Page images
PDF
EPUB

name is derived from the language of the people of whom the thing came, an alteration being occasionally made in its pronunciation to suit the language into which it has been admitted, and by which its orthography receives some slight modification: Thus, the cum of the Welsh, (to give a single instance,) in Saxon, becomes coom, and, in modern English, comb; each signifying that kind of deep sloping valley well known to all who inhabit mountainous districts, but difficult to describe without circumlocution to the dwellers in the plain.

Where a language has been preserved by a people for a series of generations in an uncorrupted, or comparatively uncorrupted state, it is rarely that the names of objects to which frequent or daily allusion is made are lost. There seems to be no desire for the introduction or absorption of new words into the language, so long as any spark of patriotism is left. Most people prefer that which their forefathers used, and if it express their ideas of things and relations, what necessity is there for more than this? That the English did long possess this feeling of reverence and respect for preceding times is evident in the retention of their customs, manners, amusements, speech, and laws. As to the latter, are we not told by every historian, even those who bring history "down to the meanest capacity," that the English, year after year, and century after century, declared to their kings, that they would be governed by no other laws than those of the good King Edward? The estimation in which we hold the Anglo-Saxon polity will increase with that facility towards its more perfect acquaintance which is to be acquired only from a thorough study of the Anglo-Saxon tongue.

This language, too, may serve to amuse as well as instruct us in tracing the names of places and of persons. As to the former, two centuries ago, L'Isle pointed out the utility of the Saxon for this purpose. "A fourth use thereof is," says he, "that we may be able to declare unto all men whom it concerns, the true meaning of their titles, charters, privileges, territories, and precincts, comparing with the nature of the thing the name thereof, so fitted, as the one to this day plainly

M

points out the other. I have seen some good hereof on my own grounds, and given satisfaction also unto others concerning places far off and unknown to me, insomuch as the parties have told me that if I had known the country as well as themselves, I could not have described it more rightly than I did by the mere notation of the name thereof. This proves also that our Saxon ancestors were a very wise and understanding people, and had a very significant and composable tongue, and that they did not, as men do now-a-days, for a glory of short continuance, name the places of conquest after themselves, or some of their great masters, but ever according to nature's self, as Adam gave names in Paradise. Such also were (for the most part) their own surnames, and the Christian names of their children, though now, understanding them not, some devise new, with apish imitation of the Hebrew."*

Thus, we are at no loss to account for our hams, our leighs, our combs, (and in one county more than thirty have this appellation prefixed or suffixed to them,) our cots, our cesters, with others of a like kind, in the names of places in England, and a thorough investigation of which would probably lead us to the knowledge of some curious facts connected with the habits and customs of the race. Their fields too received oftentimes characteristic names from their locality; their proximity to, or remoteness from, the dwelling of the proprietor. Hence the parruck, the croft, the lease, the summer-lease, the ox-lease, the mead, the warth, together with specific names, such as the plash, the hanging, the linch-acre, and hundreds of a similar character, pointing out their Saxon origin, exist in every county of England. In the boundaries, given invariably in Anglo-Saxon in the Latin charters, many of these names are preserved, because those who might be called upon as witnesses upon the rights of claimants knew no other tongue.

The Anglo-Saxon may be studied as a matter of curiosity in tracing the names of persons. It is a vulgar notion that the name of Smith seldom belongs to those of gentle blood;

• L'Isle's Divers Ancient Monuments, in the Saxon Tongue, 4to, 1638, Preface.

hence the desire to disguise it under the various forms of Smyth, Smithe, Smythe, &c.; but they all have one common origin in the Anglo-Saxon smith, one who smites with a hammer. The many Saxon names of places adopted by individuals with the Norman prefix de, during some periods of our history succeeding the Conquest, would seem to belie another vulgar notion that all such "came in with the Conqueror."

But it is in the investigation of the Anglo-Saxon government, and its relation to institutions of the present time, that we shall derive our principal encouragement to the study. The minute subdivisions of society into classes amongst them, the responsibility of each member of the class to the whole, the self-election that existed amongst these, and which gave so great an interest in ascertaining the true character of him to whom power was deputed; afford us glimpses of the institutions of a people, upon whose solid foundations the English constitution has been erected.

Moreover, with the Reformers of the sixteenth century, we may add, in this speech the faith and doctrines of our English Church is written. Though the Norman essayed to crush our language, our freedom, and our faith; though century after century bound the English Church closer and closer to that of Rome; at the appointed season, in the fulness of time, the bonds were severed, and that light which shone forth so brightly in the writings of Ælfric, just before the decline of the Saxon Church, was extinguished only to be rekindled with increased splendour at the Reformation.

Further, it remains only to mention such works as are desirable for studying the Anglo-Saxon tongue. Of grammars,

the student will have an abundant choice in the list which has been placed before him; but if he has not already formed some plan, he is recommended to use Rask's Grammar, in the excellent translation of it by Mr. Thorpe. After some time has been devoted to this, the Analecta Anglo-Saxonica will be his next work; the plan given for reading this may be adopted or not as taste or inclination dictate. When the Analecta is mastered, the experience acquired will be sufficient to direct him to what other books he may require.

In selecting a Dictionary, Bosworth's will naturally occur to him; and should he be desirous of thoroughly investigating the Anglo-Saxon, the parallels from the other Northern languages which are given in this Dictionary will be of great value, and may induce him to study the Teutonic languages en masse, in which case the elaborate work of Dr. J. Grimm will be found indispensable.

In conclusion, it is hoped that the humble efforts which have been made in this volume will be crowned with success; and that the Anglo-Saxon tongue will, within a few years, form an essential part of a liberal education.

EDINBURGH PRINTING COMPANY, 12, SOUTH ST DAVID STREET.

« PreviousContinue »