Immagini della pagina

I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing.

George Herbert.

Johnny watched the swallows trying
Which was cleverest at flying.

prelating, labouring, lording. Amend therfore, and ye that be prelates loke well to your office, for right prelatynge is busye labourynge and not lordyng.-Hugh Latimer, The Ploughers, 1549.

580 h. While we are on this flexionat infinitive, I must call attention to one of the finest of our provincialisms. It is when this infinitive is used as something between active and passive, as if it were a neutral voice, like the so-called middle voice in Greek. In all classes of society in Yorkshire it may be heard; as, 'Do you want the tea making,' 'I want my coat brushing,' “Father wants the door shut


We may well contend for the infinitival character of this -ing, if only to rescue from the wreck of our old flexional system some time-honoured relic. The English language has divested itself of flexion to a most remarkable degree, and we should be all the more solicitous to render justice

1 In the prospectus of a projected almanack which was circulated in Noveniber 1869, and which was dated from Darwen, Lancashire, it is said that 'The miscellaneous matter on the other pages of the almanack treats of topics which the clergy are likely to want prominently placing before their parishioners.'. We may regret the loss of this Yorkshire idiom, for we lack a middle verb-a verb neither active nor passive. The French have managed it in their reflex verbs, as se marier, and the Italians thus, maritarsi ; which goes into English either by an active or passive. “Je veux me marier' may either be turned • I will marry' or 'I intend to be married.' The nearest approach to a distinct provision for a middle verb is that which has already been touched on above, 299— I mean to get married.'

to the tenacity of such forms as still remain. The steady eye may now and then restore some ancient outline which has been all but eclipsed by the superficial pattern of new device.


581. The most convenient plan for this section will be the division into the symbolism of the verb and the symbolism of the noun.

This division will prove convenient from a historical point of view. For that explicitness of syntax which we have acquired by the development of symbolism, is drawn partly from the Gothic and partly from the Roman

It may be said, speaking in general terms, that the explicit verb has come to us from the Saxon, and the explicit noun from the French.

In the previous section the noun was taken first and the verb second; but here the order is reversed, and thus the treatment of the verb is continuous.


The Explicit Verb. The most signal example of a symbolic word is the symbol-verb 'to be.' From the moment that this verb had acquired its symbolic value, we may say that the reign of flexion was doomed. Not that it is the universal solvent of flexion, but it has been the chief means of undermining it in its own favourite stronghold, the verb. We are told by Sanskrit scholars that this symbol is found in the oldest Sanskrit monuments, and that none of the Aryan languages are without it. But if we compare its functions now in the great languages of Europe with those which it had in Greek and Latin, we shall find that the agency of this verb TO BE

has greatly enlarged its sphere. Take for example the passive verb, which had a complete flexional apparatus in Greek as piroquai with its parts, and in Latin as amor with its parts—all these flexions have disappeared, and in place of each one of them has stepped in a function of this symbolic verb:


I am loved.
Amabar, I was loved.
Amabor, I shall be loved.
Amarer, I should be loved.

582. The great power of this symbol-verb for revolutionizing flexional structures was long dormant. The Hebrew is an eminently flexional language, especially in regard to its system of verbs. The symbol-verb was indeed there in full development, but in very limited action. The following statement will give some idea of the case. In the English version of the little Book of Jonah I count forty-two occurrences of the verb "to be,' but when I refer to the original, I find that only six of these are represented by the verb 'to be' in Hebrew. And as one of the cases is not symbolic but substantive, we have the still wider ratio of five to forty-one:—the Hebrew text has the symbol-verb only five times, where the English translation has it forty-one times.

It is this extension of the field of the symbol-verb which has occasioned that stagnation of verbal development and the corresponding enlargement of the nounal ranks which has been noticed above. 386.

583. When a new movement of this sort rises in language, it commonly pushes itself forward till it awakens resistance. So we see this symbol-verb ramifying with luxuriant variations, such as is being, was being, is to be, is to do, have to be, had better be.


was being. Eric was a high-spirited son of a jarl of Jadar in Norway, who, opposing the encroachments of the king upon his feudal rights, in common with his class, was forced to flee the country. Escaping with his son, he established himself in Iceland, which was then being peopled by such refugees from tyranny and wrong; and a society was being formed which, for love of liberty and the actual possession of republican freedom, has never been excelled.—Isaac J. Hayes, M.D., Greenland, ch. iv.

were being He saw, too, that in the name of liberty a hundred artificial and impossible laws—laws not only limiting individual freedom, but binding nature herself, if nature could be bound, and annihilating every wholesome influence in order to form one Frankenstein-monster of a state-were being seriously considered.—Mrs. Oliphant, Montalembert, vol. ii. p. 142.

were to be. The schoolmaster replied that if the best histories and the works of the best poets were to be excluded, then a new language and a new literature must be invented.—House of Commons, June 24, 1870.

is to.

If accuracy in numbers is to determine the historical credibility and value of ancient writers, there must be a vast holocaust offered on the stern altar of historic truth.--Henry Hart Milman, History of the Jews, 1863, p. xxxi.

have to be. Many things have to be remembered before we can reason with safety on this intricate subject.The Times, February 14,.1873.

had better be. A history of religious or political convictions conducted on this system had better be entitled A history of prejudices.-J. Venn, Hulsean Lectures for 1869, p. 32.

From an early friend of Dr. Newman's I learnt that he had long ago expressed a strong dislike to the cumulate formula is being. I desired to be more particularly informed, and Dr. Newman wrote as follows to his friend: 'It surprises me that my antipathy to “is being” existed so long ago. It is as keen and bitter now as ever it was, though I don't pretend to be able to defend it.' After giving certain reasons (which are omitted, because this is a point in which reasons are secondary and a good judgment when we can get one is primary), he continues : Now I know nothing of the history of the language, and cannot tell whether all this will stand, but this I do know, that, rationally or irrationally, I have an undying, never-dying hatred to “is being,” whatever arguments are brought in its favour. At the same time I fully grant that it is so convenient in the present state of the language, that I will not pledge myself I have never been guilty of using it.'

584. The topmost pinnacle of symbolic phraseology is attained when the symbol-verb joins with some symbol-adverb to produce a predication of great compass with proportionately vague and often untranslateable import; as there is, there was, there has been,—to be off, about, up to him, with which may be joined other hardly less symbolic phrases, as to take to, to come by, to go in for, and the imperatives come

on, go to.

I had no intention of going in for—that is the phrase now-going in for the romantic.-George MacDonald, Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood, ch. vii. And by such .means we attain to a subtle and impalpable diction, such as is possible only in languages that have had many centuries of culture. And in proportion as the sense of such symbolic phrases is no longer amenable to etymology or logic, but a masterful work of the aggregate mind, we return to an interjectional pliability of signification, by which we perceive that we have come round full circle and are

Every one sees that these hearty words were not measured for print, and I am the more obliged to Dr. Newman for allowing this use of his undesigned evidence.

« IndietroContinua »