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upon them. The syntax of English, in its best estate, has been little affected by French influence, and few grammatical combinations of Romance origin have been permanently approved and employed by good English writers. Every Gallicism in syntax is presumably a corruption; but Norman French itself, as known to our ancestors, had been much modified by an infusion of the Scandinavian element, and therefore, forms of speech which we have borrowed from the French are sometimes referable, in the last resort, to a Gothic
I cannot speak of even Greek as being of any such value in reference to English grammar or etymology, as to make its acquisition a well-spent labor, unless it is pursued for other purposes than those of domestic philology. But that I may not be misunderstood, let me repeat that so far from dissuading from the study of Greek as a branch of general education, I do but echo the universal opinion of all persons competent to pronounce on the subject, in expressing my own conviction that the language and literature of ancient Greece constitute the most efficient instrument of mental training ever enjoyed by man; and that a familiarity with that wonderful speech, its poetry, its philosophy, its eloquence, and the history it embalms, is incomparably the most valuable of intellectual possessions. The grammar of the Greek language is much more flexible, more tolerant of aberration, less rigid in its requirements, than the Latin. The varium et mutabile semper femina, of the Latin poet, for example, is so rare an instance of apparent want of concord, that it startles us as abnormal, while similar, and even wider grammatical discrepancies, are of constant occurrence in Greek. The precision, which the regularity of Latin syntax gives to a period, the Greek more completely and clearly accomplishes by the nicety with which individual words are defined in meaning; and while the Latin trains us to be good granmarians, the Greek elevates us to the highest dignity of manhood, by making us acute and powerful thinkers.
Nothing could well have been more surprising than the discovery that the ancient Sanscrit exhibits unequivocal evidence of close relationship to the Greek and Latin, as well as to the modern Romance and the Gothic languages, in both grammar and vocabulary, and these analogies have served to establish a general alliance between a great number of tongues formerly supposed to be wholly unrelated. When linguistic science shall be farther advanced, the Sanscrit will probably in a great measure supersede the Latin as the common standard of grammatical comparison among the European tongues, with the additional advantage of standing much more nearly in one relation both to the Gothic and the Romance dialects. But at present, Sanscrit is accessible only to the fewest, and the English student can hardly be advised, as a general rule, to look beyond the sources from which our maternal speech is directly derived, for illustrations either of its grammar or vocabulary. With respect to verbal forms, and points of grammatical structure not sufficiently explained by AngloSaxon, Latin, and French inflection and syntax, it may in general be said, that any one of the Gothic dialects will supply the deficiency, and if the inquirer's objects be limited to the actual use of his own tongue, the study of English authors is a better and safer guide than any wider researches in for. eign philologies.
STUDY OF EARLY ENGLISH,
The systematic study of the mother-tongue, like that of all branches of knowledge which we acquire, to a sufficient extent for ordinary practical purposes, without study, is naturally very generally neglected. It is but lately that the English language has formed a part of the regular course of instruction at any of our higher seminaries, nor has it been made the subject of as zealous and thorough philological investigation by professed scholars, as the German, the French, or some other living languages. It is a matter of doubt how far we are aided in acquiring the mastery of any spoken tongue by the study of scientific treatises; but however this may be, it is only very recently that we have had any really scientific treatises on the subject, any grammar which has attempted to serve at once as a philosophical exposition of the principles, and a guide to the actual employment of the English tongue. The complete history of the language, the characterization of its periods, the critical elucidation of its successive changes, the full exhibition of its immediate and certain foreign relations, as distinguished from its remote and presumptive affinities, has never, to my knowledge, been undertaken.* While, therefore, for class instruction, and for many purposes of private study, there is no lack of text-books and other critical helps, yet a historical knowledge of English must be acquired by observing its use and action, as the living speech of the Anglican race in different centuries, not as its organization is demonstrated in the dissecting-room of the grammarian.
English is generally reputed to be among the more difficult of the great European languages, but it is hard for a native to say how far this opinion is well founded. The comparison of our own tongue with a foreign speech is attended with a good deal of difficulty. Particular phrases and constructions, of course, are easily enough set off against each other, but the general movement of our maternal language is too much a matter of unconscious, spontaneous action to be easily made objective, and, on the other hand, in foreign tongues we are too much absorbed in the individual phenomena to be able to grasp the whole field. The enginery of the one is too near, the idiomatic motive power of the other too distant, for distinct vision. But I am inclined to the belief, that English is more difficult than most of the Continental languages, at least as a spoken tongue, for I think it is certain that fewer natives speak it with elegance and accuracy, if indeed violations of grammatical propriety are not more frequent among the best English writers, and it sometimes happens that persons exact in the use of individual words are lax in the application of rules of syntactical construction. A distinguished British scholar of the last century said he had known but three of his countrymen who spoke their native language with uniform grammatical accuracy, and the observation of most persons widely acquainted with English and American society confirms the general truth implied in this declaration. · Courier is equally severe upon the French. “There are,” says that lively writer, “five or six persons in Europe who know Greek; those who know French are much fewer.” Primâ facie, irregular as English is, we should expect it to be at least as correctly spoken as French, because the number of unrelated philological facts, of exceptions to what are said to be general rules, of anomalous and conventional phrases, is greater in the latter than in the former; but the proportion of good speakers, or rather of good talkers, is tertainly larger among the French than among the English or Americans. It is interesting to observe how much value has been attached to purity of dialect in some of the less known countries of Europe. The grand old Catalan chronicler, Ramon Muntaner, who wrote about the year 1325, himself no book-worm, but a veteran warrior, often concludes his eulogiums of his heroes with a compliment to the propriety and elegance with which they spoke his native tongue, and he gives an interesting account of the means by which two of the nobility arrived at such perfection of “ And this same Syr Corral Llança became one of the fayrest menne in the world, and best langaged and sagest, insomuch that as at that tyme menne saide, the finest Cathalan in the worlde was hys and Syr Roger de Luria’s; and no mervaile, for as yee have harde before, they came ryght yonge into
* I am certainly not blind to the great importance and utility of the works of Latham, Fowler, Brown, and other learned and laborious inquirers into the facts and theory of English Grammar, but the consideration of their merits docs not come within the scope of these lectures, the object of which is to recommend and enforce the study of English, not at second hand or through the medium of precept, but by a direct acquaintance with the great monuments of its literature.