Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[blocks in formation]

ABOUT to write a series of lessons in English, I think it desirable to let the readers of the POFULAR EDUCATOR know what they may expect. In general, then, I intend to exhibit the facts of the language and the productions of the language. The facts of the language, if systematically presented, will involve the laws of the language; and the productions of the language, historically treated, will comprise the literature of the language. The facts of the language and the productions of the language thus regarded, will obviously lead the careful student to a knowledge of the language. Nor without both the facts and the productions can any one possess an acquaintance with the language. A knowledge of any language implies a familiarity with its literature, and a familiarity with the facts or laws of its construction. You cannot have the one without the other, any more than you can know the prin. ciples of Grecian art unless you have studied its master-pieces. Apart from the literature of a language, you cannot know its grammar; apart from the grammar of a language you cannot know its literature. The literature of a language is the organic life, whose laws grammar has to learn and expound. The grammar of a language is merely a systematic exposition of the laws observed in the composition of its literature. Hence you see that an acquaintance with the literature of a language should precede the study of its grammar. Indeed the productions of a language are earlier than its grammar. Men pronounced sentences, delivered speeches, composed and sang poems, long before they had any idea of the rules of which grammar is made up. First was the thought; then came the utterance, and out of many utterances at last grew the science of grammar. Grammar has no other function than to learn and set forth the laws of a language, which have been already observed by some great writer or great writers. Long posterior to Homer was the criticism which in Greece gave birth to grammar.

The knowledge of the grammar of a language, then, does not involve a knowledge of the language itself. Still less are the two identical. Grammar is only one branch of the tree. Important as grammar is, it is scarcely the most important of the branches which combine to form the knowledge of a language. Grammar is only a means to an end. It is a pathway to the temple. Tho temple itself is the treasure of great thought which constitute the literature, and which we have termed the productions of a language. It is for this treasure that a language is worth the labour of study; and in regard to literary treasures, no language will repay attention more fully than the English.

From what has been said, it is also clear that the grammar of a language is to be learnt in its literature. Grammar is no arbitrary thing. Its rules are not inventions. Its forms are not optional. They are both merely general statements of facts — facts ascertained by the careful perusal of what we term classical authors ; that is, authors of high and universal repute. The office of grammar is to make a systematic report of the usages observed in writing by the great minds of a nation. Hence grammar is a science of imitation. The grammarian, like the sculptor, takes à model, and having studied its parts and qualities, endeavours to reproduce the whole. Authority, in consequence, is the great principle recognised in grammar. The authority of such men as Macaulay, Mackintosh, Addison, Dryden, Shakspeare, is, in grammar, paramount and supreme. What they do we must follow, and we must follow it because it is their practice. Their words, their forms of speech, their constructions must be ours. They are our masters, we their scholars. They give laws, we obey the laws they give. Scarcely less than implicit and unqualified ought the obedience to be; for grammar merely declares what is customary, and what is cus. tomary in a language is known by what is customary among its best writers.

Yet some degree of latitude may be permitted. Grammar as the science of language depends upon the laws of thought. Now the laws of thought, which find their systematic expression in what is termed logic, are a compact and consistent whole. In every such whole, principles are found and a certain harmony prevails. Con

sequently in grammar, which in some sense is the mirror of a lan. guage, there exist principles and harmony. It is conceivable that the discovery and the observances of those principles may be gra. dual. If so, well as Shakspeare wrote, Macaulay may write better in regard to grammar. But if improvement is possible, the use of reasoning, by which all improvements are made, is not banished from the science of grammar. Even in this science of imitation, then, obedience must not be blind and passive. Regard to ame. lioration may be combined with allegiance. We may attempt to improve what we imitate. We may aim at an ideal perfection. Imbibing the spirit of the great masters of our language, we may yield to the impulse which urged them forward in pursuit of unlimited excellence. Nevertheless, we must keep close by their side. In our loftiest aspirations we must keep our feet firmly set on the solid earth. We cannot wisely attempt to improve usage unless under the teachings of analogy. First, we must ask, “What is customary?" Having clearly ascertained what is customary, we may entertain the question, “What ought the usage to be ?' And, in attempting to answer that question, the specific laws and capabilities of the language, as well as the general laws of thought and utterance, must be consulted. The neglect of usage occasions all manner of imaginary laws and fanciful constructions. The neglect of logic perpetuates the mistakes and short-comings of past ages. It is only in the union of the two that the perfect grammarian is found; and in such a union as secures for both usage and logic their proper share of observance. Usage, however, is the sovereign power in language; logic has only a small and subordinate province.

Disregard to these fundamental principles has occasioned nu. merous failings and errors.

Lindley Murray, Blair, Cobbett, possessing each many excellences, have more or less failed to expound, as they really exist, the facts of the English language, and given rules as well as sanctioned forms of speech which have no other source than the un. due predominance of the logical faculty in their own minds.

To another class of writers on English grammar we owe a yet greater departure from its usages and laws. English grammar was first expounded by classical scholars. Familiar with the forms and usages of the Greek and Latin tongues, and hoiding them to be perfect in character, if not of universal obligation, they introduced those forms and usages into their manuals of English Grammar, and so made complex and difficult one of the simplest and easiest grammars in the world, Hence came into our grammatical books, cases, tenses, and, constructions, which have no

correspobang rasties in oa izzetare. W: soch t o the student of Ez grasa bes Dotag to d, sad she soesa ou magna's are asezbarrassed of thes the better. Studying, as we söail do, the grazma of the angegebnis production, we stail be under the guidance ad the correl of sex, i tate special care to report as a usage and establish as a role soog bai hat bas its sanction in unquestionable aatbority.

Let it, then, be observed that it is the Eagash language that we are about to study. Consequendy, it is the qualities and the lars of that language that it . be our business to ascertain. If we were studying Sanserit or Hebrer, then the qualsias and the laws of the Sanscrit and the Hebrew should we be in search of. Disregarding them, we are equally to disregard the qualities and the laws of the Latin. The best of Latin grammars would be a very bad English grammar, and a usage in Latin is no authority for the introduction into English of a similar usage. The same remark may be made in relation to the Anglo-Saron; in an undee regard to which Latham, with all his merits, and they are very numerous and very great, has not wholly avoided error.

The principles now set forth determine the mode of my proceeding. I shall not copy forms and rules from the writings of former grammarians. I shall not out of my own head derise forms and rules. I shall rather take the language as it is, and inquire into its qualities and laws. Beginning with the simplest enunciation of thought, I shall aid tbe student to analyse them, and from such analysis to deduce for himself the fundamental facts and principles of the English tongue. This process must be gone through three times : first, in regard to the forms of the language or its grammar; secondly, in regard to the productions of the language or its literature; and thirdly, as an appendage to the last, in regard to the origin and progress of the language or its history. If the reader attentively accompany me over this extended field, he will possess a full as well as accurate acquaintance with the English Language.

I must add that it is for Englishmen I write. I write also for the uneducated and for the young. Having these facts before my mind, I shall study plainness and simplicity. Yet do I hope to be able to write in such a manner that scholars may not disdain to cast an eye on these pages. However that may be, I shall make it my first object and my last so to express my thoughts as to be fully understood, if not also readily followed by the now large and meritorious class who are endeavouring to educate themselves To labour for such is to me a very great pleasure. I ask for their confidence, and will endeavour to reward their attention.

Language is the expression of thought by means of articulate sounds, as painting is the expression of thought by means of form

« PreviousContinue »