In December last year, I started GW,
that abbreviates Golden Words in English (some - not many - are Dutch).
Since I am physically not well and had promised someone two fine
Hazlitt, here they are, the first in this Nederlog, the other one in
The language of understanding is necessary to a rational being. Man
is dumb and prone to earth without it. It is that which opens the
vista of our past or future years. Otherwise, a cloud is upon it,
like the mist of the morning, like a veil or roses, an exhalation of
sweet sounds, or rich distilled perfumes; no matter what - it is the
nerve or organ that is chiefly touched, the sense that is wrapped in
ecstasy or waked to madness; the man remains unmoved, torpid, and
listless, blind to causes and consequences, which he can never
remain satisfied without knowing; but seems shut up in a cell of
ignorance, baffled and confounded. Sounds without meaning are like a
glare of light without objects; or, an Opera is to a Tragedy what a
transparency is to a picture. We are delighted because we are
dazzled. But words are a key to the affections. They not only excite
feelings, but they point to the why and wherefore.
Causes march before them, and consequences follow after them. They
are links in the chain of the universe, and the grappling iron that
binds us to it. They open the gates of Paradise, and reveal the
abyss of human woe.
' Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
Die in a word; such is the breath of kings. '
But in this respect, all men who have the use of
speech are kings. It is words that constitute all but the present
moment, but the present object. They may not and they do not give
the whole of any train of impressions which they suggest; but they
alone answer in any degree to the truth of things, unfold the dark
labyrinth of fate, or unravel the web of the human heart; for they
alone describe things in the order and relation in which they happen
in human life. Men do not dance or sing through life; or an Opera or
a ballet would 'come to the bosoms and businesses of men,' in the
same manner that a Tragedy or Comedy does. As it is, they do not
piece on to our ordinary existence, nor go to enrich our habitual
reflections. We wake from them as from a a drunken dream, or a last
night's debauch; and think of them no more, till the actual
impression is repeated.
-- William Hazlitt: The Plain Speaker
Walter Scott, Racine and Shakespear, p. 337
This then is what makes
human: Language, arbitrary sounds with arbitrary agreed upon
namely for the depth and refinement of understanding it provides.
Past and future, possibilities and chances, and causes and
consequences of whatever happens, can for the most part only be known
to the human mind
by representing them mentally and
Only or mostly by language can a human being learn
most of the things that a human mind can understand, just as such
understanding can only or mostly be conveyed to another human being by
a human language.
And most of men's
life is tied up, expressed by, and considered with
language, that extends man's grasp and understanding of things
from immediate impressions here and now to all manner of possibilities
and eventualities that may inhere in reality anywhere at any time, and
to all manner of
for them, by symbolic linguistic representation, and also of all
manner of dreams and
about them, for these too are waved and unravelled for the most part
in the human mind by language.