Reading about Language

  • Tom Jones

Abstract

What did Pope think about language? He says that in good poetry the sound should seem an echo to the sense, and this statement might imply that he held an Adamic view of the relationship between words and their meaning: language is divine and gives the right names to the right things — as Adam did in the garden — and poetry is the best expression of the divinity of language. If Pope held this view he would be a nostalgic poet, adhering to views of language popular in the seventeenth century and earlier, views that Milton might have held, and that see divine appropriateness in onomatopoeia and etymological relationships between words.1 Yet, as I have already noted in the Introduction, Pope’s echo is a matter of artifice, or seeming, and not simply a natural or divine phenomenon. Other statements in Pope’s Essay on Criticism place him closer to other schools of thought on language. He says that ‘Expression is the Dress of Thought, and still / Appears more decent as more suitable’ (11. 318–19), perhaps implying that words are external signs that more or less correctly reflect thoughts that exist independently in the mind of a speaker. Stephen Land for one takes these lines by Pope as evidence that ‘Pope’s concept of language is very close to that of Locke’, who, as I will demonstrate shortly, holds something like the view of language just sketched.2

Keywords

Manifold Assure Pyrate Bark Crest 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    John Leonard, Naming in Paradise: Milton and the Language of Adam and Eve (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 1–22, presents this as Milton’s likely relationship to Adamic and Cratylic theories of language.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Stephen K. Land, From Signs to Propositions: The Concept of Form in Eighteenth-Century Semantic Theory (London: Longman, 1974), p. 22. Other writers who refer to Locke when providing a philosophical context for the interpretation of Pope include David B. Morris, Alexander Pope: The Genius of Sense (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp. 154–5 and Blanford Parker, The Triumph of Augustan Poetics: English Literary Culture from Butler to Johnson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 107, 111, 132–3.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Murray Cohen, Sensible Words: Linguistic Practice in England 1640–1785 (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), p. 60.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Berkeley, unlike Pope, had a formal education, attending Kilkenny College and Trinity College, Dublin. Marilyn Francus remarks on the prominence of the comparative study of languages in the Kilkenny system in the years just prior to Berkeley’s attendance, The Converting Imagination: Linguistic Theory and Swift’s Satiric Prose (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994), pp. 8, 12. R.B. McDowell and D.A. Webb, with a foreword by F.S.L. Lyons, Trinity College Dublin 1592–1952: An Academic History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) note, p. 31, that ‘There is scarcely any evidence extant from which we can deduce the nature of the teaching given in Trinity College in the late seventeenth century’, although they suggest a new emphasis on linguistics and mathematics. They record, p. 32, an undergraduate’s complaint in 1703, when Berkeley was also at the College, that ‘philosophical teaching consists of a farrago of conflicting hypotheses from Aristotle, Descartes, Colbert, Epicurus, Gassendi, Malebranche and Locke’.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See, for example, Christopher Fox, Locke and the Scriblerians: Identity and Consciousness in Early Eighteenth-Century Britain (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1988). Kenneth MacLean, John Locke and English Literature of the Eighteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press; London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1936), states in his preface, v, that Pope, as Sterne, was influenced by no two books more than the Bible and the Essay, yet mostly quotes from Scriblerian parodies of Locke’s work, e.g. p. 105. Leopold Damrosch, Jr, The Imaginitive World of Alexander Pope (London and Berkeley, LA: University of California Press, 1987), p. 139, suggests that one may ‘deduce the foundations of literary practice’ from the third book of Locke’s Essay.Google Scholar
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    Roy Porter, Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World (London: Allen Lane at the Penguin Press, 2000), pp. 67–8. I would like to thank my excellent colleague Alex Davis for pointing me to this passage.Google Scholar
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    Joseph Spence, Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters of Books and Men, Collected from Conversation, ed. James M. Osborn, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), I, 19, No. 42. Pope’s copy of Locke’s Essay, the fourth edition of 1700, was given to him by Bolingbroke, see Maynard Mack, Collected in Himself: Essays Critical, Biographical, and Bibliographical on Pope and Some of His Contemporaries (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1982), p. 423.Google Scholar
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    John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), III.i.2, p. 402. Further references will be given in brackets in the text.Google Scholar
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    See Hans Aarsleff, From Locke to Saussure: Essays in the Study of Language and Intellectual History (London: Athlone Press, 1982), p. 25. Land, From Signs to Propositions, p. 13, reminds readers of the unverifiable nature of the relationship between a word and an idea that must hold if the word is to be used meaningfully.Google Scholar
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    John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960, 2nd edn 1967, repr. 1988), pp. 287–8, II.27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    ‘The Epistemology of Metaphor’, Critical Inquiry 5 (1978–79), 13–30, p. 13. De Man also claims that Locke offers an analysis of tropes, not of the understanding, p. 16. Other critics in this strand include John J. Richetti, Philosophical Writing: Locke, Berkeley, Hume (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 11–16, 116; Geoff Bennington, ‘The Perfect Cheat: Locke and Empiricism’s Rhetoric’, in The Figural and the Literal: Problems of Language in the History of Science and Philosophy, 1630–1800, ed. Andrew E. Benjamin, Geoffrey N. Cantor and John R.R. Christie (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), pp. 103–23, p. 107; Jules David Law, The Rhetoric of Empiricism: Language and Perception from Locke to I.A. Richards (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 13; William Walker, Locke, Literary Criticism and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 208. They all suggest that philosophy’s attempt to describe the understanding is destabilised by language, rhetoric and tropes.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, ed. Jonathan Dancy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), Introduction, 20, p. 99.Google Scholar
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    See The Prose Works of Alexander Pope, ed. Norman Ault and Rosemary Cowler, 2 vols (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1936–86), I, 142 and 141, ‘On the Origin of Letters’. In Chapter 2, I suggest that Pope may here be echoing Berkeley’s New Theory of Vision. Pope’s essay appeared in The Guardian, for which Berkeley also wrote, Monday, 28 September 1713.Google Scholar
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    This point is made by Timothy M.S. Baxter, The Cratylus: Plato’s Critique of Naming (Leiden, New York, Köln: E.J. Brill, 1992), pp. 14, 18.Google Scholar
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  25. 32.
    Thomas Stanley, The History of Philosophy: Containing the Lives, Opinions, Actions and Discourses of the Philosophers of Every Sect (London: W. Battersby et al., 1701, 3rd edn), p. 183. Maynard Mack notes that Pope owned a copy of this third edition, Collected in Himself, p. 442. G.F.C. Plowden, Pope on Classic Ground (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1983), suggests that Stanley’s accounts of Anaxagoras, Empedocles and Aristotle may have influenced Pope, pp. 39, 101. Stanley’s account of Zeno’s etymology is also highly relevant: the first pronounced Voices, imitating the things themselves, from which the Names were afterwards imposed, by which reason they [the Greek Stoics] derive Etymologies, conceiving that there is not any word, for which there cannot be given a certain Reason. They therefore studiously enquired whence words are deduced; much pains was taken, first by Zeno, then by Cleanthes, afterward, by Chrysippus, to give a reason of commentitious Fables, and to explain the causes of Words, why they are called so and so. This beginning is to be sought, until we arrive so far, as that the thing agree in some Similitude with the sound of the word, as when we say tinkling of Brass, the neighing of Horses, the bleating of Sheep, the gingling of Chains: These words by their Sound, express the things which are signified by them. (p. 305)Google Scholar
  26. 34.
    Geneviève Clerico, ‘Lectures du Cratyle, 1960–1990’, Historiographica Linguistica 19 (1992), 333–59, pp. 340–1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 35.
    See Simon Alderson, ‘Alexander Pope and the Nature of Language’, RES, n.s. 47:185 (1996), 23–34, p. 31.Google Scholar
  28. 37.
    See David Berman and E.J. Furlong, ‘George Berkeley and the Ladies Library’, Berkeley Newsletter 4 (December 1980), 4–13, and Greg Hollingshead, ‘Sources for the Ladies’ Library’, Berkeley Newsletter 11 (1989–90), 1–9, pp. 1–2, who identifies the source: ‘Messieurs du Port Royale. Moral Essays. [Trans. Pierre Nicole.] 3 vols (London 1677–80): vol. 2, Pt 2, “The True Idea’s of Things” (entire), is B’s source for Pars 285–334 of “Religion” in vol. 3. 7,000 words.’Google Scholar
  29. 38.
    For a reference to the Provincial Letters see Correspondence I, 129, and to the Pensees III, 173; at IV, 416 Pope says that his Essay on Man is conformable to Pascal’s opinions. Pope told Spence that in his ‘first setting out’ he ‘never read any art of logic or rhetoric’, Observations I, 19, No. 42. Clearly, however, Pope had read Cicero and Quintilian by the time he wrote An Essay on Criticism, so his supposed ignorance of rhetoric is questionable. E. Audra, L’influence française dans l’oeuvre de Pope (Paris: Libraire Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1931), p. 32, cites a letter from John Norris to Elizabeth Thomas, which tells her that she could learn French by browsing through a grammar and then reading French texts next to an English translation. He urges her to read Malebranche and the Port Royal Logic. Pope knew Elizabeth Thomas through his friend Henry Cromwell. C.J. McCracken and I.C. Tipton, Berkeley’s Principles and Dialogues: Background Source Materials (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), Cambridge Philosophical Texts in Context, ed. John Cottingham and Daniel Garber, pp. 60–9, see sufficient connection between Arnauld and Berkeley to excerpt the Logic. Geneviève Brykman, Berkeley et le Voile des Mots (Paris: J. Vrin, 1993), admits Berkeley’s reading in Arnauld is a matter of speculation, yet frequently compares his thought to the Logic: ‘La lecture des Messieurs de Port-Royal par l’étudiant de Trinity College reste à établir avec certitude, mais il est difficile ici d’ignorer la puissance toute particulière de dénonciation du voile des mots que La Logique ou l’art de penser avait mise en œuvre concernant les termes être, existence, durée, ordre et nombre’, p. 69; ‘Pour l’emploi du verbe ≪to premise≫, un souvenir très direct du chapitre de La logique ou l’art de penser, consacré aux précautions pédagogiques exigées pour dénommer les choses, peut avoir soutenu l’initiative de Berkeley, au moment de proposer qu’on appelât les ≪choses≫ des ≪idées≫’, p. 159. For a full account of the relations between Port Royal and Britain, see Ruth Clark, Strangers and Sojourners at Port Royal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932), which gives details of British interest in the Port Royal writers, including an acknowledgement of Locke’s translation of some of Nicole’s Moral Essays that can be found in John Locke as Translator: Three of the Essais of Pierre Nicole in French and English, ed. Jean S. Yolton (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2000), Studies in Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 2000: 07. For a general account of the Port Royal Logic and its importance to English readers, see Wilbur Samuel Howell, Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500–1700 (New York: Russell & Russell, 1961), pp. 350–63.Google Scholar
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    See Pierre Bayle, An Historical and Critical Dictionary, 4 vols (London: C. Harper et al., 1710), I, 379ff., III, 1737ff., and III, 2371ff. Bayle has it, I, 389nY, that Arnauld invented Jansenism and Cartesianism. A copy of the ‘Histoire Generale du Jansenisme, avec portraits, 2 tom. Amst. 1700’ was sold from the library of Berkeley, his son and grandson. See A Catalogue of the Valuable Library of the late Right Rev. Dr. Berkeley, Lord Bishop of Cloyne … To be sold by Leigh and Sotheby, Monday June 6, 1796, p. 26, No. 825.Google Scholar
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    Danièle Radamar, ‘La Logique de Port-Royal et Montaigne’, Romance Quarterly 39: 4 (November 1992), 425–38, argues that Montaigne, although infrequently mentioned, is a permanent presence in the text of the Logic. Radamer’s approach to Montaigne is similar to mine: L’intuition que Montaigne a de la nature du langage s’oppose, non seulement à la Logique de Port Royal, aux thèses réalistes ou nominalistes dont le propre est d’interpreter le schéma: ‘le mot désigne,’ mais aussi à toute une tradition qui voit dans la pensée une activité conceptuelle ‘derrière’ les signes, bref aux diverses théories qui admettent la possibilité d’une appréhension scientifique de la compétence linguistique. (pp. 434–5)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole, Logic or the Art of Thinking, ed. and trans. Jill Vance Buroker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), Introduction, xxiii.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Gerard Paul Sharpling, ‘Towards a Rhetoric of Experience: The Role of Enargeia in the Essays of Montaigne’, Rhetorica 20:2 (Spring 2002), 173–92, discusses the linguistic background to Montaigne’s vivid self-presentation in the Essays.Google Scholar
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    Principles, Introduction 20, p. 99. Further references will be given in brackets in the text. Berkeley’s development of a linguistic philosophy in which words need not refer to ideas has been noted by Anthony Flew, ‘Was Berkeley a Precursor of Wittgenstein?’, in Hume and the Enlightenment: Essays Pre-sented to Ernest Campbell Mossner (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; Austin, Texas: The University of Texas Humanities Research Centre, 1974), pp. 153–62, p. 159.Google Scholar
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    An Essay on Man was in part modelled on Lucretius. See Correspondence, III, 433, Pope and Bolingbroke to Swift, 15 September 1734. Miriam Leranbaum, Alexander Pope’s ‘Opus Magnum’ 1729–1744 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 46, states that ‘Lucretius and his English translators provided Pope with specific precedents for his manner of address and his range of tone.’ I presume that Pope was sufficiently interested in Lucretius to investigate Epicurus.Google Scholar
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    See J.A. Paris, The Paradoxes of Zeno (Aldershot and Brookfield, Vermont: Avebury, 1996). Paris, approaching the paradoxes from a mathematical point of view, regards the question of infinite divisibility as a question concerning units, not things, p. 55.Google Scholar
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    Gregory Albert P. Hollingshead, George Berkeley and English Literature of the Eighteenth Century 1710–1770 With Special Reference to Swift, Pope, Blackwell, and Smart, PhD, University of London, 1974, pp. 298–343, suggests reading Dunciad IV next to Alciphron. Some of this work is published as ‘Pope, Berkeley, and the True Key to the Dunciad in Pour Books’, English Studies in Canada 10 (1984), 141–55. I am particularly indebted to Hollingshead’s work in this section of my argument.Google Scholar
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    The Works of Alexander Pope, ed. William Warburton, V, 247–8. Hollingshead, George Berkeley and English Literature, p. 203, notes this version of Warburton’s note in an article by Donald Greene, ‘Smart, Berkeley, the Scientists and the Poets’, Journal of the History of Ideas 14 (June 1953), 327–52, p. 328n, but says he has been unable to find it in any edition published in Warburton’s life. It seems he overlooked this 1766 edition.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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