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itself the foundation of all just critical laws. Its fresh source is in the human heart; its province is in the wide map of human relations; it is bounded only by the horizon of human emotion; its heritage is the race of man,--and its task-work is to connect and blend the sentiment of the true, the good, the beautiful, the infinite and eternal, with all the passions and emotions that beat in the heart of universal humanity.
Art. V.-Principes de l'étude comparative des Langues, par le
Baron de Merian. 8vo. Paris, 1828. pp. 240.
COMPARATIVE Philology, or, to adopt its German appellation, the science of Linguistic, is still in its infancy among us. While the literati of Europe have carried forward their inquiries into this attractive field of speculation, with a bo!dness and sagacity that have been rewarded by the most interesting and valuable results, the scholars of our own country, with but few exceptions, have adhered to the beaten track of former days, either unconscious that any new and more direct path has been opened up to the waters of knowledge, or else regarding all such attempts with an eye of distrust, as unworthy of serious attention, and only leading into the wilds of unprofitable if not mischievous theory. It would be amusing, were it not mortifying to our national pride, to enumerate some of the systems and opinions, which have in this way been enabled to maintain their ground among us, and which continue to flourish on our own soil in all the freshness of youth, while they are only mentioned by transatlantic scholars for the purpose of being ridiculed and condemned. We must be pardoned, however, for citing two instances, since they will each form a topic of discussion in the course of the present article. One is the singular belief, first started by the celebrated Dugald Stewart, that the Sanscrit is merely a sacred dialect, formed by the earlier Brahmins out of the Greek of the Bactrian empire; the other, that the Hebrew is the oldest of languages, that it emanated directly from the Deity, and was spoken by our first parents when they came from the hand of their Maker. The latter of these opinions, by calling a mistaken feeling of piety to its aid, has succeeded in exercising a very powerful influence over many minds, and will no doubt long continue to do so; the former is gravely taught ex cathedra in several of our seminaries of learning. We hope to be able to show, that the one may be denied without
any prejudice to our religious belief, and the other rejected with decided advantage to our philological attainments.
Our principal object, however, on the present occasion, will be to lay before our readers the claims which comparative philology presents to their attention, and to state some of the results at which it has been enabled to arrive. For it is not based, as many have supposed, on mere fanciful speculations, neither are its principles at all at variance with the dictates of sound and cautious criticism; on the contrary, it furnishes us with one of the most powerful means for elucidating the earlier history and movements of our race, and tends strongly to confirm the belief, as inculcated by the pages of inspiration, that all the families of man have sprung from one common source, and that we are all the children of the same common parents.
It is only by a careful examination and comparison of languages, that we can trace, with any degree of probability, the origin and early settlement of nations. History here can of course afford but little aid, since the period to be investigated, is one that falls without her regular limits, and to which she can hardly be said to ascend. Linguistic and her sister science of ethnography present themselves, therefore, to our notice, in order to supply the place of positive records, and the sure and luminous deductions, to which we are guided by their aid, seem almost equal to the voice of history itself. Linguistic and ethnography, in fact, are to chronology and geography, what the latter are to history. As, without a distinct division of dates and epochs, all is confusion in our researches into the annals of the past ; so, without a clear and precise system of demarcation between different races and communities, our geographical investigations become a complete chaos, in which minds of the highest order, and enriched with the most extensive erudition, are frequently lost. An ignorance of the true principles of etymological science, and a neglect of those infallible means which the comparison of languages always affords, in questions relative to the origin and classification of communities, have been the fertile source whence all those absurd opinions have originated, which are now slowly passing away from the world of letters, and are giving place to a more rational and legitimate spirit of research.
Before entering more immediately upon our subject, a few instances of the errors to which we have been alluding, may not prove uninstructive. They will teach us, at all events, not to be led away by the authority of mere names, and not, as is too often the case with us, to sacrifice our own judgment to an imposing display of erudition in others.
Bibliandro, in his work “ De ratione communi linguarum," published about the middle of the 16th century, finds a striking affinity between the Greek and the Welsh, the Persian and the Hebrew. He makes the Turks to be of Armenian descent, and the Armenian language to resemble very closely the Chaldee. He is of opinion, also, that the Georgian and Servian alphabets were derived from the Greek, and that the vulgar idiom of the Georgians holds a middle place between the Turkish and Armenian! And yet, surprising as it may appear, all these errors have been reproduced by the learned Claude Duret, in his " Tresor de l'histoire des langues,” which appeared about the commencement of the 17th century.
Cluverius, in his “ Germania Antiqua,” published in 1616, undertakes to prove, that the Illyrians, Germans, Gauls, Basque tribes, and ancient Britons, all spoke dialects of one and the same language, which, according to him, was the Celtic, and he brings to his aid an immense and most imposing erudition. Pezron, in his “ Antiquité de la nation et de la langue Celtique, ” a work which appeared at Paris in 1704, not only adopts the errors of Cluverius, but actually carries back the limits of the Celtic language to the banks of the Euphrates. Court de Gebelin, in his “ Monde Primitif,” that monument of the utter inefficiency of the most unwearied application, when not regulated by sound principles of philology, gravely asserts, that the people of Brittany, Wales, and Biscay, speak dialects of one common tongue, and can easily understand each other in conversation. Å somewhat similar opinion is expressed by the compilers of the “ Universal History,” who also maintain, that the Celtic was at one period the common language of Europe, and that the German was originally only one of its dialects.
Even the profound and judicious Leibnitz, to whom we are indebted for so many acute and original remarks on the subject of language, falls into a singular error, when he informs us, that the Coptic is derived from the Æthiopian, and that, from the blending together of Japhetic and Aramean tongues, are derived the Persian, Armenian, and Georgian languages. We hardly know of any system that equals this in absurdity, unless it be the opinion advanced by Anquetil
, that the Georgian is merely a dialect of the Zend; or that of De Guignes, who makes the vast population of China to have sprung originally from an Egyptian colony.
Thanks to the untiring efforts of the scholars of Europe, among whom the names of an Adelung, a Vater, a Humboldt, and a Klaproth are eminently conspicuous, all these crude
opinions and ill-starred theories have gradually passed away to their rest, and the only country where they seem at all likely to revive is our own favored land, in which philology lags at least half a century behind her European sister, and where superficial acquirement and empty pretension are but too often the avenues to fame. It is true, even in Europe, some writer occasionally appears as a partisan of the old school of criticism, and its absurdities, and half-forgotten reveries, are again obtruded upon the world ; but these visitations are few and far between, and can do no harm where the land-marks of true learning are so well established. It is only when transferred to our own soil, that any danger is to be apprehended from them, since the means of testing their sufficiency are here comparatively rare. The most recent instance of the kind, is too remarkable to be passed by without comment. We allude to an article on “ Ancient Persian poetry," in the last October number of the Foreign Quarterly, a periodical hitherto conspicuous for sound and accurate scholarship, but which must yield for the time to come all claims to this character, if the critique to which we refer is to be regarded as a fair specimen of future lucubrations. Should any of our readers be desirous of seeing some of the wildest and most absurd theories, relative to the earlier history of language, gravely stated and as gravely advocated and enforced, they will have their curiosity amply gratified by a perusal of that article. The Hebrew will be found re-appearing in it, as the primitive dialect of our race, and by its side, in close and friendly communion, will be discovered what the critic is pleased to call the “semi-universal Celtic,” to which recourse is to be had in all cases of difficulty, as a “general solvent." Questions that have hitherto exercised the ingenuity of the ablest philologists, with little if any success, are here discussed and settled with a flippancy as amusing as it is novel. The whole range of early languages is laid open to our wondering gaze. The Egyptian and Chinese, the Arabic and Sanscrit, the Teutonic, Gothic, and a host of tongues, yield obedience to the pen of the critic, as to the wand of an enchanter, and their pedigrees and affiliations are traced with as much cool assurance as if the writer himself had been an eye-witness of their primitive developement. To heighten if possible the absurdity of the picture, the Ogham character, that precious relic of ignorant trifling on the part of the old Irish monks, is, very much no doubt to its own surprise, elevated to the rank of an Iranian or Aire-Cutian alphabet, (these are favorite terms with the philol ogists of the Erse or Celtic school.) and an inscription, written
in genuine Oghams, is gravely asserted to have been brought to St. Petersburg, from the wilds of Mantchou Tatary !* But this is not all: the learned General Vallancey, whose name, even at the present day, cannot be mentioned without a smile by continental scholars, synonymous as it is with all that is sublimely ridiculous in Celtic philology, is next introduced to our notice. He examines the Mantchou inscription, recognizes old and familiar acquaintances in the Tatar Oghams, and in an instant decyphers what, according to the reviewer, no one before him was ever able to explain, and what we are very sure no one after him will ever take the trouble of attempting. This is the same General Vallancey who made the notable discovery, that the Phænician lines in Plautus are genuine Irish! and that Bochart, consequently, was altogether at fault, when he undertook to explain them by means of their resemblance to the Hebrew.t .Can extravagance go farther than this? It can, for the critic kindly communicates the important fact, which he has the candor, however, to confess is “not generally known," that the wandering Northmen, or Normans, were in all probability of the stock of the Mantchou Tatars, since they called themselves “Mantchous !”
From such monstrous errors and ridiculous theories, which but too often mislead the unwary, when arrayed in the imposing garb of learned authority, and uttered with an air of self-sufficient dogmatism, it is the province of linguistic to emancipate our minds and teach us a clearer and more rational system. Elevated to the rank of a science, she proceeds to solve all problems relative to language, on the surest and most philosophical principles. Does a philologist of this school wish to determine whether any affinity exists between two races or nations? He examines the vocabulary of each, and if he find that such terms as express the more immediate ties of relation
hip, the principal parts of the human frame, the heavenly bodies, the leading phenomena of nature, and the primary numbers, are either identical in their roots, or very nearly so, he concludes that these two nations sprang, undoubtedly, from one common source. It makes no matter how far they may be separated from each other by geographical position. Chance may pro
* The reviewer very probably had heard of the pillar and Sphinx's head, which Suwarrow is related to have found near the river Kuban, when he took possession of that country for Russia. The characters on the pillar are said to have strongly resembled those which Denon found on unrolling some Egyptian mummies? Ritter, Vorhalle, p. 223.
+ The true version of this story, (of which by-the-by, the reviewer appears to have been unaware) is that Vallancey pilfered his srish version, such as it is, from the MS. of O'Neachtan.