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originally mala or some equivalent word connected with it.
Not to dwell longer on what is so very obvious, that proof and illustration are alike redundant; this seems the proper place to explain a matter connected with it, not quite so evident, and which, therefore, has been very little considered, not only by the common class of writers on Philology and Logic and Metaphysics; but even by the acute Horne Tooke, whose antipathy to such writings as those of Harris and Lord Monboddo, (highly distinguished, it is true, by inanity or flatulency,) seems, in some instances, to have obscured his understanding or biassed his judgment. That all words have originally a distinct, separate, independent meaning of their own, is a point which he has laboured with as much success as acuteness; but there is another consideration which (so far as we remember) he has overlooked, or which he has refused to admit, viz. that there is a syntactic as well as verbal meaning; i. e. there is a meaning effected by composition, which cannot exist without it; for no word or number of words can, by any possibility, convey that signification which is conveyed by a sentence, any more than the figures of arithmetic can indicate separately what they do in every possible mode of combination. The supposition, indeed, would be as absurd as to believe that a thing can be and not be at the same time. Now, though we cannot say that the meaning of words in composition, or, when put together to make a sen
tence, is independent of that meaning which each of them has separately, (as may be inversely affirmed,) yet we can say and do affirm, that the one is wholly distinct from the other. And if this fact be lost sight of, we are likely to fall into as great errors as in supposing with Harris, that many words have no meaning at all till they are put together; as if composition had a creative power of producing something out of nothing. This is so absurd as hardly to merit notice; but if we do not attend to the distinct meaning produced by the combination of words, we shall be involved in not only etymologic and grammatic, but logical or metaphysical absurdities, such as those which are so plentifully spread over grammars and dictionaries and metaphysical disquisitions; not to mention the thousand controversies that literature is heir to. For instance; the real attempt (a very unsuccessful one) of almost the whole of the Herculean labour of Dr. Johnson is to give, not, as it professes, verbal, but syntactic meanings; and, for the same reason that it assigns ten, twenty, or thirty significations to one word, it might have assigned as many hundreds and thousands. It is, indeed, as so often pronounced, a great work, but it is not great enough by many thousand degrees for its real though not professed purpose; in reference to which, it is as truly little, as it is, in every respect, defective and unavailable.
Syntactic being entirely distinct (though not independent of the verbal as that is of the syntactic)
from verbal signification; it follows, that the elliptic process can proceed almost (if not altogether) interminably, without absolutely defeating (though it may and often does mar) the purpose of language; so that in process of time, there is in every sentence, every member of a sentence, every expression, and almost every word, much more implied than is expressed; much more indicated than is really signified by the sign employed; which acts as a prompter rather than reciter or narrator.
Mr. Dugald Stewart is not far from the truth when he says, that the office of language is not so much to convey ideas as to call up trains of thought in the mind. The only thing about the statement to which we demur, is the term office, (as if such were the original design and use and formation of language,) and the subserviency to a particular theory intended by the remark, and for which, indeed, it was evidently got up. But it is always more pleasant (in a candid state of mind) to praise than to blame; and, therefore, the author avails himself of the present opportunity of confessing his regret for the contemptuous asperity employed by him towards this writer on a former occasion, when he resolutely expressed himself with more ardour (which easily degenerates into violence) than prudence or candour. His opinion is, indeed, essentially the same: he does not consider Mr. Stewart a very profound thinker, sound reasoner, or correct writer on many subjects; but he does consider him an elegant and accom
plished littérateur, and an amiable and worthy man ; who is, therefore, entitled to all the respect due to mental culture and moral excellence, and to all the civility and politeness due to a gentleman. The author is deeply sensible that sarcastic severity is a sin which doth most easily beset him; and he much fears that something of it will appear in the present work, notwithstanding all his desires and endeavours to prevent it. But so far from approving, he deplores this unfortunate tendency,-because it is not less adverse to usefulness than contrary to candour and charity. Such is his serious sentiment and settled conviction; but, as happens to all imperfect creatures, his feelings are often too powerful for his conscience; his spirit is frequently at variance with his judgment; for he has acquired but small mastery of himself in the difficult art of self-denial: but having most sincerely, without any false pretence or mental reservation, made the public his father-confessor, he hopes for some indulgence if not entire absolution; and that the intellectual offering now presented, will meet with a candid reception; for his most earnest desire and strenuous endeavour is to render it of some service to mankind.
THE MUTATIONS OF VERBAL SIGNIFICATION CONSIDERED.
THAT the significations of words as well as their external form, (their spelling and pronunciation,) are changed in the course of time, is abundantly manifest. Mr. Horne Tooke, indeed, asserts-" Every word retains always one and the same meaning. Unnoticed abbreviation in construction and difference of position have caused the appearance of fluctuation, and have misled the grammarians of all languages both ancient and modern." This very explicit, unqualified, and determined statement, had long an irresistible but embarrassing effect upon the understanding of the author; and though free almost to a fault from reverence for authority in opinion, that of Horne Tooke could not be disregarded, as he was not a man that was apt to write unadvisedly or unsoundly; especially when not under the influence of the theory of a Northern Origin.
That a word generally retains one and the same meaning is certainly true; but that every word always retains one and the same meaning, is a proposition contrary to the most decisive evidence that can be obtained on such a subject. Indeed, it would be very unaccountable if all the grammarians of all languages both ancient and modern, had been misled by mere appearances to believe that words have secondary as well as primary meanings, if no such distinction really exist. But the question admits