« IndietroContinua »
Be divers wayis and operatiouns
Men maks in court their solistatiouns.
Sum be service and diligence;
Sum be continual residence;
On substance sum men dois abyde,
Quhill fortoun do for them provide.
That is,' Some men live on their own means while, i. e. until, fortune provides for them.' The same poet has 'quhill domisday' for 'until doomsday.'
The following examples are from Buchanan's version of the famous letters of Queen Mary, reprinted by Hugh Campbell, 1824 :—
You left somebody this day in sadness, that will never be merry while he see you again.
I wrought this day while it was two hours upon this bracelet (i. e. till it was two o'clock).
He prayed me to remain with him while another morning.
Which was the occasion that while dinner time I held purpose to nobody (i. e. that until dinner time I conversed with nobody).
In Shakspeare, where we find almost everything, we also discover this usage. In one instance it is in the mouth of a Scotchman:—
While then, God be with you. Macbeth, iii. I. 43.
(Pope corrected this reading, and changed the while to till.)
He shall conceale it,
Twelfe Nighl, iv. 3. 29.
87. The dialects of our northern counties were anciently united in one and the same Anglian state-language with that which we now call Scottish. The severance which has since taken place, has been due to the division of that which was once an integral territory, consequent upon the establishment of a northern and a southern court in this island. The old uniformity and identity has been broken up, and the political border has long since become, in great measure, a linguistic border also. On the other side of that border is a rustic dialect and a national literature which may picture to our eyes and ears, with some approach to probability, what our English language might by this time have been, if it had been preserved equally free from Romanesque influence. In our own southern land, the growth and expansion of the King's English has so preyed upon the vitals of the Saxon dialects which constitute in fact the mould and the soil out of which the King's English has grown robust, that nothing but a few poor relics are left to them of their own, and it is no longer possible to institute a comparison between them and the national speech. When, in a season of unusual heat, the potato crop has ripened in the middle of the summer, and produced a second generation of tubers, the new potatoes and the old cling to the same haulm, but those of later growth have left the earlier crop effete and worthless. Even so it is with the dialects—all their goodness is gone into the King's English, and little remains but their venerable forms. Such power and beauty as they still possess they cannot get credit for careni quia vale sacro, because they want a poet to present them at their full advantage. Where, in some remoter county, a poet has appeared to adorn his local dialect, we find ourselves surprised at the effect produced out of materials that we might else have deemed contemptible. A splendid example of this is furnished by the poems of Mr. Barnes in the Dorset dialect. Unless a southern fondness misleads us, he has affiliated to our language a second Doric, and won a more than alliterative right to be quoted along with Burns.
88. The great characteristic which distinguishes all the dialects from King's English is this—That they are comparatively unaltered by French influence. In Scottish and provincial glossaries there is too great a readiness to trace words back to French sources. When a great provincial word like the adjective bonny or bonnie is referred to the French adjective for good, masculine bon, feminine bonne, an example is seen of over-proneness to French derivations. This word is in popular use from the Fens to the Highlands, and widely spread over the central parts of the island. It occurs in Shakspeare, and is familiarly known in the old ballads and romances.
It seems never to have borne the sense of good. If it had at one time meant good, that sense, or something like it, would have lingered somewhere. But there are no relics of such a meaning. Its sense is one and the same everywhere, north and south. It is that of being joyous, smart, gay, fair to look upon, equally in the person and in the attire. Uniformity of sense over a wide area is evidence that the word must have borne the present sense at the time of its distribution over that area. This sort of argument is not applicable to a modern national expression; but to an old provincial one it is. The reason of this difference is obvious. Where there is a central literature, there is a constant provision for the maintenance of uniformity, even though words are changing their sense. But if a word is used by dispersed groups of people, and that word undergoes change of sense, such change will not be uniform, because there is no standard. The uniformity then which holds in the use of bonnie is, to say the least, a strong ground of presumption that the sense is a well-preserved sense and, so to say, the original sense of that word. It is true we have no surviving instance of a Saxon bonig, but it may be reasonably surmised that the word was already in Saxon times spread just as it is now, only in the form of bonig. We have the substantive which would naturally form such an adjective. Not the gay attire of a damsel of romance, but something which by analogy may be compared, is called in Saxon bone, to be pronounced as two syllables. The rings and chains and barbaric trappings which adorned the figure-heads of the ships of the eleventh century are called in one of the Saxon chronicles bone; and this is translated by Florence of Worcester with the Latin ornatura, ornament, decoration. When Leofric, the first Bishop of Exeter, gave to his cathedral many ornamented objects, they were all described in his memorandum, which is extant, as gebonede or y-bonnie-d. Roods, books, shrines, candlesticks, and other objects, are described as geboned, which seems here to imply fine ornamented decoration, probably goldsmith's and silversmith's work. Here, then, is a sufficient root for the derivation of our bonnie, and one which will far better 'satisfy the requirements of the case.
89. But it is not by wresting a few native words from the French category that we are to succeed in establishing the comparative 'purity' of the Scottish-Anglian and of our provincial dialects, as compared with the Queen's English. The real characterising distinction of the latter is not that it took in more French words, or even that in many words it blended French and English features together till they were undistinguishable; but, that the sound, the rhythm, the modulation, the music of the language was one entirely new. Every Englishman knows that it is comparatively easy to understand the dialects in print, but often quite impossible in conversation. The main cause of this is the unfamiliar tone and rhythm. The English language is one which has from long mixture with the French obtained, not indeed the French intonation, but a new one of its own; and herein will probably be found the essential characteristic which sets our English apart from its old relatives as a new and distinct variety of the old Gothic stock, and one from which the world may see a new family of languages ultimately engendered. To this result a long train of conditions contributed; and we are able in some measure to trace the causes from the time when the Roman colonisation infected the Keltic speech of the island, and prepared the mould into which the Saxon immigration was to be received. But all other causes recede into insignificance, compared with the long rule of French-speaking masters in this island. If we want to describe the transition from the Saxon state-language of the eleventh century to the Court-English of the fourteenth, and to reduce the description to its simplest terms, it comes in fact just to this :—That a French family settled in England, and edited the English language.