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astrology continued to sway the destinies of Europe ; and a hundred years after Luther, the astrologer was the counsellor of princes and generals, while the founder of modern astronomy died in poverty and despair. In our time the very rudiments of astrology are lost and forgotten. Even real and useful arts, as soon as they cease to be useful, die away, and their secrets are sometimes lost beyond the hope of recovery. When after the Reformation our churches and chapels were divested of their artistic ornaments, in order to restore, in outward appearance also, the simplicity and purity of the Christian church, the colors of the painted windows began to fade away, and have never regained their former depth and harmony. The invention of printing gave the death-blow to the art of ornamental writing and of miniature-painting employed in the illumination of manuscripts ; and the best artists of the present day despair of rivalling the minuteness, softness, and brilliancy combined by the humble manufacturer of the mediæval missal.
I speak somewhat feelingly on the necessity that every science should answer some practical purpose, because I am aware that the science of language has but little to offer to the utilitarian spirit of our age. It does not profess to help us in learning languages more expeditiously, nor does it hold out any hope of ever realizing the dream of one universal language.
1 According to a writer in “Notes and Queries" (2d Series, vol. x. p. 500,) astrology is not so entirely extinct as we suppose.
“ One of our principal writers," he states, “one of our leading barristers, and several members of the various antiquarian societies, are practised astrologers at this hour. But no one cares to let his studies be known, so great is the prejudice that confounds an art requiring the highest education with the jargon of the gypsy fortune-teller."
It simply professes to teach what language is, and this would hardly seem sufficient to secure for a new science the sympathy and support of the public at large. There are problems, however, which, though apparently of an abstruse and merely speculative character, have exercised a powerful influence for good or evil in the history of mankind. Men before now have fought for an idea, and have laid down their lives for a word ; and many of these problems which have agitated the world from the earliest to our own times, belong properly to the science of language.
Mythology, which was the bane of the ancient world, is in truth a disease of language. A myth means a word, but a word which, from being a name or an attribute, has been allowed to assume a more substantial existence. Most of the Greek, the Roman, the Indian, and other heathen gods are nothing but poetical names, which were gradually allowed to assume a divine personality never contemplated by their original inventors. Eos was a name of the dawn before she became a goddess, the wife of Tithonos, or the dying day. Fatum, or fate, meant originally what had been spoken ; and before Fate became a power, even greater than Jupiter, it meant that which had once been spoken by Jupiter, and could never be changed, — not even by Jupiter himself. Zeus originally meant the bright heaven, in Sanskrit Dyaus ; and many of the stories told of him as the supreme god, had a meaning only as told originally of the bright heaven, whose rays, like golden rain, descend on the lap of the earth, the Danae of old, kept by her father in the dark prison of winter. No one doubts that Luna was simply a name of the moon ; but so was likewise Lucina, both derived
from lucere, to shine. Hecate, too, was an old name of the moon, the feminine of Hekatos and Hekatebolos, the far-darting sun; and Pyrrha, the Eve of the Greeks, was nothing but a name of the red earth, and in particular of Thessaly. This mythological disease, though less virulent in modern languages, is by no means extinct.
During the Middle Ages the controversy between Nominalism and Realism, which agitated the church for centuries, and finally prepared the way for the Reformation, was again, as its very name shows, a controversy on names, on the nature of language, and on the relation of words to our conceptions on one side, and to the realities of the outer world on the other. Men were called heretics for believing that words such as justice or truth expressed only conceptions of our mind, not real things walking about in broad daylight.
In modern times the science of language has been called in to settle some of the most perplexing political and social questions. “ Nations and languages against dynasties and treaties,” this is what has remodelled, and will remodel still more, the map of Europe ; and in America comparative philologists have been encouraged to prove the impossibility of a common origin of languages and races, in order to justify, by scientific arguments, the unhallowed theory of slavery. Never do I remember to have seen science more degraded than on the title-page of an American publication in which, among the profiles of the different races of man, the profile of the ape was made to look more human than that of the negro.
Lastly, the problem of the position of man on the
threshold between the worlds of matter and spirit has of late assumed a very marked prominence among the problems of the physical and mental sciences. It has absorbed the thoughts of men who, after a long life spent in collecting, observing, and analyzing, have brought to its solution qualifications unrivalled in any previous age; and if we may judge from the greater warmth displayed in discussions ordinarily conducted with the calmness of judges and not with the passion of pleaders, it might seem, after all, as if the great problems of our being, of the true nobility of our blood, of our descent from heaven or earth, though unconnected with anything that is commonly called practical, have still retained a charm of their own a charm that will never lose its power on the mind, and on the heart of man. Now, however much the frontiers of the animal kingdom have been pushed forward, so that at one time the line of demarcation between animal and man seemed to depend on a mere fold in the brain, there is one barrier which no one has yet ventured to touch — the barrier of language. Even those philosophers with whom penser c'est sentir, who reduce all thought to feeling, and maintain that we share the faculties which are the productive causes of thought in common with beasts, are bound to confess that as yet no race of animals has produced a language. Lord Monboddo, for instance, admits that as yet no
1 "Man has two faculties, or two passive powers, the existence of which is generally acknowledged; 1, the faculty of receiving the different impressions caused by external objects, physical sensibility; and 2, the faculty of preserving the impressions caused by these objects, called memory, or weakened sensation. These faculties, the productive causes of thought, we have in common with beasts. ... Everything is reducible to feeling.", Helvetius.
animal has been discovered in the possession of language, “ not even the beaver, who of all the animals we know, that are not, like the orang-outangs, of our own species, comes nearest to us in sagacity.”
Locke, who is generally classed together with these materialistic philosophers, and who certainly vindicated a large share of what had been claimed for the intellect as the property of the senses, recognized most fully the barrier which language, as such, placed between man and brutes. “ This I may be positive in,” he writes, “ that the power of abstracting is not at all in brates, and that the having of general ideas is that which puts a perfect distinction between man and brutes. For it is evident we observe no footsteps in these of making use of general signs for universal ideas; from which we have reason to imagine that they have not the faculty of abstracting or making general ideas, since they have no use of words or any other general signs.”
If, therefore, the science of language gives us an insight into that which, by common consent, distinguishes man from all other living beings; if it establishes a frontier between man and the brute, which can never be removed, it would seem to possess at the present moment peculiar claims on the attention of all who, while watching with sincere admiration the progress of comparative physiology, yet consider it their duty to enter their manly protest against a revival of the shallow theories of Lord Monboddo.
But to return to our survey of the history of the physical sciences. We had examined the empirical stage through which every science has to pass. We saw that, for instance, in botany, a man who has