Immagini della pagina

there were three, the Northern, the Southern, and the Midland. This division is substantial and useful, and it is conveniently represented by three well-marked forms of the present tense indicative, viz. -eth, -en, and -es. The -n of the Midland dialect may be seen at 57.

This form is restricted and comparatively obscure. The -eth is Southern, the -es Northern (86). The -eth was universal in Saxon literature, the -es is universal now. The turning-point is seen in Shakspeare, who uses them both according to convenience, though the -es is usual with him, except in the case of hath and doth. The triumph of the Northern dialect in this particular has contributed much to English sibilation.

Much of the peculiar English quoted in this section survives now only in the provincial dialects. And here we take occasion to remark, that the dialects offer peculiar advantages for philological discipline. In the first place, they are an entertaining study. There is a charm about them which makes itself generally felt, and which often turns even the indifferent into an observer ;-besides the additional recommendation, that they are to be sought chiefly in the pleasantest places of the land. And secondly, their fragmentary condition, which to the grammatical view discredits them, is so far from being a drawback, that it is a circumstance highly favourable to the formation of a philological habit of mind. It is the organic completeness of a language that recommends it for grammatical study, but the philological interest is totally different. In every language, however perfect, philology sees a mass of relics, which can be mentally completed and satisfactorily understood only by reference to other languages. It is not easy at first to see the most perfect languages in this light; nor is it by any means desirable that the student should do so, until after the time that by grammatical study he has comprehended some.what of their perfections. But when we regard our homely dialects, the dilapidation is patent, and we naturally think of reconstruction by sounder specimens; and in this thought lies the germ of the philological idea.

$ 9. The King's English. 67. We have a phenomenon to account for. In the midst of this Babel of dialects there suddenly appeared a standard English language. It appeared at once in full vigour, and was acknowledged on all hands without dispute. The study of the previous age does not make us acquainted with a general process of convergency towards this result, but rather indicates that each locality was getting confirmed in its own peculiar habits of speech, and that the divergence was growing wider. Now there appeared a mature form of English which was generally received.

The two writers of the fourteenth century who most powerfully display this language are Chaucer and Gower. Piers Plowman is in a dialect; even Wiclif's Bible Version may be said to be in a dialect: but Chaucer and Gower write in a speech which is thenceforward recognised as The ENGLISH LANGUAGE, and which before their time is hardly found. This seems to admit of but one explanation. It must have been simply the language that had formed itself in the court about the person of the monarch. Chaucer and Gower differ from the other chief writers of their time in this particular, which they have in common between themselves, that they were both conversant with court life, and moved in the highest regions of English society. They wrote in fact King's English. This advantage, joined to the excellence of the works themselves, procured for these two writers, but more especially for Chaucer, the preference over all that had written in English.


68. An admiring foreigner (I think it was M. Montalem, bert), among other compliments to the virtues of this nation, observed, as a proof of our loyalty and our attachment to the monarchy, that we even call our roads the Queen's Highways,' and our language “the Queen's English'! No Englishman would wish to dim the beauty of the sentiment here attributed to us, nor need we think it is disparaged though a matter-of-fact origin can be assigned to each of these expressions. Of the term 'King's Highway' the origin is historically known. When there were many jurisdictions in this country, which were practically independent of the crown, the tracts in which jurisdiction might be uncertain, such as the border-lands of the shires and the highways, appertained to the royal jurisdiction. That is to say, crime committed on the highway was as if committed in the King's own personal domain, and fell to his courts to judge. The highways were emphatically under the King's Peace, and hence they came to be (for a very solid and substantial reason, at a time when travellers sorely needed to have their security guaranteed) spoken of as the King's Highways. Of the origin of the term 'King's English' we have not any direct testimony of this kind; but it seems that it may be constructively shewn, at least as a probability, that it was originally the term to designate the style of the royal or governmental proclamations, charters, and other legal writings, by contrast with the various dialects of the provincesa.

69. From about the middle of the thirteenth century, it had become usual to employ French in the most select documents, instead of Latin, which had been the documentary

i Omnes herestrete omnino regis sunt. Laws of Henry III.

2 As a small collateral illustration and confirmation of this view, it may not be amiss to observe that the style of penmanship in which such documents were then written has always been known as 'Court Hand.'

language from the time of the Conquest. Hallam tells us that all letters, even of a private nature, were written in Latin till the beginning of the reign of Edward I (soon after 1270), when a sudden change brought in the use of French.' But neither of these strange languages were suitable for edicts and proclamations addressed to the body of the people, and we may suppose that the vernacular was generally employed for this purpose, although few examples have survived. The earliest extant piece of this class is of the reign of Henry III, at the moment of the triumph of the barons:and in the employment of the English language at this crisis we may see the anxiety of the barons to explain their conduct to the people at large, by the use of the best medium of information.'

Proclamation in the name of Henry III, sent to the several

Counties of England, October 18, 1258. s Henr', þurz Godes fultume, King on Engleneloande, Lhoauerd on Yrloand, Duk on Norm' on Aquitain' and eorl on Aniow, send igretinge to alle hise holde, ilærde and ilæwede on Huntendon'schir'.

þæt witen ze wel alle þæt we willen and unnen þæt. þæt vre rædesmen alle oper be moare dæl of heom, þæt beob ichosen þurz us and þur3 þæt loandes folk on vre kuneriche. habbep idon and schulle don. in þe worpnesse of Gode and on vre treowþe, for þe freme of þe loande þurz be besizte of þan toforen iseide redesmen. beo stedeľæst and ilestinde in alle binge a buten ænde.

And we hoaten alle vre treowe, in þe treowþe þæt heo vs ozen. þæt heo stedefæstliche healden and swerien to healden and to werien þe isetnesses þæt beon imakede and beon to makien, þurz þan to foren iseide rædesmen oper þurz be moare dæl of heom, alswo alse hit is biforen iseid.

And þæt æhc oper helpe þæt for to done, bi þan ilche ope azenes alle men. Rizt for to done and to foangen. And noan ne nime of loande ne of ezte. wherþurz bis besigte muze beon ilet o per iwersed on onie wise. And zif oni ober onie cumen her onzenes, we willen and hoaten þæt alle vre treowe heom healden deadliche ifoan.

And for þæt we willen þæt bis beo stedefæst and lestinde. we senden zew bis writ open, iseined wib yre seel. to halden a manges zew ine hord. Wita nesse vs seluen æt Lunden', þane eztetenpe day. on pe monpe of Octobr’in be two and fowertizþe zeare of vre cruninge.

And bis wes idon ætforen vre isworene redesmen, Bonefac' Archebischop on Kant'bur'. Walt' of Cantelow. Bischop on Wirechestr’. Sim' of Muntfort. Eorl on Leirchestr'. Ric' of Clar' eorl on Glowchestr' and on Hurtford. Rog' Bigod. eorl on Northfolk and marescal on Engleneloand'. Perres of Sauveye. Will of ffort. eorl on Aubem'. Joh' of Plesseiz eorl on Warewik. Joh' Geffrees sune. Perres of Muntefort. Ric' of Grey. Rog' of Mortemer. James of Aldithel and ætforen oþren inoze.

[ And al on bo ilche worden is isend in to æurihce obre shcire ouer al þære kuneriche on Engleneloande. And ek in tel Irelonde.

Here we remark that in 1258 the letter þ (called “Thorn') was still in common use. There is one solitary instance of the Roman th in the above document, and that is in a family name; by which we may suppose that the th was already recognised as more fashionable. The following is the modern English of this unique proclamation.

1 Henry, through God's help, King in England, Lord in Ireland, Duke in Normandy, in Aquitain, and Earl in Anjou, sends greeting to all his subjects, learned and lay, in Huntingdonshire.

This know ye well all, that we will and grant that that which our counsellors all or the more part of them, that be chosen through us and through the land's folk in our kingdom, have done and shall do, in the reverence of God and in loyalty to us, for the good of the land, through the care of these aforesaid counsellers, be stedfast and lasting in all things aye without end.

And we enjoin all our lieges, in the allegiance that they us owe, that they stedfastly hold, and swear to hold and maintain the ordinances that be made and shall be made through the aforesaid counsellors, or through the more part of them, in manner as it is before said.

And that each help the other so to do, by the same oath, against all men : Right for to do and to accept. And none is to take land or money, wherethrough this provision may be let or damaged in any wise. And if any person or persons come here-against, we will and enjoin that all our lieges them hold deadly foes.

And, for that we will that this be stedfast and lasting, we send you this writ open, signed with our seal, to hold amongst you in hoard (store). Witness ourselves at London, the eighteenth day in the month of October, in the two and fortieth year of our crowning.

And this was done in the presence of our sworn counsellors, Boniface, Archbishop of Canterbury; Walter of Cantelow, Bishop of Worcester ; Simon of Montfort, earl of Leicester; Richard of Clare, earl of Gloucester and Heriford; Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk and Marshal of England; Piers of Savoy; William of Fort, earl of Albemarle; John of Plesseiz, earl of

« IndietroContinua »