Daily Archives: December 20, 2006

Item of the Day: Harris’s Hermes (1751)

Full Title: Hermes: or, a Philosophical Inquiry concerning Language and Universal Grammar. By James Harris, London, J. Nourse and P. Vaillant, 1751.




Chap. I






Design of the Whole.





If Men by nature had been framed for Solitude, they had never felt an Impulse to converse one with another. And if, like lower Animals, they had been by nature irrational, they could not have recogniz’d the proper Subjects of Discourse. Since Speech then is the joint Energie of our best and noblest Faculties, (that is to say, of our Reason and our social Affection) being withal our peculiar Ornament and distinction, as Men; those Inquiries may surely be deemed interesting as well as liberal, which either search how Speech may be naturally resolved; or how, when resolved, it may be again combined.







Here a large field for speculating opens before us. We may either behold Speech, as divided into its constituent Parts, as a Statue may be divided into its several Limbs; or else, as resolved into its Matter and Form, as the same Statue may be resolved into its Marble and Figure.


These different Analyzings or Resolutions constitute what we call Philosophical, or Universal Grammar.







When we have viewed Speech thus analyzed, we may then consider it, as compounded. And here in the first place we may contemplate that Synthesis, which by combining simple Terms produces a Truth; then by combining two Truths produces a third; and thus others, and others, in continued Demonstration, till we are led, as by a road, into the regions of Science.


Now this is that superior and most excellent Synthesis, which alone applies itself to our Intellect or Reason, and which to conduct according to Rule, constitutes the Art of Logic.


After this we may turn to those inferior Compositions, which are productive of the Pathetick, and the Pleasant in all their kinds. These latter Compositions aspire not to the intellect, but being addressed to the Imagination, the Affections, and the Sense, become from their different heightnings either Rhetoric or Poetry.




Nor need we necessarily view these Arts distinctly and apart. We may observe, if we please, how perfectly they co-incide. Grammar is equally requisite to every one of the rest. And though Logic may indeed subsist without Rhetoric or Poetry, yet so necessary to these last is a sound and correct Logic, that without it, they are no better than warbling Trifles.


Now all these Inquiries (as we have said already) and such others arising from them as are of still sublimer Contemplation, (of which in the Sequel there may be possibly not a few) may with justice be deem’d Inquiries both interesting and liberal.




At present we shall postpone the whole synthetical Part, (that is to say, Logic and Rhetoric) and confine ourselves to the analytical, that is to say Universal Grammar. In this we shall follow the Order, that we have above laid down first dividing Speech, as a Whole into its Constituent Parts; then resolving it, as a Composite, and its Matter and Form; two Methods of Analysis very different in their kind, and which lead to a variety of very different speculations.


Should any one object, that in the course of our Inquiry we sometimes descend to things, which appear trivial and low; let him look upon the Effects, to which those things contribute, then from the Dignity of the Consequences, let him honour the Principles.





The following Story may not improperly be here inserted. “When the Fame of Heraclitus was celebrated throughout Greece, there were certain persons, that had a curiosity to see so great a Man. They came, and, as it happen’d, found him warming himself in a Kitchen. The Meanness of the place occasioned them to stop, upon which the Philosopher thus accosted them — Enter (says he) Boldly, for here too there are Gods.”

We shall only add, that as there is no part of nature too mean for the divine Presence; so there is no kind of Subject, having its foundation in Nature, that is below the Dignity of a philosophical Inquiry.


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Filed under 1750's, Language, Posted by Rebecca Dresser