The origin and history of the English language — страница 3

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Galli, or Gauls. 5. The Celtic tribes are said to have been the descendants of Gomer, the son of Japhet. The English historians agree that the first inhabitants of their island owed their origin and their language to the _Celta_, or Gauls, who settled on the opposite shore. Julius Casar, who invaded Britain about half a century before the Christian era, found the inhabitants ignorant of letters, and destitute of any history but oral tradition. To this, however, they paid great attention, teaching every thing in verse. Some of the Druids, it is said in Casar's Commentaries, spent twenty years in learning to repeat songs and hymns that were never committed to writing. These ancient priests, or diviners, are represented as having great power, and as exercising it in some respects

beneficially; but their horrid rites, with human sacrifices, provoked the Romans to destroy them. Smollett says, "Tiberius suppressed those human sacrifices in Gaul; and Claudius destroyed the Druids of that country; but they subsisted in Britain till the reign of Nero, when Paulus Suetonius reduced the island of Anglesey, which was the place of their retreat, and overwhelmed them with such unexpected and sudden destruction, that all their knowledge and tradition, conveyed to them in the songs of their predecessors, perished at once."--_Smollett's Hist. of Eng._, 4to, B. i, Ch. i. 2. History of English language The Romans considered Britain a province of their empire, for a period of about five hundred years; but the northern part of the island was never entirely

subdued by them, and not till Anno Domini 78, a hundred and thirty-three years after their first invasion of the country, had they completed their conquest of England. Letters and arts, so far at least as these are necessary to the purposes of war or government, the victors carried with them; and under their auspices some knowledge of Christianity was, at a very early period, introduced into Britain. But it seems strange, that after all that is related of their conquests, settlements, cities, fortifications, buildings, seminaries, churches, laws, &c., they should at last have left the Britons in so helpless, degraded, and forlorn a condition. They did not sow among them the seeds of any permanent improvement. The Roman government, being unable to sustain itself at home,

withdrew its forces finally from Britain in the year 446, leaving the wretched inhabitants almost as savage as it found them, and in a situation even less desirable. Deprived of their native resources, their ancient independence of spirit, as well as of the laws, customs, institutions, and leaders, that had kept them together under their old dynasties, and now deserted by their foreign protectors, they were apparently left at the mercy of blind fortune, the wretched vicissitudes of which there was none to foresee, none to resist. The glory of the Romans now passed away. The mighty fabric of their own proud empire crumbled into ruins. Civil liberty gave place to barbarism; Christian truth, to papal superstition; and the lights of science were put out by both. The shades of night

gathered over all; settling and condensing, "till almost every point of that wide horizon, over which the Sun of Righteousness had diffused his cheering rays, was enveloped in a darkness more awful and more portentous than that which of old descended upon rebellious Pharaoh and the callous sons of Ham."--Hints on Toleration, p. 310. The Saxons entered Britain in the year 449. But what was the form of their language at that time, cannot now be known. It was a dialect of the Gothic or _Teutonic_; which is considered the parent of all the northern tongues of Europe, except some few of Sclavonian origin. The only remaining monument of the Gothic language is a copy of the Gospels, translated by Ulphilas; which is preserved at Upsal, and called, from its embellishments, the

Silver Book. This old work has been three times printed in England. We possess not yet in America all the advantages which may be enjoyed by literary men in the land of our ancestors; but the stores of literature, both ancient and modern, are somewhat more familiar to us, than is there supposed; and the art of printing is fast equalizing, to all nations that cultivate learning, the privilege of drinking at its ancient fountains. It is neither liberal nor just to argue unfavourably of the intellectual or the moral condition of any remote age or country, merely from our own ignorance of it. It is true, we can derive from no quarter a favourable opinion of the state of England after the Saxon invasion, and during the tumultuous and bloody government of the heptarchy. But I will not