« VorigeDoorgaan »
foundation, that we are quite lost in amazement when we recollect how completely the sagacity which guided him so well in the investigation of his principal fact, appears to desert him when he comes to apply that fact to the purposes of a theory. The distance between what he has proved and what he wishes us to believe that he has proved, is enormous.
What he has proved is, that all words, even those that are expressive of the nicest operations of our minds, were originally borrowed from the objects of external perception,--a circumstance highly curious in the history of language, consequently in the history of the human mind itself, and the complete demonstration of which of course reflects great credit upon its author.—What he thinks he has proved is, that this etymological history of words is our true guide, both as to the present import of the words themselves, and as to the nature of those things which they are intended to signify-a proposition so monstrous, that he has no where ventured to enunciate it in its general form, but has rather left it to be collected from the tenor of his remarks upon particular instances. In truth, the inferences at which Mr. Tooke arrived, so far from being warranted by his facts, are directly the contrary of those to which he ought naturally to have been led by the result of his own studies, when they were most successful. În tracing upwards through all the mazes of etymology, the origin of words, he ought to have seen more clearly, if possible, than any body else, that their real present sense is not to be sought for in their primitive signification, or in the elements of which they were originally composed, but that on the contrary their actual import, with which alone in reasoning we have to do, hardly ever corresponds with their etymological meaning, although the one always bears to the other a certain resemblance, more or less accurate, according to the greater or less effect of time and accident. One could without difficulty understand, how a person unaccustomed to such considerations, and misled by a few instances partially chosen, should adopt a theory like that which Mr. Tooke was desirous to establish; but how a philosopher minutely acquainted with the whole subject, and proceeding upon a most copious induction of particulars, should not have perceived that in ninety-nine instances out of a hundred, such a doctrine would lead to absolute absurdity, is, to us at least, inconceivable. We will take a single instance, which will better explain what we mean. It is one of those which bave been already sea lected by Mr. Stewart; (vide Diversions of Purley, vol. 2, p. 403.)
" True, as we now ivrite it; or trew, as it was formerly written, means simply and merely,--that which is trowed. And, instead of its being a rare commodity upon earth, except only in words, there is nothing but truth in the world.
That every man, in his communication with others, should speak that wbich he troweth, is of so great importance to mankind, that it ought not to surprize us, if we find the most extravagant and exaggerated praises bestowed upon
truth,' Now we apprehend that this passage contains one very questionable proposition, and two more that are absolutely false.
In the first place, we think it very doubtful whether those who first formed the noun “truth' from the verb 'to trow,' meant to limit their new-coined word to the sense, which in strictness it seems to bear. It appears a much more natural account of the matter to say, that having found or believing they had found, that what is trowed,' is commonly the same as what is, they were content that the one expression should be considered universally as synonimous with the other, and therefore used the word
truth' from the very beginning, in precisely the same sense as that in which we now employ it. Or the history of this word may be the saine as that of anybende in Greek. 'To speak what one thiuks or troues, is in a moral sense to speak truth,—that is, not to conceal or disguise what is in the mind; and the word being once generally adopted for expressing moral truth, was in process of time naturally extended to physical; nothing being more common in popular practice, than to include a whole class of kindred ideas under one term,-especially where the distinction between thein is of a subtle abstract nature, and out of the range of vulgar observation. But supposing, (what for the sake of the argument we will admit,) ihat they intended to use the word in its more contined and strictly derivative meaning; still, what beomes of Mr. Tooke's inference, that it is, or ought to be (for we are not quite sure which he means) employed in no other meaning now? What is this but to set up the supposed practice of a barbarous period, azainst the universal consent of whole ages of civilization and learning? Is not language purely conventional ? And are not words merely the signs by which men have agreed to convey (as well as they can) certain ideas? And is it not therefore to the last degree idle, to talk of the precise etymological signification, or the intention of the Anglo-Saxons, as that which ought to outweigh the unbroken custom of a whole nation through 'eight or nine centuries ? But it is only wasting time to argue against such a doctrine; let us however advance a step farther in concession, and allow not only that the word “truth was originally used in its strict etymological signification, but that out of respect to the Heptarchy, it ought to be used only in that signification,-and still we should not be one particle nearer to Mr. Tooke's last and, most monstrous conclusion; namely, that there is no such thing as truth,' in the sense in which we have erroneously presumed to use
the word for several hundred years past. Nothing more could be inferred from either proposition, than that which is directly stated in them—that the subjects of Ethelwolf and Wurgan had no notion of eternal immutable truth, and that we have no business to use their word to convey ideas different from those which they annexed to it:-in short it would be shewn that the language was imperfect; but the metaphysical question about truth, would remain just where it stood before.
In describing generally the character of Mr. Tooke, we have already anticipated some remarks which are particularly applicable to this part of his writings. One is everywhere shocked by the insolent confidence with which he promulgates his own doctrines, by his contempt for the opinions of all other men, by the strange mixture of factious politics and personal abuse with grammar and metaphysics, and, more than all, by his unworthy contumelious treatment of the most illustrious amongst his contemporaries.
It is not only with the spirit that reigns through the Diversions of Purley that we are displeased; we think the form and arrangement of the work equally objectionable.
The authority of the ancients may be pleaded in favour of dialogue as a vehicle for philosophical discussion, though some of the principal reasons which determined them to adopt that form no longer exist. It seems however particularly ill adapted to the investigation in which Mr. Tooke was engaged. The greater part of his work (we do not say so with any view to disparage it) consists of mere lexicography—the enumeration, derivation, and definition of words. Now, without denying that these are subjects which the form of a conversation is best suited to explain, we must own, that a dictionary by mode of dialogue, though perfectly novel, and perhaps ingenious, does not appear to us a very happy invention. It is, however, extremely well calculated for one purpose which Mr. Tooke evidently bad in view throughout his work, that of avoiding any clear, formal, precise explanation of his system, and of the principles which he was desirous to establish. In general,' (to use the words of Mr. Stewart,)' he seems purposely to have confined himself to a statement of premises without pointing out (except by application or innuendo) the purposes to which he means them to be applied; a mode of writing which, by throwing an air of mystery over his real design, and by amusing the imagination with the prospect of some wonderful secret afterwards to be revealed, has given to his truly learned and original disquisitions a degree of celebrity among the smatterers' in science, which they would never have acquired if stated concisely and systematically in a didactic form.' Unluckily for him, however, this is not the age of mystery, but of free discussion and unreserved disclosure. No
nian can receive credit for an unknown capital of knowledge which he is unable or unwilling to produce upon demand. The very attempt to obtain it is justly considered as bordering upon imposture; and Mr. Tooke would have been the first to entertain, and the loudest to proclaim, doubts of any other person that presented himself to the world under circumstances so suspicious. The truth is, he had no farther discoveries to make; if he had, his vanity would have insured the production of them in the thirty years that elapsed between the publication of his letter to Mr. Dunning, (which contained the germ of his subsequent philological writings) and the close of his literary career. But he was unable to deny himself the petty gratification of raising an exaggerated opinion of his talents among the ill informed part of his readers, by pretensions which he could never realize; and was content to sink in the esteem of posterity for the sake of exciting a little more admiration in the common herd of his contemporaries. He liked the bustle of real life--pulverem atque aciem-a great deal better than quiet and mere literary pursuits. Those who have read the · Letter to Mr. Dunning' will recollect the perverse ingenuity with which he contrived to graft his great philological inquiry upon a legal squabble. He comes hot from the court of King's Bench to discuss the nature of particles, of which, it seems, a shameful ignorance, on the part of the judges, had just been manifested in a verdict against him. His head is never clear from the politics of the day long enough to write five pages together without alluding to them; and he continually rouses his readers from calm meditation upon the origin of but and to and from; by smart epigrans 'upon the nataral objects of his hostility, the prime minister and the chief justice for the time being. The society in which he lived of course corresponded to the prevalent disposition of his mind, and was rather political than literary. He probably was not in the habit of meeting persons who were capable of discussing with him, upon a footing of equality, the subjects of the stel TTEPOevta, but dictated ex cathedra’ to those who were unable to distinguish what was discovery from what was only paradox, and who gave him as much credit for what he had only promised as for what he had actually performed. If he had kept company in which topics of that nature were more frequently and more ably discussed, if (as it were) he had breathed a more philosophic air, a beneficial effect would, we think, have been felt upon his writings. He would have been less haughty and less positive, more clear and precise in the statement of his views, more moderate in estimating the value of his own labours, more accurate in ascertaining their real tendency, and above all he would have seen how absurd it is, at this time of day, to expect
any permanent or valuable increase of reputation from the affecta tion of inysterious hints and imperfect disclosures.
Mr. Tooke was possessed of considerable learning, as indeed his writings 'sufficiently shew. To other more casual acquirements he united a very extensive acquaintance with the Gothic dialects, of which he has so copiously and so judiciously availed himself in his etymological researches; and it seems probable that the leading ideas of his philosophical work first presented themselves to his mind wbilst he was pursuing this comparatively unfrequented track of literature. He was extremely well versed in the law; a science which, both in theory and practice, was particularly congenial to his mind, and which he had once studied with professional accuracy in the hope of being called to the bar. We are unable to state with precision what was the amount of his attainments in classical learning, but we apprehend he by no means possessed that accurate acquaintance with the literature of ancient Greece and Rome which is necessary to constitute a great scholar; in the ordinary acceptation of the term. He was familiar with all our. best writers, most so with those of an early date. His knowledge of modern languages was considerable, and he was particularly well réad in Italian authors. On the whole, exclusively of philosophy and politics, he would have passed for a very accomplished man.
One of the taxes which men pay for being eminent is to have their private as well as their public conduct made the subject of criticism: we shall therefore offer no apology for adding a few such remarks as our information enables us to supply upon that of Mr. Tooke. In the essential particulars of truth, honour, and justice, in all that, in a popular sense, forms the morality of a gentleman, he stood, we believe, unimpeached; at least no charge against him for the violation of it was ever substantiated, although he lived for half a century exposed to the public eye, and beset by the vigilant hostility of active and powerful enemies. His great fault, as a private man, was a libertivism in his habits and discourse which ill became his character, his profession, and, latterly, his age. It may seem an uncharitable suspicion, but we are really afraid that the tendency of which we complain, was rather increased than checked by the profession to which, however unwillingly, he belonged. He had a sort of spite at all its restraints. Many of them he never could throw off; but he was anxious to shew that in licentiousness at least he could be a layman.
In the ordinary intercourse of life he was kind, friendly, and hospitable. We doubt whether his temper was naturally good; but if it was not, he had a merit the more; for he had so completely subdued it by care and self-controul as never to betray, under any provocation, the slightest mark of that irritability which often accom