Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

that these sounds, R, S, T, might be attached to the inflexions of voice, O or I, and still preserve their original pronunciation. By carrying this analysis into the sound of the other vowels, it became evident that these sounds were no more than four or five; that they were regularly combined, and repeated in every syllable, or monosyllable; that their combination did not alter the pronunciation of the stronger and more labial sound to which they were attached; and, consequently, that each hieroglyphic might be taken as the representation of this strong and labial sound, without considering the four or five inflexions of voice which invariably accompanied them.

Having gone so far, the next consideration was, to ascertain the number of these strong labial sounds, which were invariably joined to the four or five inflexions of voice; and this required very little labour ; for as each syllable, or monosyllable, generally began with one of these strong and labial sounds, they had but to run over a certain quantity of words, to see that they were not many. Indeed, from the circumstance that Cadmus imported into Greece no more than sixteen letters, four or five of which were vowels, and from seeing that the Jews themselves had no more, and originally even less, than sixteen letters, it is more than probable that whoever invented the alphabet in Egypt, did not distinguish many consonants, and often confused two or more together : for instance, the D and T; the P, the V, and the F; the G and the K;

U

the L and the R; a confusion which every one who is in the least versed in the reading of hieroglyphics, must have constantly observed ; and you remember, perhaps, what I said on this subject in a former Lecture, when, for the first time, I exhibited the hieroglyphical alphabet found out by Champollion; and in Table 2, I have, for this purpose, mixed these letters together.

In process of time, however, happened to the Egyptians what had happened to other nations before them. They began to distinguish more minutely between the sounds of the consonants, and thus increased their number ; but I think that this addition did not take place before the time of the Pharaoh Psammeticus; for at that time the Greeks, having been permitted to visit Egypt, imparted to the natives the additional letters which they had discovered; and thus the Egyptian alphabet began to multiply, till at length, after the time of Alexander, more letters were introduced, and thus a more correct method of spelling was adopted.

But who was the man who first discovered these primitive letters, and invented the alphabet ? I own that I am unable to give an answer to this question. All the authors who have written on this subject have followed theories of their own, and, on this account, I may be excused if I have ventured to follow their example, by imagining another, and thus to state what I thought to be the most plausible manner of solving this intricate question, the discovery of the alphabet. I have

given the credit of it to the Egyptians, because in this opinion I am borne out by the most transcendent authorities of the most accredited writers; and though I have differed from them in regard to the mode by which this discovery was made, yet I have followed them most closely in regard to the nation to whom the credit of this discovery is to be given. In respect to the first inventor of the alphabet, amidst a variety of opinions, which is very appalling, there is a passage of Plato, which may, perhaps, be worth relating. He says, that “During the reign of king Thamus, his secretary, Thouth, or Theuth, came to lay before him the several discoveries he had made, amongst which was the invention of the alphabet; and he came to consult king Thamus whether it ought to be made public. The king, who saw the advantage of the discovery, was particularly adverse to the measure, and, like a true politician, concealed the real, and assigned a more remote and secondary cause why he wished that it should be kept secret. He, therefore, told his secretary, that if the new mode of writing should be divulged, people would no longer pay any attention to hieroglyphics; they would soon be forgotten, and thus prove the greatest hindrance to the progress of knowledge.” Thus far says Plato, and I am aware that this passage has been differently interpreted and explained by several writers; some of whom pretend that Theuth did not discover the alphabet, but only the arbitrary marks which were to be employed instead of figures, as a shorter and less laborious mode of hieroglyphical writing. But this is a forced explanation ; for, according to the best critics, this passage has been employed to prove, that, at his time, a general opinion prevailed among the Greeks, that ascribed to the Egyptians the honour of having invented the alphabet; for they say, that Plato would never have dared to give the credit of the discovery to the Egyptians, unless he had been certain of not being contradicted. If, therefore, this passage of the Greek philosopher has been made use of to prove that the invention of the alphabet is due to the Egyptians, it is evident that Plato does not speak of the arbitrary marks, but of the alphabetical letters. Admitting therefore, the account given by Plato, this new method of writing was for some time, if we are to believe the historian, kept under the seal of secrecy, but as it might be expected, was generally adopted as soon as it was known. The utility of it was apparent; it diminished to a prodigious degree the difficulty of writing; it shortened the labour of memory, and was capable of expressing all subjects, all ideas, every possible thought, in the utmost variety with which they affect the mind. The first who seem to have got a knowledge of this system, were the Phoenicians; they imparted it to the Arabians, to the Jews, and carried it over to Greece. From that country it was exported to the several islands, carried to the continent, and reached the northern nations. The Chinese alone refused to adopt the valuable discovery; proud of the antiquity of their social establishment, believing themselves superior to the rest of mankind, they still adhered to their ancient mode of writing. This, as I have already observed, though originally the same with that used by the Egyptians, became, in process of time, materially different, being made up of arbitrary marks, which are for the most part, ideographical. With the discovery of the alphabet, however, a very material change took place in regard to hieroglyphics. Originally, as we have seen, they had been the common, nay, the sole mode of writing, employed by the nation at large, in all the transactions of life, and through the policy of king Thamus, the alphabetical letters were kept secret; but as soon as this discovery became known, the contrary happened ; alphabetical writing became common, and hieroglyphics mysterious, not because they were purposely hidden in mystery, but simply because they required greater application and greater trouble. They indeed still continued to be used in matters of religion, funerals, public monuments, and the like ; but in all business, and common transactions, the alphabetical writing was employed. This was a necessary consequence of the general use of hieroglyphics in their primitive state ; for although the Egyptians might, and, in fact, did, give the preference to the alphabet, yet

« FöregåendeFortsätt »