Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 7.djvu/169
ARE LANGUAGES INSTITUTIONS?
wanted to degrade him—to have been a being of "creative force, from which religious and moral ideas flowed forth unsought;" his comparisons imply that language came into fully-developed being at once; he asserts the investigation of its origin to be "nothing else than this: to acquaint ourselves with the mental culture which immediately precedes the production of language, to comprehend a state of consciousness and certain relations of the same, conditions under which language must break forth," etc.; he denies that a child learns, or can be taught, to speak; he claims speech to be a capacity and activity like seeing and hearing; and he winds up with the conclusion that there is no such thing as an origin of language, except as it originates anew in every word we utter! Such views, expressed by one who stands so high in public estimation in Germany as Steinthal does, seemed to me to demand thorough examination. In my criticism, I went through the chapter, paragraph by paragraph, quoting in the author's own words nearly half of it, as I should estimate, and discussing in detail the various joints made by him. Perhaps I carried on the discussion more vehemently than was necessary or desirable; I hold myself open to all due reprehension on that score; but that there were any personalities in it I utterly deny; it was an argument throughout, if a polemical one; it addressed itself only to the opinions it opposed, and the considerations by which these were supported. After nursing his wrath for two years, Steinthal came out in reply last summer with a volley of Billingsgate, pure and simple (Mr. Müller gives, p. 313, some choice examples of it); he enters into no argument, he makes no defense—unless it may be called a defense that he seems dimly to claim that, being only engaged in a preliminary laying out of his subject, he ought to have been indulged in putting forth any thing he pleased without being called to account for it—he tears his hair and splits into two persons with rage and disdain, and calls his assailant a villain and a fool. To such a tirade, there is but one answer possible; and to that I have no disposition to resort. Any one may judge from the specimens of Steinthal's views given above, whether they are so obscure from profundity that a man of less than extraordinary penetration cannot hope to understand them; to me, the only incomprehensible thing is, how a man of learning and acuteness should have arrived at them, and should have so little to say for them. I am perfectly willing to lay the acta of the controversy before the public just as they are—Steinthal's chapter, my criticism, and his retort, without a word further added in my own defense; and I should be confident of a general verdict in my favor.
Prof. Müller fears that I am generally becoming convinced that I am unanswerable. Perhaps every one runs that risk who, after what seems to him due examination and deliberation, has come to hold a certain set of opinions with great confidence, and who, with his best endeavors, does not find among opposing views and arguments any