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inventors of letters; but, without entering into this matter, certain it is, that they yielded to no nation in human knowledge and skill in the fine arts. From their happy fituation they may almost be said to have been in the centre of the old world; and, in the zenith of their empire, they enriched themselves with the fpoils, tribute, and commerce, of the nations far and near, and arose to a great pitch of fplendour and magnificence, which are the great encouragers of ingenuity and industry (8). Their language is pretended to have been the vernacular of all the oriental tongues, which was divided into three dialects: First, the Aramean, used in Mefopotamia, and by the inhabitants of Roha, or Edefa of Harram, and the Outer Syria: Secondly, the dialect of Palestine, spoken by the inhabitants of Damafcus, Mount Libanus, and the Inner Syria: Thirdly, the Chaldee or Nabathean dialect, the most unpolished of the three, and spoken in the mountainous parts of Affyria, and the villages of Irâc or Babylonia.

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It hath been a received opinion, that no nation of equal antiquity had a more confiderable trade than the ancient Syrians. They had many valuable commodities of their own to carry into other parts; and, by their vicinity to the river Euphrates, it is evident that they traded with the eastern nations upon that river very early. The eafy and safe navigation of the Euphrates, when compared with that of the fea, may incline us to confider them, as older merchants than the Edomites, or even the Phenicians, who confeffedly ingroffed the trade of the western world. The Syrians therefore are supposed to have been the first people who brought the Perfian and Indian commodities into the weft of Asia. It seems therefore that the Syrians carried on an inland trade, by engrossing the commerce of the Euphrates; whilft the Phenicians traded to the most diftant countries.

Notwithstanding the above circumstances, which may seem to favour the claim of the Syrians, the oldest characters or letters of that nation that are at prefent known, are but about three centuries before the birth of CHRIST. Their letters are of two forts: the Eftrangelo,

(8) The altar at Damafcus, which fo ravished AHAZ king of Judah, ferves as a

noble specimen of the fkill of their artificers.


which is the more ancient; and that called the Ffbito, the fimple or common character, which is more expeditious and beautiful (9).



The period of time is happily arrived, when the study of oriental literature is not only become useful, but fashionable. The learned Mr. JONES hath greatly facilitated the attainment of the knowledge of the Perfian language; Mr. RICHARDSON that of the Arabic; and Doctor WOIDE, the Egyptian and the Coptic; by the publication of their respective grammars. Mr. HALHED, the learned and ingenious. editor of the Gentoo Laws, hath written a grammar of the Shanfcrit language (1), which he informs us, is not only the grand source of Indian literature, but the parent of almoft every dialect from the Perfian gulph to the Chinese feas, and is a language of the most venerable antiquity; which, although at prefent fhut up in the libraries of Bramins, and appropriated folely to the records of their religion, appears to have been once current over moft of the oriental world, as traces of its original extent may ftill be difcovered, in almost every district of Asia.

"There is," fays Mr. HALHED, "a great fimilarity between the Shanfcrit words and thofe of Perfian and Arabick, and even " of Latin and Greek; and thefe, not in technical and metaphorical "terms, which the mutation of refined arts and improved manners: << might have occafionally introduced, but in the main ground-works of "language; in monofyllables, in the names of numbers, and the "appellations of fuch things as would be firft difcriminated, on the • immediate dawn of civilization. The resemblance which may be "observed in the characters upon the medals and fignets. of various districts of Afia,, the light which they reciprocally reflect upon each "other, and the general analogy which they all bear to the grandi prototype, affords another ample field for curiofity.

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(9) See these characters in the Univ. Hift. bishop of that name, not only formed the vol. ii, p. 294. types of the Gentoo alphabet, but printed this grammar at Hoogly, in Bengal, 4to. 1778.

(1) This ingenious gentleman, affisted by a Mr. WILKINS, a defcendant of the learned


"The coins of Affam, Napaul, Cashmiria, and many other kingdoms, "are all stampt with Shanfcrit letters, and mostly contain allufions to "the old Shanfcrit mythology. The fame conformity I have observed on the impreffions of feals from Bootan and Thibet."

The part of Afia between the Indus and the Ganges, ftill preferves the Shanfcrit language pure and inviolate, and offers a great number of books to the perufal of the curious, many of which have been religiously handed down from the earliest period of human civilization.

There are seven different forts of Indian hand-writings, all comprised under the general term of Naagoree, which may be interpreted writing. The elegant Shanfcrit is ftiled Daeb-naagoree, or the writings of the immortals (2); which may not improbably be a refinement from the more fimple Naagoree of the earliest ages. The Bengal letters are another branch of the fame ftock. The Bengalife Bramins have all their Shanfcrit books copied in this national alphabet; and they transpose into them all the Daeb-naagoree M.SS. for their own perufal. The dialect called by us the Moorish, is that fpecies of Hindoftanic which owes its existence to the Mahometan conquests.

There are about feven hundred radical. words in the Shanfcrit Janguage; the fundamental part of which is divided into three claffes. Firft, Dhaat or roots of verbs.

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The Shanfcrit alphabet contains fifty letters; viz. thirty-four confonants, and fixteen vowels. The Indian Bramins contend, that they had letters before any other people; and Mr. HALHED obferves, that fufficient grounds ftill exift for conjecturing, that Egypt has but a difputable claim to its long boasted originality in civilization. The prefent learned Rajah of Kishinagur affirms, that he has in his poffeffion Shanfcrit books, where the Egyptians are conftantly defcribed as disciples, not as instructors, and as seeking that liberal education, and thofe fciences in Hindoftan, which none of their own countrymen had

(2) The Bramins fay, letters were of divine original.


fufficient knowledge to impart. Mr. HALHED hints, that the learning of Hindoftan might have been transplanted into Egypt, and thus have become familiar to Moses (3). However this may be, several authors agree in opinion, that the ancient Egyptians poffeffed themselves of the trade of the Eaft by the Red Sea; and that they carried on a confiderable traffic with the Indian nations before the time of SESOSTRIS, who was cotemporary with ABRAHAM (4). The Red Sea was called by the ancients the Indian Sea; and they usually denominated the Ethiopians, and the rest of the nations under the torrid zone, Indians (5).

A tranflation of an Indian book called Bagavadam, one of the eighteen Pouranam, or facred books of the Gentoos, hath lately been published in France. This translation was made by MERIDAS POULLÈ, a learned man of Indian origin, and chief interpreter to the supreme council of Pondicherry; and was fent by him to M. BERTIN, his protector, in 1769. This Bagavadam, or divine history, claims an antiquity of above five thousand years. Monfr. PoULLÈ tells us, in his preface, that the book was composed by Viaffer the fon of Brahma, and is of facred authority amongst the worshippers of Vischnow. The language of the original text is Shanscrit, but the translation was made from a verfion in Tamoul.

There are feveral traditions and relations of the Indians calculated to ascertain the antiquity of this book, and they all tend to date its composition three thousand one hundred and fixteen years before the christian æra: but Monfr. DE GUINES (6) hath not only invalidated these traditions, but proves alfo, that the pretenfions of this book to fuch a remote antiquity are inconclufive and unfatisfactory. Hence we may conclude, that though a further enquiry into the literature of the Indian nations may be laudable, yet we must by no means give too easy credit to their relations concerning the high antiquity of their manuscripts, and early civilization.

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The Perfians had no great learning among them till the Persians. {time of HYSTASPES, the father of the emperor DARIUS

HYSTASPES. The former, we are told, travelled into India, and was instructed in the fciences by the Bramins, for which they were at that time famed (7). The ancient Perfians contemned riches, and were ftrangers to commerce; they had no money amongst them, till after the conqueft of Lydia (8). It appears by feveral infcriptions taken from the ruins of the palace of Perfepolis, which was built near feven hundred years before the chriftian æra, that the Perfians fometimes wrote in. perpendicular columns, after the manner of the Chinese.. This mode of writing was firft ufed upon the ftems of trees, or pillars,, or obelisks As for thofe fimple characters found upon the west fide: of the staircase at Perfepolis, fome authors have fuppofed them to be alphabetic; others, hieroglyphic; whilst others have afferted them to be ante-diluvian: but our learned Doctor HYDE pronounces them. to have been mere whimsical ornaments,, though a late writer (9) fuppofes they may be fragments of Egyptian antiquity, taken by CAMBYSES from the fpoils of Thebes. In fine, the learned feem generally agreed, that the ancient Perfians were later than many of their neighbours in civilization: it was never pretended. that they were the inventors of letters (1)..

The Arabs have inhabited the country they at present:

Arabians. pollels, for upwards of three thoufand feven hundred years,

without having intermixt with other nations, or being fubjugated by: any foreign power. Their language must be very ancient. The two: principal dialects of it, were thofe spoken by the Hamyarites, and other genuine Arabs; and that of the Koreish, in which MAHAMMED wrote the Koran. The firft is ftiled by the oriental writers, the Arabic of Hamyar; and the other, the pure, or deficated. Mr. RICHARDSON,,

in his Arabic Grammar, obferves, as a proof of the richness of this language, that it confifts of two thousand radical words.

(7) Univ. Hift. vol. v, p. 1300

(8) Ibid. p. 131.

(9) The author of Conjectural Obfervations on Alphabetic. Writing,

(1) See fome remarks upon the old Perfic: letters in the Univerfal Hiftory, vol. xviii,. P. 399,


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