« PreviousContinue »
truly, “that, as an instrument of research, the influence of imagination has been much overlooked by those who have ventured to give laws to philosophy.” The torch of imagination is as necessary to him who looks for truth, as the lamp of study. Kepler held both, and more than that, he had the star of faith to guide him in all things from darkness to light.
In the history of the physical sciences, the three stages which we have just described as the empirical, the classificatory, and the theoretical, appear generally in chronological order. I say, generally, for there have been instances, as in the case just quoted of Philolaus, where the results properly belonging to the third have been anticipated in the first stage. To the quick eye of genius one case may be like a thousand, and one experiment, well chosen, may lead to the discovery of an absolute law. Besides, there are great chasms in the history of science. The tradition of generations is broken by political or ethnic earthquakes, and the work that was nearly finished has frequently had to be done again from the beginning, when a new surface had been formed for the growth of a new civilization. The succession, however, of these three stages is no doubt the natural one, and it is very properly observed in the study of every science.
The student of botany begins as a collector of plants. Taking each plant by itself, he observes its peculiar character, its habitat, its proper season, its popular or unscientific name. He learns to distinguish between the roots, the stem, the leaves, the flower, the calyx, the stamina, and pistils. He learns, so to say, the practical grammar of the plant before he can begin to compare, to arrange, and classify.
Again, no can enter with advantage on the third stage of any physical science without having passed through the second. No one can study the plant, no one can understand the bearing of such a work as, for instance, Professor Schleiden's Life of the Plant,”? who has not studied the life of plants in the wonderful variety, and in the still more wonderful order, of nature. These last and highest achievements of inductive philosophy are possible only after the way has been cleared by previous classification. The philosopher must command his classes like regiments which obey the order of their general. Thus alone can the battle be fought and truth be conquered.
After this rapid glance at the history of the other physical sciences, we now return to our own, the science of language, in order to see whether it really is a science, and whether it can be brought back to the standard of the inductive sciences. We want to know whether it has passed, or is still passing, through the three phases of physical research ; whether its progress has been systematic or desultory, whether its method has been appropriate or not. But before we do this, we shall, I think, have to do something else. You may have observed that I always took it for granted that the science of language, which is best known in this country by the name of comparative philology, is one of the physical sciences, and that therefore its method ought to be the same as that which has been followed with so much success in botany, geology, anatomy, and other branches of the study of nature. In the history of the physical sciences, however, we look in vain for a place assigned to comparative philology, and
1 Die Pflanze und ihr Leben, von M. T. Schleiden. Leipzig, 1858.
its very name would seem to show that it belongs to quite a different sphere of human knowledge. There are two great divisions of human knowledge, which, according to their subject matter, are called physical and historical. Physical science deals with the works of God, historical science with the works of man. Now if we were to judge by its name, comparative philology, like classical philology, would seem to take rank, not as a physical, but as an historical science, and the proper method to be applied to it would be that which is followed in the history of art, of law, of politics, and religion. However, the title of comparative philology must not be allowed to mislead us. It is difficult to say by whom that title was invented; but all that can be said in defence of it is, that the founders of the science of language were chiefly scholars or philologists, and that they based their inquiries into the nature and laws of language on a comparison of as many facts as they could collect within their own special spheres of study. Neither in Germany, which may well be called the birthplace of this science, nor in France, where it has been cultivated with brilliant success, has that title been adopted. It will not be difficult to show that, although the science of language owes much to the classical scholar, and though in return it has proved of great use to him, yet comparative philology has really nothing whatever in common with philology in the usual meaning of the word. Philology, whether classical or oriental, whether treating of ancient or modern, of cultivated or barbarous languages, is an historical science. Language is here treated simply as a means.
The classical scholar uses Greek or Latin, the oriental scholar Hebrew or San
skrit, or any other language, as a key to an understanding of the literary monuments which by-gone ages have bequeathed to us, as a spell to raise from the tomb of time the thoughts of great men in different ages and different countries, and as a means ultimately to trace the social, moral, intellectual, and religious progress of the human race. In the same manner, if we study living languages, it is not for their own sake that we acquire grammars and vocabularies. We do so on account of their practical usefulness. We use them as letters of introduction to the best society or to the best literature of the leading nations of Europe. In comparative philology the case is totally different. In the science of language, languages are not treated as a means; language itself becomes the sole object of scientific inquiry. Dialects which have never produced any literature at all, the jargons of savage tribes, the clicks of the Hottentots, and the vocal modulations of the Indo-Chinese are as important, nay, for the solution of some of our problems, more important, than the poetry of Homer, or the prose of Cicero. We do not want to know languages, we want to know language; what language is, how it can form a vehicle or an organ of thought; we want to know its origin, its nature, its laws; and it is only in order to arrive at that knowledge that we collect, arrange, and classify all the facts of language that are within our reach.
And here I must protest, at the very outset of these lectures, against the supposition that the student of language must necessarily be a great linguist. I shall have to speak to you in the course of these lectures of hundreds of languages, some of which, perhaps, you may never have heard mentioned even by name. Do
not suppose that I know these languages as you know Greek or Latin, French or German. In that sense I know indeed very few languages, and I never aspired to the fame of a Mithridates or a Mezzofanti. It is impossible for a student of language to acquire a practical knowledge of all tongues with which he has to deal. He does not wish to speak the Kachikal language, of which a professorship was lately founded in the University of Guatemala, or to acquire the elegancies of the idiom of the Tcheremissians; nor is it his ambition to explore the literature of the Samoyedes, or the New Zealanders. It is the grammar and the dictionary which form the subject of his inquiries. These he consults and subjects to a careful analysis, but he does not encumber his memory with paradigms of nouns and verbs, or with long lists of words which have never been used in any work of literature. It is true, no doubt, that no language will unveil the whole of its wonderful structure except to the scholar who has studied it thoroughly and critically in a number of literary works representing the various periods of its growth. Nevertheless, short lists of vocables, and imperfect sketches of a grammar, are in many instances all that the student can expect to obtain, can hope to master and to use for the purposes he has in view. He must learn to make the best of this fragmentary information, like the comparative anatomist, who frequently learns his lessons from the smallest fragments of fossil bones, or the vague pictures of animals brought home by unscientific travellers. If it were necessary for the comparative philologist to acquire a critical or practical acquaintance with all the
i Sir J. Stoddart, Glossology, p. 22.