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Saxon, e.g. all the disyllabic compounds beginning with be- : become, before, beware, beyond, behead, bethink, begel, bequeathe, bequest, below—the emphasis, which naturally rests on the last, has never been transferred by fashion to the first. And that is because the subsidiariness of the be- has never been lost sight of. The English disyllables which are now accented on the last syllable amount to the number of 1635, as I know from a manuscript list of them which I have, in the handwriting of a friend. In the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, it was a trick and fashion of the times to lengthen words by the addition of an e, and also to double the consonants. These are the characteristic features of the spelling with which we are familiar in Spenser, who is edited in the orthography of his time. In the following passage the word womes (= dwells) is written wonnes :
‘For now the best and noblest Knight alive
Faery Queene, ii. 3. 18. In the same way he writes besprinckled, himselfe, thanklesse, blincked, dogge, lincked, horne, cleare, ecchoed, againe :
“At last they heard a horne that shrilled cleare
A great number of these final e's have been abolished, others have been utilised, as observed on p. 14o; but these fashions mostly leave their traces in hereditary relics. Such is the e at the end of therefore, which has no use as expressive of sound, and which exerts a delusive effect on the sense, making the word look as if it were a compound of fore like before, instead of with for, which is the fact; and for this reason some American books now print therefor.
So with reference to the doubling of the k by ch. Many of these remained to a late date; and there are some few
archaisms of this sort which have only just been disused. Such are poetick, ascetick, politick, catholick, instead of poetic, ascetic, politic, catholic. This was the constant orthography of Dr. Johnson. ‘The next year (1713), in which Cato came upon the stage, was the grand climacterick of Addison's reputation.' Johnson's Lives of the English Poets. When such excrescences are dismissed, it is quite usual to make an exception in favour of proper names. There are very good and practical reasons why these should affect a spelling somewhat removed from the common habits of the language, and accordingly we find that almost every discarded fashion of spelling lives on somewhere in proper names. The orthography of Frederick has not been reformed, and the cé holds its ground advantageously against the timidly advancing fashion of writing Frederic. To the same period belongs the practice of writing double l at the end of such words as celestiall, mortall, faithfull, etermall, counsell, naturall, unequall, wakefull, cruell: also in such words as lilly (Faery Queene, ii. 3. 26). It is a relic of this fashion that we still continue to write till, all, full, instead of til, al, ful. If we add a still lingering inclination to c for s, and y for i, we have the main features of that Orthography, which may roughly be dated as lying between the reigns of Henry VI and George III. Spenser has bace desyre, Faery Queene, ii. 3. 23, for base desire. The vacillation between cands terminated discriminatively in a few instances. Thus we have prophesy the verb, and prophecy the noun: to practise and a practice : license and /icence; the former for a legal permission or, as the French say, ‘concession’; the latter for an abuse of liberty. “Licence they mean when they cry liberty.’ Milton.
In the case of the e-subscript, that which had originally been nothing more than a trick or fashion of the times, came to have a definite signification assigned to it. In the fifteenth century it was a mere Frenchism, a fashion and nothing more. But in the sixteenth century it came to be regarded as a grammatical sign that the proper vowel of the syllable was long *. Against this orthographical idiom the Scotch grammarian, Alexander Hume, who dedicated his book to King James I, stoutly protested:—
“We use alsoe, almost at the end of everie word, to wryte an idle e. This sum defend not to be idle, because it affectes the voual before the consonant, the sound quherof many tymes alteres the signification; as, bop is altero tantum pede saltare; hope is sperare: fir, abies; fore, ignis: a fin, pinna; fine, probatus: bid, jubere; bide, manere: with many moe. It is true that the sound of the voual befoer the consonant many tymes doth change the signification; but it is as untrue that the voual e behind the consonant doth change the sound of the voual before it. A voual devyded from a voual be a consonant can be noe possible means return thorough the consonant into the former voual. Consonantes betuene vouales are lyke partition walles betuen roomes. Nothing can change the sound of a voual but an other voual coalescing with it into one sound, of quhilk we have spoaken sufficientlie, cap. 3.
To illustrat this be the same exemples, saltare is to bop ; sperare is to boep: abies is fir; ignisfyr; or, if you wil, fier: jubere is bid; manere byd or bied.
Yet in sum case we are forced to tolerat this idle e: I. in wordes ending in c, to break the sound of it; as peace, face, lace, justice, etc.: 2. behind s, in wordes wryten with this s; as, false, ise, case, muse, use, etc.: 3. behind a broaken g; as, knawlege, savage, suage, ald age. Ther may be moe, and these I yeld because I ken noe other waye to help this necessitie, rather then that I can think anye idle symbol tolerable in just orthographie. Of the Orthographie, &c., p. 21.
The fifteenth century is the earliest period to which we can refer the French fashion of combining gu in the beginning of a word to express nothing more than the G-sound. Chaucer has guerdon, which is a French word; but he did not apply this spelling to words of English origin, such as, guess, guest, guild, guile, guilt. These in Chaucer are written without the u.
* To indicate the subservient use of this letter, I have (for want of a better expression) borrowed from a somewhat analogous thing in Greek grammar the term e-subscript.
In the sixteenth century there appeared a fashion of writing certain words with initial sc- which before had simple s-. It was merely a way of writing the words, and was without any significance as to the sound. Hence the forms scion, scent, scite, scituation, and scymitar. It probably sprung from the analogy of such Latin forms as scene, science, sceptre, &c. The case of scymilar may be justified by reference to the Italian form scimilarra, though the First Folio of Shakspeare had semilar and symilare, as—
“By this Symitare
- Merchant of Venice, ii. 1.
But scion, scent, and scite have nothing for them but fancy. Scion is an obscure word, probably an old gardening term, as that passage of Othello i. 3 seems to indicate: “whereof I take this that you call Loue, to be a Sect, or Seyen.” (First Folio) As ‘sect’ means a cutting, so ‘seyen' or scion, seems to be a slip or sucker. Or rather perhaps a graft, as it clearly is in Henry V, iii. 5:—
‘Our Syons, put in wilde and sauage Stock,
Spirt up so suddenly into the Clouds,
Scent is from the Latin sentire, French sentir, and is written sent in Spenser, Faery Queene, i. 1. 53.
Scite seems to be returning to its natural orthography of site, as being derived from the Latin situs : and we once more write it as did Spenser and Ben Jonson. But there are still persons of authority who adhere to the seventeenthcentury practice—the practice of Fuller, Burnet, and Drayton.
In the sixteenth century there was a great disposition to prefix a w before certain words beginning with an H or with
an R. This seems to have been due to assimilation. There existed of old in the language a group of words beginning with who and wr; such as, whale, wharf, what, which, who, wheat, wheel, when, where, whither, &c.; wreak, wreath, wrestle, wrath, wrist, write, wright, &c.—all familiar words, and some of them words of the first necessity. The contagion of these examples spread to words beginning with H or R simple, and the movement was perhaps aided in some measure by the desire to reassert the languishing gutturalism of H and (we may add) of R. This was the means of engendering some strange forms of orthography, which either became speedily extinct or maintained an obscure existence. For example; whose is found instead of hot, whome instead of home , wrote instead of roof. But besides these obscure-forms, others sprang up under the same influence, which have retained a place in standard English. Among such may be quoted whole instead of hole or hale, which sense it bears in the English New Testament, though it has since run off from the sense of hale, sound (integer), into that of complete (totus). But, famous as this word has become from its frequent presence in our New Testament—“And he was made whole from that very hour’—yet there is another word of this class which has a still greater celebrity. It is that ill-appreciated word wretchlessness, in our XVIIth Article. To understand this word, we have only to look at it when divested of its initial w, as retchlessness ; and then, according to principles already defined, to remember that an ancient Saxon c at the end of a syllable commonly developed into tch; and in this way we get back to the verb to reck, Anglo-Saxon recan, to care for. So that retch-less-ness is equivalent to care-nought-state of mind, that is to say, it is much the same thing as “desperation.’ The prefixed w has in this instance proved fatal to