« ZurückWeiter »
JACOB GRIMM ON ENGLISH.
Nor is this prerogative which I have just claimed for our English the mere dream and fancy of patriotic vanity. The scholar who in our days is most profoundly acquainted with the great group of the Teutonic languages in Europe, and a devoted lover, if ever there was such, of his native German, I mean Jacob Grimm, has expressed himself very nearly to the same effect, and given the palm over all to our English in words which you will not grudge to hear quoted, and with which I shall bring this lecture to a close. After ascribing to our language a veritable power of expression, such as perhaps never stood at the command of any other language of men,' he goes on to say, "Its highly spiritual genius, and wonderfully happy development and condition, have been the result of a surprisingly intimate union of the two noblest languages in modern Europe, the Teutonic and the Romance.—It is well known in what relation these two stand to one another in the English tongue; the former supplying in far larger proportion the material groundwork, the latter the spiritual conceptions. In truth the English language, which by no mere accident has produced and upborne the greatest and most predominant poet of modern times, as distinguished from the ancient classical poetry (I can, of course, only mean Shakespeare), may with all right be called a
Gothic languages. An Italian or a Frenchman finds a large class of words in the English, which exist in his own language, though the basis of the English is Gothic.'
world-language; and, like the English people, appears destined hereafter to prevail with a sway more extensive even than its present over all the portions of the globe. For in wealth, good sense, and closeness of structure no other of the languages at this day spoken deserves to be compared with it--not even our German, which torn, even as we are torn, and must first rid itself of many defects, before it can enter boldly into the lists, as a competitor with the English.'†
A little more than two centuries ago a poet, himself abundantly deserving the title of 'well-languaged,' which a cotemporary or near successor gave him, ventured in some remarkable lines timidly to anticipate this. Speaking of his native tongue, which he himself wrote with such vigour and purity, though wanting in the passion and the fiery impulses which go to the making of a first-rate poet, Daniel exclaims:
And who, in time, knows whither we may vent
To enrich unknowing nations with our stores?
Ueber den Ursprung der Sprache, Berlin, 1832, p. 50.
ENGLISH AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN.
ENGLISH AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN.
OU heard in my former lecture that such as have best right to speak are strong to maintain that English has gained far more than it has lost by that violent interruption of its orderly development which the Norman Conquest brought with it, that it was permanently enriched by that immense irruption and settlement of foreign words within its borders, which followed, though not immediately, on that catastrophe. But the composite character which the language thus assumed suggests to us a very interesting and not uninstructive subject of speculation, namely, what this language would actually now be, if there had been no Battle of Hastings; or a Battle of Hastings which William had lost and Harold won. When I invite you for a little to consider this with me, you will of course understand me to exclude any similar events, which should in the same way have issued in the setting up of an intrusive dynasty, supported by the arms of a foreign soldiery, and speaking a Romanic as distinguished from a Gothic language, on the throne of
England. I lay a stress upon this last point-a people speaking a Romanic language; inasmuch as the effects upon the language spoken in England would have been quite different, and far less momentous, reaching far less widely, if the great Canute had succeeded in founding a Danish, or Hardrada a Norwegian, dynasty in EnglandDanish and Norwegian both being dialects of the same Gothic language which was already spoken here. Some differences in the language which Englishmen now speak such an event, and it was not at one time at all improbable, would have entailed; but slight and inconsiderable by the side of those which have followed the coming in of a conquering and ruling race speaking one of the tongues directly formed upon the Latin.
This which I suggest is only one branch of a far larger speculation. It would be no uninteresting task if one thoroughly versed in the whole constitutional lore of England, acquainted as a Palgrave was with Anglo-Saxon England, able to look into the seeds of things and to discern which of these contained the germs of future development, which would grow and which would not, should interpret to us by the spirit of historic divination, what, if there had been no successful Norman invasion, would be now the social and political institutions of England, what the relations of the different ranks of society to one another, what the division and tenure of land, what amount of liberty at home, of greatness abroad, England would at this day have achieved.
LAWS OF LANGUAGE NOT CAPRICIOUS. 45
It is only on one branch of this subject that I propose to enter at all. It may indeed appear to some that even in this I am putting before them problems which are in their very nature impossible to solve, which it is therefore unprofitable to entertain; since dealing, as here we must, with what might have been, not with what actually has been or is, all must be mere guesswork for us; and, however ingenious our guesses, we can never test them by the touchstone of actual fact, and so estimate their real worth.
Such an objection would rest on a mistake, though a very natural one. I am persuaded we can know to a very large extent how under such conditions as I have supposed, it would have fared with our tongue, what the English would be like, which in such a case the dwellers in this island would be speaking at this day. The laws which preside over the development of language are so fixed and immutable, capricious as they seem, there is really so little caprice in them, that if we can at all trace the course which other kindred dialects have followed under such conditions as English would then have been submitted to, we may thus arrive at very confident conclusions as to the road which English would have travelled. And there are such languages; more or less the whole group of Gothic languages are such. Studying any one of these, and the most obvious of these to study would be the German, we may learn very much of the forms which English would now wear, if the tremendous shock of one ever