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This Essay is not offered as a finished work ; though the opinions advanced have not been hastily adopted, and it is believed they are substantially correct. The writer is sensible he has not done justice to his own principles; and the work would not have been made public, with all its present defects, if other arduous and indispensable engagements had not precluded the hope of devoting attention to this volume, for a considerable time to
A few preliminary ideas will indicate the general design of this treatise, and will show that, however its doctrines may differ from those heretofore taught, they are not advanced without regard to existing facts.
Language, the chief instrument of all knowledge, must itself be the subject of interesting inquiry on scientific principles. Instead of treating words as the theme of contempt, and explaining them according to the metaphysics of the twelfth century, it is time that the modes of investigation, adopted in other philosophic researches should be applied to the structure of speech. A comprehensive plan of induction was attempted; and as the proper means to be employed for this purpose, a careful attention
was given to etymology; to the comparison of various languages, in the literal, transitive, idiomatic, and figurative meanings of words; and to the best systems of logic and mental philosophy, compared with the consciousness of what is passing in the mind. The evidence which limited means could draw from these sources, was constantly referred to the civil and moral history; the physical and social condition, of man, in relation to which, all language is formed.
This volume may be regarded as a sketch of general principles, rather than a set of special rules. It is addressed chiefly to the reasoning faculties; not to the memory, as an arbitrary form of words; and is, in its general plan, purposely confined to the plain and literal modes of speech.
The author has, in practice; witnessed its effects in expanding and invigorating the minds of the young'; in leading to habits of philosophic scrutiny, and to the application of language to its legitimate purposes.
If it should be thought, by some, that too much freedom is used, in this work, in speaking of the prevailing course of instruction in language, it is not from intentional want of candor; but from deliberate conviction, that a large portion of what is received as the exposition of speech, is alike opposed to fact, to science, and to common sense : for under no other name, but that of grammar, could such
gross inconsistencies be admitted in schools of the present day, and pass for instruction.
The real principles of speech are simple, beautiful, and extensive in their application, to a degree which must excite the admiration of every enlightened investigator. How could it be supposed that a nation of plain men could agree in the adoption and use of a form of speech, the essential rules of which should bear any considerable resemblance to the artificial, perplexing, contradictory, and impracticable, systems taught in colleges and schools ?
It may be asked, then, why England and other nations of Europe, with all their wealth, enterprise, and general intelligence, should, in this particular branch of learning, adhere to a theory which is really so absurd. In this, as in other instances of human imperfection, it is more easy to adduce a parallel than to offer a justification. The mind may be unsuspectingly led to great extravagance, by the influence of commanding anthority; and doc. trines, which, according to the institutions of a country, would expose an individual to contempt, or lead him to the stake, are received without question, when sancti ned by tribunals of acknowledged pre-eminence.
Why, it may be asked, did Egypt, the instructress of nations, bow to dogs and bulls, with the reverential awe due to the living God? Why were Greece and Rome, in their proudest days, the
slaves of a lunatic mythology; the degraded attendants on soothsayers and gladiators ? and why does Spain, at this age of the world, and after what Spain has been, choose to lie down at a tyrant's feet, and solicit the chains and tortures of a dun
Should this Essay, in its crude outline, be favorably received, a second volume will be printed, designed to exemplify the principles of figurative language, in connexion with logic and rhetoric; natural and moral philosophy; including a slight view of the appropriate influence of a national tongue, on public literature, sentiments, pursuits, and char