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which should represent all the words in the Indian language. These, however, became so numerous, and so refractory in their resemblances, that he must have given up the work in despair had he not recollected that the sounds, or syllables, of which all words consisted, were comparatively few, though capable of infinite combination. To these, then, he applied his most approved symbols, which, in the course of time, he reduced to two hundred ; and latterly, it is said that he has brought them down as low as eighty; and that by these he can accurately express the whole vocabulary of his mothertongue. It is to be observed, in abatement of this marvellous effort of a savage mind, that the primary idea of writing was suggested to it, not originally conceived by it.
So beneficent to man has been the invention of letters, that some have ascribed it to the immediate instruction of the Almighty, communicated to Moses when the two tables of stone, containing the Decalogue, written by the finger of God, were delivered to him on the mount. For this there, appears to me no evidence that will bear the test of a moment's calm consideration. Of the Supreme Being we know nothing but what He has been pleased to manifest concerning himself in his works and in his Word. To the volumes of nature and of revelation man must no more presume to add than to diminish aught. In neither of these can we find that letters were thus miraculously given; it therefore cannot be admitted, nay, it must be rejected, so long as all probability is against the supposition.
Man, in every progressive state of society, however insulated from the rest of the world, endeavours to express his feelings and perpetuate his actions by imagery or mnemonics of some kind : now these, so long as he continues to improve in knowledge, will, in the same degree, be more and more simplified in sing;
form, yet more and more adapted to every diversity and complexity of thought. "Nay, it is not too bold to assume, that, thus circumstanced, man, by the help of reasoning, reflecting, and comparing, would as naturally-yea, as necessarily-be led to the invention of alphabetical characters, as the young of animals, when they are cast off by their dams, are led by an ineffable faculty, which we call instinct, to all those functions and habits of life which are requisite both for existence and enjoyment, and which their parents never could exemplify before them during their brief connexion. Birds may be imagined to teach their offspring how to eat, to fly, to
but no bird ever taught another how to build a nest,--no bird ever taught another how to brood over eggs till they were quickened into life; yet every linnet hatched this year will build her nest next spring as perfectly as the first of her ancestors in the bowers of Eden; and, though she never knew a mother's warmth bsfore, so soon as her own first eggs are laid she will sit upon them, in obedience to a kindly and mysterious law of nature, which will change her very character for the time, inspire her with courage for timidity, and patience for vivacity; imposing on her confinement instead of freedom, and self-denial in the room of seli-indulgence, till her little flụttering family are all disclosed, and reared, and fledged, and flown.
If external circumstances thus conduct every irrational creature, individually, to the knowledge and acquirement of all that is necessary for its peculiar state,-it seems to follow, as a parallelism in Providence, that man in society, at one period or another in his progress of improvement in knowledge, would inevitably discover all the means by which knowledge might be most successfully obtained and secured; these being as necessary to the rank which he holds in creation as the respective functions of inferior animals are to their different conditions. I cannot, however, allow it to be said, because I thus state the question, that I derogate from the glory of God by not attributing immediately to him what he has nowhere claimed for himself, in the only book written by his command. To Him nothing is impossible; with Him nothing is great or small, easy or difficult. His power is not more magnified by working miracles, than it was by ordaining, or than it is by upholding, the regular course of nature. “ There is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty giveth him understanding.” Is it less, then, to say of the Almighty, that, by the understanding which he gave, man found out the divine art of writing (for divine in this connexion it may be called), than to suppose, without any proof, that this art is so superhuman that it could not have been discovered unless it had been absolutely revealed by the Deity ?-No, surely; for though he made man a little lower than the angels, yet hath he crowned him with glory and honour; and, to speak after the manner of men, the more exalted the creature is found, the more praise redounds to the Creator, who is “God over all, and blessed for evermore.”
Modes of Writing That the art of writing was practised in Egypt before the emancipation of the Israelites, appears almost certain from their frequent and familiar mention of this mode of keeping memorials. When the people had provoked the Lord to wrath, by making and worshipping the golden calf, Moses, interceding in their behalf, says, “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin ; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever sinneth, him will I blot out of my book."* The allusion here is to a table of
* Exod. xxxii. 32, 38.
genealogy, the muster-roll of an army, a register of citizenship, or even to those books of chronicles which were kept by order of ancient oriental princes, of the events of their reigns, for reference and remembrance. Besides, such a mode of publishing important documents alluded to, not merely as nothing new, but as if even the common people were practically acquainted with it. “And thou shalt bind them (the statutes and testimonies of the Lord) as a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes, and thou shalt write them upon the posts of thine house, and upon all thy gates."* There are various parallel passages which no cavilling of commentators can convert from plain meaning into paradox.
But not the Egyptians and Hebrews alone possessed this invaluable knowledge at the time of which we speak (from fourteen to seventeen hundred years before Christ); we have direct and incidental testimony, both in sacred and profane history, that the Phenicians, Arabians, and Chaldeans were instructed in the same.
The book of Job (whoever might be the author) lays the scene and the season of his affliction about this era, and in the north of Arabia. That extraordinary.composition-extraordinary indeed, whether it be regarded as an historical, dramatic, or poetic performance-contains more curious and minute information concerning the manners and customs, the literature and philosophy, the state of arts and sciences, during the patriarchal ages, than can be collected in scattered hints from all later works put together. In reference to the art and the materials of writing then in use, we meet with the following sublime and affecting apostrophe :-"O that my words were now written! O that they were printed (impressed or traced out) in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead, in the rock for ever !"
* Dout. vi. 8, 9.
The latter aspiration probably alludes to the very ancient practice of hewing characters into the faces of vast rocks, as eternal memorials of persons and events. It is said by travellers whose testimony seems worthy of credence, that various fragments of such inscriptions, now utterly undecipherable, may be seen to this day in the wildernesses of Arabia Petrea-monuments at once of the grasp and the limitation of the mental power of man; thus making the hardest substances in nature the depositories of his thoughts, and yet betrayed in his ambitious expectation of so perpetuating them. The slow influences of the elements have been incessantly, though insensibly, obliterating what the chisel had ploughed into the solid marble, till at length nothing remains but a mockery of skeleton letters, so unlike their pristine forms, so unable to explain their own meaning, that you might as well seek among the human relics in a charnel-vault the resemblances of the once-living personages,
---or invoke the dead bones to tell their own history,-as question these dumb rocks concerning the records engraven on them.
The passage just quoted shows the state of alphabetical writing in the age of Job, and, according to the best commentators, he describes three modes of exercising it :-"O that my words were now written,--traced out in characters,-in a book composed of palm-leaves, or on a roll of linen! O that they were engraven with a pen of iron on tablets of lead, or indented in the solid rock to endure to the end of time !" Arguing against the perverse sophistry of his friends that he must have been secretly a wicked man, because such awful calamities, which they construed into divine judgments, had befallen him ; so fast does he hold his integrity, that, not only with passing words, liable to be forgotten as soon as uttered, does he maintain it; but by every mode that could give his expressions publicity and ensure