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writing, though ignorant of the language spoken in their several countries; a plain proof, that the Chinese characters are, like hieroglyphics, independent of language: are signs of things, not of words.
We have one instance of this sort of writing in Europe. Our cyphers, as they are called, or arithmetical figures, 1, 2, 3, 4, &c. which we have derived from the Arabians, are significant marks, precisely of the same nature with the Chinese characters. They have no dependence on words; but each figure denotes an object, denotes the number for which it stands; and, accordingly, on being presented to the eye, is equally understood by all the nations who have agreed in the use of these cyphers; by Italians, Spaniards, French, and English, however different the languages of those nations are from one another, and whatever different names they give, in their respective languages, to each numerical cypher.
As far, then, as we have yet advanced, nothing has appeared which resembles our letters, or which can be called writing, in the sense we now give to that term. What we have hitherto seen, were all direct signs for things, and made no use of the medium of sound, or words; either signs by representation, as the Mexican pictures; or signs by analogy, as the Egyptian hieroglyphics; or signs by institution, as the Peruvian knots, the Chinese characters, and the Arabian cyphers.
At length, in different nations, men became sensible of the imperfection, the ambiguity, and the tediousness of each of these methods of communication with one another. They began to consider, that by employing signs which would stand not directly for things, but for the words which they used in speech for naming these things, a considerable advantage would be gained. For they reflected farther, that though the number of words in every language be, indeed, very great, yet the number of articulate sounds, which are used in composing these words, is comparatively small. The same simple sounds are continually recurring and repeated; and are combined together, in various ways, for forming all the variety of words which we utter. They bethought themselves, therefore, of inventing signs, not for each word by itself, but for each of those simple sounds which we employ in forming our words; and, by joining together a few of those signs, they saw that it would be practicable to express, in writing, the whole combinations of sounds which our words require.
The first step, in this new progress, was the invention of an alphabet of syllables, which probably preceded the invention of an alphabet of letters, among some of the ancient nations; and which is said to be retained to this day in Æthiopia, and some countries of India. By fixing upon a particular mark, or character, for every syllable in the language, the number of characters, necessary to be used in writing, was reduced within a much smaller compass than the number of words in the language. Still, however, the number of characters was great; and must have continued to render both reading and writing very laborious arts. Till, at last, some happy genius arose, and tracing the sounds, made by the human voice, to
their most simple elements, reduced them to a very few vowels and consonants; and, by affixing to each of these, the signs which we now call letters, taught men how, by their combinations, to put in writing all the different words, or combinations of sound, which they employed in speech. By being reduced to this simplicity, the art of writing was brought to its highest state of perfection; and in this state, we now enjoy it in all the countries of Europe.
To whom we are indebted for this sublime and refined discovery, does not appear. Concealed by the darkness of remote antiquity, the great inventer is deprived of those honours which would still be paid to his memory, by all the lovers of knowledge and learning. It appears from the books which Moses has written, that among the Jews, and probably among the Egyptians, letters had been invented prior to his age. The universal tradition among the ancients is, that they were first imported into Greece by Cadmus the Phænician; who, according to the common system of chronology, was cotemporary with Joshua; according to sir Isaac Newton's system, cotemporary with king David. As the Phænicians are not known to have been the inventers of any art or science, though, by means of their extensive commerce, they propagated the discoveries made by other nations, the most probable and natural account of the origin of alphabetical characters is, that they took rise in Egypt, the first civilized kingdom of which we have any authentic accounts, and the great source of arts and polity among the ancients. In that country, the favourite study of hieroglyphical characters, had directed much attention to the art of writing. Their hieroglyphics are known to have been intermixed with abbreviated symbols, and arbitrary marks; whence, at last, they caught the idea of contriving marks, not for things merely, but for sounds. Accordingly Plato (in Phædo) expressly attributes the invention of letters to Theuth, the Egyptian, who is supposed to have been the Hermes, or Mercury, of the Greeks. Cadmus himself, though he passed from Phænicia to Greece, yet is affirmed, by several of the ancients, to have been originally of Thebes in Egypt. Most probably, Moses carried with him the Egyptian letters into the land of Canaan ; and there being adopted by the Phænicians, who inhabited part of that country, they were transmitted into Greece.
The alphabet which Cadmus brought into Greece was imperfect, and is said to have contained only sixteen letters. The rest were afterwards added, according as signs for proper sounds were found to be wanting. It is curious to observe, that the letters which we use at this day, can be traced back to this very alphabet of Cadmus. The Roman alphabet, which obtains with us, and with most of the European nations, is plainly formed on the Greek, with a few variations. And all learned men observe, that the Greek characters, especially according to the manner in which they are formed in the oldest inscriptions, have a remarkable conformity with the Hebrew or Samaritan characters, which, it is agreed, are the same with the Phænician, or the alphabet of Cadmus. Invert the Greek characters from left to right, according to the Phænician and Hebrew manner of wri
ting, and they are nearly the same. Besides the conformity of figure, the names or denominations of the letters,alpha, beta, gamma, &c. and the order in which the letters are arranged, in all the several alphabets, Phænician, Hebrew, Greek, and Roman, agree so much as amounts to a demonstration, that they were all derived originally from the same source. An invention so useful and simple was greedily received by mankind, and propagated with speed and facility through many different nations.
The letters were originally written from the right hand towards the left; that is, in a contrary order to what we now practise. This manner of writing obtained among the Assyrians, Phænicians, Arabians, and Hebrews; and from some very old inscriptions, appears to have obtained also among the Greeks. Afterwards, the Greeks adopted a new method, writing their lines alternately from the right to the left, and from the left to the right, which was called Boustrophedon; or, writing after the manner in which oxen plough the ground. Of this, several specimens still remain; particularly, the inscription on the famous Sigean monument; and down to the days of Solon, the legislator of Athens, this continued to be the common method of writing. At length, the motion from the left hand to the right being found more natural and commodious, the practice of writing, in this direction, prevailed throughout all the countries of Europe.
Writing was long a kind of engraving. Pillars, and tables of stone, were first employed for this purpose, and afterwards plates of the softer metals, such as lead. In proportion as writing became more common, lighter and more portable substances were employed. The leaves, and the bark of certain trees, were used in some countries: and in others, tablets of wood, covered with a thin coat of soft wax, on which the impression was made with a stylus of iron. In later times, the hides of animals, properly prepared and polished into parchment, were the most common materials. Our present method of writing on paper, is an invention of no greater antiquity than the fourteenth century.
Thus I have given some account of the progress of these two great arts, speech and writing; by which men's thoughts are communicated, and the foundation laid for all knowledge and improvement. Let us conclude the subject, with comparing in a few words, spoken language, and written language; or words uttered in our hearing, with words represented to the eye; where we shall find several advantages and disadvantages to be balanced on boch sides.
The advantages of writing above speech are, that writing is both the more extensive, and a more permanent method of communication. More extensive, as it is not confined within the narrow circle of those who hear our words, but, by means of written characters, we can send our thoughts abroad, and propagate them through the world; we can lift our voice, so as to speak to the most distant regions of the earth. More permanent also; as it prolongs this voice to the most distant ages; it gives us the means of recording our senti-. ments to futurity, and of perpetuating the instructive memory of past transactions. It likewise affords this advantage to such as read, above such as hear, that, having the written characters before their eyes, they can arrest the sense of the writer. They can pause, and revolve, and compare, at their leisure, one passage with another : whereas, the voice is fugitive and passing ; you must catch the words the moment they are uttered, or you lose them for ever.
But, although these be so great advantages of written language, that speech, without writing, would have been very inadequate for the instruction of mankind; yet we must not forget to observe, that spoken language has a great superiority over written language, in point of energy or force. The voice of the living speaker, makes an impression on the mind, much stronger than can be made by the perusal of any writing. The tones of voice, the looks and gesture, which accompany discourse, and which no writing can convey, render discourse, when it is well managed, infinitely more clear, and more expressive, than the most accurate writing. For tones, looks, and gestures, are natural interpreters of the sentiments of the mind. They remove ambiguities; they enforce impressions ; they operate on us by means of sympathy, which is one of the most powerful instruments of persuasion. Our sympathy is always awakened more, by hearing the speaker, than by reading his works in our closet. Hence, though writing may answer the purposes of mere instruction, yet all the great and high efforts of eloquence must be made by means of spoken, not of written language.
QUESTIONS. In attending to the order in which, what was the genius and character of words are arranged in a sentence, what most of the ancient languages? What do we find ? What advantage will a one is an exception; and what is said consideration of this difference afford ? of it? Of the prose compositions of moThat we may conceive clearly the na-dern languages, what is remarked ; ture of this difference, what is neces- and what may that order be called ? sary? What must we figure to our- How do they dispose of the parts of selves ? Unacquainted with words, how their sentences; and what follows ? would he proceed ? Having acquired By what example is this remark illuswords, what one would he first utter? trated ? Here, what have we presentHow would he express himself, and for ed to us? What order would Cicero what reason? Of such an arrangement, have used ? How do these two orders what is remarked? What do we now compare with each other? How did call this order; why; and how do we the Romans generally arrange their consider it? Though not the most logical, words? How do we arrange them? Of yet why is it the most natural order? what does our arrangement appear to. What might we therefore conclude; be the consequence; and how far ? Of and accordingly, what do we find your arrangement in poetry, what is obWhat arrangement, in the Latin lan- served ? In what order do different guage, most commonly obtains, and modern tongues vary in this respect? what example is given ? What does What is it proper "next to observe ? the Latin order gratify? In the exam- What is that circumstance ? What is ple here given, of what must every one obvious effect of this? What illusperson of taste be sensible ? In the tration of this remark is given ? By Greek and Roman languages, what is means of this contrivance, what did the most common arrangement? What, the ancients enjoy ? When were these sometimes, requires a different order; cases of nouns and terminations of and what remark follows ? Sometimes, verbs dropped; and why? To what too, what alters this order ; and what only were they attentive ? What did effect would it produce ? In general,' they not much regard; what solely study; and hence what follows? Thus, | hieroglyphics; and for what purpose ? what has been shown; and for what How does it appear that this is certaindoes it lay a foundation ? From what ly a mistake? What does the nature has been said in this, and the preceding of the invention plainly show it to have lecture, what appears evident ? In the been? After alphabetical writing was successive changes which language has introduced into Egypt, for what pur undergone, what, also, is evident ? In pose did the priests still employ hierathis respect, what does the progress of glyphical characters ? Who found hielanguage resemble? How is this illustra- roglyphical writing in this state; and ted? What were the characteristics of what was the consequence? As wriearly language, and to what have they ting advanced from pictures to hieroall gradually given place ? How do glyphics, from these latter to what did it the modern and ancient characters of advance? Where was this kind of wrilanguage compare ? In its ancient ting practised? What method did they state, to what was it most favourable; contrive to give information, or comand to what is it most favourable in municate their thoughts to one anits modern ? Having finished his ac- other ? Where are these characters at count of the progress of speech, to what present used ? As the Chinese have no does our author next proceed; and alphabet of letters, howare their words what does he say of it? Next to speech, composed; and what is the consewhat is the most useful art that men quence? To what must the number of possess ? As it is plainly an improve these characters correspond? How ment upon speech, what necessarily many of them are they said to have ? follows? Of what only did men at first What time does it require to learn to think; and what did they afterwards read and to write them correctly; and devise? Of what two sorts are written to what does this subject learning ? In characters ? What are examples of the what manner, is it probable, the Chiformer; and of the latter? What nese proceeded in forming these chawere, doubtless, the first essay towards racters ? What reason have we for bewriting; and why? For what purposes lieving this to have been the case ? would those methods soon be employ- What instance of this sort of writing ed? How is this illustrated ? Where do have we in Europe; and whence did we find this method to have prevailed; we derive it? Of these figures, what and at what time? The memory of observed; and accordingly, what fol what did the Mexicans transmit by his- lows? As far as we have advanced, torical pictures? Of these records, and what has not appeared ? Of what we of the nations who had no other, what have hitherto seen, what is observed ; is remarked ? What only could pic- and what examples are given? Of tures delineate; and what could they what did men at fength become sensinot do? To supply, in some degree, ble? How did they begin to consider this defect, what, in process of time, that much advantage would be gainarose ; and how may they be considered ? On what did they reflect ? Of the ed ? In what do hieroglyphics consist ? same simple sounds, what is remarked? What examples are given ? What ad- of what did they therefore bethink vantage had hieroglyphics over pic- themselves? In this new progress, tures? What did pictures delineate? what was the first step; and what is What did hieroglyphics paint; and said of it ? How was the number of how? Among the Mexicans, what characters in writing reduced to a were found ? Where was this kind of much smaller compass than the numwriting most studied, and brought to a ber of words in the language? Still
, of regular art? In_hieroglyphics, what the number of characters, what is obwas conveyed ? By what were they served? At length, by some happy governed in forming them? How is genius, what was effected ? By being this remark illustrated ? What did they reduced to this simplicity, to what was sometimes join together; and what ex- the art of writing brought ? Of the auample is given ? Why was this sort thor of this sublime discovery, what is of writing enigmatical and confused, observed? What appears, from the and a very imperfect vehicle of know- books of Moses ? What is the tradition 'edge of any kind ?
among the ancients; and with whom Who, has it been imagired, invented' was he contemporary ? Of the Phæni