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I have already sufficiently stated my reasons for believing that a colloquial or grammatical knowledge of other tongues is not essential to the comprehension and use of our own, and, considered solely as a means to that end, without reference to the immense value of classical and modern Continental literature as the most powerful of all instruments of general culture, I have no doubt whatever that the study of the Greek and Latin languages might be advantageously replaced by that of the Anglo-Saxon and primitive English. An overwhelming proportion of the words which make up our daily speech is drawn from Anglo-Saxon roots, and our syntax is as distinctly and as generally to be traced to the same source. We are not then to regard the ancient Anglican speech as in any sense a foreign tongue, but rather as an older form of our own, wherein we may find direct and clear explanation of many grammatical peculiarities of modern English, which the study of the Continental languages, ancient or modern, can but imperfectly elucidate. With reference to etymology, the importance of the Anglo-Saxon is too obvious to require argument. It is fair to admit, however, that the etymology of compound words, and of abstract and figurative terms, must in general be sought elsewhere, for we have borrowed our scientific, metaphysical, and æsthetical phraseology from other sources, while the vocabulary of our material life is almost wholly of native growth. In determining the signification of words, modern usage is as binding an authority as ancient practice, inasmuch as, at present, we know no ground but use for either the old meaning or the new; but a knowledge of the primitive sense of a word very often enables us to discover a force and fitness in its modern applications which we had never suspected before, and accordingly to employ it with greater propriety and appositeness. The most instructive and impressive etymologies are those which are pursued within the limits of our own tongue. The native word at every change of form and meaning exhibits new domestic relations, and suggests a hundred sources of collateral inquiry and illustration, while the foreign root connects itself with our philology only by remote and often doubtful analogies, and when it enters our language, it comes usually in a fixed form, and with a settled meaning, neither of which admits of further development, and of course the word has no longer a history.
one of the most important recent acquisitions to the theology of the Reformation and the early literature of England, and the voluntary admission of any changes in its text shows a want of exact scholarship in a quarter where we had the best right to expect it.
The knowledge of Anglo-Saxon is important as a corrective of the philological errors into which we may be led by the study of early English, and especially of popular ballad and other poetry, without such a guide. The introduction of Norman French, with a multitude of words inflected in the weak or augmentative manner, naturally confused what was sufficiently intricate and uncertain before, the strong inflection, or that by the letter-change, in the Anglo-Saxon. The range of letter-change in Anglo-Saxon grammar was indeed wide, but not endless or arbitrary. It however became so, at least in the poetic dialect, as soon as Norman influence had taught English bards independence of the laws of Saxon grammar. Many of the barbarous forms so freely used in popular verse are neither obsolete conjugations revived, nor dialectic peculiarities, but creations of the rhymesters who employed them, coin not uncurrent merely, but counterfeit, and without either the stamp or the ring of the genuine metal. The balladmongers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries concerned themselves as little about a vowel as the Orientals, and where the convenience of rhyme or metre required a heroic license, they needed only the consonants of one syllable of a genuine root as a stock whereon to grow any conceivable variety of termination. Although they did not hesitate to conjugate a weak verb with a strong inflection, or to reverse the process, thus adding or subtracting syllables at pleasure, yet their boldest liberties were with the letterchange in the strong inflection. We cannot indeed hold them guilty of corrupting
the language of the nation With long-tailed words in -osity and -ation;
but we can fairly convict them of making it more desperately Gothic in its forms than even the Meso-Gothic of Ulphilas.
The confusion into which the English inflections were thus thrown combined with other circumstances to discourage the attempts of philologists to reduce its accidence to a regular system, and English scholars had shown very respectable ability in the elucidation of other tongues, before they produced any thing that could fairly be called a grammar of their own.
Analogous causes had prevented the cultivation of native philology in Northern France, and though the langue d’oc, or Provenzal, was early a matter of careful study, the langue d'oil, the only French dialect known to the Norman race, possessed no grammar until it was provided with one by an Englishman.*
* The French grammar of Palsgrave, to which I allude, prepared for the use of the Princess Mary, sister of King Henry VIII., and printed in 1530, under the title of Lesclarcissement de la Langue Francoyse, is, under the circumstances, the most remarkable, if not the most important work, which had appeared in
The function of grammar is to teach what is, not what ought to be, in language. English, as I have said, was too irregular, fluctuating and incongruous in its accidence and syntax to be reduced to form and order until the close of the sixteenth century, and as its literature was of later origin than that of the continent, there was not, before that period, a sufficient accumulation of classical authorship to serve as illustration and authority in grammatical discussion.*
modern philology before the commencement of the present century. Although it was designed only to teach French grammar, yet, as it is written in English, and constantly illustrates the former tongue by comparison with the latter, it is hardly a less valuable source of instruction with reference to the native than to the foreign language. In the careful reprint lately executed at the expense of the French government, it makes a large quarto of 900 pp., more than half of which is occupied with comparative tables of words and phrases, so that while it is a remarkably complete French grammar, it is much the fullest English dictionary which existed before the time of Elizabeth. It is also one of the amplest collections of English phrases and syntactical combinations which can be found at the present day, and at the same time the best authority now extant for the pronunciation used in French, and, so far as it goes, in English also, at the period when it was written.
One of the earliest English grammars which can lay claim to scientific merit is the brief compend drawn up by Ben Jonson, and published some time after the death of the author. It is too meagre to convey much positive instruction, but it exbibits enough of philological insight to excite serious regret for the loss of Jonson's complete work, the manuscript of which was destroyed by fire. This little treatise throws a good deal of light on the orthoepy of English at that period, for the learning and the habitual occupations of Jonson make it authoritative on this point, so far as it goes, but there are statements concerning the accidence, which are not supported by the general usage of the best authors, either of Jonson's own time, or of any preceding age of English literature. For instance, he lays down the rule that nouns in 2, 8, sh, y, and ch, make the posşessive singular in is, and the plural in es, and as an example he cites the word prince, (which, by the way, does not end in either of the terminations enumerated by him,) and says the possessive case is princis, the plural princes. That individual instances of this orthography may be met with, I do not deny, but it is certain that it never was the general usage, and Jonson was doubtless suggesting a theory, not declaring a fact, and he introduces the rule rather as furnishing an explanation of what he calls the “monstrous syntax," of using the pronoun his as the sign of the possessive case, than as a guide to actual practice.
It is curious that Palsgrave lays down the same rule, though he elsewhere contradicts it, and in practice disregards it. “ Also where as we seme to have a genityve case, for so moche as, by adding of is to a substantyve, we sygnifye possessyon, as, my maisteris gowne, my ladyis boke, which with us contrevailleth as moche as the gowne of my maister, the boke of my ladye,” &c. Introduction, XL.
The same reasons which deterred early English scholars from laying down rules of grammatical inflection, would render it impossible at the present day to construct a regular accidence of the forms of the language at any period before the writers of the Elizabethan age had established standards of conjugation, declension, orthography, and syntax. The English student therefore can expect little help from grammarians in mastering the literature of earlier periods, and he must learn the system of each great writer by observation of his practice. But the inflections in English are so few, that the number of possible variations in their form is embraced within a very narrow range, and all their discrepancies together do not amount to so great a number as the regular changes in most other languages. With respect to the vocabulary, the difficulties are even less. Most good editions of old authors are provided with glossaries explaining the obsolete words, and where these are wanting, the dictionaries of Nares, Halliwell, Wright, and others, amply supply the deficiency. In fact, a mere fraction of the time demanded to acquire the most superficial smattering of French or Italian
But on page 191, he says:
"Where we, in our tonge, use to putte s to ou:e substantyves whan we wyll express possessyon, saying, 'a mannes gowne, a woman  hose,' &c., &c., and afterwards, this is my maisters gowne, he dyd fette his maisters cloke.'” A similar passage occurs on page 141, and I have not observed a single instance where Palsgrave himself makes the possessive in is, except that above quoted from page XL., where it is used by way of exemplifying the rule as he states it.
Alexander Gil's remarkable Logonomia Anglica is interesting rather in an orthoepical, than in a grammatical point of view, and it will be particularly noticed in a Lecture on orthoepical changes in English, post.