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SPECIMENS OF THE LANGUAGE IN ITS EARLIEST,
SUCCEEDING, AND LATEST STAGES,
NOTES EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL.
A SKETCH OF THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE,
AND A CONCISE ANGLO-SAXON GRAMMAR.
Intended as a Text-Book for Schools and Colleges.
BY JOSEPH PAYNE,
Vice-President of the Council of the College of Preceptors, and one of the Council of the
Children," Author of "The Curriculum of Modern Education," etc.
THE editor of this little volume claims to be the first who has presented to the public specimens of the entire English language with a commentary of illustrative notes, pointing out the various changes effected in it from age
appreciation of the term “English” is that of Palgrave, Craik, Cockayne, Freeman, and others who have proved decisively that the language of Æthelbert, Beda, Ælfred, and Ælfric was “English,” that the people who spoke it was the “English” people, and that the land which they occupied was Engla-land, the land of the Angles or English. The epithet Anglo-Saxon, so frequently applied to our forefathers who lived before the Norman conquest, is a misnomer of modern invention. There never was, strictly speaking, either an Anglo-Saxon nation or an Anglo-Saxon language. The use of this term has led to the disconnection, in popular estimation, of modern Englishmen from their true and noble ancestors, and to forgetfulness of the fact that our present national character, our most valued institutions, our tone, spirit, and language, are but developments of germs which began growing in this soil thirteen hundred years ago. We are too prone to speak of the Norman conquest as the beginning of our national life, whereas that event, all-important as it was, was only an episode in our history. The Norman conquest did indeed threaten the entire English nation with destruction, but the result, as we know, was, that the spirit of the native population proved to be indomitable, that the conquerors were themselves made captive, that they adopted the English name and language as their own, and spontaneously took their part in laying the deep and strong foundations of modern English renown. On all these grounds, the English language is here considered as commencing with what is usually called Anglo-Saxon. A sufficient sample has been given of this earliest form of the language to allow those who study it in connection with the concise Anglo-Saxon Grammar, given in the Introduction, to form a fair estimate of its proper relation to modern English.
Dr. Craik's authority has been followed in considering the two great transformations which the language underwent between A.D. 1150 and 1350 as revolutions. This word aptly designates the important movements which converted a language, synthetical in its construction, and homogeneous in its vocabulary, into one that was analytical in the one respect, and composite in the other, and which nevertheless left its personal identity unaffected. The first revolution, which stripped away most of its inflections, and destroyed its system of artificial gender, contributed greatly to its freedom and power; while the second, which with Norman words introduced also Norman intelligence and taste, immensely extended its range of expression, constituting what Dr. Trench so aptly calls “the happy marriage in our tongue of the languages of the north and south,”
—the blending of Romance elegance and refinement with Gothic simplicity and strength.
Besides furuishing a chronological view of the history of the English language, it has been the editor's aim to illustrate means of the extracts themselves the various powers of our mother-tongue. These have been carefully chosen, not less for the sake of the material than of the workmanship, not less for the worthiness of the thoughts than for the style in which they are presented; and they furnish, it is believed, a matchless exhibition of strength, beauty, grace, energy, and freedom of language.
It is scarcely necessary to say that these specimens are intended to be studied, not merely read over. They are not designed to gratify a passing curiosity, but to train the youthful mind to a perception of the value and importance of language generally, and of our own noble language especially; to show how it has been wielded on occasion by those eminent masters who appreciated the instrument they used, and wished others to appreciate it too. It can hardly be said that such appreciation is common. Our language itself, its remarkable history, its unique characteristics, have only lately begun to receive the attention they deserve. Little encouragement is given to such studies at our chief universities, and it has been left to foreigners, in time past, to enlighten the world as to the beauties both of our language and literature. There are, however, at last, hopeful symptoms of a healthy reaction.
The editor's obligations to the works of Trench, Craik, Latham, Marsh, Spalding, Angus, Adams, Max Müller, Wedgewood, Morley, Miss Whately, Taylor, Crabbe, to the Philological Society's Proceedings, as well as to the remarkable English grammars in German by Koch, and Fiedler and Sachs, will be obvious to all who are uainted with the history of the English language and literature.
Lastly, he has to express his thanks to Messrs. Longman and Co., Mr. Murray, Messrs. A. and C. Black, and Messrs. Chapman and Hall, as also to Messrs. Dickens, Ruskin, Carlyle, Helps, and Kinglake, for their kind permission to make extracts from the copyright texts of which they are the proprietors.