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the result of a long series of connected causes and effects, and the principles which have linked them together, and controlled their succession, will reveal the source of their hidden power.
These principles are not mere metaphysical abstractions; "they are not so general in their nature that they can scarcely be seized, so complicated that they can scarcely be unraveled; nor so hidden as scarcely to be discernable."
The doctrine, to which above all others we cling with the tenacity of life, the progressive improvement of the human race, if true, must be the great object in which all others merge. They are all important from their connection with this grand design. But amid the array and sensible splendor of political and physical effects, natural and moral causes have been overlooked or have been supposed to be too transient and fugitive in their nature to stand investigation.
The perfection of the sciences is not the goal in human progression: they are links in the golden chains that lead to it. Man in his primitive state had a clear mind and a far reaching eye. The object of all the institutions which have come into existence since his fall, is not to display their own perfections, but through them to restore man to his. Art, science, literature, and religion itself, are not glorified in reflecting their own images, but in restoring and reflecting the defaced image of man.
Language is an essential element of intellectual, as well as national life; it alone exerts an efficient power over the past, adding improvement to improvement and keeps alive in the soul the germ of infinity.
Through it thought emanates from the solitary mind, and kindling the sparks in kindred breasts, touches a train which in time transforms the entire face of society.
The spirit of language imparts the principles of generalization, and abstraction, which are elements of the art of reasoning itself. To reason is to imitate the process by which language in its formation separates and combines ideas, and the subordination it institutes
the names which are founded upon the relations these ideas bear to us, to man.
The depths of a nation's knowledge are sounded by studying their language. Here we measure their attainment in the arts and sciences; the genius of the national mind, the nature of its habits, passions, and pursuits, are ascertained from the vernacular tongue; here they are all displayed in miniature, but in lines and shades that are perfectly correct. We judge of one's learning, of the society with which one associates, and of his general character, from his language; and the principle holds as true with regard to nations. From their vocabulary alone, we learn the nature of their tastes, their dispositions, and the extent of their knowledge, and also with a great degree of certainty, their geographical position.
Climate is proverbial for its happy effect upon the body and mind, in producing, what the princess of women calls “a mellifluous organization," and mellowing the tones of the human voice, to which lar guage assimilates itself.
The genial soil and the soft skies of France and Italy have imparted a delicious sweetness to the tones of the human voice, which is unknown in colder regions. This musical property in their language is attributable to these natural causes, which are readily discerned and easily analyzed.
The melody in the modulation of their words, and the harmony in the structure of their sentences, are almost as perfect and sweet as the strains of the minstrel. It is observed that under the warm skies of the West Indies, the causes which produce a musical effect operate so strongly as to lead the creole to vitiate almost every word in pronunciation, in order to effect a melodious soun:1. According to this simple principle, the Northern languages are generally harsh and rough, while those of the South are sweet and musical.
Were these general principles kept before the mind, language would become a national study ; English etymology would be made to form a part of a classical education; and then our language would cease to be neglected. Our scholars, in the use of words, would regard their derivation, and original meaning, and then the purity of our language would be preserved, and its superior power displayed. We should be brought back to the Saxon fountain, and by combining in due proportion the various elements which properly constitute our native tongue, we should find it not destitute of great beauty, precision, and energy. It would induce us to preserve our nationality, and to rear upon a permanent foundation a literature of our own, which we should be proud to claim.
In the investigation of our literature, we shall recur briefly to the origin of our language, and trace it rapidly from its formation through its various changes, seeking out only the principal causes which have affected it. At the same time we shall exhibit it in different specimens, as the language has developed itself in the literature of each age, from the earliest times to the present, especially we shall exhibit it in poetry, wherein it shows its highest power. Thus, the mysterious influence which language exerts upon mind, and upon the destiny of a nation will be clearly revealed, in tracing the steps by which our language has departed from the ancient languages, and perfected itself to its present condition: at the same time we shall learn the relation which ancient learning bears to modern: the distinctive elements of English and American literatue will appear, and we shall be prepared to determine with some degree of certainty the nature of American literature, its present state and its future prospects.
Such an investigation promises some pleasure to the refined taste, as well as to the reflecting mind. Its object is truth, yet it aspires to impart pleasure ; to make language a rational study, and to rank it among the fine arts; which is to be effected by removing the learned rubbish that has accumulated upon it, rather than by originating or creating anything new. It aspires to utility in the highest sense, by showing the origin and influence of language, and illustrating its development in literature, together with its power for combining and reflecting beauty.
If in our wild rambling and eager pursuit, we have time only to pluck an occasional flower that grows by the path-side, and to pick up but now and
then a gem from the profusion that sparkles beneath our feet, yet we can console ourselves in the reflection, that for a moment, at least, we have turned aside from the beaten track, and withal refreshed our spirits at the springs of learning, and drank at the fountainhead.
There are those, however, who have an aversion for these early times, and can look upon the epoch which is stigmatised by the denomination of the “Dark Ages," only with feelings of horror, as though it was a distinct portion of time, for ever to be separated from all that succeeds; to such, much pleasure cannot safely be promised, unless they delight in romance and fiction. For their encouragement, how ever, it may not be improper to state that these times will be disposed of with as few suggestions as can possibly satisfy the nature of our design; and we shall hasten to that brighter era when literature, indeed, begins to dawn; when the first successful efforts of learning appear amid the ignorance that prevails, like light shining through broken clouds just before the full risen sun breaks forth in his splendor, to flood the world with his golden beams. And yet those early ages, even from the dim lustre which the Saxon sheds upon them, possess as much interest to the enquiring mind as any succeeding age. There we find, in embryo, many of our institutions, and the germs of most of the principles that now prevail. There we see in activity, processes, the results of which have been subjects for speculation for all succeeding time. Even in the confusion, in the mixing and mingling of diverse customs, laws, and languages,