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the modes of the great may be expected, amidst all their caprices, to include some circumstances significant of the ease, and indolence, and luxury in which they live. In the extensive monarchies of modern Europe, which comprehend so great a diversity of pursuits and professions, there is a corresponding diversity of appearance and manners, inson uch, that most persons express by their look and gait the particular habits of life to which they have been accustomed. This professional look, whatever it is, whether it indicates the labor of the mind, or of the body, is always understood to derogate from the appearance and air of a man of fashion ; an appearance which, if accurately examined, will, perhaps, be found to consist less in any thing positive or specific, than in a complete negation of every thing which can be supposed, by the most remote association, to approximate the possessor to the laborious and useful classes of the community. The extravagant estimation in which the Chinese are said to hold diminutive feet in the female sex, has plainly arisen from an idea similar to that which has suggested the long nails of the Mandarines; that this deformity forms the most unequivocal mark of the indolent habits in which they have been brought up from infancy; and the vigilant care which has been taken in denying them the free and unconstrained exercise of their limbs. Nor is the taste of the Chinese, in this respect, (though certainly carried to an extreme,) altogether singular. It has probably prevailed to a certain extent among all civilized nations. Ovid, in counselling his pupil in the art of love, as to the flattery most likely to gain the ear of his mistress, begs him not to forget to praise her small foot and taper fingers; two points of female beauty which he manifestly combines together from their peculiar significance, as marks of a life spent in sedentary and effeminate indulgence :
“Nec faciem, nec te pigeat laudare capillos :
Nec teretes digitos, exiguumque pedem.” The French taste, in this particular, may be inferred from an oriental tale told by Montesquieu, in one of his
letters to his friend the Abbé de Guasco, of an old hermit, who, after having withstood, during a long life, all the temptations of the devil, was at last betrayed to his ruin by that subtle and malignant spirit, who appeared to him in the shape of a little slipper.*
The remarks now made may serve to suggest some general principles for explaining the agreement of different ages and nations in the employment of various signs which seem at first to be quite arbitrary : others, it is probable, might be traced up to certain natural signs of which they are abbreviations, in a manner analogous to that in which arbitrary written characters have been so ingeniously traced up by Dr. Warburton to pictures or hieroglyphics. I remember to have heard Mr. Braidwood remark, that his dumb pupils, from whatever part of the country they came, agreed, in most instances, in expressing assent by holding up the thumb, and dissent by holding up the little-finger. Admitting this to be a fact, (which I would not be understood to state upon my own personal knowledge,) it can be explained only by supposing that these gestures are abbreviations of those signs by which assent and dissent are generally expressed in the language of nature ; and, in truth, the process by which they were introduced may be easily conceived. For the natural sign of assent is to throw the body open, by moving the hand from the breast with the palm towards the body, and the thumb uppermost. The natural sign of dissent is the same movement, with the back of the hand towards the body, and the little finger uppermost. The former conveys the idea of cordiality, of good humor, and of inviting frankness—the latter of dislike and aversion. If two dumb persons were left to converse together, it is reasonable to suppose that they would gradually abridge their natural signs for the sake of despatch, and would content themselves with hinting at those movements, which could be easily anticipated from the commencement; and in this manner might
* Euvres de Montesquieu, Tom. V. p. 315, edit. of Paris, 1788.
raise those apparently arbitrary marks of assent and dissent, which have just been mentioned.
When different savage tribes have occasion to carry on any intercourse, whether friendly or hostile, with one another, the imperfections of natural signs will force them to call to their aid the use of such conventional signs as may be necessary to make themselves mutually understood; which conventional signs, when once introduced, will become permanent acquisitions to both parties. In this way it is easy to conceive how signs, the most capricious and arbitrary, may spread over such a continent as America, where the hunting-grounds of some of the tribes are compared in point of extent to the kingdom of France. And, in fact, it would appear, from some late accounts, that, in the new world, there exists a sort of mute Lingua Franca by which the different tribes hold communication with each other.
In a very interesting, and (as may be presumed from the authority under which it is published*) a very authentic historical account of the Indian nations, we are given to understand that there actually exists a system of visible signs, intelligible wherever Indians are to be found, over the whole American continent. “ The Indians,” it is said, “ have a language of signs, by which they communicate on occasions when speaking is not prudent or proper, as, for instance, when they are about to meet an enemy, and by speaking they would run the risk of being discovered. By this means they also make themselves understood to those nations of Indians whose language they are not acquainted with, for all the Indian nations understand each other in this way. It is also, in many cases, a saving of words, which the Indians are much intent on, believing that too much talking disgraces a man. When, therefore, they will relate something extraordinary in a few words, they make use of corresponding signs, which is very entertaining to those who listen and attend to them, and who are acquainted both with the language and the
* That of the American Philosophical Society, held at Philadelphia. See the first Volume of their Transactions, p. 116. (Phil. 1819.)
signs, being very much as if somebody were to explain a picture set before them.”
In a still more recent American publication* we are presented with a specimen of the visible and conventional signs used by the Indians. From the list, which occupies a good number of pages, it may suffice to select a few examples.
1. “Sun.—The fore-finger and thumb are brought together at tip, so as to form a circle, and held up towards the sun's track. To indicate any partiular time of the day, the hand with the sign of the sun is stretched out towards the east horizon, and then gradually elevated, to show the ascent of that luminary, until the hand arrives in the proper direction to indicate the part of the heavens in which the sun will be at the given time.”
2. “ Night or Sleeping.—The head, with the eyes closed, is laterally inclined for a moment upon the hand. As many times as this is repeated, so many nights are indicated ; † very frequently the sign of the sun is traced over the heavens, from east to west, to indicate the lapse of a day, and precedes the motion.”
3. “Combat.-The clenched hands are held about as high as the neck, and five or six inches asunder, then waved two or three times laterally, to show the advances and retreats of the combatants; after which the fingers of each hand are suffered to spring from the thumb toward each other, as in the act of sprinkling water, to represent the flight of missiles.”
* Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, performed in the years 1819 and 1820, by order of the Secretary of War: compiled from the notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, &c. by Edwin James. Published 1823.
† From the account of James Mitchell, a boy born blind and deaf, (printed in the seventh Volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,) it appears, that the same sign is employed by Miss Mitchell for the same purpose in her communications with her unfortunate brother, and that he interprets its meaning readily.
This vocabulary of the mute Lingua Franca, by which the savages of different tribes hold intercourse with each other, may serve to illustrate a remark of Court de Gebelin in his Monde Primitif.
“Rien ne seroit plus aisé que de composer une gramınaire du geste, et un dictionnaire du geste. C'est ce qu'avoient assez bien apperçu les religieux de l'ordre de Cîteaux, qui, vers la tin du seizième siècle, convinrent d'un certain nombre de signes pour leur tenir lieu de la parole: ils l'attachèrent le plus qu'ils purent à les rendre imitatifs. Un doigt contre l'oreille, signitioit chez eux ouir ; ôté de dessus l'æil, voir ; pour l'opposé c'étoit l'action de fermer ces deux organes. Recevoir, c'étoit fermer la main ; donner, c'étoit l'ouvrir. Se baigner, c'étoit passer sur la poitrine la main creuse, comme si elle contenoit de l'eau. La gorge serrée par la main désignoit la cessation de vie.”—Monde Primitif, Tome III. pp. 106, 107.
These facts seem to me to be not only curious, but to form a new and not unimportant accession to the Philosophy of the Mind. They illustrate in a very striking manner the instinctive propensity in our species to communicate their ideas to each other; and the variety of expedients (some of them by no means obvious) to accomplish this end, which necessity suggests to man even in his radest state. The existence of an artificial language, consisting of visible signs, intelligible among all the Indian nations spread over the American Continent, is a fact which I do not recollect to have met with in any prior account of these interesting communities; and if duly reflected on, may serve to diminish our wonder at the invention of oral speech ;—an art to which many philosophers of high name have affirmed that the human faculties would have been altogether incompetent, without an express revelation for the purpose. Surely the ingenuity displayed in these visible signs is at least equal to what is requisite for giving audible names to surrounding objects, and for some of the succeeding steps in the formation of speech. The truth of this position will, I hope, be still more clearly evinced by some of the following speculations.
of Artificial Language.
It was before remarked, that, as ideas multiply, the imperfections of natural language are felt, and men find it necessary to invent artificial signs, of which the meaning is fixed by mutual agreement. Dumb people, who associate much together, soon invent a language of their own, consisting of visible signs; and the same thing happens in those convents and boarding-schools, where a severe discipline prevents a free communication by means of ordinary speech.
Artificial signs may be divided into the visible and the audible. To the former class belong those signals by fire, which were so much in use among the ancients.