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It is not necessarily the classical Saxon of Wessex. The circumstances of the centuries next after the Norman Conquest were such as would make this unlikely rather than otherwise. That dialect had quite lost its political and social supremacy. It still possessed, no doubt, the influence due to it as the organ of the older literary monuments; but these, there is much reason to suppose, were little studied by most of those who guided the corruption of the ancient tongue, or its transformation into the new. When any thing like literary composition was attempted, in the early Norman times, by natives using their own language, each writer seemingly aimed at nothing more than expressing his meaning, as he best could, through the words and idioms that were familiar in his neighbourhood.
Besides this, in the transition-stage of the language, we are tempted to look, both for original writers and for copyists of manuscripts, chiefly to those Midland counties which had lain within the Saxon kingdom of Mercia, counties whose Teutonic colonists had been Angles, but which had for centuries been subjected to the government and influence of the Saxons of Wessex. These counties became soon the seats of the universities; they abounded in rich monasteries and other religious foundations ; and, when we reach a time in which the new language was freely used in literature, we find a large proportion of its efforts to have issued from that quarter. There, accordingly, the English tongue is by some critics alleged to have had its birth.
In support of this theory, it has been argued, that, if Wessex gave the law to our language, the provincial speech of Berkshire and the neighbouring districts, which is admittedly liker to the written Anglo-Saxon than any other of our modern dialects is, ought also to be that which deviates least from the standard English. But it is alleged by competent scholars that this is not its character. The provincial dialect which is most nearly pure is said, though the details still require examination, to be now spoken in Northamptonshire, or in some of the counties immediately surrounding it.*
On the other hand, it has been maintained, by a very eminent
* Guest's English Rhythms: Latham's English Language.
“ Before Layamon's 'Brut' was written, a language agreeing much more closely with our standard speech, in words, in idioms, and in grammatical forms, existed in the Eastern Midland district. This form, which we may for the sake of distinction call Anglo-Mercian, was adopted by influential writers and by the cultivated classes of the metropolis ; becoming, by gradual modifications, the langtage of Spenser and Shakspeare.” Quarterly Review: Vol. LXXXII.
antiquary and philologer, (and the conclusion seems to be highly probable,) that we must be content to seek for the groundwork of our language in a gradual coalescence of the leading dialects of all the provinces of England except those that lay furthest north.* The question, how the coalescence was brought about, opens a very interesting track of speculation.
5. The broad doctrine, that the English Language is the direct offspring of the Anglo-Saxon, cannot be too strongly impressed on our minds. That the fact is so, will be plain to every one who examines a few sentences from our ancient relics, with such previous knowledge, or such accompanying aid, as enables him to comprehend their meaning. We will translate an easy passage, before beginning to watch the process by which the one tongue was gradually transformed into the other.
The resemblance between the Vocabularies of the two is very strikingly shown in this passage. It contains four or five words, which our standard speech in modern times does not possess in any shape, but all of which occur in provincial dialects, and in books not older than Chaucer. It contains about as many others, which perhaps disappeared altogether by the fourteenth century. With these exceptions, all its words bear so near a likeness to some with which we are familiar, that the idea conveyed by each of them might be conjectured by a good English scholar, with little risk of serious error.
As to the Grammatical peculiarities, again, the verbs that occur are so like our own, (except in having the infinitive in -an, and plural forms different from the singular,) that the interlined translation is required rather on account of the uncouth spelling, than for
The student has to remember, however, that the substantives are declined by termination like the Latin, having all the cases except the vocative and ablative, and that the termination usually fixes the gender; and he must be warned, also, that the adjectives, pronouns, and articles, are similarly declined.
Our Extract is taken from Alfred's loose translation of Boethius “On the Consolation of Philosophy.” It is a passage in which he has allowed himself very great scope; substituting, indeed, for one of the metrical pieces of the original, a prose story of his own. He gives us the classical fable, the lying tale, as he calls it, of Or. pheus and Eurydice. *
* “ It seems unquestionable, that the dialects of the Western, Southern, and Midland Counties, contributed together to form the language of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and consequently to lay the foundation of Modern English.” Sir Frederick Madden's Edition of Layamon's Brut; 1847.
6. We' sculon” get, of ealdum* leasum spellum, the' We will
now, from old lying tales to-thee sum bíspello recean.io Hit gelamph gió,3 thette án a-certain parable tell. It happened formerly, that hearpere wæs,
on thære's theode 16 the17 Thracia hátte.18 harper was,
in the nation which Thrace was-called.
1 The First Personal Pronoun: retained in English: sing. nom. ic; gen. min; dat. acc. me; plur. nom. we (dual, wit); gen. úre (dual, unser, German); dat. us, úr, or uns ; acc. us, úr (dual, uns). Here, and elsewhere, the long vowels are marked with an accent (), in instances where our modern rules of pronunciation might incline us to suppose them short.
? Scealan, to owe (the English shall, but differently used); imperf. ic sceolde, I should.
English, yet. 4 Dat. plur. of adj. eald, whence English eld, elder.
* Leas, false ; whence old English leasing. Also, in composition, void; whence the English affix -less.
6 Dat. pl. of spell, neut. tale, history. In composition, bispell, by-tale, example (German, beispiel); godspell
, good-history, gospel. ? Second Personal Pronoun (with a dual which has long been lost); sing. nom. thú ; gen. thin; dat. acc. the ; plur. nom. ge; gen. eower ; dat. 8 English, some.
9 See Note 6. 10 To reckon; meaning also, when conjugated differently, to reck or care for.
11 Third Personal Pronoun ; Sing. Masc. nom. he (sometimes se); gen. his; dat. him; acc. hine; Fem. nom. heó, sed, sió ; gen. dat. hiré, hyre; acc. ht ; Neut. nom. hit; gen. his (as in the English Bible); dat. him; acc. hit. Plural in all genders nom. hi, (sometimes hig, hed); gen. hira, heora ; dat. him, heom ; acc. hi, hig. 12 From gelimpan, now lost.
18 A word now lost. 14 A'n or æn, originally the numeral one.
15 Dat. of Definite Article, which coincides in parts with the third personal pronoun masculine, and with the demonstrative pronoun thơet. Sing. Masc. nom. se; gen. thæs ; dat, tham; acc. thone ; Fem, nom, seo; gen. dat, there ; acc. thả ; Neut, nom. thcet ; gen. thas ; dat, thảm ; acc. thet. Plural in all genders, nỏm. acc. thả ; gen. thdra, there; dat. thảm.
16 Dat. of theod (lost), a people or country:
11. Relative Pronoun undeclined; substituted in later Anglo-Saxon for the definite article masculine se : and thus producing our definite article. A declined relative pronoun is hwilc or hwylc (old Scottish, whilk), compounded of hwa-lic, what-like. It passed gradually into the English which.
18 Hatan, to have for a name, whence old English hight, named, or is named.
* Thorpe's “ Analecta Saxonica” (with Glossary), 1834: Text and Translation compared with Cardale's “ Anglo-Saxon Boethius,” 1829.
Thæs náma wæs Orfeus. He hæfde20 án swithe 21 ænlic23 His
name was Orpheus. He had a very incomparable wíf 23. Sió
ongann wife. She was
called Eurydice. Then began monna? seeganbe thám hearpere, thæt30 he mihtei hearpian people to-say regarding the harper, that he could harp that se wudu wagode®® for thám swege,
33 and wilde deor34 that the wood moved
for the sound, and wild beasts thær woldon 35 to-irnan36 and standan 37 Swilce38 hí támeas there would to-run
as-if they tame wäron, swá stille, theáh hí menn 40 oththe41 hundes42 with43 were, 80 still, though them men
19 Gen. of definite article, used as third personal pronoun. 20 Habban, to have; he hæfth, he hath. 21 Swithe, swithor, swithost, much, more, most; adv. from swith, strong.
One-like, unique, singular, 23 Wif, wife, woman; neuter by termination. 24 See Note 18.
25 Then, when, as. 26 Inf. onginnan; pret. ongan; partic. ongunnen. The root is retain. ed in our word begin (from beginnan).
21 Man or mon; the same as the French on; English, one (as, would think"); German, man. In Anglo-Saxon, man, or rather mann, signifies also a man; gen. mannes ; plur. nom. menn (regularly mannas); gen. manna; dat. mannum.
28 Infinitive: having in the pret. sing. sægde, scde; pl. scedon.
34 Hardly ever meaning deer, except in composition; German, thier. “Rats and mice, and such small deer.”_SHAKSPEARE.
35 Willan, wyllan, to will; ic wille, I will; thú wilt, thou wilt. Pret. Ic wold or wolde ; thú woldest ; he wold or wolde; we, ge, hi, woldon.
36 Example of a compound form, greatly more common in Anglo-Saxon than in modern English; from yrnan or irnan, otherwise rennan (German, rennen), to run.
37 Inf, standan; pres. ic stande, thú stenst or standest, he stent or stynt ; pret. ic stod, we stodon ; partic. gestanden.
38 Adv. from swilc or swylc (from swá, so; and ylc, same), such.
40 See Note 27.
Sing. nom. acc. hund; gen. hundes ; dat. hunde ; plur. nom. acc. hundas ; gen. hunda; dat. hundum. The -es in the plur. nom. and acc. (which confounds those cases with the sing. gen.) is an irregular form, which became more and more frequent as the language decayed, and was one of the steps towards the English.
43 Against or towards, retained in English, but with a meaning not usual in Auglo-Saxon: the Anglo-Saxon preposition signifying with is mid.
eodon," thet hí hí ná ne45 onseunedon.48 Thá sedon* went, that they them not not shunned. Then said hí that thes hearperes wif sceolde* aewelan,50 and hire they that the harper's
and her sawle mon62 sceolde lædan63
to helle, 54 soul
should lead to Hades.
7. Thà thám hearpere thá thúhte, that hine nánesố 8 When to-the harper then it-seemed, that
him of-no thingess? ne lyst 58. on thisseo worulde, thà thóhte80 he thing not it-listed in this world, then thought he that he wolde gangan, and biddanol that hí
him ageafon62 that he would
and beg that they to-him give eft63 his wíf.
Tha he back his wife.
When he thá lange and lange hearpode, thú clypodeo se cyning, and then long and long harped, then called
14 Inf. gán or gangan ; pres. ic gá or gange, he goeth; pret. ic eóde, we eódon ; partic. gan, agon, agán, gangen (Scottish, gang, gae, gaen).
45 Repetition of negatives ; very common in Anglo-Saxon. 46 Inf. onscunian, from scunian; whence the English shun. 47 See Note 28.
48 Gen. of hearpere, used above. 49 See Note 2. Here, as often in Anglo-Saxon and Old English, scealan is used, like the German sollen, to indicate a reported or indirect recital.
50 Verb neut. from the act. cwellan or acwellan, to kill (quell). 51 Scottish.
52 See Note 27. 53 Inf. lædan or gelædan ; pret. ic lædde, gelædde ; part. gelæded, gelæd, læded, læd.
54 Dat. of hell ; from Hela, the goddess of death in the Norse mythol. ogy:
55 Inf. thincan ; prot. thúhte; partic. gethuht; an impersonal verb, signifying, it seems (whence the English methinks). 50 Gen. of md.
57 Gen. of thing; an example of the origin of our English possessive in 's.
58 Inf. lystan; pret. lyste; to desire, be pleased with. Generally used impersonally, as here. English, list, lust
. $9 Nom. masc. thes; fem. theos; neut. this, thys; plur. nom. in all genders, thds. Oblique cases very various.
60 Inf. thencan (also bethencan, gethencan), to think; pret. thóhte; partic. gethoht. Compare Note 55.
01 Inf. biddan; pret. boed; partic. beden; to beg, to bid; hence English beadsman.
62 Or geafon ; subj. pret. plur. from inf. gifan (or agifan); pret. ic geaf, gæf, gaf; we geafon ; partic. gifen.
03° Back, again, after.
64 Pret. from inf. clypian or cleopian; partic. geclypod; to call, to cry; whence Old English yclept, iclept, named.
65 Otberwise written cynig, cyneg, and cyng.