The New Word, by Allen Upward, , at sacred-texts.com
Descartes and the Sorbonne.—1. Useless Literature.—2.—A Personal Explanation.—3. The Blockade of the Schoolmasters.—4. Scientific Philosophy.—5. Truth and Verihood.—6. The White Mind.
AS the astronomer, in order to tell fairly the time kept by a star in heaven, must first record the time taken by his own thought, and thereby correct his reckoning; and as Descartes did not deem it beside the purpose to tell the Sorbonne that he was in his dressing-gown when he sat down to prove the existence of God; so it will not be vain for me to describe with what bias I approached my present task.
An eloquent writer upon Art, in a work called The Seven Lamps of Architecture, has chosen Truth to be his second Lamp, and thereby shown that it was not his first wish to tell the truth about architecture. Accordingly it is no surprise to see him begin by defining architecture as useless building, and end, in a preface written long afterwards, by complaining
that this very book had proved useless for its purpose. For if architecture be useless building, literature must be useless writing. It is significant, and it will not be found beside the question, that neither in this book, nor in other books treating of Gothic architecture, is there the least allusion to the architecture of the Goths. The origin of the Gothic church, like the origin of everything else in Europe, has been sought on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. No one has asked why the Italian masons, when they crossed the Alps, as they are still crossing them to-day, in search of work, left off building like the Romans, and began building otherwise. No one seems to know that the Gothic church, in its essential features, features that have been copied in St. Peter's, is a copy of the Gothic hall as it was built in Iceland in the days of Charlemagne, and as it was built in Gothland in the days of Herod.
To say that truth had been my first lamp in this inquiry would be only to say that I was a Gothic writer, or, as men write it in my native land, a Jute. I have approached the word Idealist in the spirit of a Goth seeking to understand a Mediterranean word. I have approached it in the spirit of a child seeking to understand a schoolmaster's word. I have been like a sleeper, waking out of an enchanted sleep, and seeking to understand an enchanter's word.
My first, and, to the best of my endeavour, my only, light in this inquiry has been the light of verihood.
The foreword of this Letter was really written thirty years ago, when a mere schoolboy, hardly knowing what he did, chose Truth as being for him the one sacred Name. Afterwards, when I had read the book in which Darwin reminded us clearly of a fact dimly familiar to our forefathers, I laid it down with the reflection that most other books would have to be re-written in the light of that forgotten fact.—The question was how to begin.
I spent the next twenty years in exploring the human mind as it is revealed in literature, and as it is revealed in life. I have not passed the time shut up in libraries. I have been a speaker and a writer; I have been a lawyer and a soldier; I have been a ruler and a judge. I have taught children, and learned from them. I have talked with the learned in their colleges, and talked with the Black men in their own land beside the Black River, in the oldest and most catholic speech, the language of Signs. In a place where no White man had been before me, I found a Black king and his folk withheld by an old curse from planting a medicinal tree; and I broke the curse by showing to them a stone whereon a Greek of long ago had carved the figure of his God.—In such ways I have learned somewhat of the nature of words.
At the same time I have learned somewhat of the
feelings that words express, and found the same feeling underlying many different words; as if all men, in all ages, and in all lands, were trying to say much the same thing. And hardly knowing whether I had found anything worth saying, nor how far the words that were right for me would be right for others, I doubted whether I should speak.
In our time there are many honourable men and women who share my doubt. They have been put to sleep in childhood with certain words, most true and beautiful to those who spoke them first; and they have awakened out of that sleep with great pain, and as those who are bereft of hope. Now such a man as I speak of, a Materialist, came to me one day, and told me he had been consulted by a mother, who was also a Materialist, about the education of her child, a child who will one day occupy a great place in the world, and influence the lives of many other children. And, both being Materialists, he had given her the advice, and she had taken it, that the child's mind should be put to sleep by the words which they themselves both believed to be untrue.
The following day I found in the organ of my trades-union as an author the announcement of Nobel's Testament.
On reading the Fourth Bequest my first reflection was the sad one that such a Trust was not likely to be carried out. Then I asked myself why? What books did the Testator wish to be written; why were they not being written; and why, if they should be
written, must they nevertheless fail of their reward? The answer seemed to lie in the meaning of the word Idealist.—What was its meaning? or rather what was its meaning for other minds than my own?—I turned to the dictionary; what I found led me further; I began to make notes, and presently saw they were the book I had waited for so long to begin.
The natural shape of this inquiry, therefore, is that of a train of thought, and I have not striven to give it any other. As, when the chemical salts are held in solution in the glass, the introduction of some foreign body will cause them to encircle it with crystals, so have the floating thoughts of half a lifetime come together in answer to a single question, and settled into shape.
Literature, from the lyric's pure cry of pain or joy down to the pill-seller's advertisement, is a communication. There is a personal equation of the reader as well as of the writer, and the fairest language is a bargain between two minds. The counsel's speech to the jury is not as his speech to the judge. The greatest of playwrights has written for the gallery as well as for the boxes.
It is the second equation in which the difficulty lies. It is that equation the thought of which caused the perfect Idealist to condemn speech. It is that which stands in the way of Nobel's Fourth Bequest.
My gallery is a gallery of judges; by which I mean that I speak in the hearing of those with whom I am called on to quarrel, whose minds are so much fixed on their own study as to be unable to think freely about that or any other. The ontologist claims all the provinces of knowledge as his fatherland, and he is treated as a trespasser in each. On every frontier the specialist with his fixed bayonet keeps watch and ward, as though he dreaded to give or to receive. The free trader in knowledge bears the smuggler's brand. But it once made my holiday to take food through the midst of six great navies to starving men on a Mediterranean isle; and shall I now fear to run the blockade of the schoolmasters, if I believe they are keeping children from the bread of life?
The man of letters will need no explanation of why I have found the dogma of philology to be the devil's leading counsel in this debate. To the philologist, whose history—for I cannot yet call it science—has helped and hindered me by turns, I owe an honourable salute before the foils are crossed.
The sciences fall roughly into two groups, according to whether they come before or after man. The human sciences begin with folk-lore, and Darwin's book has given them a natural starting-point. The anthropologist holds the key to the position, and without his light all other students of the arts of man are wandering at random in the dark, and letting themselves be thwarted needlessly.
In his broad-minded treatise on the Kalevala, Comparetti has brought together much learning to elucidate the name and nature of the Sampa, the mystic lucky-box whose making and carrying off are main links in the poem. But the Sampa contains no puzzle for the folk-learner. There is just such a lucky-box in every West African hut. The serious-minded Black would no more think of setting up house without it than the Christian without his family Bible, or the scientist without his drain. You can buy a Sampa at any wizard's for a few cowrie-shells. The wizard makes it while you wait. He takes a bit of clay, and a feather, and a twig of straw, and whatever else strikes his fancy, and sticks them together in a calabash; and the householder puts it in his house to conjure away the spirits of misfortune and disease—one of whom science has now identified with the anopheles mosquito. That is the Sampa, and it is a prayer, written in the old magic letters which the spirits, or the mosquitoes, are most likely to understand; a language in which the wizard is a specialist,—and the philologist not even a smatterer.
Philology needs the light of folklore more than any other study needs it, because words are the most elusive work of man. They are the birds and butterflies of man's creation, and the philologist shows his love for them by trying to transfix them on Grimm's pin; by tearing them out of the sky with his Aryan shotgun, and giving them glass beads for eyes, and souls of cotton-wool. He is bitten by
the mania for exactness, and his study is the one study in which exactness must almost certainly be wrong. When he rules out the guesses of the untrained mind, he is ruling out the mind that shaped those very words of his; he is contemning what ought to be his fundamental law.
The wild man's mind ran wild, and it was volatile to catch the most fanciful resemblances between words, as his tongue was volatile to rhyme their sounds. His words were spelt, like Mr. Weller's name, according to the taste and fancy of the speller. The Athenian crowd that checked Demosthenes for a wrong accent was no more like the group before a Tartar tent that hung upon the earliest Tale of Troy than a first-night audience in a London theatre is like the ring of naked Blacks who look on at their native pantomime in the Australian scrub.
I am now interpreting a Will, and not writing an encyclopædia; though I should like to persuade some living Nobel to organise the writing of an encyclopædia on scientific lines, to replace the alphabetical chaos on the shelves of the Free Library; one who would recognise, as this Will recognises, that the books are more important than the shelves, and the Librarian more important than the Library. Here I can only so far suggest scientific canons of philology as to justify the interpretation that follows, and to show that what otherwise might seem my careless handling of words is founded on greater care.
If we should judge the mind of Europe by the work in various fields of learners like Retzius and Sergi and Massey and Montelius, we should think it had recovered from that disease of word-lore remembered as the Aryan Myth. But all philologists have by no means recovered. I have before me the latest and best work on English etymologies; and Professor Skeat must be the whipping-boy of worser men.
By way of groundwork he has a list of imaginary Aryan roots, as though the Aryans were a historic nation, dwelling in some country called Aryana, whose literary remains were before him. That is not so, and the buried cities of Bokhara, perhaps, hold many surprises in store for the philologist. But even if it were so, Aryan would not be the last word on English etymology. These roots were invented by men who had not read Darwin, or, like Max Müller, did not believe in him; and if they are anything but fancies, they are not roots but stems cut off from their roots. The study of words from such a beginning is no more scientific than a young lady's album of dried leaves is scientific botany. There are only two sound starting-points for the history of a word; one is where the word itself begins, in the wild man's cry, or the technical coinage which is manifest in Nobel's dynamite; the other is where
our knowledge of it begins, in the dead manuscript and in the living mouth. The first starting-point is the philologist's, the second is the lexicographer's. The imaginary Aryan stem is a mere generalisation of comparative lexicography.
Not only has the author ignored anthropology, but he has ignored geology, geography and history. He has ignored the Ice-Cap, and with it the fact that Europe must have been colonised from Africa long before it was conquered from Asia (if it was conquered). The Black man crossed the strait of Gibraltar, if even there were a strait, in his canoe, ages before the White man drove his wagon across the snow-bound steppes of Russia. The English language has more sources than the English philologist has dreamed of. Only the other day an astronomer, measuring Stonehenge after measuring the Great Pyramid, learned what Massey had long before learned from folk-lore, that Pharaoh has left his mark in Britain.
He deals with words as though they were all under a vow of celibacy, like the monkish writers who have done so much to disfigure and disguise them. Whereas one half of English words are in their present shape the offspring of Dutch mothers and Latin fathers, or Latin mothers and Dutch fathers, whose features may be still discerned in them; to say nothing of the French and Scandinavian strains.
For instance, the remarkable word very or werry—for Mr. Weller followed Piers Plowman in spelling
it with two rs—is labelled as being the French vrai, from the Low Latin veracus. Whereas vrai, which the Provençal Mr. Weller spells yverai, as I have ascertained on the spot, has no more to do with veracus in form than with very in meaning. This strong word which stands out in modern French like a rock against the tide of vérité, vérifier, véritable and véridique, emerging from the monkish effort to write it vérai, as a rock emerges from the waves is, like its brother vrac, a Frankish word, and its English and Latin representatives are (w) right and rectus. (We meet it letter for letter in the English bewray, and catch the counter-sense in awry.) The sense underlying it, which is a scientific root, is the strength of the wrist, as in wringing or wreaking (Skeat has seen that the brother word vrac is wreck), in short it is the strength of WORKING. The sense underlying verus and veracus, and the Dutch waar, and, to whatever extent, the English very, is the strength of the ear, in being ware, and wary, in short it is the strength of HEARING. And these are not imaginary Aryan roots, but sensible human ones; and if they do not please the philologist, perhaps they will please the psychologist.
The common term of vrai and verus, I suspect, is not veracus but vir, as man is the common term of working and hearing. And that is the sense which I catch faintly breathing in very, like the scent of a flower lingering in a jar.
For very is not an adverb, nor an adjective, as
[paragraph continues] Skeat carelessly reckons it; neither does it mean "true" and "truly" as he pretends, to support his derivation from veracus. We cannot say that a man is very, nor that he speaks very. It is an intensitive particle, unique in the language, and serving the office of a declension before adverbs and adjectives. Such a word must have a complex pedigree, and I tell only half the truth in saying that its story is the story of vrai inside out. For just as vrai is a Frankish word which has absorbed a Roman meaning, that of "true," so very has accepted a partly Roman spelling while preserving an Anglo-Saxon meaning. And that meaning is very nearly the original one of vrai. For not only does very mean "right" rather than "true" or "truly," as may be seen at a glance in such uses as "yours very truly," "the very man for the post" and "Very Reverend," but it has displaced "right" in those very uses. It is, however, inferior to right in strength, as the dean is inferior to the bishop; and without pretending to give a thorough account of it, I think the clue may be found in Mr. Weller's and Piers Plowman's double r, and that it may be either a composition or a confusion of wear and right. Verrey suggests to my ear much more an imaginary Latin verrectus, than any Low Latin veracus.
The English philologist has not got beyond the state of mind of the Australian Black, who has not yet found out the father's share in child-begetting,
and believes children to be ancestral spirits who have entered the mother's womb when she was walking past a grave. He has not got so far as the Black, because even the Black sees the features of the ancestor in the child, and the philologist does not see the Gothic features in many a dog-latin word that has crept like a cuckoo into an Anglo-Saxon nest.
He has accepted with childlike trust the story of the monk who, writing with the Book of Joshua for his model, has described the Angles and Saxons as sweeping over the island like a swarm of locusts, and leaving no British man, woman or child alive to be their thralls or wives. And that was not so. The Roman chesters did not all go down like Jericho, leaving not one stone upon another, as soon as Hengist landed in the Isle of Thanet; neither did all the Welsh flee into Wales. The differences between English and Swedish are some of them Welsh differences and Finnish differences, as the differences between Spanish and Italian are Iberian differences.
The philologist seems never to have heard any one speaking English, but to believe that his own learned dialect is the speech used in the nursery and on the farmstead. And that is not so. What Skeat rarely and unwillingly refers to as "provincial English" is very English, and many words that he refers to as English are provincial Latin. Thus the word verity has never been acclimatised, but is a lexicographer's exotic. As soon as it is written verihood, to match the Dutch waarheid and the German wahrheit, it
rhymes with falsehood, and sounds like an English word. The philologist sits in his library, and cons the dusty manuscripts in which Roman missionaries and Latin scholars have quaintly travestied the native speech, while underneath his windows the children playing in the street are pouring out better information from the well of English undefiled. As soon as the English get away from their Latin colleges into some wild land that Caesar never knew, their own words bubble up like a natural spring, and the Aryan root is found budding and blossoming again. Because these old-new blossoms are not in his specimen book, the philologist calls them weeds.
The last great struggle of all those that have gone to make English took place in and around London, and the chief antagonists were the Low Dutch dialects of the East coast, as the spoken language, and provincial Latin as the written one. The compromise has been drawn up in spelling, and as the spelling was in the hands of the writers, the record is a one-sided one, and by that one-sided record English philology has long been led astray. It is an encouraging sign that Skeat should be the first to allow that the Netherland dialects may have had some influence on English, though he characteristically does not look deeper than such historical incidents as the treaties of Edward III and the expeditions of Elizabeth. Were he aware that within living memory the Yarmouth fisherman understood
his Rotterdam neighbour almost better than his Plymouth countrymen, the philologist might be brought to see that the Dutch work-book is likely to be a safer guide than most monkish manuscripts to "provincial English."
In the meanwhile I hope he will accept these suggestions in the spirit in which they are uttered, as those of a provincial Englishman.
Since I first wrote this Letter there has come into my hands a work by Bréal entitled La Semantique, which an English professor of philology treats as the first recognition of the need for a science, or at least a history, of the meaning of words. That seems to be the science the need for which was recognised by Socrates in the market place of Athens, and that is the science I have had to piece out for myself as best I could in this inquiry; and which I call verihood, instead of truth.
Truth is the merit of the speaker rather than of the speech. The speaker may be truthful, and yet his story may not be true. The witness who is sworn to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," is only sworn to tell what happened as he saw it. He does not swear that he saw rightly, and that his story is the correct one. The correct story has to be put together by the jury, who are
sworn to give "a true verdict according to the evidence." The verdict is the collected and corrected truth.
No imaginary Aryan root has been found for truth. But its sensible root underlies words like try and utter, in short it is the strength of the tongue. The imaginary Aryan root, offered by Skeat with a "perhaps," for verihood, is war, one of four imaginary wars, and said to mean "to choose," and thence "to believe." For a sensible root we have only to go out into the play-ground. Ware! is the cry that can still be heard on the lips of the English schoolboy. It is found in written English in such words as aware and wary. The word wary calls up a picture of the wild man of the woods, crouched with one ear to the ground, his fingers tightening on his knife, and his whole soul astrain to catch the first faint rustle that shall bewray the hidden foe. Such a cry as Ware! is worth a library of manuscript. We need no imaginary Aryan root to help us to its meaning. It means "Hear with all your might!" It is the strength of the ear at its highest pitch. If there be any root in word-lore this cry must be it. It is perhaps the one word in English that has come straight down without a change from the real Aryans;—and it is not to be found in the Etymological Dictionary!
On these lines truth and verihood explain each other. Both words imply a speaker and a listener.
[paragraph continues] What the one tries to tell is truth, and what the other yearns to hear is verihood. Of these two the important standpoint is the listener's, because it is for his sake that the speech is made, and what he hears is all that has been really and effectually said. The impression matters more than the expression. The gist of the speech is what is left in the mind of the listener, and by his understanding of it it must be judged.
Hence verihood is a greater word than truth, as the verdict is greater than the evidence. Verihood is the bull's eye that truth aims at, and falsehood the inner or outer it must so often be content to hit. And that is to say, in other words, that verihood's opposite pole is truth, and its circumference falsehood.
The science of semantics is thus revealed as a branch of physical mathematics. The semantological specialist will now be able to define the word Idealist for himself. My story is meant to be read by the untrained mind.
It has been well said that all the stories in the world have only forty plots between them, and all the words have not many more sensible roots. We are indebted to Erdmann for the hint that the name Goth meant brave, much as Frank meant free,—the aut of the Icelandic Gautar being one with the aud
of the Latin audax, or audacious—which Mrs. Gamp, with nicer scholarship than that of Oxford, sounded owdacious. Be that as it may, an outspoken work calls for a brave reader; and I am writing to the Gothic mind, that is to say, to the White mind rather than the Black.
For the ontologist there are no coincidences, but only Rhymes. I will not think it is for nothing that in the queen city of the Baltic, in the homeland of the Goths, from which, as from the citadel of the White race, went forth those armies that struck down the Rome of Caesar, and once again scared back the Roman eagle from Pomerania to the Danube; I will not think it is in vain that a countryman of Alaric and Gustav Adolf has given it in charge to a Court that represents the White mind in its preeminence, to draw up by its decisions the canon of the scriptures of the new age. The mathematician has a greater license than the poet to ignore reality in working out his problems. I shall be forgiven if I have sometimes lost sight of the Academy of to-day in that White City of the North; if I have sometimes forgotten a thousand years and written to the Academy that shall sit hereafter, in the new Asgard, in the Hall of the Aesir;—forgiven if I have sometimes lifted up my eyes, and written as in the sight of the White Gods.
To understand, says the French poet, is to forgive. Yet which of us can hope wholly to understand
another, or to be understood? Which of us can thoroughly pierce, from within or from without—