Abbildungen der Seite

vortex. But, even among these, such have begun to yield to the regular modes of formation, as are used by the unlearned; thus, the plurals of appendix, encomium, and memorandum, are sometimes written appendixes, encomiums, and memorandums; and, in proportion as this class of words becomes familiar, we may safely predict their conformity to English rules. Genius and index form their plurals geniuses and indexes, when the former refers to persons of genius, and the latter to marks of reference, or tables of contents. Antipodes, credenda, literati, and minutiæ, are only used in the plural, and these plurals preserve their classical form.

The Saxon origin of the English Language is also corroborated by historical testimony.

The first inhabitants of this country were doubtless of Keltic extraction, and enjoyed possession of the island until the subjugation of it by the Romans, under Julius Cæsar, about fiftyfive years before Christ. After their departure, A.D. 409, the Britons were again left masters of the country for nearly half a century; and, but for the petty sovereignties into which the island was divided, and the consequent envy and jealousies frequently bursting into civil wars, which prevailed, they might have still retained their independency. This we infer from their brave, but ill-directed opposition to their invaders, as well as from the spirit now evinced by their descendants; whether we look at the Highlanders of Scotland, the mountaineers of Wales, or the wild but energetic sons of Ireland, whose dialects indicate but so many diversified tribes of one common natural parentage.

Among the most successful visitors to Britain were the Saxons : indeed, it may be doubted whether conquest was ever more complete than theirs. We mean not to eulogize the roving and belligerent propensities of our Saxon ancestors. The character of a mere conqueror is happily less admired than formerly,—the natural consequence of the diffusion of knowledge and principle. The Saxons, however, making allowance for the age in which they lived, were a noble race; even their compositions indicate it. They were originally a tribe of the Scythians, who, with other tribes, emigrated from Asia, and settled in Europe, north of the Elbe. They were at first either unknown as a distinct tribe, or so unimportant as to be unworthy of particular mention by Tacitus; they are, however, named by Ptolemy. They soon distinguished themselves; and, with the Jutes and Angles, harassed the waning power of Rome. The first body of these invaders consisted of about 300, and arrived under the cominand of Hengist and Horsa, in the Isle of Thanet, near Richborough, A.D. 449. They arrived at the moment the prin

cipal chiefs were deliberating on the best means of opposing the Irish and Picts; and it was speedily agreed to engage the Saxons, and employ them against their enemies; and the Isle of Thanet was their allotted residence. Their exertions proving successful, Hengist obtained leave to increase the number of his countrymen, and multitudes of them readily accepted the invitation. The success of Hengist naturally inspired confidence. Having conquered the enemies of the Britons, he thought it would be possible to conquer the Britons themselves, or, at least, to elevate his countrymen to the rank of an independent state among them. The event proved the truth of his opinion ; for, in the seventh year after his arrival, he founded the Saxon kingdom of Kent. Thus, was the Saxon language introduced. Twenty-eight years after, Ella arrived in Sussex with a body of his countrymen, and formed a kingdom in that county; and, as the natives were driven from the immediate scite of these little kingdoms, the new language prevailed in these districts uninterruptedly. After a farther period of eighteen years, Cerdic, with a powerful company arrived; and, although with much difficulty, established the larger kingdom of Wessex: and thus the progress of the new language over the island was greatly accelerated. Other parties, under less distinguished leaders, followed; and every such new intrusion necessarily diminished the remaining territory of the natives. Subsequently, about the year 527, various adventurers of the tribe, called Angles, who had settled in Sleswick, visited the eastern part of the island; and, about the same period, a body of Saxons possessed themselves of Essex, extending their kingdom beyond London, then but a prosperous commercial town: but, in 547, the whole nation of the Angles embarked in forty vessels, under Ida their leader, and may be said to have expatriated themselves, settling in the region between the Tweed and the Frith of Forth, after much opposition from the natives, who were more unsuccessful from the jealousies, and consequent want of union among the numerous petty states into which they were divided, than from any want of

courage or military skill. After Ida's death, in 559, the sovereignty was divided between his son Adda and the chieftain Ella, who severally extended their newly-formed kingdoms. Thus, in 560, seven kingdoms were formed, one of Jutes, three of Saxons, and three of Angles; and twentysix years afterwards, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia being established, the Saxon octarchy was formed.

In order to show the extent to which the Saxon language by this period prevailed, it may be proper to subjoin a brief state. ment of the various parts possessed by the several tribes :

•• The Jutes possessed Kent, the I. of Wight, and that part of the coast of Hampshire which fronts it.

“ The Saxons were distinguished, from their situation, into “ South Saxons, who peopled Sussex.

“ East Saxons, who were in Essex, Middlesex, and the south part of Hertfordshire.

“ West Saxons, in Surrey, Hampshire, (the scite of the Jutes excepted) Berks, Wilts, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and that part of Cornwall which the Britons were unable to retain.

The Angles were divided into

“ East Angles, in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, the I. of Ely, and (it should seem) part of Bedfordshire. Middle Angles, in Leicestershire, which appertained to Mercia.

“The Mercians, divided by the Trent into

“South Mercians, in the counties of Lincoln, Northampton, Rutland, Huntingdon, the south parts of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, Bucks, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire ;--and into

“ North Mercians, who were,

“ The Deiri, in Lancaster, York, Westmoreland, Cumberland, Durbam.

“ The Bernicians, in Northumberland, and the South of Scotland, between the Tweed and the Frith of Forth."

In addition to the decrease of the native inhabitants, by the desolations of war, room for the settlement and increase of the successful invaders was made by the departure of whole families and tribes of Britons to the European continent, settling themselves, after calamities the most distressing, and trials the most affecting, in Bretagne ; thereby diminishing the prevalence of the native language, and giving increasing facilities to the Saxon to supplant it. The ultimate union of the octarchy into one kingdom, under Egbert, in 828, the result of his victories, more effectually consolidated the Saxon power, and contributed to give permanency to the language. The tribes of Angles were habitually called Angli, which term of distinction gaining the ascendancy, became one of the distinguishing appellations of the nation.

Such was the origin and diffusion of the Saxon language in the island. It only remains that we hastily glance at the principal steps by which it has become the modern English.

A race of Saxon princes governed Britain for 430 years, until 1016, when Canute, the Dane, possessed himself of the throne. During this interval, two events occurred which had the happiest influence in improving the language. The first was, the introduction of Christianity, under Pope Gregory; and the second, the reign of that extraordinary monarch, Alfred, most deservedly called, the Great. Christianity, even when existing short of its primitive purity, has ever been found to bring many blessings in its train. In this instance, it greatly civilized our rude and hardy ancestors, introduced men of information to the country, and progressively diffused a taste for literature. The glorious reign of Alfred had the same happy influence. Endowed with equal qualities of the head and heart, in him precept and example were alike efficacious: possessed ofan insatiable thirst for knowledge, he took every means to obtain and diffuse it, by inviting, patronizing, and rewarding learned men; and by enriching his own language with translations and compositions. He was a star of the first magnitude, whose extraordinary rays enlightened every region within their influence, and by whose illumination we are still assisted to explore those dark ages. The repeated ravages of the Danes terminated

* See 'Turner's History of the -Anglo-Saxons, vol. i.

in their possession of the regal power, which they retained for nearly twenty-six years; but, the effects of this event on the newlydiffused language was less than could have been anticipated, and for this it is not difficult to account. It must be remembered, that the Danish powercontinued but little more than twenty-five years, a short period for a revolution in language; and that, unlike the facility given to the introduction of the Saxon, the invaded preferred a temporary submission to their invaders, rather than a desertion of the soil; and that, although themselves subdued, it was otherwise with their language; and, from the multitudes of those who spoke it, and their cherished hatred to their conquerors, the adoption of Danish terms was prevented. This aversion was manifested by their spirited resolutions on the death of Hardicanute, the last of the three Danish kings,—- *That no Dane should, from that time, be permitted to reign over England; that all Danish soldiers, in any city, town, or castle, should be killed, or banished from the kingdom ; and that whoever should from that time dare to propose to the people a Danish sovereign, should be deemed a traitor to government, and an enemy to his country.” Besides, it must be borne in mind, that the language of the Danes was a kindred dialect, proceeding from the same northern source; and, therefore, admitting its partial incorporation, the effect would be less conspicuous. * This is the dialect,” says Mr. Ingram,“ which still prevails in most of the northern counties of England, where the Danes made the most lasting impression."

The Norman Conquest followed. The residence of the Normans in that part of France to which they imparted their name, had corrupted their native language, intermingling therewith a species of corrupt Latin. The introduction of this new dialect in England had considerable effect upon the Anglo-Saxon language. The despotism of the Norman knights, in erecting castles, and garrisoning them with Nor. man soldiers; the rapid introduction of Norman priests, and making the French language the vehicle for acquiring the Latin in schools ; the influence and power of the barons, each a petty sovereign, with a petty court on his own estate; the use of the Norman French as the language of the royal and baronial courts, and that in which many of the laws and public documents were written, imperceptibly naturalized many foreign words and expressions, and thus was the Norman Saxon formed, and the foundation of the modern English laid.

* Turner's History, vol. i.

For these events, it must be allowed, the education and partialities of Edward the Confessor had made some preparation. Educated in the court of his uncle, the Duke of Normandy, and bringing over with him, on his return to England, many Normans, of whose society he was fond, and whom he greatly favoured, the Norman French was previously introduced at his court.

The continuance of the Norman French, as the language of the court, and consequently of the great and fashionable, until the reign of Edward III., must, during that period, have imported a considerable stock of French terms; and the superiority of the French poets and writers, at this period, contributed to the same effect. The policy of Edward, and his antipathy to every thing French, induced him wisely to adopt the English language as the medium of fashionable conversa. tion; and this gave

a turn to the literature of the country, and a powerful stimulus to the exertion of native genius, and saved the language from too great an influx of foreign terms. This was bundantly seen in succeeding reigns. Gower began his career as a French poet; but, in the latter part of his life, commenced his English work, at the request of Richard II. But for this happy change, it could scarcely have happened, that we should have been benefited by the talents of Chaucer, who has been justly called the father of English poets, inasmuch as he succeeded in showing, even at that period, of what the language was capable; and roused the fire of genius, in many a dormant mind, in after-times.

It is very interesting, in reviewing past ages, to observe a superintending control over mind as well as matter, and the consequent provision of genius to enliven and enlighten even the darkest periods in the history of the world ;-a fine evidence of the existence and operation of a Deity of infinite and benignant perfections! This observation was forced on our

« ZurückWeiter »