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We have an excellent specimen of this in a Mr. O. Wheelock, * who writes thus to the editor of the Phonetic Magazine.
I have examined the last Number of your monthly Magazine, and I take the liberty to say that I heartily approve of your Phonetic Alphabet the more so on account of the perplexity I have experienced in spelling, both in learning and teaching; for I have ever considered the spelling of a class of pupils a mere game of haphazard, and have often felt the necessity of some such system, long before I ever heard of yours. Of the 85,000 words in our language, only about 60, I think, are spelled strictly according to their sound nearly 85,000 separate impressions are to be stamped upon the memory before he can spell perfectly the English language! This it takes him [whom?] a lifetime to accomplish [!!] to the neglect of the more useful branches. Were a person required to remember the names of 85,000 plants, the task would be thought too great for the mind to accomplish; still how much greater the task to learn and remember the exact position of all the letters of 85,000 words! (How exactly parallel the two cases are!] Yet should a man make pretension to an education, and spell one word wrong, he would subject himself to ridicule."
Of course the next step after the Perfect Alphabet will be a Perfect Grammar, with no irregular inflections, or exceptions to any of its rules. Such a scheme, indeed, is quite as sensible in theory and as feasible in practice, as that of the New Alphabet.
It will help us to form an idea of the practicability of establishing a universal alphabet, if we look at another uniformity which, though involving far less difficulty, has never yet been attained we mean a uniform pronunciation of the ancient languages. In this respect, the literary world has made no progress since the time of Erasmus: the Englishman who speaks Latin is unintelligible to the German; the German who speaks Latin is ridiculous to the Frenchman. Even in our own country it has not been possible to bring about this uniformity - Greek is still pronounced one way in New York and another in Boston. We remember that some years ago there was a congress of professors held here to take
is this ger nan of the principles of our language, that he is actually at a loss for a rule to determine the sound of a in male.
into consideration this very matter. Various schemes were proposed. There was much talk about the modern Greek system. Professor Woolsey informed the conclave (whether in real or ironical recommendation, or whether simply as a piece of information, we will not pretend to say) that this was the pronunciation of the uncient Bæotians; and at length the grave assembly broke up decidedly re infecta.
But let us suppose the Phonetic system established as the standard orthography of the English language: is it certain that it would put an end to all the difficulties, of the subject, and that it would render mispronunciation impossible a point on which Dr. K. is particularly sanguine? Here, again, an analogy from experience will afford us some aid. The Spanish alphabet is remarkably simple, having but one silent letter,
* and two letters with different sounds; but we have yet to learn that it is a phenomenon to find a Spaniard who spells or pronounces incorrectly, or that the Spanish language is particularly free from dialects and local peculiarities. We may be sure that those sturdy democrats of language who find the ordinary rules of orthography too grievous a burden, would not long submit even to the rules of Dr. K. The mere desire to distinguish between words pronounced alike, such as fair and fare, which the “Phonetic” system completely confounds (this is an objection, and a very serious one, which seems never to have occurred to the “Phonologists"), would introduce some variation. Again there are words as to the pronunciation of which the best authorities differ (e. g. either and neither), * and others in which the American usage differs from the English (e. g. all words beginning with wh). How can this fail to introduce a diversity ? unless Dr. K. is to be the sole arbiter of pronunciation as well as spelling. Were this new orthography established, it would soon degenerate into general license: one man's "system” would be confusion to his neighbors. Probably every one of our readers can furnish from his own experience some instance of amusing perplexity caused him by a practical "phonographer” – for phonographers were living before Dr. Komstok, though generally in very humble walks of life. The story of Dr. Franklin's chambermaid * is well known. We have heard one nearly as good. Some ship-owners during the last war received a letter from their Captain, whose literary abilities were not quite equal to bis nautical. After passing through various -Phonetic” spellings, such as bloked for blockade, they were at length brought to a full stop by the occurrence of the word wig, in a place where it could not possibly be made to harmonize with the context. As a last resort an old tar who had more than once sailed under the captain was summoned. Jack glanced at the hieroglyphic, and instantly interpreted thus, "Its all plain enough, Cap’n says as how the wyge (voyage) ’Il be a good one after all."
* The Spanish h affords a striking exemplification of the occasional value of those silent letters which our Phonetic reformers 80 contemptuously reject. Though of no use at all in pronunciation, it is of great importance to the philologist as it represents the Latin s, facis, hacer, filius, hijo, &c.
* “Do you say either or eether ?” some one asked Dr. Johnson, "Naylher!" replied the Lexicographist.
Indeed the “Phonetic Reformers” are already disagreeing among themselves. We see in the Phonetic Magazine much thunder launched against one Pitman, an Englishman, who uses some characters “like those on a tea-chest" (misled perhaps by some fancied etymological connexion between teachest and teacher), and others "like Apothecaries' drams and scruples" (Dr. K. has no scruples about his alphabet). There is also a paper published in this city called the Anglo-Sacsun, on yet another different system of "Phonotypy,” which publishes a list of 150 teachers of, and lecturers on “the true system of spelling words – that is, just as they are pronounced.” We are uncharitable enough to doubt whether all these teachers and lecturers believe in their own graphy and typy, whatever it may be, and whether some of them are not speculating on the public avidity for new hobbies and delusions. Of Dr. K. himmself, we would not wil
* Franklin is claimed as the parent of "Phonography," and thus spoken of in the Phonetic Magazine :
--His facetiousness and reputation set that Phonetic spirit in action which has now reached its perfection in form through the genius of Dr. Andrew Comstock."
Chapeau bas! Chapeau bas !
lingly suppose anything harsh, especially after the flattering things he has said of our "tight little island," respecting which he states poetically (for the Doctor is a poet no less than a philosopher), that
"Manhattan is an isle,
Where talent is spontaneous ;
Their pieces miscellaneous.” Of him then, and of all sincere believers in “Phonotypy," we cannot take leave better than in the words of Thucydides. "We bless their innocence, but do not envy their simplicity.”
THE PROSE WRITINGS OF ANDRE
American Review, January 1848.
EVERY one at all conversant with French literature has heard of the young poet, who “struck his lyre at the foot of the scaffold,"
and whose last verses were interrupted by the summons of the executioner. It is not so generally known that this man was one of the most vigorous, independent, and sagacious prose writers of the exciting period at which he lived. The first feeling on reading his political essays is one of surprise, that writers on the French Revolution should have alluded to him only as the poet -- or rather the youth who would have been a poet, had he not perished so young. Even his cousin, M. Thiers, while going so far as to call him a distinguished poet, * makes not the least mention of his controversial writings.
* Euvres en Prose d'Andre Chenier. Paris : Charles Gosselin. 1840.
of "Dans le nombre etaient deux poetes celebres, Roucher, l'auteur des Mois, et le jeune Andre Chernier, qui lassa d'admirables ebauches.”
Thiers, Revolution Française, vi. 200.
Now in this we are persuaded that Chénier has not been fairly treated. His poetry, rough and fragmentary as most of it is, does not put him very high on Parnassus – even the Gallic Parnassus. His longer productions are principally imitations of the classics; and everybody knows what French imitations of the classics are, and that they resemble the Greek originals about as much as the domestic madonnas, so common in a certain city of this Union, do the Raphaels at Florence. To our mind the man who could translate
αλλάλαις λαλούνται τέον γάμον αι κυπάρισσαι, ,
C'est ce bois qui de joie et s'agite et murmure, had fallen very far short of the spirit of Theocritus. In shorter pieces, (such as his stanzas to Fanny, and other erotics.) where he had, partially at least, escaped from the influence of his classic pseudo-models, there is more poetic fire. But even his last and best known verses, “Comme un dernier rayon, comme un dernier zéphyre,” &c., owe their celebrity more to the unexampled circumstances under which they were written, than to any intrinsic merit. And, generally, his “rough sketches,” (ébauches,) as Thiers appropriately calls them, have been praised by his compatriots, chiefly for the promise they gave, as if, to use his own dying words, he “had something in his head," which would have come out with more time and opportunity. Now this sort of reputation is, repeat it, very far below Chénier's deserts. And we would vindicate for him, not the vague and doubtful renown of a possible poet, but the real and tangible character of an excellent political writer, with a strong and clear style, an indomitable spirit of independence, and a sagacity which, considering the circumstances in which he was placed, is but faintly depicted by the epithet extraordinary. Before proceeding to justify this claim of ours in detail, we will mention two facts which may, at any rate, tend to gain us a hearing. It was André Chénier whom the conservative secession from the Jacobin Club, selected to prepare their manifesto and profession of faith. It was André Chénier who composed that letter in which the unfortunate Louis XVI. made his last appeal to the people.