« IndietroContinua »
But inasmuch as the present had another form is, are, a division of labour took place, whereby be was reserved for the subjunctive and conditional present. In the revision of the Common Prayer Book in 1661, are was substituted for be in forty-three places, and the indicative be was left standing in one place only, namely this—Which be they?'1 The subjunctive thus recently acquired is now antiquated; and not even in a sermon of the present day should we meet with the like of this of Isaac Barrow's:
*Be we never so urgently set, or closely intent upon any work (be we feeding, be we travelling, be we trading, be we studying), nothing yet can forbid, but that we may together wedge in a thought concerning God's goodness, and bolt forth a word of Praise for it.'—The Duty of Prayer.
On the same principle was and were took distinct offices:
"I am not able to unfold, how this cautelous enterprise of licencing can be exempted from the number of vain and impossible attempts. And he who were pleasantly dispos’d, could not well avoid to lik’n it to the exploit of that gallant man who thought to pound up the crows by shutting his Parkgate.'—John Milton, Areopagitica.
If every action which is good or evill in man at ripe years, were to be under pittance, and prescription, and compulsion, what were vertue but a name, what praise could be then due to well-doing, what grammercy to be sober, just, or continent ?'-Id.
This were is not so freely employed now as it once was, and if it goes out, it will be a beauty lost. But however it may be with colloquy and familiar prose, it can hardly be spared from poetry and the style of dignity :
• But to live by law,
Alfred Tennyson, Enone.
1 From the beautiful photozincographic facsimile done at the Ordnance Survey Office in Southampton, 1870.
But should these subjunctives be and were fall into complete desuetude, they will leave behind some fossil traces of their existence in the conjunction howbeit, and in the phrasal adverb as it were.
Under the head of Flexional Syntax we must notice that participial and generalising prefix ge-, which once was so rife in our language, and which still flourishes with such a fine effect in German. With us it has dwindled into a poetical curiosity, and it has taken the form of y- or other forms still less recognisable.
ychain'd. • Yet first to those ychain'd in sleep, The wakeful trump of doom must thunder through the deep.'
John Milton, On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, xvi.
Our examples of English flexion are mostly of the decrepit kind, in the last stage of decay. They are rather relics of a flexion that has been active in a former stage of the language, than of what properly belongs to modern English. But there is at least one instance of a flexion that has taken form within the English period. Such is the adverbial flexion beginning with the French preposition à, which has in most instances become symphytic. It has lost the memory of its origin and has become a mere flexion. Thus, amain or aright is as much an adverbial flexion of the
substantive main or the adjective right, as is the adverb mainly or rightly.
3 Henry VI, iv. 8. 4. In early times the a was often written as a separate preposition, to the confusion of modern annotators :
• There-fore he was a prikasoure a right.'
Chaucer, Prologue, 189; Lansdowne MS.
The Court of Love, ad finem.
Shakspeare, 3 Henry VI, iii. 3. 26. In this passage we are furnished with the correction all forlorn.'
We will close this section as we closed the previous one, with the infinitive. The old grammatical infinitive in en lingered in our language as late as the Elizabethan period. Thus Surrey :
Or brightest day the darkest night.' But while we lost the form in -en, we unconsciously retained the same thing in a slightly disguised form, namely with the ending in -ing. The function of this infinitive was chiefly (but not entirely) restricted to what in Latin grammar would be called gerundial uses. The tendency to turn -an
or -en into -ing shews itself elsewhere: thus, Abbandun has become Abingdon ; and we are all pretty familiar with such forms as garding, capting, lunching. When the mind has lost its hold on the meaning of a given form, the organs of speech are apt to slide into any contiguous form that has more present currency or is more vital with present meaning. The can or -en of the infinitive became -ing because it was surrounded with nouns and participles in -ing which differed from the infinitive by a difference too fine to be held-to in the transition and Early English periods, with their neglect of the vernacular. Hence it has become traditional to explain this form always either as a substantive or as a present participle. But there is a large class of instances to which these explanations will not apply. In such a sentence as the following, 'Europeans are no match for Orientals in evading a question,' evading is clearly a verb governing its substantive; and yet it is not a participle, for it has nothing adjectival about it. By an infinitive I understand a verb in a substantival aspect; by a participle, a verb in an adjectival aspect. In the saying of Rowland Hill to his co-pastor Theophilus Jones, Never mind breaking grammar if,' &c., the word breaking is clearly a verb, and can be no otherwise grammatically designated than as an infinitive. The nature of the participle is
seen in the following:
• All is hazard that we have,
Here is nothing bideing;
Ballad Society, vol. i. p. 350.
The analysis of a sentence is, however, a subjective act, as we have already observed; and if any insist on mentally supplying the formula requisite to establish the participial
character of every verb in -ing, I know of no argument potent enough to restrain them. But there is a large number of instances in which I think that whether the case be historically or grammatically tested, it must be pronounced an infinitive. As this is a point of some importance, I have collected rather a copious list of examples of the infinitive
Historically there is no case clearer than that in which it follows verbs of going; as
Oh how shall the dumb go a courting?' Bloomfield,
Perhaps the plainest instances (to the modern grammatical sense) are those in which the word has a verbal government, and yet cannot be accounted a participle, as :
finding. * And I can see that Mrs. Grant is anxious for her not finding Mansfield dull as winter comes on.'— Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, vol. ii. ch. iii.
simplifying * I feel it a surprise, every time I see Parry: there seems to be a power of simplifying whatever comes near him, an atmosphere in which trifles die a natural death.'-Memoirs of Sir W. E. Parry.
believing in. * Babes are not expected to prove their relationship before believing in their mothers.'-Laurence Oliphant, Piccadilly (1870), p. 275.
organizing, gathering, obtaining, distributing, detecting. • Organizing charitable relief over areas conterminous with those of the Poor Law, and gathering together all the representative forces we can for common action, seems to us the best method of obtaining the two important aims of distributing judicious charity and detecting imposition.'Alsager Hay Hill, Times, October 22, 1869.
marrying, abandoning. Their choice lies, then, only between marrying money, or abandoning all their connexions, habits, and amusements.”—Johu Boyd - Kinnear, Woman's Work, 353.