Page images
PDF
EPUB

ment; but the upper and lower ends are lying loofe.

"From the end of the body, between the two upper ends of thefe cartilages, arife what I fuppofe to be the tentacula, confiiting of two cones, each having a spiral membrane twining round it: they are clofe to each other at their bafes, and diverge as they rife up, being about an inch and a quarter in length, and nearly one-fixth of an inch in thickness at their base, and gradually diminishing till they terminate in points. The membranes which twine round these cones alfo take their origin from the body of the animal, and make five fpiral turns and a half round each, being loft in the points of the cones; they are loote from the cone at the lowest fpiral turn which they make, and are nearly half an inch in breadth; they are exceedingly delicate, and have at small diftances fibres running across them from their attachment at the stem to the loofe edge, which gives them a ribbed appearance. Thefe fibres are continued about one-tenth of an inch beyond the membrane, having their edges finely ferrated, like the tentacula of the Actinia found in Barbadoes: thefe tentacula shorten as the fpiral turns become smaller, and are entirely loft in that part of the membrane which terminates in the point of the cone.

"Behind the origin of these cones arifes a fmall fhell, which, for one fixth of an inch from its attachment to the animal, is very flender: it is about three-quarters of an inch in length, becoming confiderably broader at the other end, which is flat, and about onethird of an inch broad; the flattened extremity is covered with a kind of hair, and has rifing out of it

be confidered as prey, which may its tentacula, about an inch and a quarter.

"The body of the animal is at tached to its fhell, for about three. quarters of an inch in length, at the anterior part where the two cones arife, by means of two cartilaginous fubftances, with one fide adapted to the body of the animal, the other to the internal furface of the fhell: the rest of the body is unattached, of a darkish white colour, about half an inch broad, a little flattened, and rather narrower towards the tail. The mufcular fibres upon its back are tranfverfe; thofe on the belly longitudinal, making a band the whole length of the body, on the edge of which the tranfverfe fibres running across the back terminate.

"The two cartilaginous fubftances by which the animal adheres to its fhell, are placed one on each fide of the body, and are joined together upon the back of the animal at their pofterior edges: they are about three quarters of an inch long, are very narrow at their anterior end, becoming broader as they go backwards; and at their pofferior end they are the whole breadth of the body of the animal. Upon their external furface there are fix tranfverfe ridges, or narrow folds; and along their external edges, at the end or termination of each ridge, is a little eminence refembling the point of a hair pencil, fo that on each fide of the animal there are fix of these little projecting ftuds, for the purpofe of adhering to the fides of the Thell in which the animal is inclofed. The internal furfaces of thefe cartilages are firmly attached to the body of the animal, in their middle part, by a kind of band or liga

[ocr errors]

gularity utterly irreconcilable to the common hypothefis: at least, I am acquainted with no plausible answer to this objection.

Should any one reply, "that alphabetical characters may have been in existence many ages prior to the date of thefe fpecimens in the Scriptures, but that the more ancient memorials, in which they were exhibited, have perifhed by the defolations of ignorance and the viciffitudes of time:" I must demur at an argument that advances no premises of fufficient validity to authenticate this conclufion. For, 1. It is mere affirina tion, without the least fhadow of historical testimony to give it countenance. 2. To wave the authority of the Jewish fcriptures upon this point (which, however, I muft beg leave to obferve, is corroborated by abundant evidence from philofophy and experience, as well as hiftory), that fimplicity of manners, predominant in the early ages, fo obfervable in the accounts delivered down by facred and profane hiftorians; the confeffed mediocrity of their intellectual acquirements, and the confined intercourfe of na tions with each other, which would render fuch an expedient lefs neceffary, and therefore lefs likely to be discovered: all thefe confiderations seem to argue with no little cogency, that fo complex, fo curious, fo wonderful, fo confummate a devife as that of alphabetical writing, could hardly be first detected by a race of men, whose wants were few, whofe advantages were circumfcrib ed, and whofe ideas were commenfurate to their fituation. This pofition, therefore, conjectural as it is, and unfubftantial, feems unwor thy of farther animadverfion.

II. Ifalphabetical writing were a human invention, the natural re

fult of ingenuity and experience, might we not expect that different nations would have fallen upon the fame expedient, independently of each other, during the compafs of fo many ages: when the faculties of the mind are equally capable at all times, and in every corner of the univerfe, and when the habits of life and modes of thought inevit ably bear fo great a resemblance to each other in fimilar ftages of fociety? This, I fay, were but a reafonable expectation: which, however, correfponds not to the event. For alphabetical writing, as now practifed by every people in the univerfe, may be referred to one common original, If this propofi tion can be proved, the argument from fucceffive derivation, without a fingle inftance of independent dif. covery, must be allowed to amount to the very highest degree of probability in my favour: and the common fuppofition will appear perfectly gratuitous, with the incumbrance alfo of this great paradox: "You tell us, I might say, of an invention, which is the regu lar confequence of refinement in fociety, nothing more than a gra dual advancement from what is plain to what is complex; by a fi milar procefs, pursued by the mind in all its exertions for improve, ment: and yet we can perceive no reafon to conclude, that any com. munity but one, and that in mo wife diftinguished by any vaft fuperiority of inventive genius, or the improvements introduced by them into common life, ever compaffed this discovery; though the human powers have been uniformly the fame, and the conduct of fociety has been greatly fimilar in different nations at different periods of time."

"Let us confider then, how the evidence ftands in this cafe: only pre

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

premifing, that, where a continuity
of tranfmiffion appears to have taken
place, arifing from the intercourfe
of nations with each other; and
where the words are the fame, the
grammatical conftruction, and other
minute peculiarities of compofition
much alike, in two languages, thefe
languages are of the fame texture:
and that alphabetical compofition,
attended by thefe circumftances of
resemblance, must flow from one
fource: efpecially, if the difference
in the alphabetical marks of thefe
two languages fhould be no objec-
tion, but may be accounted for up-
on reasonable principles.

fimilarity of their formation, and
the numberless words, common to
them all, demonftrably evince: and
the Perfic has a close affinity to the
Arabic. Alterations would natu-
rally be introduced, proportionate
to the civilization of the feveral
poffeffors, and their feparation from
the other nations: and this will ac-
count for the fuperior copiousness
of fome above the rest. So then,
not to determine which was the
more ancient language, the He-
brew, Syriac, or Arabic, a question
of no importance on this occafion;
all the languages in ufe amongst
men, that have been conveyed in
alphabetical characters, have been
the languages of people, connected
ultimately or immediately, with
thofe who have handed down the
earlieft fpecimens of writing to po-
fterity. And when the languages
of the eastern nations are fo fimilar

"It will be readily allowed then,
I prefume, that no modern Euro-
pean nation, exclufive of the Turk-
ith empire, indebted to the Greeks
and Arabians, feparately invented
alphabetical writing: we all de-
rived, without any doubt, this art
from the Romans. The Romans
never laid claim to the difcovery:
they afcribed all their literary ad-
vantages to the Greeks. This ac-
complished people acknowledge,
with one voice, to have received
the art from the Phoenicians; who,
as well as their colonists the Car-
thaginians, are known by the learn-
ed to have spoken the Hebrew lan-
guage, or a dialect fcarcely vary-
ing from the original. The Cop-
tic, or Egyptian, wears the ex-
actest resemblance in the majority
of its characters to the Greek
they, therefore, must be referred in
all reason to the fame origin. The
Chaldee, Syriac, and later Samari-
tan, are dialects of the Hebrew,
without any confiderable deviation,
or many additional words. The
Ethiopic differs more from the He-
brew, but still lefs than the Arabic.
Thefe languages, however, not-
withstanding fuch deviations, have
iffued from the fame ftock; as the

when fo curious an art would be, in all probability, the first improvement communicated by one people to another-is it not morally certain, that alphabetical writing originally centered in one people? For length of time has deprived us of exprefs hiftorical teftimony in this cafe.

"Indeed, this propofition feems to be fufficiently afcertained by another argument; that is from the famenefs of the artificial denominations of the letters in the Oriental, Greek, and Latin languages; accompanied too by a fimilar arr ngement: Alpha, Beta, and fo on.

"But in oppofition to this evidence, fome will argue against all poffible admiffion of our conclufion, by alledging the entire diffimilarity of characters employed by the ancients to difcriminate their letters. "Why should not one nation, it will be urged, adopt from the other the mode of expreffing the art, as well

well as the art itfelf? To what purpose the trouble of inventing another fyftem of characters ?"

"Various anfwers may be returned to this objection.

1.We know, from the inftance of our own language, what diverfities may be introduced in this refpect merely by length of time, and an intercourfe with neighbouring nations. And fuch an effect would be much more likely to take place be fore the art of printing had contributed to establish an uniformity of character. For, when every work was tranfcribed by the hand, we nay cafily imagine how many variations would arife from the fancy of the fcribe, and the mode of writing fo conftantly different in individuals. What two perfons write without the plainett fymptoms of peculiarity?

2. Vanity might fometimes give occafion to this diverfity. When an individual of another community had become acquainted with this wonderful artifice, he might endeavour to recommend himself to his own people, as the devifer of it: and, to evade detection, might have recourfe to the fubftitution of new fymbols. But let no more credit be given to this conjecture than it deferves.

66 3. The characters of the alphabet might, fometimes, be accommodated, as much as potlible, to the fymbolical marks already in, ufe amongst a particular people. Thefe having acquired a high degree of fanctity, by the ufe of many generations, would not be eafily fuperfeded, without the aid of fome fuch contrivance, by an adventitious practice.

64 4. But I have more than conjecture to offer in fupport of this argument; even the testimony of an ancient historian; whofe account

will ferve as a general evidence in this cafe, and may lead us to con clude, that fimilar deviations may have taken place amongst other claffes of men, as well as in that inftance, which he particularly fpecifies from his own knowledge.

"Herodotus, in one part of his history, has the following relation.

"Thofe Phoenicians, who came with Cadmus, introduced many improvements among the Greeks, and alphabetical writing too, not known in my opinion to the Greeks before that period. At first they used the Phoenician character: but in process of time, as the pronunciation altered, the ftandard of the letters was alfo changed. The Ionian Greeks inhabited at that time the parts adjacent to Phoenicia: who, having received the art of alphabetical writing from the Phoenicians, ufed it, with an alteration of fome few characters: and confeffed ingenuously, that it was called Phoenician, from the introducers of it. And I have feen myfelf the characters of Cad. mus in the temple of Ifmenian Apollo at Thebes in Botia, engraven upon tripods, and very much re fembling the Ionian characters."

66

5. The old Samaritan is precifely the fame as the Hebrew language and the Samaritan Pentateuch does not vary by a fingle letter in twenty words from the Hebrew. But the characters are widely different: for the Jews adopted the Chaldaic letters, during their captivity at Babylon, inftead of the characters of their forefathers. This difficulty then feems to have been fufficiently confidered.

"III. What we know of those nations, who have continued for many centuries unconnected with the reft of the world, ftrongly mie litates against the hypothefis of the human invention of alphabetical writing.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

writing. The experiment has been
fairly made upon the ingenuity of
mankind for a longer period than
that which is fuppofed to have pro-
duced alphabetical writing by re-
gular gradations; and this experi-
ment determines peremptorily in
our favour.

of other nations, that their imagi
nation, as it was not more fertile,
was not more fuccefsful, than that
of their neighbours.

[blocks in formation]

"Again: where large communities have flourished for ages, but unconnected with thofe countries which enjoyed this advantage, their own folitary exertions were never capable of efiecting this capital difcovery. Is it poffible for prefumptive evidence to be more fatisfactory than this?

IV. Laftly, we will confider the argument upon which the commonly received fuppofition entirely depends: that is, the natural gra dation through the feveral fpecies of fymbols, acknowledged to have been in ufe with various people, terminating, at laft, by an caly tran fition, in the detection of alphabe

tical characters. I cannot fee this regularity of procefs, this cafe of tranfition, fo clearly as fome others appear to do; but let every one determine for himself from the contemplation of the feveral ftages of emblematical rep efentation.

"1. The firit method of embo. dying ideas, would be, by drawing a reprefentation of the objects themfelves. The imperfection of this method is very obvious, both on account of its tedioufnefs, and its inability of going beyond external appearances, to the abstract ideas of

the mind.

66 2. The next method would be fomewhat more general, and would fubftitute two or three principal circumftances for the whole tranfac tion. So two kings, for example, engaging each other with military weapons, might ferve to convey the idea of a war between two nations. This abbreviated method would be more expeditious than the former: but what it gained in concifeness, it would lofe in perfpicuity. The great

M

« PreviousContinue »