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In a course of lectures which I had the honor to deliver in this Institution two years ago, I endeave ored to show that the language which we speak, and the languages that are and that have been spoken in every part of our globe since the first dawn of human life and human thought, supply materials capable of scientific treatment. We can collect them, we can classify them, we can reduce them to their constituent elements, and deduce from them some of the laws that determine their origin, govern their growth, necessitate their decay; we can treat them, in fact, in exactly the same spirit in which the geologist treats his stones and petrifactions, — nay, in some respects, in the same spirit in which the astronomer treats the stars of heaven, or the botanist the flowers of the field. There is a Science of Language, as there is a science of the earth, its flowers, and its stars; and though, as a young science, it is very far as yet from that perfection which — thanks to the efforts of the intellectual giants of so many ages and many countries
has been reached in Astronomy,
Botany, and even in Geology, it is, perhaps for that very reason, all the more fascinating. It is a young and a growing science that puts forth new strength with every year, that opens new prospects, new fields of enterprise on every side, and rewards its students with richer harvests than could be expected from the exhausted soil of the older sciences. The whole world is open, as it were, to the student of language. There is virgin soil close to our door, and there are whole continents still to conquer, if we step beyond the frontiers of the ancient seats of civilization. We may select a small village in our neighborhood to pick up dialectic varieties and to collect phrases, proverbs, and stories which will disclose fragments, almost ground to dust, it is true, yet undeniable fragments of the earliest formations of Saxon speech and Saxon thought. Or we may proceed to our very antipodes, and study the idiom of the Hawaian islanders, and watch in the laws and edicts of Kaméhaméha the working of the same human faculty of speech which, even in its most primitive efforts, never seems to miss the high end at which it aims. The dialects of Ancient Greece, ransacked as they have been by classical scholars, such as Maittaire, Giese, and Ahrens, will amply reward a fresh battue of the comparative philologist. Their forms, which to the
1 A valuable essay
“ On some leading Characteristics of the Dialects spoken in the six Northern Counties of England, or Ancient Northumbria, and on the Variations in their Grammar from that of Standard English," has lately been published by Mr. R. P. Peacock, Berlin, 1863. It is chiefly based on the versions of the Song of Solomon into many of the spoken dialects of England, which have of late years been executed and published under the auspices of H. I. H. Prince Louis-Lucien Bonaparte. It is to be hoped that the writer will continue his researches in a field of scholarship w full of promise.
classical scholar were mere anomalies and curiosities, will thus assume a different aspect. They will range themselves under more general laws, and after receiving light by a comparison with other dialects, they will, in turn, reflect that light with increased power on the phonetic peculiarities of Sanskrit and Prakrit, Zend and Persian, Latin and French. But even were the old mines exhausted, the Science of Language would create its own materials, and as with the rod of the prophet smite the rocks of the desert to call forth from them new streams of living speech. The rock inscriptions of Persia show what can be achieved by our science. I do not wonder that the discoveries due to the genius and the persevering industry of Grotefend, Burnouf, Lassen, and last, not least, of Rawlinson, should seem incredible to those who only glance at them from a distance. Their incredulity will hereafter prove the greatest compliment that could have been paid to these eminent scholars. What we at present call the Cuneiform inscriptions of Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, Artax
1 A thoroughly scholar-like answer to the late Sir G. C. Lewis's attacks on Champollion and other decipherers of ancient inscriptions may be seen in an article by Professor Le Page Renouf, “ Sir G. C. Lewis on the Docipherment and Interpretation of Dead Languages," in the Atlantis, Nos. vii. and viii. p. 23. Though it cannot be known now whether the late Sir G. C. Lewis erer modified his opinions as to the soundness of the method through which the inscriptions of Egypt, Persia, India, and ancient Italy have been deciphered, such was the uprightness of his character that he would certainly have been the first to acknowledge his mistake, had he been spared to continue bis studies. Though his skepticism was occasionally uncritical and unfair, his loss is a severe loss to our studies, which, more than any others, require to be kept in order by the watchful eye and uncompromising criticism of close reasoners and sound scholars. An essay just published by Professor F. W. Newman, “ On the Umbrian Language," following after a short interval on an article in Fraser's Magazine, Jan 1863, does equal credit to the acumen and to the candor of its author.
erxes I., Darius II., Artaxerxes Mnemon, Artaxerxes Ochus (of which we now have several editions, translations, grammars, and dictionaries), - what were they originally ? A mere conglomerate of wedges, engraved or impressed on the solitary monument of Cyrus in the Murgháb, on the ruins of Persepolis, on the rocks of Behistún near the fron. tiers of Media, and the precipice of Van in Armenia. When Grotefend attempted to decipher them, he had first to prove that these scrolls were really inscriptions, and not mere arabesques or fanciful ornaments. He had then to find out whether these magical characters were to be read horizontally or perpendicularly, from right to left, or from left to right. Lichtenberg maintained that they must be read in the same direction as Hebrew. Grotefend, in 1802, proved that the letters followed each other, as in Greek, from left to right. Even before Grotefend, Münter and Tychsen had observed that there was a sign to separate the words. Such a sign is of course an immense help in all attempts at deciphering inscriptions, for it lays bare at once the terminations of hundreds of words, and, in an Aryan language, supplies us with the skeleton of its gram. mar. Yet consider the difficulties that had still to be overcome before a single line could be read. It was unknown in what language these inscriptions were composed; it might have been a Semitic, a Turanian, or an Aryan language. It was unknown to what period they belonged, and whether they commemorated the conquests of Cyrus, Darius, Alexan
1 Mémoire de M. le comte de Caylus, sur les ruines de Persepolis, dans le tomo XXIX des Mémoires de l'Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Histoire de l'Académie, p. 118.
der, or Sapor. It was unknown whether the alphabet used was phonetic, syllabic, or ideographic. It would detain us too long were I to relate how all these difficulties were removed one after the other; how the proper names of Darius, Xerxes, Hystaspes, and of their god Ormusd, were traced; how from them the values of certain letters were determined; how with an imperfect alphabet other words were deciphered which clearly established the fact that the language of these inscriptions was Ancient Persian; how then, with the belp of the Zend, which represents the Persian language previous to Darius, and with the help of the later Persian, a most effective cross-fire was opened; how even more powerful ordnance was brought up from the arsenal of the ancient Sanskrit; how outpost after outpost was driven in, a practical breach effected, till at last the fortress had to surrender and submit to the terms dictated by the Science of Language.
I should gladly on some future occasion give you a more detailed account of this glorious siege and victory. At present I only refer to it to show how, in all quarters of the globe, and from sources where it would least be expected, new materials are forthcoming that would give employment to a much larger class of laborers than the Science of Language can as yet boast of. The inscriptions of Babylon and Nineveh, the hieroglyphics of Egypt, the records in the caves of India, on the monuments of Lycia, on the tombs of Etruria, and on the broken tablets of Umbria and Samnium, all wait to have their spell broken or their riddle more satisfactorily read by the student of language. If, then, we turn our