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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/642

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

on the posture which the writer takes, his position with reference to the light, and the material he uses, and has become dominant by custom. Persons who are acquainted with the Eastern languages tell me that it would be as impossible for them to write in one of them from left to right, as it seems to be to write in a Western language from right to left; yet most of these persons learned to write in German or French before studying Hebrew writing. The direction in which we write, from left to right, is the most modern of all. It is common to all the Aryans, but was probably not adopted till after the emigration from the primitive countries. In the face of the facts we have mentioned, we need not ask why the Shemites write from right to left; but we should rather reverse the proposition, and ask why the Aryans abandoned the more ancient Shemitic direction, of which they doubtless had some knowledge. Whence did they get the centrifugal direction, from left to right? Difference in material does not account for the divergence; no more does difference in position, for the ancients were not acquainted with our table and desk. And even now, all French youth in the higher institutions write on a tablet supported on their knees, which is held by the left hand while the right hand holds the pencil, precisely as the Oriental writes, except that the paper is held still while the right hand moves—the converse of the Shemitic manipulation—and the direction of the writing is reversed. I have sought for information respecting the manner in which the ancient Aryans wrote in the absence of chairs and desks, without finding anything which could furnish an explanation of our mode of aligning the letters, so contrary to those of other peoples. The direction has become hereditary with us, transmitted from generation to generation, and our furniture, implements, and positions have become conformed to it. In setting our tables and adjusting our positions, we always seek to bring the light from the left, while the Shemite looks to the right for it. In both directions, centripetal and centrifugal, we write from the light toward the shade. If this is a general characteristic, and if, as we have sought to show, the primitive position of the writers depended on certain religious ideas, we may ask if there did not also exist particular religious reasons for the ancient Aryan method of writing.

My friend M. Charles Mayer, of Stuttgart, has remarked to me that the Aryans, in emigrating from their primitive home, followed the course of the sun, from the east toward the west. Their faces turned toward the setting sun, they had the noonday sun on the left. The left side, then, was the side of the light, of good luck; the right hand, the side of shadow and bad luck. The same signs had an opposite significance, accordingly as they appeared on one side or the other, in the inverse sense to that in which the Shemites regarded them. Have we not here a justification for the hypothesis that the Aryans turned their faces toward the west when they gave themselves to the holy operation of writing, and that, having the sun on their left, they