Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

more of the spirit of moral feeling of the celebrated philosopher of Malmesbury. The narrow scale and fine-drawn distinctions of his political creed made his conversation on such subjects infinitely amusing, particularly when contrasted with that of persons who dealt in the sounding common-places and sweeping clauses of abstract politics. He knew all the cabals and jealousies and heart-burnings in the beginning of the late reign, the changes of administration and the springs of secret influence, the characters of the leading men, Wilkes, Barrè, Dunning, Chatham, Burke, the Marquis of Rockingham, North, Shelburne, Fox, Pitt, and all the vacillating events of the American war :--these formed a curious back-ground to the more prominent figures that occupied the present time, and Mr. Tooke worked out the minute details and touched in the evanescent traits with the pencil of a master. His conversation resembled a political camera obscuraas quaint as it was magical. . To some pompous pretenders he might seem to narrate fabellas aniles (old wives' fables)—but not to those who study human nature, and wish to know the materials of which it is composed. Mr. Tooke’s faculties might appear to have ripened and acquired a finer flavour with age. In a former period of his life he was hardly the man he was latterly; or else he had greater abilities to contend against. He no where makes so poor a figure as in his controversy with Junius. He has evidently the best of the argument, yet he makes nothing out of it. He tells a long story about himself, without wit or point in it; and whines and whimpers like a school-boy under the rod of his master. Junius, after bringing a hasty charge against him, has not a single fact to adduce in support of it; but keeps his ground and fairly beats his adversary out of the field by the mere force of style. One would think that “ Parson Horne” knew who Junius was, and was afraid of him. “ Under him his genius is” quite " rebuked.” With the best cause to defend, he comes off more shabbily from the contest than any other

person

in the LETTERS, except Sir William Draper, who is the very hero of defeat.

The great thing which Mr. Horne Tooke has done, and which he has left behind him to posterity, is his work on Grammar, oddly enough entitled THE DIVERSIONS OF Purley. Many people have taken it up as a description of a game-others supposing it to be a novel. It is, in truth, one of the few philosophical works on Grammar that were ever written.

The essence of it (and, indeed, almost all that is really valuable in it) is contained in his Letter to Dunning, published about the year 1775. Mr. Tooke's work is truly elementary. Dr. Lowth described Mr. Harris's Hermes as “ the finest specimen of analysis since the days of Aristotle"-a work in which there is no analysis at all, for analysis consists in reducing things to their principles, and not in endless details and subdivisions. Mr. Harris multiplies distinctions, and confounds his readers. Mr. Tooke clears away the rubbish of school-boy technicalities, and strikes at the root of his subject. In accomplishing his arduous task, he was, perhaps, aided not more by the strength and resources of his mind than by its limits and defects. There is a web of old associations wound round language, that is a kind of veil over its natural features; and custom puts on the mask of ignorance. But this veil, this mask the author of The Diversions of Purley threw aside and penetrated to the naked truth of things, by the literal, matter-offact, unimaginative nature of his understanding, and because he was not subject to prejudices or illusions of any kind. Words may be said to “ bear a charmed life, that must not yield to one of woman born”- with womanish weaknesses and confused apprehensions. But this charm was broken in the case of Mr. Tooke, whose mind was the reverse of effeminatehard, unbending, concrete, physical, half-savage--and who saw language stripped of the clothing of habit or sentiment, or the disguises of doting pedantry, naked in its cradle, and in its primitive state. Our author tells us that he found his discovery on Grammar among a number of papers on other subjects, which he had thrown aside and forgotten. Is this an idle boast? Or had he made other discoveries of equal importance, which he did not think it worth his while to communicate to the world, but chose to die the churl of knowledge ? The whole of his reasoning turns upon shewing that the Conjunction That is the pronoun That, which is itself the participle of a verb, and in like manner that all the other mystical and hitherto unintelligible parts of speech are derived from the only two intelligible ones, the Verb and Noun. “ I affirm that gold is yellow,”

“ I affirm that fact, or that proposition, viz. gold is yellow.” The secret of the Conjunction on which so many fine heads had split, on which so many learned definitions were thrown away, as if it was its peculiar province and inborn virtue to announce oracles and for

that is,

mal propositions, and nothing else, like a Doctor of Laws, is here at once accounted for, inasmuch as it is clearly nothing but another part of speech, the pronoun, that, with a third part of speech, the noun, thing, understood. This is getting at a solution of words into their component parts, not glossing over one difficulty by bringing another to parallel it, nor like saying with Mr. Harris, when it is asked, what a Conjunction is ?” that there are conjunctions copulative, conjunctions disjunctive, and as many other frivolous varieties of the species as any one chooses to hunt out “ with laborious foolery." Our author hit upon

his parent-discovery in the course of a law-suit, while he was examining, with jealous watchfulness, the meaning of words to prevent being entrapped by them; or rather, this circumstance might itself be traced to the habit of satisfying his own mind as to the precise sense in which he himself made use of words. Mr. Tooke, though he had no objection to puzzle others, was mightily averse to being puzzled or mystified himself. All was, to his determined mind, either complete light or complete darkness. There was no hazy, doubtful chiaro-scuro in his understanding. He wanted something “ palpable to feeling as to sight.” What,” he

« НазадПродовжити »