Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

b. ab. 1465. d. ab. 1520.

9. William Dunbar, a native of Lothian, was the

best British poet of his age, and almost a great one. Ile appears to have been educated for the church, and to have spent some of his early years as a begging friar. Afterwards he became a dependant on the court of the dissolute prince who perished at Flodden. His poems exhibit a versatility of talent which has rarely been paralleled, and moral inconsistency which it is humiliating to contemplate. In his comic and familiar pieces there prevails such a grossness, both of language and sentiment, as destroys the effect of their remarkable force of humour: nor is ribaldry altogether wanting in those serious compositions, which are so admirable for their originality and affluence of imagination. Allegory is Dunbar’s favourite field. It is the groundwork of his “Golden Terge," in which the target is Reason, a protection against the assaults of Love; and his “ Thistle and Rose" commemorates, in a similar way, the king's marriage with an English princess. “ The Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins” is wonderfully striking, both for the boldness of

leading conception, and for the significant picturesqueness of several of the personifications. Unfortunately it would be almost impossible to describe, decorously, either the design of this remarkable poem, the imaginative originality which colours the serious passages, or the audacious flight of humorous malice with which, in the close, the Saxon vents the scorn he felt for his Celtic countrymen.

“ In the poetry of Dunbar, we recognise the emanations of a mind adequate to splendid and varied exertion; a mind equally capable of soaring into the higher regions of fiction, and of descending into the humble walk of the familiar and ludicrous. He was endowed with a vigorous and well-regulated imagination; and to it was superadded that cenformation of the intellectual faculties which constitutes the quality of good sense. In his allegorical poems we discover originality and even sublimity of invention; while those of a satirical kind present us with striking images of real life and manners. As a descriptive poet, he has received superlative praise. In the mechanism of poetry he evinces a wonderful degree of skill. He has employed a great variety of metres; and his versification, when opposed to that of his most eminent contemporaries, will appear highly ornamented and poetical."*

While Scotland, notwithstanding the troubles which marked almost uninterruptedly the reigns of the Jameses, was thus re

* Irving: Lives of the Soottish Poets.

deeming the poetical character of the fifteenth century from the discredit thrown on it by the feebleness of the art in England, her living tongue was, until very near the end of this period, used in versified compositions only. Scottish prose does not appear, in any literary shape, till the first decade of the sixteenth century: and its earliest specimens were nothing more than translations.

Nor did Scottish learning take, in that age, more than its very first steps. The necessity of a systematic cultivation of philosophy and classical literature had, indeed, begun to be acknowledged. The university of St. Andrews was founded in the year 1411, and that of Glasgow in 1450. But hardly any immediate effect was produced except this; that the style of most of the poets, especially Douglas, was deformed by a fondness for words formed from the Latin, which were introduced in as great numbers as French terms had been by Chaucer and his followers.

The art of printing was not practised in Scotland till the very close of our period, when it was introduced in Edinburgh. The oldest of the extant books, which is a miscellaneous volune, chiefly filled with ballads and metrical romances, bears the date of 1508.

5

PART SECOND.

THE ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF THE ENGLISH

LANGUAGE.

CHAPTER I.

THE ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD.

A. D. 449—A.D. 1066.

INTRODUCTION OF THE CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF THE

LANGUAGE

The Families of European Tongues—The Celtic, Gothic, and Classical—The AngloSaxon a Germanic Tongue of the Gothic Stock.-2. Founders of the Anglo-Saxo Race in England -Jutes, Saxons, Angles - The Old Frisic Dialect. 3. History of the Anglo-Saxon Tongue-Prevalence of the Dialect of the West Saxons-Two Leading Dialects—The Saxon-The Anglian or Northumbrian.-4. What Dialect of AngloSaxon passed into the Standard English Tongue ?-5. Close Resemblance of the Ănglo-Saxon Tongue to the English–Illustrated by Examples.-6. 7. Alfred's Tale of Orpheus and Eurydice-Literal Translation and Notes.—8. Cædmon's Destruction of Pharaoh-Translated with Notes.

[It is hoped that this slight sketch has been so framed as to be available, not only for private study, but also for use in teaching ; although, by reason of the nature of the matter, lessons cannot be given from it with the same smoothness and ease as from the Literary Chapters.

It may be used in any of several ways.

On the one hand, an attempt has been made, through the Translations and Notes appended to the Extracts, to include within the four corners of the book every explanation that could absolutely be required, although the student were not to have the aid of an instructor. The Text, on the other hand, if read without the Extracts and their apparatus, furnishes a plain summary,

from which all the leading facts and doctrines may be learned, in cases where it seems unadvisable to undertake a closer scrutiny. Indeed a great deal of knowledge might be gained from the Fourth Chapter alone, the study of which cannot be difficult for any one.

Or, again, these Chapters may furnish three successive courses of study, progressively increasing in difficulty. The first would embrace the Fourth Chapter, in which the results of the historical survey are summed up. The second would carry the student through the Text of the First, Second, and Third Chapters, the Extracts being passed oyer. In the third course, the Extracts would be studied carefully, with such re-perusal of the Text as might be found convenient.

All that is here given, however, barely deserves to be called so much as an Introduction to the Study of the English Tongue." Nothing more is aimed at than pointing out a method of investigation, and showing that the method is not only easy, but productive of interesting and valuable conclusions.

Exact and systematic acquaintance with the history and structure of our noble language must be gained in riper studies, guided by manuals more learned and copious. The inquiry has been prosecuted with great acuteness and ingenuity in Dr. Latham's “English Language ” and Grammars; and, to say nothing of other meritorious works, the chief results of recent philological speculations are perspicuously summed up and ably commented on in Professor Craik’s “Outlines of the History of the English Language."

From these books it will appear, how incalculably important the Anglo-Saxon Tongue iş both to our vocabulary and to our grammar. We may see the same thing at a glance, by opening the English, Scottish, and Anglo-Saxon Dictionaries of Richardson, Jamieson, and Bosworth. It is a fact not to be concealed, that every one who would learn to understand English as thoroughly as an accomplished scholar ought to understand it, must be content to begin by mastering Rask's excellent " Anglo-Saxon Grammar," (in Thorpe's translation,) or at least the useful epitome given in Bosworth’s “ Essentials.” For practice in reading this, our mothertongue, full and well-explained specimens are now accessible, especially in Mr. Thorpe's “ Analecta,” and other works of the same distinguished philologer; as well as in the publications of Mr. Kemble, and other eminent Anglo-Saxon scholars. Mr. Guest's “ History of English Rhythms” should be consulted particularly.

To the books now named, with some others, these chapters are indebted for all their principal facts and opinions; and they communicate, it is believed, as much of the fruits of our improved philology as the limits and purpose of the volume would allow. In the few instances where the teachers are dissented from, or their reasonings pressed a step or two beyond their own inferences, the deviation is not made without the hesitating deference justly due to critics, who have, for the first time, laid down a firm foundation for English Grammar to stand on.]

1. The pedigree of the English language is very clear. It is, as we have seen, directly descended from the Anglo-Saxon, but derives much from the Norman-French, and much also from the Latin. We must now learn more exactly the position which these three hold among the European tongues.

The Languages spoken in modern Europe are usually distributed into four or five groups. All the tongues that have ever , been used by nations inhabiting our islands, are comprehended in three of these. The first of the three, the Celtic, was introduced before either of the others, in both of its branches, the Cymric

« AnteriorContinuar »