The origin and history of the English language — страница 2

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meagre, but, in respect to grammar, unsettled and diverse. It is not to be expected that inquiries of this kind will ever engage the attention of any very considerable number of persons. Over the minds of the reading public, the attractions of novelty hold a much greater influence, than any thing that is to be discovered in the dusk of antiquity. All old books contain a greater or less number of obsolete words, and antiquated modes of expression, which puzzle the reader, and call him too frequently to his glossary. And even the most common terms, when they appear in their ancient, unsettled orthography, are often so disguised as not to be readily recognized. These circumstances (the last of which should be a caution to us against innovations in spelling) retard the progress of

the reader, impose a labour too great for the ardour of his curiosity, and soon dispose him to rest satisfied with an ignorance, which, being general, is not likely to expose him to censure. For these reasons, ancient authors are little read; and the real antiquary is considered a man of odd habits, who, by a singular propensity, is led into studies both unfashionable and fruitless-- a man who ought to have been born in the days of old, that he might have spoken the language he is so curious to know, and have appeared in the costume of an age better suited to his taste. But Learning is ever curious to explore the records of time, as well as the regions of space; and wherever her institutions flourish, she will amass her treasures, and spread them before her votaries. Difference

of languages she easily overcomes; but the leaden reign of unlettered Ignorance defies her scrutiny. Hence, of one period of the world's history, she ever speaks with horror--that "long night of apostasy," during which, like a lone Sibyl, she hid her precious relics in solitary cells, and fleeing from degraded Christendom, sought refuge with the eastern caliphs. "This awful decline of true religion in the world carried with it almost every vestige of civil liberty, of classical literature, and of scientific knowledge; and it will generally be found in experience that they must all stand or fall together."--Hints on Toleration, p. 263. In the tenth century, beyond which we find nothing that bears much resemblance to the English language as now written, this

mental darkness appears to have gathered to its deepest obscuration; and, at that period, England was sunk as low in ignorance, superstition, and depravity, as any other part of Europe. The English language gradually varies as we trace it back, and becomes at length identified with the Anglo-Saxon; that is, with the dialect spoken by the Saxons after their settlement in England. These Saxons were a fierce, warlike, unlettered people from Germany; whom the ancient Britons had invited to their assistance against the Picts and Scots. Cruel and ignorant, like their Gothic kindred, who had but lately overrun the Roman empire, they came, not for the good of others, but to accommodate themselves. They accordingly seized the country; destroyed or enslaved the ancient inhabitants; or,

more probably, drove the remnant of them into the mountains of Wales. Of Welsh or ancient British words, Charles Bucke, who says in his grammar that he took great pains to be accurate in his scale of derivation, enumerates but one hundred and eleven, as now found in our language; and Dr. Johnson, who makes them but ninety-five, argues from their paucity, or almost total absence, that the Saxons could not have mingled at all with these people, or even have retained them in vassalage. The ancient languages of France and of the British isles are said to have proceeded from an other language yet more ancient, called the _Celtic_; so that, from one common source, are supposed to have sprung the present Welsh, the present Irish, and the present Highland Scotch.[46] The term Celtic Dr.

Webster defines, as a noun, "The language of the Celts;" and, as an adjective, "Pertaining to the primitive inhabitants of the south and west of Europe, or to the early inhabitants of Italy, Gaul, Spain, and Britain." What unity, according to this, there was, or could have been, in the ancient Celtic tongue, does not appear from books, nor is it easy to be conjectured.[47] Many ancient writers sustain this broad application of the term _Celtae_ or _Celts_; which, according to Strabo's etymology of it, means horsemen, and seems to have been almost as general asour word Indians. But Casar informs us that the name was more particularly claimed by the people who, in his day, lived in France between the Seine and the Garonne, and who by the Romans were called