Slike strani




§1. The most ancient inhabitants of the British Isles. § 2. The Roman Occupation. § 3. Traces of the Celtic and Latin periods in the English language. §4. Teutonic settlements in Britain. § 5. AngloSaxon language and literature. § 6. Effects of the Norman Conquest upon the English population and language. § 7. Romance literature: Norman Trouvères and Provençal Troubadours. § 8. Change of Anglo-Saxon into English. § 9. Principal epochs of the English


§ 1. WITHIN the limited territory comprised by a portion of the British Isles has grown up a language which has become the speech of the most free, most energetic, and most powerful section of the human race, and bids fair to be, at no distant period, the universal medium of communication throughout the globe. Its literature, inferior to none in variety or extent, is superior to all others in its robustness and universality of scope, and has exerted a great and continually increasing influence upon the progress of human thought and the improvement of human happiness. To trace the rise and formation of such a language cannot be otherwise than interesting and instructive.



The most ancient inhabitants of the British Islands of whom we have any certain information were a branch of that Celtic race which appears to have once occupied a large part of Western Europe. Although the causes and period of their immigrations into Europe are lost in prehistoric tradition, these Celts, in their two divisions of Gaels (i.e. strangers, whence Gaul and Wales, le pays de Galles) and Cymry, seem to have covered a very large extent of territory, and, in their Druidical worship, their astronomical science, and many other features, to have retained strong traces of a remote Oriental descent.. The Cymric or Briton immigration



was later than the Gaelic. The Gaelic Celts seem to have conquered the obscure people of the Neolithic age (whose descendants the Picts are supposed to have been), and were in their turn absorbed by the second Celtic invaders. It is far from probable, however, that the Cymric race ever attained more than the lowest degree of civilisation. We know little of its history. The Cimbri whom we meet in the later wars of the Roman Republic, were another race, and must not be confused with this savage and barbarous race of strangers. But we

Phanician influence in

may be certain that its condition was very little superior to barbarism—a nomadic and predatory mode of existence, the absence of agriculture, and that infallible sign of a savage state, the universal habit of tattooing and staining the body, are sufficient proof of a low civilisation. Whether the Phoenicians, the traders of antiquity, ever extended Britain. their navigation to Britain, is a doubtful matter; at all events, their expeditions were confined to the tin-mines of the Cornish peninsula, and there is no ground for supposing that the influence of these more polished strangers could have effected much with the great body of the Celtic population.

$ 2. The beginning of any intercourse between the primitive Britons and a foreign nation was the Roman invasion in 55 B.C. Julius Cæsar, having subdued the Gallic tribes of France, found himself on the shores of the Channel

The Roman

occupation. and within sight of the white cliffs of Albion, and naturally desired to push his conquests into the region inhabited by a people whom the Romans considered as dwelling at the very ends of the earth-" penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos." The customs of the country were much the same as those of Gaul: its religious and political institutions differed very little. The likeness of the dialects of both countries may be seen by comparing the modern Breton language with Welsh or the extinct Cornish tongue. The Briton was, however, a more difficult foe, and it took the greater part of a century to overpower him. At last the superior skill and military organisation of the Roman armies prevailed: the country became a Roman province, and the whole of England and the Scottish Lowlands, from the Straits of Dover and the Channel to the Firth of Forth, came under Roman domination -the mountain fastnesses of Wales excepted. This state of things lasted for about 480 years. A large body of Roman troops was permanently quartered in the new province cities of the first rank rose in many parts of the kingdom, and were connected by first-class military roads, which still exist. The most important of these was Ermine Street, the Old in Britain. North Road of to-day, which ran from Newhaven, or some station near it, to York, by way of London, Stamford, Ancaster, Lincoln, and a ferry across the Humber, some distance above Hull. Beyond York it was continued

Roman roads

by a road through Boroughbridge to Catterick-on-Swale (where it is now called Leeming Lane), and northwards through the county of Durham, until, near Hexham, it joined Hadrian's defensive wall, which is still to be traced from the Tyne to the Solway. Obviously, this road would be crossed by many others-e.g. at Royston in Hertfordshire it met the Icknield Way (Via Icenorum), which crossed England from the east to the west; and twenty miles or so farther on, at Huntingdon, it met the road which connected the two great cities of Colchester (Camulodunum) and Chester (Deva)-the Via Devana. Chester, again, was at the head of Watling Street, the modern Holyhead Road. York itself was a most important place, and there is a very generally received legend that Constantine the Great was born there.

Thus, by means of such communication, the country became Latinised, like the other side of the Channel. Latin became

the civilised language. The Celts of the Welsh

and Cumbrian borders and the Picts of Scotland, The Latinwhose mountains were inaccessible to the Roman ising of arms, retained their tribal peculiarities, and waged

war upon the civilised provinces that had adopted Roman customs. But even the language of these savages, which in subsequent ages became a wonderful and flexible literary medium, received the impress of Rome. They re-adapted the Roman names of places for themselves, although these had been borrowed, almost without exception, from older British forms. Thus the Roman name of the modern Manchester was Mancunium, the first syllable of which was taken from the British maen = a stone. In Welsh this was turned literally into the word Manceinion. And in modern Welsh words there is a distinct remnant of Latinism hidden beneath the essentially local exterior. But these tribes remained hostile, forming a class distinct from their civilised brethren. The great Northumbrian wall, with its numerous military towns, was constructed to hinder Pictish incursions. So that when the Roman troops were withdrawn from Britain to protect the falling Western Empire against its barbarian enemies, we can easily the Romans. comprehend the position of the Romanised section of the population. They had lost, in all probability, their original valour; they had acquired the vices of servitude at a period when vice was the open shame of all classes of Roman society and the Empire was a mere toy in the hands of any aspiring master of the palace; and, under these circumstances, they found themselves exposed to the furious incursions of hungry barbarians, eager to recover what they considered as their birthright, and bitterly angry with their degenerate countrymen, as traitors and cowards who had basely submitted to a foreign yoke. The avenging swarms of Scots and Picts swept down into the Lowlands and began to take their awful vengeance upon their unhappy countrymen:

Departure of

They destroyed almost every trace of civilisation; the furious devastation which they carried through the land is commemorated in the ancient Cymric songs and legends. Their unfortunate victims, after sending a piteous appeal to Rome in vain, took the dangerous but necessary alternative of inviting some warlike race of foreign adventurers to protect them. These adventurers were the Saxon pirates.

Influence of Celtic and Latin tongues on English.

3. We have just called attention to the Latin element in one of the Celtic dialects. These dialects, of which the existing British forms are the Welsh of the Principality, the Gaelic of the Highlands, and the nearly identical Erse of Ireland, have no affinity whatever with modern English. An Englishman has the utmost difficulty in learning Welsh, which presents him with the problems of an Oriental or Slavonic language -it does not answer his conception of a language at all. It is in all respects a completely different tongue; and so insignificant has been its influence upon English that, out of the enormous number of words composing our vocabulary, it would be difficult to point out a hundred which are the direct offspring of the Celtic tongue. It is true that the English language contains a considerable number of words which may ultimately be traced to Celtic roots, but many of these are probably due to a French medium and spring from a Breton source. The same remark applies to that Latin element which is so prominent in English. The Latin words, which constitute threefifths of our language, cannot in any instance be proved to have Iderived their origin from any corrupt Latin patois spoken in Britain: many of them seem to have been filtered through some of the various forms of the Romance speech, the parent of French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Yet, if the Celtic element in our language is scanty, one class of words takes us back to the Brito-Roman age-the place-names which, in Wales, the Scottish Highlands, and Ireland, among a pure and unmixed population, have remained unaltered from a very remote period. In Wales, for instance, the names of certain places remain, in pronunciation and orthography, much as they existed even before Julius Cæsar's invasion. Some places have suffered changes of spelling-thus Merioneth, Pembroke, Carmarthen, Glamorgan, are substantially the Norman versions of Meirionydd, Penfro, Caerfyrddin, and Morganwg: other names, like Trefaldwyn, the local name for Montgomery, are simply translations, and in the French of the eleventh century would read:thus-Villebaudouin. In Scotland we have Anglicised most words: in Ireland we have adopted a phonetic system of spelling: e.g. Dublin = Dubhlinn, or the name Leary = Laoghaire. Drogheda adheres much more closely to the old form. But that the names survive almost perfectly is unquestionable. Even in those parts of the country which have suffered from the inundations of various peoples, many ancient and purely Celtic appellations remain. The

termination "don" is in some instances the Celtic word "dun," a rock or natural fortress. And in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Warwickshire, we find a river Avon-one of them in Saxon times the important boundary between Mercia and Wessexwhich is simply the English phonetic version of the Welsh afon, a river. The Dore of Derbyshire, and its neighbour the Derwent, are derived from the Celtic dwr, the modern Welsh for water-found also in the Douro, the Dora, and other foreign rivers. Ouse, too, so common a river-name in England, is similarly a variation of another Celtic word for water, and so on. Notice, too, our relics of Latin words in our numerous chesters, e.g. Manchester, Rochester, Silchester. Winchester, in its first syllable, retains the Roman name Venta, which translates the Celtic Gwent. The Isle of Wight is really G-wight, from the Roman Vectis, the v being easily interchangeable with w. Stony Stratford, on Watling Street, recalls the Strata, or paved roads of Roman times. The same word is found in the Welsh ystrad: e.g. Ystrad Farchell, in Flintshire, is the Celtic version of Strata Marcelli-Marcellus' road. Lin-coln Lindum-colonia, and Porchester, at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour, is a translation of Castra Portus-Havencamp, as we might say in the Teutonic manner.

The Teutonic

§ 4. The true foundations of the English laws, language, and national character were laid, during the century from 450 to 550 A.D., deep in the solid granite of Teutonic antiquity. The piratical adventurers whom the old invasion. German passion for plunder and glory, joined with the entreaties of "the miserable Britons," allured across the North Sea from the bleak shores of their native Jutland, Schleswig, Holstein, and the Baltic seaboard, were the most fearless navigators and the most redoubted sea-kings of those days. Their arrival in Britain, and the picturesque myth of Vortigern, Hengist, and Horsa, became a happy huntingground with the old chroniclers; and, during the greatest period of English literary history, Thomas Middleton, following Ranulf of Higden's Polychronicon, worked it into its final and most apocryphal state in his curious play, The Mayor of Queenborough. These rovers were essentially and in every respect savages; but their rugged and energetic nature, which Tacitus had sketched so admirably in his Germania, contained the germs of a noble type of national character, and offered a fertile opportunity to Christianity and civilisation. Successive bands of the same race, attracted by the reports of their predecessors, which praised the superiority of the new settlement over their own barren and perhaps over-peopled fatherland, established themselves in those portions of Britain previously occupied by the Romans. But, like the Romans, these new invaders remained excluded from the mountainous districts of Wales and Scotland. Gradually, after a succession of bloody conflicts, they succeeded, as the Roman armies had

« PrejšnjaNaprej »