Page images

the Hebrides was excited.” But, says Mr. Boswell, “ he told me in summer 1763, that his father put Martin's account into his hands when he was very young, and that he was much pleased with it.”

As the limits we have prescribed will not admit of our dwelling more in detail upon every work which has been published, on Gaelic antiquities, or subjects connected with the language, manners, and customs of the Celts, the reader is referred to the brief notices of such books at the end of these observations, as well as to the list of various Gaelic publications in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.




The Gaelic scholar has, by the publication of the originals, now an opportunity of examining and comparing the internal character of Ossian's poems, whether in the bold, animated, and metaphorical language, natural to an early stage of society, the hunting state; or in the nervous, simple, and concise style of the poet's composition: and he will thereby readily perceive, that these qualities are peculiar to him alone who describes objects in nature, such as he felt and saw them, and celebrates actions in which he and his family bore à conspicuous part. The best critics in the Gaelic will also be convinced, that no translator could transfuse into another language the characteristic style of Ossian's original composition; far less that any modern author, great as his talents might be, could possibly invent or compose poems similar in nature to those ascribed to Ossian, in which the manners and customs of a remote æra are so faithfully delineated.

The singular affinity, which a number of Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian words bear to the Celtic or Gaelic, as spoken at this day, ought naturally to excite the curiosity of the historian and philosopher, and lead them to investigate the cause. If we can depend upon the affinity of languages as a clue to the historian in tracing the origin of man and the early history of nations, it will be found, that no language, ancient or modern, contains more primitive roots than the Celtic. It is a well known fact, that the Gaelic scholar can acquire a knowledge of the structure and pronunciation of the dead and living languages with singular facility. This may probably arise from the variety of Celtic roots, or radical words, which are interspersed in all other languages, joined to the simplicity of the structure of the Gaelic, and an articulation, which easily adapts the organs to every known language.

In acquiring several of the languages of Europe by occasional visits to foreign countries, and in studying the Persian, during a residence of nearly three years in India, the writer can affirın, that he was much assisted by the fundamental principles of the Gaelic, his vernacular tongue: and it must be admitted by all, who have made foreign languages a peculiar object of their attention, and been stimulated to make researches into the affinity of their radicals with the Celtic, that perhaps no language contains so many, certainly no one more, primitive roots capable of illustrating the European and Oriental languages, than the Celtic, or Gaelic. It may not therefore be improper to notice in another place various words in the Arabic, Persic, and other languages, which bear so great an affinity with the Gaelic as to justify the assertion we have made.

The writer is strongly impressed with an idea, that researches of this nature will tend to throw new light on the etymon and philosophy of language, and lead to some fixed criterion whereon to decide the question which, though hitherto a subject of much controversy among the learned, is still veiled in obscurity; namely, what was the primitive language? Or, what known languge is the nearest in its radical substantives, to that which may be considered to have been the primitive language ?

The solution of this question will require laborious and persevering research into the analogy or affinity of languages, the origin and history of man, and the manners and customs of different nations; so, as by uniting and comparing these with each other, we may be able to discover truths, and trace causes from their effects.

Nothing can more forcibly evince the general conviction of the utility and necesstity of such researches, than the number of learned men who have, from time to time, written on the science of etymology. In every celebrated academy in Europe there are strong advocates for those pursuits, which tend to dispel the mist, that overshadows ancient history. It unquestionably requires so much


investigation to perceive the connection of languages, nations, and ages of great antiquity, and to rescue them from the thick veil under which their history is enveloped, that hitherto the faculties of man have been in a manner unprofitably employed in the pursuit. But, as a celebrated philologist observes, * “ How useful to ethic science, and indeed to knowledge in general, a grammatical disquisition into the etymology and meaning of words was esteemed by the chief and ablest philosophers, may be seen by consulting Plato, Xenophon, Arion, and Epictetus.”

The language first spoken by man may be termed primitive. If, in examining the essential words in the living and dead languages, we can discover that, in all times and every where, elementary words had and have the same sound, have preserved the same meaning, and that such alterations, as they have received among different nations, are founded on the genius of the compounded languages spoken, will it not be evident, that the primitive language has always existed, and that it exists at this day, although diffused among the languages of different nations, and separated into various dialects? As every modern language presents vestiges of an ancient language, which seems to have prevailed universally in ail countries, and as each have words common to all others, it may be inferred that the languages now spoken are all derived from the same parent stock. It may be said, that the primi

Harris's Hermes, or Philosophical Inquiry concerning Universal Grammar.

tive language exists nowhere; but still everywhere are its fragments to be found. All the Oriental tongues are perfectly alike in their roots to the languages of the north of Europe and Asia, not excepting the Chinese language. The Phenician, Syriac, and Greek, are only dialects of a general language diffused formerly in Asia and Africa. It cannot be doubted, that the first language was extremely simple, and without any compound terms. These qualities peculiarly belong to the Hebrew and Celtic: for the radical words had never more than three letters, forming monosyllables, and sometimes dissyllables; there is indeed every appearance that originally there were many more monosyllables, than are now to be found in those languages.

Were we to separate all the compound words and derivatives in any language from the general mass, we would find very few roots remaining composed of monosyllables; and those few are be regarded as the elements of languages, and as the source from which all other words are compounded. These elements must have been given to man by nature, consequently, in their origin represented natural objects, and could not represent artificial or moral objects, unless by analogy with natural ones; because artificial or moral objects cannot be described of themselves, but by relation or in opposition to natural and positive elements. Thus the natural objects, man, horse, cow, water, &c. would be the first elementary words of a language, and the artificial objects, house, ship, cradle, stable, &c. would be of our own making; and, by a more refined operation of the mind alone,

« PreviousContinue »