Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

PLATE 6.

[blocks in formation]

llæc litera, 1. quæ montem fignificat, clim ita, 2. pingebatur. Sic filem eo modo exprimebant, que junthomaticus hodie circulo medioque puncto, 3.deferibiturinme ista forma 4.effingunt. Draconis hac. 5. ohm fiqura erat;hedi ita 6. formatur: Regis litern fou nomen

cum oculo,7. referebat, nunc ila. 8. pingunt. Voluerem, gallinam, vel gallum, fun, hoc oft nahva specie 9.-11.. repræfentabant: nunc his ductibus, 10.12 axplucantur. llabeo penes me librum lite. ris Sinicis ad fix diverfos modos con

feriptum, opus antiquissimum and rarum, Sinis ob vetuftatem mrtatemque magno semper in pretio habitum. In en libro antiqa litera formam utcunque referunt earum, quas Roma in obelefors Soape

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

me videre memini.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

11. Ipecemen of the

mere Modern Chinese Characters taken from their mere Inteent. The first low modern the second Unteeni Correspondent to the first hom Kirchers thera.Hlustratu

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

have observed that the easiest, and most natural expression of the abstract conceptions of the mind, was by arbitrary marks : but yet the most ingenious way of representing them was by analogic or symbolic figures ; as omniscience, by an eye; ingratitude, by a viper ; impudence, by the river-horse. Now the Egyptians, who were of a lively imagination, and studious of natural knowledge, though at first, like the Chinese, they expressed mental ideas by arbitrary marks, yet, as they improved their inventive faculties by use, they fell naturally into this method of expressing them by analogic or symbolic figures ; and their love of mystery disposed them to cultivate it : for these figures necessarily make the Character mysterious, as implying in the Inventor, and requiring in the User, a knowledge of physics ; whereas arbitrary marks lie open to all, as requiring no knowledge but that of the institution. Hence we have a plain reason how it happened, that the Egyptian Hieroglyphics, from very early times, consisted principally of symbolic and analogic marks, and that those Chinese Hieroglyphics were turned altogether into marks by institution. For as the Egyptians had soon learnt to express abstract ideas by analogic signs, so the Chinese were at last drawn to express even material things by arbitrary marks.

In a word, the Chinese method of thus conducting hieroglyphic writing through all its changes and improvements, from a picture to a simple mark, was the occasion that the Missionaries, who considered the history of their writing only by parts, have given us such different accounts of it. Sometimes they represent it like the Mexican pictures ; sometimes like the knotted cords of the Peru-' vians ; sometimes as approaching to the characters found upon the Egyptian obelisques ; and sometimes again as of the nature of the Arabic marks for numbers. But each man speaks only of the monuments of which he himself had got information ; and these differed according to their age and place. He, whose attention was taken up with the most ancient only of the Chinese monuments, did not hesitate to pronounce them hieroglyphics, like the Egyptian ; because he saw them to be analogic or symbolic signs, like the Egyptian : he who considered only the characters of later use denied them to be like the Egyptian, because he found them to be only marks by institution.

These imperfect accounts have misled the learned into several mistakes concerning the general nature and use of Hieroglyphics themselves. Some supposing it of their nature to be obvious marks of institution ; and others, that it required a very comprehensive knowledge of physics to be able to compose them.

Mr. Freret, speaking of the Chinese characters, says, “ Selon eux [les Chinois] ces anciens caractéręs etoient tous fondés sur des raisons

philosophiques. Ils exprimoient la nature des choses qu'ils signifioient : ou du moins la determinoient en désignant les rapports de ces mêmes choses avec d'autres mieux connues." * But he doubts whether entire credit is to be given to their accounts; for he observes that “La construction d'une pareille langue demande une parfaite connoissance de la nature et de l'ordre des idées qu'il faut exprimer, c'est-à-dire, une bonne metaphysique, et, peut-être même un systeme complet de philosophie.-Les Chinois n'ont jamais eu rien de pareil.” He concludes therefore, that the Chinese hieroglyphics "n'ont jamais eu qu'en rapport d'INSTITUTION avec les choses qu'elles signifient.” This is strange reasoning. To know whether the ancient Chinese characters were founded on philosophic relations, does not depend on their having a true system of physics and metaphysics, but on their having a system simply, whether true or false, to which to adapt those Characters : Thus, that part of the Egyptian physics which taught, that the viper tore its way through its mother's entrails, and that the skin of the hyæna preserved the wearer invulnerable, served full as well for hieroglyphical uses, as the soundest part of their astronomy, which placed the sun in the center of its system.

Again, others have denied the Chinese characters to be properly Hieroglyphics, because they are arbitrary marks and not analogical. P. Parennin says, "Les caractéres Chinois ne sont hieroglyphes qu’improprement.--Ce sont des signes arbitraires qui nous donnent l'idée d'une chose, non par aucun rapport qu'ils aient avec la chose signifiée, mais parce qu'on a voulu par tel signe signifier telle chose.-En est-il de même des hieroglyphes Egyptiens ?” P. Gaubil says, “On voit l'importance d'une histoire critique sur l'origine et les changemens arrivés à plusieurs caractéres Chinois qui sont certainement hieroglyphes. D'un autre côté, il y a des caractéres Chinois, qui certainement ne sont pas hieroglyphes. Une histoire de ceux-ci seroit aussi importante.” These Fathers, we see, suppose it essential to hieroglyphic characters, that they be analogic or symbolic signs ; and finding the more modern Chinese writing to be chiefly composed of arbitrary marks, or signs by institution, they concluded that the Chinese characters were not properly Hieroglyphics. Whereas, what truly denotes a writing to be hieroglyphical is, that its marks are signs for THINGS; what denotes a writing not to be hieroglyphical, is that its marks are signs for words. Whether the marks be formed by analogy or institution makes no alteration in the nature of the writing. If they be signs for things, they can be nothing but hieroglyphics ; if they be signs for words, they may be, and I suppose always are, alphabetical characters; but never can be hieroglyphics. However, it is but justice to these learned Fathers to

Mem, de l'Acud. tom. vi. p. 609.

observe, that one of them, from whom the others might have profited, appears to have a much clearer conception of this matter.—“La nature des hieroglyphes(says he) "n'est pas d'étre des figures naturelles des choses qu'ils signifient, mais seulement de les representer ou naturellement, ou par l'institution des hommes. Or tous les lettres Chinoises, ou sont des figures naturelles, comme les anciennes, du soleil, de la lune, ou autres semblables, ou sont des figures destinées pour signifier quelque chose, comme sont toutes celles qui signifient des choses qui n'ont aucune figure ; comme l'ame, la beauté, les vertus, les vices, et toutes les actions des hommes et des animaux.” *

On the whole, therefore, we see that, before the institution of letters to express Sounds, all characters denoted only things ; 1. By representation. 2. By analogy or symbols. 3. By arbitrary institution. Amongst the Mexicans, the first method was principally in use : The Egyptians chiefly cultivated the second : And the Chinese, in course of time, reduced almost all their characters to the third. But the empires of China and Egypt long flourishing in their different periods, had time and inclination to cultivate all the three species of hieroglyphic writing : only with this difference; the Egyptians beginning, like the Mexicans, with a picture, and being ingenious and much given to mystery, cultivated a species of hieroglyphics most abounding in signs by analogy, or symbols ; whereas the Chinese, who set out like the Peruvians with a knotted cord, † and were less inventive, and without a secret worship, cultivated that species which most abounds in marks of arbitrary institution. I

In a word, all the barbarous nations upon earth, before the invention or introduction of letters, made use of Hieroglyphics, or signs for things, to record their meaning: the more gross, by representation ; the more subtile and civilized, by analogy and institution.

Thus we have brought down the general history of writing, by a gradual and easy descent, from a PICTURE to a LETTER ; for Chinese marks which participate of Egyptian hieroglyphics on the one hand, and of alphabetic letters on the other (just as those hieroglyphics partook equally of Mexican pictures and Chinese characters) are on the very border of letters; an ALPHABET invented to express sounds instead of things being only a compendium of that large volume of arbitrary marks.

Some alphabets, as the Ethiopic and Coptic, s have taken in hieroglyphic figures to compose their letters ; which appears both from their shapes and names. The ancient Egyptian did the same, as

• P. MAGAILLANS, Relat, de la Chine. † “ Les premiers inventeurs de l'écriture Chinoise, en s'attachant à des signes, qui n'ont qu'un rapport d'institution avec les choses signifiées, ont suivi le génie de la nation Chinoise; qui même avant Fo-hi, c'est à dire, dans la plus profonde antiquité, se servoit de cordelettes nouées en guise d'écriture."--Mem. de l'Acad. tom. vi. FRERET. See note S, at the end of this book. $ See note T, at the end of this book.

« IndietroContinua »