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and heavy life to lead,
The poems of Layamon and Orm may be regarded as appertaining to the old Saxon literature. Layamon and Orm both cling to the old in different ways: Layamon in his poetic form, Orm in his diction. Both also bear traces, in different ways, of the earlier processes of that great change which the French was now working in the English language. The long story of the Brut is told in lines which affect the ancient style; but the style is chaotic, and abounds in accidental decorations, like a thing constructed out of ruins. In the Ormulum the regularity is perfect, but it is the regularity of the new style of versification, learnt from foreign teachers. The iambic measure sits admirably on the ancient diction: for Orm, new as he is in his metre, is old in his grammar and vocabulary. The works differ as the men differed: the one, a secular priest, has the country taste for an irregular poetry with alliteration and every other reverberatory charm; the other, a true monk, carries his regularity into everything—arrangement, metre, Orthography. He is an English-speaking Dane, but educated in a monastery that has already been ruled by a succession of French abbots.
From these two authors, as from some half-severed promontory, we look across the water studded with islands, to where the continent of the modern English language rears its abrupt front in the writings of Chaucer.
§ 7. The triumph of French.
52. In the two great works which have occupied us during the preceding pages, the Englisc has made its latest stand against the growing ascendancy of the French. We now approach the time when for a century and a half French held a recognised position as the language of education, of society, of business, and of administration. Long before 1250 we get traces of the documentary use of French, and long after 1350 it was continued. Trevisa says it was a new thing in 1385 for children to construe into English in the grammar schools, where they had been used to do their construing into French. 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 bold relic of our use of French as the language of public business still survives in the formula LE Rol LE VEULT or LA REINE LE VEULT, by which the royal assent to bills is announced in Parliament. In the utterance of this puissant sentence it is considered correct to groll the R after the manner of the peasants of Normandy.
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 that stamped them on our speech. They are the utterance of the violent and selfish passions.
53. 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. Such a state of society supplied the nascent English with a mass of opprobrious epithets which 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. Both these senses date from the French period of our history. To jape is to jest coarsely; a japer is a low buffoon ; japery is buffoonery; and safe-worshy 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.
54. Ravin 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 English Bible of 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. 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. 55. Villan was simply a French 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 chur/. 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 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.
56. The fashion of counting by ace, deuce, frey, quart, cink, siz, 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, Now wol I you defenden hasardrie. Hasard is veray moder of lesinges, And of deceite, and cursed forsweringes.
It is repreve, and contrary of honour,
Canterbury Tales, 12,522.
It is a comfort to observe that even a word may outlive a bad reputation. The word hazard, though still a gambling term in the last century, 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 ill-conditioned 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 1 or else, jeu parti / drawn game !— but now a wholesome rhetorical word.
It would hardly be fair however to omit mention of the fact that other classes of words were also gained at this