Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

survey of the facts of comparative etymology. From it, with a clear glass, the indistinct and mysterious forms of words are resolved, in every direction, into well-defined elements of vision; and, as mountain ranges are precipitous on one side, while on the other, like weary camels, they couch down gradually into the vales below, so the farther side of the Latin, its archaic Sanscrit side, presents a bold, sharp outline, from its summit to its base; while its hither Romanic side subsides, in every variety of slope and sweep and angle and curve, so gently, into the modern languages of our times, that it is almost hard to say where it ceases to be Latin, and where it begins to be something else.

But in no language is the area of etymological research so wide, and covered with such untold riches as in our own language. He who would gather up the treasures of English etymology must make his garners large, for the harvest spreads over many fields and many centuries. Not only our own indigenous growths are in it, but exotics also from every clime and every age, in measureless abundance. As in no nation there has been such a commingling of all affinities of blood, so also in no language has there been such a mixture of all etymologies, as in the English; and, as under the power of ancient Rome, all nations soon became woven into one common web with her, of fortune and of fate, so, under the absorbing and assimilating energies of the English mind and tongue, the wealth of thought and of speech contributed by all nations, has open incorporated into the greatness of our mother tongue. The sentiments, experiences and utterances of every age and of every zone, belonging to the whole wide circumference of the earth, and to the whole mountain range of human development, from the lowest to the highest point, are in it, and in the very forms in which, at the time, they burst spontaneously into view. Into the English, as into the bosom of a great central sea, all the streams of the past and present have poured and are still pouring their varied contents.

"Every language," says Richter, "is a dictionary of faded metaphors." Our languages, in their present state, as known to the inner consciousness of those who use them, are but. herbariums, in which lie pressed and preserved, but unappreciated, the dry forms of words that once were green with life and beauty, and, as now handled, are but the relics of their former selves. As used by the ancients, to whom they were vernacular, the dead languages, as with very ironical propriety they are often called by those who thus speak of them, since in all their inner beauties as well as in all their outward scientific relations, they are so opaque and dead to them, were full, in whatever light they saw them, of ever changing, opaline brilliancy. "Apples of gold in pictures of silver" were those dear old "words fitly spoken," to their interior sense; yea, rather, gems which had been dropped from a mother's hand into theirs, and which scorned in their very brightness to reflect forever that, mother's smile. And to the student now, who comprehends the power of words, to whom they are transparent, revealing all their inmost essence to his lingering gaze, their lost light returns again, and language is evermore living and lovely. Each lettered page is to him a mass of shining wonders, a tree of Eden, loaded with blossoms clustering upon blossoms, on boughs bending and waving with the precious weight. Language is to him one vast redundant flora, full of the glitter of leaves, the scent of flowers, and the lusciousness of celestial fruitage.

Each language, but most of all, for our benefit, our own language and those great languages, the Greek and Latin, with which it is so intimately connected, need to be elaborated, and to have all their inward treasures brought, forth into clear view, in order that language, as such, the greatest of all the arts of life, may be truly comprehended by each succeeding generation of educated, men, and employed by them, according to all its deep, real capabilities, in the divine contact of mind with mind, and the still diviner labor of mind for mind. As the body is the temple of the soul, and should be full, as it is, of strange adaptations to the wonderful sensibilities and energies of its immortal inhabitant, so language is the temple of thought and love, the only exercises that ally earth to heaven, and man to God, and is full of all beauteous adaptations and uses which deserve to be searched and seen, as the divinely constructed organ of communication between finite minds on the one hand, and also between mankind and the God that made them, on the other.

II. The history of classical and vernacular etymology.

This, fully rendered, would involve a complete history of classical and comparative philology. But, as the details of such a history have a special character of their own, and are reserved for a succeeding Article, it will be sufficient here to sketch its general philosophical outline. There have been three different stages in its development:

1. That of its popular empirical treatment.

2. That of its literary empirical treatment.

3. That of its true scientific treatment, under the exact laws of modern philology.

The etymological instinct is very common, in all nations, among the thinking classes. It is as natural and pleasant for those who reason at all, to think about the origin and connection of words, as about relation and dependence, antecedents and consequents, cause and effect, in any other direction. There is full scope here for the play of all those faculties that demand adventure and enjoy invention. The ancients were much addicted to this popular, random style of etymologizing, as is manifest in much of their mythology; their early traditionary history,1 and their poetical legends.

1 Thus, the story of the she-wolf, suckling Romulus and Remus, from the name of the nurse Lnpa; that of the low origin of Scrvius Tullius, from the resemblance of Servius to Servus; that of Brutus (brutus, stupid), reserving himself under a mask of pretended idiocy, for the crisis that was to come; that of Mutius Scacvola (from scaevus, left-handed), calmly burning off his right hand before Forsena, and other stories like them, originated in such a way. So, also, the conception of the one-eyed Cyclops, hideous and huge (from Kvk\oi, in a circle, and ity, the eye), was born in the brain of some ancient etymologist, as was that of the Harpies (fem. pi. of ipmos, and meaning lit. the scizers), a name used originally to describe violent winds, blowing off the coast of the Ionian Sea, as their names also show, viz. Podarge (swift-footed), Acllo (whirler) and Ocypetc (flying rapidly), daughters of Thaumas (wonder) and Elcctra (the lightning). So also the details of the Greek thcogony were of the same source, as of Uranus, Ge, Chronus, the Titans, the Cyclops, etc.

Etymology, in this period of its development, leads, of course, but a vagrant life, and neither receives nor deserves much respect. It may be found in this form now in any rural district, making its home at the house of the town-wit, the country doctor, or the village pedagogue. Nothing is aimed at in this style of etymologizing, beyond the excitement of others' curiosity, or the show of a little learning or of a little wit; and it is bat the demonstration of some momentary, frivolous or selfish impulse, out of which nothing great or good was ever born.

In the second phase of its existence, that of literary empiricism, its nature is no higher than in the first, but only its position. It no longer wanders about unwritten, from mouth to mouth, but has a fixed habitation upon the lettered page. It has passed with favor or indulgence, the ordeal of deliberate scrutiny, and been exalted on account of its supposed worthiness, to an intended seat of high and permanent honor. Such etymologies, lexicographers and others glean sometimes with great care from standard authors; but they are all empirical in their own nature, and worthless. Science has foundations of its own, which are divine, and its character can neither be made nor unmade by those who describe it. Truth is still truth, however it is overlooked, and error cannot be sanctified by being exalted into a high position, or by being worshipped by a crowd of false admirers. In this meagre, false, empirical state, classical etymology has wholly existed, until of late, and in fact exists almost wholly now. Mere orthographical or orthoepical resemblances suffice among empirics, to introduce, without further philological inquiry, any wTord into their magic circle of approved guesses and fancies. A radical difference of meaning in the case is as readily disposed of by them, as was any antithesis of fact and theory by the ancient philosophers; since they are utterly ignorant of that elementary doctrine of all true philology, that every word has a fundamental theme or base which determines absolutely its personal identity; and since, like phrenologists, they have a system of ideas, every one of which has a double polarity in it, by which it can be accommodated to any position or motion desired. The celebrated etymology of " lucus," a grove, "a non lucendo," from its not having any light, illustrates the ease with which such minds can weave positive and negative ideas together, into the meshes of their theories.

The first step taken in classical etymology was of this simple empirical kind. The second step forward in Latin etymology was taken so feebly as to be rather the manifestation of a desire for progression, though in quite blind unconsciousness where or how to make it: that of introducing, on a very limited scale, some simple Greek correspondences, and in a very cautious manner and one not involving any idea of their mutual relation. From this advance was realized only the slender advantage of informing such minds as had not before observed the wide and wonderful plexus of unities and analogies covering both languages, that they had had at some time a blended life and a strong, mutually penetrative influence on each other. The third step was one entirely false in its whole theory, and in all the results achieved under it; it was that of deriving the Latin immediately from the Greek. This was the prevailing conception of the relation of the two languages, at the beginning of this century, among the best scholars.

As for lexicography, it is, in our best Latin, Greek, and English dictionaries, far behind the present advanced state of philology. The etymologies to be found, at this moment, in the leading classical dictionaries of the world, are almost wholly those which are self-evident; while the small remainder is composed of mere guesses, derived from no philosophical principles, and suggesting none. Beyond this narrow range of etymological simplicities and novelties, the rest of the language stretches out before the lexicographer's eye, and, under his influence, before that of the student also, as a broad waste of unknown land. A true map, indeed, of the present state of classical etymology, as presented in our best dictionaries, would be as comical, to one at all acquainted with Indo-European philology, as a Chinese map of the world to one versed in geography. It would be a map of everything as it is not, and of no

« AnteriorContinuar »