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How the camel, who is the sole carrier of all the merchandise of Turkey, Persia, Egypt, Arabia, and Barbary, who is obliged to transport his incredible burdens through countries in which pasture is so rare, can subsist twenty-four hours without food, and can travel, loaded, many days without water, through dry and dusty deserts, which supply none; and all this, not from the habit, but from the conformation of the animal : for naturalists make this conformity of powers to climates a rule of judgment in ascertaining the native countries of animals, and always determine it to be that to which their powers and properties are most appropriate.
Thus the writers of natural history are, perhaps, unintentionally magnifying the operations of Providence, when they insist that animals do not modify and give way to the influence of other climates : but here they too commonly stop; neglecting, or perhaps refusing, to ascribe to Infinite Goodness this wise and merciful accommodation. And here the pious instructor will come in, in aid of their deficiency: for philosophers too seldom trace up causes, and wonders, and blessings to their Author. And it is peculiarly to be regretted that a late justly celebrated French naturalist *, who, though not famous for his accuracy, possessed such diversified powers of description, that he had the talent of making the driest subjects interesting; together with such a liveliness of delineation, that his characters of animals are drawn with a spirit
and variety rather to be looked for in an historian of men than of beasts :- it is to be regretted, I say, that this writer, with all his excellences, is absolutely inadmissible into the library of a young lady, both on account of his immodesty and his impiety; and if in wishing to exclude him, it may be thought wrong to have given him so much commendation, it is only meant to show that the author is not led to reprobate his principles from insensibility to his talents. The remark is rather made to put the reader on remembering that no brilliancy of genius, no diversity of attainments, should ever be allowed as a commutation for defective principles and corrupt ideas. *
* Goldsmith's History of Animated Nature has many references to a Divine Author. It is to be wished that some judicious person would publish a new edition of Buffon's work, purified from the indelicate and offensive parts.
Since this work was published, this suggestion has been adopted by the Rev. W. Bingley, in his admirable work entitled “ Animal Biography,” in three volumes.
ON THE USE OF DEFINITIONS, AND THE MORAL
BENEFITS OF ACCURACY IN LANGUAGE.
“ Persons having been accustomed from their cradles to learn words before they knew the ideas for which they stand, usually continue to do so all their lives, never taking the pains to settle in their minds the determined ideas which belong to them. This want of a precise signification in their words, when they come to reason, especially in moral matters, is the cause of very obscure and uncertain notions. They use these undetermined words confidently without much troubling their heads about a certain fixed meaning, whereby, besides the ease of it, they obtain this advantage, that as in such discourse they are seldom in the right, so they are as seldom to be convinced that they are in the wrong, it being just the same to go about to draw those persons out of their mistakes, who have no settled notions, as to dispossess a vagrant of his habitation who has no settled abode. — The chief end of language being to be understood, words serve not for that end when they do not excite in the hearer the same idea which they stand for in the mind of the speaker.”*
I have chosen to shelter myself under the broad sanction of the great author here quoted, with a view to apply this rule in philology to a moral
purpose; for it applies to the veracity of conversation as much as to its correctness; and as strongly recommends unequivocal and simple truth accurate and just expression. Scarcely any one, perhaps, has an adequate conception how much clear and correct expression favours the elucidation of truth; and the side of truth is obviously the side of morals; it is, in fact, one and the same cause; and it is, of course, the same cause with that of true religion also.
It is, therefore, no worthless part of education, even in a religious view, to study the precise meaning of words, and the appropriate signification of language. To this end I know no better method than to accustom young persons very early to a habit of defining common words and things; for, as definition seems to lie at the root of correctness, to be accustomed to define English words in English would improve the understanding more than barely to know what those words are called in French, Italian, or Latin. Or rather, one use of learning other languages is, because definition is often involved in etymology; that is, since many English words take their derivation from foreign or ancient languages, they cannot be so accurately understood without some knowledge of those languages: but precision of any kind, either moral or philological, too seldom finds its way into the education of women.
It is, perhaps, going out of my province to observe, that it might be well if young men also, before they entered on the world, were to be furnished with correct definitions of certain words, the use of which is become rather ambiguous; or rather, they should be instructed in the double sense of modern phraseology. For instance; they should be provided with a good definition of the word honour in the fashionable sense, showing what vices it includes, and what virtues it does not include: the term good company, which even the courtly Petronius of our days has defined as sometimes including not a few immoral and disreputable characters: religion, which, in the various senses assigned it by the world, sometimes means superstition, sometimes fanaticism, and sometimes a mere disposition to attend on any kind of form of worship: the word goodness, which is made to mean every thing that is not notoriously bad; and sometimes even that too, if what is notoriously bad be accompanied by good humour, pleasing manners, and a little alms-giving. By these means, they would go forth armed against many of the false opinions which, through the abuse or ambiguous meaning of words, pass so current in the world.
But to return to the youthful part of that sex which is the more immediate object of this little work. With correct definition they should also be taught to study the shades of words; and this not merely with a view to accuracy of expression, though even that involves both sense and elegance, but with a view to moral truth.
It may be thought ridiculous to assert, that morals have any connection with the purity of language, or that the precision of truth may be