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but like the constituents of the chemical compound, these elements were brought into contact, and their action was as violent as that of the acid and the alkali. Each strove for victory, yet none perfectly prevailed, nor on the other hand, was absolutely powerless; for each left its impress upon the new language; and the contributions which each made to it, are beautifully characteristic of the true value of each, and the sphere which each was calculated to fill; thus, our common, homely, fireside words are from the Saxon, while our language of chivalry, law, theology and science are from the Norman.
All those words representing physical action, and strength, and the common concerns of life, are from the Saxon. The Saxon was always acting, and always intent upon some object; he was assiduous in his ordinary duties, and a giant in arms.
Alfred laid the foundation of law, and refreshed the lamps of learning; and in a single age he elevated his native tongue and gave a name to Saxon literature.
All the particles, the elements employed in connecting and qualifying the terms of the language, are Saxon; while as we have said above, abstract terms, and those of law, chivalry, and the court, are usually Norman French.
The Saxon, subjected and oppressed, retired to the humbler walks of life, and there his language was exclusively spoken; the haughty Norman presided at the court, administered the laws, and his language was introduced into the palace. It presided at the altar, and was legalized at the bar. These facts are impressed
upon our language; there these opposing races have carved their history, and it cannot be effaced while the language endures. There they have reared a monument to their memory as immortal as the language itself:
Monumentum aere perennius
Regalique situ pyramidium altius :" “there they have executed a monument more lasting than brass, and more sublime than the regal elevation of pyramids."
The Danish tongue, which was closely allied to the Saxon, so far mingled and coalesced with it, as to leave no distinct impress upon the language which resulted from the intermingling of the various elements we have mentioned; while the Normans, though they robbed the conquered of their lands, and imposed upon them their laws, could never force or persuade the Saxon to leave the use of his own tongue, and never succeeded in introducing the more polished dialect of the continent into the households of men. There the Saxon still lingered, and while the court, the triblinals of justice, and the schools used the bastard Latin and French brought from Normandy,--in the field and by the hearth was maturing that noble English tongue to which Chaucer gave form, and in which Shakspeare embalmed the noblest products of human genius.
LANGUAGE AND POETRY.
« A national literature” says Mr, Longfellow,* « is a subject which should always be approached with reverence. It is difficult to comprehend fully the mind of a nation; cven when that nation still lives and we can visit it, and its present history, and the lives of men we know, help us to comment on the written text. But here the dead alone speak. Voices half understood; fragments of song, ending abruptly, as if the poet had sung no further, but died with these last words upon his lips; homilies preached to congregations that have been asleep for many centuries; lives of saints who went to their reward long before the world began to scoff at sainthood; and wonderful legends once believed by men, and now, in this age of wise children, hardly credible enough for a nurse's tale; noth. ing entire, nothing wholly understood, and no further comment or illustration than may be drawn from an isolated fact found in an old chronicle, or perchance a rude illustration in an old manuscript! Such is the literature we have now to consider. Such fragments and nutilated remains, has the human mind left of itself, coming down through the times of old, step by step, and every step a century. Old men and venerable accompany us through the Past; and pausing at the threshold of the Present, they put into our hands, at parting, such written records of themselves as they have, We should receive these things with
We should respect old age.”
This is the language of a poet as well as an historian, in approaching the literature of the Saxons; this is the awe and uncertainty that the historian feels, in attempting to record their departed glory; this is the inspiration that a poet feels in gathering up the fragments of their songs. But though the mantle of genius fall not on us, we have a more delicate task to perform; to analyze their language, to trace its history, and illustrate its connection with ours.
*l'oets and Poetry of Europe.
Various opinions have been entertained and urged, con cerning the origin, and even the character of the Saxon language: one party pass it by in silent contempt, or if they notice it all, denounce it as a barbarous and barren dialect, observing no fixed rules of construction, and incapable of discharging its functions : while the other party maintain directly the reverse, and contend that in the golden days of Anglo-Saxon literature, the era of Alfred, the language was stable in its character, observed the strictest rules in its inflections, and possessed all the innate richness and plastic power of the illustrious Greek and Latin.
In addition to this eulogy upon its character, it is supposed, with some plausibility at least, to be of more ancient origin than either of these great classic tongues: thus coming down to us from the highest antiquity and affording the greatest latitude for fancy and speculation, it is to be expected that much diversity of opinion should arise; and certainly no one ought to be reproached for displaying his learning and research upon this delicate and interesting subject, though he may contribute nothing to the fair solution of the question.
The extremes in this case, are so remote from one another, that it will be hazarding nothing to say, the truth lies between them: and it may suffice to make
a few suggestions with regard to each of these languages, and present a few specimens of Saxon literature, leaving the result to the unbiassed judgment of the reader,
Neither the Greek, or the Latin, is a simple, original language: the former is formed from the Hellenic, and Pelasgic dialects. The Pelasgians were the earliest inhabitants of Greece, and existed there eighteen generations before the Trogan war. They came from Asia, and spread themselves over Europe, even to the southern part of Italy. From the speech of those last named, a branch of the Pelasgic, the Latin was derived.
The Saxon being of Teutonic or Germanic extraction, is traced back in the Indo-European line, to Chorasin, the cradle of the human species : spreading thence to the south, they gave birth to the Persians, in whose language there are many Saxon words; its origin is therefore lost or obscured in the high antiquity of its history: and if it be not older than the Persian, Greek and Latin, and if it contributed nothing to their formation, it contains elements in common with them, and belongs to the same great family. It is not a primitive language, simple, and unadulterated; but is complex, being composed in part of different elements from other languages. (a)
It came upon British soil in the fifth century, when the Anglo-Saxons, a wild and warlike race, or a combination of two races, the Saxons and Angles, (or Anglia, from whom the term English is derived,) invaded Britain, subjugated and expelled the Welsh
(a) See note B at the end of this vol.