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An Universal Alphabet, Grammar, and Language

An Universal Alphabet, Grammar, and Language

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Excerpt from An Universal Alphabet, Grammar, and Language: Containing a Scientific Classification of the Radical Elements of Discourse: And Illustrative Translations From the Holy Scriptures and the Principal British Classics; To Which Is Added, a Dictionary of the Language

The Public may reasonably expect, at least, a short sketch of the origin and progress of the subject to which its attention is now respectfully invited: - that of a Universal Language. I am not aware of any practical attempt to realize a Universal Language before the year 1668, when Dr. Wilkins, then Dean of Ripon, and afterwards Bishop of Chester, published his justly celebrated work, entitled "An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language." The high honor of originating this grand conception is due, and most honorably is attributed, by Dr. Wilkins to Dr. Seth Ward, Bishop of Salisbury, respecting whom he says, "It was from this suggestion of his that I first had any distinct apprehension of the proper course to be observed in such an undertaking." It has been said by Antony a Wood, that "One George Dalgarno, a Scot, wrote a book entitled 'Ars Signorum, &c. London 1661' which, before it went to press, the author communicated to Dr. Wilkins, who took from it a hint of his great work 'The Essay.'" I have not seen the "Ars Signorum" If it contains the principles on which Dr. Wilkins's classification of the radical substantives of language is founded, the name of Dalgarno ought to be enrolled among the benefactors of mankind.

But, after Dr. Wilkins's solemn disclamation of the honor of this invention, and his ascription of it to Dr. Seth Ward, there appears to me to be no justice in the imputation cast on Dr. Wilkins, in the "Supplement to the Encyclopedia Brittanica," vol iii. p. 466. which assails him in the following harsh language. "It is highly discreditable to Wilkins, that he takes no notice whatever of the name of Dalgarno." It is incredible that a Bishop of the Church of England, having emphatically denuded himself of the honor of the invention, would state a public falsehood in favor of Dr. Ward, who himself must have known that it was a falsehood. Again, Dalgarno lived many years after the Essay was published by Dr. Wilkins; he could, therefore, have contradicted the latter, and have done himself full justice. He was absolutely silent: the inference, therefore, is plain: - Dr. Wilkins did not derive "the suggestion" or "hint" from Dalgarno, but from Dr. Ward.

There is a natural curiosity to trace a great river to its source: - we feel a like curiosity with regard to any great achievement of mankind. In the present case, Wilkins's Essay arose, as we have said, out of a conversation with a college friend, - Dr. Ward. "I had frequent occasion," says Dr. Wilkins, "of conferring with him concerning the various desiderata proposed by learned men," &c. "(among which, this of the Universal Character was one of the principal), most of which he had more deeply considered than any other person that I knew. And in reference to this particular, he would say, - that as it was one of the most useful, so he judged it to be one of the most feasible among all the rest, if prosecuted in a regular way. But for all such attempts for this purpose, which he had either seen or heard of, the authors of them did generally mistake in their first foundations, whilst they did propose to themselves the framing of such a character from a dictionary of words, according to some particular language, without reference to the nature of things, and that common notion of them wherein mankind does agree."

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