The origin and history of the English language — страница 4

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darken the picture through design. If justice were done to the few names--to Gildas the wise, the memorialist of his country's sufferings and censor of the nation's depravity, who appears a solitary star in the night of the sixth century--to the venerable Bede, the greatest theologian, best scholar, and only historian of the seventh--to Alcuin, the abbot of Canterbury, the luminary of the eighth--to Alfred the great, the glory of the ninth, great as a prince, and greater as a scholar, seen in the evening twilight of an age in which the clergy could not read;--if justice were done to all such, we might find something, even in these dark and rugged times, if not to soften the grimness of the portrait, at least to give greater distinctness of feature. In tracing the history of our

language, Dr. Johnson, who does little more than give examples, cites as his first specimen of ancient English, a portion of king [sic--KTH] Alfred's paraphrase in imitation of Boethius. But this language of Alfred's is not English; but rather, as the learned doctor himself considered it, an example of the Anglo-Saxon in its highest state of purity. This dialect was first changed by admixture with words derived from the Danish and the Norman; and, still being comparatively rude and meagre, afterwards received large accessions from the Latin, the French, the Greek, the Dutch--till, by gradual changes, which the etymologist may exhibit, there was at length produced a language bearing a sufficient resemblance to the present English, to deserve to be called English at this day. The

formation of our language cannot with propriety be dated earlier than the thirteenth century. It was then that a free and voluntary amalgamation of its chief constituent materials took place; and this was somewhat earlier than we date the revival of learning. The English of the thirteenth century is scarcely intelligible to the modern reader. Dr. Johnson calls it "a kind of intermediate diction, neither Saxon nor English;" and says, that Sir John Gower, who wrote in the latter part of the fourteenth century, was "the first of our authors who can be properly said to have written English." Contemporary with Gower, the father of English poetry, was the still greater poet, his disciple Chaucer; who embraced many of the tenets of Wickliffe, and imbibed something of

the spirit of the reformation, which was now begun. The literary history of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is full of interest; for it is delightful to trace the progress of great and obvious improvement. The reformation of religion and the revival of learning were nearly simultaneous. Yet individuals may have acted a conspicuous part in the latter, who had little to do with the former; for great learning does not necessarily imply great piety, though, as Dr. Johnson observes, "the Christian religion always implies or produces a certain degree of civility and learning."--_Hist. Eng. Lang. before his 4to Dict._ "The ordinary instructions of the clergy, both philosophical and religious, gradually fell into contempt, as the Classics superseded the one, and the

Holy Scriptures expelled the other. The first of these changes was effected by the early grammarians of Europe; and it gave considerable aid to the reformation, though it had no immediate connexion with that event. The revival of the English Bible, however, completed the work: and though its appearance was late, and its progress was retarded in every possible manner, yet its dispersion was at length equally rapid, extensive, and effectual."--_Constable's Miscellany_, Vol. xx, p. 75. Peculiar honour is due to those who lead the way in whatever advances human happiness. And, surely, our just admiration of the character of the reformers must be not a little enhanced, when we consider what they did for letters as well as for the church. Learning does not consist in useless

jargon, in a multitude of mere words, or in acute speculations remote from practice; else the seventeen folios of St. Thomas Aquinas, the angelical doctor of the thirteenth century, and the profound disputations of his great rival, Duns Scotus the subtle, for which they were revered in their own age, had not gained them the contempt of all posterity. From such learning the lucid reasoning of the reformers delivered the halls of instruction. The school divinity of the middle ages passed away before the presence of that which these men learned from the Bible, as did in a later age the Aristotelian philosophy before that which Bacon drew from nature. Towards the latter part of the fourteenth century, Wickliffe furnished the first entire translation of the Bible into English. In like