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wordes as we learneden of our dames tonge." it is evident from this, although it might still be a common acquirement among the higher classes, had ceased to be the mother tongue of any class of Englishmen, and was only known to those to whom it was taught by a master. So, it will be remembered the Prioress in the Canterbury Tales, although she could speak French "ful fayre and fetisly," or fluently, spoke it only
"After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe,
For Frenche of Paris was to hire [her] unknowe."*
From this, as from many other passages in old writers, we learn that the French taught and spoken in England had, as was indeed inevitable, become a corrupt dialect of the language, or at least very different from the French of Paris. But, as the foreign tongue lost its hold and declined in purity, the old Teutonic speech of the native population, favoured by the same circumstances and course of events which checked and depressed its
*It is impossible to believe with Sir Harris Nicholas, in his otherwise very clear and judicious Life of Chaucer (8vo. Lond.) 1843; additional note, p. 142), that Chaucer perhaps here meant to intimate that the prioress could not speak French at all, on the ground that the expression
French of Stratford-at-Bow" is used in a tract published in 1586 (Ferne's Blazon of Gentrie), to describe the language of English heraldry. In the first place the phrase is not there "a colloquial paraphrase for English," but for the mixed French and English, or, as it might be regarded, Anglicized or corrupted French, of our heralds. But, at any rate, can it be supposed for a moment that Chaucer would take so round-about and fantastic a way as this of telling his readers so simple a fact, as that his prioress could speak her native language? He would never have spent three words upon such a matter, much less three lines.
rival, and having at last, after going through a process almost of dissolution and putrefaction, begun to assume a new organization, gradually recovered its ascendancy. It has been commonly stated, or taken for granted, that it was the influx of the French language after the Norman Conquest which principally or exclusively revolutionized the Saxon, and destroyed its primitive character. The forms of the Saxon tongue, indeed, were completely changed in the space of between two and three centuries during which it was passing into what we now call English; "but that these mutations," says a late able and learned writer, 66 were a consequence of the Norman invasion, or were even accelerated by that event, is wholly incapable of proof; and nothing is supported upon a firmer principle of rational induction, than that the same effects would have ensued if William and his followers had remained in their native soil. The substance of the change is admitted on all hands to consist in the suppression of those grammatical intricacies occasioned by the inflection of nouns, the seemingly arbitrary distinctions of gender, the government of prepositions, &c. How far this may be considered as the result of an innate law of the language, or some general law in the organization of those who spoke it, we may leave for the present undecided; but that it was in no way dependent upon external circumstances, upon foreign influence or political disturbances, is established by this undeniable fact that every branch of the Low German stock, from whence the Anglo-Saxon sprang, displays the same simplification of its grammar. In all these languages there has been a constant tendency to relieve themselves of that precision which chooses a fresh symbol for every
shade of meaning, to lessen the amount of nice distinctions, and detect, as it were, a royal road to the interchange of opinion.”
The change here described may be considered as having been the first step in the passage of the Anglo-Saxon into the modern English; the next was the change made in the vocabulary of the language by the introduction of numerous terms borrowed from the French. Of this latter innovation, however, we find little trace till long after the completion of the former. For nearly two centuries after the Conquest the Saxon, or English, seems to have been spoken and written (to the small extent to which it was written) with scarcely any intermixture of Norman. It only, in fact, began to receive such intermixture after it came to be adopted as the speech of that part of the nation which had previously spoken French. And this adoption was plainly the cause of the intermixture. So long as it remained the language only of those who had been accustomed to speak it from their infancy, and who had never known any other, it might have gradually undergone some change in its internal organization, but it could scarcely acquire any additions from a foreign source. What should have tempted the Saxon peasant to substitute a Norman term, upon any occasion, for the word of the same meaning with which the language of his ancestors supplied him? As for things and occasions for which new names were necessary, they must have come comparatively little in his way; and, when they did, the capabilities of his native tongue were sufficient to furnish him with appropriate forms of expression from its own resources. The corruption of the * Preface, by Price, to Warton's Hist. of Eng. Poetry, p. 110.
Saxon by the intermixture of French vocables must have proceeded from those whose original language was French, and who were in habits of constant intercourse with French customs, French literature, and everything else that was French, at the same time that they spoke Saxon. And this supposition is in perfect accordance with the historical fact. So long as the English was the language of only a part of the nation, and the French, as it were, struggled with it for mastery, it remained unadulterated ;—when it became the speech of the whole people, of the higher classes as well as of the lower, then it lost its old Teutonic purity, and received a large alien admixture from the alien lips through which it passed. Whether this was a fortunate circumstance, or the reverse, is another question. As has just been intimated, however, the Saxon in passing into English had already lost some of the chief of its original characteristics, and, if left to its own spontaneous and unassisted development, it would probably have assumed a character resembling rather that of the Dutch or the Flemish than that of the German of the present day.
EARLY ENGLISH REMAINS.
The chief remains that we have of Saxon and English poetry for the first two centuries after the Conquest have been enumerated by Sir Frederick Madden in a comprehensive paragraph of his valuable Introduction to the romance of ‘Havelok,' which we will take leave to transcribe :-"The notices by which we are enabled to trace the rise of our Saxon poetry from the Saxon period to the end of the twelfth century are few and scanty. We may indeed comprise them all in the Song of Canute re
corded by the monk of Ely [Hist. Elyens. p. 505 apud Gale], who wrote about 1166; the words put into the mouth of Aldred Archbishop of York, who died in 1069 [W. Malmesb. de Gest. Pontif. 1. i. p. 271]; the verses ascribed to St. Godric, the hermit of Finchale, who died in 1170 [Rits. Bibliogr. Poet.]; the few lines preserved by Lambarde and Camden attributed to the same period [Rits. Anc. Songs, Diss. p. xxviii]; and the prophecy said to have been set up at Here in the year 1189, as recorded by Benedict Abbas, Roger Hoveden, and the Chronicle of Lanercost [Rits. Metr. Rom. Diss. p. Ixxiii]. To the same reign of Henry II. are to be assigned the metrical compositions of Layamon [MS. Cott. Cal. A. ix., and Otho C. xiii.] and Orm [MS. Jun. 1], and also the legends of St. Katherine, St. Margaret, and St. Julian [MS. Bodl. 34], with some few others, from which we may learn with tolerable accuracy the state of the language at that time, and its gradual formation from the Saxon to the shape it subsequently assumed. From this period to the middle of the next century nothing occurs to which we can affix any certain date; but we shall probably not err in ascribing to that interval the poems ascribed to John de Guldevorde [MSS. Cott. Cal. A. ix., Jes. Coll. Oxon. 29], the Biblical History [MS. Bennet Cant. R. 11] and Poetical Paraphrase of the Psalms [MSS. Cott. Vesp. D. vii., Coll. Benn. Cant. O. 6, Bodl. 921] quoted by Warton, and the Moral Ode published by Hickes [MSS. Digby 4, Jes. Coll. Oxon. 29]. Between the years 1244 and 1258, we know, was written the versification of part of a meditation of St. Augustine, as proved by the age of the prior who gave the MS. to the Durham library [MS. Eccl. Dun. A. iii.