes such value to linguistic pursuits. All literature is full of similar instances, and there is scarcely a nation which boasts a written speech, that cannot produce writers of the highest rank, so far as respects force, accuracy, and purity of diction, whose knowledge of language was confined to their mother-tongue. The measure of our knowledge of a particular art is the ability to use it, and he who most aptly says that which he has to say has given the best evidence, that he possesses, in full measure, what is appropriately called knowledge of the tongue he employs. To can and to ken or know are, both in German and English, associate ideas and related words, and in all that belongs to human language, as in most other fields of thought and action, knowledge is power, and power is knowledge.
At the most flourishing period of ancient Grecian literature, the Greeks had developed no grammatical system, nor is there any satisfactory evidence, internal or external, that written rules for the use of their language then existed. All this was the work of later ages. In no era of their literary history, did they produce critical treatises which exhibit a sound theoretical acquaintance with the principles of general grammar, and their etymological researches were never any thing but absolutely puerile. The great writers of Greece, as