Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/640

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From the last were developed, step by step, the hieratic writing and the demotic alphabet, or current hand. The arrangement of the hieroglyphics was determined by no rule, but was dependent only on the form and size of the space in which the inscription was to be written.

It is absolutely indifferent to us whether we know what part the Egyptian demotic or the cuneiform writing has taken in the formation of existing alphabets. It is enough to know that we have three entirely independent forms of writing: the Chino-Japanese, which arranges the letters from the top down, and the lines from right to left, or centripetally; the Shemitic, which arranges the letters centripetally from right to left, and the lines one below the other; and what we may call the Aryan, which arranges the lines in the same manner, while it places the letters centrifugally, from left to right.

The last two styles may have been formed through a mingling of the demotic and cuneiform methods. Their common point of departure is in any case to be found in the hieroglyphics, and it is doubtless to this origin that we should attribute the absolute want of a fixed rule in the order of the letters and the lines in the most ancient specimens. Mr. J. J. Leslie, in his lectures on the origin and destination of man, speaks especially of the complete indifference of the ancient writers in regard to the placing of their letters. Many of the old Greek inscriptions were written alternately from right to left and from left to right, turning the direction as one turns a plow in the field, and this style was called "boustrophedon" (turning like oxen). The Egyptians often wrote in the same manner, and M. Stern says that the hieroglyphic inscriptions might, according to the nature of the characters used, run from the top down, from left to right, or from right to left—the latter direction, as in Shemitic writing, being the most common.

We conclude, generally, from these facts, that the arrangement of the images which were transformed successively into phonetic signs and letters had no rule as long as those images, signs, or letters, were engraved or painted on an immovable material, as stones, columns, or architectural monuments. The arrangement was governed by the character and shape of the material; it was horizontal on a cornice, vertical on a post, spiral on a column, according to the convenience or fancy of the writer. There is no place here for a fixed rule based on physiological necessity.

It was only when the man ceased to move before an immovable material, but when, on the other hand, the material (plates, tablets, paper, etc.) became movable before the man having a fixed position, that the normal directions as we now observe and distinguish them were established.

Do physiological reasons exist for the present methods of writing? Let us examine, with regard to this point, all the exterior conditions under which writing is done, beginning with the Chino-Japanese system. The people who employ this system do not write; they paint,