Immagini della pagina

guage, and accordingly we find that almost every discarded fashion of spelling lives on somewhere in Proper names. The orthography of Frederick has not been reformed, and the ck holds its ground advantageously against the timidly advancing fashion of writing Frederic.

162. To the same period belongs the practice of writing double I at the end of such words as celestiall, mortall, faithfull, eternall, counsell, naturall, unequall, wakefull, cruell : also in such words as lilly, 152.

It is a relic of this fashion that we still continue to write till, all, full, instead of til, al, ful, which were the forms of these words in Saxon.

Spenser has an inclination to put French c for s (132), and y for i, thus bace desyre (Faery Queene, ii. 3. 23) for base desire.

The vacillation between c and s terminated discriminatively in a few instances. Thus we have prophesy the verb and prophecy the noun, to practise and a practice. Less established, but often observed, is the differentiation of license the verb from licence the substantive, asLicence they mean when they cry Liberty.

John Milton, Sonnet xii. 11; ed. Tonson, 1725. 163. In the sixteenth century there appeared a fashion of writing certain words with initial sc- which before had simple sa It was merely a way of writing the words, and was without any significance as to the sound. Hence the forms scent, scite, scituation : and Saxon side became scythe, It probably sprang from the analogy of such Latin forms as scene, science, sceptre. These cases are to be kept apart from those of 150.

Scent is from the Latin sentire, French sentir, and is written sent in Spenser, Faery Queene, i. 1. 53.

Scite seems to be returning to its natural orthography of site, as being derived from the Latin situs; and we once more write it as did Spenser and Ben Jonson. But there are still persons of authority who adhere to the seventeenth-century practice—the practice of Fuller, Burnet, and Drayton.

164. In the sixteenth century there was a great disposition to prefix a w before certain words beginning with an h or with an R.

This seems to have been due to association. There was in the language an old group of words beginning with wh and wr; such as, whale, wharf, wheat, what, wheel, when, where, which, who, whither, wrath, wreak, wrestle, wretch, wright, wrist, write, wrong,—all familiar words, and some of them words of the first necessity. The contagion of these examples spread to words beginning with H or R simple, and the movement was perhaps aided in some measure by the desire to reassert the languishing gutturalism of h and (we may add) of R.

This was the means of engendering some strange forms of orthography, which either became speedily extinct or maintained an obscure existence. For example, whot is found instead of hot, asHe soone approched, panting, breathlesse, whot,

Faery Queene, ii, 4. 37, and red-whot, iv. 5. 44; whome, instead of home; wrote instead of root. In Shakspeare, Troylus and Cressida, iii. 3. 23, wrest most probably belongs here, being an Elizabethan form of rest. In Sir W. Ralegh's Letters we find wrediness readiness. Ralegh's own name occurs in contemporary documents as Wrawlegh. The form wrapt, as quoted in 197, belongs here. Modern writers seem to have decided for rapt: this is the only form in Tennyson, who has wrap! only in such phrases as 'wrapt in a cloak.' This is an instance in which it may be doubted whether the word does not lose a certain poetic haze by being so rigidly etymologized. In Dean Milman's History of the Jews, ed. 1868, it stands, 'Elijah had been wrapt to heaven in a car of fire.'

165. By this process was formed the vexed word wretchlessness in the seventeenth Article. To understand this word, we have only to look at it when divested of its initial w, as retchlessness; and then, according to principles already defined, to remember that an ancient Saxon c at the end of a syllable commonly developed into tch (147); and in this way we get back to the verb to reck, Anglo-Saxon recan, to care for. So that retch-less-ness is equivalent to care-nought-state of mind, that is to say, it is much the same thing as desperation.' The prefixed w has in this instance proved fatal to the word. The tch form of this root has fallen out of use, and probably it was the prefixing of this w that extinguished it. For it had the effect of creating a confusion between this word and wretch, a word totally distinct, and this is one of the greatest causes of words dying out, when they clash with others and promote confusion. We retain the verb to reck, and also reckless and recklessness, which means the same as wretchlessness.

The Bible-translator, Myles Coverdale? spelt raught (the preterite of reach, and equivalent of our reached) with a w. Speaking of Adam stretching forth his hand to pick the forbidden fruit, he says, “he wrought life and died the death.' That is to say, he raught, or snatched at, life.

But besides these obscure forms, one at least sprang up under the same influence, which has retained a place in standard English. The form whole stood for hole or hale, which sense it bears in the English New Testament, though


Writings of Myles Coverdale, Parker Society, The Old Faith, p. 17.


it has since run off from the sense of hale, sound (integer), into that of complete (totus). In this case, the language has been accidentally enriched. A new word has been introduced, and one which has made for itself a place of the first importance in the language. For the expression the whole has obtained pronominal value in English.

166. One of the most remarkable instances of this change (remarkable because it was made in the pronunciation only and not in the writing of the word) is that of the numeral

It used to be pronounced as written, very like the preposition on, a sound naturally derived from its original form in the Saxon numeral AN. But it has now long been pronounced as wun or won (in Devonshire wonn), and this change may with probability be placed at the close of the sixteenth century. It was apparently a west-country habit which got into standard English. In Somersetshire may be heard the wonn en the wother' for the one and the other. In the eastern parts of England, and especially in London, it is well-known vernacular to say un, commonly written 'un, as if a w had been elided; e. g. 'a good ’un.' In Love's Labour's Lost, iv. 2. 80, it is plainly pronounced on or oon.

One of the features of the Dorset dialect is the broad use of this initial w, both in the first numeral and in other words, such as woak for oak, wold for old, woats for oats.

John Bloom he wer a jolly soul,

A grinder o' the best o' meal,
Bezide a river that did roll,

Vrom week to week, to push his wheel.
His four were all a-meäde o' wheat,
An' fit vor bread that vo'k mid eat;
Vor he would starve avore he'd cheat.
Tis pure,' woone woman cried ;
*Ay, sure,' woone mwore replied ;
“You'll vind it nice. Buy woonce, buy twice,'
Cried worthy Bloom the miller,


The same worthy miller sitting in his oaken chair is described as

A-zitten in his cheäir o' woak. In Tyndale's earliest New Testament, which reached England in 1526, one is repeatedly spelt won.

167. But while we point to the western counties as abounding in this feature, we must not overlook the fact that in Yorkshire, and generally throughout the North, one is pronounced wonn, and oats are called wuts, as distinctly as in Gloucestershire and the West of England. Whatever its antecedents, we must regard this w with particular interest as being a property of the English speech. To the Scandinavians it is ungenial ; they have dropped it in words where it is of ancient standing, and where we have it in common with the Germans, as in week, wool, wolf, Woden, wonder, word, which the Danes call uge, uld, ulf, Odin, under, ord.

The Germans do in fact write the w in these words, Woche, Wolle, Wolf, Wunder. But they do not properly share with us our w, for they pronounce it as our v; at least it is so pronounced in the literary German. If, however, we listen to the voice of the people, we perceive great variation in Germany. In the southern parts they seem to approach very nearly to the sound of our w; and, according to Paulus Diaconus, the Lombards exaggerated this sound, for he says that they pronounced Wodan as Gwodan. Even in France we occasionally catch a complete w-sound, as in aiguille, oui, Edouard, Longwy. But with all this, it may still be safely said that they all leave us in the sole possession of our w, which is accordingly a distinct property and special birthright of the English language.

168. The influence of association (164) explains many other peculiarities of our spelling. It was on this principle that the word could acquired its l. This word has no natural

« IndietroContinua »