Immagini della pagina

The Explicit Noun.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

589. If we turn now from the symbolism that is found in and about the verb, to that which is attendant upon the noun, we shall see that the latter is most prominently drawn from the articles and the prepositions. These are the symbolic satellites of the noun. And there is perceivable a certain co-operation with one another in their action. When two substantives are united by a genitival relation, as

servus servorum,' “hæleba hleo,' 'man-kind,' and you substitute of for the genitival flexion or genitival relation of the one noun, you find yourself often induced to give the other noun an article ; thus, 'a servant of servants''heroes' shelter' avoiding both preposition and article,—or using them both, the shelter of heroes,' 'the family of man.' If we compare the Versions of 1535 and of 1611 in Daniel i. 2, the elder has and there brought them into his gods treasury'; but the younger has it into the treasure-house of his god. The change of structure from flexional to symbolic has thus brought in two symbols to attend on the noun-namely, the preposition and the article.

590. There are in English two great formulas for the construction of substantival phrases, and there is perhaps no more convenient, as there certainly cannot be a more national medium of exhibiting these, than through the long and short titles of our Acts of Parliament.

According to one of these formulas, the words and phrases which constitute a substantival whole, are concatenated by means of symbols thus :

An Act further to amend the Laws relating to the Representation of the People in England and Wales.

An Act for the Abolition of Compulsory Church Rates.

An Act to make further Amendments in the Laws for the Relief of the Poor in England and Wales.

An Act for the Amendment of the Act of Uniformity.

The other formula merely collocates the chief nounal: words in juxtaposition, and that in a reversed order; as

The Representation of the People Act.
The Compulsory Church Rate Abolition Act.
The Poor Law Amendment Act.
The Act of Uniformity Amendment Act.

And so for all complex notions we have a short familiar way of naming them, as well as a stately formula of designation 1.

Our speech has acquired this faculty and range of variation by its historical combination of the two great linguistic elements of Western civilization, the Roman and the Gothic. The long style of structure is that which we have learned from the French : the short and (as it now seems) reversed style is our own native Saxon.

Between these two formulas, so widely divergent, there lies the whole region of Flexion, and the prepositions of the longer formula have come in as substitutes for case-endings.

As there is a triple variety in our syntax, so it is an hereditary and congenial usage to speak and write with that variation which the nature and growth of our speech has put within our power. And this variation has moreover its utility, as when in antithesis it removes the contrast from the ear, and leaves it only to the mind, thus purging the language of a certain sensual importunity; as may be seen by the following example, wherein the italics are happily placed for our purpose :

i See Cor. iii. 9; and compare the Contents.

God grant when men are at their wits end, they may be at the beginning of their faith, valiantly to hold out in the Truth.—Thomas Fuller, Abel Redevivus; the Epistle to the Reader, 1651.

591. The substitution of the preposition instead of the case of the noun, has been extended also to the pionoun. Hence a variety of pronounal phrases, such as few of us, one of you, all of them; and cumulative phrases also, as of my own, of yours, of theirs, from thence.

of itself. - Warsaw is not of itself a strong fortress, but it closes the railway and defends the passage of the Vistula.

And the conjunctions which are formed from the pronouns soon catch this phrasal habit.

out of which to. But those wise and good men whose object it had been all along to save what they could of the wreck, out of which to construct another ark, &c.— Blunt, History of the Reformation, ch. ix.

This has been felt to be a Frenchism or a classicism, and the English humour has never thoroughly liked it. At best it is but book-English. It is one of the most salient of the features of Addison's style that he asserted the native idiom in this particular; as, 'This is the thing which I spoke to you of. This English reluctance to welcome of which, 'to which,''from which,' as conjunctions, is to be noted as the point where our instincts lead us to resist the further progress of the French element. At this point there is, however, much vacillation and uncertainty : the English ear not being quite satisfied with either construction. The following is from one of Addison's papers :

This Morning I received from him the following Letter, which, after having rectified some little Orthographical Mistakes, I shall make a Present of to the Publick.—The Spectator, No. 499.

The contact of the symbols of to is not pleasing. But notwithstanding the untowardness of these little collisions, it still holds, that when point is desired, the native fashion, the so-called Addisonian, is resorted to. In the following quotation, as usual, the typography is carefully preserved :

The next great question is, what they did this FOR. That it was for a miraculous story of some kind or other, is to my apprehension extremely manifest ;-William Paley, Evidences, Prop. I. ch. x.

592. One of the prepositions has acquired for itself a very remarkable function, in attendance not on a noun, but on a verb; and yet it is a noun also; it is at the point of union between noun and verb, that is to say, the Infinitive. Here the preposition to has made for itself a permanent place, just as at has in Danish, and a (Latin ad) in Wallachian.


at bære

to bear
to write


a purta
a scrie

at skrive

Thus we perceive that the prepositional form of the infinitive is not peculiar to English, as against other Gothic tongues; nor yet to the Gothic, as opposed to the Romance family of languages; but that it springs up indifferently under various conditions, and therefore must be referred to some general tendency. What that tendency is I have already surmised in the chapter on the adverbs. 453.

593. We have now reached the final stage of development of speech in its effort to overtake the several meanings of the mind and invest them each with an appropriate distinctness of form. It is as if we had followed with our eye the branchings of a growing tree till we came to the tips of last year's spray. Of the year's new growth in tender wood, only a small part will permanently endure. This infinitude

of little shoots will forth with enter into a competition, which will increase in severity with every season, and nature's pruning will lop out year by year the weakest, until at length a very few will have established for themselves a post of permanence.

The sprays of language are these phrasal forms which are produced by the combination of symbolic words. They are constantly springing up in particular classes of society, in particular localities or crafts or schools; and in the same sphere they mostly pass their existence until they are ousted by some phrase of newer device. Now and then it happens that one escapes beyond the pale of its class and becomes more generally known, but even then, in most cases it is only to enjoy a short career, and be soon forgotten. An instance of this occurred in the recent expression to make it out; which originated about thirty years ago in the aristrocratic region, got enlarged so far as to be current among the whole of the educated classes, and then passed quietly into oblivion. A distinguished Queen's Counsel told me how he found himself one day seated at a dinner table where the company was mostly of higher rank than he had been used to, and that by way of opening conversation with the lady next him, he asked her the question of the hour, Whether she had been to the Royal Academy? She had not; she had not been able to make it out. "Make it out'! thought my friend to himself, “What can that mean? This is one of their aristocratic phrases that they understand among themselves. In course of time it became more public, and was heard on all sides, and it meant the same as to make time for a thing. But it had no chance of permanence, because there was already a well-established and more necessary use of this very phrase, 'to make it out,' in the sense of clearing up a difficulty or uncertainty.

« IndietroContinua »