Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/19

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5
Some Western Opinions.

sition to such opinions is the theory which makes Chinese to have been the primeval tongue, the first language, — that in which Adam and Eve talked with the Lord God and the Serpent and to each other as they walked among the trees in the Garden of Eden — and so the fore-mother of all other languages. One of the earliest and best known supporters of this theory was John Webb, an Englishman who lived at the period of the Restoration. His little book on this subject is full of rare and curious learning, persuasive reasoning, and odd fancies, and he shows a thorough knowledge of the best works on China up to his time. Martinius, Kircher, Semedo, Mendoza, Trigault, are largely quoted by him, and he seems to have gained from them a very fair insight into the nature of the Chinese language.

Webb thinks it possible that Noah may have migrated with his family to China and there built his ark, of which modern junks are but "degraded copies." He also says that "it may be very much presumed that Noah himself, both before and after the flood, lived in China." He thinks the Chinese language as it exists, written and spoken, came directly from Noah's son Shem, or the children of the latter. Whether their ancestor had settled in China or had not, they had at least moved eastwards in time to avoid the confusion of tongues, and so Chinese escaped the misfortune of being made a "confounded language." Edkins also, it will be remembered, thinks the first Chinese had gone eastward before there was any Babel. But this learned Sinologist adopts the heresy which makes Ham the ancestor of the Chinese, a heresy which Kircher and others once held, as will be seen, but Webb completely refuted. In the course of his treatise, Webb argues that Chinese has all the requisite characteristics of the primitive tongue, which are these — Antiquity, Simplicity, Generality, Modesty of Expression, Utility, and Brevity, "to which by some is added Consent of Authors." The "plain and meek" language of Adam was transmitted to his posterity down to Noah and thence through Shem to the original Chinese. The written characters even may have been taught by one of the antediluvian patriarchs, for, not to mention earlier treatises, did not