18 NOVEMBER 1865, Page 18


THE two books before us may be taken to represent the theory and practice of language, and the respective value of the two books is not a little significant when they are weighed in this balance. In spite of what Mephistopheles says about theory, it is much easier to attain perfection in it than in practice. The theory of language in particular is beautiful, and like the " golden tree of life ;" the less said about the practice of language the better. Mr. Farrar's book is a valuable contribution to a disputed question, learned without being heavy, and amusing without being flippant. Dr. Graham's little manual forms part of Chambers's educational course, and is excellent in its way, but though its stock of useful matter entitles it to lie on the table and be frequently consulted, the exercises it gives us border so closely on the ludicrous that if we treated them at all the dignity of this article would suffer. We must ask Dr. Graham's pardon if this seems disrespectful to his labours, but we can scarcely hope that our respect for Mr. Farrar will earn us the forgiveness of Professor Max Muller. The " bow-wow theory," as it is commonly called, is the one supported in these chapters. That phrase may seem unworthy or undignified, at all events it is simple, and has some chance of becoming popular. Mr. Farrar, who writes for the reading world in the fullest sense, can hardly hope to gain general interest for "onomatopoeia," and ashe does not think it necessary to claim a dignified origin for lan- guage, there is the less need of his being a stickler for dignity in the terms which describe it. Be the phrase as it may, Mr. Farrar vindicates the imitative origin of language against the attacks of Professor Max Muller. He admits that the present state of the science is imperfect, and that all ideas on the subject —Max Miil- ler's included—are liable to change. But he argues very:strongly against the dry theory of "roots," and he brings many good. authorities to back him. His book is " based " to some extent on the works of German scholars, but it shows much independent reading. Nor are we sure that the German complaint against us for appropriating the toil of a nation of thinkers, is not more of a reproach to the Germans than to the English. If the Germans would work up their thoughts and researches so as to be generally available there would be no excuse for us. But the Germans will not. They leave that for more superficial writers. They must above all: things be deep and unintelligible. This is not only the case in learned works, where depth often presupposes unintel- ligibility. It applies to history, to biog,raphy., and even to novels. A German professor may treat any subject, yet he is sure to write professorial German. You may consult educated Germans as to the meaning of some phrase in a professor's book, but you will find that none but a professor can understand a professor. " Can no one," exclaims Mr. Farrar, " influence the German writers to remember that life is too short for such intolerably long-winded titles to their books?" There might be some chance of an affirmative if the titles were the only part in fault.

Whatever may be said against Mr. Farrar, he certainly is neither dry nor long-winded. Copious as are his materials, he has mastered them fully. He gives every characteristic circum- stance its full value. When he has to tell a story, he does not think it below the dignity of a serious writer to tell it well. Many of the arguments for the imitative theory are naturally founded on popular or infantine analogy, and nothing is more detestable than to have a good story translated into philosophical terminology. These qualities in Mr. Farrar will no doubt expose his book to the serious charge of being pleasant as well as instructive, and we must own that there is no defending him against that accu- sation. He confesses to the terrible crime of watching peasants while they gathered apples, and counting the words which formed their vocabulary. He alludes to Telma and Garrick, and even quotes Romola. But with all this it is impossible to deny the extent and genuineness of his learning, and if we seem to dwell more on the lighter features of his book, it is because we more rarely find a man of real learning who relaxes than a quack who keeps up his solemnity for fear of exposure. Mr. Farrar begins with an argument on the human origin of language against the theory of its divine revelation. We think what he says is tolerably conclusive. But it is when he comes to the real question

• Chapters on Language. By the Rev. Frederic W. Farrar, Loathe: Long. ratans.

Exercises on Etymology. By William Graham, T.L.D. Edinburgh W. aud.A. Chamber,.

at issue between his school and that of Max Muller that we are best disposed to follow him. " If the science," he says,—

" Of Comparative Philology is to do nothing more than

"To chase A panting syllable through time and space, Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark

To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah's ark ;— and if in that venerable receptacle for all ethnographic and philological theories we can only catch an archmological curiosity in the shape of some desiccated, never-spoke; lifeless 'root,' we cannot but think that it was hardly worth the trouble of being pursued! An etymology of this kind is no etymology at all. What are we the wiser for being told that a whole class of words comes from a root to go, and another class from a root ar,' to, plough? If this be all, one is somewhat weary of the information when it comes."

Very true. What help does the root give us ? It may give us much help if we are not contented with it as an origin, but look to it simply as a link. The root itself must have gone through some process of formation, if language had a human origin ; and if language had a divine origin, why was it not created

perfect ? Now Mr. Farrar shows that the roots of language, so far same can trace them, had an imitative origin. Many of the words we possess, which seem absolutely devoid of any peculiar reference to their object, have been imitative at first, and have been gradually modified. Max Muller derives the name cow from the Sanskrit root, gu, to go, and says : —" We speak of a cow, not of a moo ; of a lamb, not• of a baa ; there is no connection between goose and cackling, between hen and clucking, between a duck and quacking, between a sparrow and chirping, between a dove and cooing, between hog and grunting." Of course no one asserts that on the imitative theory the name will always be the same as the sound. But the root from which the name proceeds may be the same as the sound. For instance, goose comes from the Sanskrit hansa, through the Greek xh,, the Latin anser, the German gams. And what is hansa derived from ? From the .goose's cackle. Thus when there is no obvious similarity, as there is in so many cases, there is some similarity at the root, which has dropped out in the course of linguistic development. One very strong argument for the imitative theory is that whenever men invent a new name it is sure to be an imitation. Mr. Farrar proves this by referring to the slangs of Europe. He might have illustrated it further from the poets.

The complexity of savage languages has sometimes been cited as a proof of the divine origin of language, and its subsequent de- terioration. Mr. Farrar had admitted the force of this in his former work, he now denies it. "The apparent wealth of synonyms and grammatical forms," he says, " is chiefly due to the hopeless poverty of the power of abstraction." Thus in the American and Polynesian languages there are forms for, "I am well," "I am here," but not for "I am." The Mohicans have forms for, "I love him," "I love you," but none for " I love." Other savage languages have separate verbs for, " I wish to eat meat," and " I wish to eat soup," but no verb for "I wish." Similar defects sometimes occur in more civilized tongues. The French, for instance, have no verb " to stand ; " they have to combine two other words in order to express so simple an idea. Many German purists desire to reduce their language to the level of savage languages by discarding all words which are not purely Teutonic. We remember the delight with which some professor invented a name for cigar, which conveyed all its properties, and comprising a sentence in itself, would probably have put an end to smoking. An interesting paper might be written on German genders, to which Mr. Farrar has devoted a few words. He notices that, contrary to the practice of almost every other nation, the sun is feminine in German and the moon masculine. The only explanation we have seen of this fact is that the ancient German gave the sun the palm of beauty, and the moon, from her nightly wanderings, the prize for courage. Fanciful indeed, and rather strained. The latter part may have some truth in it, though as a general rule we should not dream of admiring the moon's courage. But who, save ancient Germans immured in the depths of their forests, would have ascribed beauty to the sun ?

We have not space to allude to half the curious facts brought in by Mr. Farrar, either as proof or illustration. He notices as remarkable that wild dogs never bark, and deduces from it that

• tie: hark of the domestic dog is an imitation of the human voice. He observes the distaste of the common people for words which are not idiomatic ; thus they never use alas, which comes from the Provencal, or autumn, the only Latin name among the seasons. He gives an amusing sentence as a negro crier's version of the notice that " Pigs without rings in their noses are to be shot ; " namely, "I say—suppose a pig walk—iron no live for him nose—gun shoot! kill im one time." He tells of Armenian merchants

making signs to each other while shaking hands, their faces all the while expressionless, yet the motions of their hands informing each other of their bargains. He quotes a good anecdote of Talma from a French writer :—

" M. Charms tells an an ecdote of the actor Talma that, disgusted at the disproportion of praise which was attributed to the words of the poets, by which in the theatre he produced such thrilling effect, he one day, in the midst of a gay circle of friends, suddenly retreated a step, passed his hand over his forehead, and gave to his voice and figure the expression of the profoundest despair. The assembly grew silent, pale, and shuddering, as though (Edipus had appeared among them, when, as by a lightning flash, his parricide was revealed to him, or as though the avenging Furies had suddenly startled them with their gleaming torches. Yet the words which the actor spoke with that aspect of consternation and voice of anguish formed but the fragment of a nursery song, and the effects of action triumphed over those produced by words."

And he sums up many sound observations in the following eloquent passage :—

"The metaphors without which no language worthy of the name can even exist are a proof of the human invention of language, because they are confessedly formed on indirect and imperfect analogies, and are sources of constant ambiguity and error. But for this very reason they are best suited to our limited human condition. Who would insult the stars because at night he can no longer see the sun? We live but in the twilight and the moonlight, and the very dimness of our vision saves us perhaps from a thousand dangers. The old bon mot, found in so many different forms, 'that the true use of speech is not so much to express our thoughts as to conceal them,' false as it is in one sense, is capable in another sense of an innocent application. At no period of history was it more evident than now, that the passions of men would be far more furious and uncontrollable than they are, if it were not possible to maintain a truce by the common acceptance of words and formulas which are fairly and honestly capable of expressing widely-different forms of belief. The gracious shadows, the beneficent imperfections of language, save us from being scorched up by a fulness of truth for which we are yet but ill adapted. Unhappy would be the nation which should have a perfect language. It would be a field of battle continually bathed in blood ; language would then be the mirror of our thoughts, and would reveal with intolerable clearness all our passions, and all our susceptibilities."

The most instructive commentary on these sentences is fur- nished by Dr. Graham's volume. Mr. Farrar's humour is keen enough for him to relish the contrast.