« PreviousContinue »
and that tells him that the study of them is useless. And as respects himself, it tells him truly; for to him, with his unfitness and aversion, it is useless, and can never be turned by him to any purpose either of profit or honor.'
It has been strenuously maintained by some writers, that a knowledge of Greek and Latin is indispensable in the study of the modern languages; and it is upon this principle that a boy is first put to the Latin Grammar, in order to qualify him for the comprehension of that of his vernacular tongue. This, in vulgar phrase, is 'putting the cart before the horse.' • Universal grammar,' as Lowth justly observes, 'cannot be taught abstractedly: it must be done with reference to some language already known, in which the terms are to be explained, and the rules exemplified. The learner is supposed to be unacquainted with all but his native tongue ; and in what other, consistently with reason and common sense, can you go about to explain it to him ?' The converse, then, of the proposition is true : to the modern student a knowledge of his own grammar is the proper preliminary to an understanding of that of the ancient tongues; for, in the words of the author just cited, 'a competent grammatical knowledge of our own language is the true foundation upon which all literature, properly so called, ought to be raised.'
We are far from underrating the classical dialects of Greece and Rome those languages which have been immortalized by a Homer and a Virgil, a Thucydides and a Cicero. He who can boast of their acquisition, may lay claim to intellectual treasures of no ordinary value. But that they are indispensable to the knowledge of our mother tongue, we are not disposed to admit. The English language has its own grammatical construction, and its own idiom; and these are to be illustrated, not by foreign grammars, and foreign idioms, but by those native writers, whose compositions are the only exemplars of grammatical arrangement, and the models of idiomatic peculiarities. In vain may we expect to obtain a knowledge of English, without studying its authors; and what the construction of the language of these authors has in common with the ancient tongues, is of small moment, compared with that which is its distinguishing characteristic. So much for grammar and idiom. With respect to words, a knowledge of their derivation is the business of the etymologist, and is useful to the lexicographer, but it is not essential to the ordinary student, who need look no farther than to their proper use, and accepted signification. We should never forget, that ali languages were originally formed, not by the learned, but by the vulgar; and to the latter we are frequently compelled to resort for the explanation of vernacular words or phrases, which have been overlooked by the compilers of dictionaries. The celebrated French critic, Vaugelas, was in the habit of consulting his female acquaintance, on the import of terms which had obtained the sanction of polite usage, under the persuasion that people of good-breeding, but whose minds had received no bias from foreign discipline, were the most proper arbiters in matters of current locution. That we have adopted many words derived from the ancient tongues, is true ; but are we to be told, that, unless we are acquainted with their etymology, we cannot
correctly ascertain their signification? The illiterate beggar, who implores our alms, requires something to comfort him in his distress ; and he as perfectly understands the meaning of the verb comfort, as the scholar who has been taught that comfort is formed of the Latin words con or cum and fortis ; and he pockets our charity, without caring whether this evangelical noun be derived from the Greek or Latin.
The erudite writers who lay so much stress upon the study of the dead languages, as instrumental to the acquisition of our own tongue, are silent on the subject of that dialect which is the basis of the English the Saxon. The reason is, that the language of our primitive ancestors forms no part of the studies of those philomaths, who esteem every literary pursuit vulgar, which cannot claim affinity with classical antiquity. Now if any one language be necessary to the elucidation of another, it is the Saxon we ought principally to invoke, for from this source many of our most expressive
and vigor: ous words have been derived. But in the study of English, we need no auxiliaries. A language so simple in its form and construction, so easily understood, so rich and expressive in its phraseology adapted, as it unquestionably is, to the fervor of oratory, the dignified discussions of history, the elegance and rythmical flow of poetry, and, above all, to the precision of science - is worthy of being studied for its own intrinsic excellence; and could be thoroughly acquired, if all the remains of antiquity were swept from the earth.
Professor Caldwell maintains, that it is possible a critical acqaintance with Greek and Latin may even mislead a scholar respecting the meaning of an English word; as the signification attached to many English words, by custom, which is the law of speech, is materially different from the signification of their Greek and Latin roots.' Bishop Lowth declares, that the greatest critic, and most able grammarian of the last age, when he came to apply his learning and his criticism to an English author, was frequently at a loss in matters of ordinary use, and common construction, in his own vernacular idiom.'
We are disposed to believe that a special application to foreign literature, whether ancient or modern, has a tendency, not only to vitiate our oral speech, but to corrupt our written language, by the introduction of a phraseology which neither good taste can approve, nor can it be justified by the practice of standard authors. One of the best examples of unadulterated English, of the age in which it was written, is the admirable letter of Anne Boleyn to her brutal husband, Henry VIII., in which letter the sorrows of the calumniated queen are depicted in a language which was the spontaneous offspring of the heart. Her daughter Elizabeth, whose masculine mind was imbued with classical lore, under the tuition of the pedantic Ascham, wrote in the scholastic dialect which characterizes the English of that courtly pedagogue. The style of Sir Thomas Browne,' says Johnson, 'is a tissue of many languages; a mixture of heterogeneous words, brought together from distant regions, with terms originally appropriated to one art, and drawn by violence into the service of another. It is vigorous, but rugged; it is learned, but pedantic; it is deep, but obscure; it strikes, but does not please ;
his tropes are harsh, and his combinations uncouth.' It was the vaunt of Browne, that, ' beside the dialects of different provinces, he understood six languages.' The English prose of Milton, with its lengthened periods, abounding in Latinisms and inversions, is read only by the curious, who are willing to dive into an ocean of words, in the hope of discovering pearls. Hume was reproached by Dr. Priestley, for departing from the true English idiom, and leaning to that of the French. And the same objection was made to the style of Gibbon, who also superadded the transposition, and rhetorical pomp, of the writers of antiquity. Both of these distinguished historians were conversant with the French language, which they wrote with ease and correctness; particularly the latter, whose first publication, the Essay on the Study of Literature, was in this elegant tongue. A long residence abroad not only exercises an influence upon
the modes of thinking of individuals - their tastes and judgments. but their native language is thereby apt to lose that raciness, which is its distinguishing feature. Job B. Rousseau, and the Huguenot divine, Saurin, have been censured by critics for anomalies of expression, which have been stigmatized as the 'stile réfugée' — the refugee style — a departure from purity, which was the result of their intercourse with strangers in foreign lands. Gibbon confesses, in his Memoirs, that the perusal of the English writers, since the revolution, most seasonably contributed to restore the purity of his own language, which had been corrupted by the long use of a foreign idiom,' during his residence at Lausanne, in Switzerland.
Our language,' says Johnson, 'for almost a century, has, by the concurrence of many causes, been gradually departing from its original Teutonic character, and deviating toward a Gallic structure and phraseology, from which it ought to be our endeavor to recall it, by making our ancient volumes the ground-work of style, admitting among the additions of later times, only such as may supply real deficiencies, such as are readily adopted by the genius of our tongue, and incorporate easily with our native idioms.'
Here let it be observed, that the great lexicographer does not point out to the student of English, the Greek and Latin as models of imitation, but our vernacular writers; whose works he emphatically denominates the wells of English undefiled, the pure sources of genuine diction.' • A mixture of two languages,' says he, in another place, will produce a third, distinct from both; and they will always be mixed, where the chief part of educatim and the most conspicuous accomplishment is skill in ancient or in foreign tongues. He that has long cultivated another language, will find its words and combinations crowd upon his memory; and haste and negligence, refinement and affectation, will obtrude borrowed terms, and exotic expressions.
It is worthy of note, that Addison was sneeringly pronounced 'no great scholar,' by some critics of the old school, because he addicted himself chiefly to the study of the writers of his native tongue, as the proper ground-work of English style. The happy effects of this discernment, however, may be seen in his inimitable essays, wherein the true English idiom is united with a gracefulness
of manner, and an elegance and purity of expression, which have rendered this author the best model of refined diction in the language.
Locke, an undoubted authority in matters of education, in reprehending the scholastic method of making themes, objects to the Latin for this purpose, inasmuch as an English student may never have an occasion once to make a speech in it as long as he lives, after he becomes to be a man. For,' he adds, “it is a language wherein the manner of expressing one's self is so far different from ours, that to be perfect in that, would very little improve the purity and facility of his English style.'
• To write and speak correctly,' says the same author, 'gives a grace, and gains a favorable attention, to what one has to say; and, since it is English that an English gentleman will have constant use of, that is the language he should chiefly cultivate, and wherein most care should be taken to polish and perfect his style. To speak or write better Latin than English, may make a man be talked of; but he would find it more to his purpose to express himself well in his own tongue, that he uses every moment, than to have the vain commendation of others for a very insignificant quality.'
* Through what language,' says our author, 'must American genius shine in oratory, charm in poetry, and instruct in history, philosophy, and other forms of literary composition? Through Greek and Latin? No, certainly; but through our mother tongue, forgetful of its descent from any other language. For the time is certainly coming, when that descent will be forgotten, or disregarded. The remembrance will not hang a perpetual incubus on our speech, detracting from its independence, and preventing its maturity. For the English tongue never will, nor can be completely mature, until rendered so by independent cultivation. This is as true, as that we should never have emerged from immaturity, as a nation, continued in our colonial dependance on Great Britain. An independent condition is essential to the perfection of all that is human.
suppose that the English language, which, in less than a century, will be spoken by three hundred millions of souls — first in standing among the races of men – to suppose that it will still be considered the nursling of the languages of those specks of earth called Italy and Greece, whose pride, pomp, and power have long since passed away, is the consummation of romance not, to pronounce it the height of absurdity. Ages on ages after those languages shall have become as become they must — the Sanscrit of letters, will the English tongue continue to improve in all the higher qualities of speech — and it will improve the more rapidly, from being cultivated alone, without
reference to the source from which it sprang. In conclusion, we cannot forbear to say, that we have seldom perused a pamphlet, wherein matter to arouse reflection, and manner to invite it, are more skilfully blended, than in the discourse before us. The life of Professor Caldwell has been devoted to literature and science. He has long been favorably known by his various publications, and this last, on a subject of universal concern, is worthy of universal consideration,
THERE is a feeling, whose wild thrill
Awakes and slumbers once — once only ;
Makes deserts glad, or cities lonely;
Till all to which it clung was ashes,
While life remains to feed its flashes.
Wo, want, yea even the crust of crime,
The heari's dark soil may chill and harden,
Unfertile as a blighted garden;
Seedling of Heaven, of growth eternal,
And keep that spot for ever vernal.
Even when the dark, oblivious tomb
The lovely and the loved hath shrouded,
But serve to keep love's light unclouded :
The memory of the loved he slaughters -
But leave their shadow on its waters.
A BELL'S BIOGRAPHY.
BY THE AUTHOR OF TWICE-TOLD TALES,' THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH,' ETC. HEARKEN to our neighbor with the iron tongue ! While I sit musing over my sheet of foolscap, he emphatically tells the hour, in tones loud enough for all the town to hear, though doubtless intended only as a gentle hint to myself, that I may begin his biography before the evening shall be farther wasted. Unquestionably, a personage in such an elevated position, and making so great a noise in the world, has a fair claim to the services of a biographer. He is the representative and most illustrious member of that innumerable class, whose characteristic feature is the tongue, and whose sole business, to clamor for the public good. If any of his noisy brethren, in our tongue-governed democracy, be envious of the superiority which I have assigned him, they have my free consent to hang themselves as high as he. And for his history, let not the reader apprehend an empty repetition of ding-dong-bell. He has been the passive hero of wonderful vicissitudes, with which I have chanced to become acquainted, possibly from his own mouth ; while the careless multitude supposed him to be talking merely of the time of day, or calling them to dinner or to church, or bidding drowsy people go bedward, or the dead to their graves. Many a revolution has it been his fate to go through, and invariably with a prodigious uproar. And whether or no he have told me his reminiscences, this at least is true, that the more I study his deep-toned language, the more sense, and sentiment, and soul, do I discover in it.