In Whitman's Hand

Annotations

About this Item

Title: we know of no beginning

Creators: Walt Whitman, Anonymous

Date: Between 1850 and 1860

Whitman Archive ID: hpl.00002

Source: Treasures From Walt Whitman, Huntington Public Library, Huntington, New York. Transcribed from digital images of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the marginalia and annotations, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note(s): At one point, this manuscript likely formed part of Whitman's cultural geography scrapbook. An image of the verso of this manuscript is unavailable, but is presumably blank.

Contributors to digital file: Ashlyn Stewart and Kevin McMullen


Key


Paste-on | Whitman's Notes on Paste-on | Whitman's Highlighting on Paste-on | Erasure | Overwrite



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We know of no beginning in ^universal literature any more than in chronology.—We only what ^is first to be mentioned.

Although no Egyptian book, or trace of any book, exists.

The first literature to be mentioned is ^prob doubtless Assyrian literature and Egyptian the literature ^of Egypt and Hindostanmany, many thousand years since,

Books, histories, poems, romances, bibles, hymns, works on illustrative of mechanics, sciences, ^arithmetic, humor, government, war, manners, manufactures, and all the principal themes of interest to men civilized life, and to men and women, were common empire of H in the great ^Asiatic cities of Nineveh and Babylon and their empi empires, and the empire of Hindostan and in the African Memphis and Thebes and all through Egypt and Ethiopia.—Vast libraries existed; ^Cheap copies of these books circulated among the commonality or were eligible to the[m,?] and there were institutions in which learning and religion grew together.—Religion had a deep and proportionate meaning, the best for fitted to the people and the times.—Astronomy was understood—with which no nation can be degraded nor any race of learned person remain without grand thoughts and poems.


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GREEKS, ROMANS, AND HEBREWS.

—Says an English writer—In the old world, the only two great Gentle nations who have left an impress upon society by means of recorded literature are the Greeks and Romans. These unite with the Hebrews to constitute a tri-une power, into whose bands was committed the work of civilization before the Christian epoch, and for many years after it; Hebrew, Greek, and Latin are, therefore, the three fountains of literature. The oldest books in the world are in Hebrew, the next oldest in Greek, and the next oldest in Latin. These three languages were posted on the cross at the crucifixion, and they represent the reigning powers of the old world of civilization. Each, however, has a distinct and characteristic mission. They are not all adapted for the same work. The Hebrew is a sublime, poetical language, specifically adapted for lofty ideas, and not at all suited for the common place transactions of life. The Greek is a philosophical language, admirably adapted for metaphysical subtleties, and superior to every other language—modern German, perhaps, excepted—as a vehicle for conducting philosophical investigation. This, then, was the mission of the Greeks. They were commissioned to develop the resources of the human mind in the cultivation of philosophy, and the elegant arts to which it naturally gives birth; a commission which could not be given to the Hebrews without depriving them of their own special mission, as well as of their very peculiar language. The Latin is much less philosophical than the Greek, insomuch that it was for a long time doubted whether it was capable of presenting philosophical ideas in an intelligible form. Before the time of Cicero, those Romans who studied philosophy were obliged, at the same time, to study the Greek language, as modern fashionables study French in order to acquire the bon ton of fashionable life. Cicero, however, made a great and successful effort o accustom the Romans to treat philosophical subjects in heir own language, and after his time the practice became more and more general; but still the Greek was, and is to this day, the sacred fountain of scientific and philosophical expression. If a man of genius invent a new machine, he borrows its name from the Greek; if he discover a new chemical substance, none but a Greek name will suffice for it. Even a performer, when he makes up a hair dye or tooth powder, must consult a Greek scholar or a Greek lexicon for an appropriate title. Almost all scientific names are Greek. They seem to be intruders and foreigners, if they come from another language. Thus astronomy, astrology, geography, geology, hydrostatistics, pneumatics, phrenology, physiology—besides names of scientific instruments as chronometer, hydrometer, goniometer, &c., are all Greek words; for Greek is sanctified and set apart for science.


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