« IndietroContinua »
And all his beart and his desire
And be should yearn for that alone,
With daytime-chant and chant at prime,
Ormin has not, like Layamon, told us where he lived. Many opinions have been hazarded on his dialect, but I have found the observations of Dr. Guest (History of English Rhythms, vol. ii. pp. 209, 409) most appropriate. There is this guiding fact, that the initial change of p to f is found in the last section of the Saxon Chronicle E, which we know was written at Peterborough. On the other hand, we cannot place Ormin in Norfolk or Lincolnshire, as some critics would do, because he has not the Anglian mark of s for sh. He writes shall and not sall or sal. Though near the Anglian border we must class this writer as Saxon and not Anglian.
Before we pass on to the next group, to those which are more particularly known as Early English, a remark should be made on the significance of the date 1215, to which we are now arrived. It is a marked date as being that of Magna Carta; and it is the year in which French first appears in our public instruments. After the Conquest Latin was the documentary language up to this date, when French began and soon became general. It has even been maintained that the original language of Magna Carta was French and not Latin. But though a critical examination may lead to this conclusion, it would be of no value for our present purpose, unless it could be shewn that in this kingdom it was promulgated in French. And this is very doubtful. The first certain example of French in our public muniments is that by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, which had been facsimiled in the National Manuscripts. If we ask what manner of French it was, we must point to that now spoken by the peasants of Normandy, and perhaps still more to the French dialect which has been preserved in the Channel Islands. A strong trace of this use of French as the language of public business in this country still survives in the formula LE ROI LE VEUT or LA REINE LE VEUT, by which the royal assent to bills is announced in Parliament. And in the utterance of this puissant sentence it is considered correct to groll the r after the manner of the peasants of Normandy. . The darkest time of depression for our language has now passed. We approach a kind of dawn. A new literature begins to rise, first in dissonant dialects, and then in a central and standard form. The language had admitted a variety of new material which had distinctly affected its complexion. One particular class of words shall be noticed in this place as the result of the French rule in England. This is a group of words which will serve to depict the times in which they were stamped on our speech. They are the utterance of the violent and selfish passions. Almost all the sinister and ill-favoured words which were in the English language at the time of Shakspeare, owed their origin to this unhappy era. The malignant passions were let loose, as if without control of reason or of religion; men hotly pursued after the objects of their ambition, covetousness, or other passions, till they grew insensible to every feeling of tenderness and humanity; they regarded one another in no other light but as obstructives or auxiliaries in their own path. What wonder that such a state of society furnished little or nothing for expressing the delicate emotions, while it supplied the nascent English with such a mass of opprobious epithets as to have lasted, with few occasional additions, till the present day. Of these words a few may be cited by way of example. And first I will instance the word juggler. This word has two senses. It is first a person who makes a livelihood by amusing tricks. Secondly, it has the moral sense of an impostor or deceiver. The latter is the prevalent modern use. Both these senses originated in the French period of our history. Tojape is to jest coarsely; a japer is a low buffoon; japery is buffoonery; and jape-worthy is ignominiously ridiculous. Tojangle is to prate or babble; a jangler is a man-prater, and a jangleress is a woman-prater.
“Bote Iapers and Ianglers. Iudasses children.’
Raven is plunder; raveners are plunderers; and although this family of words is extinct, with the single exception of ravenous as applied to a beast of prey, yet they are still generally known from the Authorised Version, and they must have been current English in 1611. Ribald and ribaldry are of the progeny of this prolific period. Ribald was almost a class-name in the feudal system. One of the ways, and almost the only way, in which a man of low birth who had no inclination to the religious life of the monastery could rise into some sort of importance and consideration, was by entering the service of a powerful baron. He lived in coarse abundance at the castle of his patron, and was ready to perform any service of whatever nature. He was a rollicking sort of a bravo or swashbuckler. He was his patron's parasite, bull-dog, and tool. Such was the Ribald, and it is not to be wondered at that the word rapidly became a synonym for everything ruffianly and brutal; and having passed into an epithet, went to swell the already overgrown list of vituperations. Rascal, villain, are of the same temper and the same date. Such are a few of the words with which our language was endowed, in its first rude contact with the French language. Though we find nearer our own times, namely, in the reign of Charles the Second, some accordance of tone with the early feudal period, yet neither in that nor in any other age was there produced such a strain of injurious words, calculated for nothing else but to enable a man to fling indignities at his fellow. The same period is stigmatised by another bad characteristic, and that is, the facility with which it disparaged good and respectable words. Villain, which has been quoted, was simply a class-name, by which a humble order of men was designated; ceorl was a Saxon name of like import: both of these became disparaged at the time we speak of into the injurious sense of villain and churl. The adjective imaginatif was then in use, but it had not the worthy sense of imaginative, richly endowed with ideas— but simply suspicious. The furious and violent life of that period had every need of relief and relaxation. This was found in the abandonment of revelry and in the counter-stimulant of the gamingtable. The very word revelry with its cognates, to revel, revelling, revellers, are productions of this period. The rage for gambling which distinguished the habits of our NormanFrench rulers, is aptly commemorated in the fact that up to the present day the English terms for games of chance are of French extraction. Dice were seen in every hall, and were then called by nearly the same name as now. Cards, though a later invention, namely, of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth century, are still appropriately designated by a French name. The fashion of counting by ace, deuce, frey, quart, cink, siz, &c., is French, not modern French, but of the feudal age. We find it in Chaucer, precisely as at present:—
‘Seven is my chance, and thin is cink and treye.”
Chance itself is one of those gaming terms, and so is hazard, which was the prominent word in the phraseology of gambling, and accordingly very odious to the moralist of that day. In the list of vices hasardery comes in next to gluttony, as being that which beset men next after the temptations of the table.
“And now that I have spoken of glotonie,
Canterbury Tales, 12,522.
It is a comfort to observe that even a word may outlive a bad reputation. The word hazard has now little association with disorderly excitement and the thirst for sudden wealth; it suggests to our minds some laudable adventure, or elevates the thought to some of those exalted aims for which men have hazarded their lives. Another word may be cited, which belonged originally to the same illconditioned strain, but which time has purified and converted into a picturesque word, no longer a disgrace but an ornament to the language. This is jeopardy, at first a mere excited and interjectional cry, Jeu perdu / game lost or else, jeu parti / drawn game !—but now a wholesome rhetorical word.
I will close the list of Norman illustrations with one example, by simply observing that this was the age which gave us the word Fitz as a prefix to family names. This