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deemed an acquaintance with that form of speech which is to be their vehicle of thought and medium of intercourse, and the only instrument for the communication of all knowledge and improvement, worthy their study and attention ? (a)
Among the civilized states of antiquity the case, however, was very different. The study of language and composition was an object of the most anxious solicitude of the Greeks and the Romans. In either state, those who aimed at the character of accomplished men in private life, or who wished to qualify themselves for important stations in the commonwealth, devoted their chief attention during both their early and maturer years to a zealous and critical study of their native tongue. Julius Cæsar, Xenophon, Sophocles, Æschines, Tibullus, and a long role of other writers, whose genius has shed a lustre on the age in which they lived, have informed us that they studied their mother tongues with great attention; and the fact of their application to this pursuit is evident from the exactness and elegance of that portion of their literary productions which is extant. Cicero, in his Treatise De Claris Oratoribus, introduces Brutus declaring that he would prefer the honour of being esteemed the great master and improver of Roman eloquence to the glory of many triumphs. Even in the language of rude and uncultivated tribes, some attention can be traced to the grace and force of those expressions which they used when they sought to affect or to convince.
To speak and write perspicuously and gracefully, with purity and strength, are attainments of the utmost consequence to every person, whatever may be his station or calling in life; for beauty of composition tends not only to heighten the native charms of truth, but the force of reason never so effectually conciliates and convinces as when she is clothed in a graceful
and an elegant expression. The noblest inventions of genius, the finest conceptions of fancy, and the greatest discoveries of the mind, appear but of little interest and value till they are clothed and adorned with the life-imparting and soul-enlivening adjuncts and embellishments of language.
The study of style and composition also merits the highest attention, as it not only throws light on man's social progress and improvement (words being the symbols, and language the vehicle of the ideas and conceptions of the mind, and the mirror in which they are reflected and made visible), but it is intimately connected with the improvement of our intellectual powers. Nothing tends more to inform and enlarge the mind, to develope the intellectual faculties, and induce habits of thinking, than the investigation of the principles of that power by which we express our thoughts. True rhetoric and sound logic are, as Dr. Blair observes in his useful but very faulty work on Rhetoric and the Belles Lettres (b), very nearly allied. The study of arranging and expressing our thoughts with propriety teaches us to think as well as to speak correctly. By putting our sentiments into proper and perspicuous words, their conception is more distinct, and a more impressive effect is produced, than when they are clothed in a loose and slovenly expression. Every one who has the slightest acquaintance with composition knows, that when he expresses himself improperly and indistinctly on any subject--when his arrangement is loose, and his sentences are feeble—the defects of his style can, almost on every occasion, be traced to his indistinct conception of the subject: so close is the connection between thoughts and the words in which they are clothed. The obscurity which is so prevalent among metaphysical writers has been, in general, occasioned by the indistinctness of their conceptions. They saw the object of their investigation in a confused light, and consequently could not exhibit it in a clear light to their readers.
The extensive usefulness and application of language thus points out the necessity and policy of its just and accurate acquirement. Language—“ thought's canal and thought's “ criterion too"—is the great instrument by which man becomes useful to man. By the intervention of its machinery, and its constituents--discourse and writing, it not only enables us to express our wants and feelings, and the various conceptions of the mind, but it is the medium of giving permanence to our thoughts, and of conveying reciprocal information, and the reflections and discoveries which the mind of man conceives and elaborates for the benefit and improvement of his species. By its means the living become the associates of departed genius, holding converse with the highest of human intellects of former ages; and, in the language of the philosophic author of “ The Elements of Physics," fathers communicate their gathered experience and reflections to their children, and these to their succeeding children with new accumulation. In a word, it is not only the medium by which knowledge is communicated and preserved, but it is by its means, in conjunction with its visible and permanent representations—writing and printing, that the whole human race of uncounted millions is formed into one gigantic brotherhood, so that with truth it may be said to
“ Join pole to pole, consociate sever'd worlds,
And link in bonds of intercourse and love
Great and various, then, as are the uses and benefits of language, how necessary is it that we should be able to employ the faculty of speech, and its visible and permanent representation—writing, well and gracefully, so as to be able to communicate our thoughts and ideas to others with the greatest advantage and effect. Only reflect what an unfavourable, not to say a disagreeable, impression an awkward manner of speaking, or an incorrect method of writing, makes on others in our first intercourse with them. No saying was ever truer than that good breeding and good education are sooner discovered from the style of speaking, or the language employed in conversation, than from any other means. If further illustration were necessary to prove the truth of the doctrine just propounded, the following remark, in conjunction with the ensuing anecdote, is in point. The most beautiful young female, who silently appears a kind of divinity, is reduced at once to common earth, when we hear a few inelegant words fall from her lips. Coleridge tells us that he was once much prepossessed in favour of an individual whom he met at a dinner-table, and who appeared a dignified and respectable person, until some fruit being introduced, he heard him exclaim, “ Oh! them's “ the jockies for me." Language, both oral and written, is the exponent of the condition of the mind; when mean and inappropriate, it infers that the habits of life and the condition of the mind are equally mean and uncultivated.
How to acquire the requisite accuracy and gracefulness of speech and writing which should distinguish every properly educated person, is the design of the following course of discussions to explain. But it is necessary to premise, that the primary and principal measure conducive to the attainment of that useful and elegant accomplishment is the grammatical study of the principles, import, and genius of our native language; I mean that study which embraces the self-education which every person possessed of real knowledge has given himself, in addition to the education given him by his parents. It was from a conviction of the insufficiency of the routine of usual school-instruction in imparting a full and accurate knowledge of grammar, that Sidney, in his “ Discourse of Poesy," exclaims, “ that a man should be put to school to learn his “ mother-tongue was a piece of the tower of Babylon's curse;" and that the author of Etec IItegosyta says, “ though grammar “ is usually among the first things taught, it is one of the last " and the least understood.” And the reason is plain. For, first, it is defectively taught; and, secondly, it is neglected, from the common but erroneous misapprehension that the study of the minutiæ of grammar is unnecessary and insignificant. But this is a mistaken notion, as, in truth, it is a highly instructive and interesting study; not only teaching the mechanism or structure of language, but being very nearly connected with the philosophy of the human mind. “ Let no one," says Quinctilian, in his Institutes, bk. i. ch. 4, “ despise, as " inconsiderable, the elements of grammar, because it may
seem to him a matter of small consequence to show the dis“ tinction between vowels and consonants, and to divide the “ latter into liquids and mutes. But they who penetrate into “ the innermost parts of the temple will there discover so much “ refinement and subtilty of matter, as will not only sharpen " the understanding, but will be sufficient to give exercise to “ the most profound knowledge and erudition.” (c)
Having stated the advantages to be derived from the study of language and composition, I shall proceed to show their