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make his fire, plow-bole and fire-bose. It might appear as if little more need be urged for the purpose of shewing that this is also the word in the expression ‘to boot.’ And yet, when we come to examine authorities, there is great reason to hesitate before excluding the French language from a share in the production of this expression. There are two contemporary verbs, bouter and boutre, with meanings not widely diverse from each other, in the sense of putting to, push, support, prop. Hence we have abut and buttress. The old grammarian Palsgrave seems to imply this French derivation when he says: “To boote in corsyng [horse-dealing], or chaunging one thyng for another, gyue money or some other thynge above the thyng. What wyll you boote bytwene my horse and yours? Mettre ou bouler davantaige.’ 83. Some words, whose form is perfectly English to look at, are nothing but French words in a Saxon mask. The word business has not, as far as I know, been suspected, yet I offer it without hesitation as an example. The adjective busy existed in Saxon, and although the -mess derivative from it is not found, yet it would seem so agreeable to rule and analogy as to pass without challenge. We say good-ness, wicked-ness, wily-ness, worthy - mess ; why not busy-ness 2 And yet the word appears to be nothing but the French besogne or, as it was in early grammar oftenest written, besoingnes. Compare the modern French, Faites votre besogne, Do your duty. It is possible that the word busy may have had that sort of share in the production of the great English word business which may be called the ushering of the word. When natives seize upon the words of strangers and adopt them, their selection is decided in most cases by some affinity of sense and sound with a word of their own. A very superficial connection will suffice for this, or else we could not admit busy even to this inferior share in the production of the word business. For ‘a man of business’ means, and has always meant, something very different from a man who is busy. Let us hear an independent and competent witness on the signification of this, which is now One of the most characteristic words of our nation :
The dictionary definition of Business shows how large a part of practical life arranges itself under this head. It is * Employment; an affair; serious engagement; something to be transacted; something required to be done.' Every human being has duties to be performed, and therefore has need of cultivating the capacity of doing them; whether the sphere is the management of a household, the conduct of a trade or profession, or the government of a nation. Attention, application, accuracy, method, punctuality, and dispatch, are the principal qualities required for the efficient conduct of business of any sort.—Samuel Smiles, Self-Help, chap. viii.
So that the use of this word to the present day corresponds truly to that of the French word besogne, in which it seems to have originated.
84. We will close this section with a notice of certain traits which our English poetic diction has inherited from the bilingual period. There is what may be called the ambidextral adjective; where two adjectives are given to one substantive, one being placed before and the other after it. At first the prepositive adjective was Saxon and the postpositive one Romanesque; but this was soon forgotten, while the ambidextral habit was retained. Thus Chaucer:—
I say the woful day fatal is come.
In the following short quotation from Wordsworth we have two examples:–
Days of sweet leisure, taxed with patient thought
The Prelude, init. In one of the best-known pieces of the Christian Pear we find—
By some soft touch invisible. Morning.
A more general effect is the enlarged choice of words. A great number of common ideas being now expressed in duplicate, we have often adopted the one for every-day use, and reserved the other for the poetic diction. Thus we have taken colour as the common word, and exalted the Saxon hue to a more select position.
God, by His bow, vouchsafes to write
As every lovely hue is Light,
John Keble, Christian Year, Quinquagesima.
And from the same source the rhetoric of our prose is enriched by variation: —
We colour our ocular vision with the hues of the imagination.— John Henry Newman, Essays, Reformation of the Eleventh Century, p. 252.
§ 11. Conclusion.
85. The French language has not only left indelible traces on the English, but has imparted to it some of its leading characteristics.
It is not merely that there are many English words of which the derivation cannot be clearly specified, owing to the intimate blending of the French and English languages at the time when such words were stamped with their present form and signification. The Romanesque influence has penetrated deeper than to the causing of a little etymological perplexity. It has modified the vocalisation, it has softened the obstinacy of the consonants, it has given to the whole language a new complexion. The focus of this blending was the court. The court was the centre which was the point of meeting for the two nationalities, even while it hardly knew of any literature but the French. The court was also the seminary that produced our first national poet. This added greatly to the natural advantages which a court possesses for making its fashion of speech pass current through the nation. Supposing—and the supposition is not an unreasonable one— that in the struggles of the thirteenth century a great poet had risen among the popular and country party, the complexion of the English language would in all likelihood have been far different from what it now is. Such a poet, whether he were or were not of courtly breeding, would naturally have selected the phraseology of the country and have avoided that of the court. And be it remembered, the language of the country was at that time quite as fit for a poet's use, as was that of the court. It is true that a court has its own peculiar facilities for setting the fashion of speech, but still it is not necessary that the form of a nation's language should be dictated from the highest places of the land. The Tuscan form of modern Italian was decided by the poetry of Dante, at a time when Florence and Tuscany lay in comparative obscurity; and when more apparent influence was exercised by Venice, or Naples, or Sicily. But in our country it did so happen that the first author whose works gained universal and national acceptance was a courtier. This is a thing to be well attended to in the history of the English language. For its whole nature is a monument of the great historical fact that a French court had been planted in an English land. The landsfolk tried to learn some French, and the court had need to know some English; and the language that was at length developed expresses the tenacity of either side and the compromise of the two. This unconscious unstudied compromise gradually worked itself out at the royal court; and the result was that form of speech which became generally recognised and respected as the King's English. 86. In the northern part of the island another centre was established at the royal court of Scotland. Here we may mark the centralising effect of a seat of government upon a national language. The original dialect of the south of Scotland was the same with that of the northern counties of England, at least as far south as the Trent. This was the great ‘Anglian’ region. The student of language may still observe great traces of affinity between the idioms to the north and those on the south of the Scottish border. Peculiar words, such as bairn, bonny, are among the more superficial points of similarity. But we will select one that is more deeply bedded in the thought of the language. There is in Yorkshire, and perhaps over the north of England generally, a use of the conjunction while which is very different from that of Queen's English. In our southron speech while is equivalent to during, but in the northern dialects it means unfil. A Yorkshireman will tell his boy, ‘You stay here while I return. At Maltby there lived, some years ago, a retired druggist, highly respected at the time, and well remembered since. The boys' Sunday school was confided to his management ; and he had a way of appealing to them when they were disorderly which is still quoted by those who often heard it: ‘Now, boys, I can't do nothing while you are quiet.' If we look into the early Scottish literature we find that this use of while is the established one. Thus Dunbar:—