Imágenes de página

cularly) both which methods are found in Chinese records, though the perpendicular is by far the most common.

Attempts have been made to prove that the picture-writing of the Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Mexicans has proceeded from one common source; yet nothing can be more fanciful, and, apparently, nothing more unfounded; for each possesses a distinct style, derived from an attachment to distinct classes of images, for the most part of a local nature; as the sea-horse, the crocodile, the ibis, the ichneumon, the lotus, and papyrus, birds and other animals with human heads, and men with the heads of birds and dogs, in the Egyptian system; the rabbit, cane,reed, flint, house, flag, and circle, in the Mexican; and cross, parallel, crooked, and angular lines, as the abbreviated symbols of pictures, in the Chinese; derived, for the most part, as Dr. Morrison ingeniously conjectures, from the impressions of the feet of birds on the sand, and the lines on the bodies of shell-fishes.* Each has had a distinct origin, according as mankind in these different parts of the world, and under different circumstances, have found a necessity for recording facts and ideas in remote periods of antiquity; and each, as I have already observed, has an obvious tendency to run into arbitrary and, ultimately, into alphabetical characters, though of different forms and descriptions.

Of all these, the system whose origin we are, perhaps, best capable of tracing historically, is the Phoenician; and here the voice of history completely coincides with the theory now advanced. The oldest Phoenician historian, whose writings have reached us in a few fragments and quotations, is Sanchoniatho, who was contemporary with Solomon, and drew up a history of Phoenicia, from existing monuments, and archives preserved in the college of the Phoenician priests. This history was dedicated to Abibalus, the Plicenician monarch, father of Hiram, king Solomon's ally; and was allowed by the king and the official censors appointed to examine it to be a work of great truth and accuracy. In this history Sanchoniatho places mankind, on their first creation, in Phoenicia-; and gives us a genealogy of the Patriarchs, from Adam, or Protogonus, as he calls him, to Taaut, Athoth, or Hermes, the successor of Menes, the first king of Egypt. In a passage of this very curious history, preserved by Eusebius, the author distinctly states, that picturewriting was invented by Ouranus, king of Phoenicia, who appears to hate been contemporary with Misor or Misraim, the son of Ham; and that Taaut, the son of Misor, improved upon and abbreviated the picture-writing of Ouranus, either during the reign of Ouranus or of his son Cronus or Saturn; and that Cronus having given Taaut the throne of Egypt, upon the death of Menes, the Egyptian monarch, the latter carried with him this improved picture or symbolical writing into that country. And in another passage he asserts that Taaut afterward carried forward this improvement to the invention of alphabetic characters. "Misor," says he, "wasthesonof Hamyn; thesonofMisorwasTaaut, who invented the first letters for writing. The Egyptians call him Thoth; the Alexandrians, Thoyth; and the Greeks, Hermes, or Mercury." He tells us, in a third place, that having thus invented letters, Taaut ordered the Cabiri and Dioscuri, the priests and sages of the country, to employ them in drawing up a history of Phoenicia.

This is a very curious and important relic of profane history: and it is interesting to observe its coincidence with the Mosaic narrative. It makes no mention, indeed, of the deluge, and it introduces two more generations in the line of Cain, from Protogonus, or Jirit-formed, as the term literally implies (the Adam of Moses), to Agroverus, or Noah. It places, however, the first race of mankind in Phoenicia, which, in the latitude in which this term was generally understood, included, as I shall have occasion to show presently, the banks of the Euphrates, on which Moses fixes the garden of Eden: it allows nearly the same period of time between the creation and the era of Misor, or Misraim; and nearly the same number of generations as Moses does; and gives, as closely as may be, the same names to the son and grandson of Noah,—Ham and Misraim being merely transmuted into Ham-yn

• Chinese Pictionary, p. I.

and Misor. There is coincidence enough in the two accounts to reflect authenticity upon each other: and had there been more, an advantage would eagerly have been taken of the Phoenician narrative, by skeptical polemics, and Moses would have been boldly accused of having stolen his history from this quarter.

This account of Sanchoniatho, moreover, is not only supported generally by the sacred records, but is distinctly corroborated in regard to the point immediately before us, that of the invention of letters, by the suffrages of Porphyry, Eusebius, Pliny, Quintus Curtius, Luean, and, indeed, all the Latin writers. And although the Greeks entertained a somewhat different opinion, and ascribed the invention of letters to a younger Taaut, or Hermes, than the son of Misraim, and who flourished about four centuries afterward, and was born in Egypt, as the first Taaut was bom in Phoenicia, nothing is more evident than that the Greeks were less acquainted with the history of both Egypt and Phoenicia than the Romans, in consequence of the greater range of the Roman power; and that they confounded two personages of the same name, and who possessed the same crown, and attributed to the one what ought to have been attributed to the other. The oldest Egyptian historian is Manetho, who probably drew up his dynasties about two centuries and a half before the Christian era; these only touch upon the subject indirectly, but, so far as they go, they rather support than oppose the testimony of Sanchoniatho.

There is some degree of doubt whether Greece derived its letters from Egypt or from Phoenicia: the best authorities, however, incline to the last opinion; and suppose them to have been introduced by the Phoenician Pelasgi, upon their settlement in Peloponnesus. The oldest Greek letters are nearly Pelasgic in form; and, according to the usual fashion in the East, are written from right to left. This last, however, is by no means a decisive argument; for upon the earliest use of letters, in most countries, there seems to have been no settled rule: and hence, in, perhaps, all of them, we meet with letters running from right to left, and from left to right; in many very ancient specimens of Greek running alternately, the one line in one direction, and the ensuing in the other, like the course taken by a plough, whence it was denominated, from this machine, the ploughing style; and in both Persia and Egypt, running perpendicularly like the common style of the Chinese, instead of horizontally whether to the right or the left.

That the Romans derived their alphabet from the Greeks is unquestionable: and hence, admitting the authority of Sanchoniatho, confirmed as it is by a variety of collateral evidences, the first invention of writing seems to rest with the Phoenicians, and we are able to trace it to within one hundred and sixty years of the flood. •

I am purposely, however, using the term Phoenician in a very extensive sense; in that sense in which it appears to have been used by Herodotus, and the generality of ancient writers, in consequence of Phoenicia being the earliest and most extensive commercial nation; as embracing not merely the maritime coast of Palestine, of which Tyre and Sidon were the chief cities, but the whole country of the Canaanites and the Hebrews, under whatever name it may have passed at different periods, and from different circumstances; as Syria, Assyria, Syrophoenicia, Sidonia, Aram; and, of course, as touching upon, or rather crossing, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Chaldea. And I hence obtain an answer to those; on the one hand, who contend that alphabetic characters had their origin m Syria; and to those, on the other, who assert the same in respect to Chaldea, persuading themselves, upon a tradition current among the Jews and Arabians, that Abraham introduced them into Egypt on his migrating from Ur of the Chaldees, at the command of the Almighty, seven generations after the period we have just been contemplating. The fact is, that all these countries spoke the same language, or, at the utmost, dialects of the same language, that in no instance differed farther from each other than the Scottish differs from the English; and all used the »ame alphabet, or alphabets that possessed as little variation: and hence there

[ocr errors]


can be no doubt, that, in whatever part of this quarter of the globe the system of alphabetic characters originated, they were readily and rapidly introduced into every other part. Abraham might, hence, have learned them in Chaldea, or in Canaan, and communicated them wherever he sojourned; as Ishmael, probably, communicated them shortly afterward to Arabia, upon his exile from his father's house.

The proper Phoenician alphabet seems to have consisted of not more than thirteen letters at first; it afterward had three added to it, making sixteen in the whole, and in this number it seems to have been earliest employed by many of the adjoining countries, and is distinguished by the name of the Samaritan, or ancient Hebrew, the terms and characters being nearly the same as the Phoenician. The Chaldeans introduced some kind of change into the form of the letters, made them more elegant, and added six other letters, since the Samaritan alphabet did not seem sufficiently full to express all the articulations of their speech. And in this manner, with various changes and augmentations, the Phoenician alphabet can be traced throughout every part of ancient and modern Europe; every region of Africa, where writing of any kind is current, and the western countries of Asia.

Over a very extensive portion of this last continent, however, we meet with an alphabet that has no common origin or conformity of principle with any hitherto described. This is the Nagari, or Deva-nagari, as it is called by way of pre-eminence. I consists of not less than fifty letters, of which sixteen are vowels and thirty-four consonants, all arranged in the order of the alphabet, with a systematic precision that is to be found nowhere else. The vowels take the lead, beginning with those most easily uttered, and terminating with those which approach towards the consonant sound. The consonants then follow in five regular series of gutturals, compounds, palatines, dentals, and labials: the whole closing with letters expressive of sounds that do not exactly enter into any of the preceding series, and which may be regarded as forming a general appendix. This alphabet is asserted by many learned Bramins to be of a higher antiquity than any other; and there can be no doubt that it has a just claim to a very remote date. But its very perfection is a sufficient confutation of its having been invented first of all: something far more rude and incondite must have preceded and paved the way for it; and in the complex characters of which it consists, we seem to have the relics of that emblematic or picture-language, which I have thus endeavoured to prove has laid a foundation for alphabetic writing in every part of the world. With a few trifling variations, this correct and elegant alphabet extends from the Persian Gulf to China; but it has no pretensions to rival the antiquity of the Phoenician. It is unborrowed, but of later origin.

Such is a brief history of the noblest art that has ever been invented by the unassisted efforts of human understanding; an art that gives stability to thought, forms a cabinet for our ideas, and presents, in imperishable colours, a speaking portraiture of the soul. Without this, hard indeed would be the separation of friends; and the traveller would become an exile from his native home,—vainly languishing for the consolatory information that his wife, his children, his kinsmen, his country, were in a state of health and prosperity, and himself still embalmed in their affections. Without this, what to ui would be the wisdom of past ages, or the history of former states? The chain of nature would be broken through all its links, and every generation become an isolated and individual world, equally cut off, as by an irremeable abyss, from its ancestors and from posterity. While the language of the lips is fleeting as the breath itself, and confined to a single spot as well as to a single moment, the language of the pen enjoys, in many instances, an adamantine existence, and will only perish amid the ruins of the globe. Before its mighty touch time and space become annihilated; it joins epoch to epoch, and pole to pole; it gives unity to the works of creation and Providence,and enables us to trace from the beginning of things to the end. It is the great sun of the moral world, that warms, and stimulates, and vivifies, and irradiates, and developes, and matures the best virtues of the heart, and the best ON THE LITERARY EV/uCAiro.N OF FORMER TIMES. 289

faculties of the intellect. But for this, every thing would be doubt, and darkness, and death-shade; all knowledge would be traditionary, and all experience local; civilized life would relapse into barbarism, and man would have to run through his little, and comparatively insignificant round of existence, the perpetual sport of ignorance and error, uninstructed by science, unregulated by laws, and unconsoled by Revelation. Have I not, then, justly characterized it as the noblest art that has ever been invented by the unassisted efforts of human understanding?




We have taken a brief survey of the nature of oral language, and of the means devised in different ages and parts of the world to render the transitory ideas it communicates permanent, by means of picturesque or symbolical signs; so that what is once spoken may conveniently be copied or written down, and treasured up for future ages.

It yet remains for us to take some notice of the chief methods, that have been adopted in different eras, to turn this accumulating treasure or bank of intellectual knowledge to the best account; or, in other words, to develope the mode of education adopted among those nations that have been most celebrated for literary and scientific acquirements, especially in Greece and Rome; and to compare them with the means possessed in our own day, and the general and laudable desire of improvement manifested in every quarter, and prospective of no small addition to the best sort of wealth and prosperity with which a nation can ever be enriched.

We have already traced whatever degree of art or science may have descended from the antediluvian to the postdiluvian race, through the narrow link of human beings preserved in the ark, or whatever the earliest generations of the postdiluvians may have been able to strike out for themselves, to the plains of Babylon as their centre; and observed that, in their radiations from this central point, they have been peculiarly influenced by the political character of the people who cultivated them, and that of the country and the climate in which they took up their abode.

When, in the prosecution of the present subject, we shall come hereafter to examine more particularly into the furniture and faculties with which the mind is endowed, we shall have to show that its chief trains, as well of feelings as of ideas, of passions, and rational pursuits, have derived a strong tinge from these circumstances.

Of the birth or first growth of the Grecian states we know little or nothing, though we are made acquainted with the region from which they sprang. The exquisite beauty of the country in which they had the good fortune to fix themselves; its rich and picturesque variety of hill and dale, the spontaneous fertility of its soil, the sweetness of its temperature, the almost unbroken serenity of its skies, and the smooth and glassy sea that surrounded and deeply indented its coasts, harmonized all the ruder passions, and called forth the noblest and finest feelings of the soul. They soon became enamoured of the graceful and the beautiful; their language was melody, and they were led by nature to delight in music, poetry, and painting, from the first. Hence these are the eldest employments we find them cultivating; the earliest historians were their rhapsodists, Homer, Hesiod, and the writers whose works constituted the very valuable Epic Cycle of Greece; a work, unhappily, long lost to the world, and from which Statius is supposed to have drawn the materials of his Thebaid.* Their earliest artists were their musi

• For the particulars of thi« eetabratod work, see now In vol. u. p. jfii, 363, of tlx author's translation cians; as Orpheus, and the priests of Cybele, and others of like power; the first of whom is represented, not only as having harmonized the passions of men, but broken the ferocity of the beasts of the forests, and even tranquillized the tortures of the infernal regions. And of their early knowledge of colours and the art of designing we have a sufficient proof in various passages of the Cyclic poets that have reached us; while in Homer we have occasional references to their being applied, and by ladies, through the medium of tapestry, to the most important subjects of history. Thus Iris, in the third book of the Iliad, finds Helen occupied in representing in tapestry the evils which the Greeks and Trojans had suffered on her account in their battles; and when Andromache first heard the melancholy tidings of the death of Hector, she was engaged in a similar occupation. These, indeed, were employments of Trojan ladies, but what was common to them must have been common also to their neighbours of Greece.

Among the Greek states, however, that of Athens was by far the most renowned for its love of letters and science; and amid the different eras which the Athenian history comprises, that of Pericles may be selected as affording the fairest specimen of the manner in which education was conducted, general learning and a knowledge of the arts acquired and disseminated, philosophy taught, and society cultivated and polished. This era may be regarded as contemporary with the reign of Artaxerxes the First of Persia, and Alexander the Second of Macedon, the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem under Nehemiah, and the establishment of the decemvirs at Rome: and if we extend its range through an entire century, as, for example, from the middle of the fourth to the middle of the third century before the birth of our Saviour, it will just reach from Herodotus to Demosthenes, and will, besides these celebrated characters, include the existence of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aristophanes, among the poets; Thucydides, Xenophon, and Marsyas, among the historians; Lycias, Isaeus, Isocrates, and jEschines, among the orators and rhetoricians; Socrates, Timaeus Ocellus, Aristippus, Diogenes, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus, among the philosophers; Eudoxus, among the astronomers; and Apelles, among the painters.

The elementary branches of education were acquired among the Athenians, as among ourselves, sometimes by private instruction, but more generally by public schools; many of which, at the period I am now adverting to, had attained a very high degree of reputation, and were crowded with youths from other Grecian states, and even from foreign countries. For the first five or six years, however, not the smallest effort was made to improve the mind; the whole of this period of time being devoted, agreeably to the advice of Plato, and even of many earlier sages, to sports and pastimes, for the purpose of giving strength to the body; exercises which were even afterward continued with the greatest punctuality, under particular regulations, and constituted a very important branch of Athenian education. In this respect they seem to have imitated the example of the Persians, who never commenced training their children till they were five or six years old, not even those of royal birth. At the age of five or six, the rising generation of Persia were placed under the care of their magi, or men of letters, and combined a course of gymnastics with a course of moral science: the former consisted in learning to ride, to shoot with the bow, and to fight on horseback; the latter embraced and inculcated the valuable habits of honesty and speaking the truth, patience, sobriety, reverence to parents, and the practice of every other virtue. With them literature was subservient to morals.

The general circle of study among the Greeks is well known to have comprised the seven liberal arts of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. Of these the first two, or grammar and rhetoric, were commenced earliest, and occupied by far the greatest attention of the scholar: for poetry and declamation were now the most fashionable pursuits, and the Greek language was criticised with an accuracy amounting even to fastidiousness, for new niceties and turns of expression, both in prose and verse; the sense itself being often, sacrificed to the sound as a matter of sub

« AnteriorContinuar »