The Temple of Nature; or, the Origin of Society - A Poem, with Philosophical Notes
by Erasmus Darwin
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We are so accustomed to see bodies attract each other, when they are in absolute contact, as dew drops or particles of quicksilver forming themselves into spheres, as water rising in capillary tubes, the solution of salts and sugar in water, and the cohesion with which all hard bodies are held together, that we are not surprised at the attractions of bodies in contact with each other, but ascribe them to a law affecting all matter. In similar manner when two bodies in apparent contact repel each other, as oil thrown on water; or when heat converts ice into water and water into steam; or when one hard body in motion pushes another hard body out of its place; we feel no surprise, as these events so perpetually occur to us, but ascribe them as well as the attractions of bodies in contact with each other, to a general law of nature.

But when distant bodies appear to attract or repel each other, as we believe that nothing can act where it does not exist, we are struck with astonishment; which is owing to our not seeing the intermediate ethers, the existence of which is ascertained by the electric and magnetic facts above related.

From the facts and observations above mentioned electricity and magnetism consist each of them of two ethers, as the vitreous and resinous electric ethers, and the arctic and antarctic magnetic ethers. But as neither of the electric ethers will pass through glass or resin; and as neither of the magnetic ethers will pass through any bodies except iron; and yet the attractive and repulsive powers accompanying all these ethers permeate bodies of all kinds; it follows, that ethers more subtile than either the electric or magnetic ones attend those ethers forming atmospheres round them; as those electric and magnetic ethers themselves form atmospheres round other bodies.

This secondary atmosphere of the electric one appears to consist of two ethers, like the electric one which it surrounds: but these ethers are probably more subtile as they permeate all bodies; and when they unite by the reciprocal approach of the bodies, which they surround, they do not appear to emit heat and light, as the primary electric atmospheres do; and therefore they are simpler fluids, as they are not previously combined with heat and light. The secondary magnetic atmospheres are also probably more subtile or simple than the primary ones.

Hence we may suppose, that not only all the larger insulated masses of matter, but all the minute particles also, which constitute those masses, are surrounded by two ethereal fluids; which like the electric and magnetic ones attract each other forcibly, and as forcibly repel those of the same denomination; and at the same time strongly adhere to the bodies, which they surround. Secondly that these ethers are of the finer kind, like those secondary ones, which surround the primary electric and magnetic ethers; and that therefore they do not explode giving out heat and light when they unite, but simply combine, and become neutral; and lastly, that they surround different bodies in different proportions, as the vitreous and resinous electric ethers were shown to surround silver and zinc and many other metals in different proportions in No. IX. of this note.

5. For the greater ease of conversing on this subject, we shall call these two ethers, with which all bodies are surrounded, the masculine and the feminine ethers; and suppose them to possess the properties above mentioned. We should here however previously observe, that in chemical processes it is necessary, that the bodies, which are to combine or unite with each other, should be in a fluid state, and the particles in contact with each other; thus when salt is dissolving in water, the particles of salt unite with those of the water, which touch them; these particles of water become saturated, and thence attract some of the saline particles with less force; which are therefore attracted from them by those behind; and the first particles of water are again saturated from the solid salt; or in some similar processes the saturated combinations may subside or evaporate, as in the union of the two electric ethers, or in the explosion of gunpowder, and thus those in their vicinity may approach each other. This necessity of a liquid form for the purpose of combination appears in the lighting of gunpowder, as well as in all other combustion, the spark of fire applied dissolves the sulphur, and liquifies the combined heat; and by these means a fluidity succeeds, and the consequent attractions and repulsions, which form the explosion.

The whole mixed mass of matter, of which the earth is composed, we suppose to be surrounded and penetrated by the two ethers, but with a greater proportion of the masculine ether than of the feminine. When a stone is elevated above the surface of the earth, we suppose it also to be surrounded with an atmosphere of the two ethers, but with a greater proportion of the feminine than of the masculine, and that these ethers adhere strongly by cohesion both to the earth and to the stone elevated above it. Now the greater quantity of the masculine ether of the earth becomes in contact with the greater quantity of the feminine ether of the stone above it; which it powerfully attracts, and at the same time repels the less quantity of the masculine ether of the stone. The reciprocal attractions of these two fluids, if not restrained by counter attractions, bring them together as in chemical combination, and thus they bring together the solid bodies, which they reciprocally adhere to; if they be not immovable; which solid bodies, when brought into contact, cohere by their own reciprocal attractions, and hence the mysterious affair of distant attraction or gravitation becomes intelligible, and consonant to the chemical combinations of fluids.

To further elucidate these various attractions, if the patient reader be not already tired, he will please to attend to the following experiment: let a bit of sponge suspended on a silk line be moistened with a solution of pure alcali, and another similar piece of sponge be moistened with a weak acid, and suspended near the former; electrize one of them with vitreous ether, and the other with resinous ether; as they hang with a thin plate of glass between them: now as these two electric ethers appear to attract each other without intermixing; as neither of them can pass through glass; they must be themselves surrounded with secondary ethers, which pass through the glass, and attract each other, as they become in contact; as these secondary ethers adhere to the primary vitreous and resinous ethers, these primary ones are drawn by them into each other's vicinity by the attraction of cohesion, and become condensed on each side of the glass plane; and then when the glass plane is withdrawn, the two electric ethers being now in contact rush violently together, and draw along with them the pieces of moistened sponge, to which they adhere; and finally the acid and alcaline liquids being now brought into contact combine by their chemical affinity.

The repulsions of distant bodies are also explicable by this idea of their being surrounded with two ethers, which we have termed masculine and feminine for the ease of conversing about them; and have compared them to vitreous and resinous electricity, and to arctic and antarctic magnetism. As when two particles of matter, or two larger masses of it, are surrounded both with their masculine ethers, these ethers repel each other or refuse to intermix; and in consequence the bodies to which they adhere, recede from each other; as two cork-balls suspended near each other, and electrised both with vitreous or both with resinous ether, repel each other; or as the extremities of two needles magnetised both with arctic, or both with antarctic ether, repel each other; or as oil and water surrounded both with their masculine, or both with their feminine ethers, repel each other without touching; so light is believed to be reflected from a mirror without touching its surface, and to be bent towards the edge of a knife, or refracted by its approach from a rarer medium into a denser one, by the repulsive ether of the mirror, and the attractive ones of the knife-edge, and of the denser medium. Thus a polished tea-cup slips on the polished saucer probably without their actual contact with each other, till a few drops of water are interposed between them by capillary attraction, and prevent its sliding by their tenacity. And so, lastly, one hard body in motion pushes another hard body out of its place by their repulsive ethers without being in contact; as appears from their not adhering to each other, which all bodies in real contact are believed to do. Whence also may be inferred the reason why bodies have been supposed to repel at one distance and attract at another, because they attract when their particles are in contact with each other, and either attract or repel when at a distance by the intervention of their attractive or repulsive ethers.

Thus have I endeavoured to take one step further back into the mystery of the gravitation and repulsion of bodies, which appeared to be distant from each other, as of the sun and planets, as I before endeavoured to take one step further back into the mysteries of generation in my account of the production of the buds of vegetables in Phytologia. With what success these have been attended I now leave to the judgment of philosophical readers, from which I can make no appeal.



Fond Fancy's eye recalls the form divine, And Taste sits smiling upon Beauty's shrine. CANTO III. l. 221.

The word Taste in its extensive application may express the pleasures received by any of our senses, when excited into action by the stimulus of external objects; as when odours stimulate the nostrils, or flavours the palate; or when smoothness, or softness, are perceived by the touch, or warmth by its adapted organ of sense. The word Taste is also used to signify the pleasurable trains of ideas suggested by language, as in the compositions of poetry and oratory. But the pleasures, consequent to the exertions of our sense of vision only, are designed here to be treated of, with occasional references to those of the ear, when they elucidate each other.

When any of our organs of sense are excited into their due quantity of action, a pleasurable sensation succeeds, as shown in Zoonomia, Vol. I. Sect. IV. These are simply the pleasures attending perception, and not those which are termed the pleasures of Taste; which consist of additional pleasures arising from the peculiar forms or colours of objects, or of their peculiar combinations or successions, or from other agreeable trains of ideas previously associated with them.

There are four sources of pleasure attendant on the excitation of the nerves of vision by light and colours, besides that simply of perception above mentioned; the first is derived from a degree of novelty of the forms, colours, numbers, combinations, or successions, and visible objects. The second is derived from a degree of repetition of their forms, colours, numbers, combinations, or successions. Where these two circumstances exist united in certain quantities, and compose the principal part of a landscape, it is termed picturesque by modern writers. The third source of pleasure from the perception of the visible world may be termed the melody of colours, which will be shown to coincide with melody of sounds: this circumstance may also accompany the picturesque, and will add to the pleasure it affords. The fourth source of pleasure from the perception of visible objects is derived from the previous association of other pleasurable trains of ideas with certain forms, colours, combinations, or successions of them. Whence the beautiful, sublime, romantic, melancholic, and other emotions, which have not acquired names to express them. We may add, that all these four sources of pleasure from perceptions are equally applicable to those of sounds as of sights.

I. Novelty or infrequency of visible objects.

The first circumstance, which suggests an additional pleasure in the contemplation of visible objects, besides that of simple perception, arises from their novelty or infrequency; that is from the unusual combinations or successions of their forms or colours. From this source is derived the perpetual cheerfulness of youth, and the want of it is liable to add a gloom to the countenance of age. It is this which produces variety in landscape compared with the common course of nature, an intricacy which incites investigation, and a curiosity which leads to explore the works of nature. Those who travel into foreign regions instigated by curiosity, or who examine and unfold the intricacies of sciences at home, are led by novelty; which not only supplies ornament to beauty or to grandeur, but adds agreeable surprise to the point of the epigram, and to the double meaning of the pun, and is courted alike by poets and philosophers.

It should be here premised, that the word Novelty, as used in these pages, admits of degrees or quantities, some objects, or the ideas excited by them, possessing more or less novelty, as they are more or less unusual. Which the reader will please to attend to, as we have used the word Infrequency of objects, or of the ideas excited by them, to express the degrees or quantities of their novelty.

The source, from which is derived the pleasure of novelty, is a metaphysical inquiry of great curiosity, and will on that account excuse my here introducing it. In our waking hours whenever an idea occurs, which is incongruous to our former experience, we instantly dissever the train of imagination by the power of volition; and compare the incongruous idea with our previous knowledge of nature, and reject it. This operation of the mind has not yet acquired a specific name, though it is exerted every minute of our waking hours, unless it may be termed INTUITIVE ANALOGY. It is an act of reasoning of which we are unconscious except by its effects in preserving the congruity of our ideas; Zoonomia, Vol. I. Sect. XVII. 5. 7.

In our sleep as the power of volition is suspended, and consequently that of reason, when any incongruous ideas occur in the trains of imagination, which compose our dreams; we cannot compare them with our previous knowledge of nature and reject them; whence arises the perpetual inconsistency of our sleeping trains of ideas; and whence in our dreams we never feel the sentiment of novelty; however different the ideas, which present themselves, may be from the usual course of nature.

But in our waking hours, whenever any object occurs which does not accord with the usual course of nature, we immediately and unconsciously exert our voluntary power, and examine it by intuitive analogy, comparing it with our previous knowledge of nature. This exertion of our volition excites many other ideas, and is attended with pleasurable sensation; which constitutes the sentiment of novelty. But when the object of novelty stimulates us so forcibly as suddenly to disunite our passing trains of ideas, as if a pistol be unexpectedly discharged, the emotion of surprise is experienced; which by exciting violent irritation and violent sensation, employs for a time the whole sensorial energy, and thus dissevers the passing trains of ideas; before the power of volition has time to compare them with the usual phenomena of nature; but as the painful emotion of fear is then generally added to that of surprise, as every one experiences, who hears a noise in the dark, which he cannot immediately account for; this great degree of novelty, when it produces much surprise, generally ceases to be pleasurable, and does not then belong to objects of taste.

In its less degree surprise is generally agreeable, as it simply expresses the sentiment occasioned by the novelty of our ideas; as in common language we say, we are agreeably surprised at the unexpected meeting with a friend, which not only expresses the sentiment of novelty, but also the pleasure from other agreeable ideas associated with the object of it.

It must appear from hence, that different persons must be affected more or less agreeably by different degrees or quantities of novelty in the objects of taste; according to their previous knowledge of nature, or their previous habits or opportunities of attending to the fine arts. Thus before its nativity the fetus experiences the perceptions of heat and cold, of hardness and softness, of motion and rest, with those perhaps of hunger and repletion, sleeping and waking, pain and pleasure; and perhaps some other perceptions, which may at this early time of its existence have occasioned perpetual trains of ideas. On its arrival into the world the perceptions of light and sound must by their novelty at first dissever its usual trains of ideas and occasion great surprise; which after a few repetitions will cease to be disagreeable, and only excite the emotion from novelty, which has not acquired a separate name, but is in reality a less degree of surprise; and by further experience the sentiment of novelty, or any degree of surprise, will cease to be excited by the sounds or sights, which at first excited perhaps a painful quantity of surprise.

It should here be observed, that as the pleasure of novelty is produced by the exertion of our voluntary power in comparing uncommon objects with those which are more usually exhibited; this sentiment of novelty is less perceived by those who do not readily use the faculty of volition, or who have little previous knowledge of nature, as by very ignorant or very stupid people, or by brute animals; and that therefore to be affected with this circumstance of the objects of Taste requires some previous knowledge of-such kinds of objects, and some degree of mental exertion.

Hence when a greater variety of objects than usual is presented to the eye, or when some intricacy of forms, colours, or reciprocal locality more than usual accompanies them, it is termed novelty if it only excites the exertion of intuitive comparison with the usual order of nature, and affects us with pleasurable sensation; but is termed surprise, if it suddenly dissevers our accustomed habits of motion, and is then more generally attended with disagreeable sensation. To this circumstance attending objects of taste is to be referred what is termed wild and irregular in landscapes, in contradistinction to the repetition of parts or uniformity spoken of below. We may add, that novelty of notes and tones in music, or of their combinations or successions, are equally agreeable to the ear, as the novelty of forms and colours, and of their combinations or successions are to the eye; but that the greater quantity or degree of novelty, the sentiment of which is generally termed Surprise, is more frequently excited by unusual or unexpected sounds; which are liable to alarm us with fear, as well as surprise us with novelty.

II. Repetition of visible objects.

The repeated excitement of the same or similar ideas with certain intervals of time, or distances of space between them, is attended with agreeable sensations, besides that simply of perception; and, though it appears to be diametrically opposite to the pleasure arising from the novelty of objects above treated of, enters into the compositions of all the agreeable arts.

The pleasure arising from the repetition of similar ideas with certain intervals of time or distances of space between them is a subject of great metaphysical curiosity, as well as the source of the pleasure derived from novelty, which will I hope excuse its introduction in this place.

The repetitions of motions may be at first produced either by volition, or by sensation, or by irritation, but they soon become easier to perform than any other kinds of action, because they soon become associated together; and thus their frequency of repetition, if as much sensorial power be produced during every reiteration, as is expended, adds to the facility of their production.

If a stimulus be repeated at uniform intervals of time, the action, whether of our muscles or organs of sense, is produced with still greater facility or energy; because the sensorial power of association, mentioned above, is combined with the sensorial power of irritation; that is in common language, the acquired habit assists the power of the stimulus.

This not only obtains in the annual, lunar, and diurnal catenations of animal motions, as explained in Zoonomia, Sect. XXXVI. which are thus performed with great facility and energy; but in every less circle of actions or ideas, as in the burden of a song, or the reiterations of a dance. To the facility and distinctness, with which we hear sounds at repeated intervals, we owe the pleasure, which we receive from musical time, and from poetic time, as described in Botanic Garden, V. II. Interlude III. And to this the pleasure we receive from the rhimes and alliterations of modern versification; the source of which without this key would be difficult to discover.

There is no variety of notes referable to the gamut in the beating of a drum, yet if it be performed in musical time, it is agreeable to our ears; and therefore this pleasurable sensation must be owing to the repetition of the divisions of the sounds at certain intervals of time, or musical bars. Whether these times or bars are distinguished by a pause, or by an emphasis, or accent, certain it is, that this distinction is perpetually repeated; otherwise the ear could not determine instantly, whether the successions of sound were in common or in triple time.

But besides these little circles of musical time, there are the greater returning periods, and the still more distinct choruses; which, like the rhimes at the end of verses, owe their beauty to repetition; that is, to the facility and distinctness with which we perceive sounds, which we expect to perceive or have perceived before; or in the language of this work, to the greater ease and energy with which our organ is excited by the combined sensorial powers of association and irritation, than by the latter singly.

This kind of pleasure arising from repetition, that is from the facility and distinctness with which we perceive and understand repeated sensations, enters into all the agreeable arts; and when it is carried to excess is termed formality. The art of dancing like that of music depends for a great part of the pleasure, it affords, on repetition; architecture, especially the Grecian, consists of one part being a repetition of another, and hence the beauty of the pyramidal outline in landscape-painting; where one side of the picture may be said in some measure to balance the other. So universally does repetition contribute to our pleasure in the fine arts, that beauty itself has been defined by some writers to consist in a due combination of uniformity and variety: Zoonomia, Vol. I. Sect. XXII. 2. 1.

Where these repetitions of form, and reiterations of colour, are produced in a picture or a natural landscape, in an agreeable quantity, it is termed simplicity, or unity of character; where the repetition principally is seen in the disposition or locality of the divisions, it is called symmetry, proportion, or grouping the separate parts; where this repetition is most conspicuous in the forms of visible objects, it is called regularity or uniformity; and where it affects the colouring principally, the artists call it breadth of colour.

There is nevertheless, an excess of the repetition of the same or similar ideas, which ceases to please, and must therefore be excluded from compositions of Taste in painted landscapes, or in ornamented gardens; which is then called formality, monotony, or insipidity. Why the excitation of ideas should give additional pleasure by the facility and distinctness of their production for a certain time, and then cease to give additional pleasure; and gradually to give less pleasure than that, which attends simple exertion of them; is another curious metaphysical problem, and deserves investigation.

In our waking hours a perpetual voluntary exertion, of which we are unconscious, attends all our new trains of ideas, whether those of imagination or of perception; which by comparing them with our former experience preserves the consistency of the former, by rejecting such as are incongruous; and adds to the credibility of the latter, by their analogy to objects of our previous knowledge: and this exertion is attended with pleasurable sensation. After very frequent repetition these trains of ideas do not excite the exertion of this intuitive analogy, and in consequence are not attended with additional pleasure to that simply of perception; and by continued repetition they at length lose even the pleasure simply of perception, and thence finally cease to be excited; whence one cause of the torpor of old age, and of death, as spoken of in Additional Note, No. VII. 3. of this work.

When there exists in any landscape a certain number and diversity of forms and colours, or of their combinations or successions, so as to produce a degree of novelty; and that with a certain repetition, or arrangement of parts, so as to render them gradually comprehensible or easily compared with the usual course of nature; if this agreeable combination of visible objects be on a moderate scale, in respect to magnitude, and form the principal part of the landscape, it is termed PICTURESQUE by modern artists; and when such a combination of forms and colours contains many easy flowing curves and smooth surfaces, the delightful sentiment of BEAUTY becomes added to the pleasure of the Picturesque.

If the above agreeable combination of novelty and repetition exists on a larger scale with more projecting rocks, and deeper dells, and perhaps with a somewhat greater proportion of novelty than repetition, the landscape assumes the name of ROMANTIC; and if some of these forms or combinations are much above the usual magnitude of similar objects, the more interesting sentiment of SUBLIMITY becomes mixed with the pleasure of the romantic.

III. Melody of Colours.

A third source of pleasure arising from the inspection of visible objects, besides that of simple perception, arises from what may be termed melody of colours, as certain colours are more agreeable, when they succeed each other; or when they are disposed in each other's vicinity, so as successively to affect the organ of vision.

In a paper on the colours seen in the eye after looking for some time on luminous objects, published by Dr. Darwin of Shrewsbury in the Philos. Trans. Vol. 76, it is evidently shown, that we see certain colours not only with greater ease and distinctness, but with relief and pleasure, after having for some time inspected other certain colours; as green after red, or red after green; orange after blue, or blue after orange; yellow after violet, or violet after yellow; this, he shows, arises from the ocular spectrum of the colour last viewed coinciding with the irritation of the colour now under contemplation.

Thus if you make a dot with ink in the centre of a circle of red silk the size of a letter-wafer, and place it on a sheet of white paper, and look on it for a minute without moving your eyes; and then gently turn them on the white paper in its vicinity, or gently close them, and hold one hand an inch or two before them, to prevent too much light from passing through the eyelids, a circular spot of pale green will be seen on the white paper, or in the closed eye; which is called the ocular spectrum of the red silk, and is formed as Dr. Darwin shows by the pandiculation or stretching of the fine fibrils, which constitute the extremities of the optic nerve, in a direction contrary to that, in which they have been excited by previously looking at a luminous object, till they become fatigued; like the yawning or stretching of the larger muscles after acting long in one direction.

If at this time the eye, fatigued by looking long at the centre of the red silk, be turned on paper previously coloured with pale green; the circular spot or ocular spectrum will appear of a much darker green; as now the irritation from the pale green paper coincides with the pale green spectrum remaining in the eye, and thus excites those fibres of the retina into stronger action; on this account some colours are seen more distinctly, and consequently more agreeably after others; or when placed in the vicinity of others; thus if orange-coloured letters are painted on a blue ground, they may be read at as great distance as black on white, perhaps at a greater.

The colours, which are thus more distinct when seen in succession are called opposite colours by Sir Isaac Newton in his optics, Book I. Part 2, and may be easily discovered by any one, by the method above described; that is by laying a coloured circle of paper or silk on a sheet of white paper, and inspecting it some time with steady eyes, and then either gently closing them, or removing them on another part of the white paper, and the ocular spectrum or opposite colour becomes visible in the eye.

Sir Isaac Newton has observed, that the breadths of the seven primary colours in the sun's image refracted by a prism, are proportioned to the seven musical notes of the gamut; or to the intervals of the eight sounds contained in an octave.

From this curious coincidence, it has been proposed to produce a luminous music, consisting of successions or combinations of colours, analogous to a tune in respect to the proportions above mentioned. This might be performed by a strong light, made by means of Mr. Argand's lamps, passing through coloured glasses, and falling on a defined part of the wall, with moveable blinds before them, which might communicate with the keys of a harpsichord, and thus produce at the same time visible and audible music in unison with each other.

Now as the pleasure we receive from the sensation of melodious notes, independent of musical time, and of the previous associations of agreeable ideas with them, must arise from our hearing some proportions of sounds after others more easily, distinctly, or agreeably; and as there is a coincidence between the proportions of the primary colours, and the primary sounds, if they may be so called; the same laws must probably govern the sensations of both. In this circumstance therefore consists the sisterhood of Music and Painting; and hence they claim a right to borrow metaphors from each other: musicians to speak of the brilliancy of sounds, and the light and shade of a concerto; and painters of the harmony of colours, and the tone of a picture.

This source of pleasure received from the melodious succession of colours or of sounds must not be confounded with the pleasure received from the repetition of them explained above, though the repetition, or division of musical notes into bars, so as to produce common or triple time, contributes much to the pleasure of music; but in viewing a fixed landscape nothing like musical time exists; and the pleasure received therefore from certain successions of colours must depend only on the more easy or distinct action of the retina in perceiving some colours after others, or in their vicinity, like the facility or even pleasure with which we act with contrary muscles in yawning or stretching after having been fatigued with a long previous exertion in the contrary direction.

Hence where colours are required to be distinct, those which are opposite to each other, should be brought into succession or vicinity; as red and green, orange and blue, yellow and violet; but where colours are required to intermix imperceptibly, or slide into each other, these should not be chosen; as they might by contrast appear too glaring or tawdry. These gradations and contrasts of colours have been practically employed both by the painters of landscape, and by the planters of ornamental gardens; though the theory of this part of the pleasure derived from visible objects was not explained before the publication of the paper on ocular spectra above mentioned; which is reprinted at the end of the first part of Zoonomia, and has thrown great light on the actions of the nerves of sense in consequence of the stimulus of external bodies.

IV. Association of agreeable sentiments with visible objects.

Besides the pleasure experienced simply by the perception of visible objects, it has been already shown, that there is an additional pleasure arising from the inspection of those, which possess novelty, or some degree of it; a second additional pleasure from those, which possess in some degree a repetition of their parts; and a third from those, which possess a succession of particular colours, which either contrast or slide into each other, and which we have termed melody of colours.

We now step forward to the fourth source of the pleasures arising from the contemplation of visible objects besides that simply of perception, which consists in our previous association of some agreeable sentiment with certain forms or combinations of them. These four kinds of pleasure singly or in combination constitute what is generally understood by the word Taste in respect to the visible world; and by parity of reasoning it is probable, that the pleasurable ideas received by the other senses, or which are associated with language, may be traced to similar sources.

It has been shown by Bishop Berkeley in his ingenious essay on vision, that the eye only acquaints us with the perception of light and colours; and that our idea of the solidity of the bodies, which reflect them, is learnt by the organ of touch: he therefore calls our vision the language of touch, observing that certain gradations of the shades of colour, by our previous experience of having examined similar bodies by our hands or lips, suggest our ideas of solidity, and of the forms of solid bodies; as when we view a tree, it would otherwise appear to us a flat green surface, but by association of ideas we know it to be a cylindrical stem with round branches. This association of the ideas acquired by the sense of touch with those of vision, we do not allude to in the following observations, but to the agreeable trains or tribes of ideas and sentiments connected with certain kinds of visible objects.

V. Sentiment of Beauty.

Of these catenations of sentiments with visible objects, the first is the sentiment of Beauty or Loveliness; which is suggested by easy-flowing curvatures of surface, with smoothness; as is so well illustrated in Mr. Burke's Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful, and in Mr. Hogarth's analysis of Beauty; a new edition of which is much wanted separate from his other works.

The sentiment of Beauty appears to be attached from our cradles to the easy curvatures of lines, and smooth surfaces of visible objects, and to have been derived from the form of the female bosom; as spoken of in Zoonomia, Vol. I. Section XVI. on Instinct.

Sentimental love, as distinguished from the animal passion of that name, with which it is frequently accompanied, consists in the desire or sensation of beholding, embracing, and saluting, a beautiful object.

The characteristic of beauty therefore is that it is the object of love; and though many other objects are in common language called beautiful, yet they are only called so metaphorically, and ought to be termed agreeable. A Grecian temple may give us the pleasurable idea of sublimity; a Gothic temple may give us the pleasurable idea of variety; and a modern house the pleasurable idea of utility; music and poetry may inspire our love by association of ideas; but none of these, except metaphorically, can be termed beautiful; as we have no wish to embrace or salute them.

Our perception of beauty consists in our recognition by the sense of vision of those objects, first which have before inspired our love by the pleasure, which they have afforded to many of our senses: as to our sense of warmth, of touch, of smell, of taste, hunger and thirst; and secondly, which bear any analogy of form to such objects.

When the babe, soon after it is born into this cold world, is applied to its mother's bosom, its sense of perceiving warmth is first agreeably affected; next its sense of smell is delighted with the odour of her milk; then its taste is gratified by the flavour of it, afterwards the appetites of hunger and of thirst afford pleasure by the possession of their objects, and by the subsequent digestion of the aliment; and lastly, the sense of touch is delighted by the softness and smoothness of the milky fountain, the source of such variety of happiness.



Next to each thought associate sound accords, And forms the dulcet symphony of words. CANTO III. l. 365.

Ideas consist of synchronous motions or configurations of the extremities of the organs of sense; these when repeated by sensation, volition, or association, are either simple or complex, as they were first excited by irritation; or have afterwards some parts abstracted from them, or some parts added to them. Language consists of words, which are the names or symbols of ideas. Words are therefore properly all of them nouns or names of things.

Little had been done in the investigation of the theory of language from the time of Aristotle to the present aera, till Mr. Horne Tooke, the ingenious and learned author of the Diversions of Purley, explained those undeclined words of all languages, which had puzzled the grammarians, and evinced from their etymology, that they were abbreviations of other modes of expression. Mr. Tooke observes, that the first aim of language was to communicate our thoughts, and the second to do it with dispatch; and hence he divides words into those, which were necessary to express our thoughts, and those which are abbreviations of the former; which he ingeniously styles the wings of Hermes.

For the greater dispatch of conversation many words suggest more than one idea; I shall therefore arrange them according to the number and kinds of ideas, which they suggest; and am induced to do this, as a new distribution of the objects of any science may advance the knowledge of it by developing another analogy of its constituent parts. And in thus endeavouring to analyze the theory of language I mean to speak primarily of the English, and occasionally to add what may occur concerning the structure of the Greek and Latin.

I. Conjunctions and Prepositions.

The first class of words consists of those, which suggest but one idea, and suffer no change of termination; which have been termed by grammarians CONJUNCTIONS and PREPOSITIONS; the former of which connect sentences, and the latter words. Both which have been ingeniously explained by Mr. Horne Tooke from their etymology to be abbreviations of other modes of expression.

1. Thus the conjunction if and an, are shown by Mr. Tooke to be derived from the imperative mood of the verbs to give and to grant; but both of these conjunctions by long use appear to have become the name of a more abstracted idea, than the words give or grant suggest, as they do not now express any ideas of person, or of number, or of time; all which are generally attendant upon the meaning of a verb; and perhaps all the words of this class are the names of ideas much abstracted, which has caused the difficulty of explaining them.

2. The number of Prepositions is very great in the English language, as they are used before the cases of nouns, and the infinitive mood of verbs, instead of the numerous changes of termination of the nouns and verbs of the Greek and Latin; which gives greater simplicity to our language, and greater facility of acquiring it.

The prepositions, as well as the preceding conjunctions, have been well explained by Mr. Horne Tooke; who has developed the etymology of many of them. As the greatest number of the ideas, we receive from external objects, are complex ones, the names of these constitute a great part of language, as the proper names of persons and places; which are complex terms. Now as these complex terms do not always exactly suggest the quantity of combined ideas we mean to express, some of the prepositions are prefixed to them to add or to deduct something, or to limit their general meaning; as a house with a party wall, or a house without a roof. These words are also derived by Mr. Tooke, as abbreviations of the imperative moods of verbs; but which appear now to suggest ideas further abstracted than those generally suggested by verbs, and are all of them properly nouns, or names of ideas.

II. Nouns Substantive.

The second class of words consists of those, which in their simplest state suggest but one idea, as the word man; but which by two changes of termination in our language suggest one secondary idea of number, as the word men; or another secondary idea of the genitive case, as man's mind, or the mind of man. These words by other changes of termination in the Greek and Latin languages suggest many other secondary ideas, as of gender, as well as of number, and of all the other cases described in their grammars; which in English are expressed by prepositions.

This class of words includes the NOUNS SUBSTANTIVE, or names of things, of common grammars, and may be conveniently divided into three kinds. 1. Those which suggest the ideas of things believed to possess hardness and figure, as a house or a horse. 2. Those which suggest the ideas of things, which are not supposed to possess hardness and figure, except metaphorically, as virtue, wisdom; which have therefore been termed abstracted ideas. 3. Those which have been called by metaphysical writers reflex ideas, and mean those of the operations of the mind, as sensation, volition, association.

Another convenient division of these nouns substantive or names of things may be first into general terms, or the names of classes of ideas, as man, quadruped, bird, fish, animal. 2. Into the names of complex ideas, as this house, that dog. 3. Into the names of simple ideas, as whiteness, sweetness.

A third convenient division of the names of things may be into the names of intire things, whether of real or imaginary being; these are the nouns substantive of grammars. 2. Into the names of the qualities or properties of the former; these are the nouns adjective of grammars. 3. The names of more abstracted ideas as the conjunctions and prepositions of grammarians.

These nouns substantive, or names of intire things, suggest but one idea in their simplest form, as in the nominative case singular of grammars. As the word a stag is the name of a single complex idea; but the word stags by a change of termination adds to this a secondary idea of number; and the word stag's, with a comma before the final s, suggests, in English, another secondary idea of something appertaining to the stag, as a stag's horn; which is, however, in our language, as frequently expressed by the preposition of, as the horn of a stag.

In the Greek and Latin languages an idea of gender is joined with the names of intire things, as well as of number; but in the English language the nouns, which express inanimate objects, have no genders except metaphorically; and even the sexes of many animals have names so totally different from each other, that they rather give an idea of the individual creature than of the sex, as bull and cow, horse and mare, boar and sow, dog and bitch. This constitutes another circumstance, which renders our language more simple, and more easy to acquire; and at the same time contributes to the poetic excellence of it; as by adding a masculine or feminine pronoun, as he, or she, other nouns substantive are so readily personified.

In the Latin language there are five cases besides the nominative, or original word, and in the Greek four. Whence the original noun substantive by change of its termination suggests a secondary idea either corresponding with the genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, or ablative cases, besides the secondary ideas of number and gender above mentioned. The ideas suggested by these changes of termination, which are termed cases, are explained in the grammars of these languages, and are expressed in ours by prepositions, which are called the signs of those cases.

Thus the word Domini, of the Lord, suggests beside the primary idea a secondary one of something appertaining to it, as templum domini, the temple of the Lord, or the Lord's temple; which in English is either effected by an addition of the letter s, with a comma before it, or by the preposition of. This genitive case is said to be expressed in the Hebrew language simply by the locality of the words in succession to each other; which must so far add to the conciseness of that language.

Thus the word Domino, in the dative case, to the Lord, suggests besides the primary idea a secondary one of something being added to the primary one; which is effected in English by the preposition to.

The accusative case, or Dominum, besides the primary idea implies something having acted upon the object of that primary idea; as felis edit murem, the cat eats the mouse. This is thus effected in the Greek and Latin by a change of termination of the noun acted upon, but is managed in a more concise way in our language by its situation in the sentence, as it follows the verb. Thus if the mouse in the above sentence was placed before the verb, and the cat after it, in English the sense would be inverted, but not so in Latin; this necessity of generally placing the accusative case after the verb is inconvenient in poetry; though it adds to the conciseness and simplicity of our language, as it saves the intervention of a preposition, or of a change of termination.

The vocative case of the Latin language, or Domine, besides the primary idea suggests a secondary one of appeal, or address; which in our language is either marked by its situation in the sentence, or by the preposition O preceding it. Whence this interjection O conveys the idea of appeal joined to the subsequent noun, and is therefore properly another noun, or name of an idea, preceding the principal one like other prepositions.

The ablative case in the Latin language, as Domino, suggests a secondary idea of something being deducted from or by the primary one. Which is perhaps more distinctly expressed by one of those prepositions in our language; which, as it suggests somewhat concerning the adjoined noun, is properly another noun, or name of an idea, preceding the principal one.

When to these variations of the termination of nouns in the singular number are added those equally numerous of the plural, and the great variety of these terminations correspondent to the three genders, it is evident that the prepositions of our own and other modern languages instead of the changes of termination add to the simplicity of these languages, and to the facility of acquiring them.

Hence in the Latin language, besides the original or primary idea suggested by each noun substantive, or name of an entire thing, there attends an additional idea of number, another of gender, and another suggested by each change of termination, which constitutes the cases; so that in this language four ideas are suggested at the same time by one word; as the primary idea, its gender, number, and case; the latter of which has also four or five varieties. These nouns therefore may properly be termed the abbreviation of sentences; as the conjunctions and prepositions are termed by Mr. Tooke the abbreviation of words; and if the latter are called the wings affixed to the feet of Hermes, the former may be called the wings affixed to his cap.

III. Adjectives, Articles, Participles, Adverbs.

1. The third class of words consists of those, which in their simplest form suggest two ideas; one of them is an abstracted idea of the quality of an object, but not of the object itself; and the other is an abstracted idea of its appertaining to some other noun called a substantive, or a name of an entire thing.

These words are termed ADJECTIVES, are undeclined in our language in respect to cases, number, or gender; but by three changes of termination they suggest the secondary ideas of greater, greatest, and of less; as the word sweet changes into sweeter, sweetest, and sweetish; which may be termed three degrees of comparison besides the positive meaning of the word; which terminations of er and est are seldom added to words of more than two syllables; as those degrees are then most frequently denoted by the prepositions more and most.

Adjectives seem originally to have been derived from nouns substantive, of which they express a quality, as a musky rose, a beautiful lady, a stormy day. Some of them are formed from the correspondent substantive by adding the syllable ly, or like, as a lovely child, a warlike countenance; and in our language it is frequently only necessary to put a hyphen between two nouns substantive for the purpose of converting the former one into an adjective, as an eagle-eye, a Mayday. And many of our adjectives are substantives unchanged, and only known by their situation in a sentence, as a German, or a German gentleman. Adjectives therefore are names of qualities, or parts of things; as substantives are the names of entire things.

In the Latin and Greek languages these adjectives possess a great variety of terminations; which suggest occasionally the ideas of number, gender, and the various cases, agreeing in all these with the substantive, to which they belong; besides the two original or primary ideas of quality, and of their appertaining to some other word, which must be adjoined to make them sense. Insomuch that some of these adjectives, when declined through all their cases, and genders, and numbers, in their positive, comparative, and superlative degrees, enumerate fifty or sixty terminations. All which to one, who wishes to learn these languages, are so many new words, and add much to the difficulty of acquiring them.

Though the English adjectives are undeclined, having neither case, gender, nor number; and with this simplicity of form possess a degree of comparison by the additional termination of ish, more than the generality of Latin or Greek adjectives, yet are they less adapted to poetic measure, as they must accompany their corresponding substantives; from which they are perpetually separated in Greek and Latin poetry.

2. There is a second kind of adjectives, which abound in our language, and in the Greek, but not in the Latin, which are called ARTICLES by the writers of grammar, as the letter a, and the word the. These, like the adjectives above described, suggest two primary ideas, and suffer no change of termination in our language, and therefore suggest no secondary ideas.

Mr. Locke observes, that languages consist principally of general terms; as it would have been impossible to give a name to every individual object, so as to communicate an idea of it to others; it would be like reciting the name of every individual soldier of an army, instead of using the general term, army. Now the use of the article a, and the in English, and o in Greek, converts general terms into particular ones; this idea of particularity as a quality, or property of a noun, is one of the primary ideas suggested by these articles; and the other is, that of its appertaining to some particular noun substantive, without which it is not intelligible. In both these respects these articles correspond with adjectives; to which may be added, that our article a may be expressed by the adjective one or any; and that the Greek article o is declined like other adjectives.

The perpetual use of the article, besides its converting general terms into particular ones, contributes much to the force and beauty of our language from another circumstance, that abstracted ideas become so readily personified simply by the omission of it; which perhaps renders the English language better adapted to poetry than any other ancient or modern: the following prosopopoeia from Shakspeare is thus beautiful.

She let Concealment like a worm i' th' bud Feed on her damask cheek.

And the following line, translated from Juvenal by Dr. Johnson, is much superior to the original, owing to the easy personification of Worth and Poverty, and to the consequent conciseness of it.

Difficile emergunt, quorum virtutibus obstat Res angusta domi. Slow rises Worth by Poverty depress'd.

3. A third class of adjectives includes what are termed PARTICIPLES, which are allied to the infinitive moods of verbs, and are formed in our language by the addition only of the syllable ing or ed; and are of two kinds, active and passive, as loving, loved, from the verb to love. The verbs suggest an idea of the noun, or thing spoken of; and also of its manner of existence, whether at rest, in action, or in being acted upon; as I lie still, or I whip, or I am whipped; and, lastly, another idea of the time of resting, acting, or suffering; but these adjectives called participles, suggest only two primary ideas, one of the noun, or thing spoken of, and another of the mode of existence, but not a third idea of time; and in this respect participles differ from the verbs, from which they originate, or which originated from them, except in their infinitive moods.

Nor do they resemble adjectives only in their suggesting but two primary ideas; but in the Latin and Greek languages they are declined through all the cases, genders, and numbers, like other adjectives; and change their terminations in the degrees of comparison.

In our language the participle passive, joined to the verb to be, for the purpose of adding to it the idea of time, forms the whole of the passive voice; and is frequently used in a similar manner in the Latin language, as I am loved is expressed either by amor, or amatus sum. The construction of the whole passive voice from the verb to be and the participles passive of other verbs, contributes much to the simplicity of our language, and the ease of acquiring it; but renders it less concise than perhaps it might have been by some simple variations of termination, as in the active voice of it.

4. A fourth kind of adjective is called by the grammarians an ADVERB; which has generally been formed from the first kind of adjectives, as these were frequently formed from correspondent substantives; or it has been formed from the third kind of adjectives, called participles; and this is effected in both cases by the addition, of the syllable ly, as wisely, charmingly.

This kind of adjective suggests two primary ideas, like the adjectives, and participles, from which they are derived; but differ from them in this curious circumstance, that the other adjectives relate to substantives, and are declined like them in the Latin and Greek languages, as a lovely boy, a warlike countenance; but these relate to verbs, and are therefore undeclined, as to act boldly, to suffer patiently.

IV. Verbs.

The fourth class of words consists of those which are termed VERBS, and which in their simplest state suggest three ideas; first an idea of the noun, or name of the thing spoken of, as a whip. 2. An idea of its mode of existence, whether at rest, or in action, or in being acted upon. 3. An idea of the time of its existence. Thus "the beadle whipped the beggar," in prolix language might be expressed, the beadle with a whip struck in time past the beggar. Which three ideas are suggested by the one word whipped.

Verbs are therefore nouns, or names of intire ideas, with the additional ideas of their mode of existence and of time; but the participles suggest only the noun, and the mode of existence, without any idea of time; as whipping, or whipped. The infinitive moods of verbs correspond in their signification with the participles; as they also suggest only the noun, or name of the thing spoken of, and an idea of its mode of existence, excluding the idea of time; which is expressed by all the other moods and tenses; whence it appears, that the infinitive mood, as well as the participle, is not truly a part of the verb; but as the participle resembles the adjective in its construction; so the infinitive mood may be said to resemble the substantive, and it is often used as a nominative case to another verb.

Thus in the words "a charming lady with a smiling countenance," the participle acts as an adjective; and in the words "to talk well commands attention," the infinitive mood acts as the nominative case of a noun substantive; and their respective significations are also very similar, as whipping, or to whip, mean the existence of a person acting with a whip.

In the Latin language the verb in its simplest form, except the infinitive mood, and the participle, both which we mean to exclude from complete verbs, suggests four primary ideas, as amo, suggests the pronoun I, the noun love, its existence in its active state, and the present time; which verbs in the Greek and Latin undergo an uncounted variation of termination, suggesting so many different ideas in addition to the four primary ones.

We do not mean to assert, that all verbs are literally derived from nouns in any language; because all languages have in process of time undergone such great variation; many nouns having become obsolete or have perished, and new verbs have been imported from foreign languages, or transplanted from ancient ones; but that this has originally been the construction of all verbs, as well as those to whip and to love above mentioned, and innumerable others.

Thus there may appear some difficulty in analyzing from what noun substantive were formed the verbs to stand or to lie; because we have not properly the name of the abstract ideas from which these verbs arose, except we use the same word for the participle and the noun substantive, as standing, lying. But the verbs, to sit, and to walk, are less difficult to trace to their origin; as we have names for the nouns substantive, a seat, and a walk.

But there is another verb of great consequence in all languages, which would appear, in its simplest form in our language to suggest but two primary ideas, as the verb to be, but that it suggests three primary ideas like other verbs maybe understood, if we use the synonymous term to exist instead of to be. Thus "I exist" suggests first the abstract idea of existence, not including the mode of existence, whether at rest, or in action, or in suffering; secondly it adds to that abstracted idea of existence its real state, or actual resting, acting, or suffering, existence; and thirdly the idea of the present time: thus the infinitive mood to be, and the participle, being, suggest both the abstract idea of existence, and the actual state of it, but not the time.

The verb to be is also used irregularly to designate the parts of time and actual existence; and is then applied to either the active or passive participles of other verbs, and called an auxiliary verb; while the mode of existence, whether at rest, or in action, or being acted upon, is expressed by the participle, as "I am loving" is nearly the same as "I love," amo; and "I am loved," amatus sum, is nearly the same as amor. This mode of application of the verb to be is used in French as well as in English, and in the passive voice of the Latin, and perhaps in many other languages; and is by its perpetual use in conversation rendered irregular in them all, as I am, thou art, he is, would not seem to belong to the infinitive mood to be, any more than sum, fui, sunt, fuerunt, appear to belong to esse.

The verb to have affords another instance of irregular application; the word means in its regular sense to possess, and then suggests three ideas like the above verb of existence: first the abstracted idea of the thing spoken of, or possession; secondly, the actual existence of possession, and lastly the time, as I have or possess. This verb to have like the verb to be is also used irregularly to denote parts of past time, and is then joined to the passive participles alone, as I have eaten; or it is accompanied with the passive participle of the verb to be, and then with the active participle of another verb, as I have been eating.

There is another word will used in the same irregular manner to denote the parts of future time, which is derived from the verb to will; which in its regular use signifies to exert our volition. There are other words used to express other circumstances attending upon verbs, as may, can, shall, all which are probably the remains of verbs otherwise obsolete. Lastly, when we recollect, that in the moods and tenses of verbs one word expresses never less than three ideas in our language, and many more in the Greek and Latin; as besides those three primary ideas the idea of person, and of number, are always expressed in the indicative mood, and other ideas suggested in the other moods, we cannot but admire what excellent abbreviations of language are thus achieved; and when we observe the wonderful intricacy and multiplicity of sounds in those languages, especially in the Greek verbs, which change both the beginning and ending of the original word through three voices, and three numbers, with uncounted variations of dialect; we cannot but admire the simplicity of modern languages compared to these ancient ones; and must finally perceive, that all language consists simply of nouns, or names of ideas, disposed in succession or in combination, all of which are expressed by separate words, or by various terminations of the same word.


The theory of the progressive production of language in the early times of society, and its gradual improvements in the more civilized ones, may be readily induced from the preceding pages. In the commencement of Society the names of the ideas of entire things, which, it was necessary most frequently to communicate, would first be invented, as the names of individual persons, or places, fire, water, this berry, that root; as it was necessary perpetually to announce, whether one or many of such external things existed, it was soon found more convenient to add this idea of number by a change of termination of the word, than by the addition of another word.

As many of these nouns soon became general terms, as bird, beast, fish, animal; it was next convenient to distinguish them when used for an individual, from the same word used as a general term; whence the two articles a and the, in our language, derive their origin.

Next to these names of the ideas of entire things, the words most perpetually wanted in conversation would probably consist of the names of the ideas of the parts or properties of things; which might be derived from the names of some things, and applied to others which in these respects resembled them; these are termed adjectives, as rosy cheek, manly voice, beastly action; and seem at first to have been formed simply by a change of termination of their correspondent substantives. The comparative degrees of greater and less were found so frequently necessary to be suggested, that a change of termination even in our language for this purpose was produced; and is as frequently used as an additional word, as wiser or more wise.

The expression of general similitude, as well as partial similitude, becomes so frequently used in conversation, that another kind of adjective, called an adverb, was expressed by a change of termination, or addition of the syllable ly or like; and as adjectives of the former kind are applied to substantives, and express a partial similitude, these are applied to verbs and express a general similitude, as to act heroically, to speak boldly, to think freely.

The perpetual chain of causes and effects, which constitute the motions, or changing configurations, of the universe, are so conveniently divided into active and passive, for expressing the exertions or purposes of common life, that it became particularly convenient in all languages to substitute changes of termination, instead of additional nouns, to express, whether the thing spoken of was in a state of acting or of being acted upon. This change of termination betokening action or suffering constitutes the participle, as loving, loved; which, as it expresses a property of bodies, is classed amongst adjectives in the preceding pages.

Besides the perpetual allusions to the active or passive state of things, the comparative times of these motions, or changes, were also perpetually required to be expressed; it was therefore found convenient in all languages to suggest them by changes of terminations in preference to doing it by additional nouns. At the same time the actual or real existence of the thing spoken of was perpetually required, as well as the times of their existence, and the active or passive state of that existence. And as no conversation could be carried on without unceasingly alluding to these circumstances, they became in all languages suggested by changes of termination; which are termed moods and tenses in grammars, and convert the participle above mentioned into a verb; as that participle had originally been formed by adding a termination to a noun, as chaining, and chained, from chain.

The great variety of changes of termination in all languages consists therefore of abbreviations used instead of additional words; and adds much to the conciseness of language, and the quickness with which we are enabled to communicate our ideas; and may be said to add unnumbered wings to every limb of the God of Eloquence.



The tongue, the lips articulate; the throat With soft vibration modulates the note. CANTO III. l. 367.

Having explained in the preceding account of the theory of language that it consists solely of nouns, or the names of ideas, disposed in succession or combination; I shall now attempt to investigate the number of the articulate sounds, which constitute those names of ideas by their successions and combinations; and to show by what parts of the organs of speech they are modulated and articulated; whence may be deduced the precise number of letters or symbols necessary to suggest those sounds, and form an alphabet, which may spell with accuracy the words of all languages.

I. Imperfections of the present Alphabet.

It is much to be lamented, that the alphabet, which has produced and preserved almost all the improvements in other arts and sciences, should have itself received no improvement in modern times; which have added so much elucidation to almost every branch of knowledge, that can meliorate the condition of humanity. Thus in our present alphabets many letters are redundant, others are wanted; some simple articulate sounds have two letters to suggest them; and in other instances two articulate sounds are suggested by one letter. Some of these imperfections in the alphabet of our own language shall be enumerated.

X. Thus the letter x is compounded of ks, or of gz, as in the words excellent, example: eksellent, egzample.

C. is sometimes k, at other times s, as in the word access.

G. is a single letter in go; and suggests the letters d and the French J in pigeon.

Qu is kw, as quality is kwality.

NG in the words long and in king is a simple sound like the French n, and wants a new character.

SH is a simple sound, and wants a new character.

TH is either sibilant as in thigh; or semivocal as in thee; both of which are simple sounds, and want two new characters.

J French exists in our words confusion, and conclusion, judge, pigeon, and wants a character.

J consonant, in our language, expresses the letters d, and the French j conjoined, as in John, Djon.

CH is either k as in Arch-angel, or is used for a sound compounded of Tsh, as in Children, Tshildren.

GL is dl, as Glove is pronounced by polite people dlove.

CL is tl, as Cloe is pronounced by polite speakers Tloe.

The spelling of our language in respect to the pronunciation is also wonderfully defective, though perhaps less so than that of the French; as the words slaughter and laughter are pronounced totally different, though spelt alike. The word sough, now pronounced suff, was formerly called sow; whence the iron fused and received into a sough acquired the name of sowmetal; and that received into less soughs from the former one obtained the name of pigs of iron or of lead; from the pun on the word sough, into sow and pigs. Our word jealousies contains all the vowels, though three of them only were necessary; nevertheless in the two words abstemiously and facetiously the vowels exist all of them in their usual order, and are pronounced in their most usual manner.

Some of the vowels of our language are diphthongs, and consist of two vocal sounds, or vowels, pronounced in quick succession; these diphthongs are discovered by prolonging the sound, and observing, if the ending of it be different from the beginning; thus the vowel i in in our language, as in the word high, if drawn put ends in the sound of the letter e as used in English; which is expressed by the letter i in most other languages: and the sound of this vowel i begins with ah, and consists therefore of ah and ee. Whilst the diphthong on in our language, as in the word how, begins with ah also and ends in oo, and the vowel u of our language, as in the word use, is likewise a diphthong; which begins with e and ends with oo, as eoo. The French u is also a diphthong compounded of a and oo, as aoo. And many other defects and redundancies in our alphabet will be seen by perusing the subsequent structure of a more perfect one.

II. Production of Sounds.

By our organ of hearing we perceive the vibrations of the air; which vibrations are performed in more or in less time, which constitutes high or low notes in respect to the gammut; but the tone depends on the kind of instrument which produces them. In speaking of articulate sounds they may be conveniently divided first into clear continued sounds, expressed by the letters called vowels; secondly, Into hissing sounds, expressed by the letters called sibilants; thirdly, Into semivocal sounds, which consist of a mixture of the two former; and, lastly, Into interrupted sounds, represented by the letters properly termed consonants.

The clear continued sounds are produced by the streams of air passing from the lungs in respiration through the larynx; which is furnished with many small muscles, which by their action give a proper tension to the extremity of this tube; and the sounds, I suppose, are produced by the opening and closing of its aperture; something like the trumpet stop of an organ, as may be observed by blowing through the wind-pipe of a dead goose.

These sounds would all be nearly similar except in their being an octave or two higher or lower; but they are modulated again, or acquire various tones, in their passage through the mouth; which thus converts them into eight vowels, as will be explained below.

The hissing sounds are produced by air forcibly pushed through certain passages of the mouth without being previously rendered sonorous by the larynx; and obtain their sibilancy from their slower vibrations, occasioned by the mucous membrane, which lines those apertures or passages, being less tense than that of the larynx. I suppose the stream of air is in both cases frequently interrupted by the closing of the sides or mouth of the passages or aperture; but that this is performed much slower in the production of sibilant sounds, than in the production of clear ones.

The semivocal sounds are produced by the stream of air having received quick vibrations, or clear sound, in passing through the larynx, or in the cavity of the mouth; but apart of it, as the outsides of this sonorous current of air, afterwards receives slower vibrations, or hissing sound, from some other passages of the lips or mouth, through which it then flows. Lastly the stops, or consonants, impede the current of air, whether sonorous or sibilant, for a perceptible time; and probably produce some change of tone in the act of opening and closing their apertures.

There are other clear sounds besides those formed by the larynx; some of them are formed in the mouth, as may be heard previous to the enunciation of the letters b, and d, and ga; or during the pronunciation of the semivocal letters, v. z. j. and others in sounding the liquid letters r and l; these sounds we shall term orisonance. The other clear sounds are formed in the nostrils, as in pronouncing the liquid letters m, n, and ng, these we shall term narisonance.

Thus the clear sounds, except those above mentioned, are formed in the larynx along with the musical height or lowness of note; but receive afterward a variation of tone from the various passages of the mouth: add to these that as the sibilant sounds consist of vibrations slower than those formed by the larynx, so a whistling through the lips consists of vibrations quicker than those formed by the larynx.

As all sound consists in the vibrations of the air, it may not be disagreeable to the reader to attend to the immediate causes of those vibrations. When any sudden impulse is given to an elastic fluid like the air, it acquires a progressive motion of the whole, and a condensation of the constituent particles, which first receive the impulse; on this account the currents of the atmosphere in stormy seasons are never regular, but blow and cease to blow by intervals; as a part of the moving stream is condensed by the projectile force; and the succeeding part, being consequently rarefied, requires some time to recover its density, and to follow the former part: this elasticity of the air is likewise the cause of innumerable eddies in it; which are much more frequent than in streams of water; as when it is impelled against any oblique plane, it results with its elastic force added to its progressive one.

Hence when a vacuum is formed in the atmosphere, the sides of the cavity forcibly rush together both by the general pressure of the superincumbent air, and by the expansion of the elastic particles of it; and thus produce a vibration of the atmosphere to a considerable distance: this occurs, whether this vacuity of air be occasioned by the discharge of cannon, in which the air is displaced by the sudden evolution of heat, which as suddenly vanishes; or whether the vacuity be left by a vibrating string, as it returns from each side of the arc, in which it vibrates; or whether it be left under the lid of the valve in the trumpet stop of an organ, or of a child's play trumpet, which continues perpetually to open and close, when air is blown through it; which is caused by the elasticity of the currents, as it occasions the pausing gusts of wind mentioned above.

Hence when a quick current of air is suddenly broken by any intervening body, a vacuum is produced by the momentum of the proceeding current, between it and the intervening body; as beneath the valve of the trumpet-stop above mentioned; and a vibration is in consequence produced; which with the great facility, which elastic fluids possess of forming eddies, may explain the production of sounds by blowing through a fissure upon a sharp edge in a common organ-pipe or child's whistle; which has always appeared difficult to resolve; for the less vibration an organ-pipe itself possesses, the more agreeable, I am informed, is the tone; as the tone is produced by the vibration of the air in the organ pipe, and not by that of the sides of it; though the latter, when it exists, may alter the tone though, not the note, like the belly of a harpsichord, or violin.

When a stream of air is blown on the edge of the aperture of an organ-pipe about two thirds of it are believed to pass on the outside of this edge, and one third to pass on the inside of it; but this current of air on the inside forms an eddy, whether the bottom of the pipe be closed or not; which eddy returns upwards, and strikes by quick intervals against the original stream of air, as it falls on the edge of the aperture, and forces outwards this current of air with quick repetitions, so as to make more than two thirds of it, and less than two thirds alternately pass on the outside; whence a part of this stream of air, on each side of the edge of the aperture is perpetually stopped by that edge; and thus a vacuum and vibration in consequence, are reciprocally produced on each side of the edge of the aperture.

The quickness or slowness of these vibrations constitute the higher and lower notes of music, but they all of them are propagated to distant places in the same time; as the low notes of a distant ring of bells are heard in equal times with the higher ones: hence in speaking at a distance from the auditors, the clear sounds produced in the larynx by the quick vibrations of its aperture, which form the vowels; the tremulous sounds of the L. R. M. N. NG. which are owing to vibrations of certain apertures of the mouth and nose, and are so slow, that the intervals between them are perceived; the sibilant sounds, which I suppose are occasioned by the air not rushing into a complete vacuum, whence the vibrations produced are defective in velocity; and lastly the very high notes made by the quickest vibrations of the lips in whistling; are all heard in due succession without confusion; as the progressive motions of all sounds I believe travel with equal velocity, notwithstanding the greater or less quickness of their vibrations.


Mute and antesonant Consonants, and nasal Liquids.

P. If the lips be pressed close together and some air be condensed in the mouth behind them, on opening the lips the mute consonant P begins a syllable; if the lips be closed suddenly during the passage of a current of air through them, the air becomes condensed in the mouth behind them, and the mute consonant P terminates a syllable.

B. If in the above situation of the lips a sound is previously produced in the mouth, which may be termed orisonance, the semisonant consonant B is produced, which like the letter P above described may begin or terminate a syllable.

M. In the above situation of the lips, if a sound is produced through the nostrils, which sound is termed narisonance, the nasal letter M is formed; the sound of which may be lengthened in pronunciation like those of the vowels.

T. If the point of the tongue be applied to the forepart of the palate, at the roots of the upper teeth, and some air condensed in the mouth behind, on withdrawing the tongue downwards the mute consonant T is formed; which may begin or terminate a syllable.

D. If the tongue be placed as above described, and a sound be previously produced in the mouth, the semisonant consonant D is formed, which may begin or terminate a syllable.

N. If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced through the nostrils, the nasal letter N is formed, the sound of which may be elongated like those of the vowels.

K. If the point of the tongue be retracted, and applied to the middle part of the palate; and some air condensed in the mouth behind; on withdrawing the tongue downwards the mute consonant K is produced, which may begin or terminate a syllable.

Ga. If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be previously produced in the mouth behind, the semisonant consonant G is formed, as pronounced in the word go, and may begin or terminate a syllable.

NG. If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced through the nostrils; the nasal letter ng is produced, as in king and throng; which is the french n, the sound of which may be elongated like a vowel; and should have an appropriated character, as thus v.

Three of these letters, P, T, K, are stops to the stream of vocal air, and are called mutes by grammarians; three, B, D, Ga, are preceded by a little orisonance; and three, M, N, NG, possess continued narisonance, and have been called liquids by grammarians.

Sibilants and Sonisibilants.

W. Of the Germans; if the lips be appressed together, as informing the letter P; and air from the mouth be forced between them; the W sibilant is produced, as pronounced by the Germans, and by some of the inferiour people of London, and ought to have an appropriated character as thus M.[TN: Upside down W.]

W. If in the above situation of the lips a sound be produced in the mouth, as in the letter B, and the sonorous air be forced between them; the sonisibilant letter W is produced; which is the common W of our language.

F. If the lower lip be appressed to the edges of the upper teeth, and air from the mouth be forced between them, the sibilant letter F is formed.

V. If in the above situation of the lip and teeth a sound be produced in the mouth, and the sonorous air be forced between them, the sonisibilant letter V is formed.

Th. Sibilant. If the point of the tongue be placed between the teeth, and air from the mouth be forced between them, the Th sibilant is produced, as in thigh, and should have a proper character, as [TN: Looks like the Greek 'phi'].

Th. Sonisibilant. If in the above situation of the tongue and teeth a sound be produced in the mouth, and the sonorous air be forced between them, the sonisibilant Th is formed, as in Thee; and should have an appropriated character as [TN: Looks like the Greek 'theta'].

S. If the point of the tongue be appressed to the forepart of the palate, as in forming the letter T, and air from the mouth be forced between them, the sibilant letter S is produced.

Z. If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced in the mouth, as in the letter D, and the sonorous air be forced between them, the sonisibilant letter Z is formed.

SH. If the point of the tongue be retracted and applied to the middle part of the palate, as in forming the letter K, and air from the mouth be forced between them, the letter Sh is produced, which is a simple sound and ought to have a single character, thus [TN: Looks like the Greek 'lambda'].

J. French. If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced in the mouth, as in the letter Ga; and the sonorous air be forced between them; the J consonant of the French is formed; which is a sonisibilant letter, as in the word conclusion, confusion, pigeon; it should be called Je, and should have a different character from the vowel i, with which it has an analogy, as thus V.

H. If the back part of the tongue be appressed to the pendulous curtain of the palate and uvula; and air from behind be forced between them; the sibilant letter H is produced.

Ch Spanish. If in the above situation of the tongue and palate a sound be produced behind; and the sonorous air be forced between them; the Ch Spanish is formed; which is a sonisibilant letter, the same as the Ch Scotch in the words Buchanan and loch: it is also perhaps the Welsh guttural expressed by their double L as in Lloyd, Lluellen; it is a simple sound, and ought to have a single character as [TN: Looks like an H on its side].

The sibilant and sonisibilant letters may be elongated in pronunciation like the vowels; the sibilancy is probably occasioned by the vibrations of the air being slower than those of the lowest musical notes. I have preferred the word sonisibilants to the word semivocal sibilants; as the sounds of these sonisibilants are formed in different apertures of the mouth, and not in the larynx like the vowels.

Orisonant Liquids.

R. If the point of the tongue be appressed to the forepart of the palate, as in forming the letters T, D, N, S, Z, and air be pushed between them so as to produce continued sound, the letter R is formed.

L. If the retracted tongue be appressed to the middle of the palate, as in forming the letters K, Ga, NG, Sh, J French, and air be pushed over its edges so as to produce continued sound, the letter L is formed.

The nasal letters m, n, and ng, are clear tremulous sounds like R and L, and have all of them been called liquids by grammarians. Besides the R and L, above described, there is another orisonant sound produced by the lips in whistling; which is not used in this country as a part of language, and has therefore obtained no character, but is analogous to the R and L; it is also possible, that another orisonant letter may be formed by the back part of the tongue and back part of the palate, as in pronouncing H and Ch, which may perhaps be the Welch Ll in Lloyd, Lluellin.

Four pairs of Vowels.

A pronounced like au, as in the word call. If the aperture, made by approximating the back part of the tongue to the uvula and pendulous curtain of the palate, as in forming the sibilant letter H, and the sonisibilant letter Ch Spanish, be enlarged just so much as to prevent sibilancy; and a continued sound produced by the larynx be modulated in passing through it; the letter A is formed, as in ball, wall, which is sounded like aw in the word awkward; and is the most usual sound of the letter A in foreign languages; and to distinguish it from the succeeding A might be called A micron; as the aperture of the fauces, where it is produced, is less than in the next A.

A pronounced like ah, as in the word hazard. If the aperture of the fauces above described, between the back part of the tongue and the back part of the palate, be enlarged as much as convenient, and a continued sound, produced in the larynx, be modulated in passing through it; the letter A is formed, as in animal, army, and ought to have an appropriated character in our language, as thus [TN: Looks like an A on its head]. As this letter A is formed by a larger aperture than the former one, it may be called A mega.

A pronounced as in the words cake, ale. If the retracted tongue by approximation to the middle part of the palate, as in forming the letters R, Ga, NG, Sh, J French, L, leaves an aperture just so large as to prevent sibilancy, and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it; the letter A is produced, as pronounced in the words whale, sale, and ought to have an appropriated character in our language, as thus [TN: Looks like a handwritten 9]; this is expressed by the letter E in some modern languages, and might be termed E micron; as it is formed by a less aperture of the mouth than the succeeding E.

E pronounced like the vowel a, when short, as in the words emblem, dwelling. If the aperture above described between the retracted tongue and the middle of the palate be enlarged as much as convenient, and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it, the letter E is formed, as in the words egg, herring; and as it is pronounced in most foreign languages, and might be called E mega to distinguish it from the preceding E.

I pronounced like e in keel. If the point of the tongue by approximation to the forepart of the palate, as in forming the letters T, D, N, S, Z, R, leaves an aperture just so large as to prevent sibilancy, and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it; the vowel I is produced, which is in our language generally represented by e when long, as in the word keel; and by i when, short, as in the word it, which is the sound of this letter in most foreign languages; and may be called E micron to distinguish it from the succeeding E or Y.

Y, when it begins a word, as in youth. If the aperture above described between the point of the tongue, and the forepart of the palate be enlarged as much as convenient, and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it, the letter Y is formed; which, when it begins a word, has been called Y consonant by some, and by others has been thought only a quick pronunciation of our e, or the i of foreign languages; as in the word year, yellow; and may be termed E mega, as it is formed by a larger aperture than the preceding e or i.

O pronounced like oo, as in the word fool. If the lips by approximation to each other, as in forming the letters P, B, M, W sibilant, W sonisibilant, leave an aperture just so wide as to prevent sibilancy; and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it; the letter O is formed, as in the words cool, school, and ought to have an appropriated character as thus [TN: Looks like the infinity symbol], and may be termed o micron to distinguish it from the succeeding o.

O pronounced as in the word cold. If the aperture above described between the approximated lips be enlarged as much as convenient; and sonorous air from the larynx be modulated in passing through it, the letter o is formed, as in sole, coal, which may be termed o mega, as it is formed in a larger aperture than the preceding one.


The alphabet appears from this analysis of it to consist of thirty-one letters, which spell all European languages.

Three mute consonants, P, T, K.

Three antesonant consonants, B, D, Ga.

Three narisonant liquids, M, N, NG.

Six sibilants, W German, F, Th, S, Sh, H.

Six sonisibilants, W, V, Th, Z, J French, Ch Spanish.

Two orisonant liquids, R, L.

Eight vowels, Aw, ah, a, e, i, y, oo, o.

To these thirty-one characters might perhaps be added one for the Welsh L, and another for whistling with the lips; and it is possible, that some savage nations, whose languages are said to abound with gutturals, may pronounce a mute consonant, as well as an antesonant one, and perhaps another narisonant letter, by appressing the back part of the tongue to the back part of the palate, as in pronouncing the H, and Ch Spanish.

The philosophical reader will perceive that these thirty-one sounds might be expressed by fewer characters referring to the manner of their production. As suppose one character was to express the antesonance of B, D, Ga; another the orisonance of R, L; another the sibilance of W, S, Sh, H; another the sonisibilance of W, Z, J French, Ch Spanish; another to express the more open vowels; another the less open vowels; for which the word micron is here used, and for which the word mega is here used.

Then the following characters only might be necessary to express them all; P alone, or with antesonance B; with narisonance M; with sibilance W German; with sonisibilance W; with vocality, termed micron OO; with vocality, termed mega O.

T alone, or with the above characters added to it, would in the same manner suggest D, N, S, Z, EE, Y, and R with a mark for orisonance.

K alone, or with the additional characters, would suggest Ga, NG, Sh, J French, A, E, and L, with a mark for orisonance.

F alone, or with a mark for sonisibilance, V.

Th alone, or with a mark for sonisibilance, Th.

H alone, or with a mark for sonisibilance, Ch Spanish, and with a mark for less open vocality, aw, with another for more open vocality ah.

Whence it appears that six single characters, for the letters P, T, K, F, Th, H, with seven additional marks joined to them for antesonance, narisonance, orisonance, sibilance, sonisibilance, less open vocality, and more open vocality; being in all but thirteen characters, may spell all the European languages.

I have found more difficulty in analyzing the vowels than the other letters; as the apertures, through which they are modulated, do not close; and it was therefore less easy to ascertain exactly, in what part of the mouth they were modulated; but recollecting that those parts of the mouth must be more ready to use for the purpose of forming the vowels, which were in the habit of being exerted in forming the other letters; I rolled up some tin foil into cylinders about the size of my finger; and speaking the vowels separately through them, found by the impressions made on them, in what part of the mouth each of the vowels was formed with somewhat greater accuracy, but not so as perfectly to satisfy myself.

The parts of the mouth appeared to me to be those in which the letters P, I, K, and H, are produced; as those, where the letters F and Th are formed, do not suit the production of mute or antesonant consonants; as the interstices of the teeth would occasion some sibilance; and these apertures are not adapted to the formation of vowels on the same account.

The two first vowels aw and ah being modulated in the back part of the mouth, it is necessary to open wide the lips and other passages of the mouth in pronouncing them; that those passages may not again alter their tone; and that more so in pronouncing ah, than aw; as the aperture of the fauces is opened wider, where it is formed, and from the greater or less size of these apertures used in forming the vowels by different persons, the tone of all of them may be somewhat altered as spoken by different orators.

I have treated with greater confidence on the formation of articulate sounds, as I many years ago gave considerable attention to this subject for the purpose of improving shorthand; at that time I contrived a wooden mouth with lips of soft leather, and with a valve over the back part of it for nostrils, both which could be quickly opened or closed by the pressure of the fingers, the vocality was given by a silk ribbon about an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide stretched between two bits of smooth wood a little hollowed; so that when a gentle current of air from bellows was blown on the edge of the ribbon, it gave an agreeable tone, as it vibrated between the wooden sides, much like a human voice. This head pronounced the p, b, m, and the vowel a, with so great nicety as to deceive all who heard it unseen, when it pronounced the words mama, papa, map, and pam; and had a most plaintive tone, when the lips were gradually closed. My other occupations prevented me from proceeding in the further construction of this machine; which might have required but thirteen movements, as shown in the above analysis, unless some variety of musical note was to be added to the vocality produced in the larynx; all of which movements might communicate with the keys of a harpsichord or forte piano, and perform the song as well as the accompaniment; or which if built in a gigantic form, might speak so loud as to command an army or instruct a crowd.

I conclude this with an agreeable hope, that now war is ceased, the active and ingenious of all nations will attend again to those sciences, which better the condition of human nature; and that the alphabet will undergo a perfect reformation, which may indeed make it more difficult to trace the etymologies of words, but will much facilitate the acquisition of modern languages; which as science improves and becomes more generally diffused, will gradually become more distinct and accurate than the ancient ones; as metaphors will cease to be necessary in conversation, and only be used as the ornaments of poetry.




I. Spontaneous vital production not contrary to scripture; to be looked for only in the simplest organic beings; supposed want of analogy no argument against it, as this equally applies to all new discoveries. II. The power of reproduction distinguishes organic beings; which are gradually enlarged and improved by it. III. Microscopic animals produced from all vegetable and animal infusions; generate others like themselves by solitary reproduction; not produced from eggs; conferva fontinalis; mucor. IV. Theory of spontaneous vitality. Animal nutrition; vegetable; some organic particles have appetencies to unite, others propensities to be united; buds of trees; sexual reproduction: analogy between generation and nutrition; laws of elasticity not understood; dead animalcules recover life by heat and moisture; chaos redivivum; vorticella; shell-snails; eggs and seeds: hydra. Classes of microscopic animals; general remarks.

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