Billeder på siden

forgotten, that the change in its grammatical structure rendered harmonious combinations of its once homogeneous elements no longer possible; that the new terms for the most part supplied the place of words, which the language did not possess, and could not for the above reason readily frame; that where this was not the case they enriched it with many synonyms, in which our language is peculiarly copious; and that though some portion of the old AngloSaxon words became obsolete, there never has been a period since the formation of the language in which the proportion of its principal element has been seriously diminished. For some further remarks, tending to show that a decided preponderance of advantages, on the whole, attended the influence of the classical languages on our own, we must refer our readers to our previous article on the Structure of the English Language.

Up to Elizabeth's reign there was, perhaps, no great reason to complain of the extent of classical importations; at that period, however, we certainly find the Latin element making undue encroachments; and those encroachments continued for nearly half a century onward, producing a very perceptible difference for the worse in diction, and introducing a species of construction utterly unsuited to the genius of the English language. A word or two on both these points.

These changes were in great part to be attributed, not simply to the too exclusive culture of classical literature, and to the pedantry which was consequent upon it, especially under the patronage of the first James, who himself was fit for nothing except to be king-pedagogue of a nation of pedants, but to the recluse life of many of the principal writers of the

[blocks in formation]

[ocr errors]

first half of the seventeenth century. Latin was the language of European literature; many learned men. read little else—often wrote in it and inevitably imbibed the habit of transferring to the language Latin terms and idioms without being conscious of it. Johnson justly says, that 'he that has long cultivated another language will find its words and combinations crowd upon his memory; and haste and negligence, refinement and affectation, will obtrude borrowed terms and exotic expressions.' Some further apology may be allowed to these writers, and, indeed, to all writers of that day from the necessities of the casc: they were often compelled to create new terms to express new thoughts; for knowledge rolled in at that memorable era in a full tide, and overflowed the narrow channel of the language. Still this apology is not altogether sufficient, for they did not restrict themselves to necessary innovations: wherever they found terms which, to their vitiated taste, appeared more energetic or brilliant than those which the vernacular stock supplied, they at once Anglicised them, sometimes with so little regard to the analogies of the language, that the words themselves betrayed in their very form, as well as in their roots, their foreign origin.

So extensive were these importations, that there are comparatively few terms of classical origin now in use (if we except the additions to the nomenclature of modern science), which are not to be met with in some shape or other in the writers who flourished from the accession of Elizabeth to the Restoration. Subsequent writers have had no occasion to dig in that mine; their task has been to mould into greater harmony with the analogies of the language the terms which they deemed fit to reserve and consecrate for

perpetual use. From the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, Jeremy Taylor, Donne, and about a score more of our authors of this period, might probably be collected two or three thousand Latin derivatives, which have since become obsolete; many of them among the ağ λeyóueva, as critics would say, of the authors themselves. Some such audacities were ventured on among his native wood notes wild' even by Shakspeare, least some pass under his





But the familiarity of these writers with Greek and Latin often led them beyond the needless multiplication of terms of classical origin. They not only imported words before unknown to the language, just giving them an Anglicised form and termination; but they frequently employed words of foreign derivation already appropriated to a different meaning, in their original sense. Thus Jeremy Taylor employs 'immured' for 'encompassed;' 'extant' in the sense of 'standing out' (as applied to bas-relief); 'insolent' for unusual;'irritation' for 'making void.' One of the most ludicrous instances of this is a passage in which, having occasion to refer to the 'bruising of the serpent's head,' he speaks of the contrition of the serpent;' to which may be added another noticed by Bishop Heber,-the use of the word 'excellent' for 'surpassing.' In this sense of the word, Taylor in one place speaks of an excellent pain!' A still stronger evidence of the injurious effects of classical erudition upon taste is supplied in the prodigal waste of it displayed even in the pulpit, and in popular harangues. The discourses both of divines and lawyers, strange to say, seem to have been often the objects of admiration in proportion to the amount of what was unintelligible to their hearers. There is an

age, however, in every country when pedantry is popular.

But it was not simply in the extensive importation of foreign terms that we discover the undue influence at this period of the study and imitation of the classics; it was seen as conspicuously in the almost universal adoption of a periodic structure of sentence, unsuited to the genius of our language. To those of Greece and Rome, which possessed a more elaborate system of inflections and terminations, and were less encumbered with what Campbell calls the 'luggage of particles,' than any modern languages, the periodic structure was admirably adapted. Sentences of almost interminable length unroll themselves with perfect perspicuity; clause is linked to clause with no loss of meaning, yet with great addition to compactness and harmony. It has been justly observed, that we often find, in a sentence of inordinate length, the most important words reserved to the very last, as, for example, in the orations of Demosthenes, where they have all the effect of a sudden explosion. This is seldom possible with us. Yet this complicated structure of sentences was wonderfully affected in the time we are now treating, perhaps more in Hooker and in the prose of Milton than anywhere else. He who can read the sentences from these writers, cited below, without any more than the requisite pauses, must have sound lungs.* There have not been want

* 6 Albeit, therefore, I must needs in reason condemn myself of over great boldness for thus presuming to offer to your lordship's view my poor and slender labours; yet, because that which moves me so to do, is a dutiful affection some way to manifest itself; and glad to take this present occasion, for want of other more worthy your lordship's acceptation; I am in that behalf, not out of hope your lordship's wisdom will the easier pardon my fault,

[ocr errors]

ing, in modern times, writers who have greatly admired the stately march, and sometimes majestic and organ-like harmony, of this style. Thus Coleridge speaks with rapture of its difficult evolutions' and solemn rhythm; though he confesses, at the same time, its inaptitude in relation to our language. Many single passages of our greatest writers of the seventeenth century, composed in this style, are, however, among the noblest to be met with in all literature.

Of the writers of this epoch who so largely imported Latinisms into the language, Jeremy Taylor is perhaps the one who, as little as any, affects the periodic style. Though his sentences are often long,

the rather because myself am persuaded that my faultiness had been greater if these writings concerning the nobler parts of those laws under which we live, should not have craved with the first your lordship's favourable approbation, whose painful care to uphold all laws, and especially the ecclesiastical, hath by the space of so many years so apparently showed itself, that if we, who enjoy the benefit thereof, did dissemble it, they whose malice doth most enjoy our good herein would convince our unthankfulness.' Hooker's Dedicatory Epistle.

'But much latelier in the private academies of Italy, whither I was favoured to resort, perceiving that some trifles which I had in memory, composed at under twenty or thereabouts (for the manner is that every one must give some proof of his wit and reading there), met with acceptance above what was looked for, and other things which I had shifted in scarcity of books and conveniences to patch up amongst them, were received with written encomiums, which the Italian is not forward to bestow on men on this side the Alps, I began thus far to assent both to them and to divers of my friends here at home, and not less to an inward prompting which now grew daily upon me, that by labour and intense study, which I take to be my portion in this life, I might perhaps leave something so written to after-times, as they should not willingly let it die.'- Milton on Church Government, B. II.

« ForrigeFortsæt »