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surprisingly great and rapid, or how his intellectual endowments could have been so successfully cultivated, as we know they were, if he had been originally ignorant of all language.
But while the nature of the case might convince us that language is of divine origin, when we look into the Mosaic history, that conviction must be confirmed. There we learn that the laws given to our first parents were given through the medium of language. They obviously conversed with God and with one another. Nor have we any intimation that 'this intercourse was conducted in any
than by an oral language. The early worship of our first parents could not have been purely mental and meditative; but oral, and in the noblest language ever uttered by man. We learn, too, that our progenitor very early gave names to all the animal creation. It was by the channel of an oral language also, that the tempter infused the first taint of sin into the bosom of man, breathing his poison with his words. It seems indeed to be more generally conceded, that the first use of oral language is to be attributed to a supernatural revelation. There are exceptions to this opinion, but it is very difficult to give any other tolerable account of the origin of this art.*
The researches of the most accredited philologists go far to support this opinion. The more critically
* This topic is discussed at length by Herder on the Origin of Language; by Shuckford in his Connexions; by Condillac on the Origin of Human Knowledge; by Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiment; by Magee in a valuable note to his work on Atonement and Sacrifice; by the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, article Language; by Dr. Samuel S. Smith; by Stillingfleet, in his Origines Sacræ, in the Boylean Lectures; in Beattie's Theory of Language; in the Scholar Armed; in Woolaston's Religion of Nature, and in Winder's History of Knowledge.
modern, as well as ancient languages are investigated, the more are they found to resemble each other in their roots and primary forms, and the more clearly are referable to one common stock. The languages which prevailed in all the South of Europe after the destruction of the Roman Empire, were a barbarous mixture of the Latin with the different languages of the Northern invaders. The modern languages of Europe have all evidently been derived from the Roman; the Roman from the Greek, and the Greek from the Phænician. Goguet, in his Origin of Laws, Arts and Sciences, remarks, that “the comparison of the Phænician and Greek Alphabets would alone be sufficient to convince us of this. It is visible that the Greek characters are only the Phænician letters turned from right to left.” Authorities might be greatly multiplied to show that the Phænicians spoke a dialect of the Hebrew. The Chaldee, Syriac, and Samaritan are also dialects of the Hebrew, without any considerable deviation, or many additional words. There is a striking similarity also between the Ethiopic and the Hebrew; the Hebrew and the Arabic, and the Arabic and the Persian. There are strong analogies between the Sanscrit and the Hebrew, and between the Hebrew and the Coptic; while the Coptic is identified with the ancient Egyptian. Dr. Lightfoot, whom Adam Clarke pronounces to have been the first scholar in Europe, is of the opinion that the original tongue was Hebrew; that this was the language spoken in Canaan before the time of Joshua; that it was the language of Adam and the language of God. “God," says he, “was the first founder of it, and Adam was the first speaker of it. It began with the world and the Church, and increased in glory till the captivity in Babylon. The whole language is contained in the Bible, and no other book contains in it an entire language.”
The German scholars of the present century would present much the same account, while they seem to hesitate in expressing the opinion that the Hebrew is the mother tongue. We learn from them that the modern languages of Europe, together with the Gothic, Sclavonic, Greek and Latin are discovered to bear a close affinity; and under the name of IndoEuropean, are classed with them in one family. Between these and the Semitic family, which, among others, includes the Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Samaritan, Ethiopic and Arabic, striking analogies are discovered, and by every new research they are becoming more fully identified. Wiseman, a learned Romanist, says, that the decision of the academy of St. Petersburg upon the celebrated paper of count Goulianoff was, that all languages are to be considered as dialects of one now lost. I am at a loss to understand the ground of this uncertainty. The Chaldee and Syriac were formerly one language, only they were written with a different character; and they were both dialects of the Hebrew. The hypothesis, for it is a hypothesis merely, that the book of Job is older than the Pentateuch and was written in Arabic, seems indeed to countervail the position that the Hebrew is the first written language. And yet Lightfoot unhesitatingly affirms that the Arabic is a dialect of the Hebrew, and that all languages are indebted to this, and this to none." This much however may be confided in, that both believers and unbelievers in the Mosaic history have affirmed the original unity of all language; disclaiming the notion that men are of entirely distinct races, and thus far corroborating the position that the same divine Author of the physical organs of speech imparted to man the knowledge of their use and power.
The first method of rendering thought visible was by pictures, symbols, and the various kinds of ideagraphic writing. But there is a marked distinction between these imperfect and elementary forms, and Alphabetical writing. This is a system which is expressive primarily of sound rather than of thought. Instead of employing characters as multifarious as the different objects to be pointed out, it makes visible by the combination of a few elements of sound, every idea which the mind is capable of conceiving
From our familiarity with this art, it is not easy for us to appreciate its importance. The extreme simplicity by which results so complicated are attained, bears a strong analogy, not to the works of man's invention, but to the operations of the God of nature, distinguished as they are, not less by the fewness and simplicity of their agents, than their astonishing, nay unlimited combinations. Were we now in possession only of such a mode of writing as distinguished the ancient Egyptians, or the Mexicans upon the discovery of this continent, and as distinguishes the Chinese at the present day; and should some gigantic mind penetrate the mysteries of sound, embody them and give them form, and present to us our simple Alphabet, the first lesson of our childhood, and explain to us its combinations and its uses; what honours, I had almost said, what veneration should we not render him!
The claims of most nations to this singular discovery arise solely from their supposed antiquity. And yet it is a somewhat remarkable fact, that some of the most ancient nations remained destitute of this art long after it had prevailed in adjacent countries.* Dr. Mc Knight remarks that “the literal method of writing, is generally said to have been first practised by the Phænicians;" though he himself countenances the idea that the first specimen of the art was that on the tables given to Moses. But it may be shown with the utmost degree of probability that the Phenician Alphabet was derived from the Hebrew. “A learned writer in the Edinburgh Encyclopædia expresses the opinion, “that the pretensions of the Phænicians must give way to the better established claim of the Hebrews.” Goguet thinks it more probable that this invention is to be ascribed either to the Assyrians, or the Egyptians. It is true that the Assyrians were a more ancient people than the Hebrews; but their antiquity extended beyond the period when letters were invented. On the mere ground of antiquity, they have a higher claim than any other nation. But I have found no evidence in favour of their claims except this. On the contrary, the best authorities dispute their pretensions. With regard to Egypt, more may be said in invalidating its claims to this invention than has been said against those of Phænicia and Assyria. Is there not a sort of literary mania which has led so many renowned men to ascribe almost all that is valuable in literature, science, or the arts to Egypt? Though comparatively
* The leading authors to which I have had access on this general subject are Winder's History of Knowledge—Goguet's Origin of Laws–Dugald Stewari's Dissertation prefixed to the Encyclopædia Britannica—the Edinburgh Review for 1836,—the works of Lightfoot-Astle on the Origin and Progress of Writing-Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses-Gilbert Wakefield's Dissertation on Alphabetical Writing—Daubuz on the Revelation--and also some valuable thoughts at the close of the last volume of Dr. Mc Knight on the Apostolical Epistles.