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ing lines will illustrate this crude mixture of French with
1. That us telleth the maistres saunz faile.
To hem stalworth and asperaunt.
4. Toppe and rugge, and croupe and cors
Is semblabel to an hors.
61. Now we
come to a great original work. The rhyming Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester is a fine specimen of west-country English, which touches the dialect of The Owl and Nightingale at many points :the infinitives ending in -i or -y, or -je, as conseili to counsel; he wolde susteini he would sustain; he ne let nozt clupie al is folc, he let not call all his folk; duc William uorbed alle his to robby, duke William forbad all his (men) to rob; hoseli to housel; þis noble duc William him let crouny king, this noble duke William made them crown him king.
In other points this dialect differs strongly from the Dorset, as exhibited in the Owl and Nightingale. The latter has the initial h very constant in such words as Ich habbe I have, bu havest thou hast, ho hadde she had; whereas in Robert of Gloucester it is adde. He writes is for his, ire for hire (her), om for home. The Dorset, on the other hand, retains the h in hit it ; writes the owl down as a 'hule' and a ‘houle’; never fails in sh, but rather strengthens it by the spelling sch, as scharpe, schild, schal, schame; whereas the Gloucester dialect eludes the h in such instances, and writes ss, as ssolde should, ssipes ships, ssriue shrive, ssire shire, bissopes bishops; and even Engliss English, Frenss French.
62. The following line offers a good illustration both of
this feature, and also of the metre of this Chronicle, which is not very equable or regular, but of which the ideal seems to be the fourteen-syllable ballad-metre:
Hou longe ssolle hor luper heued above hor ssoldren be?
How long-a shall their hated heads
Above their shoulders be?
Perhaps this ss may have been a difference of orthography rather than of pronunciation: which is made probable by the substitution of the ss for ch where we must suppose a French pronunciation of the ch, which is about the same as our sh sound. Thus, in the long piece presently to be quoted, we have Michaelmas written Misselmasse.
The Commencement of Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle,
as printed by Hearne. Date about 1300.
Of whyte and of wolle god, betere ne may be non. England is a very good land, I ween of every land (the) best ; set in the end of the world, as in the utter west. The sea goeth it all about ; it standeth as an isle. Their foes they need the less fear, except it be through guile of folk of the same land, as has been seen sometime. From south to north it is eight hundred mile long; and four hundred mile broad to go from east to west, that is, through the middle of the country and not as by the one end. Plenty of all goods men may in England see, unless the people are in fault or the years are bad. For England is full enough of fruit and of trees; of woods and of parks, that joy it is to see; of fowls and of beasts, wild and tame alike; of salt fish and eke fresh, and fair rivers thereto; of wells sweet and cold enow, of pastures and of meads; of silver ore and of gold, of tin and of lead; of steel, of iron, and of brass; of good corn great store; of wheat and of good wool, better may be none.
63. The most famous and oftest quoted piece of Robert of Gloucester is that wherein he sums up the consequences of the Battle of Hastings. It contains the clearest and best statement of the bilingual state of the population in his own time, that is, before A.D. 1300.
Bituene Misselmasse and Sein Luc, a Sein Calixtes day,
It will hardly be necessary to translate the whole of this passage for the reader. We will modernise a specimen to serve as a guide to the rest. The last ten lines shall be selected as recording the linguistic condition of the country.
And the Normans could not then speak any speech but their own; and they spoke French as they did at home, and had their children taught the
So that the high men of this land, that came of their blood, all retain the same speech which they brought from their home. For unless a man know French, people regard him little : but the low men hold to English, and to their own speech still. I ween there be no countries in all the world that do not hold to their own speech, except England only. But undoubtedly it is well to know both; for the more a man knows, the more worth he is.
64. These examples will perhaps suffice to give an idea of the dissevered and dialectic condition of the native language from the twelfth to the fourteenth century. During this long interval the reigning language was French, and this fashion, like all fashions, went on spreading and embracing a wider area, and ever growing thinner as it spread, till in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was become an acknowledged subject of derision. Already, before 1200, the famous Abbot Sampson, of Bury St. Edmunds, was thought to have said a good and memorable thing when he gave as his reason for preferring one man to a farm rather than another, that his man could not speak French. The French which was spoken in this country had acquired an insular character; it was full of Anglicisms and English words, and in fact must often have been little more than deformed English. Even well-educated persons, such as Chaucer's gentle and ladylike Prioress, spoke a French which, as the poet informs us, was utterly unlike 'French of Paris.' What then must have been the French of the homely upland fellows Trevisa tells of :—and oplondysch men wol lykne hamsylf to gentil men, and fondeþ with great bysynes for to speke Freynsch, for to be more ytold of??
65. In Piers Plowman we have the dykers and delvers doing a bad day's work, and singing scraps of French songs for pastime :
Dykers and Delvers that don here werk ille,
Prologue, 103. We might almost imagine, that now for the second time in history it was on a turn of the balance whether, Britain should bear a nation of the Romanesque or of the Gothic type. But all the while the native tongue was growing more and more in use; and at length, in the middle of the fourteenth century, we reach the end of its suppression and obscurity. Trevisa fixes on the great plague of 1349 as an epoch after which a change was observable in regard to the popular rage for speaking French. He says: "This was moche used tofore the grete deth, but sith it is somdele chaunged.' But the most important date is 1362, when the English language was re-installed in its natural rights, and became again the language of the Courts of Law.
66. In the specimens of English which have now passed before us, we are struck with their diversity and the absence of any signs of convergency to a common type. The only feature which they agree in with a sort of growing consent, is in the dropping of the old inflections and the severance connection with the Anglo-Saxon accidence. Among the most tenacious of these inflections was the genitive plural of substantives in -ENA and of adjectives in -RA.
This -ENA drooped into the more languid ene; and the -RA appeared as -er or -r, as in their, aller, alderliefest.
Throughout the whole of this period there is such a tendency to variety and dialectic subdivision, that it has been found hard to say how many dialects there were in the country. Higden, writing in the fourteenth century, said