Immagini della pagina

period. Some theological and moral terms of the first quality, such as charity, faith, grace, mercy, peace, belong here; and so also a variety of commercial, legal, heraldic, and political words, as advocate, alliance, arrearage, chattels, custom, demise, devise, domain, fief, feally, homage, liege, loyalty, manor, meynie, moiety, personalty, pursuit, pursuivant, really, rent, seisin, serjeant, sovereign, treaty, trover, vouchsafe. .

$ 8. Literature of the Transition. Second Period.

57. In this period, which may be rudely defined by the dates 1250-1350, we see strong efforts after a native literature; but desultory and without any centre of their own they hover provincially around the privileged and authoritative languages of French and Latin.

They have not among themselves a common or even a leading form of speech. This period has been richly illustrated by the publications of the Early English Text Society.

The first example of the new group is the beautiful poem of Genesis and Exodus. Here the word shall is thus declined: sing. sal, salt; pl. sulen. Also srud for the Saxon scrud, modern shroud; and suuen as a participle of the verb which we now write shove. This speaks for its Anglian character. The date is about A.D. 1250. As a specimen of the language, we may quote the selling of Joseph :

Pe chapmen skiuden here fare, The chapmen hastened their departure, in to Egipte ledden dat ware; into Egypt led that chattel ; wið Putifar de kinges stiward, with Potiphar the king's steward, he maden swiðe bigetel forward; they made very profitable bargain; so michel fe Por is hem told; so much money there is them told; he hauen him bogt, he hauen sold. these have him bought, and those

have sold.

Here the form he represents the Saxon hi, and is equivalent to our modern pronoun they. The -n form of the present tense in hauen is a token of midland locality.

Worth quoting also is the butler's narrative of his dream to Joseph in the prison :

Me drempte ic stod at a win tre, I dreamt I stood at a vine-tree Pat adde waxen buges Pre. that had waxen boughs three. Orest it blomede and siden bar Erst it bloomed and then it bare De beries ripe, wurð ic war: the berries ripe, as I was ware: Pe kinges kuppe ic hadde on hond, the king's cup I had in hand, de beries for inne me thugte ic the berries therein me-thought I wrong,

wrung, and bar it drinken to Pharaon, And bare it to drink to Pharaoh me drempte, als ic was wune to don. (I dreamed) as I was wont to do.

At the end of his version of Genesis, the poet speaks of himself and of his work :

God schilde hise sowle fro helle bale God shield his soul from hell-bale Pe made it dus on Engel tale ! that made it thus in English tale !

58. The most facetious of the productions of this period is the poem entitled The Owl and the Nightingale. Its locality is established by internal evidence, as having been written at or near Portesham in Dorsetshire. It is a singular combination of archaic English with ripe wit and mature versification. The forms of words and even the turns of expression recall Mr. Barnes's Poems in the Dorset Dialect. A prominent feature is the frequent use of v where we write f; as vo for foe, vlize flies, vairer fairer, vram from, vor for; but so for vorþ for ‘so far forth’; ware vore wherefore. The old sc becomes sch, as schaltu, schule, scholde, schonde, schame, schaked, schende, schuniet shunneth, scharp.

The subject is a bitter altercation between the Owl and the Nightingale, such as might naturally be supposed to arise out of the neighbourhood of two creatures not only unlike in their tastes and habits but unequally endowed with gifts and accomplishments. The following picture of the Owl's attitude as she listens to the Nightingale's song, will afford some taste of the humour as well as of the diction :

þos word azaf þe niztingale,
And after þare longe tale,
He songe so lude and so scharpe,
Rizt so me grulde schille harpe.
Þes hule luste bider ward,
And hold hire ezen oper ward,
And sat to suolle and i bolze,
Also ho hadde on frogge i suolze.

These words returned the nightingale,
And after that there long tale,
He sang so loud and so sharp,
As if one trilled a shilly harp.
This owl she listened thitherward,
And held her eyen otherward;
And sat all swollen and out-blown
As if she had swallowed a frog.

This poem is one of the most genuine and original idylls of any age or of any language, and the Englishman who wants an inducement to master the dialects of the thirteenth century, may assure himself of a pleasure when he is able to appreciate this exquisite pastoral. Its date may be somewhere about A.D. 1280.

59. The student of English will observe with particular interest the series of translations from the French romances which began in the thirteenth century. This was a courtly literature, which was originally written in the courtly French; and the copious translation of this literature is the first sign of the returning tide of the native language. Of these we will first mention The Lay of Havelok the Dane, which is in a midland dialect, but almost as free from strong provincial marks as it is from French words. It uses the sh, as will be seen from the following quotation, in which it is told how Grimsby was founded by Grim :

In Humber Grim bigan to lende,
In Lindeseye, rith at the north ende,
Ther sat is ship up on the sond,
But Grim it drou up to the lond.
And there he made a lite cote,
To him and to hise flote.

Bigan he there for to erthe
A litel hus to maken of erthe.
And for that Grim that place aute,
The stede of Grim the name laute,
So that Grimesbi calleth alle
That ther-offe speken alle,
And so shulen men callen it ay,
Bituene this and domesday.

In Humber Grim began to land, in Lindsey, right at the north end: there sate his ship up on the sand, and Grim it drew up to the land. And there he made a little hut, for himself and for his crew. In order to dwell there, he began to make of earth a little house. And forasmuch as Grim owned that house-place, the homestead caught from Grim its name, so that all who speak of it call it Grimsby; and so shall they call it always between this and Doomsday.

As this poem is associated with Lincolnshire, we might expect to find many Danish words in it. But the number of those that can be clearly distinguished as such, is small. Unless it be the verb to call, there is no example in the quotation above. It can hardly be doubted that the Danish population which occupied so much of the Anglian districts must have considerably modified our language. Their influence would probably have been greater, but for the cruel harrying of the North by William the Conqueror. The affinity of the Danish with the Anglian would make it easy for the languages to blend, and the same cause renders it difficult for us to distinguish the Danish contributions.

The following short list contains those which I can offer with most confidence as words which have come in through Danish agency. For those who may wish to examine the grounds of this selection the Icelandic forms are added.


Any one who has occasion to institute comparisons between English and Scandinavian, will do well to consult A List of English Words the Etymology of which is illustrated by Comparison with Icelandic. Prepared in the form of an Appendix to Cleasby and Vigfusson's Icelandic-English Dictionary. By the Rev. Walter W. Skeat, M.A. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1876.

ale (öl)
anger (ángr)
call (kalla)
cast (kasta)
cow v. (kúga)
crop (kroppa)
dream (draumr)
dwell (dvelja)
earl (jarl)
egg v. (eggja)
fellow (félag)
flat (flatr)
fay (fá)
Ait (flytja)
foster (fóstr)
gain (gagn)
gust (gustr)

hair (hár)
hansel (handsal)
hai (happ)
heel (hæll)
hit (hitta)
husband (húsbóndi)
hustings (húsþing)
ill (illr)
irk (yrkja)
kid (kið)
knife (knífr)
law (lag)
meek (mjúkr)
ransack (rannsaka)
score (skor)
scrap (skrap)
scrape (skrapa)

shallow (skjálgr) skill (skil) skin (skinn) sky (sky) slit (slíta) slouch (slókr) sneak (sníkja) spoil (spilla) swain (sveinn) take (taka) thrall (þræll) thrift (prif) tiding (tídindi) ugly (ugligr) want (vanr) wont (vanr) wile (vél)

60. The three works already noticed are in remarkably pure English. The old inflections are nearly all gone, and so far the language has suffered alteration, but the vocabulary remains almost unmixed with French. But in the Romance of King Alexander, the feature which claims our attention is the working in of French words with the English. This poem was the general favourite before the Romaunt of the Rose superseded it. The French original Rouman d'Alixandre' had been composed about the year 1184. It consists of 20,000 long twelve-syllable lines, a measure which thenceforward became famous in literature, and took the name of * Alexandrine,' after this romance. It was Spenser who gave the Alexandrine metre an acknowledged place in English poetry.

But the English version with which alone we are here concerned, was made late in the thirteenth century, in a lax tetrameter. Unlike the poem of Havelok, a great proportion of the French words of the original are embodied in this English translation. The two languages do not yet appear blended together, but only mechanically mixed. The follow

« IndietroContinua »