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He wolde the see were kept for any thyng
Ther to he koude eudite and make a thyng. (1. 327.) 233. The fullness of tone which the rhythm requires for the word thyng in both these places, is by itself almost enough to indicate that they are not to be taken as when we say 'I would not do it for anything,' or 'Here 's a thing will do.' In these trivial instances the word is vague and symbolical, but it would hardly have beseemed such a poet as Chaucer to bring the stroke of his measure down upon such gossamer. The Merchant desired that the sea should be protected for the sake of commerce at any price, condition, or cost—on any terms; for such is the old sense of the: word thing. The old verb to thing, Saxon pingian, meant to make terms, to compromise, pacisci. So also in German the word S)ing had a like use, as may be seen through its compounds. The verb feebirtgen is to stipulate, bargain; and SSebtngung is condition, terms of agreement, contract.
In Denmark and Norway the word still retains its presentiveness, and signifies a judicial or deliberative assembly. In Denmark the places where the judges hold session are called Ting. In Norway the Parliament is called Stor Ting, that is, Great Thing. In Iceland the old parliament field was called Thing-vdllr, and the hill in the Isle of Man from which the laws are proclaimed is called Tynwald. The same word in the same sense is contained in the Danish word husting, as Longfellow indicates by his manner of printing it:—
Glaf the King, one summer morn,
Blew a blast on his bugle-horn,
And to the Hus-Ting held at Mere
Gathered the farmers far and near,
The Saga of King Olaf.
In Molbech's Danish Dictionary there is a list of compounds with Ting, in its presentive value of adjudicating or adjusting conflicting interests. In such a sense it is said by Chaucer that his Sergeaunt of Lawe could endite and make a Thyng, meaning, he could make a contract, was a good conveyancer.
234. How wide is the separation between such a use of the word and that more familiar one which meets us so often in this manner, ' The liberal deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand'—in which 'liberal things' is equivalent to ' liberality,' or at any rate the difference between the general and the abstract is so fine that, if preserved at all, it requires a high metaphysical discernment to define it,
A question may be raised here—What part of speech is this symbolic thing} Grammar, which looks only to its literary action, will say it is a noun, and that however much it may have changed in sense, it cannot cease to be a noun. Yet it will often be found to act the part and fill the place of pronouns in other tongues. The Latin neuter pronouns hcec, ea, ista, their Greek analogues ravra, Ixtiva, roiavra roa-avra, can hardly be rendered in English in any other way than by the expressions these things, those things, such things, so great things. If in all cases we must grammatically insist that thing is a noun, then what part of speech are something, nothing, anything, everything? It may be a question at what stage of symbolism a noun passes over to the ranks of the pronoun, but it appears plain that there is a point at which this transition must be admitted, and that the whole question turns upon the degree of symbolism that is requisite. If the word thing has not quite attained that degree, it certainly approaches very near to it.
It would not have been worth while to dwell so long on these aspects, if they had not been typical. But that they are so we may assure ourselves, both by observation of the same tendency in other languages, and also in other words of our own language. In Latin res and causa have moved on a like path, and have generated rien and chose in French. In German the word £>tng has had the same history, except that its field has been narrowed by the rival word <Sadje, a forensic word, like causa and thing, and familiar to us through the old Saxon legal jargon, 'sac and soc.' In Hebrew Dabhar had a like career: as a presentive it meant' word,' as a symbolic it signified 'thing.' A variety of words in English have partially graduated in the same faculty, and have attained a symbolic degree in certain connections. Let the student consider the following substantives, and probably he will be able to fit most of them to phrases in which they shall figure symbolically:—account, affair, article, behalf, business, case, circumstance, concern, course, deal, gear, hand, lot, manner, matter, part, party, person, question, regard, respect, score, sort, stuff, wise.
235. Some. As in Mrs. Barbauld's apostrophe to Life :—
Say not good night, but in some brighter clime,
More. This is now generally known to us as a symbolic word, a mere sign of the comparative degree. But it is presentive in Acts xix. 32, 'The more part knew not wherefore they were come together;' and in that sentence of Bacon's—' discretion in speech is more than eloquence.'
Wow. In this word we may illustrate the aerial perspective which exists in symbolism. At first it appeared as an adverb of time, signifying 'at the present time.' Even in this character it is a symbolic word, but it is one that lies very near the presentive frontier. It is capable of light emphasis, as in 'Now is the accepted time!' Then it moves off another stage, as, 'Now faith is the confidence of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' Here the now is incapable of accent; one hardly imagines the rhetorical emergency which would impose an emphasis on this now. Thus we see there is in symbolism a near and a far distance. And this second now, the more rarefied and symbolic of the two, is gradually undermining the position of the other. The careful writer will often have found it necessary to strike out a now which he had with the weightier meaning set at the head of a sentence, because of its liability to be accepted by the reader for the toneless now.
Symbolism of Auxiliary Verbs.
236. But a signal example of the growth of symbolism is afforded by the auxiliary verbs; and these are a class of words so important in so many aspects, that we gladly seize all convenient occasions for bringing them forward. It is difficult to say when they are most interesting, whether in those more numerous specimens which we possess in common with German, and which we derive from the old ancestral pangothic stock; or whether in those fewer examples which are of our own several and insular development.
Shall, should; will, would. The word shall offers a good example of the movement from presentiveness to symbolism. When it flourished as a presentive word, it signified to owe. Of this ancient state of the word a memorial exists in the German adjective fdjufbig, indebted. From this state it passed by slow and unperceived movements to that sense which is now most familiar to us, in which it is a verbal auxiliary, charging the verb with a sense fluctuating between the future tense and the imperative mood.
There are intermediate uses of shall which belong neither to the presentive state when it signified 'owe,' nor to the symbolic state in which it is a mere imponderable auxiliary.
In the following quotation it has a sense which lies between
these two extremes.
If the Reformers saw not how or where to draw the fine and floating and long-obscured line between religion and superstition, who shall dare to arraign them?—Henry Hart Milman, The Annals of St. Paul's, p. 231.
What has been said about shall applies equally to its preterite should. Its common symbolic use is illustrated in the following quotation:—
Labourers indeed were still striving with employers about the rate of wages—as they have striven to this very day, and will continue to strive to the world's end, unless some master mind should discover the true principle for its settlement.—William Longman, Edward III, vol. ii. ch. iii.
Let the reader fully comprehend the nature of this should, that he may be prepared to appreciate the contrast of the examples which follow. I found the first near my own home. I was 'borneing' out some allotment ground, and Farmer Webb having driven a corner 'borne' into the ground very effectively, exclaimed, 'There, that one '11 stand for twenty years, if he should!' To a person who knows only the English of literature, the condition would seem futile—if he should \ It would seem to mean that the 'borne' would stand if it happened to stand. But this was not bur neighbour's meaning. The person who should so misunderstand him, would do so for want of knowing that the word should has still something extant of its old presentive power. In this instance it would have to be translated into Latin, not thus—si fork ita evenerit; but thus—si debuerit, sifuerit opus: if it ought; if it be required to stand so long; or, in the brief colloquial, if required.
237. Connected with this thread of usage, and equally derived from the radical sense of 'owe,' is another power of shall and should, which is of a very subtle nature. It is one of the native traits of our mother tongue of which we have