Page images

nine thousand nine hundred and seventy-six times more learned and more embarrassing than our own. Besides this prodigious difference, they write from the top to the bottom of the page; while the Tyrians and the Chaldeans wrote from right to left, and the Greeks, like ourselves, wrote from left to right.

Examine the Tartar, the Hindoo, the Siamese, the Japanese characters; you will not find the least resemblance to the Greek or Phenician alphabet.

Yet all these nations, and not these alone, but even the Hottentots and Caffres, pronounce the vowels and consonants nearly as we do, because the larynx in them is essentially the same as in us—just as the throat of the rudest boor is made like that of the finest opera-singer, the difference, which makes of one a rough, discordant, insupportable bass, and of the other a voice sweeter than the nightingale's, being imperceptible to the most acute anatomist; or as the brain of a fool is for all the world like the brain of a great genius.

When we said that the Tyrian merchants taught the Greeks their A, B, C, we did not pretend that they also taught them to speak. It is probable that the Athenians already expressed themselves in a better manner than the people of Lower Syria; their throats were more flexible, and their words were a more happy assemblage of vowels, consonants, and diphthongs. The language of the Phenician people was rude and gross, consisting of such words as Shasiroth, Ashtaroth, Shabaoth, Chammaim, Chotiket, Thopheth, &c.-enough to terrify a songstress from the opera of Naples. Suppose that the Romans of the present day had retained the ancient Etrurian alphabet, and some Dutch traders brought them that which they now use; the Romans would do very well to receive their characters, but it is not at all likely that they would speak the Batavian language. Just so would the people of Athens deal with the sailors of Capthor, who had come from Tyre or Berith; they would adopt their alphabet as being better than that of Misraim or Egypt, but would reject their speech.

Philosophically speaking, and setting aside all infer

ences to be drawn from the Holy Scriptures, which certainly are not here the subject of discussion,-—is not the primitive language a truly laughable chimera?

What would be thought of a man who should seek to discover what had been the primitive cry of all animals; and how it happens that, after a series of ages, sheep bleat, cats mew, doves coo, linnets whistle? They understand one another perfectly in their respective idioms, and much better than we do. Every species has its language; that of the Esquimaux was never that of Peru: there has no more been a primitive language, or a primitive alphabet, than there have been primitive oaks or primitive grass.

Several Rabbis assert that the Samaritan was the original tongue; other persons say that it was that of Lower Brittany:-we may surely, without offending either the people of Brittany or those of Samaria, admit no original tongue.

May we not also, without offending any one, suppose that the alphabet originated in cries and exclamations? Infants of themselves articulate one sound when an object catches their attention, another when they laugh, and a third when they are whipped-which they ought not to be.

As for the two little boys whom the Egyptian king Psammeticus (which, by the by, is not an Egyptian word) brought up, in order to know what was the primitive language, it seems hardly possible that they should both have cried bee bee when they wanted their breakfast.

From exclamations formed by vowels-as natural to children as croaking is to frogs-the transition to a complete alphabet is not so great as it may be thought. A mother must always have said to her child the equivalent of come, go, take, leave, hush! &c. These words represent nothing; they describe nothing; but a gesture makes them intelligible.

From these shapeless rudiments we have, it is true, an immense distance to travel before we arrive at syntax. It is almost terrifying to contemplate that from the simple word come, we have arrived at such sentences as the following:-Mother, I should have come

with pleasure, and should have obeyed your commands, which are ever dear to me, if I had not, when running towards you, fallen backwards, which caused a thorn to run into my left leg.

It appears to my astonished imagination that it must have required ages to adjust this sentence, and ages more to put it into language. Here we might tell or endeavour to tell the reader how such words are expressed and pronounced in every language of the earth, as father, mother, land, water, day, night, eating, drinking, &c. but we must, as much as possible, avoid appearing ridiculous.

The alphabetical characters denoting at once the names of things, their number, and the dates of events, the ideas of men soon became mysteries even to those who had invented the signs. The Chaldeans, the Syrians, and the Egyptians, attributed something divine to the combination of the letters and the manner of pronouncing them. They believed that names had a force -a virtue, independently of the things which they represented; they went so far as to pretend that the word which signified power was powerful in itself, that which expressed an angel was angelic, and that which gave the idea of God was divine. The science of numbers naturally became a part of necromancy, and no magical operation could be performed without the letters of the alphabet.

Thus the clue to all knowledge led to every error. The Magi of every country used it to conduct themselves into the labyrinth which they had constructed, and which the rest of mankind were not permitted to enter. The manner of pronouncing vowels and consonants became the most profound of mysteries, and often the most terrible. There was, among the Syrians and Egyptians, a manner of pronouncing JEHOVAH, which would cause a man to fall down dead.

St. Clement of Alexandria relates that Moses killed a king of Egypt on the spot by sounding this name in his ear, after which he brought him to life again by pronouncing the same word. St. Clement is very exact;

[ocr errors]

he cites his author, the learned Artapanus. Who can impeach the testimony of Artapanus?

Nothing tended more to retard the progress of the human mind than this profound science of error which sprung up among the Asiatics with the origin of truth. The universe was brutalized by the very art which should have enlightened it. Of this we have great examples in Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, &c. &c.


Origen, in particular, expressly says, "If, when invoking God, or swearing by him, you call him the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you will, by these words, do things the nature and force of which are such that the evil spirits submit to those who pronounce them; but if you call him by another name, as God of the roaring sea, &c. no effect will be produced. The name of Israel rendered in Greek will work nothing; but pronounce it in Hebrew with the other words required, and you will effect the conjuration."

The same Origen has these remarkable words :"There are names which are powerful from their own nature. Such are those used by the Sages of Egypt, the Magi of Persia, and the Brahmins of India. What is called magic is not a vain and chimerical art, as the Stoics and Epicureans pretend. The names Sabaoth and Adonai were not made for created beings, but belong to a mysterious theology which has reference to the creator; hence the virtue of these names when they are arranged and pronounced according to rule," &c.

It was by pronouncing letters according to the magical method, that the moon was made to descend to the earth. Virgil must be pardoned for having faith in this nonsense, and speaking of it seriously in his eighth eclogue :

Carmina de cœlo possunt deducere lunam.

Pale Phoebe, drawn by verse, from heav'n descends. DRYDEN'S Virgil. In short, the alphabet was the origin of all man's knowledge, and of all his errors.

* Origen against Celsus-No. 202.


The word abbé, let it be remembered, signifies father. If you become one, you render a service to the state;* you doubtless perform the best work that a man can perform; you give birth to a thinking being: in this action there is something divine. But if you are only Monsieur l'abbé, because you have had your head shaved, wear a small collar, and a short cloak, and are waiting for a fat benefice, you do not deserve the name of abbé.

The ancient monks gave this name to the superior whom they elected; the abbé was their spiritual father. What different things do the same words signify at different times! The spiritual abbé was once a poor man at the head of others equally poor; but the poor spiritual fathers have since had incomes of two hundred or four hundred thousand livres, and there are poor spiritual fathers in Germany who have a regiment of guards.

A poor man, making a vow of poverty, and in consequence becoming a sovereign! Truly, this is intolerable. The laws exclaim against such an abuse; Religion is indignant at it; and the really poor, who want food and clothing, appeal to heaven against Monsieur l'abbé.

But I hear the abbés of Italy, Germany, Flanders, Burgundy, ask, "Why are not we to accumulate wealth and honours? Why are we not to become princes? The bishops are, who were originally poor like us; they have enriched and elevated themselves; one of them has become superior even to kings; let us imitate them as far as we are able."

Gentlemen, you are right. Invade the land; it belongs to him whose strength or skill obtains possession of it. You have made ample use of the times of ignorance, superstition, and infatuation, to strip us of our inheritances and trample us under your feet, that you

* As Moliere's Sganarelle observes-Nous avons changé tout cela. Vide Malthus and others.-TRANSlator.

« EelmineJätka »