THE RELATION OF LANGUAGE, AND STYLE, TO THOUGHT.*
"It is a truth," (says Hartung in beginning his subtle and profound work on the Greek Particles,) " as simple as it is fruitful, that language is no arbitrary, artificial, and gradual invention of the reflective understanding, but a necessary and organic product of human nature, appearing contemporaneously with the activity of thought. Speech is the correlate of thought; both require and condition each other like body and soul, and are developed at the same time and in the same degree, both in the case of the individual and the nation. Words are the coinage of conceptions, freeing themselves from the dark chaos of intimations and feelings, and gaining shape and clearness. In so far as a man uses and is master of language, has he also attained clearness of thought; the developed and spoken language of a people is its expressed intelligence." f Consonant with this, William Humboldt remarks that " speech must be regarded as naturally inherent in man, for it is altogether inexplicable as a work of his inventive understanding. We are none the better for allowing thousands of years for its invention.
* Reprinted from the Bibliotheca Sacra; Numbers XX. and XXXI. t Partikeln Lehre, Bd. L §§ 1> 2.
There could be no invention of language unless its type already existed in the human mind. Man is man only by means of speech; but in order to invent speech he must be already man."
In these extracts it is asserted that language is an organic product of which thought is the organizing and vitalizing principle. Writers upon language have generally acknowledged a connection of some sort between thought and language, but they have not been unanimous with respect to the nature of the connection. The common assertions that language is the "dress" of thought — is the "vehicle" of thought — point to an outward and mechanical connection between the two: while the fine remark of "Wordsworth that "language is not so much the dress of thought as its incarnation," and the frequent comparison of the relation which they bear to each other, with that which exists between the body and the soul, indicate that a vital connection is believed to exist between language and thought.
The correctness of this latter doctrine becomes apparent when it is considered that everything growing out of human nature, in the process of its development and meeting its felt wants, is of necessity living in its essence, and cannot be regarded as a dead mechanical contrivance. That language has such a natural and spontaneous origin is evident from the fact, that history gives no account of any language which was the direct invention of any one man, or set of men, to supply the wants of a nation utterly destitute of the ability to express its thought. Individuals have bestowed an alphabet, a written code of laws, useful mechanical inventions, upon their countrymen, but no individual ever bestowed a language. This has its origin in human nature, or rather in that constitutional necessity, under which human nature in common with all creation is placed by Him who sees the end from the beginning, which compels the invisible to become visible, the formless to take form, the intelligible to corporealize itself. That thought is invisible and spiritual in essence, is granted by all systems of philosophy except the coarsest and most unphilosophic materialism. It is therefore subject to the uersal law, and must become sensuous — must be communicated.
In the case of the primitive language, spoken by the first human pair, we must conceive of it as a gift from the Creator, perfectly correspondent, like all their other endowments, to the wants of a living soul. As in this first instance the bodily form reached its height of being and of beauty, not through the ordinary processes of generation, birth, and growth, but as an instantaneous creation; so too the form of thought, language, passed through no stages of development (as some teach) from the inarticulate cry of the brute, to the articulate and intelligent tones of cultivated man, but came into full and finished existence simultaneously with the fiat that called the full-formed soul and body into being. It would not have been a perfect creation, had the first man stood mute in mature manhood, and that too in his unfallen state and amidst the beauty and glory of Eden! As the posterity of the first man come into existence by a process, and as both soul and body in their case undergo development before reaching the points of bloom and maturity, language also in their case is a slow and gradual formation. It begins with the dawn of reflective consciousness, and unfolds itself as this becomes deeper and clearer. In the infancy of a nation it is exquisitely fitted for the lyrical expression of those thoughts and feelings which rise simple and sincere in the national mind and heart, before philosophical reflection has rendered them complex, or advancing civilization has dried up their freshness. As the period of fancy and feeling passes by and that of reason and reflection comes in, language becomes more rigid and precise in its structure, conforms itself to the expression of profound thought, and history and philosophy take the place of the ballad and the chronicle.
Now the point to be observed here is, that this whole process is spontaneous and natural; is a growth and not a manufacture. Thought embodies itself, even as the merely animal life becomes sensuous and sensible through its own tendency and activity. When investigating language, therefore, we are really within the sphere of life and living organization, and to attempt its comprehension by means of mechanical principles would be as absurd as to attempt to apprehend the phenomena of the animal kingdom by the principles that regulate the investigation of inorganic nature. It is only by the application of dynamical principles, of the doctrine of life, that we can get a true view of language or be enabled to use it with power.
It is assumed then that thought is the life of language; and this too in no figurative sense of the word, but in its strict scientific signification as denoting the principle that organizes and vivifies the form in which it makes its appearance. It is assumed that thought is as really the living principle of language as the soul is the life of the body, and the assumption verifies itself by the clearness which it introduces into the investigation of the subject, and by the light which it flares into its darker and more mysterious parts. That fusion, for instance, of the thoughts with the words, which renders the discourse of the poet glowing and tremulous with feeling and life, can be explained upon no other supposition than that the immaterial entity born of beauty in the poet's mind actually materializes itself, and thus enlivens the otherwise lifeless syllables. Nothing but a vital connection with the thoughts that breathe, can account for the words that burn.
We are not therefore to look upon language as having intrinsic existence, separate from the thought which it conveys, but as being external thought, expressed thought. Words were not first invented, and then assigned to conceptions as their arbitrary, and intrinsically, meaningless signs; mere indices, having no more inward connection with the things indicated, than the algebraic marks, -j- and —, have with the notions of increase and diminution. In the order of nature, language follows rather than precedes thought, and is subject to all its modifications from its first rise in the consciousness of the individual and the nation, up to that of the philosopher and the philosophic age in a nation's history. Language in essence is thought, is thought in an outward form, and consequently cannot exist, or be the object of reflection dissevered from the vital principle which substantiates it. The words of the most thoughtless man do nevertheless contain some meaning, and words have effect upon us only in proportion as they are filled with thought.
And this fulness must not be conceived of as flowing into empty moulds already prepared. It is a statement of one of the most profound investigators of physical life, that the living power merely added to the dead organ is not life ;* i. e. that no intensity whatever of physical life streamed upon and through a dead hand lying upon a dissecting table can produce life in the form of the living member. The living member cannot Come into existence except as growing out of a living body, and the living body cannot come into existence unless life, the immaterial and invisible, harden into the materiality and burst into the visibility of a minute seminal point which teems and swells with the whole future organism; a point or dot of life from which as a centre, the radiation, the organization, and the circulation may commence. In like manner it is impossible, if it were conceivable, to produce human language by the superinduction of thought upon, or by the assignation of meaning to, a mass of unmeaning sounds already in existence. "When a conception comes into the consciousness of one mind, and seeks expression that it may enter the consciousness of another mind, it must be conceived of as uttering itself in a word which is not taken at hap-hazard, and which might have been any other arbitrary sound, but which is prompted and formed by the creative thought struggling out of the world of mind, and making use of the vocal organs in order to enter the world of sense.
* Carus' Physiologie, Bd. 1. Vorrede. He denies the correctness of the following formula upon which, he affirms, the mechanical school of physiologists proceeds: todtes Organ + Kraft = Leben.
We cannot, it is true, verify all this by reference to all the words we are in the habit of using every day, because we are too far off from the period of their origin, and because they are oftentimes combinations of simple sounds that were originally formed by vocal organs differing from our own by marked peculiarities, yet the simplicity and naturalness of the Greek of Homer, or the English of Chaucer, which is no other than the affinity of the language with the thought, the sympathy of the sound with the sense, cause us to feel what in the present state of philology most certainly cannot be proved in the case of every single word, that primarily, in the root and heart, language is self-embodied thought. Yet though it is impossible at present in the case of every single word to verify the assumption upon which we have gone, it is not difficult to do this in the case of that portion of the language in which there is emphasis and intensity of meaning. The verb, by which action and suffering (which in the animal world is but a calmer and more intense activity) are expressed, is a word often and •evidently suited to the thought. Those nouns which are names not of things but of acts and energies, are likewise exceedingly significant of the things signified. The motions of the mouth, the position of the organs, and the tension of the muscles of speech, in the utterance of such words as shock, smite, writhe, slake, quench, are produced by the force and energy and character of the conceptions which these words communicate, just as the prolonged relaxation of the organs and muscles in the pronunciation of soothe, breathe, dream, calm, and the like, results naturally from the nature of the thought of which they are the vocal embodiment.
And this leads us to notice that this view of the origin and nature of language acquires additional support from considering that the vocal sound is the product of physical organs which are started into action and directed in their motion by the soul itself.* Even the tones of the animal are suited to the inward feeling by the particular play of muscles and organs of utterance. The feeling of pleasure could not, so long as nature is herself, twist these muscles and organs into the emission of the sharp scream of physical agony, any more than it could light up the eye with the glare and flash of rage.
Now if this is true in the low sphere of animal exist
* See on this point Wallis's English Grammar, and Bearne's Langtofts Chronicle, Vol. I. Preface.
cnce, it is still more true in the sphere of intellectual and moral existence. If life is true to itself in the lower, it is true to itself in the higher realm of its manifestation. When full of earnest thought and feeling the mind uses the body at will, and the latter naturally and spontaneously subserves the former. As thought becomes more and more earnest, and feeling more and more glowing, the body bends and yields with increasing pliancy, down to its minutest fibres and most delicate tissues, to the' working of the engaged mind; the organs of speech become one with the soul, and are swayed and wielded by it. The word is, as it were, put into the mouth, by the vehement and excited spirit.
When the mind is quickened, out of doubt,
The organs, though defunct and dead before,
Break up their drowsy grave and newly move
With casted slough and fresh legerity.*
As well might it be said that there is no vital and natural connection between the feeling and the blush in which it mantles, or the tear in which it finds vent, as that the word—the " winged word"—has only an arbitrary and dead relation to the thought.
Again, it is generally conceded that there is an inherent fitness of gesture, attitude and look, to the thought or feeling conveyed by them; but do attitude, gesture, and look, sustain a more intimate relation to thought and feeling than language does; language, at once the most uersal as well as most particular in its application, the most exhaustive and perfect, of all the media of communication between mind and mind, between heart and heart? The truth is, that all the media through which thought become sensuous and communicable are in greater or less degree, yet in some degree, homogeneous and con-natural with thought itself. In other words they all, in a greater or less degree, possess manifest propriety.
* Henry IV. Act IV. Sc. I.
It is to be borne in mind here, that the question is not whether thought could not have embodied itself in other forms than it has, whether other languages could not have arisen, but whether the existing forms possess adaptedness to the thought they convey. Life is not compelled to manifest itself in one only form, or in one particular set of forms, in any of the kingdoms, but it is compelled to make the form in which it does appear, vital like itself. The forms, for aught that we know, may be infinite in number, in which the invisible principle may become sensible, but the corpse is no one of them.
Thought as the substance of discourse is logical, necessary, and immutable, in its nature, while language as the form is variable. The language of a people is continually undergoing a change, so that those who speak it in its later periods, (it very often happens,) would be unintelligible to those who spoke it in its earlier ages. Chaucer cannot be read by Englishmen of the present day without a glossary.* Again, the languages of different nations differ from each other. There is great variety in the changes of the verb to express the passive form. The subject is sometimes included in the verb, sometimes is prefixed, and sometimes is suffixed to it. The Malay language assumes the plural instead of the singular as the basis of number, all nouns primarily denoting the plural. Some use the dual and some do not; some give gender and number to adjectives, and others do not; some have the article and some have not. And yet all these different languages are equally embodiments of thought, and of fhe same thought substantially. For the human mind is everywhere, and at all times, subject to the invariable laws of its own constitution, and that logical, immutable, truth which stands over against it as its correlative object, is developed in much the same way among all nations in whom the intellect obtains a development. The vital principle—logical, immutable, truth in the form of human thought—is here seen embodying itself in manifold forms, with freedom and originality, and with an expressive suitableness in every instance.
* Yet even in this case, as Wordsworth truly remarks, " the affecting part* are almost always expressed in language pure, and uersally intelligible even to this day."—Preface to Lyrical Ballads. The more intense and vital the thought, the nearer the form approaches the essence, the more uersal does it become.
That a foreign language does not seem expressive to the stranger is no argument against the fundamental hypothesis. It is expressive to the native-born, and become so to the stranger in proportion as he acquires (not a mere mechanical and book knowledge, but) a vital and vernacular knowledge of it. And this expressiveness is not the result of custom. Apart from the instinctive association of a certain word with a certain conception, there is an instinctive sense of its intrinsic fitness to communicate the thought intended—of its expressiveness. For why should some words be more expressive than others, if they all equally depend upon the law of association for their significance? And why is a certain portion of every language more positive, emphatic, and intense, than the remaining portions? There is in every language a class of words which are its life and life-blood, a class to which the mind, in its fervor and glow, instinctively betakes itself in order to free itself of its thoughts in the most effective and satisfactory manner. But this is irreconcilable with the hypothesis that all words are but lifeless signs, acquiring their signification and apparent suitableness from use and custom, and all consequently being upon the same dead level with respect to expressiveness.
Still another proof that the connection between language and thought is organic, is found in the fact that the relation between the two is evidently that of action and reaction.
We have seen that language is the produce of thought; but this is not to be understood as though language were a mere effect, of which thought is the mere cause. The mere effect cannot react upon the pure cause. It is thrown off and away from its cause (as the cannon ball is from the cannon), so that it stands insulated and independent with respect to its origin.
This is not the case with language. Originated by thought, and undergoing modifications as thought is developed, it, in turn, exerts a reflex influence upon its originating cause. In proportion as language is an exact and sincere expression, does thought itself become exact and sincere. The more appropriate and expressive the language, the more correct will be the thought, and the more expressive and powerful will be the direction which thought takes.
But if language were a mechanical invention, no such reaction as this could take place upon the inventor. While connected with thought only by an arbitrary compact on the part of those who made use of it, it would be separated from thought by origin and by nature. Not being a living and organic product, it could sustain to thought only the external and lifeless relation of cause and effect, and consequently would remain one and the
same amid all the life, motion, and modification, which the immaterial principle might undergo.
Of course if such were the relation between the two, it would be impossible to account for all that unconscious but real change ever going on in a spoken language, which we call growth and progress. Language upon such an hypothesis would remain stationary in substance, and at best could be altered only by aggregation from without.. New words might be invented and added to the number already in existence, but no change could occur in the spirit of the language, if it may be allowed to speak of spirit in such a connection.
Furthermore, if there is no vital relation between language and thought, it would be absurd to speak of the beneficial influence upon mental development (which is but the development of thought) of the study of philology. If in strict literality the relation of language to thought is that of the invention to the mind of the inventor, then the study of this outward, and in itself lifeless instrument, would be of no worth in developing an essence so intensely vital, so full of motion, and with such an irrepressible tendency to development, as the human mind.
It is however a truth and a fact that the study of a well organized language is one of the very best means of mental education. It brings the mind of the student into communication with the whole mind of a nation, and infuses into his culture its good and bad elements —the whole genius and spirit of the people of whose mind it is the evolution. In no way can the mind of the individual be made to feel the power and influence of the mind of the race, and thereby receive the greatest possible enlargement and liberalizing, so well as by the philosophic study of language A rational method of education makes use of this study as an indispensable discipline, and selects for this purpose two languages distinguished for the intimate relation which they sustain to the particular forms of thought they respectively express. For the Greek language is so fused and one with Grecian thought, that it is living to this day, and has been the source of life to literature ever since its revival in the fifteenth century; and the rigid but majestic Latin is the exact embodiment of the organizing and imperial ideas of Rome.
These languages exhibit the changes of thought in the Greek and Roman mind. They take their form and derive their spirit from the peculiarities of these nations. Hence the strong and original influence which they exert upon the modern mind. If these languages really contained no tincture of the intellect that made them and made use of them, if they communicated none of the spirit of antiquity, they would indeed be "dead" languages for all purposes of mental enlivening and development.
But it is not so. The Greek and Roman mind with all that passed through it, whether it were thought or feeling, whether it were individual or national, instead of remaining in the sphere of consciousness merely, and Ihus being kept from the ken of all after ages, projected itself, as it were, into these fine languages, into these noble forms, and not only became a K-rijfia e? del for mankind, but also a possession with whose characteristics the possessor is in sympathy, and from which he derives intellectual nourishment and strength.
A further proof that language has a living connection with thought, is found in the fact that feeling and passion suggest language.
Feeling and passion are the most vital of all the activities of the human soul, flowing as they do from the heart, and that which is prompted by them may safely be affirmed to have life. That words the most expressive and powerful fly from the lips of the impassioned thinker is notorious. The man who is naturally of few words, becomes both fluent and appropriate in the use of language, when his mind glows with his subject and feeling is awakened.
But the use of language is the same in kind and character with its origin. The processes through which language passes from the beginning to the end of its existence are all of the same nature. As in the wide sphere of the uerse, preservation is a constant crea-. tion, and the things that are, are sustained and perpetuated on principles in accordance with the character impressed upon them by the creative fiat, so in all the narrower spheres of the finite, the use and development are coincident and harmonious with the origin and nature. We may therefore argue back from the use and development to the origin and nature; and when we find that in all periods of its history human language is suggested, and that too in its most expressive form, by feeling and passion, we may infer that these had to do in its origin, and have left something of themselves in its nature. For how could there be a point and surface of communication between words and feeling, so that the latter should start out the former in all the freshness of a new creation, if there were no interior connection between them. For language as it falls from the lips of passion is tremulous with life—with the life of the soul — and imparts the life of the soul to all who hear it.
If, then, in the actual every-day use of language, we find it to be suggested by passion, and to be undergoing changes both in form and signification, without the intervention of a formal compact on the part of men, it is just to infer that no such compact called it into existence. If, upon watching the progress and growth of a.language, we find it in continual flux and reflux, and detect everywhere in it, change and motion, without any consciously directed effort to this end on the part of those who speak it, it is safe to infer that the same unconscious spontaneousness characterized it in its beginning. Moreover, if in every-day life we unconsciously, yet really, use language not as a lifeless sign of our thought, but believe that in employing it we are really expressing our mind, and furthermore, if we never in any way agreed to use the tongue which we drank in with our mother's milk, but were born into it and grew up into its use, even as we were born into and grew up under the intellectual and moral constitution imposed upon human nature by its Creator, we may safely conclude that language, too, is a provision on the part of the author of our being, and consequently is organic and alive.
Indeed, necessity of speech, like necessity of religion and government and social existence, is laid upon man by his constitution, and as in these latter instances whatever secondary arrangements may be made by circumstances, the primary basis and central form is fixed in human nature, so in the case of language, whatever may be the secondary modifications growing out of national differences and peculiarities of vocal organs, the deep ground and source of language is the human constitution itself.
Frederick Schlegel, after quoting Schiller's lines:
Thy knowledge, thou sharest with superior spirits;
Art, oh man! thou hast alone,
calls language " the general, all-embracing art of man." This is truth. For language is embodiment — the embodiment not indeed of one particular idea in a material form, but of thought at large, in an immaterial yet sensible form. And the fact that the material used is sound — the most ethereal of media — imparts to this "all embracing art" a spirituality of character that raises it above many of the fine arts, strictly so called. It is an embodiment of the spiritual, yet not in the coarse elements of matter. When the spiritual passes from the intelligible to the sensible world by means of art, there is a coming down from the pure ether and element of incorporeal beauty into the lower sphere of the defined and sensuous. The pure abstract idea necessarily loses something of its purity and abstractedness by becoming embodied. By coming into appearance for the sense it ceases to be in its ineffable, original, highest state for the reason — for the pure intelligence. Art, therefore, is degradation — a stooping to the limitations and imperfections of the material world of sense, and the feeling awakened by the form, however full it may be of the idea, is not equal in purity, depth, and elevation, to the direct beholding of the idea itself in spirit and in truth.*
We may, therefore, add to the assertion of Schlegel, and say, that language is also the highest art of man. — With the exceptions of poetry and oratory, all the fine arts are hampered in the full, free, expression of the idea by the uncomplying material. Poetry and oratory, in
, * It is interesting in this connection to notice that the Puritan, though generally charged with a barbarian ignorance of the worth of art, nevertheless in practice took the only strictly philosophic view of it. That stripping flaying hatred of form, per se, which he manifested, grew out of a (practically) intensely philosophic mind which clearly saw the true relation of tho form to the idea — of the sensible to the spiritual.
common with language, by employing the most ethereal of media, approach as near as is possible for embodiments to the nature of that which they embody, but the latter is infinitely superior to the two former, by virtue of its infinitely greater range, and power of exhaustive expression. Poetry and eloquence are confined to the particular and individual, while language seeks to embody thought in all its relations and transitions, and feeling in all its manifoldness and depth. The sphere in which it moves, and of which it seeks to give an outward manifestation is the whole human consciousness, from its rise in the individual, on through all its modifications in the race. It seeks to give expression to an inward experience, that is " co-infinite with human life itself."
Viewed in this aspect, human language ceases to be the insignificant and uninteresting .phenomenon it is so often represented to be, and appears in all its real meaning and mystery. It is an organization, as wonderful as any in the realm of creation, built up by a necessary tendency of human nature seeking to provide for its wants, and constructed too, upon the principles of that uersal nature, which Sir Thomas Brown truly affirms to be "the art of God." * Contemplate, for a moment, the Greek language as the product of this tendency, and necessity, to express his thought imposed upon man by creation. This wonderful structure could not have been put together by the cunning contrivance, and adopted by the formal consent, of the nation, and it certainly was not preserved and improved in this manner. Its pliancy and copiousness and precision and vitality and harmony, whereby it is capable of expressing all forms of thought, from the simplicity of Herodotus to the depth of Plato, are qualities which the unaided and mechanizing understanding of man could not have produced. They grew spontaneously, and gradually, out of the fundamental characteristics of the Grecian mind, and are the natural and pure expression of Grecian thought. Contemplate, again, our own mother tongue as the product of this same foundation for speech laid in human nature by its constitution. Its native strength and energy and vividness, and its acquired copiousness and harmony, as exhibited in the simple artlessness of Chaucer, and "the stately and regal argument" of Milton, are what might be expected to characterize the Latinized Saxon.
* Die philosophische Bildung der Sprachen, die vorzuglich noch an den urspriinglichen sichtbar wird, ist ein wahrhaftes durch den Mechanismus des menschlichen Geistes gewirktes Wunder.— Schilling's vom Ich. u. s. w. S 3.
A creative power, deeper and more truly artistic than the inventive understanding, produced these languages. It was that plastic power, by which man creates form for the formless, and which, whether it show itself uersally in the production of a living language, or particularly in the works of the poet or painter, is the crowning power of humanity. In view of the wonderful harmonies and symmetrical gradations of these languages, may we not apply the language of Wordsworth:
Point not these mysteries to an art
Lodged above the starry pole,
Pure modulations flowing from the heart
Of Divine love, where wisdom, beauty, truth,
With order dwell, in endless youth. *
We should not, however, have a complete view of the relation of language to thought, if we failed to notice that in its best estate it is an imperfect expression. — Philosophy ever labors under the difficulty of finding
* Power of Sound.
terms by which to communicate its subtle and profound discoveries, and there are feelings that are absolutely unutterable. Especially is this true of religious thought and feeling. There is a limit within this profound domain beyond which human speech cannot go, and the hushed and breathless spirit must remain absorbed in the awful intuition. Here, as throughout the whole world of life, the principle obtains but an imperfect embodiment. There is ever something more perfect and more glorious beyond what appears. The intelligible world cannot be entirely exhausted, and therefore it is the never-failing source of substantial principle and creative life. In the case before us, truth is entirely exhausted by no language whatever. There are depths not yet penetrated by consciousness, and who will say that even the consciousness of such a thinker as Plato can have had a complete expression, even through such a wonderful medium as the Greek tongue? The human mind is connected with the Divine mind, and thereby with the whole abyss of truth; and hence the impossibility of completely sounding even the human mind, or of giving complete utterance to it; and hence the possibility and the basis of an unending development for the mind and an unending growth for language.
We are aware that the charge of obscurity may be brought against the theory here presented, by an advocate of the other theory of the origin and nature of language. We have no disposition to deny the truth of the charge, only adding that the obscurity, so far as it pertains to the theory (in distinction from the presentation of the theory, for which the individual is responsible,) is such as grows out of the very nature and depth and absolute truth of the theory itself. We have gone upon the supposition that human language, as a form, is neither hollow nor lifeless — that it has a living principle, and that this principle is thought. Now life is and must be mysterious; and at no point more so than when it begins to organize itself into a body. Furthermore, the spontaneous, and to a great extent, unconscious processes of life, are and must be mysterious. The method of genius — one of the highest forms of life — in the production of a Hamlet, or Paradise Lost, or the Transfiguration, has not yet been explained, and the method of human nature, by which it constructs for itself its wonderful medium of communication — by which it externalizes the whole inner world of thought and feeling— cannot be rendered plain like the working of a well poised and smoothly running machine throwing off its manufactures.
Simply asking then of him who would render all things clear by rendering all things shallow, by whom, when, vjhere, and how, the Greek language, for example, was invented, and by what historical compact it came to be the language of the nation, we would turn away to that nobler, more exciting, and more rational theory, which regards language to be " a necessary and organic product of human nature, appearing contemporaneously and parallel with the activity of thought." This theory of the origin of language throws light over all departments of the great subject of philology, finds its gradual and unceasing verification as philological science advances under a spur and impulse derived from this very theory, and ends in that philosophical insight into language, which, after all, is but the clear and full intuition of its mystery — of its life.
Having thus specified the general relation of language to thought, we naturally turn to the uses and applications of the theory itself. Its truth, value, and fruitfulness, are nowhere more apparent than in the department of Rhetoric and Criticism. For this department takes special cognizance of the more living and animated forms of speech — of the glow of the poet, and the fire of the orator. It also investigates all those peculiarities of construction, and form, in human composition that spring out of individual characteristics. It is, therefore, natural to suppose that a theory of language which recognizes a power in human thought to organize and vivify and modify the forms in which it appears, will afford the best light in which to examine those forms; just as it is natural to suppose that the commonly received theory of physical life, will furnish a better light in which to examine vegetable and animal productions, than a theory like that of Descartes, e. g. which maintains that the forms and functions in the animal kingdom are the result of a mechanical principle. Life itself is the best light in which to contemplate living things.
We propose therefore in the remainder of this essay to follow the same general method already pursued, and examine the nature of style, by pointing out its relation to thought.
Style is the particular manner in which thought flows out, in the case of the individual mind, and upon a particular subject. When, therefore, it has, as it always should have, a free and spontaneous origin, it partakes of the peculiarity both of the individual and of the topic upon which he thinks. A genuine style, therefore, is the free and pure expression of the individuality of the thinker and the speciality of the subject of thought. — Uniformity of style is consequently found in the productions of the same general cast of mind, applied to the same general class of subjects, so that there is no distinguishable period in the history of a nation's literature, but what exhibits a style of its own. The spirit of the age appears in the general style of its literary composition, and the spirit of the individual — the tone of his mind — nowhere comes out more clearly than in his manner of handling a subject. The grave, lofty, and calm, style of the Elizabethan age is an exact representation of the spirit of its thinking men. The intellectual temperament of the age of Queen Anne flows out in the clear, but diffuse and nerveless, style of the essayists.
From this it is easy to see that style, like language, has a spontaneous and natural origin, and a living connection with thought. It is not a manner of composing, arbitrarily or even designedly chosen, but rises of its own accord, and in its own way, in the general process of mental development. The more unconscious its origin, and the more strongly it partakes of the individuality of the mind, the more genuine is style. Only let it be carefully observed in this connection, that a pure and sincere expression of the individual peculiarity is intended. Affectation of originality and studied effort after peculiarity produce mannerism, in distinction from that manner of pure nature, which alone merits the name of style.
If this be true, it is evident that the union of all styles, or of a portion of them, would not constitute a perfect style. On the contrary, the excellence of style consists in its having a bold and determined character of its own — in its bearing the genuine image and superscription of an individual mind at work upon a> particular subject. In a union of many different styles, there would be nothing simple, bold, and individual. The union would be a mixture, rather than a union, in which each ingredient would be neutralized by all, and all by each, leaving a residuum characterless, spiritless, and lifeless.
Style, in proportion as it is genuine and excellent, is sincere and artless. It is the free and unconscious emanation of the individual nature. It alters as the individual alters. In early life it is ardent and adorned; in mature life it is calm and grave. In youth it is flushed with fancy and feeling; in manhood it is sobered by reason and reflection. But in both periods it is the genuine expression of the man. The gay manner of L'Allegro and Comus is as truly natural and spontaneous, as the grave and stately style of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. The individuality of a man like Milton passes through great varieties of culture and of mood, and there is seen a corresponding variety in the ways in which it communicates itself; yet through this variety there runs the unity of nature; each sort of style is the sincere and pure manner of the same individual taken in a particular stage of his development.
No one style, therefore, can be said to be the best of all absolutely, but only relatively. That is the best style relatively to the individual, in which his particular cast of thought best utters itself, and in which the peculiarity of the individual has the fullest and freest play. That may be called a good style generally, in which every word tells — in which the language is full of thought, and alive with thought, and so fresh and vigorous as to seem to have been just created — while at the same time the characteristics of the mind that is pouring out in this particular manner, are all in every part, as the constructing and vivifying principle.
The truth of tins view of style is both confirmed and illustiated by considering the unity in variety exhibited by the human mind itself. The mind of man is one and the same in its constitution and necessary laws, so that the human race may be said to be possessed of one uersal intelligence. In the language of one of the most elegant and philosophic of English critics,* " It is no unpleasing speculation to see how the same reason, has at all times prevailed: how there is one truth, like one sun, that has enlightened human intelligence through every age, and saved it from the darkness of sophistry and error." Upon this sameness of intelligence rest all absolute statements, and all uersal appeals. Over against this uersal human mind, as its corresponding object and counterpart, stands truth, uersal in its nature and one and the same in its essence.
But besides this unity of the uersal, there is the variety of the individual, mind. Truth, consequently, coming into consciousness in the form of thought in an individual mind, undergoes modifications. It is now contemplated not as uersal and abstract, but as concrete and in its practical relations. It is, moreover, seen, not as an unity, but in its parts, and one side at a time. Philosophical truth in Plato differs from philosophical truth in Aristotle, by a very marked modification. Poetical truth is one thing in Homer and another in Virgil. Religious truth assumes a strikingly different form in Paul and Luther, from that which it wears in John and Melanchthon. And yet poetry, philosophy, and religion, have each their uersal principles — their one abstract nature. Each, however, appears in the form imposed upon it by the individual mind; each wears that tinge of the mind through which it has passed, which is denominated style.
No man has yet appeared whose individuality was so comprehensive and uersal, and who was such a master ,of form, that he exhausted the whole material of poetry, or philosophy, or religion, and exhibited it in a style
* Harris. Preface to Hermes.
and form absolutely uersal and final. Enough is ever left of truth, even after the most comprehensive presentation, for another individuality to show it in still a new and original form. For there is no limit to the manner of contemplating infinite and uersal truth. Provided only there be a peculiarity — a particular type of the human mind — there will be a peculiarity of intuition, and consequently of exhibition.
The most comprehensive and uersal individual mind was that of Shakspeare, and hence his productions have less of style, of peculiar manner, than all other literary productions. Who can describe the style of Shakspeare? Who is aware of his style? The style of Milton is apparent in every line, for he was one of the most sui-generic of men. But the form which truth takes in Shakspeare, is as comprehensive and uersal as the drama, as all mankind. This is owing to that Protean power by which, for the purposes of dramatic art, he converts himself into other men, takes their consciousness, and thereby temporarily loses his own limited individuality. But that Shakspeare was an individual, that a peculiar type of humanity formed the basis of his personal being, and that he had a style of thought of his own, it would be absurd to doubt. And had he attempted other species of composition than the drama, (which by its very nature requires that the individuality of the author be sunk and lost entirely in the various characters,) had he taken, like Milton, a particular theme as the "great argument" for his poetic power, doubtless the man, the individual, would have come into sight.*
* In corroboration of this, it may be remarked that we have far more sense of the individuality of Shakspeare, while perusing his poems and sonnets, than while studying his dramas.
Style of expression thus springing out of the style of thought, is therefore immediately connected with the structure and character of the individual mind. It consequently has an unconscious origin. On the basis laid in the individual's characteristics, and by and through the individual's mental growth, his manner of expression is formed. There is a certain style which fits the individual — which, and no other, is his style. It is that manner of presenting thought, into which he naturally falls, when his mind is deeply absorbed in a subject, and when he gives no heed to the form into which his thought is running.
It is not to be inferred from this, that style has no connection with culture. It has a most immediate and vital connection with the individual's education. Not only all that he is by nature, but all that he becomes by culture, tends to form his style of thought and expression; but, be it observed, unconsciously to him. For an incessant aim, a conscious, anxious effort to form a given style, is the destruction of style. Under such an inspection and oversight, Nature cannot work, even if the mind under such circumstances, could absorb itself in the theme of reflection. There must be no consciousness during the time and process of composing, but of the subject. The subject being all in all, for the thinker, the form into which his thought runs, with all the modification and coloring which it really, though unconsciously to him, receives from his individualism, and from the whole past of his education, is his style — his genuine and true manner.
The point to be observed here is, that style is the consequent, so far as it is related to culture. For, the culture itself takes its direction and character from the original tendency of the individual, (for every one in the end obtains a mental development coincident with his mental bias,) and style is but the unconscious manifestation of this culture. Style — genuine style — can never be the conscious antecedent of culture. It cannot be first selected, and then the whole individuality of the mind, and the whole course of education, be forced to contribute to its realization. One cannot antecedently choose the style of Burke, e. g. as that which he would have for his own, and then deliberately realize his choice. It is true that a mind similar to that of Burke in its structure, and in sympathy with him through a similarly fruitful and opulent culture, would spontaneously form its style upon, and with, his. But the process, in this case, would not be a deliberate and conscious imitation, but an unconscious and genial reproduction. It would be the consequent of nature and of culture, and not the antecedent. The individual would not distinctly know that his was the style of Burke, until it became apparent to others that it actually was.
Here, too, as in every sphere in which the living soul of man works, do we find the genuine and beautiful product originating freely, spontaneously, and unconsciously. Freely, for it might have been a false and deformed product, yet spontaneously and unconsciously, for it cannot be the subject of reflection and matter of distinct knowledge until after it has come into existence. By the thronging stress and tendency of the human soul, which is so created as to contain within itself the principle and direction of its own movement, is the product originated, which then, and not till then, is the possible and legitimate subject of consciousness, analysis, and criticism. The style of a thinking mind is no exception to this uersal law. It is formed, when formed according to nature — when formed as it was destined to be, by that creative idea which prescribes the whole neverending development of the creature — it is formed out of what is laid in the individual constitution, and through what is brought in by the individual culture, unconsciously to the subject of the process, and yet freely, so far as his nature and constitution are concerned.
If the view that has been taken of style, be correct, it is evident, that in the formation of style, no attempt should be made to change the fundamental character imposed upon it by the individual constitution. The type is fixed by nature, and no one should strive, by forcing nature, to obtain a manner essentially alien and foreign to him. The sort of style which belongs to the individual by his intellectual constitution is to be taken as given. The direction which all culture in this relation takes, should proceed from this as a point of departure, and all discipline and effort should end in an acquisition that is homogeneous with this substantial ground of style. Or still more accurately, the individuality itself is to be deepened and made more capacious and distinct, by culture, and is then to be poured forth in that hearty unconscious purity of manner which is its proper and genuine style.
And this leads us to consider the true method of forming and cultivating style.
If the general view that has been presented of the nature both of language and style be correct, it is plain that the mind itself, rather than the style itself, should receive the formation and the cultivation. Both language and style are but forms in which the human mind embodies its thought, and therefore the mind, considered as the originating power — as that which is to find an utterance and expression — should be the chief object of culture, even in relation to style. A cultivated mind contains within itself resources sufficient for all its purposes. The direct cultivation of the mind, is the indirect cultivation of all that stands connected with it.
And this is eminently true of the formal, in distinction from the material departments of knowledge — of those "organic (or instrumental) arts," as Milton calls them, "which enable men to discourse and write perspicuously, elegantly, and according to the fitted style of lofty, mean or lowly." For inasmuch as these formal departments of knowledge are not self-sufficient, but derive their substance from the material departments, it is plain that they can be cultivated with power and success only through the cultivation of these latter. Rhetoric, in order to be anything more than an idle play with words and figures of speech—in order to a substantial existence, and an energetic power — must spring out of logic; and logic again, in order to be something more than a dry and useless permutation of the members of syllogisms, must be grounded in the necessary laws of thought, and so become but the inevitable and the living movement of reason. Thus are we led in from the external to the internal as the solid ground of action and origination, and are made to see that the culture must begin here, in every instance, and work out. All these arts and sciences are the architecture of the rational and thinking mind of man, and all changes in them, either in the way of growth or decline, proceed from a change that has first taken place in their originating ground. They are in reality the index of the human mind, and show with most delicate sensibility all that is passing, in this evermoving principle. What are the languages literatures, laws, governments, and (with one exception) religions of the globe but the history of the human mind — the outstanding monument of what it has thought!
It may be said with perfect truth, therefore, that the formation and cultivation of the mind, is the true method of forming and cultivating style. And there are two qualities in mental culture which exert such a direct and powerful influence upon style as to merit in this connection a particular and close examination. They are depth and clearness.
(1) By depth of culture is meant that development of the mind from its centre, which enables it to exert its very best power, and to accomplish the utmost of which it is capable. The individual mind differs in respect to innate capacity. Some men are created with a richer and more powerful intellectual constitution than others. But all are capable of a profound culture; of a development that shall bring out the entire contents and capacity be they more or less. By going to the centre of the mind — by setting into play those profounder faculties which though differing in degree, are yet the same in kind, in every man — a culture is attained that exerts a most powerful and excellent influence upon style. Such mental education gives body to style. It furnishes the material which is to fill the language and solidify the discourse. The form in which a profoundly cultivated mind expresses itself is never hollow; the language which it employs not being alone — mere words — is never dead. It may, perhaps, be silent at times, for such a mind is not necessarily fluent, but when it does speak, the product has a marked character. The thought and its expression form an identity; are coined at one stroke.
For a deeply educated mind spontaneously seeks to know truth in its reality, and to express it in its simplicity. Unconsciously, because it is its nature to do so, it penetrates to the heart of a subject, and discourses upon it with a simplicity and directness which precludes any separation between the thought and the words in which it is conveyed. The mind which has but a superficial knowledge of the subject-matter of its discourse cannot Tender the language it employs consubstantial with its thought. We feel that the words have been hunted up by a vacant mind, instead of prompted by a full one. — Thought and language stand apart, because thought has not reached that degree of profundity, and that point of clear intuition, and that height of energy, in consciousness, at which it utters itself in language that is truly one with itself, and alive with itself. Whenever a profoundly cultivated mind directs itself to an object of contemplation it becomes identical with it, while in the act of contemplation. The distinction between the contemplating subject, and the contemplated object, vanishes for the time being; the mind, as we say popularly, and yet with strict philosophic truth, is lost in the theme, and the theme during this temporary process, becomes but a particular state of the mind. The object of contemplation, which at first was before the mind is now in the mind; that to which the mind came up as to a thing objective and extant, has now been transmuted into the very consciousness of the mind itself, and is therefore the mind itself, taken and held in this temporary process* It follows, consequently, that the style in which this fusion of truth with intellect flows out, must be as near the perfection of form as it can be. The style of such a mind is similar to the style of the Infinite mind, as it is seen in nature. It is characterized by the simplicity and freedom of nature itself. Nor let this be regarded either as irreverent or extravagant. We are confessedly within the sphere of the finite and the created, and therefore are at an infinite remove from Him "who is wonderful in working," and yet there is something strongly resembling the workings of creative power, in the operations of a mind deeply absorbed in truth and full of the idea. As the Divine idea becomes a phenomenon—manifests itself in external nature — by its own movement and guidance, it necessarily assumes the very perfection of manner.— The great attributes of nature, the sublimity and beauty of creation, arise from the oneness of the form with the idea — of the transfusion of mind into matter. In like manner, though in an infinitely lower sphere and degree, the human idea, profound, full, and clear in consciousness, throws itself out into language, in a style, free, simple, beautiful, and, it may be, sublime like nature itself. And all this arises because thought does its own perfect work — because truth arrived at in the consciousness of the profound thinker is simply suffered to exercise its own vitality, and to organize itself into existence. It is not so much because the individual makes an effort to embody the results of his meditation, as because these results have their own way, and take their own form, that the style of their appearance is so grand. It has been asserted above, that style, in its most abstract definition, is the uersal appearing in the particular. In
* The doctrine of the identity of subject and object in the act of consciousness is a true and safe one, it seems to us, only when stated with the limitation above; only when the identity is regarded as merely relative — as existing only in, and during the act of consciousness. If, however, the identity is regarded as absolute and essential — if it be asserted that, apart from consciousness and back of consciousness, the subject and object, the mind and the truth, are absolutely but one essence — then we see no difference between the doctrine and that of the " substantia una et unica" of Spinoza. The identity in this case, notwithstanding the disclaimer of Schelling, is sameness of substance, and there is but one substanco in the uerse. The truth is, that subject and object are not, absolutely, one essence, but two; but become one temporarily, in the act of consciousness, by virtue of a homogeneity, rather than on obsolute identity, of essence.
other words, it is the particular and peculiar manner in which the individual mind conceives and expresses truth, which is uersal. Now it is only by and through depth of mental cultivation, that truth, in its absolute reality and in its vital energy, is reached at all. A superficial education never reaches the heart of a subject — never brings the mind into contact and fusion with the real substance of the topic of discourse. Of course, a mind thus superficially educated in reality has nothing to express. It has not reached that depth of apprehension, that central point where the solid and real truth lies, at which, and only at which, it is qualified to discourse. — It may, it is true, speak about the given topic, but before it can speak it out, in a grand, impressive style, and in discourse which, while it is weighty and solid, also dilates and thrills and glows with the living verity, it must, by deep thought, have effected that mental union with it of which we have spoken.
A mind, on the contrary, that has received a central development, and whose power of contemplation is strong, instead of working at the surface, and about the accidents, strikes down into the heart and essence, and obtains an actual view of truth; and under the impulse imparted by it, and by the light radiated from it at all points, simply represents it. In all this there is no effort at expression—no endeavor at style — on the part of the individual. He is but the medium of communication, now that, by his own voluntary thought, the union between his mind and truth has been brought about. — All that he needs to do is, to absorb himself still more profoundly in the great theme, and to let it use him as its organ. It will flow through his individualism, and take form and hue from it, as inevitably as the formless and colorless light, acquires both form and color by coming into the beautiful arch of the sky.
(2) By clearness, as an element in culture, is meant such an education of the mind, as arms it with a penetrating and clear vision, so that it beholds objects in distinct outline. When united with depth of culture, this element is of great worth, and diffuses through the productions of the mind some of the most desirable qualities. Depth, without clearness of intuition, is obscurity. Though there may be substantial thinking, and real truth may be reached by the mind, yet like the Vktj out of which the material uerse was formed, according to the ancient philosophy, it needs to be irradiated by light, before it becomes a denned, distinct, and beautiful form. Indeed, without clearness of intuition, truth must remain in the depths of the mind, and cannot be really expressed. The mind, without close and clear thinking, is but a dark chaos of ideas, intimations, and feelings. It is true, that in these is the substance of truth, for the human mind is, by its constitution, full of truth; yet these its contents need to be elaborated. These undefined ideas need to become clear conceptions; these dark and pregnant intimations need to be converted into substantial yerities; and these swelling but vague feelings must acquire definition and shape; not merely that the consciousness of one mind may be conveyed over into that of another, but also in order to the mind's full understanding of itself.
And such culture manifests itself in the purity and perspicuity of the style in which it conveys its thoughts. Having a distinctly clear apprehension of truth, the mind utters its conceptions with all that simplicity and pertinence of language which characterizes the narrative of an honest eye-witness. Nothing intervenes between thought and expression. The clear, direct, view, instantaneously becomes the clear, direct, statement. And when the clear conception is thus united with the profound intuition, thought assumes its most perfect form. The form in which it appears, is full and round with solid truth, and yet distinct and transparent. The immaterial principle is embodied in just the right amount of matter; the former does not overflow, nor does the latter overlay. The discourse exhibits the same opposite and counterbalancing excellencies which we see in the forms of nature—the simplicity and the richness, the negligence and the niceness, the solid opacity and the aerial transparence.*
* Shakspeare affords innumerable exemplifications of the characteristic here spoken of. In the following passages notice the parity and cleanliness of the style in which ho exhibits his thought. As in a perfect embodiment in nature, there is nothing ragged, or to be sloughed off:
* * * Chaste as the icicle
That's curded by the frost from purest snow,
And hangs on Dian's temple.
Coriolanus, V. 3.
***** This hand
As soft as dove's down, and as white as it;
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow,
That's bolted by the northern blasts twice o'er.
Winter's Tale, IV. 3.
Or if that surly spirit, melancholy,
Had baked thy blood, and made it heavy, thick;
Which else runs tickling up and down the veins.
King John, III. 3.
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That sucked the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune, and harsh.
Ilamlet, III. 1.
It is rare to find such a union of the two main elements of culture, and consequently rare to find them in style. A profoundly contemplative mind is often mystic and vague in its discourse, because it has not come to a clear, as well as profound, consciousness—because distinctness, has not gone along with depth, of apprehension. The discourse of such a mind is thoughtful and suggestive it may be, but is lacking in that scientific, logical, power which penetrates and illumines. It has warmth and glow, it may be, but it is the warmth of the stove (to use the comparison of another)—warmth without light.
On the other hand it often happens that the culture of the mind is clear but shallow. In this case nothing but the merest and most obvious commonplace is uttered, in a manner intelligible and plain enough to be sure, but without force or weight, or even genuine fire, of style. Shallow waters show a very clear bottom, and but little intensity of light is needed in order to display the pebbles and clean sand. That must be a "purest ray serene "—a pencil of strongest light—which discloses the black, rich, wreck-strown depths. For the clearness of depth is very different from the clearness of shallowness. The former is a positive quality. It is the positive and powerful irradiation of that which is solid and dark, by that which is ethereal and light. The latter is a negative quality. It is the mere absence of darkness, because there is no substance to be dark—no body in which (if we may be allowed the expression) darkness can inhere. Nothing is more luminous than solid fire; nothing is more flashy than an ignited void.
These two fundamental characteristics of mental culture, lie at the foundation of style. Even if the secondary qualities of style could exist, without the weightiness
and clearness of manner which spring from the union of profound with distinct apprehension, they would exist in vain. The ornament is worthless, if there is nothing to sustain it. The bas-relief is valueless, without the slab to support it. But these secondary qualities of style— the beauty, and the elegance, and the harmony—derive all their charm and power from springing out of the primary qualities, and in this way, ultimately, out of the deep and clear culture of the mind itself—from being the white flower of the black root.
Style, when having this mental and natural origin, is to be put into the first class of fine forms. It is the form of thought; and, as a piece of art, is as worthy of study and admiration, as those glorious material forms which embody the ideas of Phidias, Michael Angelo, and Raphael. It is the form in which the human mind manifests its freest, purest, and most mysterious activity —its thinking. There is nothing mechanical in its origin, or stale in its nature. It is plastic and fresh as the immortal energy, of which it is the air and bearing.