Page images






I CANNOT recollect one word of Mr. Locke's that corresponds at all with any thing that you have said. The third Book of his Essay is indeed expressly written-" On the Nature, Use and Signification of Language." But there is nothing in it concerning abbreviations.


I consider the whole of Mr. Locke's Essay as a philosophical account of the first sort of abbreviations in Language.


Whatever you may think of it, it is certain, not only from the title, but from his own declaration, that Mr. Locke did not intend or consider it as such for he says," When I first began this discourse of the Un


derstanding, and a good while after, I had not the least thought that any consideration of words was at all necessary to it *."

[ocr errors]


True. And it is very strange he should so have imagined t. But what immediately follows?" But when,

* Perhaps it was for mankind a lucky mistake (for it was a mistake) which Mr. Locke made when he called his book, An Essay on Human Understanding. For some part of the inestimable benefit of that book has, merely on account of its title, reached to many thousands more than, I fear, it would have done, had he called it (what it is merely) A Grammatical Essay, or a Treatise on Words, or on Language. The human mind, or the human understanding, appears to be a grand and noble theme; and all men, even the most insufficient, conceive that to be a proper object for their contemplation: whilst inquiries into the nature of Language (through which alone they can obtain any knowledge beyond the beasts) are fallen into such extreme disrepute and contempt, that even those who "neither have the accent of christian, pagan, or man," nor can speak so many words together with as much propriety as Balaam's ass did, do yet imagine words to be infinitely beneath the concern of their exalted understanding.

+"Aristotelis profecto judicio Grammaticam non solum esse Philosophia partem (id quod nemo sanus negat), sed ne ab ejus quidem cognitione dissolvi posse intelligeremus.”

J. C. Scaliger de Causis. Præfat.

"And lastly," says Bacon, "let us consider the false appearances that are imposed upon us by words, which are framed and applied according to the conceit and capacities of the vul


having passed over the original and composition of our ideas, I began to examine the extent and certainty of our knowledge; I found it had so near a connexion with words, that unless their force and manner of signification were first well observed, there could be very little said clearly and pertinently concerning knowledge: which being conversant about truth, had constantly to do with propositions. And though it terminated in things, yet it was for the most part so much by the intervention of words, that they seemed scarce separable from our general knowledge."

And again," I am apt to imagine that, were the

gar sort: and although we think we govern our words, and prescribe it well-loquendum ut vulgus, sentiendum ut sapientes;-yet certain it is, that words, as a Tartar's bow, do shoot back upon the understanding of the wisest, and mightily entangle and pervert the judgment. So as it is almost necessary in all controversies and disputations to imitate the wisdom of the mathematicians, in setting down in the very beginning the definitions of our words and terms, that others may know how we accept and understand them, and whether they concur with us or no. For it cometh to pass, for want of this, that we are sure to end there where we ought to have begun, which is in questions and differences about words."

Of the Advancement of Learning.

* It may appear presumptuous, but it is necessary here to declare my opinion, that Mr. Locke in his Essay never did advance one step beyond the origin of Ideas and the composition of Terms.

imperfections of Language, as the instrument of knowledge, more thoroughly weighed, a great many of the controversies that make such a noise in the world would of themselves cease; and the way to knowledge, and perhaps peace too, lie a great deal opener than it does *."

So that, from these and a great many other passages throughout the Essay, you may perceive that the more he reflected and searched into the human understanding, the more he was convinced of the necessity of an attention to Language; and of the inseparable connexion between words and knowledge.

"This design (says Wilkins) will likewise contribute much to the clearing of some of our modern differences in religion ;" (and he might have added, in all other disputable subjects; especially in matters of law and civil government ;)" by unmasking many wild errors, that shelter themselves under the disguise of affected phrases; which, being philosophically unfolded, and rendered according to the genuine and natural importance of words, will appear to be inconsistencies and contradictions. And several of those pretended mysterious, profound notions, expressed in great swelling words, whereby some men set up for reputation, being this way examined will appear to be either nonsense, or very flat and jejune. And though it should be of no other use but this, yet were it in these days well worth a man's pains and study; considering the common. mischief that is done, and the many impostures and cheats that are put upon men, under the disguise of affected, insignificant phrases."-Epist. Dedicat.



Yes. And therefore he wrote the third Book of his Essay, on-" the Nature, Use, and Signification of Language." But you say, the whole of the Essay concerns Language: whereas the two first Books concern the Origin and Composition of Ideas: and he expressly declares that it was not till after he had passed over them, that he thought any consideration of words was at all necessary.


If he had been aware of this sooner, that is, before he had treated of (what he calls) the origin and composition of Ideas; I think it would have made a great difference in his Essay. And therefore I said, Mr. Locke's Essay is the best Guide to the first sort of Abbreviations.


Perhaps you imagine that, if he had been aware that he was only writing concerning Language, he might have avoided treating of the origin of Ideas; and so have escaped the quantity of abuse which has been unjustly poured upon him for his opinion on that subject.


No. I think he would have set out just as he did, with the origin of Ideas; the proper starting-post of

« PreviousContinue »