Nor must we forget the extreme probability of our having owed to the Semitic race another most memorable gift—the gift of an alphabet, the gift of those ingenious symbols which can alone give perpetuity and unlimited extension to human utterances. The modern alphabets of all civilised nations have come from Greek, and the Greeks themselves admitted that they had borrowed their alphabet from the Phoenicians. Cadmus, the name of the mythic introducer of writing into Greece, was represented as a Phoenician, and, in fact, his very name is but a Hebrew word, meaning either " the ancient" or " the East." I will not here digress into the interesting question as to the origin of writing, or as to the honour of its invention. The Phoenicians were certainly among the earliest to perfect it, and the sole nation who made it widely known. Their own literature has entirely perished, but they bequeathed to us an inheritance by which alone all other literature would be either possible or permanent. Nor is that all; for to the same remarkable people we owe some of the earliest enterprises of colonisation, and their adventurous barks, engaged in an active commerce, had carried them as far north as the British Isles, and as far west as the Sargasso Sea.
The relations between the Aryan and the Semitic race have been almost entirely hostile, from the day when Alexander conquered Phoenicia and subjugated Judaea down to the other day when Lord Napier of Magdala crushed in a single campaign the power of Abyssinia.
The Aryan race has almost invariably triumphed in the contest. The Semites were indeed victorious when Judas Maccabeus broke the yoke of Antiochus Epiphanes; and when Hannibal shattered the Roman armies at Cannae and Thrasimene; and when the Jews defeated Cestius at Beth-horon; and when at Kadesia the general of Omar won the standard of Persia; and when, again, advancing by Gibraltar, which still bears his name, the Moorish chieftain Tarik scattered at Xeres the forces of Roderic. But, on the other hand, the Semites were utterly routed by Scipio at Zama, and by Titus when the Roman eagles gathered round the dying carcass of Judea; and when, in the reign of Adrian, 580,000 followers of the false Messiah, Barchochebas, fell by fire, famine, and the sword; and when, in 732 a.d., in seven days of battle and massacre on the plains of Tours, Charles Martel gave that final and decisive rout to their forces, but for which, as Gibbon observes, " perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet." Since that day the entire fortunes and destinies of the Semitic race have declined. The glories of Islam, the direct result of their religious enthusiasm, were but the dying flash in the embers of its vitality. The memorials of its splendour are recorded in undecipherable inscriptions in the desert or on mountain rocks, or lie buried amid the ruins of Palestine, the fisher-tents of Sidon, the broken columns of Carthage, and the mounds of Kouyunjik; nor does there live for it any hope of future history save in the cherished and sacred convictions of a scattered people that " the Lord will yet build up Jerusalem, and gather together the outcasts of Judah".
But still this race did not begin to decline and disappear from the field of history until its work was done. " Humanity may advance solely over the wrecks of past ages and the ruins of former people, but it advances still." Tribes and nations disappear, but it is only to make way for others who have higher problems still to solve. The character of the Semitic race has always been its " inveterate isolation." Even in the days of their dawning glory the Semites did but occupy a small parallelogram of Asia, about 1600 miles long, and 800 broad, chiefly in its two western peninsulas, and not more than one-thirteenth part of its whole extent. They have rarely left these narrow boundaries. Their colonies were few, and in few instances have they been permanent; their conquests were only due to a tumultuous and vivid fanaticism, and in no instance have they left very abiding traces. Not to Shem, the ancestor of the Jews, but to Japheth, the ancestor of the Aryans, was given the prophecy of enlargement, and in all ages Japheth has dwelt in the tents of Shem. If it was written in the books of destiny that the sons of Ham were to be slaves, and the sons of Shem to be prophets, it was written also that the sons of Japheth were to be kings.
And yet, before the children of Arabia had forgotten the example of that fiery valour which inspired Khaled, "the sword of God," they had carried their victorious religion through the fairest regions of the globe, and so rescued them from the worst curses of a degraded Polytheism. Before Judaism disappeared, there had been intrusted to men born in her traditions that Divine revelation which was destined to regenerate the world. The Semite has sunk indeed into decrepitude, but not until he had left to the Aryan the inheritance of his best wealth. The religion of the Aryan was but a personification of external influences, and his mythology a metaphorical description of the ravages of night and winter, the freshness of the dewdrops, or the glory of the dawn. The Semite, more subjective, more individual,aught him to separate himself more clearly from the Universe, to gain a loftier conception of the Deity, to log through Nature up to Nature's God. The knowledge of one God was the living oracle of Semitism ; an oracle which it preserved, but was at once powerless and unwilling to communicate to the world. It received, it treasured;— to disseminate was beyond its power. But when God revealed Himself in His Son, the revelation was no longer destined for a separate nation. When the Semitic race bequeathed its sceptre to the Gentile world, it bequeathed with that sceptre the heritage of a new religion. And it was this new religion which enkindled the force and genius of the hitherto dormant members of the Aryan family. This it was which flushed with fresh vigour the veins of the dying Roman Empire. This it was that raised the Teutons from a race of lazy barbarians into leaders in the world's intellectual advance. This it was that transformed the cruel and frantic Viking into the chivalrous and noble Norman. This it was which even now is daily lifting the Slavonian from polygamy, isolation, and serfdom. This it was that gave all which is noblest and most distinctive to the names of France, and England, and Italy, and Spain. Yes, the Aryan has well learnt the deepest lesson which the Semite had to teach, and with that lesson it seems the clear destiny of Providence that he should advance farther and farther to the civilisation, the enlightenment, in one word, the evangelisation of the whole habitable globe.
Let me here very briefly recapitulate some of the leading historical conclusions and thoughts which are the recent gift of the Science of Philology to the knowledge and the purposes of mankind.
Not far from each other—the one in the regions of Armenia, the other along the great Oxus valley—appeared in the dimmest dawn of commencing human development two races, fairer in complexion, stronger and more beautifully organised in physical constitution, and with spirits incomparably more finely touched to fine issues than any other races which the world had to that time seen. At periods varying from 3000 to 2000 years before our era, a vast division took place in the Aryan race, and whole tribes, destined hereafter to be the fathers of mighty nations, streamed away victoriously in successive waves, first towards the north and west, and later towards the east and south. They became subjected to different laws,—the western tribes advancing farthest in material and intellectual prosperity, the eastern feeding themselves on. profounder conceptions in the midst of a remarkable simplicity of life. Meanwhile, at about the same period, the other great race also began to move in immense migrations. In the person of Eber it entered Mesopotamia; in the person of Joktan it entered Arabia; in the person of Abraham it entered Palestine. Indifferent, except in those branches of it which were half Hamitic, to the great arts of war and peace, to this race was it mainly given to keep alive the revelation of the Unity of God, and the eternal majesty of the moral law. After a long history, somewhat monotonous, and but rarely triumphant, there arose in the bosom of this race a new and diviner revelation which it rejected, but in the very-act of rejecting imparted to the western descendants of its sister-race, and then sank gradually, but with one reviving and reactionary effort, into contented subordination. In the hands of this western race the Holy Fire began to burn brighter and yet more bright, and in their great commercial and military progress they reached their long-forgotten and then unrecognised brothers of the east. In the hands of these eastern brothers they saw, as it were, the crepundia—the family tokens—which had remained almost intact in their possession, and which once had lain in the common cradle. But before those crepundia were recognised there was many a fierce struggle, many a blood-stained battle-field between these brothers, who saw in each other only aliens. After a separation of 4000 years, after having traversed an immense circle of the globe, the younger Aryan returns, not solely to rule over the elder, not only to rekindle his torch at the sacred flame which had once glowed on the ancestral hearth, but to teach him,—in requital it may be for many injuries, — the lessons of a superior wisdom, a purer justice, and a loftier morality,—above all, to teach him that body of sacred truth which was long the special glory and amulet of the Hebraic Semite, but which, when once it had been imparted to the Indo-European family, was fostered by Grecian genius, and supported by Roman power, and deepened by Germanic thought, and illustrated by Italian art, and disseminated by the energy and empire of England, and should now be inscribed upon the common labarum, which a race,—formed indeed of separate nationalities, but animated by a sublime unanimity of purpose,—should regard it as their highest object, and their providential mission, to render visible and glorious through a redeemed and regenerated world.
language and languages, p. 357.