Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

flattish oval. These are thrown by pairs, and, according to the mode in which they turn up, a judgment is formed of any future event by consulting the interpretation afforded by a Sibylline volume which is hung up in the temple. If the throw, however, happens to be unlucky, they do not mind trying their chance over again until the answer is satisfactory. A plan of divination, of somewhat the same kind, is decribed by Tacitus in his account of the ancient Germans : “Sortium consuetudo simplex ; virgam frugiferæ arbori decisam in surculos amputant, eosque notis quibusdam discretos super candidam vestem temere ac fortuito spargunt.”*

* Germ. x.

CHAPTER XVII.

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE.

Chinese characters symbols of ideas – Roots or radical characters

Written and spoken languages — Written characters — Rules for study – Literary habits — Ethics — Aphorisms — Histories — Account of Europe - Biographies — Civil code — European translations.

The written language of China realizes to a great extent the theory of a universal medium for the communication of ideas, as conceived by Bishop Wilkins, and methodized by him into an elaborate treatise which he presented to the Royal Society. While the letters of our alphabet are mere symbols of sounds, the Chinese characters, or words, are symbols of ideas, and alike intelligible to the natives of Cochin-China, Japan, Loo-choo, and Corea, with those of China itself. The best practical illustration of a written character, common to several nations who cannot understand each other's speech, are the Arabic numerals common to all Europe. An Englishman, who could not understand what an Italian meant if he said venti-due, would comprehend him immediately if he wrote down 22. This advantage, which belongs to our numerals only, pertains to the whole language of the Chinese, and those other nations who use the same characters, without affixing to them the same pronunciation.

No connexion or resemblance whatever is to be traced between the written language of China and the Egyptian

hieroglyphics. The former, indeed, is a much more artificial and ingenious system than the last, which had not advanced beyond the rude representations of visible objects; while the Chinese, although it seems to have originated in something of the same kind, is now anything but a collection of mere pictures. They have no less than six different forms of writing or printing, just as we have the black letter, the roman, the italic, the written, and the running-hand forms. Indeed the Chinese running-hand might very easily be taken for an alphabetic character, though it differs from most of these systems in being written in perpendicular columns, like the Manchow Tartar language.

The rumoured difficulties attendant on the acquisition of Chinese, from the great number and variety of the characters, are the mere exaggerations of ignorance, and so far mischievous as they are calculated to deter many from the pursuit whose business takes them to the country, and would no doubt be greatly promoted by some practical acquaintance with its language.* The roots, or original characters of the Chinese (or what, by a species of analogy, may be called its alphabet), are only 214 in number, and might indeed be reduced to a much smaller amount by a little dissection and analysis. To assert that there are so many thousand characters in the language is very much the same thing as to say that there are so many thousand words in Johnson's Dictionary; nor is a knowledge of the whole at all more necessary for every practical purpose than it is to get all Johnson's Dictionary by heart in order to read and converse in English. Prémare very correctly observes,“neminem esse qui non possit libros legere et Sinice componere, quando semel quatuor vel quinque millia litterarum (aut verborum) bene novit”—“that there is nobody who might not read and write Chinese after he had once acquired a good knowledge of 4000 or 5000 characters or words.” A much smaller number might, in fact, suffice; and it is worthy of remark that the entire number of different words, apart from repetitions, in the Penal Code translated by Sir George Staunton, was under 2000.

* Since the Treaty of 1842 a marked encouragement has been given by the Foreign Office to young men willing to qualify themselves as translators and interpreters at our consulates. Some of these have attained to a great proficiency in the language.

The roots which we have mentioned serve, like our alphabet, for the arrangement of the words in the large Chinese Dictionary, compiled more than a hundred years since by order of the Emperor Kâng-hy; and so ingenious and lucid is the arrangement, that to a practised person there is little more difficulty in turning to a word than among ourselves in consulting Johnson. The main portion of Dr. Morrison's Chinese Dictionary is arranged on the same principle. One part, however, is on a different plan, which requires that the searcher after a word should know its pronunciation before he can find it. This (which is an attempt to imitate the European method) is by far less certain than the proper Chinese mode, which requires no knowledge whatever of the sound of a word, but only of its composition: and this is obvious to any person who knows the roots. These roots answer the purpose of our alphabet in lexicographic arrangement, and may be considered, besides, as the foundation of the meaning of each word to which they serve as root.

From the principle on which the written language has been constructed, there has ensued to it a remarkable property, which did not escape the penetration of the late Professor Rémusat, in his paper on “ the state of the natural sciences among the people of Eastern Asia.” As the 214 roots or radical characters (whose combinations with each other form the whole language) singly represent or express the principal objects or ideas that men have occasion to communicate in the infancy of their knowledge, they comprise within their number the heads of genera and classes in nature and thus afford the elements and means of a philosophical system of arrangement. As their knowledge increased, “a fortunate instinct,” as M. Rémusat calls it, guided the framers of the language, and led them, instead of forming characters altogether new, to express new objects by the ingenious combination of those elementary symbols which they already possessed. Thus, for instance, among the roots we find horse, dog, metal, &c.; and the addition of some other significant symbol, expressive of some peculiar property or characteristic, serves to designate the different species comprised under these principal genera. In this manner, as M. Rémusat observes, each natural object becomes provided with a binary denomination, inasmuch as the complex character is necessarily formed of two parts; one for the class, order, or genus, the other for the species or variety. Thus they express horse, horse-ass, horse-mule ; dog, dog-wolf, dogfox; metal, metal-iron, metal-copper, metal-silver ; the elementary or generic words, horse, dog, metal, being those under which the compounds are arranged in the dictionary.

Thousands of terms have been thus compounded, and thousands more may be constructed in the same way; for the process by which they are created, and which is strictly analogous to the principle of the Linnæan nomenclature, is one which cannot be exhausted by repetition ; and from this simple sketch it may be conceived how much aid the understanding and memory may gain by the employment of signs of this rational nature, in a subject of

« ZurückWeiter »