Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

B

VINWWEVO

PART I

THE ENGLISH NATION

CHAPTER I

PHILOLOGY AND THE ARYANS

Electric. Quality Garden. Mead. Timber.

F somebody showed us a document which he said

Ia

was an unpublished letter of Dr. Johnson's, and on reading it through we came across the word "telephone", we should be fairly justified in sending him about his business. The fact that there was no such thing as a telephone until many years after Johnson's death would leave no doubt whatever in our minds that the letter was not written by him. If we cared to go farther, we could say with equal certainty that the letter was written since the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the telephone was invented.

Now suppose that there had been nothing about telephones in the letter, but that it had contained an account of a thunder-storm. If in describing the stillness just before the storm, broke the writer had said that "the atmosphere was electric ", we could still be fairly positive that he was not Dr. Johnson. But this time it would not be because the thing of which the letter spoke had no existence in Johnson's day. No doubt the heavens during a storm a hundred and fifty years ago were exactly as highly charged with electricity as they are to-day; but if we look up the word electric in the Oxford Dictionary, we find that in Johnson's time it simply was not used in that way Thus, in his own dictionary it is defined as :

3

A property in some bodies, whereby when rubbed so as to grow warm, they draw little bits of paper, or such-like substances, to them.

The world was only just beginning to connect this mysterious property of amber with the thunder and lightning, and however still and heavy the air might have been, it would have been impossible for the lexicographer to describe it by that word. Or again, supposing the letter had said nothing about a storm, but that it had described a conversation between Garrick and Goldsmith which was carried on "at high tension", we should still have little hesitation in pronouncing it to be a forgery. The phrase "high tension ", used of the relation between human beings, is a metaphor taken from the condition of the space between two electrically charged bodies. At present many people who use such a phrase are still half-aware of its full meaning, but many years hence everybody may be using it to describe their quarrels and their nerves without dreaming that it conceals an electrical metaphor-just as we ourselves speak of a man's disposition without at all knowing that the reference is to astrology. Nevertheless by consulting an historical dictionary it will still be possible to date" any passage of literature in which the phrase occurs. We shall still know for certain that the passage could not have been written in a time before certain phenomena of static electricity had become common knowledge.

66

[ocr errors]

"

Thus, the scientists who discovered the forces of electricity actually made it possible for the human beings who came after them to have a slightly different idea, a slightly fuller consciousness of their relationship with one another. They made it possible for

1 See p. 126.

« VorigeDoorgaan »