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to possess the earliest claim. Yet, like the Nile, which enriches that country, while they have diffused pleasure and utility over other kingdoms, their source is consigned to doubt and obscurity. Even those who were the first contrivers of letters, cannot, with any certainty, be ascertained. Bibliander ascribes them to Adam. Josephus, St. Ireneus, and others, to Enoch. Philo attributes them to Abraham. Eusebius, Clemens Alexandrinus, Cornelius Agrippa, with some others, to Moses; but the invention must clearly have been before his time. Many give the honour of it to the Ethiopians; others to the Egyptians or Chinese. The latter, however, used a number of marks, the meaning of which, from their multiplicity, it is impossible to acquire without a vast expense of time and trouble. The former are well known to have employed hieroglyphics; and this slow and imperfect mode of conveying ideas, may possibly have given rise to the formation of letters.
Every alphabet consists of a number
of of figures, to which are affixed a different sound, shape, and use. It is pretended that Abraham formed the Syriac and Chaldee; Moses the Hebrew; the Phoenicians those of the Greeks, brought into that country by Cadmus; Nicostra is thought to have invented the Roman, and Ulphilas those of the Goths. .> i ..-. . .
It is evident, however, that the Goths, long before Ulphilas, even while involved in the thickest darkness of Paganism, had a knowledge of letters. This appears from many ancient inscriptions on stones, found in all the northern regions. These characters are called Runic: and from a specimen given in a note by the intelligent translator of Mallet's Northern Antiquities, differ widely from the common Gothic. Nor have their form, order, names, or numbers, any similarity with the Roman or Greek alphabets: and if they any way assisted Ulphilas, he was obliged to add divers letters to express foreign words and sounds, which those confined characters could not supply.
When Wormius wrote, the translation of Ulphilas was supposed to be irrevocably lost; but some years after, in the Abbey of Werden, in Westphalia, was found a very curious fragment of what is believed to be his identical version, written in the Maesogothic language, and exhibiting the characters used by that Prelate. These are so very remote from the Runic, that we may safely allow him the honour of inventing them, without derogating from the antiquity of the others. This fragment is now preserved in the library of Upsal, and is famous among the northern literati, under the name of the Codex Argenteus, or Silver Book.
It contains at present only the four gospels, and these mutilated. Ulphilas, who was bishop of the Goths settled in Maesia and Thrace, had, as it is supposed, translated the whole of the Bible, but these are all that remain. The leaves are of vellum, of a violet colour; all the letters silver, except the initials, which are gold. They are all capitals, and appear not to have
been written with a pen, but stamped or imprinted with hot metal types,* in the same manner as book-binders letter the backs of books. So that if the copyist, instead of stamping one, had but thought of combining three or four of these letters together, he might have hit upon the admirable invention of printing.
The Codex Jrgenteus has been several times printed. First, by Junius, in 1665, and by the learned Mr. Lye, at Oxford, in 17 75. Another fragment of this curious version (containing part of the epistle to the Romans,) has been since discovered in the Wolfenbuttle library, and republished some years ago, in 4to. by the Rev. F. A. Knitell, arch-deacon of Wolfenbuttle.
It is true, that Michaelis, and one or two other learned men,t have opposed the
current current opinion, that the silver book contains part of Ulphilas's Gothic, -version, and have offered arguments to prove that it is rather a venerable fragment of some very ancient Francic Bible. But they have been confuted by Knitell and others; and the Gothic claim has been further cpnfirmed by a curious relic of the same language, lately discovered in Italy, plainly written by one of the same Goths, being evidently of their time.
* See this fully proved in some late curious tracts of several Swedish literati. Vol. ii. p. 355.
+ See the Latin Dissertation at the end of Chamberlayn's
Oratio Dominica, kc. Amst: 1711, 4to.
. . J.V^Jj '. . - .
The invention of letters,, like most other human discoveries, was, probably, accidental. The Rev. Mr. Ed ward-Da vies, curate of Olveston, Gloucestershire, in his Celtic Researches, a work lately published, thinks it arose originally from symbols, and tells us the old Welsh and Irish letters are named from different trees..* ThoughJie is of opinion the Druids were in possession of this knowledge from the remotest antiquity, he, nevertheless, makes it appear,
* See his ingenious conjectures on this subject, sect, viiip. 289