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first written, and a modified form of it has always been employed by the Samaritans in which to write their MSS. of the Pentateuch. The Phænician letters still retained some resemblance to the objects of which they had been the picture symbols, and it is even now seen in many letters of our modern Roman alphabet, after the changes of 3000 years. Thus the ancient Greek Q and even our letter Q still preserve some resemblance to the back of the head. Our letter H still resembles "a fence," like the Phænician Kheth H from which it is derived. Our T like the ancient Tau, is still “

a cross." And O still pictures the pupil of “the eye,” like the Phænician 0, from which it is derived. The Greek Οφθαλμός (ophthalmos), the Latin oculus, and the French oeil (from which our word “eye” is derived by sound) all point to the original picture symbol.

The early Greek and Roman writers generally concur in attributing the invention of their alphabets to the Phænicians. Doubtless this most practical and enterprising race, the mer. chants, traders and navigators of the old world, perceiving the cumbrousness of the Egyptian system, selected certain of the simplest phonetic hieroglyphs, just sufficient to represent the most essential sounds, and thus by degrees formed their alphabet. If we take the oldest Phænician writing yet discovered (with a date) that on an Assyrian lion weight in the British Museum, it will be seen that every letter resembles the corresponding Roman letter. (See plate XI, fig. 1.) The Assyrian inscription in arrow-headed characters reads—"The palace “ of Asshur-izir-pal, supreme King, King of Assyria, one "maneh of the King." The Phænician letters read from the right are MNH MLK = maneh melek, one maneh of the King." This Assyrian monarch reigned B.C. 880, and we see that the trade between the Phænicians and Babylonians had given rise to these double inscriptions on the standard weights used; whilst our own alphabet is still trace


able in this interesting memorial from the far East, 3000

years old !

Having thus rapidly traced the formation of our alphabetic system, it cannot fail at once to strike the reader as strange that so little has been done for 2000 years in improving this greatest of all arts. We are practically almost where the Phænicians left us, our own alphabet being simply that of ancient Rome, itself very slightly extended from the Greek. And it is scarcely too much to say that such an alphabet is miserably insufficient, a disgrace to our advanced literary culture and resources. We have rested content with the alphabet of a nation which spoke an entirely different tongue from our own, wanting many of the commonest sounds in our language. On the one side it is so brief and badly planned as not to express one half the ordinary distinct sounds heard in speaking English. A, for instance, expresses the exact sound heard in speaking mate. But what about the other four sounds which are all written A, heard in abet, mat, fall, father ? On the other hand the same sound is often written down in the most fantastically different ways, as in this sentence : “ Tell Hugh to mark with a U the Ewe that is under the Yew which you are to hew down to-morrow." Yet withal it contains superfluous letters, as C and Q, which have no separate sound whatever.

Mr. Schoolcraft tells of a Cherokee Indian, who, having got the idea of an alphabet in the Moravian Schools, applied it in the formation of a complete phonetic alphabet for his tribe. By seventy-six letters he was able to represent all the complex sounds of his language so well that the missionaries found they could teach the adult natives to read at once by merely teaching them these letters.

All honour to Mr. Isaac Pitman in his efforts to do the same thing for our own country. If we had an alphabet in which every sound of our language was represented by an arbitrary character the painful labour of years would be compressed into a week. Meanwhile it is better to teach children reading, not through) our farbitrary spelling, but, Chinese fashion, by a word at once. They may afterwards be taught to divide it into letters and syllables. We have seen that all writing has begun in picture drawing. Why not take a hint from this ? Put a pencil into the child's hand as soon as he will scrawl. Shew him pictures—as of a horse-with the

"—— name in large fletters underneath. He will soon learn the look of the word. And as he grows fonder of drawing the objects, he will try to add "the name "underneath. My own children have thus learned pleasantly to read, write, spell and draw at the same time.

Some excellent remarks on the imperfectness of our writing systems will be found in the presidential address of Sir William Armstrong to the British Association in 1863. He says—“While so much facility is given to mental communi“cation by new measures and new inventions, the fundamental

art of expressing thought byjwritten symbols remains as "imperfect now as it has been for centuries past. It seems “strange that, while we actually possess a "system of shorthand " by which words can be recorded as rapidly as they can be

spoken, we should persist in writing a slow and laborious “longhand.” And he proposes that shorthand should be universally taught, or at least that numerous abridgments for the more commonly recurring syllables be adopted into our common writing.

Yet we have much cause" for congratulation. Not a single letter exists of an earlier date than the 14th century entirely in the handwriting of any private individual. All writing was the work of the professional scribe. The father of Shakspeare signed with a cross. And thus, if our great poet had been born one generation earlier, England would have lost its most brilliant literary heritage.





And now we conclude our sketch of the origin of this art which the Egyptians esteemed so highly as to assert that it was communicated by the god Thoth or Hermes to mankind. Certainly this, more than any other invention, raises man above the level of the brute, and confers upon our mortal race something of immortality. To the nations who possessed it was given the blessed privilege to pass on the fiery torch of knowledge from age to age, never extinguished, but ever burning brighter. Captain Sword yet desolates the world. In his train are ignorance and crime. May we see the dawn of that better day

When the bloodless triumphs of Captain Pen
Shall have made a world of swordless men !




Free Public Library, 19th October, 1863.


The SECRETARY read the following


The Council have little of special interest to report in resigning office at the close of their year of service. During the Session Eighteen Ordinary Meetings were held, with an average attendance of members; twenty-two Papers were read, and the most important of them have been placed in the hands of the printer for publication in the Annual Volume, which is expected to be ready for delivery in November. It will also be found to contain a paper contributed by the President in the preceding Session. The number of members on the roll is about the same as at the close of the last Session, as will appear by the following Table :



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