« 上一頁繼續 »
Allowing the truth of our theory respecting the antiquity of alphabetical writing, it clears up one difficulty respecting the manner in which the knowledge of events was handed down from one generation to another, in the early ages of the world. Instead of being entirely dependent upon oral tradition, they might have preserved records of all important transactions; and hence the genealogies of the first patriarchs and their descendants, and those other events and facts recorded by Moses, were in this manner kept upon record, and preserved among the archives of the nation. And although, at the dispersion of the human family and the multiplicity of languages which grew out of that event, the knowledge of this very useful art might have been lost among the descendants of Japheth and Ham, yet it might have been and undoubtedly was preserved in the family of Shem, and so transmitted down, gradually improving under the ingenuity of men, to the time of Moses.
We do not contend that the ancient Hebrew or Shemitic character was the same as that now in use. Indeed the present character in which the Hebrew Scriptures are written is very different from that in use before the Babylonish captivity; the former being the Chaldee and the latter the Samaritan character; for as the Jews so far improved in their religious character by their long captivity as to be cured of idolatry, so they exchanged the old character of their alphabet, for the more beautiful one of the Chaldees.
But without entering farther into the intricate question respecting the time when or the people among whom this very useful art originated, let us spend a few thoughts on the progressive manner in which it was brought into a more general use. This will lead us to one conclusion, at least, that although a knowledge of letters might have been preserved in the family of Shem, it must have been for a considerable time pretty much confined to them. And perhaps this was one of the curses inflicted upon the nations at the time of their dispersion, that they lost, together with a knowledge of the primitive language, a knowledge of the characters in which it was written. Why, indeed, should not this have been included among the blessings of that Divine revelation which was restricted in a great measure to the family of Shem ? As God continued to visit them with special tokens of His presence, from time to time, even from the period of the general dispersion until the settlement of the descendants of Abraham in Egypt, is it not reasonable to suppose that they retained among them those characters which were necessary to record the periods of these visitations, as well as the import of the messages and instructions which were thus conveyed to thêm ? And as it is certain that the other tribes which were scattered abroad very soon lost the knowledge of the true God, and gradually relapsed into idolatry, they might have lost also the knowledge of those characters by which the revelation of God's will had been recorded. May not this ignorance have been at least a part of that blindness to which they were given over for a punishment of their temerity at the building of Babel, and for their subsequent idolatrous practices? Is there any thing improbable in all this?
Without, however, dwelling longer upon this intricate subject, let us attend to the manner in which the use of alphabetical characters came into use among the various nations of the earth. From the earliest histories to which we can have access, it appears that the first rude efforts at recording events and representing things were made by pictures. Thus, to signify that one man had killed another, the figure of a man was drawn on the ground, and of another standing by him with some instrument of death in his hand. To denote that strangers had arrived in a country by sea, it was natural to draw the figure of a man sitting in a ship. This appears to have been the earliest kind of writing, if it may be so called, among the Egyptians, Phenicians, Greeks, and other ancient nations. And when Mexico was discovered by the Spaniards, this was the method in practice among the Mexicans. The inhabitants of the sea coast, in order to give notice of the arrival of these strangers to their emperor, Montezuma, sent him a large cloth, on which they had painted every thing remarkable that they had observed.
This certainly was a very laborious and cumbersome mode of conveying ideas. It accordingly gave way to a more abbreviated method, called symbolical. The hyeroglyphical manner of writing, though it might represent visible objects by means of the signs and marks which it had adopted, could not so readily express the passions, opinions, and decisions of the mind, and those subjects which were purely of an intellectual nature. This inconvenience led to the invention of employing symbols, which it was supposed had some relation or resemblance to the things represented by them. Thus ingratitude was denoted by
. a viper-Providence by the head of a hawk, remarkable for its penetrating eye-a man shunned by society by an eel, which is supposed never to be found in company with any other fish-feet standing upon water, as an impossibility.
But as this method of recording events and representing things was also attended with much labor, and as mankind have ever been fond of lightening the toils of life as much as possible, they were led to invent the shorter method of writing by the use of letters, each of which, it has been contended by some, first stood for a thing or an idea. That this was the case, on the first invention of letters, appears highly probable. The Chinese characters evidently denote things and not words.
Hence the vast number of their characters. Sir George Staunton asserts that their number of words does not exceed 1,500, while the number of characters extends to 80,000, making an average of nearly fifty characters to each word. On the supposition that each character stands for a thing or an idea, the knowledge of the characters is the knowledge of things ; and hence on the examination of those who aspire to office among them, they are examined in their knowledge of these characters, and of their ability to write them with accuracy and elegance. This requires much labor and long and close study, so much so that a Chinese dictionary, properly constructed, would be a systematic encyclopedia of all the learning and science of the country.
The names of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are all significant. X, aleph, signifies an ox ; , beth, a horse ; d, gimel, a camel ; and so on of the rest. And it is well known that in the Greek language, A, alpha, signifies the beginning, and w, omega, the ending of any thing.* But that alphabetical writing was known among the Phenicians and also the Egyptians long before the giving of the law—who might indeed have derived it from the Hebrews, as the ancient Hebrew character and the Phenician is very much alike—is quite evident from the testimony of Pliny, whc, from not being able to ascertain precisely its origin, asserts that a knowledge of letters must have been eternal, that is, beyond all records. Simplicius, who lived in the fifth century, states, on the authority of Porphyry, who was a historian of great research, that Calisthenes, the companion of Alexander, found at Babylon a record of observations on the heavenly bodies for one thousand nine hundred years,
that is, before Christ 2234, which would carry us back to the eighty-ninth year of Abraham. And the common opinion is that Cadmus introduced letters from Phenicia into Greece 1519 years before the Christian era, which would be forty-five years after the death of Moses. Anticlides affirms, and labors to prove that letters were invented in Egypt before the days of Phoroneus, the most ancient king of Greece ; that is, 409 years after the deluge, and in the 117th year of Abraham. But allowing that they were introduced into Egypt at that time, it is evident, from the testimonies before adduced, that they had previously existed in Phenicia ;I which corroborates the opinion already expressed, that a knowledge of them had been preserved in the family of Shem, from the days of the flood; especially when it is remembered, as before stated, that the ancient Hebrew and Phenician characters were nearly the same: and hence in all probability the Phenicians learned them from the Hebrews, and the Egyptians from the
* See Blair, and the New Edinburgh Encyclopedia.
Phenicians. But whatever obscurity may hang around the question respecting the people among whom and the time when alphabetical writing originated, it seems quite evident that it was known long before the giving of the law upon Mount Sinai. It may moreover be urged as an objection against the opinion that the Hebrew alphabet was first given by Divine revelation at the time of the giving of the law, that this alphabet is marked with those defects which it seems reasonable to suppose would not have appeared if it had been the pure effect of Divine revelation. Though it is tolerably complete in regard to the language for which it is used, yet it is by no means perfect. It is imperfect in regard to vowel characters ; for even admitting what some contend for, that five of the constituent letters are vowels, yet there are many words in which no vowel occurs, and which therefore the reader is left to supply in reading; or otherwise adopt the complex and operose machinery of vowel points, which do not appear to have been an integral part of the language, but are evidently of a comparatively modern invention. Now it does not appear reasonable that God should by an express revelation make known an alphabet of so imperfect a character, inasmuch as all His works are perfect.
How thankful we ought to be for the invention and knowledge of such an art as alphabetical writing! Were the knowledge of this art lost, and we reduced back to that state of barbarism in which the nations were involved who were destitute of such a mode of recording events, and of communicating their thoughts to each other, how deplorable would be our condition in comparison to what it now is ! together with the art of printing, affords to mankind those facilities for the interchange of sentiment, and for communicating information of every sort, by which a thought suggested to one mind in any one part of the world may be communicated, almost with the rapidity of lightning, to every other part of the globe. Through the united influence of these two arts, what may we not hope to accomplish in the cause of God, the cause of religion and humanity, if they be used diligently and wisely for this munificent purpose !
But what good thing is there but what is susceptible of abuse ?While it is perfectly easy to make the art of writing and printing subservient to the advancement of the best of objects, it is manifest that by its abuse it may become an instrument of unrighteousness' no less effectually than every other good thing may be turned into wormwood and gall. To communicate knowledge, to diffuse abroad sound and healthful sentiments, and to check and refute error and heresy, the press becomes a powerful and prompt instrument; but this could do nothing, comparatively, without the aid of alphabetical writing. United they are two great lights' by which the world may become illuminated.
MAURY ON ELOQUENCE.
Вт The ABBE MAURY. Translated from the French ; with additional Notes, by John Neal Lake, A. M. To which are added Mr. Wesley's Directions concering Pronunciation and Gesture. New York,
published by B. Waugh and T. Mason.
ELOQUENCE is said to consist in giving utterance to sentiments in correct and appropriate language, accompanied with graceful and expressive gestures. The word comes to us from the Latin, eloquor, loquor, which signifies simply to speak; and this probably from the Greek, anxaw naxw, to crack, to sound, to make articulate sounds. The primary signification probably is to burst forth suddenly as water through an aperture. When the heart is full of well-digested matter it is easy for the tongue to utter it with eloquence.
Of all the writers on eloquence, which have come under our observation, no one has treated the subject with greater clearness of perception or facility of expression, and at the same time illustrated his rules and principles with more striking and apposite examples, than the Abbe Maury. These examples indeed were ready at his command ; for no nations, among the moderns, have furnished more splendid proofs of impassioned eloquence than the French nation has done ; and no preachers have exhibited brighter examples of pulpit oratory than some of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and more especially those belonging to the French Church during the reign of Louis XIV. May not one reason for this be found in the independence of those clergy of their people? While the Protestants generally addressed themselves to the people, as the ultimate judges of their doctrine, and so put themselves in their power as to make them in some measure the arbiters of their destiny, they became solicitous to court the popular favor, and were of course fearful of offending their prejudices or of incurring their displeasure : and while these circumstances operated to the disadvantage of the more timid among the Protestants, the clergy of the Catholic communion, maintaining their high independence without any fear of losing the good will of their auditors, fearlessly addressed themselves to their consciences, boldly attacking and exposing their ignorance and their vices. We do not say indeed that this censure applies universally to the Protestant ministers, nor that they have been generally deficient either in energy of character or pointedness of expression and boldness of reproof. Some of them were not afraid to arraign even kings upon their thrones for their vices, nor to denounce the judgments of almighty God upon evil doers of every character. Such have left