Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Northern Languages,” in the early part of the eighteenth century (1705). HICKES was the author of the first Anglo-Saxon Grammar (1689) since the time of AELFRIC, written in Latin, but a woman, Miss Elstoi, has the credit of having written the first in English a few years later (1715). The study of the language was, however, neglected during the last century and only resumed when the Siwlinsonian professorship at Oxford was inaugurated at the close of that century. The fruits of this restoration were soon seen in Professor Ingram's edition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1823), followed immediately by Professor CONYBEARE'S “Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon Poetry" (1826), but here, too, a woman may claim a share in the honor of advancing this study, for Miss GURNEY printed the first English translation of the Chronicle (1819), previous translations having been in Latin. Not alone, however, in England was renewed attention paid to the study of Anglo-Saxon, but a consciousness of common lineage and common traditions led the scholars of Denmark to apply themselves to the study of the language and literature, and we are indebted to THORKELIN for the first edition of “ Beowulf” (1815), and to Rask for the first Anglo-Saxon Grammar (1817) since that of Miss ELSTOB, which was translated into English by THORPE (1830), and long served its useful purpose. It would consume too much time to pursue in detail this revival of AngloSaxon studies in England by KEMBLE and THORPE, and its continuance by BOSWORTH and others, until we come to the well-known scholars of the present day, and the recent establishment of the professorship of AngloSaxon at Cambridge, which is so worthily filled by Professor SKEAT. The study has been pursued to a much greater extent in Germany, and time would fail for even a passing allusion to all that has been done, but we may congratulate ourselves that owing to the labors of GREIN (1857–64), we have now easily accessible the whole body of Anglo-Saxon poetry, and the best glossary that has yet been published. Our own country also felt the movement and the study was inaugurated here, in the University of Virginia, by the influence of that far-seeing statesman, Thomas JEFFERSON. It was continued by KLIPSTEIN (1848), and others, until its great development within the last twenty years, and its extension over the whole country, to which, without being invidious, I may say the greatest contribution has been made by the distinguished professor at Lafayette College.

Thus material has been furnished, and knowledge has been obtained of the oldest stage of English, which is the necessary pre-requisite to all historical study of the language. We must lay the foundation strong and deep by the thorough study of Anglo-Saxon before we can understand the historical development of our own language. It will then be possible to bridge over the transition period to CHAUCER inclusive, for we cannot spring at one leap from King ALFRED to CHAUCER, and we very much fear that the minds of the general public are still impervious to the beauties of CHAUCER. It is astonishing what erroneous ideas are prevalent with respect to the older periods of the language. We have heard of CHAUCER being called Anglo-Saxon, and the wish expressed that some one would put his works into “good English ;” also of the idea prevailing that our Anglo-Saxon Gospels are not the language of ALFRED, which was supposed to be entirely lost. It is only within the last hundred years, since the labors of Tyrwhitt, that the knowledge of CHAUCER has been revived, and much more recently that any serious attention has been paid to the study of his works; and as to the transition period, before the publication of LAYAMON’s Brut thirty years ago by Sir FREDERIC MADDEN, scarcely anything had been done for its elucidation. White's Ormulum and MORtor's Ancren Riwle (Anchoresses' Rule), which soon followed, together with a few other books, furnished additional material, but much remained to be done, when the Early-English Text Society took up the work fifteen years ago. The publications of this society have first rendered possible a classification of Early English dialects, to which Drs. Morris and MURRAY have devoted themselves with success, and with the texts thus provided we can now trace the course of that dialect, the East-Midland, which superseded others as a literary language, and under the hands of such masterspirits as CHAUCER and his contemporaries developed into Modern English.

We are now, then, for the first time in a position to teach English historically. It is no wonder that it has not been done before. The necessary texts were lacking; the necessary labor had not been expended by scholars in working over the material accessible only to them, and putting it in a form suitable for instruction. In the progress of every science and art there must be leaders who will lay down the principles, and humble workers, but no less necessary co-laborers, who will embody these principles in a form suitable for popular comprehension. So it has been with each one of the Natural Sciences, so that they now hold a recognized position in the educational curriculum. So it is in some institutions, and must soon be in all that will keep themselves abreast of modern progress, in respect to the historical study of English. This method has been long since applied to German, not only by scholars, but in the course of instruction in the Gymnasia, so that it now forms an integral portion of that course. It has been of late years applied to French also, as witness the works of LIITRE', Gaston Paris, and other eminent scholars, though to what extent it has been made a part of the course in the Lycées, we are not informed. It has, however, been used in the teaching of French in English schools, as the works of BRACHET, BREYMANN, and others, which are specially intended for school instruction, well show. This method, then, is considered useful in the teaching of other languages, and it will be found equally as serviceable for our own. It is emphatically a modern method, but it is one which has been applied not only in the study of languages, but of the arts and sciences, of institutions, of beliefs. In aid of the investigation of these latter especially, the comparative method has been summoned, and with it the historical method goes hand in hand. In fact, the development of the doctrine of evolution, is but an application of the historical method. So far-reaching, then, in its applications, and so fruitful in its. results, it is not strange that linguistic science also should have turned it to account, if, indeed, it did not originate it, and have derived much benefit from it. But it has not yet been made the most of in English, especially from an educational point of view. Works suitable for teaching English historically are still needed, though a beginning has been made by Dr. Morris, in his books on historical English grammar, by Mr. KINGTON-OLIPhant, in his “Old and Middle English,” a most excellent work for teachers, and, in this country, by Professor Corson, in his “ Handbook of Anglo-Saxon and Early English.” These works are very serviceable for the present, but there is room for others. The German grammars of English, already referred to, should be condensed and put in form suitable for teaching, or equally as good ones should be composed. A complete series of specimens, somewhat after the manner of MAETZNER'S “Old English Extracts,” well annotated and illustrating fully the historical continuity of the language, should be prepared. But with the best helps in the world, nothing can be effected unless an interest in the subject is felt by teachers and school authorities everywhere, and this interest can only be awakened by the dissemination of knowledge of the subject.

* I notice in the Catalogue of the University of Wisconsin that the historical and comparative method is used in that institution in teaching French and German as well as English,

Many reasons might be urged for the universal adoption of the historical method in the teaching of English, and the chief of these is its promotion of a more thorough knowledge of the formation and structure of the language, and consequently greater facility in its use. This knowledge, all will admit to be desirable, and the furnishing of it to come within the proper subjects of instruction in school and college. If we consider first the vocabulary of our language, we shall see the importance of this study. The direct Latin portion of the vocabulary can be readily distinguished, and more easily applied in practice, by a Latin scholar, and this furnishes one of the strongest arguments for the maintenance of instruction in Latin in our High Schools, academies and colleges. The Norman-French, or indirect Latin, portion is not so easily distinguished by a French scholar unless he happen to possess the rare qualification of a knowledge of Old French, although a knowledge of modern French cannot be dispensed with for this purpose. But the pure English portion, which one would suppose ought to be best known in its origin and history, is not at all explicable without a knowledge of Anglo-Saxon. A knowledge of German will be of service here, but its relations to our tongue are too distant for explanation of the derivation of our Teutonic words, although one who knows German will learn Anglo-Saxon with much greater

While Anglo-Saxon, or Oldest English, serves as an indispensable basis for the prosecution of this study, we are apt to err if we do not go further and learn the intermediate stages of the language, which will thus have been greatly facilitated. Many of our words have changed their forms as well as their meaning, and a knowledge of the transition period is necessary to explain the connection between the older and the later forms.

When we come to consider the grammar of our language, we shall find the historical study even much more necessary than for the vocabulary. In fact, we fail to see how English grammar can be thoroughly understood and its inflexions and idioms explained without a knowledge of Anglo-Saxon. It is almost useless to repeat what has been so often said, and is now the veriest commonplace, that all remnants of inflexion, almost all idiomatic phrases and relational words,—the link-words of the

ease.

language, such as all kinds of pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions,all numerals, so-called irregular verbs, and most adverbs, are of pure Teutonic origin. Although the order of words has been changed, AngloSaxon grammar is interwoven with every expression of modern English thought, and necessarily so, because our present language is this Old English modified in the course of centuries by contact with Old Norse and Norman-French, as spoken languages, and later by the Latin of literature.

I cannot agree with some ardent Anglo-Saxon scholars that this modification has injured the language. On the contrary, I think that it has improved it vastly. It has increased its flexibility, enlarged its vocabulary, and furnished it with terms for the expression, in the clearest and simplest manner, of ideas on all subjects of human thought; so that there is no art, science, or philosophy, which cannot be as clearly and thoroughly discussed in English as in any language on the globe. The Norman conquest brought the English people and their language more fully within the scope of European civilization, and this contact enabled them to experience more deeply the effects of the development of that civilization, at the head of which the French stood for centuries. The subsequent introduction of terms of Latin origin strengthened rather than weakened the powers of expression of the language. I cannot think, as the Rev. Dr. BARNES and some others seem to imply, that the rejection of the Romanic portion of the language would contribute to its beauty or strength of expression. The chief loss which it has sustained from this external modification is in the power of composition, in which our language is inferior to both Greek and German, but it still retains considerable strength and facility in this respect, and this loss is not to be set against its gains in other respects. Of its two great elements the Teutonic is by far the most important, for without this it would be no longer English, but we are not willing to part with its Romanic element, and consider that, by reason of the fusion of these two elements, and of its close relations to both French and German, it is the better fitted for a world-speech, a position to which it is fast tending.

These admissions, to which some may, perhaps, take exception, do not make the historical study of the language less, but more necessary, for we must know thoroughly the Teutonic substructure and how it has been modified in the course of time. We must see at what points other influences have come in and to what extent the original language has been changed. For teachers especially, is this knowledge necessary, not only for those who will be called upon to teach English historically, but also for those who teach the ordinary English Grammar, which now forms a part of every course of instruction, both public and private. They will find new light thrown upon this study, and explanations of inflexional forms and of idioms will be ready to hand. It is now customary to insert in the school grammars Anglo-Saxon forms, and sometimes paradigms, but this seems to me like explaning the unknown by the more unknown, and uselsss for either teacher or pupil, unless the teacher will acquire a little practical knowledge of Anglo-Saxon so as to read common prose, which can be readily acquired by any one, and he will then see clearly the relations of words and forms, and will find this knowledge most useful in his teaching, especially so if he will continue his studies even for a short time through the transition period. By the acquirement of this knowledge and the application of it in teaching, philological study will be furthered just as in the teaching of the classical languages. English can be made as useful a vehicle for imparting philological instruction as Latin or Greek, for tracing relations between words, the composition and derivation of words, their origin from roots and their relationship to cognate words in other Indo-European languages, and the germs and development of common English constructions. Indeed, it serves better to illustrate certain phonetic principles, which are of great importance in the history of all the Teutonic languages, but whose influence is not seen to such an extent in the classical languages. All the advantages which can be claimed for the study of language in general, can be claimed for the study of our own language in particular; and for the large number of persons whose linguistic instruction is limited to the vernacular, this must serve as the only medium by and through which philological knowledge can be im• parted. Owing to the unfortunate tendency to restrict the teaching of the classical languages, and especially of Greek, if not to abolish it altogether in some schools, we need something to take its place, and nothing is so well fitted for this as the more thorough study of English. But this cannot be effected with the modern language alone, for the pupil will grope in the dark when the attempt is made to convey to him philological knowledge for which he has no previous preparation. He may open his eyes in amazement and endeavor to understand what appears to him as word-juggling, but he cannot assimilate the knowledge because he has no foundation on which to build. If, however, the teacher will adopt the historical method and endeavor to convey his instruction on this basis, not overtask the pupil's powers of reception and assimilation, but train the memory, the reasoning and the critical faculties to do their work gradually and efficiently, he will find, as the result, an interest in the study, a development of mind, and a much more thorough knowledge of the origin, history, and structure of our own language than he would have supposed possible without actual trial, for it would be a knowledge based on a natural and sure foundation.

It is possible to understand as far back as CHAUCER, say, on the basis of the present language, and to read his wonderful works intelligently and with enjoyment, but his language will not be thoroughly understood without further study. Professor CHILD, who, if any one, can speak with authority on this subject, suggests “the great convenience of a student being possessed of at least the Anglo-Saxon inflections before reading CHAUCER.” “My own CHAUCER classes,” he says, “have not that advantage, excepting a few individuals who choose to begin with Anglo-Saxon, and I find the want of an acquaintance with the original forms and inflections an obstacle, particularly as to the important matter of a rational understanding of the metre.” This advantage will be appreciated by every one who knows Anglo-Saxon, and whoever undertakes to teach CHAUCER will find his labor lightened and simplified as regards an understanding of the language and metre, if he will first give his class an elementary knowledge of Anglo-Saxon. But for him who wishes to apply the his

« AnteriorContinuar »