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ceases, to find Argument engrossing the attention of the learned, and Credulity confounded at the suggestions of Reason.
As the remoteness of the real or pretended original of nations, has rendered it difficult or impossible to investigate facts, and arrive at truth, extravagant assertions have been hazarded without fear of exposure; and devout veneration, for the remains of antiquity, has obtained, and been inculcated, till the forefathers of a depraved generation, have been exalted in imagination, to the nature of the gods, and deified with prayers, sacrifices, and frankincense: so inveterate is that propensity of the mind, to indulge in conjecture, and invent fable, when it cannot attain fact; and resolve what is invisible and distant, into supernatural agency, and divine attributes.
The title of the Chinese to a higher antiquity than other nations, appears grounded on as much reason, and worthy of the same belief, as that of the Greeks and Romans to divine origin: and that they have no claims to more is shown, on the one hand, by their being destitute of consistent and reasonable facts, to substantiate their vague assertions, and on the other, because this ridiculous belief is perceived distinctly to flow from the same springs, Ignorance and Superstition. This, did no other reasons present themselves, for rejecting their assumption to so remote an antiquity, would sufficiently protect us from the imputation of skepticism, but others of a more positive nature may be adduced to corroborate our position, that the Chinese cannot be so ancient as many other people, among whom may be placed the Egyptians, and Assyrians. In the discussion of this subject, numerous arguments will be alleged to evince the fallacy of such a supposition, as that of the Chinese, which will show the infatuation of those, who implicitly believed in assertions, evidently the effects of a barbarous system, and contracted policy.
In the history of every people, who have attained civilization and made any progress in the arts, we can trace with sufficient accuracy, the steps of gradation, by which they ascended, in the remains that may have been preserved: and however tardy may have been their advancement, are at no loss to conclude the probable period, in which the dawn of Science and Reason, first irra
diated the way to comfort and refinement. The humam faculties, unless impeded in their efforts, by other than physical causes, will be uniform in their progression to knowledge; and though nations may not be contemporary in fame, they may attain an eminent degree of knowledge in nearly the same period of time. Hence, we perceive that both ancient and modern nations, differ little in the period, in which they carried the arts and sciences to a moderate degree of perfection.
To judge, therefore, of the probable era of the Chinese, from the progress made by them in learning and the arts, ample allowance should be given for a state of political abasement, and profound superstition, which restrains genius from deviating into new and untrodden paths; and prevents the culture of liberal sentiments, by the fear of ideal degradation, or the dread of corporal chastisement. This will the more readily be granted, when it is considered, that their solitary and selfish maxims obstruct the entrance of foreign improvement and inventions, and shut out the possibility of correcting their errors, or adding refinement and taste to the fruits of native genius, and industry. And though their late acquisition of many foreign improvements, have been blended with their own imperfect and crude inventions, it is not hard to distinguish them, as their vanity induces, and their language compels them, to attach a peculiarity which cannot be lost, to every production and every
article. But making every reasonable deduction, for a state so unpropitious to the culture of science and the advancement of the arts, we shall still find the Chinese, far from so refineda condition, as other nations have reached, in a period not bearing any proportion. For allowing the empire of China to have been founded or settled two thousand years antecedent to the christian era, which by the way we do not be. lieve to have been so early, how long a time would they have had to emerge from the darkness of barbarism, to the light of civili. zation and refinement? And how superior ought to be the lustre of their wisdom and learning, if their advancement had been commensurate with the improvement of other nations? Were we to form a judgment of their age from their wisdom, therefore we should aver, that they were more recently settled, than any
other primitive people. Setting aside the particular nature of their language, however, which cannot be denied to indicate antiquity, upon a superficial consideration, but which when we inquire into the causes that produced it, instead of surveying it as an effect of their age, we shall perceive the possibility to exist, of forming a language which bears no analogy to any other, without the supposition of antiquity, or superiority of reason.
The invention of letters is hid in such impenetrable obscurity, that to whom the honour of it properly belongs has never been decided. The introduction of the Phænician or Syrian letters into Greece by Cadmus, in the year of the world 2549, is the first we hear of them with certainty; though the Egyptians, from being the most learned nation at that period, claim the invention of them. Nor is it surprising that the author should remain unknown, if they were invented by one individual, which is very improbable; for letters being nothing but the constituent or elemental parts of words, which words express ideas, it is apparent that they are pure arbitrary signs, at the option of individuals; and more likely to be formed by caprice or accident, than by facility of expression, or'a sense of utility: and as the meaning of these symbols could never be conveyed by signs equally as strange and unintelligible, it is obvious that letters must have been subsequent to oral language, and that the universal adoption of them as signs, must have obtained gradually, from one man to another. These signs however, in the first stage of society, would represent ab. stractedly the thing itself, intended to be understood, as by hieroglyphic writing; yet would be superseded, as refinement was acquired by a more concocted and scientific character. Hence, the alphabet must have been formed by some people, already advanced to refinement and literature, in a moderate degree. And that the language of nations destitute of an alphabet, must have been established, when their knowledge became so enlarged, and their inventions so numerous, as to render the use inconvenient, and the meaning obscure and confused, of hieroglyphic symbols, will appear very apparent, when it is remembered, that even in English, the most copious language known, most of the words to express ideas purely mental, are borrowed from some
analogy or resemblance subsisting, or imagined to subsist between material and immaterial objects. Thus it must be very difficult, if not impossible, to express notions, very general or abstract, by symbolic signs, taken from material objects; and hence we discoverin the history of every civilized people, who primarily, used this method of writing, that it progressively became obsolete, as they advanced in science and literature. For as it is a mode of expression, suggested by nature, for representing the simple conceptions and objects of uninstructed minds; and as it is a concomitant of ignorance, so it is incompatible with learning and knowledge.
That the Chinese character was in its primeval state, entirely hieroglyphic, is therefore rendered very probable, from the nature of the human mind, and the expedients it would instinctively have recourse to, to make known its conceptions, before it attained an eminent degree of cultivation. And that some indistinct traces may stijl be perceived in the Chinese characters, is an additional proof of this hypothesis. Nor does the unwillingness of Mr. Barrow, to discern this resemblance, however faint it is, in validate our assertions; for he seems unconsciously to have alleged an argument, subversive of his own position, and corroborative of ours, by acknowledging, what in reason he could not deny, “ That Nature herself would suggest the use of hieroglyphic characters, in the dawn of civilisation," of which we have sufficient evidence, by their being discovered to subsist among the aborigines of America, and the Hottentots of Africa, people deștitute of every qualification or acquirement, but barbarity and vice. Now we must either imagine, that the language of China is a modification of hieroglyphic character, or that the Chinese were never an ignorant people, but elevated miraculously, without any tedious degrees of gradation, to their present acquirements.
Though we could allege many passages from Mr. Barrow as additional arguments for our opinion, to avail ourselves of one is all that we are willing, and more than will be required; for one good reason is assuredly preferable, and more cogent, than fifty bad ones. The passage we shall presently quote, is not
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however, a bad reason for our opinion, but being sufficiently fortified, it will not be insisted on; but mentioned, merely to show, that that language which would most readily meet a universal adoption, and prove most permanent, must be founded on principles inherent in the mind, and common to every man; and that this universal principle is implied in a language such as the Chinese, which expresses things, and not sounds. Mr. Barrow, page 172 says, “ The sounds and various inflections incidental to languages in general, are not necessary to be attended to in the study of the Chinese characters. They speak equally strong to a person who is deaf and dumb, as the most copious language could do to one, in the full enjoyment of all his senses. language addressed entirely to the eye and not to the ear. Just as a piece of music laid before several persons of different nations of Europe, would be played by each in the same key, the same measure, and the same air; so would the Chinese characters be equally understood by the natives of Japan, Junquin, and CochinChina; yet each would give them different names, or sounds that would be wholly unintelligible to one another. When on the present voyage, we stopped at Pulo Condore, the inhabitants being Cochin-Chinese, had no difficulty in corresponding, by writing, with our Chinese interpreters, though they could not interchange one intelligible word.”
That "the principle on which the Chinese characters are constructed seems to have maintained its ground," as Mr. B. observes, " and has not undergone any material alteration for more than two thousand years," evinces only the peculiar nature of the language and the selfish maxims of the government, which have tended to strengthen principles already vigorous by excluding the entrance of foreign words, and preventing the adoption of a mingled phraseology. Dr. Johnson in his unparalelled preface to his Dictionary, has unintentionally accounted for this peculiar preservation of their original dialect; in speaking of the causes which operate to vitiate and corrupt a language, he says: “ There are likewise internal causes equally forcible.
The language most likely to continue long without alteration would be that of a nation raised a little, and but a little, above barbarity, secluded