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Eaque verba, quæ dixi, etsi singularum rerum sunt, non, ut videntur, easdem res significant, sed aliquid differunt."

CICERO.- Tusc : Quæs: lib. iii., sec. 34.

“ Tironibus autem nihil sæpius fucum facit, quam verba specie et appellatione synonyma, quæ primo similes ac propè gemellos vultus offerunt, cum tamen origine, aut ingenio, aut utroque, simul longe differunt."


“ Double, double-toil and trouble."

Incantation Scene, MACBETH.


This thesis raises questions of philological importance, as well as affords amusement; nor is the study to be discountenanced as altogether impertinent to those graver and more profound enquiries which seek to settle the origin of language, and to determine the elements of that family-speech which the family of mankind, yet infant, might be presumed to have employed.

There is nothing more singular, next to mind itself, than the verbal expressions with which it clothes and conveys its ideas. The enunciation of particular sounds is common to certain classes of animals, but their cries are few, circumscribed, and inflexible. The dove murmured as sweetly plaintive when it plucked the olive of a new world as now when that world is again grown old; nor does the lion lift up its voice more majestically than when the forests of Lebanon shook with its roar. The chirrup, the note, the song of the bird, are unvaried: the bellow, the growl, the moan of the quadruped, are unchanged. We may be sure that there is no improvement, no addition, of their sensations and impressions : that their vocabulary is large as their wants. But the voice of man, while contracted in its powers and confined to the utterance of certain sounds, has in it such a capability of rapid change and minute articulation, that, though its original powers are far from unlimited, their applications are little less. Our thoughts multiply with the enlargement of knowledge and the progress of society: we have reached no stationary point: and our language, instead of checking us, almost uniformly anticipates the idea, becomes elastic, so to speak, to our intellectual growth, and supplies a most powerful instrument towards the development of the hidden mind. But if speech and oral language mark the high superiority of oui species, -opening up a highway where invisible essences may

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—it 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 philo sophically 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

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