Page images
PDF
EPUB

thereby hastened its publication. My first intention was to go on to the reign of Edward the First, but I found that it was hopeless to think of doing so, while the larger work was on my hands. I therefore send forth the present portion, which I may or may not go on with at some future time. The other way in which the great book has influenced the little one has been this. The fuller and more careful researches which were needed for the greater work have enabled me to correct and improve many things in the smaller. Further than this the two works have no connexion. The smaller is not an abridgement of the greater, neither is the greater an expansion of the smaller. They are two independent narratives written at different times and with quite different objects.

I have only to add that the young reader who carefully goes through this little book will, when he comes to the end of it, still have very much to learn even on its immediate subject; but I earnestly hope that he may have nothing to unlearn.

SOMERLEAZE, WELLS,

Fuly 27th, 1869.

A FEW WORDS ON OLD-ENGLISH

WORDS AND NAMES.

The English tongue which we speak now is essentially the same tongue as that which our forefathers brought with them into Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. In the course of fourteen hundred, and even of eight hundred years, it has changed so much that the Old-English cannot be understood except by those who study it on purpose. But this is the same thing that happens to all languages more or less. There is no part of Europe where the people could at once understand a book written in their own language eight hundred years ago. But the change has been gradual; we did not leave off speaking one language and take to speaking another, as the people of Gaul and Spain left off speaking their own tongues and spoke such Latin as they could, or as many of the Welsh in Britain have learned to speak English. We have no more changed from one language to another than our cousins in Germany have, though undoubtedly English has changed more in a thousand years than the High-Dutch or German has. The chief points of change are two. First, we have lost nearly all our inflexions, that is the endings

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

which mark genders, cases, and the like, while the HighDutch has kept more of them, though it too has lost a great many. The other is that we have lost a great many old Teutonic words which are kept in High-Dutch, and have taken to Latin or French words instead. But we have always gone on speaking the same tongue, and the changes have been very gradual. And our tongue has always been called English as far back as we can go; so that it is better to call it English at all times, and, when needful, to distinguish the older form as Old English, than to talk, as many people do, about “Saxon” or “Anglo-Saxon,” which makes people fancy that one language has been changed for another.

I have just now compared our language with the HighDutch or German; but it must always be remembered that High-Dutch is not the tongue nearest to our own. English is in truth a form of the Low-Dutch, the language which in different forms spreads from Flanders right away to the Baltic. The High and the Low-Dutch differ in this kind of way. Where High-Dutch uses a particular letter, Low-Dutch often uses another, according to a fixed rule which seldom or never alters, which at the beginning of words I may say never alters at all. Thus a word which begins with z in High-Dutch must begin with t in English, and a word which begins with d in High-Dutch must begin with th in English. For th our fathers had, like the Greeks, a particular letter called Thorn, which is written þ at the beginning of a word and 8 at the middle or end. Some people still write ye for the, where the y is nothing but a þ badly written.

[ocr errors]

Our Old-English names, most of which have gone out of use, though we use a few still, always had a meaning, just as the Greek and Hebrew names had. But the Old-English names, like the Greek names too, fall into two classes. In some of them, if you have any knowledge of the language at all, you cannot help seeing the meaning at once. But there are others whose meaning is by no means so clear, and even a man who knows the language well may be only able to guess at the meaning, or perhaps may have to give it up altogether. For instance, such names as Neoptolemos, Peisistratos, Laodike, in Greek, or Æthelberht, Eadgar, Ælfgifu, in Old-English, at once tell their own meaning to any one who has learned the language. But it is quite another thing with names like Iasôn, Pêleus, Tydeus, or again with names like Offa, Penda, Dodda. I should not like to say positively what these names mean, without thinking a good deal about it, and turning to see what learned men have said.

But you may be sure that all names had a meaning at first, and you may be sure that the names whose meaning is not plain, which are often the names of Gods or heroes, are the older class of the two. These older names, you will see, both in Greek and English, are generally shorter than the later ones, and they do not seem to be compound words. But the later names in both tongues are generally made up of two words, the meaning of which is commonly pretty plain. The English names and those used by the Teutonic people on the Continent are made out of the same Teutonic roots, but it so happens that not many

« PreviousContinue »