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CHAPTER II.

THE OLD ENGLISH, 680–1120.

THE MIDDLE ENGLISH, 1120-1300.

The examples given in the last few pages have been mostly taken from Wessex writers; but Cadmon's name reminds us that in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries there was no Teutonic land that could match Northumbria in learning or civilisation. Thither had come earnest missionaries from Italy and Ireland. There Christianity had taken fast root, and had bred such men as Cadmon and Bede. Charlemagne himself, the foremost of all Teutons, was glad to welcome to his Court Alcuin, who came from beyond the Humber. It was the dialect of Northumbria, settled as that land was by Angles, that first sprang into notice, and was so much in favour, that even the West Saxons on the Thames called their speech English.

This English of the North, or Northumbrian, has bequeathed to us but few monuments, owing to the havock wrought by the Danes in the Northern libraries, We have, however, enough of it left to see that in some points it kept far closer to the old Aryan Mother Speech than the classical writers of Wessex did ; thus, it boasts the remnants of four verbs in mimam, beôm (sum), geseôm (video), gedôm (facio). In other points it foreshadows the language to be spoken in Queen Victoria's day more clearly than these same writers of Wessex did.

In tracing the history of Standard English, it is mainly on Northumbria that we must keep our eyes. About the year 680, a stone cross was set up at Ruthwell, not far from Dumfries; and the Runes graven upon it enshrine an English poem written by no mean hand. Cadmon, the great Northumbrian bard, had compiled a noble lay on the Crucifixion, a lay which may still be read at full length in its Southern English dress of the Tenth Century. Forty lines or so of the earlier poem of the Seventh Century were engraven upon the Ruthwell Cross; these I give in my Appendix, as the lay is the earliest English that we possess just as it was written.' It has old forms of English nowhere else found; and it clearly appeals to the feelings of a warlike race, hardly yet out of the bonds of heathenism ; the old tales of Balder are applied to Christ, who is here called 'the young hero.'

Mr. Kemble in 1840 translated the Ruthwell Runes, which up to that time had never unlocked their secret; not long afterwards, he had the delight of seeing them in their later Southern dress, on their being published from an old English skinbook at Vercelli. He found

1. Cadmon me fauæþo' (not Cædmon) is the inscription lately discovered on the cross; and this confirms a guess made long ago by Mr. Haigh. Mr. Stephens assigns the noble fragment of the Judith to the great bard of the North.

that he had only three letters of his translation to correct. Seldom has there been such a hit and such a confirmation of a hit."

These Ruthwell Runes are in close agreement with the dying words of Bede, the few English lines embedded in the Latin text. The letter k is here found, which did not appear in Southern English until many centuries later. The word ungcet, the Dual Accusative, betokens the hoariest antiquity. The Infinitive ends, not in the Southern an, but in a, like the old Norse and Friesic.

The speech of the men who conquered Northumbria in the Sixth Century must have been influenced by their Danish neighbours of the mainland. I give a few words from the Ruthwell Cross, compared with King Alfred's Southern English :Southern.

Ruthwell.
Heofenas

Heafunæs
Stigan

Stiga
Gewundod

Giwundæd
Eal

Als
On gealgan

On galgu

The next specimen, given by me in my Appendix, is about sixty years later than the Ruthwell Runes. It is another fragment of Cadmon’s, which was modernised two hundred years after his time by King Alfred. The

Archæologia for 1843, page 31. 2 See the Runes in my Appendix, Chapter VII.

3 We follow the North, which is more primitive than the South, in pronouncing this word. But in Dorset they still sound the e before a, as in yacre, yale, yarm, and others. See Mr. Barnes' poems. text from which I quote is referred by Wanley, a good judge, to the year A.D. 737. I set down here those words which are nearer to the language spoken in our days than Alfred's version is.

Southern.
Fæder
Swa
Gescéop
Bearnum
ра
Weard

Northern.
Fadur
Sue
Scop
Barnum
Tha
Uard

Modern.
Father
So
Shaped
Bairns
The
Ward

The word 'til' (to), unknown in Southern speech, is found in this old manuscript, and is translated 'to' by Alfred. The modern Th here first appears for the good old character that our unwisdom has allowed to drop. The whole of the manuscript is in Northern English, such as it was spoken before the Danes overran the North.

The next earliest Northumbrian monument that we have is a Psalter, which Garnett dates about the year A.D. 800. It is thought to have been translated in one of the shires just south of the Humber. This Psalter, like the former specimen, employs a instead of the Southern ea, even as we ourselves do.

There are many other respects in which the Psalter differs from Southern English of the Ninth Century; the chief is that the first Person Singular of the verb ends, like the Latin, in o or u: as sitto, I sit; ondredu, I

· Bosworth, Origin of the Germanic Languages, pp. 56-60.
2 Rushworth Gospels, iv. (Surtees Society), Prolegomena, cix.

fear. The second Person ends in s, not st; as neosas, thou visitest. It is, therefore, less corrupt than King Alfred's form. The Lowland Scotch to this day say, thou knows. The prefix ge in Past Participles is often dropped, as bledsad, blessed, instead of gebletsod. Old Anglian was nearer than any other Low German speech to Danish, and ge is not found in the Danish Participle. We also remark the Norse earun for sumus, estis, sunt; this in Southern speech is nearly always syndon.? I give a few words from this Psalter, to show that our modern English in many things follows the Northern rather than the Southern form.?

Southern English.

Bën
Béc
Célan
Déman
Hréðe
Leoht
Fram
Wæron
Nawiht
Feldas
Twa

Northern English.

Boen
Boec
Coelan
Doeman
Roe/4
Leht
From
Werun
Nowihte
Feldes
Tu

Modern.
Boon (prayer)
Books
Cool
Dooms
Rough
Light
From
Were
Nought
Fields
Two

We find, however, aran in Kentish charters (Kemble, i. 234), and the form ic biddo in the oldest charters of Kent and Worcestershire.

2 See an extract from the Psalter in my Appendix.

8 We still have both the Northern and Southern forms of this word.

· Here the old h at the beginning of a word is cast out; a process often repeated.

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