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Here we observe in the first place, that terminations in the elder speech are replaced by prepositions in the younger. Upahafenum eagum' is 'with uplifted eyes,' and 'aþenedum earmum' is 'with outstretched arms'; and the infinitive termination of the verb 'gebiddan' is in English represented by the preposition to.

We observe however in the second place, that on the Saxon side also there are prepositions among the inflections. The phrases ‘on þa heahnysse,' 'mid . . . styringum,''on stilnesse,' are at once phrasal and inflectional. This indicates a new growth in the language : the inflections are no longer what once they were, self-sufficient. Prepositions are brought to their aid, and very soon the whole weight of the function falls on the preposition. The inflection then lives on as a familiar heirloom in the language, an ancient fashion, ornamental rather than necessary. At the first great shake which such a language gets, after it is well furnished with prepositions, there will most likely be a great shedding of inflections. And so it happened to our language after the shock of the Conquest, as will be told in its place.

We should not pass on without observing, that this condition of a language, in which it is provided with a double mechanism for the purposes of syntax, is one eminently favourable to expression, being precisely that of the ancient Greek and of the modern German. The old flexions serve to convey feeling, sentiment, association, much of that which is æsthetic in literature; the prepositions and other intermediaries seek to satisfy the demands of the intellect for clear and unambiguous statement. The excellence of Saxon as a field of study is greatly enhanced by the circumstance that two eras live on side by side in that language: the one in the old poetry, which is almost entirely flexional ; the other mixed of flexion and phrase, in the prose and later poetry.


Sharon Turner has some sentences on this head, which, though not exact, are worth quoting :

Another prevailing feature of the Anglo-Saxon poetry was the omission of the little particles of speech, those abbreviations of language which are the invention [?] of man in the more cultivated ages of society, and which contribute to express our meaning more discriminatingly, and to make it more clearly understood. The prose and poetry of Alfred's translation of Boethius will enable us to illustrate this remark, Where the prose says, Thu the on tham ecan setle ricsast, Thou who on the eternal seat reignest; the poetry of the same passage has Thu on heahsetle ecan ricsast, Thou on high-seat-eternal reignest : omitting the explaining and connecting particles, the and tham.. Thus, the phrase in Alfred's prose “So doth the moon with his pale light, that the bright stars he obscures in the heavens,' is put by him in his poetry thus :

With pale light
Bright stars

Moon lesseneth,
History of the Anglo-Saxons, bk. xii. c. i.

32. But it is not in the scheme of its grammar alone that human speech is subject to change: this liability extends to the vocabulary also. There is a constant movement in human language, though that movement is neither uniform in all languages, nor is it evenly distributed in its action within the limits of any one given language. It might almost be imagined as if there were a pivot somewhere in the motion, and as if the elemental parts were more or less moveable in proportion as they lay farther from or nearer to that pole or pivot of revolution. Accordingly, we see words like man, word, thing, can, smith, heap, on, with, an, which seem like permanent fixtures through the ages, and at first sight we might think that they had suffered no change within the horizon of our observation. They are found in our oldest extant writings spelt just as we now spell them, and for this very reason it is the more necessary to call attention to the change that has really passed over them.

There are others, on the contrary, which have long been obsolete and forgotten, for which new words have been long ago substituted. Sometimes a whole series of substitutions successively superseding each other have occupied the place of an old Saxon word. The Saxon witodlice was in the middle ages represented by verily, and in modern times by certainly. The verb gehyrsumian passed away, and instead of it we find the expression to be buxom, and this yielded to the modern verb to obey. One might construct a table of words which have succeeded one another in the successive eras of our language, the new sometimes superseding the old, and sometimes, even oftener, living along peaceably by its side:







adit, ingress





exit, egress








retaliate And this is a great store for supplying the materials of amplification and variation in diction. Thus :

So that no certaine end could euer be attained, unlesse the actions whereby it is attained were regular, that is to say, made suteable, fit, and correspondent vnto their end, by some Canon, rule, or lawe.-R. Hooker, Of the Laws, &c. i. 2.


The words which have thus succeeded one another do not always cover equal areas: the elder word is usually the more comprehensive, and the later words are apt to be more specific, as in the following instance :

class order




position rank


interest 33. In such transitions the change is conspicuous, and requires little comment; but in the other set mentioned above it requires some attention to seize the alteration which has taken place. Man spells in old Saxon as in modern English, but yet it has altered in grammatical habit, in application, and in convertible use.

In grammatical habit it has altered; for in Saxon it had a genitive mannes, a dative men, an (archaic) accusative mannan, a plural men, a genitive plural manna, and a dative plural mannum. Of these it has lost the whole, except the formation of the simple plural.

In application it has altered; for in Saxon times man was as applicable to women as to men, whereas now it is limited to one sex.

In convertible use it has suffered greatly ; for the Saxon speech enjoyed the possession of this word as a pronoun, just as German now. In German, man sagt (man says) is equivalent to our expression they say or it is said. German spelling distinguishes between the substantive and the pronoun by giving the former a double n at the close, in addition to the distinction of the initial capital, which in German belongs to substantives: thus, substantive Mann, pronoun man. In Saxon (towards the close of the period) the distinction of the n is sometimes seen, with a preference of


but every

... ac

the vowel a for the substantive, and o for the pronoun. The following is of the eleventh century :

Ærest mon sceal God lufian ... First, we must love God ... Ne sceal mon mann slean

must not slay man ældne mann mon sceal â weor pian. man we must aye respect; and no and ne sceal nan mann don oðrum man should do to another that he þæt he nelle þæt him mon do. would not to himself were done.

Our language is at present singularly embarrassed for want of this most useful pronoun.. At one time we have to put a we, at another time a you, at another time a they, at other times one or somebody; and it often happens that none of these will serve, and we must have recourse to the passive verb, as in the close of the quotation. There are probably few English speakers or writers who have not felt the awkwardness resulting from our loss of this most regrettable old pronoun. No other of the great languages labours under a like inability. So far about the word man, which is an example of the slowest-moving of words, which has not altered in its spelling, and which is yet seen to have undergone alterations of another kind. The other instances shall be more lightly touched on.

34. Thing. This word had to itself a large symbolic function which is now partitioned: "On mang pisum þingum,' Among these things; 'Ic suah sellic þing singan on recede,' I saw a strange thing singing on the hall. But in Saxon it covered a greater variety of ground than it does now: 'Me wearð Grendles þing undyrne cuð,' The matter of Grendel was made known to me; 'Beadohilde ne was hyre brodra dead on sefan swa sâr, swa hyre sylfre ping,' Her brother's death was not so sore on Beadohild's heart as was her own concern; ‘For his þingum,' On his account.

35. Smith. This word is now applied only to handicraftsmen in metals. But in early literature it had its metaphorical applications. Not only do we read of the armourer by the

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