Book 4

Chapter I

"Once more into the breach, dear friends,
And close up the wall with English dead."


That is not a humane sentiment; for though we have wrongs from England, yet I wish a war put off as long as possible.* Though I see that in the nature of things offences will come, "and wo to him by whom they come," says the scripture. The ultima ratio regum, though the most effectual, is the hardest logic that can be introduced. But when I used the words,


"Once more into the breach,"


or when they came into my mind, it was as much as to say, "another whet at the ram." This means the same thing, and is a well known allusion to the clergyman taking his text from that portion of scripture, where the ram was caught in the brake, for the sacrifice, instead of Isaac; and having preached figuratively upon it, was wont to introduce his remarks, with


"Another whet at the ram."


This anecdote will be found in a book, entitled, Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence.


It is a matter of great self-denial in me not to introduce more quotations from the Latin classics; but I am unwilling to incur the imputation of pedantry, which persons who do not understand the language, are apt to bestow upon those who indulge themselves in this liberty of quotation from the Roman writers. And yet to myself it is extremely pleasing; because I see great beauty in the turn of expression in that language; but still more in the Greek; though I do not quote it, because there are few printers who are furnished with Greek types, and can set the words. As to French, I am not unacquainted with it, but never have come to like the language, that is, to relish it, and to feel the delicacy of an expression perfectly, as setting off the thought. Nevertheless I am not wholly insensible of the neatness and perspicuity of the stile of some writers in that language, in preference to others, as of Voltaire, or Rousseau, compared with the bulk of those who have gone before them. But of all languages that I have ever tasted, the Greek, unquestionably, with me, has the preference; and yet it cannot be supposed the I understand it as well as my vernacular; nor within many degrees of it; and yet I think it a thousand times superior. Bred in a soft air, and warm climate; whereas the English would seem to have been frozen in the north, before it began to be spoken by man; or rather it was first spoken by frozen men. Certain it is, that cold climates give a rigidity to the fibre, and harden those muscles by which the articulation is performed. Pinkerton the greatest philologist of modern times, at least that I am acquainted with, thinks that the Greek is derived from the German; and that the German is the original Persian: that in some convulsion of the Persian empire, at an earlier period than we have any account of, some portion of that people had emigrated, and passing to the north, had made the circuit of the Caspian, and Euxine seas; and, at length established themselves in the heart of Europe. I can more readily conceive the Persian hardening into the harshness of the German sounds, than of the German softening into the fluidity, and sweetness of the Greek accent; but that there is a great affinity between the German, and the Greek, there is no one who understands both languages, but must admit. Both have a dual number; but independent of this, it is a proof of the affinity, that a German can easily learn to pronounce the Greek gutterals; whereas to those of most other nations, it is difficult. That the Germans used the Greek alphabet in the time of Julius Caesar, appears from his commentaries; though some have attempted to lessen the evidence of this, by changing the words, Grecis literis, into Crassis literis utuntur; but clear it is, that a long time must have elapsed in the amelioration of the German into Greek; though I do not altogether reject the idea of these being the same language originally, as Pinkerton has endeavoured to prove, both by the authority of writers, and by an historical deduction of the origin of ancient nations. I must acknowledge that until I had read his dissertation, I had been inclined to think that the Germans had been a people distinct from all others, from the creation of the world; for it is remarkable that in the time of Julius Caesar, before any mixture of other nations had intervened, the colour of the eye, and the hair of all, were the same; the blue eye, and the yellow hair--


Caerula quis stupuit, Germani lumina, flavam
Caesariem--


This quotation is from Juvenal, who puts this national characteristic of feature, upon the same footing as to being common with the swelling of the neck in Switzerland.


Quis tumidum gutter miratur sub alpibus.


Which swelling, called the goitre, is not confined to the Alps; but is found at the foot of most high mountains; at those of Thibet in Tartary, as well as of the Allegheny mountains, on the west side: for it is remarkable that no instance occurs on the east. And in Chili, which runs an extent of 1300 miles between the Andes and the Pacific ocean, being, at a medium, but about 350 miles wide, there is nothing of the swelling; thought he streams are swollen with snow waters; which refutes the hypothesis of those who resolve this protuberance into the drinking snow waters. In examining into the history of nature, there is nothing that has puzzled me more than to account for this phenomenon; if the word phenomenon may be applied to so small an object, which is usually applied to heavenly bodies. As little can I have an idea that the goitre is to be attributed to the mixture of calcareous earth with the water that descends from the mountains, which is the theory of Coxe; but rather incline to that of Sassure, to account for it, viz. the humidity of the atmosphere; but that mere humidity can occasion it, I do not believe; because, in Ireland, or even the north of Scotland, which are moist climates, there is nothing of it. Yet that this, which may be called a malady, has some connection with moisture, I incline to think; inasmuch as from my own observation those situate near ponds, or in wet grounds, are most liable to be affected. But, what is more to the purpose, on interrogating individuals as to their sensations, I have been informed by them, that they are sensible to every change of weather, from dry to moist, and can perceive, to use their own term, a fluttering in that part of the neck, on the approach of rain. I am not of opinion, however, that the cause, whatever it may be, has the least relation to marsh miasma; for the locus in quo, as the lawyers say, where this disorder is known, is as free from fever, as the driest regions.


But I return from this digression to the subject we were upon, the origin of the Germans, and the language of that people. I feel the more interested in this disquisition, because the Saxon, which was my vernacular tongue, is a dialect of the ancient German; and the mother of the English. The dialect that is spoken by the common people in Cumberland, and the adjoining country of Scotland, called the low lands, is Saxon. It is in this dialect that the old comedy of Grammer Gurton's Needle is written, which is the prototype of the Gentle Shepherd of Allen Ramsey. Many of the scenes, that of Maudge the witch, in particular, are evidently borrowed, so far as respects the character of the personage. I wonder that it is not looked up, and printed with the Gentle Shepherd, that it may be seen how nearly they resemble. It will be found in a collection of old plays, by Dodsley; amongst which the model of Shakespeare's Othello, in a tragedy by a certain Jan, or John Pafre, will be seen. In looking over these, it will appear that what is called blank versification, was written with great felicity before his time, in that fluent way which he has preserved, and which is the only way in which it is tolerable to me, that of Milton excepted. For the versification of neither Thompson, or Young, do I greatly relish; and that of Cowper as little. Congreve comes nearest what I can bear.


But I recur to a consideration of the language of nations, not meaning stile in composition, but the sounds by which ideas are expressed; and those sounds attempted to be communicated by letters of the alphabet; I say, attempted; for after all that can be got by the arbitrary marks which we call letters, it is by the ear alone that we can catch the real sounds that are intended; it is only by a length of time that the ear can catch a sound, or the tongue be brought to imitate it. It is for this reason that it is thought that those who have a taste for music, and some facility in catching a tune, could most easily acquire the pronunciation of a language; though I have my doubts of this; for there seems to be no immediate connection between the faculty of singing, and of speaking merely; not that I will undertake to say that softness of features and softness of voice are not connected; for beautiful features always appear to have more delicacy of expression, than the homely; and a handsome woman to sing more sweetly, if she can sing at all, than one that is what we call an ordinary person; whether it is that the imagination cheats the ear, and what is more lovely to the eye, is also more pleasing to that organ. A young man in the pulpit is thought to possess greater powers of oratory in proportion as he has the advantage of personal appearance. In fact the goodly person has the advantage before any audience. Cicero considers stature, as an advantage to the orator. A public speaker must be tall; or have such powers as to be able to make those that hear him forget that he is of a small stature. This was the power of Garrick, according to the poet, Churchill.


Figure, I own, at first, may give offence,
And harshly strike the eye's too curious sense;
But when perfections of the mind break forth;
Fancy's true fire, and judgment's solid worth;
When the pure genuine flame by nature taught,
Bursts into act, and every word is thought;
Before such merit all objections fly'
Pritchard's genteel, and Garrick six feet high.


It strikes me as very extraordinary that those whose province is speaking, do not think of assisting the personal appearance more, by the article of dress: I mean in the costume or model of the coat, which is that of the labourer, rather than of the man of the gown; I meant to have said of the long robe; for the vest and coat that sits close to the body, and is short, had not the dignity of a more loose and flowing garment. And hence a speaker appears better in what we call a surtout, than in that which sits tight to the body. He will feel more easy in such a vestment; though he must be careful when he turns his back to the fire not to burn the tail; but at the same time, it will not do to take it up in order to warm his backside, because a delicate man will not wish to have it brought into view that he has a backside to warm. For nature having antipathy to the posteriors has turned them behind, which Longinus notices, as an illustration of a precept of good writing. It is true the jockycoat, being slit behind, a corner may be taken up under each arm; but the attitude is ungraceful. A friend of mine once, for whom I had a great good will, introducing his son, asked my opinion what he should do with him.--He had given him some education, and was at a loss, whether to put him to study law, physic, or divinity. I recommended to a handycraft employment. But an experiment of a learned profession being uselessly made, the father, after some years, wondering at the sagacity I had discovered, having had no opportunity at the time I had given my opinion, of knowing any thing of the lad, but just seeing him on his being introduced to me, enquired on what ground I had formed my judgment; I told him frankly, that I had seen at a glance what he was in the stamina of his mind, by the manner of his turning his back to the fire, and taking up his coat behind. For there is a delicacy of feeling which always accompanies genius; and which shews itself in even the smallest particulars. A diligent observer will find in what may be thought the most indifferent actions, enough to indicate the portion of intellect which has fallen to the share of a young person. For as a great general at a coup d'oeil, or glance of the eye, can catch all the advantages of ground to draw up upon, and manoeuver his army; so one acquainted with the human physiognomy, and is attentive to the movements of the body, can give a pretty good guess whether the boy is to be denominated a John Bull-calf, or Nicholas Bottom the weaver. I have not the same skill in the female character, and might be mistaken in my ideas of what a young lady might be brought to be; but having been employed a great part of my early life in the academies, and in the instruction of youth, I had acquired some degree of sagacity in distinguishing the aptitude for pursuits in life. And I cannot say that this has been the source of much advantage to me; but on the contrary of much vexation, to see those whom nature intended for hucksters, and haberdashers of small wares, pushed forward into the learned professions, and calling themselves lawyers, or affecting to be politicians, and conductors of the affairs of government. I well know that no man's opinion can be considered as importing absolute verity; but so far a s my opinion will carry weight with it, I can say that I have known judicial characters who, if things had taken place according to their gravity in the moral world, would have been at the bottom of the stair-case; at least would never have risen higher than keeping a shop of merchandize, and in that situation might have been respectable. For far be it from me to undervalue men's occupations under whatever denomination. It is the unfitness, the incongruity of talents for the occupation, that I arraign.


Felices agricolae, sua si bona norint.


Happy might the dunces be if they knew their happiness; that is, could they distinguish where it was to be found.


But returning from this digression to the thread of our discourse. I take it, the Basternae were that people from whom the Saxons of the Weser and Vistula were principally descended. For after their repulse by the Romans, under Augustus, when they attempted to enter Thrace, they would seem to have pressed upon the west of Europe, and occupied this quarter. The Getae or Goths, were more upon the Rhine and the heads of the Danube.


Turner, in his history of the nations which have emigrated from beyond the Elb, has proved or rendered it extremely probable, that a great country was lost during the dark ages, on the west of Europe, of which Greenland and Iceland are remains. For it appears from the archives of Denmark, that from very ancient time, that kingdom had colonies in that quarter; and an intercourse had been kept up which had been discontinued during the adumbration of the north from the inundation of barbarous nations. We are certainly but little acquainted with that corner of the earth; the Romans having had no knowledge of it, much less the Greeks living more remote from the scene. It is but extremely little we know of the earth we live upon, so far as respects mankind; nor, perhaps, is it to be regretted; for to what purpose would it be to know more, but to increase our knowledge of bloody battles or, of individual misery? Would it not rather be desirable that the whole remembrance of past events was struck out of our minds, and that we had to begin a new series? What happens every day now, is so like what happened before, that the sameness is wearisome. Instead of consuming so much time in acquiring a knowledge of history, we might employ ourselves in searching the mountains for simples, or digging for minerals. Chemistry begins to be once more a fashionable study; but the fine arts, music, painting, poetry, and architecture, occupy so much of the time of education for a young person, that there is not leisure, or space left for the more useful pursuits. I have not mentioned statuary; for there are few amongst us that handle the chisel in any other way than as joiners, or carpenters. Carucchi was guillotined as being concerned in constructing what was called the infernal machine, for the purpose of blowing up Bonaparte. It is astonishing that one so far above his species in the divine art of imitating a man by the fabrification of the hand, should have thought of destroying an original. It was this Carucchi that proposed the representation of America in sculpture, wringing the rivers from her hair. David, the painter, is also one of those wonderful personages; for such I call them, who possess the sublime of genius in one of the fine arts; that of painting what would seem extraordinary; he was said to be one of the most bloody of the revolutionary tribunal, at least subservient to them. Now there is a delicacy, and fineness of mind, so to speak, in such kind of intellects, that it astonishes me, how cruelty can find its way to mix with it.


Is there reason to suppose that this earth is, with respect to some superior order of beings, but a bee-hive; and that they are amused looking at our working? It is humiliating enough, to conceive so of our insignificance, and therefore I repel the idea; but supposing it be so, it must be amusing to them to see the same revolutions over again in the moral world. The like abstract notions in metaphysics and theology, with similar experiments in government. For it is true what the wise man observes, "there is nothing new under the sun."


I have no idea that the Theogony of Hesiod, as it is applied to action in the Iliad, and Odyssy of Homer, and continued down in the Eneid of Virgil, will be revived in the faith of nations, while any vestige remains of the credence. For there must be novelty in the hypothesis that will attrac;. though I will admit that boldness, or rather extravagance in the belief, is most likely to be successful.


The preceding dissertation on the origin of the languages of Europe, and incidentally upon other subjects, may seem incongruous with the nature of this work; did it not occur to a diligent observer, that there can be nothing incongruous or inconsistent, with a book which embraces all subjects, and is an encyclopedia of the sciences. It is an opus magnum, which comprehends law, physic, and divinity. Were all the books in the world lost, this alone would preserve a germ of every art,-- music, painting, poetry, &c. Statuary it says the least about. Nevertheless, some hints are given that will serve to transmit the reputation of Phidias and Praxiteles, and stimulate the efforts of the chissel upon stone in generations to come. Yet disliking egotism, and all appearance of vanity in others, I am unwilling to emblazon, beyond what is moderate, a production of my own. But, to speak my mind a little freely, leaving the Bible out of the question, which taking it even as a human composition, may be termed a divine book; a collection of tracts unequalled in all ages by other writers; and conceding to Homer his superiority; and to Shakespeare, and Plutarch's Lives, I do not know; but I certainly flatter myself, that my performance may occupy the next grade. But I will not say more at this time, lest I be accused of boasting, and be called a braggadocia; an imputation carefully to be avoided by all who would escape envy, and the vexations of that malignant passion.