« PreviousContinue »
THE CIVIL SERVICE
HANDBOOK OF ENGLISH LITEEATUEE
FROM A.JS. 600 TO THE HOSK&V CONQUEST.
1. GENEALOGY OP THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.—2. FORMATION AND PROGRESS OP THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.—3. PERIODS OF ENGLISH.—i. THE GAELIC AND CYMRIC LITERATURE.—5. THE LITERATURE OF THE * ORIGINAL ENGLISH' PERIOD.—6. THE POETS :—(a) WRITERS IN ENGLISH METRE J (6) WRITERS IN LATIN TERSE.—7. THE PROSE WRITERS I— (a) WRITERS IN ENQLI3H; (6) WRITERS IN LATIN.
I. Genealogy of the English Language.—From the preceding 'Introduction,' it will be obvious that, in the ensuing pages, no detailed examination of the origin of the English language can be attempted. Yet, as a proper preliminary to the sections which immediately follow, it will be necessary to give an outline of its pedigree, and to briefly enumerate those changes which took place iu Britain previous to A.d. 600, from which date it is expedient to begin the history of Old English literature. According to the now generally accepted theory, deriving from a suggestion of Sir William Jones (d. 1794), based upon the manifest affinity between the ancient Sanskrit, or sacred language of the Hindus, and the European tongues, the continent of Europe is held to have been over-run by some great westward movement of Asiatic tribes, which, establishing themselves by successive migrations in different districts, subsequently constituted the Irish, Welsh, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Russian peoples. To the great family of languages which comprises, with the Indie and Iranie dialects, those si
spoken by these different peoples, the name of Indo-Germanic, IndoEuropean, and, more recently, Aryan family has been applied. Its separate groups or 'stocks' are variously arranged by philologists. For our present purpose, we may, however, limit ourselves to mentioning those connected with the English language, namely, the
With the two first of these, the connection of English is incidental only; with the last it is essential. Omitting divisions not material to the question, the formula on the opposite page will show in brief the subdivisions of the foregoing stocks, and the pedigree of English previous to the Norman Conquest.
According to this classification, English may be defined as belonging to the Low-German division of the Teutonic branch of the Gothic stock of the Aryan or Indo-European family of languages.
2. Formation and Progress of the English language. —It has been supposed that a primeval people, belonging, not to the Aryan, but to another of the three great families, the Turanian family, may have been the first occupiers of Britain. The earliest known inhabitants, however, are believed to have been settlers from the two branches of the Celtic race (see Table, p. 5)—the Gaels or Gaedhels, and the Cymri, who had colonised the island from the neighbouring continent.
The Gaels, it has been conjectured, came first from Iberia, or Spain, landing in Ireland and in the West of England, and thence sparsely scattering themselves over the whole country.
The Cymri, who occupied midland Gaul, or France, followed, settling in the South and East of Britain and driving the Gaels back upon the districts of the North and West. Another and a different tribe—the Belgae, whose encroachments in Gaul had driven the Cymri forward into Britain, also crossed the Channel, and made settlements in the south. Thus, at the time of the first Roman Invasion (b.c. 55), Britain was inhabited by Belgae and Celts. The Celtic language is divided into two classes:—Gaelic or Gaedhelic and Cymric. The first embraces Irish, the Gaelic of the Scotch Highlands, and the dialect of the Isle of Man. The second comprises Welsh, as still spoken in Wales, Cornish (extinct since the reign of Elizabeth), and the Armorican or Breton of Brittany in France. The names of certain lakes, rivers, and mountains, and
some few existing English words, of which one, ' Basket' (basgawd, bascauda), is mentioned as British by Juvenal (Sat. xii. 46) and Martial (Epig. xiv. 99), still betray the presence of the Celtic tongue in our modern English vocabulary; but its influence in the formation of the language was inconsiderable.
During the .Roman occupation, those of the Britons—for so we may now style the Gaels and Cymri—who were subjugated, appear to have adopted, to some extent, the language and customs of their conquerors.* The remainder took refuge in the-—to the Romansinaccessible mountains of Wales and Scotland, where they successfully defied or eluded the victorious legionaries. Reinforced by new additions to their numbers from the neighbouring island of Scotia (Ireland), these savage mountaineers, toward the close of the Roman dominion, made constant inroads upon Southern Britain; and when, in the beginning of the fifth century, the Romans finally quitted the country, they descended upon their unwarlike and unprotected countrymen, who were enervated by nearly four centuries of semi-slavery. These last, failing to obtain assistance from their former rulers, appealed in despair to the piratical Teutonic races, who infested (and perhaps occupied) that portion of the southeastern coast of Britain extending from Southampton to the Wash, which was known, under the Romans, as the littus Saxonicum, or Saxon shore.
The new comers turned speedily against their allies, and, by successive incursions, finally established themselves in South Britain. From the peninsula of Jutland came the Jutes, who settled in Kent, in the Isle of Wight, and in part of Hampshire. Following these, from the region between the Eider and the Weser, came the Saxons, who acquired the districts south of the Thames and of the Bristol Avon,—establishing themselves also in Hertford and Essex. Lastly, Sleswig sent forth the Angles, and to them fell the middle and eastern districts, as far north as the Forth and the Clyde. The Picts and Scots, as the northern aborigines were now named, unconquered by the Romans, continued unconquered by the Saxons; but the rest of the Britons were driven back into Strath-Clyde and Wales—which then included all western Britain from Galloway to the Land's End—and here they retained their independence.
Although consisting of three tribes (or perhaps four, since numbers of Frisians from the coast of Holland appear to have accompanied them), the Teutonic invaders were known by the general name of
* 1 Gallia causidicos docuit facundia Britannoi
De conducendo loquitur jamrhetore ThuU?- Juvenal, Sat, Xv.
Saxons. Their territory, as -we have seen, included nearly the whole of Britain to the south of the Forth and the Clyde; they formed the bulk of the population; and their Teutonic dialects, incorporating a little from the Celtic of the original settlers, with a trifling residue of Latin from the Roman occupation, became, substantially, the language of England and the English tongue.* Following many modern writers, we shall at once give it this name of 'English' instead of Anglo-Saxon. 'If the people,' argues Professor Craik, 'were Saxons, and the language Saxon, before the Norman Conquest, nothing in that catastrophe can possibly have converted either tho one or the other into English. But, in truth, they have been always English, which is, and can be, the only reason why they are English now.'f It is but fair to add that this view has not been accepted by all the authorities as entirely justifying the abandonment of the older term, and the inconveniences of a change of nomenclature. 'Though good service has been done by this protost, [i.e. against the use of the term 'Anglo-Saxon,'] I am by no means convinced,' says Professor Masson, 'that it will stand to the full extent. If it is convenient, or even necessary to distinguish modern Italian by that name from the Latin out of which it came, it is no less convenient and necessary to distinguish between the English of the last six or seven hundred years and that older speech, its undoubted original, which prevailed before the Conquest, and between which and our present or recent English there is certainly a greater estrangedness, both of vocabulary and of grammar, than between Latin and Italian. Nor does there seem yet to be sufficient reason why the term Anglo-Saxon, so long consecrated by German usage as well as by English, should absolutely be given up.' }
3. Periods of English.—During the period from A.d. 600 to 1066 the English language underwent no change which materially affected its character. It was then, and remained during that time, a highlyinflected language, with a vocabulary of native growth, i.e. with root-words belonging exclusively to the Gothic stock, or, in other words, it remained a synthetic and homogeneous language as opposed to the analytic and composite language which it afterwards became. To this epoch of its history Professor Craik gives the name of the 'Original English' stage, further defined as English, pure and simple, and corresponding to the 'Saxon' or 'Anglo-Saxon' of other writers.
• The term was used before the Conquest by Bede, Alfred, and others :—'I, .Xlfric Abbot, by thiB English writing friendly greet, etc.' Quoted in Turner: Hist, of the Anglo-Saxons, 1852, iii. 368.
t Advertisement to Craik's Outlinesof the History of the English Languaae,1860.
X Old English Literature, Contemporary Review, January, 1873, 212-13.