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Gode. and ba beog egesfulle be of rible that come from the devil. And þam deofle cumað. and God sylf God himself forbade that we should forbead þæt we swefnum re folgion. follow dreams, lest the devil should þy læs þe se deofol us be-drian mage. have power to bewitch us.
The participle of this verb, be-drida, a disordered man, has, by a false light of cross analogy, generated the modern bed-ridden, a half-sister of hag-ridden.
We can never expect to know with anything like precision what were the relations of the British and Saxon languages to each other and to the Latin language, until each has been studied comparatively to a degree of exactness beyond anything which has yet been attempted. All the Gothic dialects must be taken into comparison on the one hand, and all the Keltic dialects on the other. But the branch from which most light is to be expected is the Breton, as spoken in French Brittany. The great and fundamental question is:- How far the British population at large was Romanised? Some think that habits of speaking Latin were almost universal, and for this they refer to the rude inscribed stones of the early centuries which are found in Wales, and which are in a Latin base enough to be attributed to the most illiterate stonemasons. On this view, which receives support also from the number of Latin words in Welsh, the arrival of the Saxons prevented this island from being the home of a Romanesque people like the French or Spanish.
The British language as now spoken in Wales, is called, by those who speak it, Cymraeg. But the Anglo-Saxons called it Wylsc, and the people who spoke it they called Walas : which we have modernised into Wales and Welsh. So the Germans of the continent called the Italians and their language Welsch. The word simply means foreign or strange. At various points on the frontiers of our race, we find them affixing this name on the conterminous
Romance-speaking people, This is the most probable account of the names of Wallachia, the Walloons in Belgium, and the Canton Wallis in Switzerland, though the latter is often explained by the Latin vallis, a valley. The French, who were such unwelcome visitors and settlers in this country in the reign of Edward the Confessor, are called by the contemporary annalist þa welisce men, by which was meant 'the foreigners. And when Edward himself came from the life of an exile in France, he was said by the chronicler to have come ‘hider to lande of weallande,' to this country from foreign land. It is the same word which forms the last syllable in Cornwall, for the Kelts who dwelt there were by the Saxons named the Walas of Kernyw.
The feminine form of weal or wealh, a foreigner, was wylen ; and it is an illustration of the servile condition to which the old inhabitants were reduced, that the words wealh and wylen were used to signify male and female slaves.
About the year A.D. 600, Christianity began to be received by the Saxons. The Jutish kingdom of Kent was the first that received the Gospel, but the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria exhibited the first mature example of a Christian nation in Saxondom. Intimately connected with this, if not absolutely rising out of it, is the supremacy of position and influence which the northern kingdom enjoyed in this island for a hundred and thirty years. It is evident that there was great and substantial progress in religion, civilisation, and learning; of which fact the permanent memorial is the name and works of Bæda, who expired not long before the greatness of his people. While Canterbury was the nominal metropolis of Christianity, the kingdom of Northumbria was its powerful seat. It was the securing of this national Church in the Roman interest
that effectually put stop to the progress of the Scotian discipline in this island. It was (probably) the power which this nation wielded, and the admiration she excited in her neighbours, that caused them to emulate her example, to read her books, to form their language after hers, and to call it ENGLISC. They first produced a cultivated bookspeech, and they had the natural reward of inventors and pioneers, that of setting a name to their product. Of all the losses which are deplored by the investigator of the English language, perhaps there is none greater than this, that the whole Anglian vernacular literature should have perished in the ravages of the Danes upon the Northumbrian monasteries. Of the existence of such a native literature there is no room for doubt. Bæda tells us of such; and he himself was occupied on a translation when he died. Thus the obscure name of Angle emerged into celebrity, and being accepted first for the generic name of the Saxon language, passed next to the land, and afterwards to the inhabitants of the land. And now, as in the early time, though it does not designate the British Empire, yet it does designate the language
which is the common vehicle of thought throughout that Empire.
The extant works of Bæda are all in Latin, but they afford occasional glimpses of information about the spoken Englisc of his day. As for example, in the Epistola ad Ecgberhtum, he advises that prelate to make all his flock learn by heart the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. In Latin, if they understand it, by all means, says he,—but in their own tongue if they do not know Latin. Which, he adds, is not only the case with laity, but with clerks likewise and monks. And markedly insisting on his theme, as if even then the battle of the vernacular had to be fought, he goes on to give his reasons why he had often given copies of
translations to folk that were no scholars, and many of them priests too. 'Propter quod et ipse multis saepe sacerdotibus idiotis haec utraque, et symbolum videlicet et Dominicam orationem in linguam Anglorum translatam obtuli.' These are the words of Bæda.
One of his most interesting chapters is that in which he gives the traditional story of the vernacular poet Cædmon, who by divine inspiration was gifted with the power of song, for the express purpose of rendering the Scripture narratives into popular verse. The extant poems of the Creation and Fall and Redemption, which are preserved in archaic Saxon verse, are attributed to this Cædmon; and it is possible that they may be his work, having undergone in the process of copying what may be called a partial translation. We gather from the account in Bæda, that the practice of making ballads was in a high state of activity, and also that vernacular poetry was used as a vehicle of popular instruction in the seventh century in Northumbria. And it is interesting to reflect that in all our island there is no district which to this day has an equal reputation for lyric poetry, whether we think of the mediæval ballads, or of Burns, or of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.
It was in the monastery of Whitby, under the famous government of the abbess Hilda, that the first sacred poet of our race devoted his life to the vocation to which he had been mysteriously called. And if something of the legendary hangs over his personal history, this only shows how strongly his poetry had stirred the imagination of his people. A nation that could believe their poet to be divinely called, was the nation to produce poets, and to elevate the genius of their language. Such was the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria, and here it was that our language first received high cultivation.
It is remarkable that, while the peoples of the southern and western and south-eastern parts of the kingdom continually called themselves Saxons (whence such local names as Wessex, Essex, Sussex, Middlesex), yet they never appear in
any of their extant literature to call their language Seaxisc, but always ENGLISC+. The explanation of this must be sought, as I have already indicated, in that early and prolonged leadership which was enjoyed by the kingdom of Northhumbria in the seventh and eighth centuries. The office of BRETWALDA, a kind of elective chieftainship of all Britain, was held by several Northumbrian kings in succession. How high this title must have sounded in the ears of cotemporaries
may be imagined from the fact that it is after the same model as their name for the Almighty. The latter was ALWALDA, the All-wielding. So Bretwalda was the wielder of Britain, or the Emperor of all the States in Britain.
For two centuries the northern part of the island had a flourishing Church and a growing civilisation. Scripture translations, sacred hymns, and books of devotion were the most active instruments of this development. Alongside of these were retained the old heroic songs and epics of national story; sometimes in the ancient form, sometimes in revised and modernised versions. We may reasonably suppose that the Beowulf then received those last touches which are still visible to the reader as masking or softening the latent heathendom of that poem. They also had their domestic annals, written in the Anglian dialect of Northumbria. All this vernacular literature perished under the ravages of the Danes in the ninth century: but not until the torch of learning had been kindled in some of the southern parts, enough to secure its revival at a favourable opportunity.
1 Yet we find the Latin equivalent of Seaxisc, as in Asser's Life of Alfred, where the vernacular is called Saxonica lingua.