Page images
PDF
EPUB

knowledge of it cannot be obtained by a man of sense from any authors in his own language, you must send him to what is commonly called Learning, to the Greek and Latin authors, for the attainment of it. So true, in this science at least, if not in all others, is that faying of Roger Ascham; that - Even as a hawke fleeth not hie with « one wing, even so a man reacheth not to excellency 6 with one tongue.”

H.

On the contrary, I am rather confirmed by this instance in my first position. I acknowledge philosophical Grammar (to which only my suspected compliment was intended) to be a most necessary step towards wisdom and true knowledge. From the innumerable and inveterate mistakes which have been made concerning it by the wisest philosophers and most diligent inquirers of all ages, and from the thick darkness in which they have hitherto left it, I imagine it to be one of the most difficult speculations. Yet, I suppose, a man of plain common sense may obtain it, if he will dig for it; but I cannot think that what is commonly called Learning, is the mine in which it will be found. Truth, in my opinion, has been improperly imagined at the bottom of a well : it lies much nearer to the surface; though buried indeed at present under mountains of 9

learned

learned rubbish; in which there is nothing to admire but the amazing strength of those vast giants of literature who have been able thus to heap Pelion upon Offa. This at present is only my opinion, which perhaps I have entertained too lightly. Since therefore the question has been started, I am pleased at this occasion of being confirmed or corrected by you; whose application, opportunities, extenfive reading, acknowledged abilities, and universal learning enable you to inform us of all that the antients have left or the moderns have written on the subject.

B.

Oh! Sir, your humble servant ! compliments, I perceive, are banished from Purley. But I shall not be at all inticed by them to take upon my shoulders a burthen which you seem desirous to shift off upon me. Besides, Sir, with all your caution, you have said too much now to expect it from me. It is too late to recall what has passed your lips : and if Mr. T. is of my sentiments you Thall not be permitted to explain yourself away. The satisfaction which he seeks after, you say is to be had; and you tell us the mine where you think it is not to be found. Now I Thall not easily be persuaded that you are so rash and take up your opinions fo lightly, as to advance or even to imagine this; unless you had first searched that mine yourC 2

self,

seif, and formed a conjecture at least concerning the place where you suppose this knowledge is to be found. Instead therefore of making me display to Mr. T. my reading, which you have already declared insufficient for the purpose, is it not much more reasonable that you should communicate to us the result of your reflection?

H.

With all my heart, if you chuse it should be so, and think you shall have patience to hear me through. I own I prefer instruction to corredion, and had rather have been informed without the hazard of exposing myself; but if you make the one a condition of the other, I think it still worth my acceptance; and will not lose this opportunity of your judgment for a little thame. I acknowledge then that the Tubject is not intirely new to my thoughts : for, though languages themselves may be and usually are acquired without any regard to their principles ; I very early found it, or thought I found it, impossible to make maný steps in the search after truth and the nature of human understanding, of good and evil, of right and wrong, without well considering the nature of language, which appeared to me to be inseparably connected with them.

I own therefore I long since formed to myfelf a kind of system, which seemed to me of singular use in the Very

small extent

of

[ocr errors]

of my younger studies to keep my mind from confusion and the imposition of words. After too long an interval of idleness and pleasure, it was my chance to have occasion to apply to some of the modern languages; and, not being acquainted with any other more satisfactory, I tried my system with these, and tried it with success. I afterwards found it equally useful to me with some of the dead languages. Whilft I was thus amusing myself the political struggle commenced; for my hare in which you so far justly banter me, as I do acknowledge that, both in the outset and the progress of it, I was guilty of two most egregious blunders; by attributing a much greater portion of virtue to individuals and of understanding to the generality than any experience of mankind can justify. After another interval therefore (not of idleness and pleasure) I was again called by the questions of our friend Mr. T, (for yesterday is not the first time by many that he has mentioned it) to the consideration of this subject. I have hitherto declined attempting to give him the satisfaction he required for, though the notion I had of language had satisfied my own mind and answered my own purposes, I could not venture to detail to him my crude conceptions without having ever made the least inquiry into the opinions of others. Besides, I did not at all suspect that my notions, if juft, could be peculiar to myself : and

I hoped

I hoped to find some author who might give him a clearer, fuller, and more methodical account than I could, free from those errors and omissions to which I must be liable. Having therefore some small intervals of leisure and a great desire to give him the best information; I confess I have employed some part of that leisure in reading every thing I could easily and readily procure that has been suggested by others.

I am afraid I have already spoken with too much presumption : But when I tell you that I differ from all those who with such infinite labour and erudition have gone before me on this subject; what apology

B.

Oh! make none.

When men think modestly they may be allowed to speak freely. Come Where will you begin ?

-Alpha-Go on.

H.

Not with the organical part of language, I assure you. For, though in many respects it has been and is to this moment grossly mistaken, (and the mistakes might, with the help of some of the first principles of natural philosophy and anatomy, be easily corrected) yet it is an inquiry more of curiosity than immediate usefulness.

B, You

« PreviousContinue »