« IndietroContinua »
conterminous Romance-speaking people. This is the most probable account of the names Wallachia, the Walloons in Belgium, and the Canton Wallis in Switzerland. On this principle we called the Romanised Britons, and the Germans called the Italians, by the same name—Welsh. In Acts x. 1, where we read “Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, Luther's version has “Cornelius, ein Hauptmann von der Schaar, die da heisst die Welsche.' 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 ‘pa welisce men.’ 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.’ It is the same word which forms the last syllable in Cornzwall, for the Kelts who dwelt there were by the Saxons named the Walas of Kernyw. The word was weal or wealh, feminine wylen ; and it is an illustration of the servile condition to which the old inhabitants were reduced, that the words wealh and wylen came to signify male and female slave.
§ 3. Influence of the Church on the Language.
23. About the year A.D. 6oo, Christianity began to be received by the Saxons. The Jutish kingdom of Kent was the first that received the Gospel, and the Church was supreme in Kent before Northumbria began to be converted. Yet the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria gained afterwards the leading position as a Christian nation in Saxondom ; and being distinguished for learning and literature as well as for zeal, this people exerted a permanent influence on the national language. Intimately connected with this is the political supremacy which the northern kingdom enjoyed in this island for a hundred 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 Baeda, who died in 735, after having seen the decline of the greatness of his people. Canterbury was the metropolis of Christianity, but the kingdom of Northumbria was its most powerful seat. It was the attachment of this northern Church to the Roman interest that effectually put a stop to the progress of the Scotian discipline in this island. The power of this Anglian nation and the admiration she excited in her neighbours, caused them to emulate her example, to read her books, to form their language after hers, and to call it ENGLISc. The Angles 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 Northhumbrian monasteries. Of the existence of such a native literature there is no room for doubt. Baeda 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 furnished us with the comprehensive names of English and England, which have continued to designate our country, tongue, and nation. The name of England is confined by geographic limits; but the name of ENGLISH has widened with the growing area of the countries, colonies and dependencies that are peopled or governed by the children of our tongue. 24. The extant works of Baeda are all in Latin, but they afford occasional glimpses of information about the spoken Englisc of his day. As for example, in the Epistle to Ecgberht, 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. One of his most interesting chapters is that in which he gives the traditional story of the vernacular poet Caedmon, 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 Caedmon; and it is possible that they may be his work, having undergone in the process of copying a partial modification. We gather from the account in Baeda, 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 mediaeval ballads, or of Burns, or of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. 25. 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. If something of the legendary hangs over his personal history, this only shews 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 (witness 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 leadership which was enjoyed by the kingdom of Northumbria 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. 26. The culture of Northumbria overlived the term of its political supremacy. For a century and a half the northern part of the island was distinguished by the growth of a native Christian literature, and of Christian art. Two names there are prominently associated with this Northumbrian school, which mark the extremities of the brightest part of its duration. The first is Benedict Biscop, an Anglian by birth, who made five visits to Rome, and founded the monastery of Wearmouth in 672. The other was Alcuin, by whose aid Charlemagne laid the foundations of learning in his vast dominions. Alcuin died in 805. This new vernacular literature of Northumbria perished in the ravages of the Danes, and not enough remains to give an intimation of what is lost. Meantime, the old mythic songs still held their own in the south, where no strong growth of Christian literature appeared to contest the ground against them. But even these could not escape without some colouring from the new religion and its sacred literature, and we may assign the eighth century as the time when the Beowulf received those last superficial touches which still arrest the reader's eye as masking or softening the heathendom of the poem. Alfred was a lover of this old national poetry. With the mention of Alfred's name, we enter upon a comparatively modern era of the language, and quit the obscurity of the pre-Danish period. Wessex, or the country of the West Saxons, becomes the arena of our narrative henceforth, and the Anglian does not claim notice again until the fourteenth century, when that dialect had shaped itself into a new and distinct national language for the kingdom of Scotland. Barbour in his poem of the Bruce determined the character of modern Scottish, and cast it in a permanent mould, just as his contemporary Chaucer did for our English language. Again, in the eighteenth century there was a brilliant revival of the Anglian dialect, out of which came the poetry of Allan Ramsay and of Robert Burns, and the dialogues in “brad Scots,' which so charmingly diversify the novels of Sir Walter Scott. It is odd that this language, which is Anglian tinged with Norsk, should have received the Keltic name of ‘Scotch' from the Scotian dynasty which mounted the Anglian throne; and that in taking a modern name
* Yet we find the Latin equivalent of Seaxisc, as in Asser's Life of Alfred, where the vernacular is called Saxonica lingua. Asser however was a Welshman. Also in Cod. Dipl. 241, ‘in commune silfa q' nos saxonice in gemennisse dicinus.” Also 833, 867.