« ForrigeFortsæt »
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, invalidate 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 destitute 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
It is a
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 cach 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 wri. ting, 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, 6 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
from strangers, and totally employed in procuring the conveniences of life; either without books, or, like some of the Mahometan countries, with very few: men thus busied and unlearned, have ing only such words as common use requiros, would perhaps long continue to express the same notions by the same signs. Butno such constancy can be expected in a people, polished by arts, and classed by subordination, where one partofthe community is sustained and accommodated by the labour of the other. Those who have much leisure to think, will always be enlarging the stock of ideas; and every increase of knowledge, whether real or fancied, will produce new words, or combination of sounds. When the mind is unchained from necessity, it will range after convenience; when it is left at large in the field of speculation, it will shift opinions; as any custom is disused the words that expressed it must perish with it: as any opinion grows popular, it will innovate speech in the same proportion as it alters practice.”
With such arguments in our favour, we are therefore earnestly inclined to believe, that the constancy with which the Chinese have preserved their language from innovation, and given it an unalterable durability, is to be ascribed, rather to the tyrannical disposition of the govornment, and the inflexibility of theircustoms, than to a great antiquity of its origin; and that though it possesses some of the features of a universal character, it is too unwieldy for the quick advancement, or abstruse investigation of science, as the length of time necessary to its acquirement hinders the one, and its extreme ambiguity effectually prevents the late ter. And notwithstanding the pertinacious adherence of the Chinese to whatever they adopt, the learned in their correspondence, have been compelled to alter the form of the letters, to diminsh the labour of writing, and omitting many others to lessen its inconvenience, and this in so great a degree, as to confound its identity, to those not intimately versed in the language.*
In every nation distinguished for its attainments in literature, a taste for reading and science has been common among thepeople; new efforts have been incited by competition and jealousy, and learn
* Rarrow, Page 167.
ing not suffered to languish for want of inquirers after truth. It was this thirst after knowledge, and a power of discrimination, augmented by practice, that elevated the Athenian people to be the highest of the literary Republic; and enabled them to conquer the hearts of their enemies by the fire and eloquence of their poets, when the valour of their arms restrained by the shackles of slavery: and it is a truth attested by the experience of ages, that the growth of genius and learning, will ever be in proportion to the degree of civil liberty and freedom of discussion allowed to the people, and the means they might have, for the facile acquirement of the language. That the Chinese are debarred from the first by the nature of their political institutions, the writers on their government, most partial to their customs, and prepossessed extravagantly in their favour, have unwillingly acknowledged;* and that the genius of their language does not admit of the latter, is evinced, by the difficulty of its attainment, even by those who exclusively addict themselves to study and erudition; and such cannot obtain a competent knowledge of it, in a shorter period than twenty years,t hence the extreme ignorance and superstition of the people, the limited knowledge of the litcrati, and the unimproved state of the arts.
To account for the origin of this isolated people, much learning has been displayed, and ingenuity exerted; but happily for philosophy, the former was confined in its rescarches to reason, while the latter degenerated to absurdity. Here it shall only be considered, as it conduces to elicit some light on the probable antiquity of the people of the eastern hemisphere; and though the fables which their vanity induced them to foist into their pretended history, has imposed a false antiquity on the credulous curiosity of Europeans, whose avidity for whatever is novel, has not seldom perverted their judgments; yet I hazard the asseveration, that upon a philosophical investigation of their claims, they will be discovered to be founded, rather on the vain fancy of the sovereign and his courtiers than the undisputed veracity of
* P. Du Halde's History of China, compiled from the accounts of the Jesuits and Missionaries.
+ Mr. Barrow's China p. 177.
historical facts. In proof of this, we need only advert to the absolute control of the emperor, which gives him the power, as his vanity suggests the inclination, to stifle the recital of such incidents, as would either detract from his reputed wisdom, or asperse his immaculate virtue; and consequently contradict, what their religion obviously implies, that the prince is indued with the attributes of divinity, and invested with power, which deserves implicit obedience. And that the execution of so unreasonable a command would encounter no impediment in its course, is sufficiently exhibited in the disposition of courtiers and the people; the dread of punishment and degradation impelling the former to falsify, what the awe and superstition of the latter, would compel them to believe. And that the above account is not a bare supposition, invented for the support of a favourite hypothesis, is abundantly evinced, in the fabrication of the fable, in the history of She-whang-te.* who to augment his own glory and reputation, is said to have issued an edict, commanding on pain of death, the destruction of all books, except those that related to physic and architecture.t That such an event ever happened to the Chinese we utterly disbelieve, because in the first place, the same pretended history of She-thang-te relates, that previous to this act, he had caused to be erected one of the most stupendous works in the whole empire, and sufficient in their estimation to have immortalized his memory. How contradictory and absurd, then do these actions appear; as if in one moment he would have endeavoured to immortalize himself, by the greatest effort of human wisdom, and in the next to have perpetrated the blackest action of a tyrant: to endear the hearts of unborn generations to him on one day, and on the next to entail on his memory, the execrations of the world, to the latest time? And in the second place, it is unworthy the slightest credit, because it is in perfect consistence with the politic deception of the Sacred Mountain, in the province of Fo-kien; and the doctrine inculcated by the great philosopher Confucius, that the souls of the departed, will embody themselves to partake of
* Du Halde, page 340, vol. 1. † 237 years before Christ. # Du Halde, vol. 1. p. 340.