Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

NOTICE OF

ANTI-TOOKE; or an Analysis of the Principles

and Structure of Language, exemplified in the English Tongue. By John Pearn. 8vo. 10s. 6d. Longman and Co. 1824.

" If any thing,” says Mr. Fearn in his preface, “ can be imagined more truly mortifying than another to the intellectual pretensions of our species, it is that we should be doomed to signify our thoughts in a jargon of utterance, with regard to the true logical import of which we are profoundly ignorant. Every man of education, when he happens to listen to the articulate effusions of a plough-boy, or untaught peasant, is filled with unmixed compassion to behold a large number of his fellowcreatures chained down by their lot to the dark necessity of expressing their ideas in a way that approximates not a little to the instinctive signs of brute animals. What then must be the reflections of the educated man, if it were had in proof, that with regard to this sort of attainment, he is in a state not much elevated above the level of the clown whom he pities and despises ?”

With the purport of this passage we fully concur. A clearer definition of the symbols, by which we express our mutual thoughts, is one of the chief

wants of this age of universal pretension and excitement. The Baconian system of experimental stages, in the acquisition of moral truth, should be as rigorously applied to metaphysics as to physics, if we wish the progress of intellectual man to be as substantial as it is showy, as beneficial as it is energetic. Dry and useless as etymological inquiry may appear to superficial objectors, it is, in fact, replete with the elements of the richest, most salubrious, and most useful philosophical research. Etymology is calculated to throw a strong and steady light on the origin of man: on the date of his antiquity: on his earliest modes of life: on the various families into which the main stream of human population divided itself: on the regions whence they aboriginally flowed: and on the countries which the migrating colonies successively occupied and cultivated. The etymologist, by showing the true and original source of the notions and ideas attached to each word and expression which he investigates, may often supply undenia

ble proofs of antiquity from the wrecks and vestigia of institutions that remain; these furnish the best and strongest pleas which a nation can assign for its comparative antiquity, or for its ancient affinity, alliance, or connexion with other nations, Etymology, in short, is necessary to the thorough understanding of a language; for to express a word precisely, and to show its force and extent, there is a necessity for tracing it to its first form or root.

Mr. Fearn, as the title of his book shows, is generally opposed to the system of Horne Tooke. He, however, not without justice, expresses a due sense of the labors of that distinguished philologist

. Before Horne Tooke, many had pretended to write philosophically on the subject of language; but it was reserved for thie author of the “ Diversions of Purley” to be the first in this country to write sensibly on it. If that celebrated work be big with promises which never have, and perhaps never can be realised, it contains the substructure of a philological edifice of noble, correct, and intelligible proportions. But with every disposition to admit the merit of the above work, it certainly does contain a considerable proportion of unsound opinion. Ingenious paradox and bold assertion are often more conspicuous than careful inquiry and dispassionate reflection : of which the author's favorite theory of Gothic derivation is a proof; while his etymological examples are often mere gratuitous assumptions, and some of them are excessively absurd. The following is a favorable example of the acute manner in which Mr. Fearn grapples with Horne Tooke's theory of prepositions :

“ In Teutonic, Fragm or Fram means originating, running, proceeding. Frogma, which is the derivative of FRAG, run, through the medium of the preterite, is in use for a root, or beginning. The reader must here recollect that to begin is itself from bi, upon, and GAN, to go; BIGIN and BI-GANG, to set a going.”—Hist. Of The Eur. Lang. Vol. 2, page 24.

Here, then, we have the full Etymological History of the Word -From.—And here it is expressly evident, that, although this Word naturally came to be in use for “A Root," or Beginning;" (in which use it is, certainly, an AGENT-Noun, as Mr. Tooke asserts it is, and Not a VERBAL Noun) yet, IT WAS IN ITS ORIGIN A VERBAL, as I affirm it was. Dr. Murray begins his account by saying, that From means the PARTICIPLES “ ORIGINATING, RUNNING, PROCEEDING.” Now these are all VERBALS; which want nothing but inter-position between Two Other Words (operating at the moment as Nouns) to convert them into VERBS:

a

Whereas the AGENT-Noun_“ AN ORIGIN,” “ A Source," or “AN AUTHOR,"—(which is Mr. Tooke's assumption of the matter, CANNOT IN ANY SITUATION be converted into a Verb.

In fine; It is conclusive, here, that the Word FROM, according to the Derivation given of it by Dr. Murray, is the Progressive or So-called Participial Form of the VERB TO BEGIN, as I confidently affirm it is.

To this amount of evidence I shall only add, that the assumption of Any Preposition's being a MERE AGENT-Noun,-(by which I mean Any Noun that is Not the Name of SOME ACTION, and therefore is NOT IN ANY case convertible into a Verb,)—is an absurdity of the grossest kind in Language, and is precisely analogous to asserting that a: BANK OR SUPPORTING PRINCÌPLE is ONE ŠAME LOGICAL OBJECT, or Subject, as BRIDGE OR CONNECTING PRINCIPLE.

The following disquisition on the Past Tense is equally ingenious and instructive :

Since the speculations of Mr. Tooke it has been generally agreed, by our most enlightened Etymologists, that the Termination-D-or ED-expresses Some Sign, or Word, distinct from the Form of the Present: but the difficulty has been to determine, upon any certain ground, what actually is, or what ought to be, the real import of this Termination.

Mr. Tooke himself, and other writers after him, have supposed, that “ loved means love-DID. But this hypothesis, even if admitted for a moment, does not remove nor lessen the difficulty; because did is itself a Past Form, and it demands to be accounted for as much as Every Other Past Form.

The account given by Dr. Murray, of the nature of this contrivance, seems to be much more luminous, in appearing to have explained at least the actual fact or history of its origin and import; although it has not led to any Philosophical or Logical advancement of the Subject. As an Etymological light, therefore, I conceive it is to be regarded as a very valuable acquisition: but the exhibition of it only serves to show how unphilosophical were many of the devices, or contrivances, of our forefathers, with regard to the Structure of Language. This writer shews, very extensively, that Past Action was originally signified by a MERE DUPLICATION of the Name of Present Action. Thus, in Vol. 1, page 50, he expresses himself in the following terms.

6. While the Noun underwent these important changes, the Verb, the fountain of language, acquired new and interesting properties. It has been shown that it was monosyllabic, expressive only of action, and general in its sense; because it was a rapid articulation, framed to communicate to others the presence of some remarkable

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

operation in nature or in the mind. The word used was that which the savage speaker had been taught, or accustomed to articulate on former occasions, when actions, similar to that immediately at the time affecting his senses, had taken place. The monosyllabic word, therefore, expressed a great class of actions, not an individual event. Though this word might be repeated after the action had terminated, it was properly an affirmative Verb in the present tense. The first effort to mark preterite action consisted in doubling the Verb; of which, traces, more or less evi. dent, are found in all the dialects from Britain to China. For example, Lag, strike, LAG LAG, struck; Bag, beat, BAG BAG, beaten; MAG, press, MAG MAG, pressed; and so on throughout the whole language. These forms, which served for a preterite tense in any person, according to the view of the speaker, soon underwent contraction, and became Lelog, BeBoG, and Menog;” &c.

From the passage now quoted, the reader will clearly discern the nature of Dr. Murray's theory of the Past Form; and will consequently be led to conclude, that, if the fact was actually as he has stated, we are to look for the Sign of the Past Tense, in most languages, as being no other than some disguised Form, or relic, of the Verb in Present Time, including some terminal addition.

But if we admit the fact to be made out, (and I see no reason to dispute it, that those Nations, in the early stages of their Language, did actually employ a Duplication of the Name of an Action, as the form of the Past Tense; it will certainly be granted that this contrivance has no claim to be called a Philosophical or Logical procedure: It was merely the device, or perhaps in the first instance the sudden and accidental impulse, of uncultivated reason: It was a device founded in necessity; and, although it demanded a certain exercise of reason to discern and to supply this necessity, it is certain that no mechanism could have been less Philosophical for the purpose, than that in question. If, then, any other means can be found, which can effect the same end in a Logical manner, the Philosophical Grainmarian is bound to adopt it, even although it should not appear that any Nation had ever employed, or thought of the same before.

This consideration leads me to observe, that there certainly is a medium, by which the desired purpose may be effected in a manner at least not less logical than that by which we indicate Future Action ; because the medium in question is precisely analogous to that just mentioned. The fact is, that the Auxiliary Verb To Have, is the PROPER AND PECULIAR Sign wherewith to indicate Past Action; precisely upon analogous ground to that by which the Auxiliaries May and Can,- Shall and Will,-indicate Future Action. And, when I suggest this, I do not advert to it as any

thing new in itself; since it is already a part of the usual Sign of Past Time: I only mean to suggest that the Auxiliary-To HAVE ought to do away entirely with the Termination D,-OT ED,and with Every Other VARIATION OR INFLEXION of the Name of Action that is called a Verb; insomuch, as to leave only One Form of the Verb-namely—a Form analogous to that which is called the PRESENT, as love,-mor loving; hate,-or hating.

We cannot take leave of Mr. Fearn without returning him our thanks for the information and pleasure we have derived from his lucubrations; nor without recommending the study it embraces to more universal and particular attention than it bas heretofore attained. It has hitherto been estimated at too low a value. The object of sober etymologists is to ascertain the divers alterations of a language; to avail themselves of all the lights of art or science in stripping words of their various disguises; and by a regular process, to conduct them down to the present time through all the changes that have occurred to them in their passage. In studying the words of language, we seek to feel their beauty and power as parts of the living speech of those by whom they are spoken. The study comprises the cultivation of a delightful sense of a perception instinct with feeling, by which we receive on our minds, with instantaneous impression, the perfect force of every word which a mighty people for ages past has used for the vivid image of some conception of the soul. But the study is of still more importance to the orator, the politician, the philosopher, and the grammarian.

Those who take the pro and con of any given subject can never arrive at any profitable result, unless they be perfectly agreed as to the value of the verbal coin which they exchange in argument. No one can be a good reasoner, nor a good orator, who does not accurately understand and clearly appreciate this value. The first study of language is the first study of thought itself. If we write, we must follow the natural processes of a mind unfolding its own thoughts. We must be skilled in all the processes of thought in order to convince an individual of that which he does not believe, or persuade bim of that which he does not know. We must study the curious and subtle structure of language, by which it is made the fit and correspondent expression to the inward workings of the mind : and not merely in its minuter structure, but in those laws and principles of the entire composition of discourse, by which it becomes a vehicle in all its various moods and conditions of action for the development of the action of the human mind. Addressing men, and calling on men for their sympathy, it behoves us to

« ZurückWeiter »