Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/136

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Origin and Early History of the Language.

by night, and dragons went into hiding. There are also Chinese writers who regard pictorial or symbolical representation as coæval with speech. They think it was quite as natural for man to depict as to talk. This unfortunately reminds one of Dogberry's assertion that "to write and read comes by nature." The representation of objects passed gradually, such writers think, to the use of characters. Then the pictorial gave birth to the phonetic characters, as a mother gives birth to a child. These characters, strictly so called, are tzŭ (字) as if 孳, bearers of children, or as if 子, sons, begotten and begetting. Hence it may be concluded that the origin and growth of writing followed a natural course.[1]

For the Chinese will not have it that Tsang-chie, or whoever first devised their characters, invented symbols which were purely arbitrary or artificial. On the contrary, he proceeded with aim and rule throughout. He studied in the heavens above their starry clusters and all their charactery, the changing moon, the unvarying sun, and the endless succession of all the elemental phenomena. Beneath the sky he noted the bird's flight and its footprints in the sand, the tortoise's carapace, and the varied forms of nature in general. These he tried to figure forth with knife and brush; but how was he to carve or paint an outline or symbol for such words as mind, and law, and love and righteousness? There was nothing in the material world to which the ideas represented by these words could be likened. Not even in such cases, however, did the Father of Writing make arbitrary signs, for those which he instituted were the natural product of the pre-existing spiritual facts and principles. He cannot properly be said to have invented such characters, but rather to have in their discovery only given direction to the spontaneous tendency of man's genius. It does not seem, however, that in the early period of writing many spiritual or abstract terms were represent-

  1. 通鑑綱目, chap. i.; 通鑑外紀, chap. i.; 鑑撮, chap. i.; 檢篇韻, etc., Preface; Mayers, Ch. R. M., No. 756; 論衡, chap. iii.; 李氏音鑑, chap, i.; 試策箋註 chap. iii.; the 尙書序 (in the 十三經 ed.); Preface to "Shuo-wên;" Supplement to "Poh-wu-chih," chap, v.; "Ho-kuan-tzŭ" (鶡冠子), chap. 上, last pages.