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The convertible properties of letters are often amusingly shown in the construction of anagrams. "The writing of anagrams," says Mr. Collett in his Relics of Literature, “trivial as this recreation may now appear, was one of the favourite amusements of men of learning and ingenuity, and has found an advocate in one of the most learned of our English writers, Camden, who, in his 'Remains,' has bequeathed to the world a treatise on this curious subject."
The state of the human mind, at this period, is not a little indicated by the anagrams in repute, and their surprising effects. They were sources of pleasure or pain, of hope or fear; they were the omens of duties to be discharged, or courses of action to be adopted, to those who were so deluded as to be influenced by them in that superstitious age.
Camden records this anagram on James the First. Charles James Stuart, claims Arthur's seat, which, says this author gravely, "shows his undoubted rightful claim to the monarchy of Britain, as successor to the valorous King Arthur." Calvin, in the title of his Institutions, calls himself Aleuinus, which is the anagram of Calvinus. Such was the repute of these ingenious arrangements of letters in the age of Louis XIII. that he allowed his anagrammatist, Thomas Bilton, 1200 livres a year. *
But, to return from our digression, it should be borne in mind, in philological pursuits, that language was not formed in subserviency to the regulations of grammarians; but their regulations were made to suit the nature, idiom, and even corruptions of language: hence the absurdity of attempting to adapt the peculiar rules of one language to the requirements of another. Originally, letters must have been employed as necessity required, consequently there were no improper diphthongs; but, in process of time, corruptions in pronunciation became imitated, and, by custom authorized, without corre sponding alterations in the orthography. It is the opinion of some grammarians, that some of the improper diphthongs were designedly formed, to distinguish the long from the short sound of the preceding vowel: as, in the introduction of a, to denote the long sound of the e, in repeal, and the same with similar combinations. A diphthong is defined "the union of two vowels pronounced by a single impulse of the voice," a single character ought therefore, in strictness, to represent it: of these we have twenty-six; eleven proper and thirteen improper. In addition, we have six triphthongs. Such numerous combinations and interchanges of the vowel sounds and cha
* Anagrams are sometimes made out of several words, as from Pilate's interrogation to our Saviour: quid est veritas?' we have this admirable anagram,' est vir qui adest.'
racters, could not fail to prove a fruitful source of orthographical error, as frequently witnessed in manuscript; thus, in receive, we find the e preceding the i; in relieve, the i preceding the e; in which, and similar instances, it is not surprising that those who write little should err.
But we proceed to notice the powers of letters.-There has been much discussion on the forms of the letters, some contending that they are mere arbitary characters, others that there was a philosophical propriety in the appropriation of the particular character to the sound it denoted :—the form of the letter originally bearing a resemblance to the position of the organ employed in uttering it. To be competent to the complete decision of so curious a subject, would require an intimate acquaintance with the precise forms of the letters first used, and with the orthoepy of the first language so represented, as spoken at the period of that invention.
Strictly speaking, it scarcely seems correct to speak of the powers of letters. They are mere silent signs to denote on paper the sounds we employ in conversation. We have already noticed the imperfection of our alphabet:—an imperfection which belongs, in some degree, to alphabets in general. Not having a sufficient number of characters to represent the articulate sounds of the language; we are reduced to the necessity either of omitting to represent some sounds, or of employing the same character to denote more than one sound; of course the latter alternative is adopted; and it is customary, when speaking of the various sounds indicated by each letter, to denominate them its powers: applying that to the sign which can only be possessed by the thing signified.
It will be readily admitted that the sounds of the letters are materially connected with the orthography of a language. Had any language a perfect alphabet, its orthography would be simple and easy; and, it will follow, that the more imperfect the alphabet, or, in other words, the less it is adapted to denote the sounds of the language, the more difficult its orthography.
In treating of the powers of letters, it is usual to remark on each, according to the order of the alphabet, or, more correctly speaking, according to the disorder of the alphabet; for it seems surprising, that the letters should have been placed as they are, without the least attempt at classification, or any apparent reason for the precedence and situation of either. In the few observations now made under this head, we shall arrange the letters, beginning with the vowels.
Bearing in mind the nature of a vowel, it may be stated, that we have fifteen; to express which, we have but seven characters, two of which are superfluous in their mode of application. To each of the letters a and o, is allowed the privilege of de
VOL. II. PART I.
noting four of these sounds; to u, three; to e and i, each two; which, in ordinary grammatical language, are called their powers. The powers of a are exemplified in the words fame, called its long sound; in fall, denominated its broad sound; in farther, its middle sound; and sat, its short sound. The powers of o are described by terms of distinction nearly similar, as exemplified in the words go, move, for, and not: u has three sounds, as heard in the words tube, tub, full: e and i has each a long and a short sound, which are too obvious to need exemplification. The sounds of w and y are comprehended in those represented by u and i, and would be better denoted by them. W is a letter peculiar to the northern languages and nations; and y, although much employed, 5000 of our words terminating with it, is less used than formerly: to this disuse, it is probable, printers, from a preference to the letter i, greatly contributed; and, as printed books have always a powerful influence in originating a literary custom, and particularly an orthographical practice, such alterations grow into established laws.*
It is remarkable, that of these vowels, e and y alone are used as terminational letters to any extent; about 7000 of our words ending with the former, and 5000 with the latter. Among the vicissitudes ever incident to all sublunary things, it is observable that no department of language is exempted from their influence; it is manifest in the history of letters, both in their combined and separate capacity; it is seen in the increasing use of one, and in the disuse of another, as well as in their fluctuating powers, according as these powers may be more or less adapted to the fashion and taste of the age. By our forefathers the e final was pronounced, while, by their descendants, it appears used only to indicate the long sound of the preceding vowel, for which purpose any inferior distinction would equally serve; and, it is remarkable, that out of the large class of words terminating with it, in only seventy is it pronounced; and, in these, to mark the sound distinctly, and to distinguish it from the usual lengthening silent e final, the vowel is doubled, as in agree, legatee, repartee, &c.
We have observed that the other vowels seldom end a word. This will appear by the following particulars. We have about 200 words terminating with a; only thirty end
The number of words ending with y is greatly increased by the termination ly, originally like, of which it is an abridged corruption; and, although it would not be difficult to enumerate the number of legitimate words so terminating, it would be impossible to name the words so formed, which are actually employed, particularly in conversation, as it often happens that the speaker, in the haste of narration, or heat of discussion, attaches ly to various terms forming adverbs, ad libitum, rather than wait to select authorised terms, which, in writing, he would be more careful to do.
with i, and these words of foreign origin; 200 end with o; only fourteen with u; and 230 with w: and, herein, is presented a feature in our orthography the very reverse of the classical languages, the majority of whose cases in substantives, adjectives, pronouns, participles, and gerunds, as well as some of the tenses in the imperative and infinitive moods of their verbs terminate with some one of the vowels, a, e, i, o, and u.
Of the arrangements of the consonants, none perhaps is more expressive of their powers, than that which classes and names them according to their organic formation; thus, b, p, ƒ, and v, are called labials: the two last were considered almost as one letter by the Saxons; and, it is worthy of remark, that letters, more particularly formed by the lips, make good incipient, but indifferent terminational characters; and, as the love of pleasure extends itself to the minutest particulars, we observe, that man is led almost instinctively, in proportion to his degree of mental refinement, in the formation of words, to place letters in the most agreeable and harmonious stations. Thus, we find, these letters, while they so often commence words, but seldom, comparatively, end them. We have only 2000 words beginning with b, and as many with f, but only 150 terminating with the former, and as many ending with the latter. We have 3500 words commencing with p, but not more than 250 which end with it. 700 of our words begin with o, while but few end with its sound.
D and t, s and s, c and g, soft, are called dentals; and appear to be more agreeable letters, generally speaking, than the labials, and, consequently, more used. The three first are nearly equally used in commencing and ending words and syllables. We have about 2000 words beginning with t, and about 3000 terminating with it; about 2700 commencing with d, and 1400 ending with it: in addition to its being the terminating letter in the past tenses of our regular verbs. It is worthy of remark, that the consonants may be mostly classed in pairs, and that the letters so coupled are very analogous in their nature and powers, and therefore often interchanged in their application. We have already seen it so with b and p, with ƒ and v; and may observe the same with dand : so much so, that our poets frequently, though improperly, terminate their perfect participles with the latter, instead of the former: indeed, some prose-writers have preferred this orthography; and our late esteemed correspondent Mr. Capell Lofft, in one of his communications, some years since, attempted to justify this practice. We have about 4500 words beginning with s, and 3200 ending with it, in addition to its being the regular plural of our
nouns, which was not the case in the Saxon language, as we shall hereafter have more particular occasion to show. It is moreover the familiar termination of the third persons singular of our verbs, which must necessarily give this letter too great a prominence in our language, and has subjected us to the ridicule of our foreign neighbours, on account of the hissing noise of our pronunciation. That s should be but little used is not surprising, as it is evidently a derivative of s. There are but thirty words in the language which commence with it, and not more than half a dozen which end with it. The soft sounds of c and g are the same as those of s and j.
K, q, r, c, and g, hard, are very significantly called gutturals.
K and c, hard, are but two characters to express the same sound; and the recent disuse of the former is another instance of the revolutions in language, to which we have already referred. In Dr. Johnson's day, it could be said, no English word terminated with c; but, in the progress of retrenchment, it would not be surprising, if some future lexicographer should have to say, that no English word ends with k. It was customary in words ending with this hard sound, to employ both c and k in immediate succession; from which it is evident, that the latter, whose sound is never equivocal, was added to prevent the soft sound of c at the end of words: k is now only retained as a final in monosyllables, except by some few persons who are jealous of innovation. We have nearly four thousand words beginning with k or hard c, but not more than 700 terminating with the hard sound which they denote. K and q may be classed together, as somewhat analogous; the latter is a useless letter, whose sound would be as well represented by ku: it is but little used. We have no word or syllable ending with it, and not more than 160 which begin with it. Nor is g greatly employed; not more than 500 of our words begin with its hard sound, nor have we a greater number terminating therewith. The liquid r is the most pleasant of the guttural sounds, and is therefore much more employed. It is remarkable that this letter is never silent, but its sound is sometimes transposed: thus, in words terminating with re, as in fibre, e is the terminational letter to the eye, but r to the ear. This letter has been pronounced the most imperfect of all the consonants, whose sound is merely a jar of the tongue : about 2000 words begin with it, and nearly 3000 end with it.
To h some have denied the rank of a letter, but, it is conceived, without sufficient reason. The difference between words beginning with its aspirated sound, and those in which