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Warwick; John Gefferson ; Piers of Montfort; Richard of Grey; Roger of Mortimer; James of Aldithel,—and in the presence of many others.
1 And all in the like words is sent in to every other shire over all the kingdom of England; and also into Ireland.
70. This is not a specimen of 'King's English,' nor of any type of English that ever had a living existence. It is to English something like what the Hindustani of one of our Indian interpreters might be to the spoken language of the natives--good enough to be understood of the people, and clumsy enough to betray the hand of the stranger. It is a piece of official English of the day, composed by the clerk to whom it appertained, off notes or an original draft, which (in either case) were couched in French. The strength of the composition consists in set and established phrases, which had long been in use for like purposes, and which betray themselves by their flavour of anachronism here. Such are, fultume, willen and unnen, isetnesses, on in places where it was no longer usual, and other less palpable anachronisms, among which we should probably reckon the use of the word hord.
That this proceeds from the pen of one whose sphere was more or less outside the people, appears from the overcharged rudeness and broadness of many of the forms, running on the verge of caricature. Such are, loande, Lhoauerd, moare, hoaten, foangen, aurihce, shcire, tel.
The proportion of French words is so small, compared to the literary habits of the date, that it is plain they have been studiously excluded, even with a needless excess of scruple; for a vast number of French words must before now have become quite popular. Besides iseined and cruninge the translator might perhaps have safely ventured on the word purveance (providence, provision, care), which is what he had under his eye or in his mind when he in two places employed the uncouth native word besigte—a word which probably is nowhere else found. This is not a specimen of any living and growing dialect of English. It is a piece of desk and dictionary work. It is a crude and laboured translation from a French copy.
71. This is not indeed King's English,' but it may well stand as
a monument of the necessity which produced King's English.' It marks the attempt to find among the strife of languages and the Babel of dialects a central and popular medium of communication. The need was at length supplied by the example and usage of the court. If we look forward for a moment to the end of this period, when a standard language was established, we may see what manner of English was in use in the royal family at that time. The following letter from Henry Prince of Wales (afterwards Henry V) to his father, is one of the earliest letters written in English, and it shews us the progress of the English language at its centre:
Henry Prince of Wales to his father Henry IV.
A.D. 1402. My soverain lord and fader, I Recomande me to yowr good and gracieux lordship, as humbly as I can, desiring to heere as good tydingges of yow and yowr hye estat, as ever did liege man of his soverain lord. And, Sir, I trust to God that ye shal have now a companie comyng with my brother of Bedford that ye shal like wel, in good feith, as hit is do me wite. Neverthelatter my brothers mainy [company) have I seyn, which is right a tal meyny. And so schal ye se of thaym that be of yowr other Captaines leding, of which I sende yow al the names in a rolle, be (by] the berer of this. Also so, Sir, blessid be God of the good and gracieux tydingges that ye
have liked to send me word of be [by] Herford your messager, which were the gladdist that ever I myzt here, next yowr wel fare, be my trouth : and Sir with Goddes grace I shal sende al thise ladies as ye have comandid me, in al hast beseching yow of yowr lordship that I myzt wite how that ye wolde that my cosine of York shuld reule her, whether she shuld be barbid or not, as I have wreten to yow my soverain lord afore this tyme. And, Sir, as touching Tiptot, he shal be delivered in al hast, for ther lakkith no thing but shipping which with Goddes grace shal be so ordeined for that
he shal not tary.
Also Sir, blessid be God, yowr gret ship the Grace Dieu is even as redy, and is the fairest that ever man saugh, trowe in good feith; and this same day th’Erle of Devenshir my cosin maad his moustre [muster] in her, and al others have her [their] moustre the same tyme that shal go to be see. And Sir I trowe ye have on [one] comying toward yow as glad as any man can be, as far as he shewith, that is the King of Scotts : for he thanketh God that he shal mowe shewe be experience th' entente of his goodwill be the suffrance of your good lordship. My soverain lord more can I not write to yowr hynesse at this time; but pt ever I beseche yow of your good and gracieux lordship as, be my trouth, my witting willingly I shal never deserve the contrary, that woot God, to whom I pray to send yow
al þt yowr hert desireth to his plaisance. Writen in yowr tovn of Hampton, the xiiij h day of May.-Yowr trewe and humble liege man and sone, H. G.
72. Between these two pieces, namely, that of A.D. 1258 and that of A.D. 1402, a period of 140 years had elapsed; but even this period, which represents four generations of men, would not suffice to allow for the transition of the one into the other in the way of lineal descent. In fact they are not on the same track. The one is an artificial conglomerate of confused provincialisms, the other a living and breathing utterance of ‘King's English.'
73. But it is in the writings of Chaucer_and Gower that we have for the first time a full display of King's English. These two names have been coupled together all through the whole course of English literature. Skelton, the poet laureate of Henry VII, joins the two names together. So does our literary king, James I. So have all writers who have had occasion to speak of the fourteenth century, down to the present day. Indeed, Chaucer himself may be said to have associated Gower's name permanently with his own literary and poetical fame, in the terms with which he addressed his Troylus and Creseide to Gower and Strode, and asked their revision of his book :
O moral Gower, this boke I directe
Thus these two names have grown together, and their connection is soldered by habit and tradition. One is apt to imagine, previous to a study of their works, that they were a par nobile fratrum, brothers and equals in poetry and genius, and that they had contributed equally, or nearly so, towards the making of English literature. But this is very far from being the case. That which united them at first, and which continues to be the sole ground of coupling their names together, is just this,—that they wrote in the same general strain and in the same language. By this is meant, first, that they were both versed in the learning then most prized, and delivered what they had to say in the terms then most admired; and secondly, that both wrote the English of the court. If affinity of genius had been the basis of classification, the author of Piers Plowman had more right to rank with Chaucer than the prosaic Gower. But Chaucer and Gower are united inasmuch as they both wrote the particular form of English which became more and more established as the standard form of the national language, and their books were classics of the best society down to the opening of a new era under Elizabeth.
74. And now the question naturally rises, What was this new language? what was it that distinguished the King's English from the various forms of provincial English of which examples have been given in the group of writers noticed above, or from Piers Plowman and other provincial contemporaries of Chaucer? In answer to this it may be said, that it is no more possible to convey the idea of a language by description than of a piece of music. The writings must be looked into by all who desire to realise the distinctions here to be pointed out.
The best course for the student is to master a particular piece, and Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is the piece which unites
a greater variety of interest in proportion to its extent, than any production of the fourteenth century.
The leading characteristics of the King's English-the characteristics by which it is distinguished from the provincial dialects—are only to be understood by a consideration of the vast amount of French which it had absorbed. It is a familiar sound to hear Chaucer called the well of English undefiled. But this expression never had any other meaning than that Chaucer's language was free from those foreign materials which got into the English of some centuries later. Compare Chaucer with the provincial English writers of his own day, and he will be found highly Frenchified in comparison with them. Words which are so thoroughly naturalised that they now pass muster as 'English undefiled, will often turn out to be French of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Who would suspect such a word as blemish of being French? and yet it is so. It is from the old French adjective blesme, which meant sallow, wan, discoloured; and its old verb blesmir, which meant as much as the modern French verbs tacher and salir, to spot and to soil. Then there is the very Saxon-looking word with its w initial, to warish, meaning to recover from sickness. Sometimes it assumes the form warsh, and then it looks still more indigenous; as when it is said that the first sight of his lady in the morning cured him of his sorrow :
That when I saugh her first a morwe
The Dethe of Blanche, 1104.
Richardson, in his Dictionary, has provided this word with a Saxon derivation, by connecting it with being ware or wary, and so taking care of oneself. But it is simply the French verb guerir. These are only two of a whole class of French verbs which have put on the homely termination