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faithfully to the eye as foon as they are formed in the mind, are the wonderful properties of letters. It is not easy for those to whom books have from their childhood been familar, and who view literature only in its present highly advanced state of improvement, to form a proper notion of the ingenuity, or the merit of this invention. Whoever invented letters, if it was a human invention, was a man of a most refined understanding, and metaphysical turn of mind, for it was a very extraordinary tranfition to pass from the representation of objects by pictures or hieroglyphics, to tracing the founds of the human voice to their fimplest elements, reducing them to a fmall number of vowels and confonants, and expressing by those vowels and confonants every word of the mouth, and thought of the mind. Drawings and paintings fhewed the ingenious efforts which human art could make towards reprefenting events and actions, by the imitation of objects of fight; and this was the univerfal practice of nations in the early ages of the world.' During the first interview of Cortes and his Spaniards with the Mexicans, fome painters were diligently employed in delineating upon white cotton cloths, figures of the ships, horses, artillery, foldiers, and whatever attracted their eyes as fingular and novel. These pictures were sent to the Emperor Montezuma, to give him information of the arrival of the wonderful strangers. But it comes not within the province of the art of painting to represent a succession of thoughts, and its operations are very tedious; so that such a mode of infor
mation is very ill adapted to the quickness of the mind, and its various exertions. The great excellence of the characters of the alphabet consists in their fimplicity, in the ease and precision with which they can express, and the expedition and clearness with which they can communicate ideas of all kinds. By their assistance in carrying on epistolary correspondence, the warm effufions of love and friendship are conveyed even to the most remote countries, and the constant intercourse of commerce, science, and learning, is maintained in defiance of all the obstacles of distance". Learning is indebted to the art of writing for its wide diffufion and long continuance; and to the same cause genius and virtue owe the rewards of lafting fame. Oral tradition is feeting and uncertain; it is a stream which, as it continues to flow into the ocean of oblivion, is mixed with the impure foil of error and falsehood. A striking proof is afforded by the depraved notions of a Deity, and the absurd and cruel rites and ceremonies of religion which
• The application of letters to some of the most important affairs of life is touched upon with great elegance by Palamedes, a Hero in the Trojan war, who claims the invention.
Tα της γε ληθης φαρμακ' ορθωσας μονΘ-
formerly prevailed among some barbarous nations, and still continues among others. But the art of writing preserves the memorials of truth, and imparts to fucceffive generations the records of accurate knowledge: it constitutes the light, glory, and ornament of civilized man. It has fixed and perpetuated the inventions and discoveries which have been made in the world, and placed them out of the reach of time and accident. The voices of the most profound philosophers, and most delightful poets of antiquity, have for ages ceased to charm the ear; and even the sacred words once uttered by the Redeemer of mankind himself, as they were neceffarily limited to a particular time and place, can now be heard to issue froin his lips no more : but the art of writing, brought to perfection as it has been by the art of printing, has conferred a kind of immortality on the expressions of the tongue, and conveys the inestimable lessons of reFelation, learning, and science, to every age and to every people.
Can any tivo alphabets appear to the eye more unlike each other than the Hebrew and the English? Yet the ingenious reasons assigned by Bishop Warburton, the author of the divine legation of Mofes, make it highly probable, that the latter were derived from the former. He states upon the authority of antient writers, that in the early ages of the world, there was a gradual improvement in the manner of conveying ideas by signs; that pictures, as we have observed, were employed, as
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the first representations of actions, and, in process of time, alphabetical characters were fubstituted as an easier and shorter mode of communicating thoughts. Mofes, the great law-giver of the Jews, brought letters with the rest of his learning from Egypt; and he fimplified their forms, in order to prevent the abuse to which they would have been liable, as 'fymbolical characters, among a people fo much inclined to superstition as the Jews. . From the Jews this alphabetical mode of writing passed to the Syrians and Phenicians, or perhaps was common to them both at the same timie.'The Greek authors maintained that Cadmus and 'his Phoe nician companions introduced the knowledge of letters into Greece. Herodotus records the curious fact that he saw at Thebes in Boeotia, in the temple of Apollo, three tripods inscribed with Cadmeian letters, which very much resembled the Ionic. It is too well known to require any detail of proof, that the Romans were taught their letters by the Greeks. Tacitus has remarked the liinilarity of the Roman character to the most ancient Greek, that is, the Pelafgic, and the fame observation is made by Pliny, and confirmed by the infcription on an ancient tablet of brals, dedicated to Minerva. By the Romans their alphabet was communicated to the Goths, and the nations of modern Europe. And if evidence to this detail of proofs be wanted, the curious may find fome that
• Herodoti, 1.5. sect. 58, 59. p. 306. Édit. Gronov. i Taciti Annal. l. xi. Plinii Nat. Hift. I. vii. c. 58.
may be more satisfactory, by considering attentively the order, the names, and the powers of the letters in the several alphabets juft mentioned; and by examining in the learned works of Montfaucon, Shuckford, and Warburton, the characters themfelves, copied from ancient inscriptions, how they have gradually been altered, and have deviated from the first forms through fucceffive changes, previous to their affuming their present shapes and figures
It does not appear how it could possibly have happened that all the languages before mentioned, that is to say, the Hebrew, the Syriac, the Phenician, the Greek, the Roman, and the English, could have the same, or very nearly the same, number and order of letters, and similar letters with similar powers, if they had not been derived from the same origin.
Nor is the different direction in which the Hebrew language was written, any ground of objection to this opinion. The Hebrew letters are written from the right hand to the left, and this was the custom of all the eastern nations; but the English reverse this order. Now, it appears from some old inscriptions, that the eastern mode of writing from the right to the left, was practiced by the Greeks. They afterwards adopted a new
u Stillingfeet, v. i. c. i. fect. 20. Shuckford's Connexion, v. i. p. 223. Mitford, v. i. p. 88. Goguet's Origin of Laws,. v. i. p. 177, 183, &c.