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Like the words of some spirit, who rides on the breeze,
To keep note when sad mortals complain, These words of the Stone to the listening trees
Were spoken — alas! but in vain.
"Ye trees who repine at the verdict of fate,
Who would barter your stations away, Give ear to a Stone, who has envy nor hate,
To hear his monitions to-day.
Does the face give its joy to the rapturous heart,
Or the heart throw its smile to the face? Can nature be gay with the tinsel of art,
Or change with the changes of place?
'I remember a flower, a beautiful flower,
A wild rose, that grew by the stream,
Set in twilight's effulgent gleam.
'So scorning Aurora and all her array,
Of pure air, sweet perfume, and light,
And was killed by the frost of the night.
"Ah! could she have known what the winter-green knows,
That the night-frost no pity could show,
Nor had longed in the twilight to blow.
'The Apple-tree planted where flourished the Oak,
When the first mountain storm should assail, Would be stripped of her verdure, uprooted, and broke,
By the force of the pitiless gale.
O then would she value her fellowship fair,
With violet, daisy, and rose,
That her pride was the worst of her foes.
But how would the Oak in the garden appear,
With her flowing robe, gorgeous and gay? Alas! every dew-drop would turn to a tear,
Each blossom a sign of decay.
'Slow, slow would he sicken for sun-light and blast,
The strength of his own native air;
Till he stood in his lone ruin there!
'And then what to him were the nightingale's song,
The odor and bouquet so fair ? He would learn that the heart bears its canker and wrong,
That we smile, when no sorrow is there.
"As soon should the tear say it loved not the eye,
The song that it loved not the lute, As the Apple-tree envy a station so high,
Or the Oak sigh for blossom or fruit.
Be wise then, ye trees, nor seek elsewhere to find
Those joys that bloom only at home; The sun of all bliss is contentment of mind;
The heart is its cradle and tomb !'
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
Ah who can hope his line should long
In closing the first division of the present paper, it was observed, that another and concluding number would be devoted to a consideration of the best means of cultivating an acquaintance with the English language; the danger of corruption to which it is exposed from innovation ; with some allusion to British criticism upon the manner in which the English language is written and spoken in America ; and an examination of its future prospects, in regard to its prevalence and extension. In reference to the first branch of the subject, we may remark, that undoubtedly the first place is to be assigned to a careful perusal of the best authors, with a special attention to their peculiar turns of thought, and modes of expression. A good style, like good manners, must be formed by frequenting good company, not for the purpose of imitating any particular individual, but of catching the nameless graces of all. A correct taste in regard to fine writing can only be formed, like taste in the fine arts, by the careful inspection of good models. Different writers have different excellencies; and he who would form a correct taste and a good style, must not confine his attention to a few favorite authors; but must suffer his mind to roam, somewhat at large, over the fields of English literature.
A frequent reference to a standard dictionary, in connexion with extensive reading, is also of great importance, in order to the maintenance of purity and propriety of composition. Without such a help, always at hand, and frequently resorted to, there are few persons who would not be in danger of using unauthorized words, or of giving to legitimate words an unauthorized meaning.
În selecting a dictionary as a standard, great judgment and discretion should be exercised.
Johuson's dictionary, with its latest improvements, particularly his quarto, possesses many advantages over any others which have ever been written. The idea of supporting and illustrating the meaning of words by quotations from distinguished authors, was a peculiarly happy conception; and this feature in Johnson's dictionary will be highly valued by every critical scholar. The meaning of words is more accurately ascertained by inspecting the manner in which they have been used by good authors, than it can possibly be from any definition. The authority of some authors is superior to that of others; and a means is afforded by this dictionary for distinguishing between words of modern use, and those which must be considered as well nigh obsolete.
Next to a careful perusal of the best classical English writers, with the aid of a good dictionary, the greatest help to a thorough acquaintance with the English will be found in a knowledge of the Latin language. The English has derived more words from the Latin, than from all other foreign sources; and these words are some of the most expressive and forcible in the language. The Latin language possesses peculiar advantages as an expositor of the English. The words which have been derived from the French, have been taken with little change of form; and to trace them back to their source, furnishes little or no clue to their meaning. It is not so with words derived from the Latin. Those words which are simple in the English, are often compound in the Latin, and the simple Latin words of which they are compounded, often furnish the best interpretation of the English word which has been derived from them.
To give a few examples : what better definition can be given of circumambient, than is derived from the Latin words, ambio, to encompass, circum, around; of circumjacent, than jacio, to lie, circum, around; of suburbs, than sub, around, urbs, the city; of circumlocution, than loquor, to speak, circum, around ; of omniscient, than omnis, all, scio, to know; of consanguinity, than con, together, sanguinis, from sanguis, blood; of pusillanimity, than pusillus, weak, animus, soul, or mind: of retrospect, than retro, backward, and specto, to view? The same is true in hundreds of cases. And even where the Latin word is not a compound, it will furnish a clue to the primary meaning of the English word which has been derived from it, more definite than can be derived from any other source. To the Latin scholar, the words in the English which have been derived from the Latin, have a peculiar precision and force, since they thus become their own interpreters; and in his knowledge of the Latin, he carries around with him, at all times, a most convenient portable dictionary.
The Greek language, also, from which many valuable English words have been derived, possesses, to a great degree, the same advantages as the Latin, and is highly worthy of the attention of the English scholar. If the same attention were bestowed upon this language which is extensively given to the French, many young ladies might learn to read with facility the New Testament in the original language. They would thus not only be able to understand the criticisms on the original Scriptures, which they will frequently meet with, and be able to form a judgment of their correctness, and would become acquainted with the most beautiful language of antiquity, but they would furnish themselves with a valuable means of an extended acquaintance with their own rich tongue. Lady Jane Grey, in whom the Christian may glory, and of whom, if pride were ever admissible, every female might be proud, who, at the early age of seventeen, was cut down by the hand of violence, was familiarly acquainted with this language. The New Testament was a part of her daily reading; and she generally read it in the original Greek, and with the same facility with which she read the English.
The French deserves only the third place among foreign languages, as an auxiliary to English literature. It is a help, however, which is by no means to be contemned; for the English is indebted to it for many of its words, and the French has received a high degree of cultivation by the labors of many distinguished scholars, and embodies much valuable literature and science.
Languages, like nations, have had their rise, their glory, and their decline. The sun of English literature has risen in peculiar brightness, has ascended the heavens in majesty, and is shedding its VOL. XV.
meridian splendor on the world. Who would not regret to behold it descending toward the horizon, even though it should scatter brilliancy over a hemisphere in its setting glory? It is interesting to inquire what are the dangers of corruption to which the English language is exposed, and how they may be avoided.
The greatest danger of corruption to which it is exposed is innovation. In the earlier state of a language, when it is progressing in improvement by the labors of genius and taste, innovation is the prime source of its advancement. But when a language has received the finishing touch of improvement, and become substantially settled, innovation is to be steadily frowned upon. With the models of Grecian sculpture and architecture before him, where is the artist who will pretend that excellence is to be attained in these fine arts by innovation, and not by imitation? There is nothing more beautiful than simple beauty itself. The Italians attempted to improve the Corinthian, the most elegant order of Grecian architecture, by combining the beauties of the Ionic and of the Corinthian; but in the judgment of all good taste, they marred what it was their purpose to adorn.
When a language becomes substantially settled, innovation must be considered a kind of literary treason. A language becomes settled when no authors may be expected to arise in it, more distinguished than those who have already arisen. In this view of the subject, must not the English language be considered as settled ? When will more illustrious authors arise, than those who have already shed a glory on English literature?
There is, indeed, cheering proof that the English language is not on the decline. The later writers in every department of literature and science are not inferior to their predecessors. Campbell, and Rogers, and Montgomery, and Scott, and Byron, and many others, have adorned the fields of poetry. Reed, Stewart, and Brown, are scarcely inferior to Locke in metaphysical authorship. Webster, as a lexicographer, is no unworthy successor of the illustrious Johnson. If natural philosophy and physical astronomy have made little advancement since the time of Newton, other departments of physical science, and particularly chemistry, have been signally advanced ; and the latter has been beautifully illustrated by Sir Humphrey Davy, and a multitude of others. In fictitious writing, no former author, for beauty of description and elegance of language, will bear a comparison with Sir Walter Scott. And for a pure, classical, and elegant style, nothing in the whole range of the English classics will surpass that of Washington Irving, the American. Theology has been elegantly as well as forcibly illustrated by Blair and Campbell, Porteus and Dwight.
The progress of science, among those who speak and write the English language, is undoubtedly onward. New discoveries are making, and new terms will be required to express them. But, with this exception, innovation is the bane of the English language. New words which are unnecessary only encumber a language, and increase the difficulty of learning and of writing it. To borrow the similitude of an elegant author, • Of what use is it to introduce foreigners for the defence of a country, when its native citizens are abundantly suffi
cient for its protection ? Language is the common property of those who speak and who write it; and it is of great consequence that they use the same words, and in the same senses, and even that they write them with the same orthography. No single man, and no small body of men, have a right to interfere with the common property of all. It has required the labor of ages to bring the English language to its present perfection and uniformity; and he who attempts, by bold innovations, to trespass upon its laws, and to break up its foundations, should be regarded as the foe of English literature.
This subject addresses itself with peculiar force to American writers. While it is undoubtedly true that the English language is more correctly spoken by the great body of the people of the United States than by those of Great Britain, it is also to be confessed, that American writers are less distinguished for their purity of style than English scholars. While the eloquence of the American Congress is fully equal to that of the British Parliament, and American statesmen may claim, without arrogance, to be the instructors of the world in political science; while American divines have a pathos and force which can scarcely be found on the other side of the Atlantic; while medical writers bave risen in the United States, on whom the collected learning of Great Britain has conferred the highest literary honors ; while American poets and miscellaneous writers have commanded wide transatlantic approbation; it is still true, that elegance of style is not a prominent characteristic of American writers. It is from those who make literature and authorship a profession, that we are principally to expect a careful attention to the niceties of language. Such characters are not often to be found in the United States. This circumstance is not to be attributed to a poverty of genius, nor to a destitution of knowledge, but to the peculiar condition of the country.
To all that is old and all that is new in British literature and science, the American public has an easy access.
Book-sellers can obtain and print these works without the expense of paying for a copy-right, and they can therefore poorly afford to be patrons of American literature. Authorship in the United States, with the exception of the department of school-literature, has generally been a poor trade. Dr. Noah Webster has received more from the avails of his spellingbook, the work of a year's employment in early life, in the midst of other avocations, than he can ever expect to receive from the avails of his great dictionary, the learned effort of no small part of a long and laborious life. Other employments have beld out the prospect of wealth and of fame, which literature has been unable to present. The consequence has been, that comparatively few authors have arisen in the United States to adorn English literature, and lo cultivate the refinements of the English language. A carelessness in regard to the use of words, as to purity and propriety, has been the inevitable result. The octavo volume by John Pickering, of Salem, a distinguished American scholar, the object of which is to detail the words which have been used by American writers which are not sanctioned by good authority, presents a formidable host of intruders, that have invaded the purity of the English language, and that are to be driven from the country by the combined exertions of American scholars.