It is this proviso that is most important for the characterisation of the science of language. As I have said elsewhere, it is at this point that this science parts company with the natural sciences. "If the chemist compounds two pure simple elements, there can be but one result, and no power of the chemist can prevent it. But the minds of men do act upon the sounds which they produce. The result is that, when this happens, the phonetic law which would have acted in the case is stopped, and this particular form enters on the same course of development as other forms to which it does not belong." (P. Giles, "Short Manual of Comparative Philology", 2nd edition, page 57, London, 1901.)
Schleicher was wrong in defining a language to be an organism in the sense in which a living being is an organism. Regarded physiologically, language is a function or potentiality of certain human organs; regarded from the point of view of the community it is of the nature of an institution. (This view of language is worked out at some length by Prof. W.D. Whitney in an article in the "Contemporary Review" for 1875, page 713 ff. This article forms part of a controversy with Max Muller, which is partly concerned with Darwin's views on language. He criticises Schleicher's views severely in his "Oriental and Linguistic Studies", page 298 ff., New York, 1873. In this volume will be found criticisms of various other views mentioned in this essay.) More than most influences it conduces to the binding together of the elements that form a state. That geographical or other causes may effectively counteract the influence of identity of language is obvious. One need only read the history of ancient Greece, or observe the existing political separation of Germany and Austria, of Great Britain and the United States of America. But however analogous to an organism, language is not an organism. In a less degree Schleicher, by defining languages as such, committed the same mistake which Bluntschli made regarding the State, and which led him to declare that the State is by nature masculine and the Church feminine. (Bluntschli, "Theory of the State", page 24, Second English Edition, Oxford, 1892.) The views of Schleicher were to some extent injurious to the proper methods of linguistic study. But this misfortune was much more than fully compensated by the inspiration which his ideas, collected and modified by his disciples, had upon the science. In spite of the difference which the psychological element represented by analogy makes between the science of language and the natural sciences, we are entitled to say of it as Schleicher said of Darwin's theory of the origin of species, "it depends upon observation, and is essentially an attempt at a history of development."
Other questions there are in connection with language and evolution which require investigation--the survival of one amongst several competing words (e.g. why German keeps only as a high poetic word "ross", which is identical in origin with the English work-a-day "horse", and replaces it by "pferd", whose congener the English "palfrey" is almost confined to poetry and romance), the persistence of evolution till it becomes revolution in languages like English or Persian which have practically ceased to be inflectional languages, and many other problems. Into these Darwin did not enter, and they require a fuller investigation than is possible within the limits of the present paper.
By J.B. BURY, Litt.D., LL.D. Regius Professor of Modern History in the University of Cambridge.
1. Evolution, and the principles associated with the Darwinian theory, could not fail to exert a considerable influence on the studies connected with the history of civilised man. The speculations which are known as "philosophy of history," as well as the sciences of anthropology, ethnography, and sociology (sciences which though they stand on their own feet are for the historian auxiliary), have been deeply affected by these principles. Historiographers, indeed, have with few exceptions made little attempt to apply them; but the growth of historical study in the nineteenth century has been determined and characterised by the same general principle which has underlain the simultaneous developments of the study of nature, namely the GENETIC idea. The "historical" conception of nature, which has produced the history of the solar system, the story of the earth, the genealogies of telluric organisms, and has revolutionised natural science, belongs to the same order of thought as the conception of human history as a continuous, genetic, causal process--a conception which has revolutionised historical research and made it scientific. Before proceeding to consider the application of evolutional principles, it will be pertinent to notice the rise of this new view.
2. With the Greeks and Romans history had been either a descriptive record or had been written in practical interests. The most eminent of the ancient historians were pragmatical; that is, they regarded history as an instructress in statesmanship, or in the art of war, or in morals. Their records reached back such a short way, their experience was so brief, that they never attained to the conception of continuous process, or realised the significance of time; and they never viewed the history of human societies as a phenomenon to be investigated for its own sake. In the middle ages there was still less chance of the emergence of the ideas of progress and development. Such notions were excluded by the fundamental doctrines of the dominant religion which bounded and bound men's minds. As the course of history was held to be determined from hour to hour by the arbitrary will of an extra-cosmic person, there could be no self-contained causal development, only a dispensation imposed from without. And as it was believed that the world was within no great distance from the end of this dispensation, there was no motive to take much interest in understanding the temporal, which was to be only temporary.
The intellectual movements of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries prepared the way for a new conception, but it did not emerge immediately. The historians of the Renaissance period simply reverted to the ancient pragmatical view. For Machiavelli, exactly as for Thucydides and Polybius, the use of studying history was instruction in the art of politics. The Renaissance itself was the appearance of a new culture, different from anything that had gone before; but at the time men were not conscious of this; they saw clearly that the traditions of classical antiquity had been lost for a long period, and they were seeking to revive them, but otherwise they did not perceive that the world had moved, and that their own spirit, culture, and conditions were entirely unlike those of the thirteenth century. It was hardly till the seventeenth century that the presence of a new age, as different from the middle ages as from the ages of Greece and Rome, was fully realised. It was then that the triple division of ancient, medieval, and modern was first applied to the history of western civilisation. Whatever objections may be urged against this division, which has now become almost a category of thought, it marks a most significant advance in man's view of his own past. He has become conscious of the immense changes in civilisation which have come about slowly in the course of time, and history confronts him with a new aspect. He has to explain how those changes have been produced, how the transformations were effected. The appearance of this problem was almost simultaneous with the rise of rationalism, and the great historians and thinkers of the eighteenth century, such as Montesquieu, Voltaire, Gibbon, attempted to explain the movement of civilisation by purely natural causes. These brilliant writers prepared the way for the genetic history of the following century. But in the spirit of the Aufklarung, that eighteenth-century Enlightenment to which they belonged, they were concerned to judge all phenomena before the tribunal of reason; and the apotheosis of "reason" tended to foster a certain superior a priori attitude, which was not favourable to objective treatment and was incompatible with a "historical sense." Moreover the traditions of pragmatical historiography had by no means disappeared.
3. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century the meaning of genetic history was fully realised. "Genetic" perhaps is as good a word as can be found for the conception which in this century was applied to so many branches of knowledge in the spheres both of nature and of mind. It does not commit us to the doctrine proper of evolution, nor yet to any teleological hypothesis such as is implied in "progress." For history it meant that the present condition of the human race is simply and strictly the result of a causal series (or set of causal series)--a continuous succession of changes, where each state arises causally out of the preceding; and that the business of historians is to trace this genetic process, to explain each change, and ultimately to grasp the complete development of the life of humanity. Three influential writers, who appeared at this stage and helped to initiate a new period of research, may specially be mentioned. Ranke in 1824 definitely repudiated the pragmatical view which ascribes to history the duties of an instructress, and with no less decision renounced the function, assumed by the historians of the Aufklarung, to judge the past; it was his business, he said, merely to show how things really happened. Niebuhr was already working in the same spirit and did more than any other writer to establish the principle that historical transactions must be related to the ideas and conditions of their age. Savigny about the same time founded the "historical school" of law. He sought to show that law was not the creation of an enlightened will, but grew out of custom and was developed by a series of adaptations and rejections, thus applying the conception of evolution. He helped to diffuse the notion that all the institutions of a society or a notion are as closely interconnected as the parts of a living organism.