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the sentence reposes.
While they remain the same, many of the larger words may change, and the alteration be only superficial. But when changes take place in them, we feel that the phase of the language is affected. The change which has taken place in the preposition with is more than the going or coming of many long words. With in Saxon meant against, and we have still a relic of that sense in our compound verb WITHSTAND, which means to stand against, to oppose. We have all but lost the old preposition which stood where the ordinary WITH now stands. It was MID, and it still keeps its old place in the German mit. We have not utterly lost the last vestiges of it, for it does reappear now and then in poetry in a sort of disguise, as if it were not its own old self, but a maimed form of a compound of itself, amid; and so it gets printed like this —'mid.
An is a word in Saxon and also in modern English, and it is the same identical word in the two languages. But in the former it represents the first numeral which we now call WON and write ONE; and in the latter it is the indefinite article.
It is not easy to throw light on an ancient speech by description, unless the writer is aided by the studies of the reader. It would be vain to assume an English public to be acquainted with the elder form of their mother tongue; and therefore we are limited to such illustrations as may be understood with only a knowledge of modern English. Under these circumstances we gladly seize upon the prepositional prefix BE, as it offers an example of much interest, and no obscurity. The preposition BE, at the time when we first become acquainted with it, means about, around; as, 'Forbam be he sylf wiste gewissost be bam,' forasmuch as himself knew best about that. And when it entered into verbal composition it was with this meaning of about ; as,
BECUMAN, to come about, whence our modern sense of become : and it was used with peculiarly telling effect in verbs of privation ; thus NIMAN was to take, but BENIMAN was to take away from ; as if to take away round about, with all the expressiveness of the Greek nepalpeîv. This same sense of BE is in bereave, Saxon bereafian, literally to strip off the clothing (reaf) round about or from about a person. To this class belong the following: beheafdian, to behead; belandian or belendan, to deprive of land; bedician, to surround with a dyke; begangan, to go around, to surround; begyrdan, to gird about; behealdan, to hold round about; behorsian, to deprive of horses; behreawsian, to rue about; belisnian, to castrate; besittan, to sit round about, to besiege; bescieran, to deprive, lit. shear away from; besyrewian, to surround any one with snares; betynan, to put a barrier (tun) around a spot. But in the course of time this original sense of BE in verbal composition faded from sight, and it made no new compounds for a while. At length however, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, a vast influx of these compounds rushed suddenly into the language. In this second class of BEcompounded verbs only a faint sense belongs to the prefix. Examples :--bequeath, bethink, befall, beget, begin, behove, behide, believe, beseech, betell, betrap, bewed, behold, belong, bespeak, bestow. An indefinite number of verbs were afterwards made in the same way, in which be- had no defineable value whatever, but was just a conventional sign of transitive verbality: as, beguile, betray, bespatter, becalm, behance, bedabble, bedaub, bedeck, bedew, befit, befool, befriend, begrime, begrudge, behave, belabour, belate, belay, beleaguer, belie, belove, bemoan, beseem, beshrew, besot, bestir, and other such in ever increasing numbers. It was from the earlier, rather than the latter stages, that be took its place in adverbs and prepositions like before, beyond, behind, belike, below, beneath, between, betwixt,
and in the nouns behalf, behest, behoof, in all which the old sense of about is clearly discernible. The same is the bi in the noun biword, a proverb, a good word lost to us, but retained by the Germans, Beiwort. But we see it figuring as a mere vague prefix in the modern because, besides. The progress of this word from the early time when it had the definite sense of around, down to our own day, when it has become a mere formative without an assignable signification, can thus be traced through its successive stages. But meanwhile the preposition itself has assumed the form of by, and has an instrumental sense after the passive verb, which seems entirely foreign to its original use.
Such were some of the features of the Saxon speech, as well as we can illustrate them by a reference to modern English. Speaking relatively to the times, it was not a rude language, but probably the most disciplined of all the vernaculars of western Europe, and certainly the most cultivated of all the dialects of the Gothic barbarians. Its grammar was regulated, its orthography mature and almost fixed. It was capable, not of poetry alone, but of eloquent prose also, and it was equal to the task of translating the Latin authors, which were the literary models of the day. The extant Anglo-Saxon books are but as a few scattered splinters of the old Anglo-Saxon literature. Even if we had no other proof of the fact, the capability to which the language had arrived would alone be sufficient to assure us that it must have been diligently and largely cultivated. To this pitch of development it had reached, first by inheriting the relics of the Romano-British civilisation, and afterwards by four centuries and a half of Christian culture under the presiding influence of Latin as the language of religion and of higher education. Latin happily did not then what it has since done in many Churches; it did not operate to exclude
the native tongue and to cast it into the shade, but to the beneficent end of regulating, fostering, and developing it.
Such was the state of our language when its insular security was disturbed by the Norman invasion. Great and speedy must have been the effect of the Conquest in ruining the ancient grammar, which rested almost entirely on literary culture. The leading men in the state having no interest in the vernacular, its cultivation fell immediately into neglect. The chief of the Saxon clergy deposed or removed, who should now keep up that supply of religious Saxon literature, of the copiousness of which we may judge even in our day by the considerable remains that have outlived hostility and neglect ? Now that the Saxon landowners were dispossessed, who should patronise the Saxon bard, and welcome the man of song in the halls of mirth ? The shock of the Conquest gave a death-blow to Saxon literature. There is but one of the Chroniclers that goes on to any length after the Conquest; and one of them stops short exactly at A.D. 1066, as if that sad year had bereft his task of all further interest. We have Saxon poetry up to that date or very near to it, but we have none for some generations after it. The Englisc language continued to be spoken by the masses who could speak no other; and here and there a secluded student continued to write in it. But its honours and emoluments were gone, and a gloomy period of depression lay before the Saxon language as before the Saxon people. It is not too much to say that the Norman Conquest entailed the dissolution of the old cultivated language of the Saxons, the literary Englisc. The inflectionsystem could not live through this trying period. Just as we accumulate superfluities about us in prosperity, but in adversity we get rid of them as encumbrances, and we like to travel light when we have only our own legs to carry us
just so it happened to the Englisc language. For now all these sounding terminations that made so handsome a figure in Saxon courts—the -AN, the -UM, the -ERA and the -ANA, the -IGENNE and -IGENDUM,—all these, superfluous as bells on idle horses, were laid aside when the nation had lost its old political life and its pride of nationality, and had received leaders and teachers who spoke a strange tongue.
But this was not the only effect of the introduction of a new language into the country. The Normans had learnt by their sojourn in France to speak French, and this foreign language they brought with them to England. Sometimes this language is spoken of as the Norman or Norman-French. - In a well-known volume of lectures on the Study of Words, published seventeen years ago by the present Archbishop of Dublin, the relations between this intrusive Norman’ and the native speech are given with much felicity of illustration. I have the pleasure of inserting the following passage here with the permission of the author :
We might almost reconstruct our history, so far as it turns upon the Norman Conquest, by an analysis of our present language, a mustering of its words in groups, and a close observation of the nature and character of those which the two races have severally contributed to it. Thus we should confidently conclude that the Norman was the ruling race, from the noticeable fact that all the words of dignity, state, honour, and pre-eminence, with one remarkable exception (to be adduced presently), descend to us from them—sovereign, sceptre, throne, realm, royalty, homage, prince, duke, count, (earl indeed is Scandinavian, though he must borrow his countess from the Norman,) chancellor, treasurer, palace, castle, hall, dome, and a multitude more. At the same time the one remarkable exception of KING