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ous future, than that they should have acquired for themselves and for those who come after them a clear, a strong, an harmonious, a noble language ? For all this bears witness to corresponding merits in those that speak it, to clearness of mental vision, to strength, to harmony, to nobleness, in them that have gradually formed and shaped it to be the utterance of their inmost life and being.
To know of this language, the stages which it has gone through, the quarters from which its riches have been derived, the gains which it is now making, the perils which have threatened or are threatening it, the losses which it has sustained, the latent capacities which may yet be in it, waiting to be evoked, the points in which it is superior to other tongues, in which it comes short of them —all this may well be the object of worthy ambition to every one of us.
So may we hope to be ourselves guardians of its purity, and not corruptors of it; to introduce, it may be, others into an intelligent knowledge of that with which we shall have ourselves more than a merely superficial acquaintance; to bequeath it to those who come after us not worse than we received it ourselves.
Spartam nactus es; hanc exorna”. this should be our motto in respect at once of our country, and of our country's tongue.
Nor shall we, I trust, any of us, feel this subject to be alien or remote from the purposes which have brought us to study within these walls. It is true that we are mainly occupied here in studying other tongues than our own. The time we bestow upon it is small as compared with that bestowed on those oth
And yet one of our main purposes in learning
DUTY TO OUR OWN TONGUE.
them is that we may better understand this. Nor ought any other to dispute with it the first and foremost place in our reverence, our gratitude, and our love. It has been well and worthily said by an illustrious German scholar: “ The care of the national language I consider as at all times a sacred trust and a most important privilege of the higher orders of society. Every man of education should make it the object of his unceasing concern to preserve his language pure and entire; to speak it, so far as is in his power, in all its beauty and perfection. . . . . . A nation whose language becomes rude and barbarous, must be on the brink of barbarism in regard to everything else. A nation which allows her language to go to ruin, is parting with the last half of her intellectual independence, and testifies her willingness to cease to exist."*
But this knowledge, like all other knowledge which is worth attaining, is only to be attained at the price of labor and pains. The language which at this day we speak is the result of processes which have been going forward for hundreds and for thousands of years. Nay, more ; it is not too much to affirm that processes modifying the English which at the present day we write and speak, have been at work from the first day that man, being gifted with discourse of reason, projected his thought from out himself, and embodied and contemplated it in his word. Which things being so, if we would understand this language as it now is, we must know something of it as it has been; we must be able to measure, however roughly,
* F. Schlegel, History of Literature, lecture x.
the forces which have been at work upon it, moulding and shaping it into the forms which it now wears.
At the same time, various prudential considerations must determine for us how far up we will endeavor to trace the course of its history. There are those who may seek to trace our language to the forests of Germany and Scandinavia, to investigate its relation to all the kindred tongues that were there spoken; again, to follow it up, till it and they are seen descending from an elder stock; nor once to pause, till they have assigned to it its place not merely in respect of that small group of languages which are immediately round it, but in respect of all the tongues and languages of the earth. I can imagine few studies of a more surpassing interest than this. Others, however, must be content with seeking such insight into their native language as may be within the reach of all who, unable to make this the subject of especial research, possessing neither that vast compass of knowledge nor that immense apparatus of books, not being at liberty to dedicate to it that devotion almost of a life which, followed out to the full, it would require, have yet an intelligent interest in their mothertongue, and desire to learn as much of its growth, and history, and construction, as may be reasonably deemed within their reach. To such as these I shall suppose myself to be speaking. It would be a piece of great presumption in me to undertake to speak to any other, or to assume any other ground than this for myself.
I know there are some who, when they are invited to enter at all upon the past history of the language, are inclined to make answer: 6 To what end such
THE PAST EXPLAINS THE PRESENT.
studies to us? Why can not we leave them to a few antiquaries and grammarians ? Sufficient to us to know the laws of our present English, to obtain an accurate acquaintance with the language as we now find it, without concerning ourselves with the phases through which it has previously passed.” This may sound plausible enough; and I can quite understand a real lover of his native tongue, supposing he had not bestowed much thought upon the subject, arguing in this manner. And yet indeed such argument proceeds altogether on a mistake. One sufficient reason why we should occupy ourselves with the past of our language is, because the present is only intelligible in the light of the past, often of a very remote past indeed. There are anomalies out of number now existing in our language, which the pure logic of grammar is quite incapable of explaining; which nothing but a knowledge of its historic evolutions, and of the disturbing forces which have made themselves felt therein, will ever enable us to understand. Even as, again, unless we possess some knowledge of the past, it is impossible that we can ourselves advance a single step in the unfolding of the latent capabilities of the language, without the danger of committing some barbarous violation of its very primary laws.
The plan which I have laid down for myself, and to which I shall adhere, in this lecture and in those which will succeed it, is as follows: In this
this my first lecture I will ask you to consider the language as now it is, to decompose with me some specimens of it, to prove by these means of what elements it is compact, and what functions in it these elements or component parts severally fulfil; nor shall I leave this subject without asking you to admire the happy marriage in our tongue of the languages of the North and South, an advantage which it alone among all the languages of Europe enjoys. Having thus presented to ourselves the body which we wish to submit to scrutiny, and having become acquainted, however slightly, with its composition, I shall invite you to go back with me, and trace some of the leading changes to which in time past it has been submitted, and through which it has arrived at what it now is; and these changes I shall contemplate under four aspects, dedicating a lecture to each - changes which have resulted from the birth of new, or the reception of foreign, words; changes consequent on the rejection or extinction of words or powers once possessed by the language; changes through the altered meaning of words; and lastly, as not unworthy of our attention, but often growing out of very deep roots, changes in the orthography of words.
I shall everywhere seek to bring the subject down to our present time, and not merely call your attention to the changes which have been, but to those also which are now being, effected. I shall not account the fact that some are going on, so to speak, before our own eyes, a sufficient ground to excuse me from noticing them, but rather an additional reason for doing this. For indeed changes which are actually proceeding in our own time, and which we are ourselves helping to bring about, are the very ones which we are most likely to fail in observing. There is so much to hide the nature of them, and indeed their very existence, that, except it may be by a very few,