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Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume IV (1876-1877)

Sawyer, W. C.
Letters an embarrassment to literature,   pp. [50]-55 PDF (1.9 MB)


Page [50]


DEPARTMENT OF LETTERS.
LETTERS AN EMBARRASSMENT TO LITERATURE.
            By PROF. W. C. SAWYER, of Lawrence University.
  Without letters there could be no literature; but with them,
its development must be in proportion to the facility with which
they symbolize and record our thoughts. Intellectual activity is
stimulated through the eye quite as readily as through the ear, and
recorded thought stirs the soul only less potently than the human
voice.
  The utterances of the tongue - not the traces of the pen and
the impressions of the types - constitute language.  Speech is
made up of the symbols of thought; literature, of the symbols
of speech, and is, accordingly, two removes from the energies of
the soul itself. The tones of the voice, however, travel but a short
way and perish before they have reached more than a few thousand
ears - not allowing for the possibilities of the telephone - while
the recorded words and deeds of buried generations will perpet-
uate their memory, in many lands and literatures, to the end of
time.
  There are some reasons for supposing that the present advant-
age of writing, over speech, may be increased, tenfold with the in-
creasing facilities for the production, distribution, and: consump-
tion of literature. The chief otstacle to the growth and perfec-
tion of our literature is in the mechanical difficulty of writing,
together with the consequent evil effects upon reading and general
culture.
  Leibnitz has said, " Give me a good alphabet and I will show
you a good language." The world has been suffering for cen-
turies from the vain endeavor to form good languages - or litera-


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