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Though it is now very little known, yet it is certainly a valuable and entertaining performance, and serves as a connecting link between Sir David Dalrymple and Dr. Robertson. The style in which it is written wants energy, perspicuity, and elegance, and the narrative is too often interrupted by controversial digressions.
The reader has doubtless met with Pinkerton's collections of ancient Scottish Poems, which exhibit great research and considerable taste, though they are little thought of now, except as books of reference. His notes and illustrations show that he was eminently conversant with the antiquities of his country; that he was enthusiastic in his patriotism is sufficiently proved by his preference of Barbour's history of Robert Bruce, to the “melancholy sublimity of Dante, and the amorous quaintness of Petrarca.” His praises, however, were not unjustly bestowed upon Barbour, the first poet and historian of Scotland who entered with any detail into its condition and manners.
The “Scottish Gallery” was another of Pinkerton's collections, upon
which he laboured with perseverance and ardour for many years. It contains the portraits of several persons of distinction; and no country can boast of a greater number of individuals renowned in literature, arts, and arms, than Scotland ; together with brief descriptions of the persons represented. If we remember rightly, most of the pictures from which the prints were taken, were painted by Jamieson, the companion of Vandyke, and the pupil of Rubens. The work had, we believe, but limited success.
Whatever Pinkerton attempted in the dramatic line, encountered the most ignoble fate. His geological labours were respectable, considering how very confined was the pursuit of that subject in this country, at the period when he published his volumes. The most popular of all his works was his Modern Geography, which has preserved its reputation down to our own day, although in its original form it was disfigured by numerous blunders. The original maps might be produced as striking specimens of the barbarous state of the arts in this country, little more than twenty years ago. Pinkerton's idea of dividing the globe into six quarters was eminently absurd and foppish. The style of his topographical descriptions is equally affected. This was in keeping with the whole of his character: in history be held himself a Gibbon ; in geography he did not hesitate to believe that he was a Strabo.
But one of the earliest, the most conceited, as well as the most able of all Pinkerton's works, was that which he published under the name of " Heron's Letterson Literature.” He absolutely flattered himself into the notion that his talents would enable him to bring about a sweeping alteration in the very form and genius of the English language. One of his proposed objects was to give vowel terminations to all words which end in consonants, after the manner of the Italians. Thus book would be booko; man, mano ; hat, hato; mother, mothera; and so on through our whole vocabulary.
It will be seen that one of Pinkerton's correspondents and disciples goes even farther, though it was not necessary to do so in order to expose the scheme in its most ludicrous colours. We allude to the Rev. W. Tremayne, who thus writes to Mr. Pinkerton in September, 1785.
Though a perfect stranger to Mr. Heron's person, I have some acquaintance with his Letters of Literature, which have given me much satisfac. tion, especially where you propose a plan for refining and improving the English tongue; in this scheme my thoughts are so fondly interested, that I cannot forbear addressing you, and begging your indulgence to accept my cordial acknowledgments. I have turned a considerable share of niy attention to the English tongue, for these five or six years past, but chiefly to the grammatical part, which I have found loose and imperfect in several points. I often, by the way, regretted that our nervous language should be so crowded and set a-jar with harsh superfluous consonants; but never hoped to see a scheme advanced to the public, effectually to refine and harmonise our lorthern tongue, by substituting, throughout, for those grating and hissing finals, melodious vowel terminations. This Mr. Heron has done; and erery person who hath an ear in the least attuned to harmony, and hath mastered habitude and prejudice, must be delighted with the improvements illustrated in the subjoined specimen. But the blessing of a good ear is rare ; insomuch that, if all the learned in the kingdon should, according 10 Mr. Heron's plan, “ associate themselves under the name of The. Academy for improving the Language,'" it were, I think, to be feared, that the majority, having no ear for musical harmony, would have none for plans to that effect. However, if a good number of men of extensive classical knowledge, possessed of a good ear, and oť a taste for polite literature, could be brought to meet together for this purpose, these might probably mature such a design, and establish a scientific language among themselves. It will be expedient that the select Academy not only publish a grammar and dictionary of the new orthography, &c., but also compose and publish, from time to time, books of all kinds in the same reformed tongue. This cannot fail of speeding its celebrity. The spirit of vanity, then, I verily believe, would work all the excellent effects of a good ear. The learned fops, and literary smatterers, would seize with avidity the scientific language, as the distinguishing ensign of the polite literati. Many would adopt the improvements from true taste; infinitely more from mere affectation and love of novelty. It would now become quite the thing,'
the ton ;' and by and by, descending even to the lower ranks, in half a century it would prevail throughout the kingdom. In these improvements etymology must not be lost sight of, but be paid the utmosť respect to, in all material points; and, in the grammatical construction, the parts of speech must be carefully discriminated, and kept as distinct from one another as possible. These are truths whereof Mr. Heron must be fully sensible.
• I now beg leave to trouble Mr. Heron with sonie remarks, which his very enterprising and ingenious scheme has suggested to me. In the first place, the frequency of open vowels is certainly an imperfection, and I the rather mention it, because it may easily be amended. In this case I would make constant elisions, save in two or three instances of harsh double con
sonants, agreeably to the most perfect Greek model, as the star appeareth,' not the stars,' &c. With the ancient Romans, I would regard the
HI,' every where in the beginning of a word, as it really is, a mere aspirate, and no letter; and would always say, an house, an hat, &c. &c. The better to distinguish some substantives from adjectives like them, I would, for example, say, 'the soun filled mia eara,' the sound of the drumo,' (I see soune' in Chaucer,) to distinguish it from soundo,''sleepo,' &c. &c. I would say, 'the resto,' the remainder; • rest,' (ease,) which, if no vowel or ‘H,' immediately follow, be restored quiet,' to distir.guish it from quieto nyto,' &c. In like manner should be managed the accented final E, to discriminate nouns and verbs the better from one another. After these precautions, there will be yet plenty of open vowels in the plural final • A,' which evil must be tolerated, to prevent the greater, of hissing consonants. I find Tully, in his fourth book of Rhetoric to Herennius, reprobates the crebras vocalium concursiones,' &c.; and Quinctilian, book ix. 4th chapter, remarks the same, as a great imperfection. The mode peculiar to the ancient Greeks and Latins, of sundering their substantives from the adjectives, obviated, in a main degree, this defect. This defect, so strikingly prevalent in the modern Italian, is the true cause of the excessive and effeminate softness of that language, even to insipidity. All nouns denoting the human kind, I would distinguish from such as only denote the brute and inanimate creation, in this manner: Plur. Kindi fatheri, kind fathers, a kind mother, a kinda mothera ; kind mothers, kindai motherai ; honesti sheperdi, honest shepherds; an honest shepherdess, an honesta shepherda, and shepherdeza: plur. honestai shepherdai and shepherdezui, &c. &c., honest shepherdesses, 8c. I deem this form far more elegant than kindo mothero, kinda fathera, &c. I have some more notices to make, which, if Mr. Heron approve these, I will do myself the pleasure to send him at a future time.'-vol. i. pp. 83—86.
It is difficult to conceive any thing more ridiculous than Pinkerton's plan, improved by Mr. Tremayne. There is a letter from Horace Walpole on the same subject, in which he treats this wild proposition with his usual good taste and elegance of manner. it has been printed, we do not remember to have met with it elsewhere. After shewing the folly of Heron's proposition, the writer touches upon other topics, which are not without interest in such hands as his.
Since I received your book, Sir, I scarce ceased from reading till I had finished it, so admirable I found it, and so full of good sense brightly delivered ; nay, I am pleased with myself too for having formed the same opinions with you on several points, in which we do not agree with the generality of men. On some topics, I confess frankly, I do not concur with you. Considering how many you have touched, it would be wonderful if we agreed on all, and I should not be sincere if I said I did. There are others on which I formed no opinion, for I should give myself an impertinent air, with no truth, if I pretended to have any knowledge of many subjects of which, young as you are, you seem to have made yourself master. Indeed, I have gone deeply into nothing, and therefore shall not discuss those heads on which we differ most, as probably I should not defend my own opinions well. There is but one part of your work to
which I will venture any objection, though you have considered it much; and little, very little indeed, with regard to your proposal, which to me is but two days old :-I mean your plan for the improvement of our language, which I allow has some defects, and which wants correction in several particulars. The specific amendment which you propose, and to which I object, is the addition of a's and 's to our termina:ions. To change s for a in the plural number of our substantives and adjectives, would be so violent an alteration, that I believe neither the power of power, nor the power of genius would be able to effect it. In most cases I am convinced that very strong innovations are more likely to make impression than small and almost imperceptible differences, as in religion, medicine, politics, &c.; but I do not think that language can be treated in the same manner, especially in a refined age: when a nation first emerges from barbarism, two or three masterly writers may operate wonders; and the fewer the number of writers, as the number is sinall at such a period, the more absolute is their authority. But when a country has been polishing itself for two or three centuries, and when, consequently, authors are innumerable, the most supereminent genius (or whoever is esteemed so, though without foundation) possesses very limited empire, and is far from meeting implicit obedience ; every petty writer will contest very novel institutions, every inch of change in any language will be disputed, and the language will remain as it was, longer than the tribunal which should dictate very heterogeneous alterations. With regard to adding a or o to final consonants, consider, Sir, should the usage be adopted, what havoc would it make! All our poetry would be defective in metre, or would become at once as obsolete as Chaucer; and could we promise ourselves that, though we should acquire better harmony and more rhymes, we should have a new crop of poets to replace Milton, Dryden, Gray, and I am sorry you will not allow me to add, Pope! You might enjoin our prose to be reformed as you have done by the Spectator, in your Letter XXXIV., but try Dryden's Ode by your new instruction.
I beg your pardon for these trivial observations: I assure you I could write a letter ten times as long, if I were to specify all I like in your work. I more than like most of it; and I am charmed with your glorious love of liberty, and your other humane and noble sentiments. Your book I shall, with great pleasure, send to Mr. Colman : may I tell him, without naming you, that it is written by the author of the comedy I offered to him? He must be struck with your very handsome and generous conduct in printing your encomiums on him, after his rejecting your piece. It is as great as uncommon, and gives me as good an opinion of your heart, Sir, as your book does of your great sense. Both assure me that you will not take ill the liberty I have used in expressing my doubts on your plan for amending our language, or for any I may use in dissenting from a few other sentiments in your work—as I shall in, what I think, your too low opinion of some of the French writers; of your preferring Lady Mary Wortley to Madame de Sevigné, and of your esteeming Mr. Hume a man of a deeper and more solid understanding than Mr. Gray. In the two last articles it is impossible to think more differently than we do. In Lady Mary's Letters, which I never could read but once, I discovered no merit of any sort; yet I have seen others by her (unpublished) that have a good deal of wit; and for Mr. Hume, give me leave to say that I think your opinion, that he might have ruled a state, ought to be qualified a little ; as in the very next page you say, his history is a mere apology for prerogative, and a very weak one. If he could have ruled a state, one must presume, at least, that he would have been an able tyrant; and yet I should suspect that a man, who, sitting coolly in his chamber, could forge but a weak apology for the prerogative, would not have exercised it very wisely. I knew personally, and well, both Mr. Hume and Mr. Gray, and thought there was no degree of comparison between their understandings; and, in fact, Mr. Hume's writings were so superior to his conversation, that I frequently said he understood nothing till he had written upon it. What you say, Sir, of the discord in his history, from his love of prerogative and hatred of churchmen, flatters me much; as I have taken notice of that very unnatural discord, in a piece I prioted some years ago, but did not publish, and which I will shew to you when I have the pleasure of seeing you here; a satisfaction I shall be glad to taste, whenever you
will let me know you are at leisure after the beginning of next week.' -vol. i.
There are several letters from Horace Walpole in this collection, which the editor assures us have not been published before. We gather from one of them, that soon after he set up his press at Strawberry Hill, he was teazed with numberless applications from “ noble authors,” to have their works printed at his establishment. The Countess of Aldborough begged hard to have her father's poems thus ushered into the world—they would make but a small, a very small volume! Lady Mary Forbes solicited a similar favour for the letters of her ancestor, Lord Essex. Lord Hardwick entreated the same distinction, for a work of his own. Other petitions, of a like nature, poured in upon him every day, but to all, the Caxton of Strawberry Hill returned inexorable refusals! There is so much of engaging egotism in the following epistle from this remarkable person, that before quitting him we shall present it to our readers.
* As soon, Sir, as I can see the lady, my friend, who is much acquainted with the Archbishop, I will try if she will ask his leave for you to see the books you mention in his library, of which I will give her the list. I did ask Mr. Cambridge where Dr. Lort is: he told me, with the Bishop of Chester, and on an intended tour to the Lakes.
• I do not possess vor ever looked into one of the books you speak of; nor Mabillon's Acta Sanctorum, nor O'Flaherty's Ogygia. My reading has been very idle, and trifling, and desultory; not that perhaps it has not been employed on authors as respectable as those you want to consult, nor that I had not rather read the Deeds of Sinners than Acta Sanctorum. I have no reverence but for sensible books, and consequently not for a great number; and had rather bave read fewer than I have, than more. The rest may be useful on certain points, as they happen now to be to you ; who, I am sure, would not read them for general use and pleasure, and are a very different kind of author.
I shall like, I dare to say, any thing you do like; but I am not overjoyed at your wading into the history of dark ages, unless you use it as a canvass to be embroidered with your own opinions, and episodes, and comparisons, with more recent times,