Page images
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Na course of lectures which I had the honour

I endeavoured to show that the language which we speak, and the languages that are and that have been spoken in every part of our globe since the first dawn of human life and human thought, supply materials capable of scientific treatment. We can collect them, we can classify them, we can reduce them to their constituent elements, and deduce from them some of the laws that determine their origin, govern their growth, necessitate their decay; we can treat them, in fact, in exactly the same spirit in which the geologist treats his stones and petrifactions—nay, in some respects, in the same spirit in which the astronomer treats the stars of heaven, or the botanist the flowers of the field. There is a Science of Language, as there is a science of the earth, its flowers and its stars; and though, as a young science, it is very far as yet from that perfection which—thanks to the efforts of the intellectual giants of so many ages and many countries - has been reached in astronomy, botany, and even in


geology, it is, perhaps for that very reason, all the more fascinating. It is a young and a growing science, that puts forth new strength with every year, that opens new prospects, new fields of enterprise on every side, and rewards its students with richer harvests than could be expected from the exhausted soil of the older sciences. The whole world is open, as it were, to the student of language. There is virgin soil close to our door, and there are whole continents still to conquer if we step beyond the frontiers of the ancient seats of civilisation. We

We may select a small village in our neighbourhood to pick up dialectic varieties and to collect phrases, proverbs, and stories which will disclose fragments, almost ground to dust, it is true, yet undeniable fragments of the earliest formations of Saxon speech and Saxon thought.* Or we may proceed to our very antipodes, and study the idiom of the Hawaian islanders, and watch in the laws and edicts of Kaméhaméha the working of the same human faculty of speech which, even in its most primitive efforts, never seems to miss the high end at which it aims. The dialects of Ancient Greece, ransacked as they have been by classical scholars, such as Maittaire, Giese, and Ahrens, will amply reward a fresh battue of the comparative philologist. Their forms, which

* A valuable essay On some leading Characteristics of the Dialects spoken in the six Northern Counties of England, or Ancient Northumbria, and on the Variations in their Grammar from that of Standard English,' has lately been published by Mr. R. P. Peacock, Berlin, 1863. It is chiefly based on the versions of the Song of Solomon into many of the spoken dialects of England, which have of late years been executed and published under the auspices of H.I.H. Prince Louis-Lucien Bonaparte. It is to be hoped that the writer will continue his researches in a field of scholarship so full of promise.

« PreviousContinue »