BY earnestly studying words we are enabled historically to resuscitate the long-forgotten history of bygone millenniums, and to catch some glimpses into the past fortunes of nations whose very name and memory have been obliterated for ages from every other record. Intellectually regarded, the study of them initiates us into the profoundest mysteries of the human understanding. It is the foundation of all metaphysics. For it is by words alone that we can discover " the manner in which ideas, born of perception, present themselves all naked to the human intelligence, while it is still engaged in their discovery and still seeking to communicate them to others ; we follow the labour which it undergoes to arrive at this result, and in the want of uniformity in that labour we see the influence of different intellects." Hence fresh languages wisely acquired may afford us a nearer approximation to many truths than would be otherwise attainable, by suggesting thoughts and conclusions which have evaporated from our native tongue. For " language is the depositary of the accumulated body of experience, to which all former ages have contributed their part, and which is the inheritance of all yet to come." It is " like amber circulating the electric spirit of truth, and preserving the relics of ancient wisdom." So important and indispensable is the right use of words to the progress of Science, that some have gone so far as to call Science itself " a well-constructed Language;" and, although this is an exaggeration, it is certain that in Scientific no less than in Religious history an ill-understood phrase, or an ambiguously-framed expression, has been sufficient to retard the progress, and kindle the passions, of men during centuries of warfare.
And who shall overstate the moral bearing and importance of words ? They stereotype our desires, they mislead our consciences, they add intensity to our temptations, they determine our bias, they decide our destiny. Once spoken they are irrevocable, indelible for ever. " Words, words, words, good and bad,. . . millions in the hour, innumerable in the day, unimaginable in the year; what then in the life ? what in the history of a nation ? what in that of the world ? And not one of them is ever forgotten. There is a book where they are all set down. What a history, it has been well said, is this earth's atmosphere, seeing that all words spoken from Adam's first till now are still vibrating on its sensitive, unresting medium.
It is well for every man to consider solemnly such truths as these, be our scientific conclusions and our philological studies what they may—endeavouring not to forget even in the midst of controversy that " it is by a man's words that he is justified, and by a man's words that he is condemned".
language and languages, p. 254.