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ESSA Y IX.
ON TOOKE'S “DIVERSIONS OF PURLEY."
I WOULD class the merits of Mr Tooke's work under three heads : the etymological, the grammatical, and the philosophical. The etymological part is excellent, the grammatical part indifferent, and the philosophical part to the last degree despicable; it is downright, unqualified, unredeemed nonsense. As Mr Tooke himself says that all metaphysical reasoning is nonsense, it is scarcely rude to say that his metaphysical reasoning is so. appears to me to be “mere midsummer madness.” He ought not indeed to have meddled with logic or metaphysics after such a declaration ; he ought to have supposed that he laboured under some natural defect in this respect, as a man who finds no harmony in any tune that is played to him, may without much modesty conclude that he has no ear for music.
The opinion which I have here advanced of this writer's merits as a general reasoner may
seem a bold one; but the proof of it is not difficult; it is as easy as transcribing. I have only to take a few passages in which he has applied etymology to the illustration of moral and metaphysical truth, to make his undistinguishing admirers blush, not for their idol, but for the weakness and bounded faculties of human nature.
Mr Tooke lays it down as a maxim, that the mind has neither complex nor abstract ideas. He was in some things a zealot, and his zeal had led him to believe that his system of etymology would in some way or other establish this metaphysical principle, and overturn the established notions of law, morality, philosophy, and divinity. The full development and execution of this project is reserved for a future volume, but there are perpetual hints and intimations of it in the two first, something like the aerial music and flying noises in Prospero’s island. The author seems constantly in his own mind on the point of detecting all imposture and delusion with the Ithuriel
of etymology, but he as constantly draws back, and postpones his triumph. The second volume of the *Diversions'consists chiefly of about two thousand instances of the etymology of words, to prove that there can be no abstract ideas ; scarcely one
of which two thousand meanings is anything else but a more abstract idea than the word was in general supposed to convey: for example, the word loaf commonly stands for a pretty substantial, solid, tangible kind of an idea, and is not suspected of any latent, very refined, abstracted meaning. The author shows, on the contrary, that the word has no such palpable, positive meaning, as the particular object to which we apply it, but merely signifies something, any thing, raised or lifted up. A singular method, surely, of reducing all general and abstract signs to individual, physical objects ! Yet we find this tiresome catalogue of derivations concluded in this manner.
“ And on this subject of subaudition I will at present exercise your patience no farther : for my own begins to flag. You have now instances of my doctrine in, I suppose, about a thousand words. Their number may be easily increased. But I trust these are sufficient to discard that imagined operation of the mind, which has been termed abstraction : and to prove that what we call by that name, is merely one of the contrivances of language, for the purpose of more speedy communication.”—Page 396, vol. ii.
How a thousand instances of words, signifying a common quality or abstract idea, with some
thing understood (subauditum), can be supposed to discard that imagined operation of the mind called abstraction, or in what subaudition differs from abstraction, or whether there is not something subintellectum, as well as subauditum,—that is, certain circumstances left out by the mind for the necessary progress of thought, as well as in language, for its more speedy communication,-it is not easy to guess. This farcical mummery, this inexplicable dumb show, this emphatical insignificance, neither admits nor deserves any answer.
The only places in the work in which this wary reasoner has fairly committed himself, and given an intelligible explanation of his mode of applying his system to general questions, are in his accoụnt of the words, right and wrong, just and unjust, in his list of metaphysical nonentities, demonstrated to be such because they are expressed by the past participles of certain verbs, and in his definition of Truth. These, therefore, I shall give as specimens, and I hope they will be quite satisfactory. The • Diversions of Purley,' it should be observed, is supposed to be carried on in a dialogue between the author and Sir Francis Burdett.
“ Enough, enough,” says Burdett, « innumerable instances of the same may, I grant
you, be given from all our ancient authors. But does this import us any thing ?'
“ Tooke. Surely, much, if it shall lead us to the clear understanding of the words we use in discourse. For as far as we know not our own meaning,' as far as 'our purposes are not endowed with words to make them known,' so far we ‘gabble like things most brutish.' But the importance rises higher, when we reflect upon the application of words to metaphysics. And when I say metaphysics, you will be pleased to remember that all general reasoning, all politics, law, morality, and divinity, are merely metaphysics.” [What is this general reasoning of Mr Tooke's?]
“ Well,” replies his pupil, “ you have satisfied me that wrong, however written, whether wrang, wrong or wrung, like the Italian torto and the French tort, is merely the past tense or participle of the verb to wring; and has merely that meaning?
“ TOOKE. True; it means wrung or wrested from the right or ordered line of conduct. Right is no other than rectum, the past participle of the Latin verb regere. The Italian dritto, and the French droit, are no other than the past participle directum. In the same manner VOL. I.