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: On the other hand, the letters of the alphabet having no meaning at all when alone, but only in combination of syllables, which singly or concatenated form words, it follows, that whatever words can make intelligible to the ear, literal writing can make intelligible to the eye. To this it may be replied, that, if the images in figure-writing were few, yet each represented a whole class of meanings, of which it was the radiating point, or the root, from which not merely a tree, but a forest of thoughts, congenial to one another, branched forth:- in short, that, as the Hebrew language is a language of hieroglyphics, which must be interpreted by tracing the various shapes of signification which the same metaphors assume, according to the exigency of their respective contexts, so a language of figures to the eye may be made to convey as many abstract ideas as those who invent or employ it may choose. This is perfectly practicable upon the principle, by which Indian hieroglyphics are applied to every desirable purpose of reminiscence only. It may not, indeed, be impossible to construct a system of hieroglyphics, in which the meaning, and consequently the application, of every radical should be fixed, and yet so exuberant in diversified scions, as to express whatever the human mind can conceive: - this may not be impossible to construct in theory, but to learn and employ such a language to any considerable extent, would be beyond the power of a finite capacity. The Chinese, of which every mark or logograph resembles a lock of many wards, would present reading-made-easy lessons
for an infant school, in comparison with such pages of Sphynx's riddles.
There are two perfect hieroglyphics on record, with the authorised interpretation of each; and it is pretty evident from these, that the original use of hieroglyphics, before letters were invented, and hieroglyphics themselves were converted into letters, was much the same among the ancients as it is at this day among the American Indians. An inscription over the temple of Minerva, at Sais, presented to the spectator five images — an infant, an old man, a hawk, a fish, a river-horse. The general meaning of the first two is sufficiently obvious; the hawk was the emblem of Deity, the fish was an abomination to the Egyptians, and the hippopotamus was equally abhorred on account of its grossness. We are told, then, that the tablet indicated this: - “ Young and old, know that God hates impurity."
Now though these very figures, without violating the general sense of any one of them, might suggest. at least as many different readings as the most controverted passage in any ancient author, — yet, taking it for granted that the above was the precise lesson intended to be conveyed, how was it taught ? Undoubtedly by a set form of words, to which the figures were adapted; and presuming that literal writing was not then invented, we conclude that the figures were employed, and placed in a conspicuous situation, to remind the spectators of the sentiment with which they were associated, and which had been publicly explained to every body from the time when the tablet was first exhibited. Had
timent, at the utmost variance with this, been chosen to be signified by these emblems, the emblems would have reminded those who looked upon them of that sentiment, and that only; no scheme of hieroglyphics, however comparatively perfect, being capable of so conveying abstract ideas by visible images, as to enable every adept in the science to interpret them in the same form of words: and unless this might be done as accurately as by letters, there could be little assurance that any interpretation was the true one,a circumstance which would go far to invalidate all historical records, (except names and dates, thereby reducing history to mere chronology), for few matters of fact could be unequivocally represented.
For example, John struck William. Here the persons are the figures of the hieroglyphic, and the verb describes the action which must be manifest from their attitudes. Human ingenuity may be defied to express the precise sense of that one word “ struck.” You may represent a man striking another, but you can only represent the attempt to strike; the finished act cannot be shown, for his arm is in the air; it is only on the way to effect its purpose; but the person in danger from it is on his guard, and he may anticipate the blow, or shrink from it. If you represent the fist of the assailant's hand upon the head at which it was aimed, you cannot make it plain that it was violently laid there; of course the spectator cannot be assured that John struck William, notwithstanding the ferocious and menacing aspect of the latter, for braggarts sometimes double their fists, and push when they dare not strike. Again, if to indicate
the past tense, you represent William fallen under the infliction, there will be no direct evidence that he was knocked down; he may have slipt, or thrown himself upon the ground to avoid the stroke. If hieroglyphics, even though their practitioners were painters equal to Apelles or Timanthes, be so inadequate to exhibit actions by imagery, how much more defective must they be to express abstract ideas, which at best could only be doubtful deductions from the representations of images and actions in themselves equivocal !
The other instance of a hieroglyphic recorded and interpreted, to which allusion has been made, is not a pictured series, but the things themselves which were employed as symbols to communicate a message of defiance. When Darius Hystaspes had long been carrying on a fruitless war against the Scythians, the enemy sent him a present consisting of a bird, a mouse, a frog, and a bundle of arrows; intimating thereby, that till the Persians could fly through the air like birds, live in the earth like field-mice, or under the water like frogs, they need not hope to escape the Scythian arrows. Is it not plain that a hundred different messages might have been transmitted with the very same emblems to a hundred different persons, each of which could only be understood by the receivers, according to the circumstances of their peculiar situation in respect to the givers ; but not even then to be understood unless a verbal interpretation accompanied them, of which the emblems were to be neither more nor less than memorials ?
- Mexican picture-language and Peruvian knots might be produced in further proof of this conjecture, for I presume not
offer it as more than conjecture, that ancient hieroglyphics were not originally the adaptation of figures either to letters or words, but the representation solely of things which, by as sociation, might be made mnemonical signs of any arbitrary collocation of words, generally expressing ideas of that class to which, by convention, the figures themselves belonged. I will offer only one test of an authentic verbal document, probably composed ben fore the invention of alphabetical writing, by which this theory may be put to the proof.
In my last paper I alluded to the blessings of dying Jacob upon his children, and observed that the whole might be converted into a table of hieroglyphics, Every distinct benediction or prophecy, referring to each of his sons in succession, is marked by some strikingly appropriate figure; and, as the very struc ture of the sentences, even in our English translation, shows that the original composition was verse, and, consequently, a set form of words, the imagery of each clause would very naturally, and very obviously too, constitute the hieroglyphics of the particular sentiment associated with it, and not of that sentiment vaguely, but in the exact terms of the poetic diction in which it had been uttered. Take the blessing on Judah, quoted in our last paper : “ Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise; thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped