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within themselves; and, in some measure, elevates him above the smiles and frowns of fortune.
51.-On the Formation of Language.
CARRY your thoughts back to the first dawn of language among men. Reflect upon the feeble beginnings from which it must have risen, and upon the many and great obstacles which it must have encountered in its progress; and you will find reason for the highest astonishment on viewing the height which it has now attained. We admire several of the inventions of art; we plume ourselves in some discoveries which have been made in latter ages, serving to advance knowledge, and to render life comfortable: we speak of them as the boast of human reason. But certainly no invention is entitled to any such degree of admiration as that of language; which, too, must have been the product of the first and rudest ages, if, indeed, it can be considered as a human invention at all.
Think of the circumstances of mankind when language began to be formed. They were a wandering scattered race; no society among them except families; and the family society too very imperfect, as their method of living by hunting or pasturage must have separated them frequently from one another. In this situation, when so much divided, and their intercourse so rare, how could any one set of sounds, or words, be generally agreed on as the signs of their ideas? Supposing that a few, whom chance or necessity threw together, agreed by some means upon certain signs, yet by what authority could these be propagated among other tribes or families, so as to spread and grow up into a language? One would think that, in order to any language fixing and extending itself, men must have been previously gathered together in considerable numbers; society must have been already far advanced; and yet, on the other hand, there seems to have been an absolute necessity for speech, previous to the formation of society. For, by what bond could any multitude of men be kept together, or be made to join in the prosecution of any common interest, until once, by the intervention of
speech, they could communicate their wants and intentions to one another? So that, either how society could form itself previously to language, or how words could rise into a language previously to society formed, seem to be points attended with equal difficulty. And when we consider, farther, that curious analogy which prevails in the construction of almost all languages, and that deep and subtile logic on which they are founded, difficulties increase so much upon us on all hands, that there seems to be no small reason for referring the first origin of all language to divine teaching or inspiration.
But supposing language to have a divine original, we cannot, however, suppose that a perfect system of it was all at once given to man. It is much more natural to think, that God taught our first parents only such language as suited their present occasions; leaving them, as he did in other things, to enlarge and improve it as their future necessities should require. Consequently, those first rudiments of speech must have been poor and narrow; and we are at full liberty to inquire in what manner, and by what steps, language advanced to the state in which we now find it.
If we should suppose a period before any words were invented or known, it is clear, that men could have no other method of communicating to others what they felt, than by the cries of passion, accompanied with such motions and gestures as were farther expressive of passion. For these are the only signs which nature teaches all men, and which are understood by all. One who saw another going into some place where he himself had been frightened or exposed to danger, and who sought to warn his neighbour of the danger, could contrive no other way of doing so, than by uttering those cries, and making those gestures, which are the signs of fear; just as two men, at this day, would endeavour to make themselves be understood by each other, who should be thrown together on a desolate island, ignorant of each other's language. Those exclamations, therefore, which by grammarians are called interjections, uttered in a strong and passionate manner, were, beyond doubt, the first elements or beginnings of speech.
When more enlarged communication became necessary, and names began to be assigned to objects, in what manner can we suppose men to have proceeded in this assignation of names, or invention of words? Undoubtedly, by imitating, as much as they could, the nature of the object which they named, by the sound of the name which they gave to it. As a painter, who would represent grass, must employ a green colour; so, in the beginnings of language, one giving a name to any thing harsh or boisterous, would of course employ a harsh or boisterous sound. He could not do otherwise, if he meant to excite in the hearer the idea of that thing which he sought to name. To suppose words invented, or names given to things, in a manner purely arbitrary, without any ground or reason, is to suppose an effect without a cause. There must always have been some motive which led to the assignation of one name rather than another; and we can conceive no motive which would more generally operate upon men in their first effort towards language, than a desire to paint, by speech, the objects which they named, in a manner more or less complete, according as the vocal organs had it in their power to effect this imitation.
Whatever objects were to be named, in which sound, noise, or motion were concerned, the imitation by words was abundantly obvious. Nothing was more natural, than to imitate, by the sound of the voice, the quality of the sound or noise which any external object made; and to form its name accordingly. Thus, in all languages, we find a multitude of words that are evidently constructed upon this principle. A certain bird is termed the cuckoo, from the sound which it emits. When one sort of wind is said to whistle, and another to roar; when a serpent is said to hiss, a fly to buzz, and falling timber to crash; when a stream is said to flow, and hail to rattle; the analogy between the word and the thing signified is plainly discernible.
In the names of objects which address the sight only, where neither noise nor motion are concerned, and still more in the terms appropriated to moral ideas, this analogy appears to fail. Many learned men, however,
have been of opinion, that though, in such cases, it becomes more obscure, yet it is not altogether lost; but that, throughout the radical words of all languages, there may be traced some degree of correspondence with the object signified. With regard to moral and intellectual ideas, they remark, that, in every language, the terms significant of them, are derived from the names of sensible objects to which they are conceived to be analogous; and, with regard to sensible objects pertaining merely to sight, they remark, that their most distinguishing qualities have certain radical sounds appropriated to the expression of them, in a great variety of languages. Stability, for instance, fluidity, hollowness, smoothness, gentleness, violence, &c. they imagine to be painted by the sound of certain letters or syllables, which have some relation to those different states of visible objects, on account of an obscure resemblance which the organs of voice are capable of assuming to such external qualities. By this natural mechanism, they imagine all languages to have been at first constructed, and the roots of their capital words formed. Blair.
52.-On the Sublime in Writing.
Ir is, generally speaking, among the most ancient authors, that we are to look for the most striking instances of the sublime. The early ages of the world, and the rude unimproved state of society, are peculiarly favourable to the strong emotions of sublimity. The genius of men is then much turned to admiration and astonishment. Meeting with many objects, to them new and strange, their imagination is kept glowing, and their passions are often raised to the utmost. They think, and express themselves, boldly, and without restraint. the progress of society, the genius and manners of men undergo a change more favourable to accuracy, than to strength or sublimity.
Of all writings, ancient or modern, the Sacred Scriptures afford us the highest instances of the sublime. The descriptions of the Deity in them are wonderfully noble, both from the grandeur of the object, and the manner
of representing it. What an assemblage, for instance, of awful and sublime ideas is presented to us, in that passage of the XVIIIth Psalm, where an appearance of the Almighty is described?" In my distress I called upon the Lord; he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills were moved; because he was wroth. He bowed the heavens and came down, and darkness was under his feet; and he did ride upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters, and thick clouds of the sky." We see with what propriety and success the circumstances of darkness and terror are applied for heightening the sublime. So, also, the prophet Habakkuk, in a similar passage: "He stood, and measured the earth; he beheld, and drove asunder the nations. The everlasting mountains were scattered; the perpetual hills did bow; his ways are everlasting. The mountains saw thee; and they trembled. The overflowing of the water passed by. The deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high."
The noted instance, given by Longinus, from Moses, "God said, let there be light; and there was light," is not liable to the censure, which was passed on some of his instances, of being foreigh to the subject. It belongs to the true sublime; and the sublimity of it arises from the strong conception it gives of an exertion of power, producing its effect with the utmost speed and facility. A thought of the same kind is magnificently amplified in the following passage of Isaiah (chap. xliv. 24, 27, 28.)
Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things, that stretcheth forth the heavens alone, that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself that saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; that saith of Cyrus, He is my Shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundations shall be laid.” There is a passage in the Psalms, which deserves to be mentioned under this head: "God," says the Psalmist,