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ary, from which this translation is made, is a far more comprehensive collection than the one originally published under that name by Voltaire. It contains not only that work, but the contents of another publication, called "Questions on the Encyclopedia;" of a manuscript Dictionary entitled a "Dictionary of Opinion"* (Opinion par
* We supply Extracts from the original Introductions to these Works, in order to explain the spirit in which they were originally produced.
Extracts from Introduction to the "Questions on the
"A few questions are all that is here proposed by some men of letters, who have studied the Encyclopedia, and who seek only for elucidations; they declare themselves doubters not teachers. They doubt more especially of what they advance, they respect what it is their duty to respect; and submit their reason in all things above their reason, of which there are many.
"As most of the men of learning and talent, who so zealously contributed to the French Encyclopedia, are now engaged in perfecting it, and adding to it several volumes, and as in more than one country new editions of it are already commenced, we have thought it our duty to present to the lovers of literature an attempt at some articles which have been entirely omitted in the great Dictionary, or which will bear some additions, or which, having been inserted by the hands of strangers, have not been treated in a manner consonant with the views of the Directors of this immense undertaking.
"To them we dedicate our attempt; they can take and correct, or leave the articles, as to them may seem good, in the large edition, which the booksellers of Paris are preparing. We offer them exotic plants which will deserve a place in their grand collection only, inasmuch as they shall be cultivated by such hands, which can alone bestow on them health and vigour."
Advertisement to the Collection entitled " A Dictionary of Opinion."
"Quos oportet redargui; qui universas domos subvertunt, docentes que non oportet, turpis lucris gratià— Whose mouths shall be stopped; who subvert whole houses, teaching that which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.'-(Paul to Titus, chap. i. v. 11.)
"This Dictionary is extracted from the most esteemed works which are not within the reach of the great mass of society,
l'Alphabet); the articles of M. Voltaire inserted in the French Encyclopedia; a few designed for the Dictionary of the French Academy; and various minor pieces of a still more miscellaneous nature. Like all other Dictionaries of facts and opinions connected with the progress of knowledge, time has made some havoc with a portion of its contents. Several articles are superseded by the extension of physical and economical science since they were written, as well as by increased information in every direction. These necessary omissions are increased by leaving out a portion of disquisition which_never could interest out of France, nor even in France any longer; including remarks on very local and obsolete laws; on minute peculiarities in the French language; and critical observations on the passing Drama, and on French Poetry, which have been repeated from other sources almost to satiety. Some repetition also, for which the French Editors claim indulgence in a work thus got together, is carefully removed. These, and a few kindred reductions, respecting which there can be scarcely any difference of opinion, are likely to reduce the original work of eight volumes about a quarter; by which reduction the Publishers will be enabled to complete the present translation in five, or at most six volumes of an equal size, one of which it is purposed to furnish every two months, until the version be completed.
and if the author does not always mention the sources from which he has drawn his articles, as being well known to the learned, he will not be suspected of wishing to shine in borrowed plumes, since he keeps the secret of his own name, according to the sentence in the Gospel- Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth."
THE letter A has been accounted sacred in almost every nation, because it was the first letter. The Egyptians added this to their other numberless superstitions; hence it was that the Greeks of Alexandria called it hier'alpha; and as omega was the last of the letters, these words alpha and omega signified the beginning and the end of all things. This was the origin of the cabalistic art, and of more than one mysterious folly.
The letters served as cyphers, and to express musical notes. Judge what an infinity of secret knowledge must thus have been produced. A, b, c, d, e, f, g, were the seven heavens; the harmony of the celestial spheres was composed of the seven first letters; and an acrostic accounted for everything among the ever-venerable Ancients.
A, B, C, OR ALPHABET.
WHY has not the alphabet a name in any European language? Alphabet signifies nothing more than A, B, and A, B, signifies nothing, or but indicates two sounds, which two sounds have no relation to each other. Beta is not formed from alpha; one is first, the other is second, and no one knows why.
How can it have happened that terms are still wanting to express the portal of all the sciences? The
knowledge of numbers, the art of numeration, is not called the one-two; yet the first rudiment of the art of expressing our thoughts has not in all Europe obtained a proper designation.
The alphabet is the first part of grammar; perhaps those who are acquainted with Arabic, of which I have not the slightest notion, can inform me whether that language, which is said to contain no fewer than eighty words to express a horse, has one which signifies the alphabet.
I protest that I know no more of Chinese than of Arabic; but I have read, in a small Chinese vocabulary, that this nation has always had two words to express the catalogue or list of the characters of its language; one is ko-tou, the other hai-pien: we have neither ko-tou nor hai-pien in our Occidental tongues. The Greeks, who were no more adroit than ourselves, also said alphabet. Seneca the philosopher used the Greek phrase to designate an old man who, like me, asks questions on grammar, calling him Skedon analphabetos. Now the Greeks had this same alphabet from the Phenicians from that people called the lettered nation by the Hebrews themselves, when the latter, at so late a period, went to settle in their neighbourhood.
It may well be supposed that the Phenicians, by communicating their characters to the Greeks, rendered them a great service in delivering them from the embarrassment occasioned by the Egyptian mode of writing taught them by Cecrops. The Phenicians, in the capacity of merchants, sought to make everything easy of comprehension; while the Egyptians, in their capacity of interpreters of the Gods, strove to make everything difficult.
I can imagine I hear a Phenician merchant landed in Achaia saying to a Greek correspondent, "Our characters are not only easy to write, and communicate the thoughts as well as the sound of the voice; they also express our respective debts. My aleph, which you choose to pronounce alpha, stands for an ounce of silver, beta for two ounces, tau for a hundred, sigma for two hundred: I owe you two hundred ounces;
I pay you a tau, and shall owe you we shall soon make our reckoning."
It was most probably by mutual traffic, which administered to their wants, that society was first established among men; and it is necessary that those between whom commerce is carried on should understand one another.
The Egyptians did not apply themselves to commerce until a very late period; they had a horror of the sea; it was their Typhon. The Tyrians, on the contrary, were navigators from time immemorial; they brought together those nations which Nature had separated, and repaired those calamities into which the revolutions of the world frequently plunged a large portion of mankind. The Greeks, in their turn, carried to other nations their commerce and their convenient alphabet, which latter was altered a little, as the Greeks had altered that of the Tyrians. When their merchants, who were afterwards made demi-gods, went to Colchis to establish a trade in sheep-skins,-whence we have the fable of the golden fleece, they communicated their letters to the people of the country, who still retain them with some alteration. They have not adopted the alphabet of the Turks, to whom they are at present supject, but whose yoke, thanks to the Empress of Russia, I hope they will throw off.*
It is very likely (I do not say it is certain-God forbid!) that neither Tyre nor Egypt, nor any other country situated near the Mediterranean Sea, communicated its alphabet to the nations of Eastern Asia. If, for example, the Tyrians, or the Chaldeans who dwelt near the Euphrates, had communicated their method to the Chinese, some traces of it would have remained; we should have had the signs of the twenty-two, twentythree, or twenty-four letters: whereas they have a sign for each word in their language; and the number of their words, we are told, is eighty thousand. This method has nothing in common with that of Tyre; it is seventy
* Times are altered: it is now to be hoped that they will throw off the yoke without the assistance of Russia.-Note by TRANSLATOR.