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THE AGE OF WORDS

HISTORY has given names to many ages in the life of the world; ours is the age of words—those cheap and easy substitutes for thought: invented, the witty Frenchman said, to conceal thought; he might better have said, to conceal the want of it. Never since the creation has there come upon the earth such a deluge of talk as the latter half of the nineteenth century has heard. The orator is everywhere, and has all subjects for his own. The writer stayeth not his hand by day or by night Every successive day brings forth in the English tongue more discourse than all the great speakers of the past have left behind them, and more printed matter, such as it is, than the contents of an ordinary library. Human utterance has become so constant, so multiplied, diffused, reported, and repeated, so typed, stereotyped, telegraphed, published, and circulated; all conceivable subjects are so discussed, considered, amplified, and reconsidered, in speeches, books, pamphlets, magazines, re views, and millions of newspapers, that there is no escape anywhere from the ceaseless flow. Whatever is, is attacked; whatever has been, is denied ; whatever is to be, is loudly predicted; whatever ought to be, is set forth by a thousand voices, each variant from all the rest. Ready-made opinions on all topics are abundant and cheap and in ample variety. There is no longer an excuse for any man to be ignorant of anything, and whatever he ventures to believe or disbelieve, he equally sins against light. Invention is exhausted in multiplying the means of transmitting knowledge. We are stupefied by the diffusion of intelligence, and lose our eyesight under the excessive glare of light. While the simple-minded wayfarer, at a loss to know what he should attend to and what he should avoid, is bewildered and confounded by the very abundance of the argument that does not convince him, the literature he is unable to enjoy, the learning that profiteth him nothing, and the philosophy, that conducts to no end.

With the quantity of utterance its positiveness does not diminish nor its modesty increase. We no longer suggest, we assert; we do not question, we denounce; we imitate, in all market-places, the adjuration of the Mohammedan fig-seller, and cry the louder as our wares grow stale: "In the name of Allah and his Holy Prophet”—words ! words! How long the supply of material for so much deliverance may be expected to hold out, how long even the east wind of which so large a share of it is composed will continue to blow, is a question that cannot be answered. We certainly seem to be approaching the time when hardly anything will be left to be said on any subject that has not been said before-perhaps many times over; when all known topics will begin to be exhausted; when the numberless discussions that never come to an end will have quite lost their interest, and the patient and overburdened listeners and readers—few in comparison

with the speakers and the writers—will be ready to exclaim, “To the making of many books there is no end”; yet “there is nothing new under the sun,” in the language of men.

It is reported that when a Chinese official was once a prisoner of war on a British ship, the offer was made by his captors to send on shore for any books he might desire, to lighten the hours of his captivity. The offer was declined by the mandarin, who gravely remarked that he had already read all the books in the world that were worth reading. May not the time be somewhere in the future when we shall, in like manner, refuse to listen any longer to the voice of the teacher, in the belief that we have already heard and read everything that is worth saying?

The resources of the English language have been found to require expansion in order to afford a vehicle for all this discourse. There were not words enough in the "pure English undefiled” to meet the demand; because, as thought grows hazy, language needs to multiply. Words of clear and definite meaning do not answer the purpose where ideas are uncertain and obscure. A writer who is not quite sure what he is trying to mean needs a verbiage adapted to his state of mind. So a vast increase of words has taken place, with many of which dictionaries struggle in vain, to the sad detriment of our vernacular and the much increased confusion of current ideas. In the compilation of the Oxford Dictionary, which undertakes to give an account of every word in the language, it is stated in the Edinburgh Review that thirty years' labor has produced one volume of 1240 closely printed quarto pages in triple columns, only containing words beginning with the letters A and B, and that these number 31, 254, including those of doubtful meaning and of no meaning at all. At what remote period is it reasonable to expect that this work will be completed? And when finished, what, at the same rate of increase, will be the supplement to be added, of new words coined in the meantime?

But seriously, and in the most sober prose, consider for a moment how enormous, beyond human power of calculation, is the product of the printingpress at the present day, and how rapidly it is every year increasing, in all its forms and departments. Regard, in the first place, what is only a small part of it, the number of books that have been published in our tongue in the last forty years. Statistics of their quantity, if it were possible to compile them, would be startling. They cover, in an endless flow and repetition of words, every topic that is within the compass of human apprehension, in all views, right and wrong, that can be taken of it. That among this vast mass are to be found a considerable number of good books, additions in one way or another to the sum of useful knowledge or to the means of rational mental enjoyment, is not to be questioned. But how large is this number? What proportion does it bear to the whole? By how much of the remainder is the world or any part of it the wiser, the better, or the happier? How considerable a share of it is even positively mischievous in its effect upon the popular mind, in the false taste, erroneous ideas, and unworthy prejudices it generates. And how certainly does the lapse of twenty or even ten years consign the great bulk of it to oblivion. The past literature of our language is splendid and

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