George P. Marsh, Lectures on the English Language (London: John Murray, 1863) p. 299.

George P. Marsh


Ancient Culture

Mode of reading among the ancients: ancient habits of thought.

§ 3. The Oriental nations, whose manuscripts resemble those of the ancients in wanting capitals, italics and punctuation, are leisurely readers, and as they follow the writing with the eye, they very frequently articulate the words, or at least move the lips, as we are apt to do in deciphering a difficult chirography. Indeed, such is the difficulty of reading manuscript so penned, that in cases where etiquette or other reasons require a written instead of a verbal message, the letter is sometimes accompanied by a reader to explain its purport to the recipient. A curious passage in the 'Confessions' of St. Augustine seems to imply that the ancients usually articulated the words in their private reading; for it is remarked as a noteworthy particular in the habits of St. Ambrose, that he read by the eye alone, when engaged in private study.

"When Ambrose was reading," says Augustine, "his eye passed over the page, and his mind searched out the sense of his author, but his organs of speech were silent. We often saw him studying in this inaudible way, and never otherwise, and we supposed that he feared, that if he read aloud, he should be interrupted by those who heard him with questions about the meaning of obscure passages; or, perhaps, the desire of sparing his voice, which was easily fatigued, was still a better reason for this silent study."--Conf. lib. vi. § 3.

But the ancient habits of thought were wholly irreconcilable with the inconsecutive, discontinuous style of relation or discussion and expression so prevalent in our time. Sententious, indeed, and highly elliptical the classical writers often were, but the thoughts were nevertheless consequent, and logically connected, though some links of the chain might be left to the reader's sagacity to supply.


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