Abbildungen der Seite

the Italian, the Spaniard—to the exchange of the great metropolis. It met with no delay, it needed no interpreter. And why? It was in the Arabic numeral—the language of lucre, the universal tongue-all understood it! Can genius in like manner wake up and put into action the intellectual riches that lie dormant throughout the nations of the earth ? He lifts up his voice and shouts aloud. Alas! the echo that should ring from land to land and from people to people, falls dead within the narrow confines of his own hearing

It is in this that physical science has more advantages than literature. She has her hundreds of associations, her thousands of voices, ready to repeat and re-echo every step of her march. If it were necessary to illustrate this, weigh for a moment the comparative merits of those whose names are stamped on sciences that will bear down their glory to the end of time, and of those whose memories are mouldering in the columns of some forgotten biographical dictionary.

Who has not heard of Copernicus ? Who has heard of his countryman Casimir, whose productions are worthy the palmy days of Rome, and whose Latin poetry Grotius ranks above that of Horace. The names of those Italians who created eras in the history of philosophy and the universe, are as familiar to our ears as household words : Volta, Galvani, Americus Vespuccius, Christopher Columbus. But who knows aught of the humble Portuguese missionary who wrote one hundred and thirty works-one of which was a translation of the Scriptures, in the Chinese, the most difficult of all languages, and that too with a purity and force of diction unsurpassed by their classical authors.

Shakspeare's name was unheard of in France until the days of Voltaire ; and in England, what was known of German poetry before Sir Walter Scott's translation of Gætz Von Berlichingen?

There is a change in the spirit of this matter, and, thanks to the efforts of the periodicals, the heretofore too slow interchange of taste and intellect, is becoming rapidly promoted. Our own do much to keep us advised of the transatlantic literary movement, and in the capitals of Europe, reviews are published having for their sole object the representation of foreign literature.

And here the reflection is naturally suggested that, in other times, when such a facility of extending knowledge did not exist, and men were hemmed in their narrow homes by war and by tyranny, many a glorious discovery, and many an intellectual triumph was lost sight of, or descended with its possessor into the tomb. The world mourns the loss of many masterpieces of antiquity. If all were known, we might have equal cause to make the same lament over much that is valuable in comparatively modern literature.

On the damp walls of a deserted convent in Milan are the remains of the far-famed painting of the Last Supper. Upon this exquisite picture, still beautiful in its ruins, thousands have gazed with mingled wonder and delight. Upon it has heretofore rested the reputation of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Late historical researches present this enthusiastic artist to us in the novel light of a bold speculator in the highest regions of philosophy. Hallam, the historian, clearly proves in his last work, that not only the discoveries that afterwards immortalized Galileo, and Kepler and Castelli, but the system of Copernicus, and even the theories of recent geologists, are anticipated by Da Vinci with a distinctness that strikes us with something like the awe of preternatural knowledge.” At a period when dogmatism prevailed, he laid down the grand principle afterwards advanced by Bacon, that “experiment and observation must be the guides to just theory in the investigation of nature.He further speaks of the earth's annual motion in such a manner as to show that it was the received opinion of many of the philosophers of his age, (1444-1519.)

There are many other facts of a similar tendency.

In the Ducal palace at Venice is preserved a map, constructed by one Bianco in 1436, on which is laid down, in the Atlantic, a large island marked “ Brazil.” And Muratori, the historian, proves that Brazil wood was entered among the taxable articles at the gates of Modena as early as 1306. + What are we to argue from these things ? And what more probable hypothesis do they support than that greater heights had been scaled in science, and more progress made in literature than the records of history teach us?

The difficulty of acquiring the languages we have spoken of is, I believe, much exaggerated. The English partakes partly of the Latin, partly of the Teutonic stock, from which, singly or conjointly, the principal languages of Europe have sprung.

The acquirement of the French demands no remarkable exertion on the part of the student. To him who has mastered it, the addition of the Italian or Spanish to his knowledge, is the labor of but a few months. I mean, of course, a sufficient acquaintance with it to read it with profit and facility. That critical knowledge of a foreign tongue that enables us to speak and write it with ease and correctness, is the labor of years. Nevertheless, literary history teems with the names of those who have conquered the difficulties and appreciated the delicacies of languages not their own.

*“ Introduction to the Literature of Europe," vol. i. p. 303.

+ Wiseman's Lectures on the connexion between Science and Revealed Religion,


p. 86.

Milton's Italian sonnets are composed with such purity that they are still admired in Italy. Had Lord Byron never written any thing but his translation of Pulci's Morgante Maggiore, he would yet have gone down to posterity as the creator of a perfect model of translation. Voiture, a French poet, composed in Spanish and Italian :-so finished were his Spanish verses that they were ascribed to the pen of Lope de Vega. Goldoni, the Moliere of Italy, wrote comedies in French which, after a lapse of seventy years, still maintain themselves on the stage. Gibbon's first literary effort was in French ; and Beckford, at the age of seventeen, wrote “ Caliph Vathek” in the same language. Ohlenschlager, a Dane, is among the most distinguished dramatic writers of Germany.

The poet Milton was master of eight languages, the younger Scaliger of thirteen, Erasmus Rask, the boast of Danish literature, of twenty five, Sir William Jones of twenty-eight. Of Mezzofanti, probably the greatest living linguist, Byron says, “ He is a monster of languages, the Briaræus of parts of speech, a walking Polyglott who ought to have existed at the time of the tower of Babel as universal interpreter. I tried him in all the tongues of which I knew any thing, and he astounded me—even to my own English.”

Extensive acquirements of this nature are frequently matter of astonishment-for which there is no occasion, if we reflect that all languages have a common stock which, though presenting differences in some of its classes, still retain a very strong analogy.

I have thus endeavored to set forth the importance of the study of modern languages, both as a mental discipline, and as the means of arriving at much that is valuable in modern science. Those acquainted with the branches of foreign literature I have referred to, will readily perceive that nothing more than a meagre outline has been attempted, and those who promise themselves their study will soon discover that the half—nay, the tithe, has not been told them.

If the ability to converse in these languages has ever been valuable, it is now about to become essential. Within the past yearwithin the past six months, an era has been created in the scientific world that will generate another—and that rapidly too, in the annals of the human race. The distance between the old world and the new has been virtually lessened by two thousand miles ! Steam, the mighty Propagandist of the age, has lent its herculean powers to the task, and, unaided by the still greater improvements announced by men of science, has shown that it will effectually bridge the Atlantic. Nations are rushing up to nations, there will be intercommunication of unexampled frequency and rapidity, and, in the words of a late writer, “ Nations, races, continents will

stand in the same relation. They will, let us hope, throw their muskets and their bows and arrows behind them, and approach each other; a thousand prejudices will be given up and a thousand fresh ties of interest and influence arise between them, as seeing at length, eye to eye, they take each other by the hand and swear that henceforth the crude, puerile and savage ignorance, indifference, alienation or hostility of other ages shall be no more."






By a fundamental law, in the constitution of human nature, those faculties which are employed in investigating the laws of human nature itself cannot be brought into successful operation, till the laws of external nature, by the exercise of the perceptive and reasoning faculties, have been first examined and sufficiently understood. This holds, both as it respects the natural progress of the mind as it takes place in the individual, and in the advance and improvement of the race in general. Men must have discovered and reasoned much, and successfully, about the objects of sight in the world without, before they thought of examining the organ of vision, or the still more abstruse subject of the powers of the percipient mind.

Yet the knowledge of external nature is but of recent date.

The polarity of the needle, as applicable to surveying and navigation, was unknown six centuries ago. It is not four centuries since the arts of printing and engraving were invented. The circulation of the blood, though not unknown to the ancients, since we find a distinct notice of it in Plato ; yet it was not incorporated into medical science till within the last two hundred years. The entire science of chemistry is but sixty years old. Dr. Priestly discovered oxygen about fifty years ago. Hydrogen was discovered in 1766 : electricity in 1728 : galvanism in 1794 : steam and its applications to machinery are discoveries of the present century. Geology is yet in its infancy, and Phrenology can hardly yet be considered any thing more than a theory.

« ZurückWeiter »