+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

third year; as his death occurred at
another age, the interpreters took refuge in
the fact that Galba was seventy-three when
he succeeded Nero. The affair of Birnam
Wood and Dunsinane, in Macbeth, is a
very good illustration of the mode in which
a prediction may be accepted and verified,
if those who interpret it are tempted by
superstition to play fast and loose with
words and phrases.


IT is remarkable that no modern
language has a better name for the collective
letters that enter into the composition of
all its words than Alphabet, which is an
abbreviation of "Alpha, Beta," or "A,
B, C," which is the familiar English
and French expression, sometimes used
instead of the Greek word. Some of
the Celtic nations, whose primitive
languages are unfortunately perishing, call
the alphabet the "tree of life," a poetical,
and by no means inaccurate description of
what might perhaps have been still better
called the "tree of knowledge." The
Scottish Highlanders call the Gaelic
alphabet "Bithluiseanean," or the "life of
plants," a notion derived from the fact,
that the name of every letter, without
exception, is also the name of a tree, plant, or
shrub. It is impossible to ascertain during
what countless ages mankind were
possessed of speech, without being possessed
of an alphabet and the art of writing. The
invention of that art was unquestionably
the greatest step ever taken in the onward
march of civilisation; and has been the
source from which all the noblest triumphs
of humanity have sprung.

The use of language without letters
still exists among many barbarous races.
Some of the guttural and other sounds
that are employed by these primitive tribes
are not to be easily, if at all, represented
by any of the alphabetical signs in use
among civilised communities, for the human
voice has a far greater number of tones and
inflexions, including the gutturals, than
symbols have ever been invented to represent.
The English has nominally six vowels,
"a," "e," "i," "o," " u," "y," but by means
of diphthongs and tripthongs, or the
combination of two or three of these with each
other, as many as nineteen different vowel
sounds in use in the English language can
be exhibited in writing. "A" has at least
four sounds, as in fat, fate, far, law. "E"
has three, as in eke, set, err. "I" has three,
as in bite, bit, irreligious. "O" has six,
as in own, hot, nation, moon, joy, how.
"U" has four, as in urgent, muff, refuse,
dubious. The consonants, in a similar
manner, express by their combinations a
great variety of sounds which in a perfect
language, with a perfect alphabet, if such
were possible, would each require its own
symbol; such as "fr," "gl," "ch," "bl,"
"br," and many others which will at once
suggest themselves to the reader.

But man is not the only animal that has
the power of uttering the alphabetical
sounds of vowels and consonants, though
he is the only one that possesses the art of
writing them. There is, so far as is known,
no bird or quadruped that does not in its
pleasure, or its pain, its satisfaction, or its
terror, emit some vowel sound, sometimes
in combination with a consonant, and
sometimes alone. The dog has the guttural
"ough," and three consonants the "b,"
the "f," and the "w," and one vowel,
"ow;" as in its well-known exclamations,
"bow-wow," "wough," and the angry
barks of "wowff" and "wuff." The
bovine species have but one consonant and
one vowel, as in "mu." The full-grown
sheep has two consonants and one vowel,
as in "baa," and "maa;" while the lamb
has something that resembles "may" and
"bay." The cat has two consonants and
three vowels, as in " miau" and "purr;"
while many animals emit guttural and
other sounds, which strike upon the
human tympanum so imperfectly and
so confusedly as to be scarcely
representable in writing. The horse has
evidently one consonant at the command of
his voice, which is "n," and several vowels
and gutturals that glide very
unmelodiously into one another when he neighs,
whinnies, or snorts. Swift, in the only
repulsive story in the travels of Gulliver,
represented the neighing of the horse by
the rugged and unpronounceable word
"houyhnhnm." In nearly all the
languages of Europe that attempt at literal
rendering of the horse's utterance, the
letter "n" is employed. The French render
it by "hennir," the Italians by "nitrire,"
the Germans by "wiehern," the Spanish
by "rinchar," and the Dutch by "run-
niken" and "gennishen." The pig has
the thick guttural sound of " gr"
combined with "m" and "f," from whence we
derive the descriptive words "grumph"
and "grunt." The roar of the lion is an
intensification of the "mu" of the bull, with